Choosing a Practical Antique Rifle – Part 4, by Tunnel Rabbit

(Continued from Part 3.  This concludes the article.)

Powder Choices for Reloaders

A 140-grain bullet weight is popular for the 6.5×55, because it is the best all-around weight for just about anything this cartridge can do, and do at its best.  For flatter trajectories and for lighter game, decisive kill shots are better with 120 to 123 grain bullets.  However, the 140 grain will likely be the most accurate bullet passed 300 yards.  Top velocities and the greatest accuracy is found with most 140-grain bullets and a maximum charge of RL22. However, RL22 is temperature sensitive and results can disappointing as the weather changes. RL23 might be a good substitute for RL22. Norma MRP and WXM are now discontinued.

We can also use powders normally used for magnum rifles such as H1000, or IMR7828. To streamline our powder inventory, Varget, H4350, and H4831 are the most temperature stable powder that work well with most bullets weights, and provide consistent accuracy even as the temperature changes. These are my top powder choices for the 6.5×55. As an example, While IMR 4064 provides good velocity and good accuracy for the 120s, Varget is best choice for top speeds with the lighter bullets, and it is more temperature stable than IMR4064.

The slower-burning H4350 and H4831 powders are best with the 140-grainers and are also very temperature stable. This mean we can maintain accuracy with a single load as the temperature swings from hot to very cold. To reduce the number of bullets and powders on the shelf, it is best to limit our inventory and use 140 grain bullets and either H4350 or H4831. H4831 produces accuracy at the lower end of the charge wieghts and slower velocities than H4350.

Which powder would be the most accurate in your rifle is unknown until you work up a load, but it is likely that any of the powders will produce MOA, or tighter groups with any the mentioned bullet weights. It is best to chase accuracy rather than velocity, but if we need a flatter trajectory for 500-yard shots, Varget and H4831 can do the job, as well as other powders.  In this day and age, when and where our favorite powders are hard to find, there are plenty of choices that will work well in the 6.5×55. If you came up short a few years ago, now is the time to bridge that gap as powders are now coming back on the market.

Bullet Selection

The 6.5 bullets not only have high ballistic coefficients, but also high sectional densities and therefore tend to penetrate deeper than expected for the mass (weight). This makes bullet construction more of an issue as the design must strike a balance between an ability to expand in a controlled way, and an ability to penetrate.  The most accurate bullet is not necessarily the best bullet for hunting.

Most believe the 140-grain bullet works well enough for most situations that it can take larger game without issue. However, I should mention that the moose in Sweden are not like the big moose in Montana.  Swedish moose are about the same in size as our elk. Good shot placement is more a factor for success than is the ability of the 140 grain to penetrate. If you are a skilled subsistence hunter, then you are a superior hunter who can get in close and take large game with a peashooter. Yet is the common man just as good of a hunter? For most folks, larger in diameter bullets are a better choice for elk and heavier game.

While the sectional density of the 140 is about the same as a 195 grain .30 caliber bullet, and can penetrate just as deeply, and while the 140 6.5 does punch above its weight class, it is outclassed in terms of killing power by a great margin by the .30 caliber round.  There is no substitute for a greater level of mass and energy on target that the larger calibers provide. 7mm Mauser has a .284 diameter bullet versus the 6.5 bullet that is very close in diameter at .264.  Yet the energy that a 160-grain 7mm bullet delivers is a far better choice for elk.  With a well-placed shot inside of 200 yards, the Sweed can take elk, but our margin of error is uncomfortably narrow.  If I get that rare shot at elk, I’ll use enough gun to get it done, a 180-grain round-nosed Remington Core-lokt, or better yet, a 200-grain Nosler Partition out of a .30-06. If we are going to push the limits with 6.5×55, use a premium bullet, or an inexpensive round-nosed Remington Core-lokt.

6.5×55 is a solid long-range deer rifle, but if elk is on the menu, then extra effort and attention to detail is advised.  For very long-range shots on deer, the 140-to-143 grain Hornady A-max or ELD-X bullets are some of the best choices. For ranges inside of 300, the 140 grain SST, and Interlocks, and any standard and inexpensive cup and core bullet is a better choice.  Nosler Ballistic Tips are similar.

7mm Mauser (7×57)

Beware that commercial ammunition is not held to strict standards and some commercial ammunition is too high in pressure for antique 7x57mm Mausers. I advise all readers to contact the ammunition manufacturer directly to obtain factory pressures for a particular ammunition type before testing it in your rifle.  Explain that you intend to use it in an antique rifle with a maximum allowable chamber pressure of 46,000 CUP.

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.

In my opinion, a 175-grain 7mm bullet, because of its 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 because it is larger and puts more energy on the target.

7mm Mauser does usually recoil with more force than 6.5×55 when bullets heavier than 140 grains are used. It is however a better all-purpose game-getter.  To keep chamber pressure below 46,000CUP and to produce a flat trajectory on par with the U.S. Army’s 7.62NATO match load or M80 ball, then we should use a 140-grain bullet. Good powders for this round are H4831, and H4350, but the most accurate powder that produces the highest velocity at a modest pressure is Varget. As a maximum load, use 40.5 grains of Varget under a 139 or 140-grain bullet for a velocity of 2,741fps with a pressure of only 43,700CUP.  This is an outstanding load discovered in an old Lyman reloading manual. Varget is well known to be very temperature stable as well and is fast becoming my favorite all-purpose powder, second to H4895.

If brass is needed for the cartridge, it is easy to reform .30-06 cases into 7×57 cases. The neck will need be trimmed a great deal, but I have a small pipe cutter that quickly and cleanly cuts off most of the excess neck off and then trim using a trim gauge and a cutter on a handheld drill.  I use M1 ball cases that are much thicker and heavier brass, yet it reforms easily.  If military brass is used, reduce the maximum listed charge by about 1 grain because the military case has less internal volume.

If we can find Varget, here is a table that compares this load with M80 and M118 7.62×51 ball. The results speak for themselves.  The 7mm Mauser is still relevant today, and perhaps why the military is transitioning to a very high pressure round that is the 6.8×51. 6.8mm is only slightly smaller in diameter than the 7mm.  The modern 7-08mm  duplicates 7×57. 7-08mm could also be called the 7×51. This is a variation on one of the oldest smokeless cartridges devised, yet it is being reinvented and redeployed in a modern rifle.  I can certainly appreciate why.

                                    Range    Drop   Windage    Velocity  Energy
7mm Mauser                  500    -46.8   10.2 1875.7  1085.6   140 grain Hornady SST @ 2,740fps, 24 inch barrel
7.62 Nato m80 Ball          500    -56.2   16.1 1557.2 807.5   150 grain @ 2,750fps, 24 inch barrel,
7.62x51mm M118              500    -52.8″  10.9″        1770.5  1217.8   173 grain, 24 inch barrel
A Comparative Analysis of Antique Versus Modern Rifle Trajectories

Using the results from the well-respected JBM ballistics calculator, this is the expected trajectory of M118 out of this rare Chilean Mauser as compared to the trajectory out of the U.S. Army’s M21 rifle, both chamber in 7.62 NATO.

The table indicates estimated trajectories for M118 ammunition, and are useful for only comparitive purposes.  The data was generated assuming a 200 yard zero, and a full value cross wind, a 90-degree 10mph cross wind. The advantage goes to the Chilean Mauser as it has 29-inch barrel that is assumed will generate an additional 100 fps of velocity over that of 24 inch barrel of the M21 rifle. The M118 cartridge creates the same amount of pressure in both rifles.  Typically, as barrel length is reduced, there can be on average as much as 25fps loss per each inch it is reduced. There are execeptions, and other contributing factors, so this can only be a rough estimate. In any analysis, the Chilean Mauser would generate no less velocity, and would be equal to, and likely greater in velocity from 50 to 125 fps greater.  It is safe to say that the trajectory would be at the least be about the same, if not flatter shot out of the Chilean Mauser.

                                                     Range    Drop   Windage   Velocity   Energy
Converted Chilean Mauser           500    -48.4:  10.2″     1851.1        1331.3  Ammunition, LAKE CITY 7.62x51mm M118, 29 inch barrel
M21                                                500    -52.8″  10.9″     1770.5    1217.8  Ammunition, LAKE CITY 7.62x51mm M118, 24 inch barrel

The table below is the expected performance of the Loewe Spanish Contract M1893 Mauser Sporter in .300 Savage using Hornady’s ammunition. For the sake of comparison, 7.62 NATO (M118 ammunition), the 6.5 Creedmoor, and the M96 Swedish Mauser, set a benchmark high standard, so these cartridges are included.

The estimated trajectories are useful for only comparitive purposes.  The data was generated assuming a 200 yard zero, and a full value cross wind, a 90 degree 10mph cross wind at 500 yards.

Just for fun, let’s see how our .300 Savage from an antique rifle compares with a modern 6.5 Creedmoor load, and an ideal handload for 6.5×55:

                       Range  Drop  Windage  Velocity  Energy
.300 Savage    500   -50.7  12.4      1738.1   1006.1  Ammunition, Hornady, Superformance .300 Savage 150 Grain Super Shock Tip, 22″ barrel
7.62×51 Nato   500   -52.8″ 10.9″     1770.5   1217.8  Ammunition, LAKE CITY 7.62x51mm M118 (173 grain bullet), 24 inch barrel
6.5 Creedmoor  500   -46.9   9.6      1900.1   1122.1  Ammunition, Hornady, 140 gain Super Shock Tip, 24″ barrel
6.5×55         500   -43.2   7.6      2047.1   1330.4  Handload, 46.5 grains RL22, Hornady 143 grain ELD-X (Extremely Low Drag- –                                                               eXpanding) bullet used in a 29″ barrel.

The trajectories, or drop at 500 yards, are so similar as to be nearly irrelevant as it is relatively easy to adjust for elevation. How well the cartridge bucks the wind is more the reason the shooter hits or misses.   The winner in this comparison is the 6.5×55 using a top-notch handload. In all fairness, if the 6.5CM ammunition used the same bullet, it would have performed just as well. The point is that modern rifles are not necessarily superior in performance. Modern ammunition and especially hand loads in antique rifles, can level the field.

Choose the right tool for the job

Perhaps the best way to wrap up this article is to show readers that these old rifles are not by any means obsolete, or cannot be competitive with modern-day rifles. While this video demonstration is performed by a very talented and experienced marksman with exquisite eyesight, it required an exceptional marksman to remove all doubt about the rifle’s ability.

The rifle that I used is an as-issued service grade M96 Swedish Mauser rifle in 6.5×55 produced in 1900.  It was intended for regular infantry of the Swedish Military.  It is not an accurized sniper rifle with special sights, it like any rifle that might be purchased from Elk Creek Company, or elsewhere, and similar in design to the Chilean Mauser in .300 Savage, sans the barrel.  It is of the same vintage as my own 1905 M96 Swedish Mauser, yet it is not altered, and has the standard heavy military trigger, and none of the advantages that my scoped rifles possess. He is using some of the most accurate factory ammunition that can be purchased from Lapua.  I use Lapua brass, because it is the best known to man. This Lapua ammunition, however, is not carefully handloaded ammunition that is tuned to the rifle used in the demonstration. Yet the rifle performs amazingly well, quickly and easily hitting all targets, all the way out to 500 yards, and then performed a grand finale at 1,000 yards with iron sights!  The same shooter, using a scoped M4A1 (AR-15 style) that shoots 5.56 NATO, has the same difficulty at 450 yards as did his iron-sighted Swedish Mauser did at about the same distance, and on the same shooting course out to 500 yards.  For the proof, roll the tape!  Seeing is believing.

Video Demostration #1

Video Demonstration #2
Scopes Are A Game Changer

If buying rifles in your state means that it must be registered or leave a FFL dealer paper trail in any way, then I would recommend that you own at least one antique rifle.

If we mounted a good scope on an antique rifle, it would be a game changer. My favorite rifle for this application is my 1905-dated M96 Swedish Mauser in 6.5×55. If it were only six years older, it would legally be an antique. If the Swedish Mauser in the video had a good military-style scope, the M4A1 rifle would not have even been in the same league. The M96 could have hit beyond 1,000 yards, and would provide fire superiority over AR-15 class, or 7.62 NATO/.308 Winchester rifles. The Arken SH-4 4×16-50 is still on sale for only $314 with the discount code REX170, if the very desirable accessories package is ordered, there is a savings of $170.  In My Estimation (IME) it is a fabulous bargain for this poor boy.  And at this price, others could very well afford buy 3 to 4, or more, rather than a single example of a $1,500 to $3,000 scope. Yet, I am certainly no expert. See expert reviews by tiborasauasrex on YouTube.

Arken SH-4 4-16×50 Gen II compared to SWFA, S&B, and others?, and Arken Best Value Scopes in 2022.

One Way or Another, Get the Training

I also recommend the excellent instructional video series on ELR (Extreme Long Range) shooting in 101 parts: Sniper 101 by tiborasuaursrex.  Although I cannot afford to get the training offered at Rex Defense, I would if I could.  At least I have the ammunition to aspire to this level, and my equipment is capable. We should strive to become a nation of riflemen, and strive to “aim small, miss small” (The Patriot), at whatever range, or the longest range our terrain allows.