The 9.3x74R, "Queen of Rimmed Cartridges"

By Chuck Hawks

9.3x74R cartridge.
Illustration courtesy of Sellier & Bellot.

According to no less an authority than Pierre van der Walt, to German speaking hunters in Africa the 9.3x74R is the "Konigin der Randpatronen" (Queen of Rimmed Cartridges). This successful European medium bore cartridge was introduced in 1902 for use with the (then) new smokeless powders in single shot and double rifles. It became popular with Continental sportsmen hunting in Africa in the early years of the 20th Century and remains popular for that purpose today. Rifles are still turned out in 9.3x74R, the most familiar to North American hunters probably being the Ruger No. 1, Merkel rifles and drillings and the various Beretta models.

In typical European cartridge nomenclature, 9.3mm is the bullet diameter (.366") and 74mm (2.941") is the case length. The "R" stands for "rimmed." In shape the 9.3x74R case is long and tapered with a small and very gently tapered shoulder angled at a hair under 5.5 degrees. It is just barely a bottleneck case. It is a large capacity case that will hold approximately 85 grains of water. Because it is slender, the 9.3x74R is popular for use in petite and lightweight double rifles. The Merkel 141 reviewed by Guns and Shooting Online (see the Product Reviews page) is just such a rifle. This unique case cannot be formed from any other.

The reason for the 9.3x74's tiny shoulder is that the 9.3x74R's black powder predecessor, the 9.3x72R, had a straight-taper case and the smokeless powder 9.3x74R was designed not to fit in black powder rifles for reasons of safety. The cartridge dimensions are as follows: .5116" rim diameter, .4685" base diameter, .4094" shoulder diameter and .3905" neck diameter. The case length is 2.941" and the cartridge overall length is 3.665".

The performance of the 9.3x74R is similar to the British .375 H&H Flanged Magnum and identical to the German 9.3x62mm Mauser. (The latter was designed as a rimless substitute for the 9.3x74R for use in repeating rifles.) Norma, Sellier & Bellot, Hirtenberger, Stars & Stripes (in their Safari line), A-Square, Hornady, Nosler, Superior and RWS offer factory loads for the 9.3x74R. The A-Square and Hornady loads use 286 grain bullets and offer ballistics similar to those of the Norma loads using that bullet weight (see below). Nosler will custom load their 250 and 286 grain bullets. Stars & Stripes offers a selection of bullet weights from 200 to 350 grains. The four loads offered by Norma are typical of European offerings. Two of these use 232 grain bullets and two use 286 grain bullets.

The 232 grain bullets are the Vulkan and the Oryx. The Vulkan is a soft point bullet with the lead tip omitted, something like the Speer Mag Tip. The Oryx is a bonded core bullet.

The 232 grain Vulkan bullet is loaded to a muzzle velocity (MV) of 2625 fps with muzzle energy (ME) of 3551 ft. lbs. At 200 yards the figures are 2049 fps and 2164 ft. lbs. The trajectory figures for this load in a rifle zeroed at 200 yards shows the Vulkan bullet +2.5" at 100 yards, 0 at 200 yards, and -10.8" at 300 yards.

The 232 grain Oryx bullet is loaded to a somewhat lower MV of 2526 fps with 3274 ft. lbs. of ME. At 200 yards the figures are 1883 fps and 1819 ft. lbs. According to Norma's figures, the trajectory is the same as that of the Vulkan bullet at 100 and 200 yards, but the Oryx hits 11.4" low at 300 yards.

Norma's two factory loads with 286 grain bullets show identical ballistics figures. One bullet is the Plastic Point and one is called the Alaska. Both show a MV of 2362 fps and a ME of 3544 ft. lbs. At 100 yards the figures are 2135 fps and 2894 ft. lbs. and at 200 yards they are still rolling along at 1920 fps with 2342 ft. lbs. of energy. Reloaders can duplicate these ballistics using several canister powders.

The trajectory figures for both 286 grain bullets at 2362 fps, when fired from a rifle zeroed at 200 yards, shows that the bullets will hit +3.1" at 100 yards, 0 at 200 yards and -12.5" at 300 yards. I prefer to zero my scoped 9.3x74R rifle to put a 286 grain bullet one inch high at 100 yards. This will keep the trajectory of a RN bullet within +/- 1.5" from the muzzle to about 165 yards. 286 grain bullets are the best choice for very large or dangerous game.

I believe that Norma and RWS bullets are available to reloaders in Europe. In North America Hornady, Speer, Nosler, Swift, Woodleigh and Barnes offer bullets of 9.3mm/.366" diameter for the European 9.3mm cartridges. Nosler offers a 250 grain AccuBond and a 286 grain Partition, both spitzers. Hornady introduced their 286 grain InterLock SP-RP for the 9.3x74R and 9.3x62. Swift offers 250 and 300 grain A-Frames. Speer has their 270 grain Hot-Cor Semi-Spitzer while Barnes has a 250 grain X-Bullet, 286 grain X-Bullet (both spitzers) and a 286 grain round nose solid. Woodleigh catalogs 250 and 286 grain bonded core bullets and a 286 grain solid. The Barnes and Woodleigh solids are intended for those hunting thick-skinned dangerous game, especially elephant, with a 9.3mm rifle.

The Barnes Bullets Reloading Manual No. 1 shows that their 250 grain X-Bullet can be driven to a MV of 2240 fps with 54.0 grains of IMR 4064 powder and a MV of 2411 fps with 58.0 grains of IMR 4064. The heavier 286 grain bullet can be driven to a MV of 2120 fps by 51.0 grains of IMR 4064 powder and a MV of 2286 fps by 55.0 grains of the same powder. The Nosler Reloading Guide 6 shows a maximum 64.5 grain charge of IMR 4350 powder delivering a MV of 2398 fps with their 286 grain Partition bullet. Such loads are adequate for all large North American game, including Alaskan moose, bison and brown bear at moderate range.

Of course, the 9.3x74R is most famous as an African big and dangerous game cartridge. The lighter bullets are generally for use on plains game, while the 286 grain bullet that made the cartridge's reputation is the choice for dangerous game, including lion and buffalo. Like the .375 H&H Flanged Magnum, the 9.3x74R is adequate for hunting any African or Asian big game animal, where permitted, and has been used to kill thousands of elephants. However, it is not regarded as a top choice for stopping or turning charges by massive, thick-skinned animals. The African version of a "guide rifle" is usually a big bore developing over 5000 ft. lbs. of muzzle energy.

The recoil of the 9.3x74R is fairly pronounced, as one would expect. Shoot a 286 grain bullet at 2360 fps from a nine pound Ruger No. 1-S rifle and your shoulder will get socked with just over 30 ft. lbs. of recoil energy. Surprisingly, from field positions this is not a difficult rifle for me to shoot accurately and I don't like to be kicked around any more than the next guy. The 9.3x74R really is the Queen of the rimmed medium bore cartridges.

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