Compared: The European 9.3mm Rifle Cartridges
By Chuck Hawks
The 9.3mm cartridges are popular for hunting large game in Europe and Africa. There are a plethora of 9.3's, many of which are obsolete black powder numbers, but those listed above are the most popular and best known as I write these words. These 9.3mm cartridges serve in much the same roles as the various .35 and .375 caliber cartridges popular with North American and British hunters. That is to say, they are medium bore cartridges suitable for all of the world's CXP3 game, dangerous and otherwise. With appropriate bullets, the more powerful 9.3mm numbers have also proven adequate for buffalo, rhino and elephant (CXP4 game).
The 9.3's compared here can be divided into at least three distinct levels or steps in terms of killing power. The 9.3x57 Mauser represents the least powerful of our group of cartridges. The 9.3x62 and 9.3x74R represent what might be called the intermediate power level, while the 9.3x66 Sako and 9.3x64 Brenneke are the most powerful 9.3mm cartridges.
European Cartridge Nomenclature
Let's use the 9.3x74R as an example to explain European cartridge nomenclature, since on this side of the pond it is the best known of the 9.3's. As with all cartridges named in the European fashion, 9.3mm is the nominal bullet size and 74mm is the nominal case length. An "R" suffix indicates a rimmed case. Thus, the 9.3x74R uses a 9.3mm diameter bullet, has a case 74mm long and headspaces on the case rim (rather than its shoulder, as would a rimless case).
9.3mm Bullets and Ammunition
9.3mm bullets actually measure .366" in diameter. Several bullet weights are available in 9.3mm factory loads and to reloaders. In the North America Speer, Nosler, Swift, Woodleigh, Barnes and Hornady offer 9.3mm bullets for reloaders. The common light bullet, usually a soft point design intended for CXP2 / CXP3 class game, weighs 232 grains. For use on most CXP3 game there are various soft point and premium controlled expansion bullets weighing from 250 to 270 grains. The more or less standard weight for heavy and dangerous game and probably the best all-around weight for the 9.3x62mm and the larger capacity cartridges is the 286 grain bullet. 286 grain bullets are available in soft point, premium controlled expansion and solid (non-expanding) types. Depending on the type of bullet, they can be used on everything from CXP2 game to pachyderms. The SD of the 286 grain bullet is .305, identical to that of the 300 grain .375 bullet and similarly versatile. The heaviest 9.3mm bullets with which I am familiar weigh 300 grains and provide an exceptional .312 SD. The most commonly factory loaded bullet weights for 9.3mm cartridges are 232 and 286 grains. Norma, Sako and Sellier & Bellot are the European brands of 9.3mm ammunition most commonly seen in North America.
The 9.3x57 MauserThe 9.3x57 Mauser is based on the 8x57 Mauser case necked-up to accept 9.3mm bullets. It offers performance about on a par with the .358 Winchester. Norma 9.3x57 factory loads drive a 232 grain bullet at a MV of 2329 fps and ME of 2795 ft. lbs., or a 286 grain bullet at a MV of 2067 fps with 2714 ft. lbs. of kinetic energy. Zeroed for 200 yards, the 232 grain bullet rises about 3.5" above the line of sight at 100 yards. The 8x57 is a suitable woods cartridge for hunting wild boar, black bear, red stag, elk and similar size animals.
The 9.3x62 and 9.3x74R
Next are the 9.3x62 and 9.3x74R, which occupy the middle ground in power. These two cartridges are physically very different, but deliver identical ballistics. This pair is the most popular of the 9.3mm cartridges. Both have been around since the turn of the 20th Century and have been widely used on large African game.
The 9.3x62 is based on a rimless, bottleneck case much like a .30-06 necked-up for 9.3mm bullets. It looks very much like the .35 Whelen (.35-06) and like the .35 Whelen it was designed for use in bolt action rifles with standard length actions.
The much longer, rimmed, 9.3x74R is intended for use in single shot rifles, double rifles and drillings. This is the 9.3mm cartridge for which ammunition is most readily available in North America, being offered by A-Square, Hornady, Nosler and Stars & Stripes among American ammo companies.
The ballistics of these two cartridges can be compared to the American .350 Remington Magnum and .35 Whelen or the British .375 H&H Flanged Magnum. The A-Square loads for these cartridges are typical and drive a 286 grain RN bullet at a MV of 2360 fps with 3538 ft. lbs. of energy. Zero that load at 200 yards and the bullet rises 3" at 100 yards. The maximum point blank range (+/- 3") is 224 yards. With appropriate bullets, these two cartridges are suitable for all North American game including bison, moose, musk ox and the great bears. They are popular in Africa, where they have been used on all large game species including lion, buffalo and even elephant (the latter with 286 grain solid bullets). These are considered all-around cartridges on the Dark Continent. They represent the minimum power level sensible for use on CXP4 game and are about optimum for CXP3 class game. As such, they are a good choice for hunters who find the .375 H&H Belted Magnum or 9.3x64 too punishing to shoot with optimum accuracy. (That includes most shooters!)
The 9.3x66 Sako
The newest of the 9.3mm cartridges is the 9.3x66 Sako. It and the 9.3x64 represent our top power level. The 9.3x66 was introduced in 2002 by Sako of Finland for bolt action rifles. Sako does not sell 9.3x66 rifles or ammo in North America, so it is almost never seen in the US. Its rimless case has a standard .473" diameter rim and its overall length allows its use in rifles with standard length actions. Sako claims that their Model 75 or 85 rifle magazines will accommodate an extra 9.3x66 cartridge compared to the fatter 9.3x64. Sako factory loads drive a 286 grain bullet at a MV of 2559 fps. The 9.3x66mm is roughly similar in power to the .376 Steyr and can be used for hunting all large or dangerous North American game and, where legal, anything in Africa with appropriate bullets.
Interestingly, of all the various cartridges for which they offer factory loaded ammunition, the Sako ammunition ballistics chart recommends only the 9.3x62, 9.3x74R, 9.3x66 and .375 H&H Magnum for the heaviest and most dangerous game (CXP4). Note that Sako does not load 9.3x64 cartridges or, for that matter, the .458 Winchester.
The 9.3x64 Brenneke
The most powerful of our 9.3mm cartridges is the 9.3x64 Brenneke. This is, in essence, a non-belted magnum cartridge with a rebated rim diameter of .496" and a case head diameter of .507". Cartridge overall length is 3.370". The A-Square 9.3x64 factory load drives a 286 grain bullet at a MV of 2700 fps and ME of 4629 ft. lbs. The 200 yard figures are 2103 fps and 2808 ft. lbs. Zero that load at 200 yards and the bullet rises only 2.3" at 100 yards.
The 9.3x64 is a very powerful medium bore, falling between the .375 H&H Magnum and the .375 Weatherby Magnum. This cartridge is more powerful than necessary for hunting North American game, although it could be used for polar bear, brown bear and bison. It is at its best as a cartridge for large and dangerous African game, especially Cape buffalo, rhino and elephant where legal. In Northern Australia or Asia it would be good medicine for wild water buffalo.
Naturally, as you increase the power of a rifle cartridge you also increase the recoil. With powerful medium bore cartridges recoil is always an issue and this is just as true with the 9.3's as it is with the .375's. Here are some recoil energy figures for our 9.3mm cartridges in rifles of appropriate weight. (.375 H&H Magnum included for comparison.)
These recoil numbers make it clear that only the 9.3x57 falls within the 20 ft. lbs. of recoil energy generally regarded as tolerable by the average shooter, and even it is right on the edge. That is why its American equivalent, the .358 Winchester, has never been very popular. Nevertheless, the elk and moose hunter who wants to throw a big bullet could do much worse than a 9.3x57.
The 9.3x62 and 9.3x74R are well beyond the 20 ft. lb. limit. They are, however, about the minimum cartridges suitable for hunting CXP4 class game (where they are legal) and they do kick noticeably less than the more powerful 9.3mm or .375 magnums. They are also more often available in less expensive rifles than the famous British heavy game cartridges. The North American hunter can have a CZ 550 bolt action in 9.3x62 or a Ruger No. 1-S single shot in 9.3x74R for hundreds of dollars less than most express rifles. This pair may be the "best balanced" of all the powerful medium bore rifle cartridges.
The 9.3x66 Sako and 9.3x64 Brenneke deliver recoil that most shooters would call "punishing." To most shooters they are virtually indistinguishable from the .375 H&H Magnum cartridge fired in a rifle of the same weight. No matter how some gun writers may try to sugar coat it, these cartridges are way beyond the recoil level at which most hunters can do their best shooting. Like the .375 Magnum, they are very likely to produce an accuracy destroying, game wounding flinch. If you must shoot these big boomers, take them in very small doses.
The other problem with the 9.3x66 and 9.3x64 is that they are not legal for shooting lion and CXP4 game in some of the best known African hunting countries (usually ex-British colonies), where .375 is the minimum caliber allowed. Such laws make no ballistic sense, but there you are. Since this pair kicks about as hard as a .375 Magnum, perhaps the sensible course is to simply shoot a .375 and avoid the hassle of obtaining special permission to use something else. In North America, where no such foolish restrictions exist, fans of these 9.3mm cartridges are free to use them to their heart's content.
Summary and Conclusion
These Continental 9.3mm cartridges are powerful medium bores, roughly comparable to various potent .35 and .375 caliber American and British big game cartridges. Historically, they have served similar purposes and they continue to do so today.
For the North American hunter, the 9.3x62 and 9.3x74R probably make the most sense. They are adequate for all North American game and rifles and ammunition are more readily available than for the other 9.3mm cartridges.
Compared to the .35 caliber cartridges, the 9.3's offer the advantage of superior SD (and, other things being equal, penetration) with the most commonly available "heavy" bullets for each caliber. A 250 grain .358" bullet has a SD of .279, excellent for CXP3 game but a bit lacking for CXP4 game, where a SD of at least .300 is often recommended. The 286 grain 9.3mm (.366") bullet has a SD of .305, identical to that of the storied 300 grain .375" bullet. Compared to the .375's, the 9.3's can throw a bullet of identical SD at the same velocity with a bit less recoil, or a bullet of the same weight at the same velocity with the same recoil and superior SD. These characteristics make the European 9.3mm cartridges desirable to knowledgeable riflemen around the world.
Copyright 2007, 2012 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.