The Long Range Game – Part 1, by Tunnel Rabbit

Clearly, the proposed Federal “Universal Background Checks” legislation is going to make it a hassle, if not eventually ‘heck’ to privately acquire post-1898 guns. If they cannot outright remove the Second Amendment, they will create a maze of hurtles to harass us, making it difficult to legally own. In the event that it would be smarter to keep the ‘safe queens’ safe, safe from ‘color of law’ or opportunistic of styled confiscation, pre-1899 antique rifles and handguns might be a part of the arsenal. These are not considered “firearms” by the BATF, and require no paperwork, and can even shipped through the mail — at least to most of thje 50 states.

If I were to be caught hunting, or ‘plinking’ at 400 yards with this rifle while ignoring all their regulations, they might take me to jail, but they would likely have to release me once the rifle is discovered not to be a firearm, but instead an antique. It is the date of manufacture of the receiver that makes it an antique. With some Mauser rifles –such as Swedish, Mexican, and Spanish — the date of manufacture is stamped on the receiver. Less abusive and more knowledgeable officers may accept your argument, and may leave you alone, or perhaps they would only take the rifle, and not you. At least we could buy, or sell these without paperwork. Get a good example and it can be as practical as a modern rifle. And I can own an appreciating asset, and an example of old world craftsmanship that is not just a wall hanger.

There is a fine Ludwig Loewe 1895 Chilean contract rifle that is now in my possession. All I will say is that Santa delivered it one day. That is my story, and I am sticking to it! It is an early-production 1895 model Mauser, made around 1896 in Germany. Although it is not a safe queen, and ordinary in appearance, it is just the way that I like them. This military rifle was ‘sportorized’ by a competent craftsman by altering the military wood, and making key refinements to the mechanism. While thoroughly cleaning and examining the rifle, I discovered that this is a ‘low mileage’ Mauser, that appears to me to have been ‘rearsenaled’, that is, rebuilt and accurized. It is certainly safe to say, that is certainly not worn out, and may have been rebuilt using good parts. It could be that the barrel is a replacement, and/or is only slightly used. To my old eyes, it is nice and shiny bore with sharp rifling, and zero to little discernible throat erosion. And it is cut to an ideal 23.5 inches in length.

The stock was shortened, making the length of pull 13 inches. This happens to be ideal for my short and fat arms. A shorter stock is also better when heavy winter clothing is worn. It improves my ability operate the bolt, improves cheek weld, sight picture, and in general, an improved ability to take better aim. I can quickly and easily operate the bolt to chamber another round without breaking check weld while standing, and shooting ‘off hand’ without a rest. The action is butter smooth and fast. The single-stage Timmey trigger is light and crisp, allowing the shooter to ‘think the shot’. It replaced the original two stage Mauser trigger. A trigger like this, can by itself, greatly improve the accuracy of any rifle.

The vintage 1960s scope is the once-famous Redfield Wideview scope that sets down close to the bore, yet provides an appreciable wider field of view, an approximately 30 percent wider field of view than that of a traditional, and even modern 3×9 scope. This would be a huge advantage in the woods, or on a battlefield. Although the optics were of the highest quality then, new optics are superior, yet none of the new scopes provide this exceptional wide view with magnification. Because of this unusual design, the scope sits low, further promoting a solid cheek weld, and therefore more consistent sight picture and accurate shots. Even the elevation and windage adjustments can be operated by one’s fingers in 1/4 MOA increments, a finer adjustment than many modern military-style turret scopes. 1/4 MOA adjustments are used on match grade sights. This Redfield scope was once top of the line in the 1960s scope market. It is still tight, and bright, and ‘good to go’. It’s presence on the rifle is an indication of the original owner’s appreciation of quality.

A Military Rifle Reborn, and Re-purposed

The craftsman who ‘accurized’ this rifle obviously knew what he was doing, and did everything right to make this rifle be an accurate rifle, possibly a precision rifle, tailor-made for himself, or for a particular person. With the exception of glass bedding the action and free-floating the barrel, all the essentials needed to accurize a Mauser has been performed. With the flood of military surplus rifles imported after WW2, starting in the 1950s, it became popular to convert high-quality military rifles into sporting rifles. No gunsmith would go to all this trouble for a rifle that did not have potential. The famous words of Townsend Whelen are repeated over and over, because he said it so well: “…only accurate rifles are interesting”.

I suspect that the rifle shot well enough that glass bedding the action into the stock, and free-floating the barrel was not necessary to attain the level of accuracy needed for hunting. The skill and care taken is that of an experienced gunsmith who took plenty care in his work, show just how much he was interested in this rifle. Odds are it is a shooter. He was not after ‘glitz’, but ‘go’. He has done this kind of work before, and the beauty in this rifle is in it’s function. Besides, if it were too ‘fancy’, then one might not be inclined to take it out hunting. By today’s standards, or in most eyes, it is an ordinary-looking rifle, but in my eyes, it is a ‘sleeper’, a term used by car-guys in the car world to describe an ordinary-looking car that has been modified and turned into a performance street racer. The only way to tell is to look under the hood. To seasoned rifleman, it is an old school work of art, that could have been created by a grandfather in his retirement. It is a time capsule containing history from the late 1800s to the 1960s. It is real wood, and blued steel — not a composite rifle, but a real rifle.

Look carefully, and you’ll see that this rifle is essentially the same as a Swedish Mauser that has a 7mm barrel instead of a 6.5mm barrel. The Chileans specified a small additional safety lug for the bolt. But otherwise, a Chilean contract Loewe M1896 is mechanically the same rifle as a Model 1894 or Model 1896 Swedish Mauser. It is chambered in 7×57 (aka 7mm Mauser), and it can shoot as well, and probably better than a Swedish Mauser in the same configuration. In fact, it may replace my Swedish Mauser as my preferred precision rifle, as my Swede has a worn barrel, and is now only capable of 1 MOA. My ‘Swede’ has significant throat erosion, yet still shoots good enough for 500 yards, yet for how many more rounds is unknown. This 7mm rifle, if more expensive bullets could be purchased, and the correct powders used, it could easily be sub-MOA. I could also glass bed and free float the barrel it to make it a tack driver.

By adding another cartridge to the stable, I may also be able to utilize forgotten ammunition found stored in garages and basements. With an excess supply of 7mm bullets, I could also have a small business reloading for the popular 7mm Remington Magnum, 7mm RUM, 7mm WSM, and 7mm-08 cartridges. 7×57 has fallen to wayside, much like the .30-06, because of all this 21st Century competition, not because it is not a very useful, and desirable cartridge. This means that even in the midst of the current Ammunition Drought we can find ammunition for this once quite popular cartridge, while other rifle owners cannot.

Ammunition: Availability and Accuracy

Ammunition for this rifle is still available in quantity. Just yesterday, I saw over 2,000 rounds of Sellier and Bellot 7×57 140 grain round-nosed ammunition for only .88 cents a round at Palmetto State Armory. These rifles ‘love’ the lower cost Sellier and Bellot, and Privi Partizan, and shows it by shooting this ammunition accurately. The European 7mm bullets fit European barrels tighter, and thus are more accurate. And European bullets are made with the 7×57 barrel twist in mind. Certain unmodified military rifles in their original stocks with iron sights, can on occasion shoot near MOA (1 inch groups), yet 3 MOA (3 inch groups) with this inexpensive ammunition is more likely. 4 MOA was the U.S. Army’s maximum for what they considered to acceptable battlefield accuracy. Of course we want better than that if hunting beyond 200 yards. For myself, 2 MOA is good enough, and 1 MOA is very desirable. Sub MOA would be fantastic, and is possible with this rifle, if handloads using European bullets are custom-made.

While European manufacturers know how to load for the still popular European cartridge, I can reload for less money, and make it a precision rifle, or a more accurate rifle by ‘tuning’ ammunition for this particular rifle. One can adjust the powder charge, the cartridge overall length, and by using a different, or higher quality bullet designed for precision, weighing cases and bullets, I’ll end up with a precision rifle round that can hit as far out there as I can see and, and hold steady on.

It not difficult to develop a load for these, or the 6.5×55. However, match grade bullets are just too darn expensive these days to buy in large quantity. Fortunately, I was able to do some quick horse trading to raise the cash to purchase 140 grain Privi Partizan-made bullets for only 24 cents each. These should provide decent accuracy as they will fit the bore precisiely and compensate for inconsistent bullet weight and possible poor quality control. In this current environment, just finding affordable soft point bullets is difficult. At this price, these are a bargain. I would prefer Sierra Gameking, or Hornady SST, for best accuracy at a mid-range price, but not at twice the price of this bullet.

The 140-grain Privi Partizan bullet at 2,600 to 2,700 fps will drop anything up to Elk in size with good shot placement inside of 200 yards. To load these up will require hours of preparation, but reloading can be a labor of love, so to speak, if you have lots of time on your hands. I will reform hundreds of .30-06 cases into 7×57 cases. 7×57 is the parent case for .30-06. First I’ll weigh the cases to find those within 5 grains of each other. Then, cut the longer .30-06 case to 7×57 length, and run it through the 7×57 die, and trim to specifications.

Last year, I added 900 twice-fired military specification .30-06 brass cartridge cases to my stash for just $20! They are still in their original minty WW2 cartridge boxes labeled for Allied forces. These will be annealed to soften the brass to make it easier to push the shoulder back about a quarter of an inch. At the low pressures of the original 7×57 cartridges that are under 50,000 psi (46,000 cup), as compared to the max pressure of most modern cartridges that are between 60,000 to 65,000 psi, these heavy military cases, if annealed (a tempering process) once every five reloadings, they could last 15 to 20 reloadings. Low-pressure loads extend the useful life of brass considerably, and this brass was made for the M1 Garand, is tough stuff. With .30-06 cases on hand to form into other cartridge cases, I have a lifetime supply of brass for my other rifles as well. If others need ammunition on the same “head”  then I’ve got a case, if I have the die.

Most reloaders seek top velocities and subsequently high pressures, that wear out brass and barrels, stress old actions, and the recoil can wear out the shooter too. Along with 6.5×55, the 7×57 Mauser’s  recoil is mild, yet it is an effective big game cartridge when heavy bullets at moderate velocities are used. The 7×57 was at one time more popular than 6.5×55 among Europeans for hunting in Africa. IHMO, a 175-grain 7mm bullet, because of it’s increased ‘meplat’ (cross section-frontal area) and its great weight, launched at the same speed as the 160 grain 6.5 bullet, does more damage to the vitals of game animals making ethical taking of game more likely. The 7mm also has a higher sectional density relative to .30 caliber bullets, and penetrates better than .30 caliber bullets of the same weight. A 175 grain 7mm bullet shot at 7×57 velocities is roughly the equivalent of a 200 grain .30 caliber bullet shot from a .30-06, in terms of both velocity and sectional density. but of course the 200-grain bullet is more destructive.

(To be continued tomorrow, in Part 2.)