The Fraulein’s Final Touch

The two Martinis — the older in back, newer in front. The break in the thumb rest is clearly visible.

by Terry Wieland

In Sporting Notes #19 and #37, I gave you a taste of a couple of German Schützen rifles that came into my possession about three years ago. The way it happened was the kind of serendipity that seems to raise its head periodically throughout my life, evoking passions heretofore unsuspected.

In the case of Schützen rifles, of course I’d seen photographs, but was never overwhelmed by a desire to own one.  It came about this way:  I was strolling down a display rack at the Rock Island auction and saw an interesting old rifle.  A long octagonal barrel, Martini action, set trigger, elaborate trigger guard, the works.  I picked it up, noticed a lever behind the trigger guard, and thought “I wonder what that does…?”

Next thing I knew, I was standing with the rifle in one hand, the entire trigger group in the other, and no way to get them back together.  I had to ask for help from the resident gunsmith — the humiliation! — and when the rifle came up for auction, guilt forced me to bid.  When a similar, but newer and more elaborate one came up a few lots later, I got it, too.

The older one was simply old and neglected but functionally sound.  A combination of Varsol, Ballistol, linseed oil, and Lee Shaver’s gunmaking skills, and it was soon ready to stroll to the firing line.  For that one, making ammunition was the big challenge, which I’ll write about one of these days.

The Martini after the repair to the thumb rest. One original joint is faintly visible, the newer one is not. Even if it were, since these stock accoutrements were generally added on after the basic stock was shaped, it would be impossible to tell. Such are the skills of gunmakers like Lee Shaver.

The newer rifle was simply spectacular — about 80 per cent of the way through a complete, professional restoration.  Its major problem was, it had no sights.  I wrote about finding sights for it, and even having one of them made, in Sporting Note #19.  Once the sights were on, and I acquired the wherewithal to load 8.15x46R cartridges, I was prepared to forgo any additional touches.

Still, one thing nagged me.  The ultra-elaborate German Schützen stocks usually have thumb rests on the right side of the grip — little curved shelves where you rest your thumb while you pull the trigger.  It helps stabilize your hand so you don’t disturb your aim.  This rifle had one, but it had been broken off, leaving a jagged edge.  There was enough of it left to use, but it was a blemish that grew in my mind until I could stand it no longer.  The process was not helped by antique gun expert, writer, and all-round gadfly perfectionist Garry James, who did not miss an opportunity to berate me for not making the old girl “perfect.”  Finally, I took it to Lee Shaver and asked if he could help me out.

What is not generally known is that these stocks, with their rococo cheekpieces, were not carved from one solid walnut blank the way the English and Americans do.  Generally, they were assembled in pieces, with the cheekpiece grafted onto one side and the thumb rest onto the other.  So skillfully was this done, matching the grain and masking any joints, that even examination with a magnifying glass fails to reveal anything.

However, age and wood shrinkage can pull back the curtain a little, and you can faintly see how my thumb rest was assembled.  Lee looked at it, said “no problem,” or words to that effect, and I left it with him.

The accompanying photographs show the result.  One is the rifle as I bought it, along with the other Martini I acquired at the same time.  It also has a thumb rest, although a more modest one.  The second photo shows the rest after Lee had completed work.  He not only repaired it to its original shape, but “aged” the repair so it would look suitably worn.

And with that, the lovely rifle is as close to completely and fully restored as I can make it.  Now maybe Garry James will stop hounding me.


In truth, Gray’s shooting editor has all the same perfectionist instincts as the aforementioned Mr. James, but it helps to have an outside influence to blame for his excesses.