The M1903 Springfield was for many years considered the best bolt-action military rifle ever made. However, note how far forward the rear sight is located, which many found difficult to use under combat conditions.
In 1898, when U.S. troops went to Cuba to fight in the Spanish–American War, they were armed with the .30-40 caliber U.S. Krag rifle. Unfortunately, the Krag was less effective than the M1893 Spanish Mauser, which had longer range and could be loaded more quickly using stripper clips. The Krag’s issue with range was partially due to the fact that, with just a single locking lug, it was not designed to handle newer high-pressure cartridges. While regular Army units were using the Krag, some National Guard units were still armed with the M1873 “Trapdoor” Springfield, and Navy sailors and Marines with the Lee Model 1895 and the Model 1885 Remington-Lee. All of these weapons came up short when compared with the Spanish Mauser. The ones that were captured were examined, and later some of their features were incorporated into a prototype for a new U.S. rifle—it was ready in 1900.
.30-03 to .30-06
With some modifications to the prototype, the new rifle went into production in 1903. A new higher-pressure cartridge, the .30-03 round, which used a round-nosed 220-grain bullet, was developed accordingly. To handle the more powerful cartridge, the M1903 bolt had dual locking lugs. Other features included a five-round internal magazine that could be clip-fed, as well as a magazine cutoff that allowed rounds to be fed singly into the chamber while the five rounds in the magazine were held in reserve. Originally, the M1903 had a rod bayonet that slid into the forend, but that was soon deemed too fragile for real combat and replaced with a blade bayonet early in production. In 1906, the round-nose .30-03 round was itself replaced by a more effective spritzer-style bullet. The round was re-designated the .30-06, which remains one of the most popular U.S. rifle cartridges today. Some features of the rifle were licensed from Mauser, while the spritzer bullet was licensed from DWM.
At the time the .30-06 cartridge was adopted, it was also necessary to adopt a new rear sight regulated for the higher velocity round. The new sight had a scale, or ladder, sight graduated to 2,400 yards, though the slider containing the aperture sight could really only be raised to 1,900 yards. When the ladder sight was down, a battle sight employing an open notch could be used for a quick snap shot. However, since the zero for the battle sight was 547 yards, troops using the battle sight had to be aware of how high or low to hold when taking a quick shot. Rifles that had been issued in the .30-03 chambering were recalled, re-chambered and fitted with the new sights.