Introducing the Ischler

Mannlicher Model 1903

by Terry Wieland

This is not, admittedly, a puzzle that has me lying awake nights, but for many years I’ve wondered at the origins of the Mannlicher stock—a style in which the walnut stock of a short-barreled rifle reaches right to the muzzle.

This part of the puzzle originated in 1903, with the introduction of the famous and fabled Model 1903 Mannlicher carbine, chambered for the 6.5×54 Mannlicher-Schönauer.  Both rifle and cartridge established enviable reputations, even reaching into literature.  Ernest Hemingway owned such a rifle, kept it on his boat, the Pilar, and mentioned it in Islands in the Stream in the famous scene with the hammerhead shark.  And it was with exactly this rifle that Margot Macomber killed her husband, Francis, in Hemingway’s short story.

I think you’ll agree that, given its illustrious credentials, the Mannlicher is worth studying.

A couple of years ago, at Rock Island, I bought a mysterious little Austrian rifle built on one of the sub-sized Werndl single-shot actions.  It took some digging, but eventually I learned it was built by the Vienna gunmaker Ferdinand Früwirth, purveyor to the imperial court during the latter half of the 19th century.  The name on the barrel is Jos. Heinige, a well-known retailer in Vienna.

It was chambered for an equally mysterious cartridge that turned out to be one of the Werndl creations, and is now known by two dozen different aliases, including 11.3 Montenegrin.  I prefer to call it by its original military designation, the 11.2×36 Österreichisch-Ungarische Kavallerie-Revolver Model 1870.

Knowing all this, I could pin the year of construction down to about 1880.

The Früwirth has a full-length stock, as you can see from the photo, and looks to be the ancestor of the Mannlicher 1903.

Ah, yes, you say, but where did it originate?  Did Ferdinand Früwirth invent the full-length stock?  The answer is, probably not.  I am pleased to say, however, that I may (!) have finally put the mystery to rest.

In 2015, Safari Press published a book called German Hunting Guns of the Golden Era 1840-1940, by Hans Pfingsten.  In it, he recounts the tale of a rifle called the “Ischler.”

Ferdinand Früwirth’s Ischler rifle, built on a small Werndl action.

The village of Ischl lies in the Austrian Alps near Salzburg.  In the 1850s, Ischl gunmaker Wolfgang Leithner built a rifle for stalking in the mountains.  It was a short, single-shot, big-bore percussion rifle; it had a full-length stock with a horn tip, octagonal barrel, cleaning rod beneath the barrel, and double-set triggers.  In 1870, he built a breech-loading version on a break action, with a 12.5mm bore.  The rifle became known as an Ischler, of a type known in Germany as a Stutzen, but in Austria as a Stutzer.

The full-length stock was intended to protect the barrel while climbing in the mountains, and also to provide a solid grip if the rifle was used as an Alpenstock—not recommended, obviously, but sometimes unavoidable.

The Ischler became the favorite hunting rifle of Emperor Franz Joseph, and a photograph exists of him holding his Ischler while hunting in the Alps.  The Emperor was a “staunch advocate of the single-shot—one barrel, one shot,” according to Hans Pfingsten.

Given the Emperor’s affection for the design, it’s not surprising that well-known gunmakers like Johann Fanzoj (Ferlach) and Johann Peterlongo (Innsbruck) adopted it, and that list would include Ferdinand Früwirth as well.

My Heinige ticks all the boxes of the Ischler, including an octagonal barrel with a cleaning rod beneath, full-length stock with ebony tip, double-set triggers, and what Pfingsten calls a “harp” trigger guard.  This is a scroll-type guard with curlicues to accommodate the fingers when using the set trigger.  There is even a scalloped section on the forend for the left hand, just like the Emperor’s.  Presumably, this was a Leithner touch.

Obviously, the specifics of the design have evolved over 170 years as actions and cartridges have evolved, but the basic principles of the Stutzer for mountain hunting have not changed, and the Mannlicher Model 1903 fits perfectly into the family tree.

Should we now be historically correct and call the Mannlicher stock an Ischler, or a Leithner?  Methinks we should but, to quote my old pal George Sandmann, “That horse has left the barn.”  Ah, well.

There is so much about German and Austrian gunmaking that our shooting editor, Terry Wieland, does not yet know, it would fill several books.  But at least this one small question is answered.