Parker Hale M85: Traditional Sniper in a Modern World

The 1985 competition to pick a new sniper rifle for the British military came down to a closely fought contest between the Accuracy International PM and the Parker Hale M85. The M85 was a fantastically accurate rifle, every bit the equal of the AI submission and to this day there are still people who were involved in the trials who insist that the M85 should have been selected. Ultimately, the decision came down to the logistical issues surrounding the rifle, where AI’s chassis system was superior to Parker-Hale’s traditional construction. Despite being defeated, Parker Hale sold some 800 M85 rifles – nearly as many as the military contract would have procured (and in fact, a few M85s were purchased by several military units).

If you are interested in learning more, I highly recommend checking out Steve Houghton’s newly released book, “The British Sniper: A Century of Evolution“.


  1. Nice review Ian: I was hoping you’d review the M85 sometime soon as it definitely qualifies as a ‘Forgotten Weapon’.

    Designed to provide an 85% first round hit capability from 600 – 900 metres, it has a silent safety catch and mine also has a threaded muzzle + a 20-round magazine too.

    I was lucky enough to contact one of the PH armourers whe I acquired it: Bill kept a ‘little black book’ of records after left the factory and my rifle was apparently rated with an 18mm group @ 100yds.

    A friend of mine has an M87 which was my introduction to PH rifles: same principles, but but probably built on a slightly different chassis – it was loaded in a timber stock the as the civilian version for Police use.

    The Canadian military also used PH rifles with their C3A1 (M82 chassis?) – you’ll know more about this than I do Ian for sure…

    I would be happy to host a range session for you next time you are in the UK if you’d like to come and shoot my M85 sometime? I’ve got a card with a nice group of 5 holes touching which is always rewarding experience, both in terms of shooting and hand loading the ammunition…

    But don’t forget, next time you are over the pond, ping me an email in advance and you can enjoy the delights of that waggly Mauser bolt!

  2. Thank you Ian and Steve.

    Poor Roger Hale. Handgunner magazine had been commenting on the size of Parker Hale’s bank overdraft for a few years.

    I don’t know the history of A J Parker, who provided aperture target sights, cleaning kits etc, etc and sold regulated Lee and P14 based rifles to the target shooting crowd in Britain

    Or how Roger Hale got to own the name.

    Parker Hale, had sold Santa Barbara type, Spanish made mauser 98 sporters for a good number of years.

    They also sold aluminium scopen rings and bases. The M85 has standard PH ring tops but the one piece base is a very nice touch.

    The M85 bolt has the FN style bolt sleeve and everything else that the Santa Barbara has. Made in Spain?

    ?Mid West were selling un machined PH mauser investment castings in EN19 (4140 4340 or similar) from a Foundry in Yeovil, in Somerset (a chav town in the south west corner of England, not that there’s anything wrong with either of those).

    I don’t know where PH got the M85 receiver ?cast or forged then machined. Perhaps the foundry in Somerset got stuck with a batch of un paid for castings when PH went bang.

    I’m going to stick my neck outo and guess that the M85 was cast in Britain as well.

    The M14 mag was a nice touch. It used straight cylindrical forms for its feed lips. Nice and simple

    And it avoids the costly machining of feed lips into the receiver

    I’m guessing that the mag catch is attached to the receiver, to avoid the complication of tolerances between the trigger guard and the receiver with a third party stock in between.

    I met Roger Hale once. When I was about 15 years old. Many decades ago.

  3. Hadn’t PH just become the UK Glock dealer which coincided with the handgun ban? A perfect storm from which their cash-flow could not recover from…

  4. Don’t know,

    When I met Roger Hale, they were importers for H&K.

    Any agency is going to require an outlay for stockstock of guns and spares, as well as stumping up for ads

    The perfect way to bankruptcy, if you just shelled out for glocks and there was no compensation to businesses for “safety” legislation.

  5. I’d better add that I used to shoot at Parr’s indoor range at the Via Gellia mills in Derbyshire.

    He ended up taking his own life due to the financial chaos the pistol ban caused him.

    • The pistol ban, in my opinion (as an American) is yet another silly attempt to disarm crooks by making them unable to pretend to be normal people at a gun store. It’s stupid. Crooks with pistols aren’t going to suddenly tremble in fear at the sight of a single policeman with a wooden truncheon. Do you REALLY think he’ll hand over the weapon? No, the crook will sooner kill off ALL the policemen and then murder the mayor to prove that the pistol ban HAS NO POWER TO PROTECT ANYONE.

      • U.K pistols were never “recently” licenced for self defence though,very few people had them; so they were easy to ban, after Dunblane… And you couldn’t refuse to comply, because every armed cop in the country would insist that you gave up the only Webley .455 in 100 miles.

        • Our gun laws are very different to the U.S, they were at the point of Hungerford “Semi auto rifle ban” yes, it is fair to say he didn’t obey the law with an Ak.

          No cop had anything comparable for 100 miles; not that it mattered as it took 2 mins.

          • Both attacks, were very bad… General criminals, did not tend to; use such weapons “apart from against each other” so they banned them.

            Crazy guy shot loads of folk with a .22 not so long ago… They didn’t ban them; all dead mind, so shit happens; not an Ak at least.

          • If you get shot here now “bar via a sawn off; or an AK if your a City crook whos ripped off some Russian etc” you’ll likely be hit by an unrifled .380 at 5yrds… So, wear armour eh; as that won’t be healthy, will it.

          • Note: If it is traditional “hospitality” I.e. A Sawn off in the face, likely 12 bore: Go along with it, whatever you do.

          • Mainly knifes though, so run a fucking mile if you manage to catch a glimpse of one of them; forever stabbing every cunt these days for fuck all the youth.

            Electric chair; might deter them, lot of electricity though we’ve cut down on power stations; carbon neutral by 2189 ✊

          • Aye, a bog standard kitchen knife son; not ban them will you, hows Mrs Halfpenny meant to peel her fucking carrots and rib a pigeon. Use a fork! Fuck that, imagine these little bastards doing you in with a fork; rather it was quicker.

          • When rounded-point knives were mandated, I had to SMH. Chunk of steel strap + file + friction tape + elbow grease = knife good enough to kill somebody with, even if it isn’t a $1000 Peter Bauchop Benchmade Wonder.

            I’m guessing the legislators never took any vocational classes in school.



      • Gun bans are constructed with people vs.the politicians/government in mind, not people vs. crooks, the Man does not care about petty crime.

  6. Speaking of the M85 scope mount, I bought the M85 without rings and realised I would need a customised mount to be fabricated as PH rings to match were quite a rarity. Had a spot of luck though when shopping at Norman Clarke’s place in Rugby. He poked about about in his ‘box-o-bits’ and fished out a set of M85 scope rings. Quickest £100 he ever made, but I was absolutely delighted…

    Norman bought the three prototype M85s worked from PH that they had worked up which he showed me: the first of the three had a FN FAL barrel fitted…

  7. Oh wow, that’s a nice bit of history.

    I’ll put a fiver on it that the bolts were Santa Barbara.

    Are the extraction and chambering cam displacements the same as a Mauser 98?

    Chambering cam displacement is a full quarter of an inch. I can’t remember off hand what the extraction displacement should be, but it’s way better displacement and mechanical advantage than any 60° bolt rotation action can ever hope to achieve.

  8. Looks like there were some un machined M85 receiver castings left over

    It’s interesting that the underside of the receiver castigated that is shown is very similar to the parent M98 Mauser, there doesn’t seem to have been any attempt to increase the rigidity of the tang.

    I wonder whether this was the case in the castings that were actually turned into rifles? Or whether the pictured casting was from a development batch?

    Lack of rigidity in the tang is supposed to be one of the drawbacks when making up a rifle on a Mauser, that is expected to maintain its zero within very close limits.

    Tang design is one area where the 1903 Springfield is actually pretty good, its a copy of the back end of a Krag and Jorgensen.

    That was carried on into the Winchester 54 and 70 rifles, and the Brno and Cz centre fire bolt action sporters.

    Stability of the threaded joint between the barrel and the receiver is also an issue in accuracy and maintaining a consistent zero. It’s actually impossible to get more than a couple of threads at one end of the threaded connection really tight, and the joint can and will wobble enough to affect grouping.

    It looks like Parker Hale’s designers believed that the stability of the barrel connection was more of a priority to be addressed, than the rigidity of the tang was.

  9. There’s an interesting view into the receiver ring in picture 5 of 7 on the old western scroungers ad for M85 castings.

    I’d have posted a link, but it comes out about fifteen lines long.

    Anyway, there’s no inner collar inside the ring. The control of caservice head protrusion and control of any escaping gas go back to the days before the Mauser 98.

  10. A couple of after thoughts,

    The steel could have been EN9. As a straight highish carbon steel, its heat treatment is more straightforward than chrome molybdenum steel, and done properly it comes out with a tough pearlitic micro structure

    The use of the same underside as a Mauser 98, means that all of the aftermarket stocks and triggers fit

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