LJ Bonham is a semi-subsistence hunter, hunting magazine editor, and firearms enthusiast who lives in the Rocky Mountains.
Looking Beyond Our Shores
American shooters and hunters are, for better or worse, wedded to cartridges developed in America. The most popular in the States are the .308 Winchester, .30-06 Springfield, .30-30 Winchester, .300 Winchester Magnum, and 7mm Remington Magnum—Americans, all.
Europe has its own ancient hunting tradition. Scandinavians and Russians love to hunt moose, which they call “elk,” and huge brown bears. Central Europe has red stags, boar, and bear. The British are perhaps the most avid hunters in the world.
The French introduced smokeless gun powder to the world in the 1880’s. Almost every European country has produced noteworthy cartridges.
Americans owe it to themselves to use these time tested rounds, if for no other reason than to add spice and variety to their shooting and hunting. Let’s take a look at three excellent European cartridges, there’s bound to be one just right for your next hunt.
The “Swede” as it is fondly known, does have a small, fanatical American following, but it is viewed as a boutique cartridge rather than a “serious” hunting caliber. Elsewhere around the globe, it is prized for its two best properties: low recoil and deadly performance on game.
A cooperative development program between the Norwegian and Swedish military produced the 6.5x55 in 1891. The original load propelled a 156 grain round nose bullet at 2379 feet per second. In 1941 the specification changed to a 140 grain spitzer bullet at 2625 fps.
These figures seem anemic today compared to many high velocity magnums, but the Swede’s advantage lies in the bullet’s superior ballistic qualities. 6.5mm projectiles have both high ballistic coefficients (BC) and high sectional densities (SD).
Ballistic coefficient is a dimensionless number which compares a given bullet’s shape to an ideal projectile. The ideal projectile’s coefficient is 1.0. 6.5mm bullets have BC’s around .400 - .510, depending on weight. A high BC bullet has lower drag than a low BC bullet and will travel farther, with a flatter trajectory and less wind drift, which means it needs less initial velocity to perform well.
Sectional density is the ratio between the bullet’s weight and cross-sectional area. A long, narrow, heavy bullet has a high SD and will penetrate farther into a target than a low SD bullet. 6.5mm bullets have excellent SD’s and are known to drive deep into large game animals’ vital organs. The 6.5x55 is popular in Scandinavia for moose and bear.
The Swede does all these things at relatively low pressures which result in low recoil and gun wear. It's nearest American rivals, the .260 Remington and 6.5 Creedmoor (both fine cartridges), are the Swede's ballistic twin, but their short cases limit the ability to handle heavy bullets well. Heavy bullets are what make the 6.5x55 a great cartridge.
It is also has superb accuracy, again thanks to those 6.5mm bullets. The Swede is a perfect match for any deer species and pronghorn antelope. At reasonable hunting ranges (inside 300 yards) it will take animals such as elk and black bear, if the bullet is placed well.
The 6.5x55's military pedigree means some European ammo makers still offer full metal jacketed rounds which do minimal damage to furry coyote and wolf hides.
Accurate, effective, and affordable—what’s not to like?
German arms maker, Mauser, introduced the 7x57mm in 1892. The Spanish military adopted it, and the Mauser rifle, a year later. The cartridge soon proved itself in battle. The South African Boers shocked the British with the 7x57’s long range accuracy during the Boer Wars, and the Spanish caused tremendous American casualties with theirs during the Spanish American War. These experiences prompted the British to develop the .303 cartridge, and the American’s the .30-06.
After World War One, surplus Spanish Mausers and 7x57 ammunition flooded the American and British used gun markets. Hunters embraced the cartridge. It had low recoil compared to the .30-06 and its bullets had high BC’s and SD’s, much like the 6.5x55mm. European ivory hunters, such as John “Pondoro” Taylor, appreciated the 7x57's deep penetration and tolerable recoil when harvesting elephants.
The 7x57 fell from American favor after World War Two when high velocity 7mm cartridges arrived on the market. It still has a small, dedicated following in the States, but deserves better.
The 7x57 is a well-balanced cartridge. Today, American ammunition manufacturers offer the 7x57 with either a 140 grain bullet at 2650 fps or a 175 grain at 2390 fps. Although considered a deer cartridge, the 7x57 with heavy bullets will take large game such as elk and moose at average hunting ranges (100 – 250 yards).
The American 7mm-08 cartridge duplicates the 7x57's performance, except with heavy bullets. Its case is too short to use them to best advantage and it operates at much higher pressures. The more powerful 7mm's on the market outperform the 7x57 beyond 200 yards but with higher gun wear and recoil. Sometimes the old ways are the best ways.
Like its Swedish cousin, the 7x57 Mauser is easy to shoot well, has low recoil, and hits game hard with deep penetrating bullets. Its low operating pressures enable rifles chambered for it to last a long time with proper care. The 7x57 deserves a place in every hunter’s gun safe.
7mm-08 performance is identical to the 7x57 Mauser
The 7.92x57mm Mauser, also known as the 8x57, or 8mm Mauser, is perhaps the most overlooked and underappreciated cartridge in America today.
Adopted in 1905 by the Imperial German Army, the 7.92x57 had evolved from the 1888 German service round. The 1905 variant had a larger bore than the 1888, .323 inch vs. .318 inch, worked at higher pressures, and propelled a spitzer bullet at much higher velocity. The 7.92x57 went on to serve the Germans through both World Wars and continued in service with smaller countries, such as Yugoslavia, into the 1960’s.
Despite many surplus 7.92x57 Mauser rifles on the American market after both wars, the caliber never caught on with American hunters. There are several reasons why.
The biggest is American ammunition companies decided to load the cartridge at very low pressures to protect themselves from liability claims should someone attempt to fire a new cartridge in a vintage 1888 Mauser rifle which is not designed for the post 1905 ammunition. Never mind the fact European shooters avoid this problem, and European ammo makers offer the cartridge at its full velocity.
The second major reason is, like the Russian 7.62x39, the 7.92x57 is often seen as the “enemy’s” cartridge. This is understandable given how many U.S. servicemen faced Mausers in German soldiers’ hands—an unfortunate prejudice.
Loaded to its full potential, the 7.92x57 fires a 196 or 200 grain bullet at 2550 – 2600 fps, which generates near 3000 foot-pounds muzzle energy. Compared to the standard .30-06 load, a 150 grain at 2900 fps and 2800 ft-lbs, the Mauser is more effective than the .30-06 inside 250 yards, where most game is shot. It is an excellent elk and moose cartridge. As a bonus, the 7.92x57 is less overbore than the .30-06 and should, given good gun care, result in less firing chamber throat erosion. A given 8mm Mauser should outlast a given .30-06 over time.
The 7.92x57 is versatile. Loaded with heavy bullets, such as Woodleigh’s 250 grain, it’s suitable for even some dangerous game species. It is favored in Europe for brown bears and has a good reputation in Africa as well. With a 170 grain bullet at lower pressures, it becomes an outstanding low recoil, varmint, deer, and antelope cartridge.
American shooters who can tell the difference between a modern rifle in good condition and an antique, and the appropriate ammunition for each, owe it to themselves to give the accurate and hard hitting 7.92x57 Mauser another chance.
American shooters love their thirty caliber rifles, and they should, but they should also open their minds to other possibilities. These possibilities have been under their noses for over a century. The 6.5x55mm, 7x57mm, and 7.92x57mm cartridges offer excellent ballistics, affordable ammunition, and low gun wear. Attributes their European cousins have known all along.
© 2016 LJ Bonham