(Continued from Part 2. This concludes the article.)
Common caliber rifles are the best choice for non-handloaders. But I’ve found that 7mm bullets are plentiful, as they are used in a long list of popular and modern 7mm rifle cartridges. Even if you do not reload, I would at least have the dies for each cartridge in your arsenal of rifles. As a reloader, I can make brass from other cartridges into 7×57 and other antique rifle cartridges, from such cartridge brass as 7.92×57, .25-06, .270 Winchester, .30-06, and others. And although it is perhaps too late to buy powder and primers, as these are now very hard to find, we can still buy bullets and dies. Less popular bullets such as 7mm and 8mm are still found. The batch of 7mm bullets ordered today only cost .24 cents each at Graf &Sons. These 140-grain soft point boat tail bullets are made by Privi Partizan. I hope there are some left at the time you are reading this. I believe Privi Partizan knows how to make bullets for the 7×57. If all you have are bullets and dies, I can use powders that few would consider, and make the rifle shoot well enough, but it ain’t going to be cheap. Recently, I saw once inexpensive .30-06 hunting ammunition, peak at $5.00 per round. What would be the value of a harvested deer to a starving family? This is how it was during the Great Depression. If you bought a box of 20 cartridges, there had better be 20 dead deer. Having a set of dies for your rifle, especially if it is not a common caliber cartridge, could keep it still useful, should you run out.
How Does the 7×57 Compare to Modern Cartridge Performance?
Although the 7mm Mauser (aka 7×57) was invented around 1891, it is still relevant in this modern era, when compared to modern cartridges, when modern spire point 7mm bullets are used. It is no slouch when compared to the venerable and second most popular military cartridge, 7.62 NATO! The JBM ballistics calculator was used to generate the data for the comparison. The numbers speak for themselves, yet we can make the numbers speak loud and clear.
Our champion is the venerable 7.62 NATO match load, once a standard for long-range military shooting competitions. It used a 165 grain Hornady SST boatail bullet at 2,650 fps (feet per second). The contender is the antique 7mm Mauser with a 139 grain Hornady SST boattail bullet that is the same model of bullet from the same manufacturer and can be load to the same velocity, 2,650fps. Using the same bullet model for both cartridges, the Hornady’s SST, makes the comparison a fair contest. Some powders could be used in the 7×57 that could launch this bullet at 2,750fps. For the 7×57, 2,650 fps is a realistic assumption. Likely an accurate load could be produced at this velocity or higher. This is the velocity that is valid for this comparison.
When reloading 7mm Mauser using H4831 powder, I would not be surprised to find the most accurate load to be near the maximum pressure of 46,000 cup that, Hodgdon’s on-line reloading data estimates, it would be around 2,719 fps when using their maximum charge of 49.5 grains of H4831 powder. This is a compressed load. Often when 95 to 100 percent of the case volume is used, there will be found good accuracy. Both rifles are assumed to be using scopes, and both are zeroed at 225 yards for the maximum range possible for hunting purposes. This chart is simplified as much possible to clearly illustrate that the performance of these two cartridge are nearly identical in terms of bullet drop, and kinetic energy at the same points in their trajectories. To keep the explanation to a minimum, the higher ballistic coefficient of the 7mm bullet offsets the lower mass of the 139 grain bullet. Its ability to resist crosswind should make it the superior bullet to use in windy conditions at longer ranges. The lower mass of its bullet will also result in lower recoil. Its superior sectional density will allow it penetrate as well, or better than a 165 grain .308 bullet. However the 165 grain .308 bullet is still the better hunting bullet, because there is more mass, thus retains more energy, and because it has greater front cross-sectional area. It will do more damage to the vitals. Let’s take a look at the results of a ballistics calculator, and discover where the 7×57 outshines the 165 grain .30 caliber bullet.
For both tables, the zeroing distance is 225 yards and the wind deflection in inches given with a 90-degree 10 mph crosswind.
7.62 NATO, 165 grain Hornady SST at 2,650 fps, Hornady states a ballistic coefficient of .447 G1 for this bullet.
In general, it is fair to say that the cartridges are comparable when loaded with these particular bullets with an advantage to 7.62 NATO at typical hunting ranges given the aforementioned factors, primarily mass and meplat. However, using the 7×57 139-grain bullet, I believe it would be more likely to actually hit a target at extended ranges, because the 7mm will buck the wind better. The slightly lower recoil of the 7×57 might also allow the shooter to relax more, shoot more, and take better aim. I am a bit ‘flinchy’ myself. It is not the muzzle blast, and pain, but a loose connection somewhere in the cranium. Actually it is usually the muzzle blast that the shooter anticipates, and flinches as a result, ‘pulling the shot’, and missing the target. Longer barrels reduce muzzle blast.
Lower recoil makes it easier for the shooter to see the hit or miss through the scope, and correct their aim for the next shot. The rifle’s weight and stock will, however, have a more bearing on which rifle recoils more, or in different terms, which rifle has less ‘felt recoil’. Which is the better cartridge would depend upon the intended purpose. They are close enough in performance to be almost interchangeable. It is a personal choice, and I would choose the 7×57 pre-1899 rifle for several reasons, not just because there is no paperwork. I love Mausers! They’ve got class and history, and an action that is hard to beat.
There is always more than one reason for any decision. I would prefer a proven battle rifle that can take the heat and dirt, and still work, and stay on target. New manufacture sporting rifles are made to tight tolerances, and could fail because of the heat of battle, or dirt in the chamber. I’ve seen it happen to brand new rifles. I would also insist on military brass cases that are less likely to become stuck in the chamber, or become broken upon extraction.
A Brief History of This Old Cartridge
The 7×57 cartridge used a heavy round nose bullet at the time of the Spanish-American War in 1898. It was superior to the .30-40 Krag cartridge using a similar in design, a heavy round nose bullet. The 7×57 was superior in part because of the Mauser action, greater velocity, and partly because of the 7mm bullet’s higher ballistic coefficient that we see it still processes today, relative to a modern military .30 caliber cartridge. As a response to the losses on the battlefield due to the flatter trajectory of the 7mm Mauser, we developed the .30-03 Springfield cartridge, and shortly thereafter, the .30-06 with a spitzer bullet, and copied the Mauser action to regain fire superiority. We did, but not by much, or for long.
On a modern battlefield, with modern bullets and powders, we can see that the 7×57 is arguably an equivalent of the current U.S. Army’s most widely used long-range cartridge, 7.62 NATO. Not bad for an antique rifle, shooting an antique cartridge design. In reality, the specifications for the 7.62 NATO cartridge requires that a FMJ bullet be used. If an expanding bullet could be used, the 7.62 NATO cartridge would be superior inside of 300 yards. However it does not, unless of course, you reload your own by simply swapping out the FMJ bullet for an expanding bullet with a polymer tip. But who does that!? BTW, do not use .308 Winchester cartridges in semi autos designed for 7.62 NATO. There are many reasons not to. Please do not find out the hard way.
Mauser rifles are strong rifles. Reloaders of modern rifles and stronger actions must also use caution, as all rifles, modern and antique, have their limitations. There is no reason to be concerned about the safety of an antique Mauser rifle if purchasing from a reputable dealer. Given the similar trajectory and energy as the 7.62 NATO match load, that can be useful out to 800 yards, the 7×57 can provide long-range fire superiority, and win the day as it did for the Spanish. The long-range game is the first to play in your defense.
This old hunting rifle looks rather harmless, a little like a relic, to the ignorant, and anti-gun nuts. Yet in the right hands, it can shoot right alongside a brand new Mossberg or Savage, and outperform these modern rifles on a battlefield. That is what a Mauser was made to do. Modern hunting rifles are not made to do the same. My sporterized Chilean M1895 rifle is more than 124 years old, and more relevant than ever, and certainly more relevant than it was last year. There is no reason that one of these can’t be your primary long-range long gun, and made into a precision rifle. It could also be an appreciating asset that serves multiple functions: It is a necessary hunting tool, a means to protect your life and property, and a tool to preserve your life and liberty.