The 6.5x57 and 6.5x57R

By Chuck Hawks

The 6.5x57 Mauser dates back to the middle 1890's and was created by necking down and fire forming the 7x57 case to accept standard 6.5mm (.264") diameter bullets. The shoulder was changed slightly to an angle of just under 19 degrees (approximately 1.8 degrees less than the 7x57) and moved .046" forward. Why anyone would go to the trouble to do this I do not know, since it accomplishes nothing. The rim diameter is the standard .473"--the same as the 7x57 or the .30-06. At a glance, the 6.5x57 cartridge looks much like the 7x57 parent cartridge, and is intended for use in magazine fed, bolt action rifles.

There is also a rimmed version of the 6.5x57, just as there is a rimmed version of the 7x57. These rimmed cartridges are designed for use in combination guns (rifle/shotgun), drillings (three barreled combination guns), and double rifles, all of which are still popular in Europe. Because these break-action arms sometimes lack the strength of a modern bolt action rifle, loads for the rimmed cases are usually about 10% lighter to reduce the maximum operating pressure, which also aids in the extraction of spent cases.

Although rarely seen in North America, the 6.5x57 has been a popular cartridge in Europe for a long time and remains so today. It is one of the best of the 6.5mm cartridges, although it shares the 7x57's principle flaw of being a little too long in overall length to work in short action rifles, yet not as long as most cartridges intended for standard length actions, such as the .270 Win. and .280 Rem. The result is essentially short action performance without the short action, and the ballistics of the 6.5x57 are very similar to those of the later .260 Rem. (a true short action 6.5mm cartridge).

It is hard to understand why the 6.5x57 (and 6.5mm cartridges in general) have never caught on in North America. There is much to like about the 6.5x57. Its recoil is moderate, the trajectory is adequately flat for most purposes (including hunting plains or mountain game), and its killing power is excellent due to the high sectional density of 6.5mm hunting bullets. The 6.5x57 can reasonably be used to take almost all medium to large size big game animals, excepting only the large, dangerous predators and the heavy, thick-skinned species.

As far as I can tell no factory loaded 6.5x57 ammunition is available in the US, at least in the well known brands like A-Square, Federal, Hornady, Norma, PMC, Remington, Sako, Speer, and Winchester. Evidently the European ammo manufacturers do not formally export 6.5x57 factory loads to the US. Retail mail order outlets like The Old Western Scrounger do carry some European ammo for the 6.5x57 and 6.5x57R. The bullet weights I could find on the Internet were 93 grains and 123 grains. RWS brass was also for sale. Ballistic specifications were not supplied for any of these loads.

In Europe 6.5x57 ammunition is produced by RWS (Germany), Sellier & Bellot (Czech Republic), Hirtenberger (Austria), and possibly others. Available bullet weights include 93, 105, 120, 123-125, and 140 grains.

Sellier & Bellot has a ballistic table for their ammunition on their web page. They showed a factory load with a 131 grain soft point bullet for both the 6.5x57 and 6.5x57R. The S & B figures claimed a muzzle velocity (MV) of 775 meters/second (2519 fps) for both loads, and muzzle energy (ME) of 2553 Joule.

Hirtenberger also has a web page, and offers a greater variety of 6.5x57 factory loads. Bullet weights offered are 105, 120, 125, and 140 grains for both the 6.5x57 and 6.5x57R.

For the 6.5x57 Mauser Hirtenberger claims a MV of 880 meters/second (2860 fps) and 3020 Joule of energy with the 120 grain bullet. The 125 grain bullet has a MV of 865 meters/second (2811 fps) and 3030 Joule of energy. The Hirtenberger trajectory table indicated nearly identical trajectories for the 120 and 125 grain bullets. Fired from a scoped rifle, either should hit +1 cm at 50 meters, +4 cm at 100 meters, +2.5 cm at 150 meters, -3 cm at 200 meters, and about -13 cm at 250 meters. (2.5 cm equals one inch.)

Hirtenberger figures for the 6.5x57 with the 140 grain bullet show a MV of 810 meters/second (2632 fps) and 2985 Joule of energy. For the 140 grain bullet the trajectory table shows: +1.5 cm at 50 meters, +4 cm at 100 meters, +1.5 cm at 150 meters, -5 cm at 200 meters, and -17.5 cm at 250 meters.

For the 65.x57R Hirtenberger figures show a MV of 840 meters/second (2730 fps) for the 120 grain bullet with 2752 Joule of energy. Their trajectory table shows the following: +1.5 cm at 50 meters, +4 cm at 100 meters, +2 cm at 150 meters, -4.5 cm at 200 meters, and -16 cm at 250 meters.

For the 125 grain bullet in the 6.5x57R the MV is 810 meters/second (2632 fps) with 2657 Joule of energy. The trajectory table for this load shows: +1.5 cm at 50 meters, +4 cm at 100 meters, +1.5 cm at 150 meters, -5 cm at 200 meters, and -17.5 cm at 250 meters.

For the Hirtenberger 140 grain bullet in the 6.5x57R the MV is 755 meters/second (2454 fps) with 2594 Joule of energy. The trajectory table for this load shows: +1.5 cm at 50 meters, +4 cm at 100 meters, +1 cm at 150 meters, -8 cm at 200 meters, and 23.5 cm at 250 meters.

For the reloader without a good supply of 6.5x57 cases, the easiest way to make some is to shorten .30-06 cases and run them through a 6.5x57 forming die, then trim to a final length of 2.232". This eliminates the need for fire forming, which is required if 7x57 cases are used. It is the slightly different shoulder set .046" farther forward on the 6.5x57 case that creates the need to fire form necked down 7x57 brass. The person who needlessly tampered with the shoulder of the 7x57 case when he designed the 6.5x57 clearly was not thinking about future generations of reloaders.

The Hornady Handbook of Cartridge Reloading, Third Edition lists a good selection of reloads for the 6.5x57 using Hornady bullets of 100 (SD .205), 129 (SD .264), 140 (SD .287), and 160 (SD .328) grain weights. All loads used RWS cases and Federal 210 primers and were chronographed in the rather short 18" barrel of Hornady's Mauser M-66 test rifle. In a normal 22" barrel velocities could be as much as 100 fps higher. Winchester 785 and Norma MRP powders reportedly gave the best results with all bullet weights.

To summarize, the 100 grain Spire Point varmint bullet can be driven to a muzzle velocity of 3000 fps with 51.7 grains of W785 or 52.3 grains of MRP. For the owner of a scoped 6.5x57 rifle who wanted to do a little off season varmint shooting this would be an excellent load.

The 129 grain Hornady Spire Point bullet can achieve a MV of 2700 fps with 48.6 grains of W785 or 48.8 grains of MRP powder. Zero that load at 200 yards and the bullet will hit +2.1" at 100 yards and -8.8" at 300 yards. This bullet has a SD of .264, a hair better than the 140 grain .270 bullet, and makes a fine choice for medium size big game (deer and antelope) hunting with a 6.5x57 rifle.

The 140 grain Spire Point bullet (SD .287) can be driven to a MV of 2600 fps with 47.7 grains of W785 or 47.8 grains of MRP powder. Zeroed at 200 yards the trajectory of this bullet looks like this: +2.4" at 100 yards, 0 at 200 yards, -9.8" at 300 yards. This is perhaps the best all-around big game load for a 6.5x57 rifle.

The long 160 grain Hornady Round Nose bullet (SD .328) can achieve a MV of 2400 fps and ME of 2047 ft. lbs. with 45.3 grains of W785 or 45.5 grains of MRP. The 200 yard figures are 1776 fps and 1121 ft. lbs. This deep penetrating bullet is a good choice for large thin-skinned non-dangerous game.

The 6.5x57R should be able to come within approximately 100 fps of any of these reloads. So whether for a bolt action repeater or a traditional double or combination gun, there is a 6.5x57 cartridge equal to the task.

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Copyright 2002, 2012 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.