1. Mauser 98: It was the bolt-action rifle perfected. Adopted by nearly every nation in the world (save Russia) in one form or another at some time, it was the dominant military rifle for 50 years. It was safe for the shooter, reliable and so widespread. It remains the most important military rifle of the 20th century, and became the basis of the modern sporting rifle as well
2. M1 Garand: It represents American industry and manufacturing at their absolute height. No other nation issued every infantryman a semi-automatic rifle during World War II. Always reliable, accurate enough to dominate at Camp Perry, chambered for the best cartridge of all time, in the context of its time and place in history the M1 stands alone.
3. AK-47: The most reliable, most produced firearm in history. It’s easy to make, easy to shoot and became not only a military rifle but a cultural icon. How many other firearms are on a country’s flag or are a form of currency in the Third World? Designed to defend Mikail Kalashikov’s Motherland, it became much, much more.
4. Lee-Enfield: The best battlefield bolt-action rifle adopted by any nation at any time. Smooth bolt operation, a 10-round magazine capacity, it always worked from Mafeking to Korea. More than 9 million made and a century of service. Enough said.
5. Pattern 1853 Enfield: This was the rifle-musket perfected; the accuracy of a rifle with rapid reloading of the smoothbore musket. Arguably inferior to the Model 1861 Springfield in some respects, it was widely used by British forces all over the world from the Crimean War until the adoption of the Martini-Henry. Used extensively by both sides during the American Civil War, its combat record and service stand alone among rifle-muskets.
6. M16: Eugene Stoners AR-15/M16 rifle was absolutely revolutionary in terms of design and materials when adopted first by the U.S. Air Force, then all the American military. Despite issues with the wrong powder and the bad rap it received in the Vietnam War, it has become an effective and reliable arm for American and other solider around the world. It is the most widely produced arm in American military history.
7. Model 1891 Mosin-Nagant: Adopted by the Imperial Russian Army in 1891 (the sights were originally regulated in “arshins”), it survived the Russian Revolution and became the primary rifle used by the Red Army to defeat the Nazi invaders. In various forms it served well into the Cold War era. Crude and ugly in many ways, it was reliable and effective. How many other rifles could be counted on to work, all the time, in the Siberian Winter?
8. FN-FAL: Adopted by 66 countries in the postwar period, it became the “Free World’s Right Arm” during the dark days of the Cold War. It was the best adaptation of a full-power cartridge in a magazine-fed, selective-fire battle rifle. Useless in selective-fire (like all full power battle rifles), it was the best of a bad concept.
9. Model of 1903 Springfield: Really, the M1903 is a variant of the Mauser, and the U.S. government paid a royalty to Mauser based on its stripper clip patent. Nonetheless, it was an excellent target rifle and a fine bolt-action combat rifle. In my view, it is the most beautiful and well-crafted arm to ever leave a government arsenal anywhere at any time. With the M1903A4 sniper rifle, the ’03 served well into the Korean and the 1950s. It redefined American tastes and brought American military arms into the modern era.
10. Dreyse: The first bolt-action military cartridge gun adopted by a major army. It was several technological leaps ahead of anything else until the American Civil War 20 years later. That technological advantage provided by the Dreyse paved the way for the unification of Germany and the unpleasantness that followed.