Object Title

Ross sniper rifle, Mark III with Warner and Swasey scope

Ross sniper rifle, Mark III with Warner and Swasey scope


The Ross rifle was designed by Charles Ross (1872-1942) in 1896 and manufactured at his factory in Quebec. A very fast but overly complex straight pull bolt action rifle, it was redesigned a number of times. The first incarnation of the Ross rifle Mark I (1902), chambered the standard British .303 in cartridge. From 1907, Ross redesigned his rifle several times, most notably increasing the length of the barrel, altering safety features and changing the cartridge to the more powerful .280 in Ross cartridge. This resulted in various different starred patterns of the Mark II version.

By 1911 the Ross rifle Mark III (sometimes referred to as the Model 1910, the year of its design) was complete and became the official rifle of the Canadian Army. Reverting back to .303 in calibre, it was taken to the trenches of the First World War, and turned out to be a complete failure as an infantry rifle. The weapon was too sensitive for life in the mud and dirt of the trenches, resulting in fouling of the barrel. When it came to stripping the Ross to clean it was found that the bolt could be assembled in the wrong order. This could result in the rifle being fired with the bolt not locked into the receiver. One soldier was killed in this way before a modification was made.

Use and effect

The Ross rifle did have one redeeming feature; its incredible accuracy, especially when paired with a telescopic sight. By 1916 the Ross was replaced by the Short Magazine Lee-Enfield rifle however, it was kept in service for use by Canadian snipers.

Snipers were trained to stalk the enemy, conceal themselves accordingly and possess the ability to kill with one shot. In order to help achieve this two scopes were used by the Canadians, the American designed Winchester A5 and the more widely available Warner and Swasey scope. With its 5x magnification, the Warner and Swasey scope provided its user with a clear, bright and large size picture. It had the added bonus of being fitted with elevation and windage drums. These drums could however suffer from loss of zero if handled roughly, resulting in an inaccurate shot revealing the snipers position.  As a solution snipers would hold down the sight in its true position with rubber bands. The sight was also flawed in that it had an 'eye relief' of just one inch (2.5 cm), despite having a large rubber eye cup. This often meant snipers were inclined to flinch whilst they were taking shots, again affecting their accuracy. The final cause for concern was the mounting of the scope. It could often loosen causing the sight to become unsecure. Herbert McBride author of A Rifleman Went to War had a solution to this problem:
'By using a wedge- made of a piece of safety razor blade-and salt water, I got her on so tight that I came near to being court-martialled when I finally turned it in as the armourer could not get it off.'

Despite the flaws connected to the Ross rifle and its accompanying Warner Swasey scope, the Canadian snipers excelled at their art. Corporal Francis Pegahmagabow (1891-1952), was the most effective sniper of the War capturing 300 prisoners and achieving 378 kills with his Ross rifle.


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Ross Sniper rifle being loaded and fired into a ballistic soap block


Action / Operating system Straight-pull bolt
Barrel length 89 cm (35 in)
Calibre / Bore 7.7x56mmR (.303 in)
Capacity (rounds) 5
Country of manufacture Canada
Date entered service 1911
Effective range 600 m (656 yd) with scope
Feed Internal magazine
Manufacturer Ross Rifle Co
Manufacturer Warner and Swasey
Muzzle velocity 794 m/s (2604 fps)
Overall length 1.280 m (50.5 in)
Primary operator Canada
Weight 5.6 kg (12 lb 5.5 oz)


Lisa Traynor