A Remarkable Trio! (6.5x55, 8x57 and .45-70)
By Ed Turner
It occurred to old Ed that he has finally begun to catch on to some old fashioned, but still quite astute, ideas in the last few years. Let me give you an example. Three former military cartridges that are all well over one hundred years old have shown me that something that's claimed as "new" and "awesome" might not always be in the "better" column. These three cases in point have become the basis for this article. They are the 6.5x55 (sometimes known as the 6.5mm Swedish Mauser), 8x57JS (8mm Mauser) and the ancient and surely outdated .45-70 U.S. Government. Could these three oldies but goodies possibly be the basis of a North American hunter's all-inclusive, three gun, big game battery? Well, let us see.
The 8X57JS Mauser
A couple of years ago I did a bit of research and found that this one hundred plus year old round, chambered in the (now discontinued) Remington 700 Classic in 2004 was actually one hell of a round, even though the American shooting public apparently thought otherwise. I purchased a beautiful 8x57JS Model 700 Classic, new in the box, in 2006 for well under 1/2 the retail price! I became so enamored with this round that I also bought a very nice sporterized Mauser 98 at about the same time, so my rifle inventory actually grew by two great 8mm Mauser rifles.
This caliber was used in both World Wars by the German armed forces in the now much copied Mauser 98 platform. From there it became one of the most storied and successful military rounds (and rifles) in the history of modern warfare. Rifles have been built in this caliber throughout the world and rifles being based on the M98 chambered for other calibers became just as popular.
As loaded by European standards and ammunition companies, this caliber has just as much to offer as all but the stoutest American .30-06 loadings and is actually found with heavier weight bullets more frequently than the classic '06. These two factors were my biggest reasons for interest in this new (old) caliber. As loaded by most American ammunition companies, the 8mm Mauser pretty much duplicates the classic .30-30 and .32 Special rounds, revered for over a century as perfect deer and black bear calibers.
I had seen no reason to own a bolt gun that merely duplicated the ballistics of a lever rifle that was handier and had a more "authentic" American style and heritage. However, when these 8x57JS numbers at the muzzle: 2592 fps and 2924 ft. lbs. caught my attention, a new fan of the 8x57JS was born. These are the ballistics claimed for the Sellier & Bellot 196 grain soft point factory load.
This round now had the horsepower to run with the big boys, the '06s, .308s, .280s and .270s of this world. It is available in a variety of loadings from such European companies as S & B, Norma, Sako, Wolf and others, using bullets from 150 to 200 grains in weight. Powerful 8x57JS loads are also offered by US custom ammo makers such as Nosler and Stars & Stripes. These loads take the 8x57 from the old idea of .30-30 range and power to being an honest to goodness, dynamite elk round. Old it may be, but not decrepit! A hunter could use it exclusively for CXP2 and CXP3 game, at any reasonable range, and never miss a beat. A good 150 grain load has a maximum point blank range (MPBR) of over 275 yards and a good 200 grainer over 250 yards.
The 6.5x55 Swedish Mauser
Another hugely successful former military caliber that is well over one hundred years old and still revered for its "over achievement" is the 6.5x55. It was first produced for the Model 94 (and later Models 96 and 38) Swedish Mausers and Norwegian Krag-Jorgensen rifles. The transition from military round to sporting round initially happened mainly in the Scandinavian countries. As it became the premier military and sporting round in these geographic areas, its reputation grew. It was used with great success on big game up to and including polar bear and Scandinavian moose, which are akin to our western elk in body size and far larger than the typical American deer. It also gained a reputation as a fine match/target cartridge. There are scores of articles and stories that extol its virtues as a big game caliber. (A number of which can be found on Guns and Shooting Online. -Ed.) Its 140 to 160 grain .264 caliber bullets are capable of much greater killing power than its nominal paper ballistics (a 140 grain bullet at about 2650 fps) suggest.
There is no shortage of knowledgeable shooters and hunters who preach its great combination of killing power and acceptable levels of recoil and muzzle blast. There's no secret that large calibers can, and do, kill quickly and efficiently, but when a moderate caliber such as this classic 6.5 can kill equally well (or very nearly so) and also avoids the pitfalls of bothersome recoil and unpleasant muzzle blast, it surely deserves its well-earned reputation. Far smarter men than Ed stated long ago that to be a good shot, one must first shoot and, even better, shoot a lot!
Perhaps that is part of the secret of this great round's success and why many owners seemingly all but worship this round's empty brass. One must realize that a 140 grain bullet exiting the muzzle at 2600 FPS likely does not overly impress the rookie rifle enthusiast. Heck, the 40+ year old 6.5 Remington (short) Magnum and 80+ year old .270 Winchester can best that by some 300-400 fps.
However, as already stated, the 6.5x55 is not a round that was designed to impress anyone, simply to kill efficiently. It has become a favorite of purists looking for a rifle and caliber that provides the best trade-off in the power and shootability columns. It is a cartridge they love for hunting CXP2 (deer sized) game and one they equally enjoy for a pleasant afternoon at the rifle range. Even with the lower numbers of the 6.5x55, you are still able to figure a MPBR of around 275 yards, identical to a .308 with a good 150 grainer. For those who want a true long range 6.5x55 factory load, Stars & Stripes offers a production load using a 130 grain Barnes TSX bullet at a blistering MV of 2952 fps. Surely we all realize that ain't chopped liver.
The American hunter has recently had the opportunity to buy and enjoy this round because rifle manufacturers finally gave us some modern rifles chambered for it. No matter, to my mind, that it took the much newer .260, to open some American's eyes to the practicality of this great oldie, just so that it has happened. If you doubt me, try to find a CZ550, especially a Mannlicher stocked version, in 6.5x55 to buy.
My choice of vehicle for this caliber was a bit of new mixed with the old, a Kimber of Oregon sporterized M96 set in a new fiberglass stock and ready to have modern optics installed. This superbly accurate round most assuredly deserves good quality optics to wring the most of the potential long range capabilities, as the 6.5mm round shines downrange. I cannot tell you why I resisted so darn long! Only that this big bullet fan has become a convert and has decided to enjoy what so many knowledgeable hunters have drooled over for years.
The .45-70 Government
Here is a round that was retired as the US Army's service cartridge some 100+ years ago. Its 19 year reign began in 1873 and ended in 1892. However, it has managed to remain a popular hunting cartridge ever since and, depending on the load, is a viable CXP2, CXP3 and even CXP4 cartridge. There are many (including me) who consider it perfectly adequate for any animal that walks North America, if a tad light for thick-skinned African game. There is a difference in my mind between a large grizzly bear or even a bison, which I'd feel safe facing with a modern .45-70 loaded with high octane Grizzly Ammo, Corbon, or Buffalo Bore cartridges (or similar reloads) and facing a Cape buffalo, rhino or elephant in Africa.
As with the 8x58 and 6.5x55, the major manufacturers load the .45-70 at very modest pressure levels, in fact well below the SAAMI specified maximum average pressure (MAP) of 28,000 cup, in deference to the old trap-door Springfield rifles and their modern clones that are still being used. A 300 grain bullet at about 1810 fps and 2182 ft. lbs. (Remington ballistics), as loaded by Federal, Remington and Winchester, might not be the optimum load for stopping an enraged grizzly, but it serves wonderfully on deer, black bear and even elk-sized game at short range.
For big elk, moose or grizzly bear, Stars & Stripes offers a Hornady Interlock 350 grain jacketed flat point bullet at a MV of 1842 fps and ME of 2637 ft. lbs. The new Hornady LeverEvolution .45-70 factory load features a 325 grain pointed bullet at a MV of 2050 fps and ME of 3032 ft. lbs. Perhaps best of all, as I am writing these words, the Hornady load is available for slightly over $25 a box. What does your .338 Win. Mag. and .375 H&H ammo cost? I thought so . . . . Although loaded close to the SAAMI pressure limit, these loads are designed not to exceed it.
However, specialty ammunition companies and reloaders can provide an entirely different power level for the .45-70, usually with the warning that such loads are NOT loaded to SAAMI specifications and are NOT safe in older trapdoor and rolling block rifles, or modern replicas thereof. In the area of .45-70 +P ammunition for use in strong, modern rifles only is the 430 grain factory load from Buffalo Bore that claims a MV of 1925 fps and ME over 3500 ft. lbs. Grizzly Ammo has available a bonded core 350 grain Hawk bullet at 2200 fps, giving you ME of 3761 ft. lbs. Cor-Bon offers a Hunter load using a 460 grain hard cast bullet at a MV of 1650 fps and 2780 ft. lbs.
Reloaders with strong Browning High Wall, Dakota Model 10, or Ruger No. 1 falling block rifles can drive a variety of jacketed 350 grain bullets at up to 2200 fps with ME of 3761 ft. lbs. Marlin Model 1895 lever actions with 22" barrels can be loaded to drive 350 grain bullets at about 1900 fps and 2805 ft. lbs. (Hornady figures).
These +P loads, ladies and gentlemen, are stout stuff at both ends of the rifle. Simply put, I would rather be holding a Marlin 1895 with six .45-70 +P cartridges than a .338 Win. Mag. with four 250 grainers any day, if Mr. Griz takes offense at my proximity.
There you are, three calibers up to the task of taking any big game animal North America offers. All three are way over the century mark in age and still going strong. To be fair, I must admit that although these three rounds hold a special place in history and usefulness, two of them could be exchanged for rounds equally as old and just as good!
I feel that the venerable .30-06 is equal to the 8x57 and interchangeable for any purpose. The other option would be the 7x57 exchanged for the 6.5x55. I own both the 6.5x55 and 7x57 and think that they are very close in practical use. In modern rifles, either can easily drive a 140 grain bullet at 2700 fps. I actually use a 173 grain bullet in my 7x57 and find it to be a good medium range load.
Sure, there are many newer and more glamorous calibers out there to woo the modern hunter. However, none of them can do the job any better, at reasonable range, than this trio of "oldies." I should know, as I own and use a bunch of the newbies as well. I'm also certain that, should I be restricted to only three rifles (be still my heart!) for all North American big-game hunting, I'd be fine with a Marlin Model 1895 in .45-70, my new CZ550 FS in 6.5x55 SE and one of my very nice 8x57s. I am quite certain of that.
Copyright 2008 by Ed Turner. All rights reserved.
Custom, Obsolete & Hard to Find Ammunition