Geha Shotgun: An Interwar Curiosity
In 2021 I grew a fascination with military surplus, leading me to travel all over South East Pennsylvania looking for small little treasures of surplus in gun stores, usually being turned off by the outrageous prices you see for a good surplus rifle nowadays. During my travels I came upon a shotgun that had a tag stating “12 Gauge Shotgun, Geha, $100”, the firearm in question being of very strange design with a Mauser-type action. The owner of the gun store was very dismissive of the shotgun, and sold it without discussing much about it. Little did I know I was purchasing a relic of the interwar period from the 20th century.
After taking it home, I sat down in front of my computer to do some research on the shotgun, only to find very small bits and pieces of info regarding it spread across the internet, mainly comprised of an old Cabela’s listing, a couple of decrepit forum posts, and functionality of the shotgun being displayed in ancient YouTube videos. It quickly became one of my personal favorites, something I always bring out to show firearm enthusiastic guests when they come over. It became a great conversation piece for guests and soon I found myself very knowledgeable on the shotgun. I intend to compile as much relevant info as possible, and expand upon the history of this 1920s curiosity. Although there are technically three names for this shotgun, I will refer to it as the “Geha” as that is the most common usage, and for simplicity’s sake.
History And Background
After the events of World War I, what is now Germany had signed the Treaty of Versailles, which consisted of many articles intending to limit the German military and prevent another war on that scale to happen again. These events, along with a revolution, led to the formation of what we call the Weimar Republic, which is the interwar name for Germany coined after the city the constituent assembly first took place. In the Treaty of Versailles there was a limit on how many troops and weapons the country could field, leading to destruction or sale of countless equipment.
During this period there was an excessive amount of Mauser Gewehr 98s in stockpile that had to be disposed of, especially ones of lesser quality that were damaged in wartime, so the Weimar government came up with a plan to reignite the failing Germany economy and offload their excess rifles. This would lead to the conversion of the Mauser rifle into the Geha (although they were also sold as Hard Hit Heart or Remo) shotgun, which would be sold on the civilian market as a hunting shotgun. This did not last nor did it stimulate the German economy enough to prevent financial ruin through hyperinflation. There is no official record at this time of when conversions began and when they ceased converting. The conversion process involved maintaining whatever parts of the Mauser they could, and manufacturing the shotgun components to be attached and welded where needed.
General Design and Parts
To understand the Geha’s design it is best to compare what is considered to be Mauser-like and what is uniquely designed for the shotgun itself. Starting with the Mauser like components, we have the three point safety selector at the rear of the receiver, which has a switch that if sent all the way to the right prevents the trigger from activating the firing pin, and the bolt locks into place, preventing you from opening the chamber. The middle setting allows operating the bolt, and finally turning the switch all the way to the left allows for the firing pin to be activated by the trigger. Speaking of the bolt, the Geha line of shotguns uses the original Mauser bolt, albeit with an additional coin-like bolt-head piece added to the bolt-face to grip the shotgun shell (an issue some users experience is that the bolt-head sometimes ejects with the shell). The rear end of the receiver even includes the original feed rail for the 8MM Mauser clips, indicating how much of the original rifle they saved to cut costs. All serial numbers from the original rifle remain, along with import markings. To square off all the Mauser parts, we have the receiver it-self, which has a the forward locking portion of the receiver removed to allow for the larger sized barrels to be fitted on, making it so only the third locking lock, and the bolt handle going into the receiver, to be the primary locking mechanism.
Without my personal experience, I have found in my research that the 16 and 20 gauge variants often will have sections of the forward locking lugs remaining, but not on all individual models and nor do I have any form of photographic evidence to back this up. With this in mind, lower power loads should be used as the gun has less safety precautions, to the point that I even found an online forum post from 2006 discussing someone’s allegation that the bolt launched out from a high load shotgun round and killed the user. There is however no evidence to support this claim.
Now to draw attention to the shotgun conversion components. The glaring change is the alternate stock, the Geha’s stock being something more of a light weight, typical sporting stock, which would make sense for an commercial rifle to be focused on being lighter and less focus on long-term field use. The sights for the Gewehr 98 have been replaced with a small divot made in the exterior above the chamber, and a small bead placed above the muzzle in the front for sighting and lining up. Obviously, this is a more typical set up for pellet based rounds over a slug, as precise accuracy is not the main focus, indicating that the shotgun’s main intent was sport shooting of clays and bird hunting. The barrel itself has been replaced, ofcourse, to a smoothbore barrel of reportedly differing lengths, my personal model being 27 inches, but there is the possibility of home-modifications done to achieve this as I have found no official photo evidence. Looking at the magazine we can observe that the magazine has been modified to hold one shotgun shell in place, and then one in the chamber. Due to the nature of this converted magazine, you can even see the shell in the magazine when the gun is loaded and the bolt all the way forward. Even with all these changes in mind, the gun is entirely serviceable, and has historically shot without much issue.
So How’s It Shoot?
This section is going to be entirely based on my personal experience with the Geha, having put at least 200 shells of various kinds through the gun for extensive reasons. The bolt moves just like you’d expect it: like a Gewehr 98. Smooth and high quality, with the original trigger in place too. I’ve heard complaints that it “Feels too much like a rifle” which to me just sounds like people finding reasons to complain. The gun has excessive recoil, to the point that it’s painful to shoot with higher power loads and people I know are afraid to fire it. There is also the issue regarding high brass shells. Although this is mainly a holdover from how shotgun shells used to be designed, it’s commonly accepted among Geha owners to use low brass shells only, due to the age and design of the gun. With this in mind, as long as you use lighter pressure shells you should be relatively fine with either as high brass are not typically higher power than low brass anymore. Accuracy is to be expected with a shotgun, although I abnormally struggled to hit clays at a further distance. The bolt in mine has roughly a 5% chance to NOT feed a round from the magazine into the bolt face, which I have not investigated enough to determine why. The ejection works flawlessly, and overall is a satisfying and fun gun to shoot. I highly recommend it more as a novelty piece over a hunting shotgun any day due to the low capacity, poor accuracy, and awkward design with the bolt.
The Geha line of shotguns is a historical relic from a turbulent time in European history, showing Germany’s desperation to kick-start their post-war economy by any means. The result of this is a shotgun that’s loved by anyone who has one, and sought after by collectors whenever they show up at gun shows or in local gun stores. For an average price of roughly $200 it is a must have for anyone who likes weird military surplus conversion, just don’t expect the quality from other shotguns.
Sources for some of my information that I did not gather from personal usage:
And the legendary forum where someone claims he had a reliable source (which was not listed) of someone being killed by one launching the bolt back in the 1960s:
If you notice, all of these are forum discussions, as there is no Wiki or related article detailing info on the shotgun.
And finally, a nice small paragraph I found from a very old blog:
Hi, I enjoyed your article. There is a lot of interesting history to be found collecting old firearms, both military and otherwise. I have one of these in 16 gauge and have only seen the ones in 12 gauge though I’m told they were in the majority. Mine is actually in quite good condition. I can insure you that the locking lugs on the bolt of my 16 gauge definitely engage substantially. Just the same I would say that it is not the sort of firearm that a beginner should start with.
I wanted to mention to you that in the pictures It looked to me like you were using 12 gauge 2 3/4″ inch cartridges. In my experience most of the older European shotguns were chambered for 2 1/2″ shot shells. My 16 gauge Geha is definitely chambered for 2 1/2″. I also have an early European double in 12 gauge and it is chambered in 2 1/2″. Unfortunately the Geha and many other older shotguns are not marked. I guess that was the size that shot shells were in those days so why mark them. I have also mistakenly fired 2 3/4″ shells in 2 1/2″ chambers without realizing it, and lived to tell the tail, but the gun did kick like a mule. What happens is that when the longer cartridge unfolds during firing the crimped portion of the front of the shell cannot completely open and so there is a bit of a restriction formed as hole out the end of the cartridge is not as large as it should be. Sometimes you will notice that the end of the fired cartridge is frayed a bit, ragged looking. If you measure the chamber length it can be confusing to as for the 2 1/2″ cartridge it will sometimes be almost 2 3/4″ and this depends on the way the chamber was cut. Rule of thumb, a 2 1/2″ 12 gauge shotshell will measure just over 2″ before firing and 2 1/2″ after firing. A 2 3/4″ 12 gauge shotshell will measure just under 2 1/2″ before firing and 2 3/4″ after firing.
Now if you want to do another article try searching for a Greener MkIII police shotgun, it is one odd shotgun.
Brazil made quite a few of Itajuba shotguns using old surplused mauser actions, just like did ex-USSR / Russia “frolovkas” on Mosin -Nagant rifles. They tend to be mostly lighter gauges, like 28, 32 and 410 bore
My great grandfather bought a Hard Hit Heart in the 30’s and I still have it. Don’t shoot it much but its a great conversation piece.
Really enjoyed the article! Just inherited quite a few guns and a 12 gauge Geha was part of the collection.