Ross MkII: Sorry, We’ll Get it Right This Time

The many significant problems with the Model 1903 / MkI Ross rifle had quickly led to the development of the improved MkII design. This strengthened many parts, including the sights, nosecap, bolt latch, and more. The receiver was made thicker, and an extra set of cams added to make the bolt throw smoother. Primary extraction was added by way of angling the locking lugs. Mk II rifles began to come off the Ross Rifle Company production line in December of 1905.

Between its introduction and its replacement by the MkIII in 1912, the MkII Ross would undergo 5 changes in type, mostly involving different rear sights. However, a distinct “long” pattern was also made, designated the MkII**. This model had a longer barrel and some mechanical changes, and was also fitted with a rear aperture sight and stripper clip guide. These would be very successful in competition shooting at the time, and helped salvage the reputation of the Ross after the problems of the MkI.

Overall, 13,700 “long” MkII Rosses were made along with 124,000 of the “short” type. They did see use in World War One, as armament for Canadian artillery units. They were also used as training rifles by the military, and the US government also purchased 20,000 of the MkII3* pattern for use training the multitudes of new US soldiers joining up to fight in Europe.

Many thanks to the private collectors who allowed me access to their rifles to make this video!


  1. How did the aperture sights compare with the usual tangent sights of the time? Was target acquisition easier?

    As for the export to America, having a functioning weapon was better for overall morale and true marksmanship, as the alternative was to pretend to shoot something with a broomstick! Had the logistics been worse, the dough boys might have gone to war in civilian clothes while carrying rusted 60-year-old muzzle-loaded rifle-muskets as isolationist crowds demanded peace at ALL costs. Just kidding!

    • Very good question. In my own experience, I discovered existence of aperture (peep-hole) sight on this continent. I knew about “diopter sight” of course, but those were used at European mainland for competition target specials only. All regular rifles were with tangent sight and square notch.

      From previous exposure to “notch sight” I did not consider anything unusual or wrong with it, it was standard it that space and time. Actually, if I was to compare, I consider the open notch sight better because it provides shooter with clear picture ahead. In contrary, the aperture sight (depending on size of leaf) blocks part of view, thus putting shooter in disadvantage.

  2. Watching this, I was struck by a question…

    Given that the whole question of “bolt action” combat rifle is held to be “solved”, in terms of “Yeah, we know how to do this pretty well…”, just what the hell would a modern bolt-action rifle look like, if someone were to sit down and say “Yes, we need the ultimate bolt action rifle…” for whatever reason.

    Can’t imagine why someone would do that, what the conditions might need to be in order for us to see a renaissance for this category, but let’s just say that it’s there: We need a new bolt-action rifle for combat purposes. Knowing what we know today, what would that look like? How would we design it? What are the characteristics we’d want, from the standpoint of what we know today?

    Would it be a turn-bolt rifle? Would it be a lifting-block straight-pull, like a manual FAL? Would it even be a straight-pull action? Maybe that M1918 product-improved Mauser, with the built-in dust cover?

    I’m suddenly sitting here wondering what such a rifle would look like. Short, handy…? Obviously. Detachable magazine? Maybe. What other characteristics would you want?

    • If I was to start fresh, I’d try not to mimic Mauser. Not that there is anything wrong with Mauser action – it is strong and durable, but I’d move locking lugs into rear part of receiver. Reason is purely practical one: access to chamber for proofing empty but mainly for chamber cleaning. Tilt lock would also be a good option, but that may require two piece action design.

    • Ruger Ranch bolt-action rifle, in 7.62x39mm caliber

      Using a red dot sight, light weight bipod, and a sound suppressor.

      Two mechanical changes to the magazine might be beneficial. One is reducing the spring strength. A bolt action does not need the stiff magazine spring of a semi-automatic rifle. The other magazine change (and this is really esoteric) is adding one extra notch to one magazine, so the magazine can lock in partly inserted acting as a magazine cutoff.

      (Yes, I’ve already thought a lot about your question before you even asked it)

      It would be very fun to see such a bolt-action run head to head against an SKS in a two gun action match!

      • Is the Mauser turn-bolt (which is what I’d consider the Ruger to be a derivative of…) the optimal way to do a manual action?

        Couple of things to look at: Overall maintenance/service from an army-wide standpoint. The French sight thing springs to mind–Maybe you’d want a weapon you could adjust headspace on easily, out in the field? Were you to go with a lifting-block action, you’d be able to have your armorers change out the locking shoulder to adjust headspace fairly easily.

        Alternatively, if you were to do a design like the AR-15, have the bolt lock into a barrel extension, you’d be able to get away with a much lighter and less precisely-built receiver.

        I think that maybe the best way to phrase my question would be “From the standpoint of what we know now, what would be the optimal design to have someone at about the 1880 level of technology build as a service rifle…?”.

        I like the intermediate cartridge/carbine idea, a lot. But, remember–There is the need for horse-killing built into the equation early on. Our users still need to worry about stopping cavalry.

        • The first question, before you put pen to paper, or begin clicking mouse buttons in a CAD package, is, “what do you want to achieve?”

          What do you want a modern bolt action to do?

          There are some modern military bolt action rifles, firing cartridges derived from the .416 Rigby, and they are used by specialists. A lot more freedom of design is possible, when you have careful, specialist, users.

          Compared to general issue to the conscripts, convicts and scum who filled the regiments of the late 19th century.

          The successful bolt action rifles, were developed over a period of years, often with drastic changes occurring in design principles, for example, look at the Mauser line of actions,
          There’s a huge change from the split bridge, single locking lug, tube magazine, m71/84 and the ultra rare, box magazine model that was doing the rounds of military trials in 1888.

          And there are even bigger changes from the 1888 rifle, to the rifle adopted by Belgium in 1889, and promptly adopted by the Ottoman empire, Argentina and a bunch of other south American states.

          Even with that rifle, the changes came thick and fast, and the model of 1898, had corrected many more shortcomings; double loading, exposed magazine, striker miss assembly, bolt mis assembly, strikers snapping, case head protrusion, gas handling, barrels splitting, changes in zero due to barrel heating…

          It takes a deep understanding of how and why people like Mauser, Carcarno, etc designed things the way that they did, to not make the mistakes that they were seeking to avoid.

          A good look at two bolt actions that Americans tend to rave about (the 1903 Springfields, of all models, and the Remmington 725, 600, 700, 7 etc) can show how people who really should have known better, can really make a hash of things.

          Incidentally, I think that Sullivan did a really good job on the Ruger 77, within the constraints that he was given. It will never be the equal of a Mauser 98 from a functional or user safety point of view

        • I think that maybe the best way to phrase my question would be “From the standpoint of what we know now, what would be the optimal design to have someone at about the 1880 level of technology build as a service rifle…?”.

          I like the intermediate cartridge/carbine idea, a lot. But, remember–There is the need for horse-killing built into the equation early on. Our users still need to worry about stopping cavalry.


          Well from that what if? point of view, I would like to know more about the US Navy 6mm Lee rifle, particularly about its clip loading system.

          It seems like the US made one of the biggest blunders of small arms history, when for the sake of commonality the US Navy gave up the 6mm Lee for the Army .30 Springfield. When, with perfect 20-20 hindsight maybe the US Army should have just adapted the 6mm Lee instead!

    • Steyr Scout? Maybe in a more moderate caliber than .308.

      Cooper’s scout rifle concept comes close I think in what a modern handy manually actuated rifle should be able to do. I would stay with a turn bolt, because of ease of construction. Maybe go with rear locking to shorten the thing, because as the french have shown, rear locking is good enough. OTOH as you wrote, a barrel extension designs makes it possible to save weight. Rear sight I would go with soemthing like the G3 diopter drum. Or on the new rifles for the Arctic Rangers. Front sight hooded of course like a G3 to aid in aiming. Mounting rail over the receiver, magazine removeable. Plastic stock. threaded muzzle for a flash hider, blank adapter etc. Really put some thought into ergonomics so everything just falls into place when you pick it up and shoulder it. All the more difficult, when it has to accomodate both optics and iron sights.

    • “(…)if someone were to sit down and say “Yes, we need the ultimate bolt action rifle…” for whatever reason.(…)”
      There is not single definitive answer to such question, if reason is not known. Would like differently depending on destined task(s). Sniping? Probably something like Scharfschützengewehr 69. Maximal Rate-of-Fire? Something akin to biathlon rifles. Minimal sound signature? De Lisle carbine. And so on.

  3. The mystery of the Ross barrel thread

    Perhaps Ian’s theory is backwards. Instead of the easy barrel removal being a military feature, perhaps it originated as a commercial feature. Take down hunting rifles/shotguns were popular around the time of the Ross rifle, so maybe that course barrel thread is for take down rifle instead of quick change barrel. And that commercial barrel feature was just carried over without change to the military rifles (until that Mark II two-star)?

    (besides, why would a worn out military barrel need to be quickly changed?)

    I think there is a scene in the movie “Joe Kidd”, where Clint Eastwoods character assembles a Ross take down rifle to take out a bad guy sniping at him.

    • Good Day

      I acquired a Ross Rifle MkII** from a gun store some years ago who had acquired it only days before at an estate sale. This rifle is amazing condition and is the pride and joy of my collection. I have some questions and please feel free to email me directly for pictures. This rifle i am trying to figure out if its a military target rifle or a competition match rifle. It has the rear flip up ladder sights and no “ski ramp” style. It still has an old leather sling on it. The other question really comes to value. The internet is so vague on values and honestly i believe my rifle is probably only 1 of maybe a few dozen in the condition and original configuration. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

  4. There are 5 patterns of the Ross II**
    1) The Cdn team at Bisley in 1907 did poorly with the light barrel MkII Ross. In 1908 they showed up with the II** featurig a 30″ heavy barrel and cleaned up.
    2) the Brits complained that the 1 could not fit a bayonet so this one had the bt lug extended 2″ to fit a bt. 1 and 2 were limited production.
    3) Longer stock barrel mounted sight 1911
    4)As 4 but milled rear site cum charger guide.
    5) 3 fitted retrofitted with sheet steel charger guide.

  5. What a mess – by all accounts Ross himself was less than forthcoming about his rifles inc. going ‘missing’ or just ignoring requests for information for long periods.
    Note that the British rifles were for the Navy – 1914 they gave up 1/2 their long Lee Enfield and all their SMLE stock to arm the Marine division and to the Army. These being replaced by Japanese Arisakas – which proved ‘less than popular’ for a variety of reasons and happy (given the rifle supply situation) to grab the Ross (though in turn considering them reasonable but less than ideal and replacing them with SMLEs asap).

  6. Kirk’s comment is very interesting. What WOULD an ideal bolt/manual action military rifle be? I have played around with this idea myself in conversation with others.

    The other day, Bloke on the Range posted a video of himself shooting a match at Bisley, and one of the things he mentioned were the straight pull Garands that you find in the UK. They have to be built with “new” barrels, and have no gas port or gas system, but still retain the return spring. Given that one of the issues that delayed the development of a good semi-auto rifles early on was the quality/consistency of the ammunition of the time, a “spring assisted” straight pull seems to me a good solution to this problem. Still a manually operated gun, but faster and less fatiguing to use. See also some of the modern straight pull biathlon rifles.

    An interesting middle step between a bolt gun, and an effective self loader, which, given the metallurgy and technology of the time, would likely have been an idea worth pursuing idea. It is also interesting to consider the Ross in this context, given that the Ross was the basis of the Huot.

    I am also reminded of a conversation between Ian and Othias on a C&Arsenal Q&A that Ian participated in. The topic was the theoretical best WWI rifle. Ian, for sound reasons, liked the P-14/M1917. A combination of the best features of the Mauser (front locking robustness, safety and accuracy), with the Lee Enfield (Cock on closing, and bolt knob location, turned down bolt handle/smaller opening angle etc. for fast shooting), along with the best sights of the day, well protected, long sight radius, relatively large aperture etc). Othias suggested it be chambered in 7mm Mauser, Ian voted for 6.5 Carcano.

    My own idea, based on my love of my No.5 and the rather interesting one piece stock, lightened No. 4 prototyped by Long Branch, is for a shortened, lightened No.4, like the so called “Tanker” No. 4’s Century used to sell.

    A shortened, lightened No.4, still retaining the full length stock, but chambered in .276 Pedersen is my choice. The smaller capacity case means a practical shorter barrel without the flash, blast and recoil of the No. 5, and the rimless cartridge removes the only real issue with the Lee Enfield, namely the issues related to the rimmed cartridge.

    Bloke on the Range has decisively demonstrated that the issue of rimlock is not really an issue with Lee Enfields, but in my experience, the problem is loading. The design of the rimmed cartridge chargers adds friction into the system. Try loading an Lee Enfield with WWII parkerized chargers, compared to loading a Swedish Mauser.

    Unfortunately, the technical development needed to get to my “ideal bolt action rifle”, gets you to a self loader in the same caliber, so really just an interesting thought experiment.

    As for the Ross, part of the problem was the Schizophrenia of the design. Ross made a superb target rifle, and a superb sporting rifle, but trying to turn those two things into a service rifle, without considering the necessary trade-offs is in my opinion, what ultimately caused the failure of the design.

    • When you start looking at converted M1 Garands or AR-15, I think you are leaving the true realm of a “bolt action” and entering the larger realm of manually operated rifles. The nature of the locking mechanism whether rotating bolt or otherwise is academic at that point, and the entire bewildering types of modern manually operated rifles should then be looked at for relative military virtue.

      In that larger category, I like the idea of a ‘pistol brace’ straight-pull AR-15 handgun in .300 AAC caliber with a 10 inch barrel. That would be feather light, and relatively inexpensive too.

      But there is something to be said for the more conventional true bolt action, with it’s simplicity, accuracy, reliability, and low cost. A simple turn bolt with primary extraction is a good thing. And many of the big rifle businesses have invested a lot of effort into designing very inexpensive bolt actions for the American commercial market.

      I’ve already mentioned my favor for the 20 shot 7.62x39mm Ruger Ranch flavor of the Ruger American bolt action rifle. An available supply of strong reliable steel magazines in 5, 10, and 20 shot varieties is a plus. The low cost, light weight, low recoil, short action stroke, and tapered case easing extraction, of the 7.62x39mm is a plus.

      I only wish the Ruger wasn’t quite so clunky on the opening stroke of the bolt. Could changing the action to cock on closing fix that? Maybe an extended bolt handle for increased leverage would be a simpler solution?

      A modern military bolt action in 7.62x39mm would be very adaptable. It would be more suitable than a 5.56mm semi-auto for blank firing of rifle grenades, for using subsonic cartridges with a sound suppressor, for single loading extra long cartridges with high BC bullets for precision long range fire, and for specialty rounds such as incendiary bullets.

  7. The C with the broad arrow in it just means Canadian government ownership, not sold out of service. The British sold out of service mark is two broad arrows facing each other- -><- so to speak. I have not seen it on a Canadian item but I am no expert.

  8. Which brainiac decided to give artillerymen a rifle with a 31″ barrel? Traditionally they were issued with carbines. How come the Canadians ended up issuing them with rifles longer than the standard infantry model?

    The Ross rifle really was through the looking glass.

  9. Out of curiousity, what is the reason for the gear tooth cuts as opposed to the smooth cam track design? Does it interact with the bolt carrier any differently than the regular cam tracks from the Mk.I, or is it there to reduce friction or create little channels for dirt to go?

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