The 8x56 Mannlicher-Schoenauer

By Chuck Hawks

In 1908 the 8x56 appeared in Mannlicher-Schoenauer rifles. It went on to become a reasonably popular hunting cartridge in Europe. 8x56 Rifles were turned out by several European manufacturers and the cartridge was factory loaded by RWS and DWM in Germany and Kynoch in the UK. In the U.S., Western Cartridge offered factory loads for the 8x56 for a while between the World Wars, but it never caught on to any great extent in North America.

The 8x56 is based on a conventional rimless, bottleneck case 2.21" (56mm) in length with moderate body taper. Its rim diameter is .470" and the rim is .045" thick. The case measures .465" at the base and .424" at the shoulder. The cartridge overall length is 3.04". European cases are Berdan primed with large rifle (.217" diameter) primers. Bullet diameter is .323" (8mm).

Traditional RWS 8x56 factory loads drove a 200 grain round nose (RN) bullet at a muzzle velocity (MV) of 2170 fps with 2105 ft. lbs. of muzzle energy (ME). At 100 yards the velocity was approximately 1876 fps and the remaining energy 1563 ft. lbs. At 200 yards the velocity was about 1612 fps and the energy 1154 ft. lbs. The sectional density (SD) of a 200 grain .323" bullet is .274, and the ballistic coefficient should be about .253 for a round nose design. The Western and Kynoch factory loads were similar.

According to the "Optimum Game Weight Table" these factory loads would be perfectly acceptable for animals weighing up to about 400 pounds at 100 yards. In other words, the 8x56's killing power would have been about on a par with the .303 British loaded with a 174 grain soft point bullet and slightly superior to standard U.S. factory loads for the 8x57 with a 170 grain bullet.

Zero that RWS 8x56 M-S factory load (or an equivalent handload) at 174 yards to take advantage of its maximum point blank range (+/- 3") of 202 yards, and the trajectory should look about like this: +1.8" at 50 yards, +3" at 100 yards, +1.6" at 150 yards, -2.6" at 200 yards, - 10.1" at 250 yards, and -21.5" at 300 yards.

I visited the WebSites for some of the best known European ammunition manufacturers, including RWS (Germany), Norma (Sweden), Sako (Finland), Lapua (Finland), Hirtenberger (Austria), Sellier & Bellot (Czech Republic), Kynoch (UK) and Fiocchi (Italy). Unfortunately, I was unable to find a listing for 8x56 M-S factory loads from any of them.

Labor fuer Ballistik, a German specialty ammo company, does list a single 196 grain 8x56mm load using what appears to be a HP spitzer hunting bullet with a heavy, tapered jacket. This is packaged in 10 round boxes and costs 44.50 Euro in 2014. I do not believe Labor fuer Ballistik ammo is sold in the US.

privi partizan of Serbia offers a single 8x56 factory load. Unfortunately, this is loaded with a military style FMJ bullet unsuitable for hunting. privi partizan ammunition is marketed in the US.

I discovered that Old Western Scrounger in the U.S. loads 8x56 M-S ammunition, although it is expensive, and C-H offers reloading dies. The OWS loads come with 170 grain soft point bullets, ballistics unspecified.

A reloader with an 8x56 M-S rifle and a supply of brass should have no serious problems. A couple of reloads (enough to get started) are provided in Cartridges of the World, 9th Edition by Frank C. Barnes.

According to that data, 44.0 grains of IMR 4895 powder behind a 170 grain bullet gives a MV of 2260 fps and ME of 1935 ft. lbs. That would be a good deer and black bear (CXP2 class game) load at woods ranges, similar to the .32 Winchester Special. Its trajectory, using the Speer 170 grain semi-spitzer bullet (SD .232, BC .354), looks like this: +1.6" at 50 yards, +2.9" at 100 yards, +2.2" at 150 yards, -0.9" at 200 yards, -6.7" at 250 yards, and -15.5" at 300 yards. The MPBR (+/- 3") is 220 yards.

Alternatively, 40.0 grains of IMR 3031 powder behind a 200 grain bullet gives a MV of 2050 fps and ME of 1875 ft. lbs. That would seem to be a reasonable starting load for the hunter favoring heavy bullets, similar in velocity and energy to the standard 200 grain factory load for the .35 Remington, but superior in SD and presumably penetration.

The recoil energy of the handload above, using a 170 grain bullet at a MV of 2260 fps in an 8 pound rifle, would amount to 12.4 ft. lbs. The recoil velocity of that load is 10 ft. lbs.

It would seem that the 8x56 Mannlicher-Schoenauer deserved its run of popularity. It was available in the fine Mannlicher-Schoenauer sporting rifles, perhaps the smoothest bolt action any factory has ever turned out, and provided sufficient killing power for hunting all European game without kicking the shooter out from under his hat.

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Copyright 2003, 2014 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.