Remington holds its new-products seminar for writers each year, and I have attended every one during the past 20 years or so. In the last couple of meetings, when company officials asked which classic cartridge should be next for the limited-edition Model 700 Classic, I cast my vote for the 8x57mm Mauser.
The way I saw it, offering a Classic Model 700 in that caliber would make it really special since it would be a first among American manufacturers. And besides, since they already had tooling sitting on the shelf for making barrels of 8mm caliber for the 8mm Remington Magnum, chambering barrels for 8x57mm Mauser would be a painless operation.
I am sure the decision-makers at Remington don’t hang on my every word, but they obviously were listening this time because the Model 700 Classic chambering for 2004 is indeed the 8x57mm Mauser. It has a 24-inch barrel, and, like other long-action Classics before it, the stock is cut-checkered American walnut and the metal is blued steel, just like they all used to be made. Nominal weight is 71⁄4 pounds. By the time you read this, Model 700 Classics in 8x57mm Mauser should be ready and waiting on the shelves of Remington dealers all across the country.
Winchester offered the similar 9x57mm Mauser in the Model 54 rifle back in the 1930s, and Remington reamed a few Model 30s to the caliber. But as far as I know, the slightly smaller 8x57mm cousin had been totally neglected on this side of the Big Pond up until now. A highly developed round, the 8mm Mauser–or the 7.9mm Mauser, as it is also called–was the main battle cartridge of Germany’s Third Reich, and it continues to be offered in a great variety of hunting loads by ammunition manufacturers around the world. There was a time when it was as popular among European hunters as the .30-06 was in the United States.
Millions of war-surplus Mausers imported to the U.S. during the past 80 years or so introduced the 8x57mm to American shooters, and if the number of letters I receive from readers is an indication, the old cartridge now enjoys more popularity than ever on American soil. You don’t have to take my word for it; the latest word I get from RCBS is that it ranks 17th in popularity among customers who buy reloading dies for centerfire cartridges suitable for use on big game.
Two versions of the 8x57mm Mauser exist, and even today it is not exactly uncommon to encounter rifles chambered for both. The original version was introduced in the German Commission Model 88 rifle in 1888, and it was loaded to a nominal 2,034 fps with a 227-grain roundnose bullet measuring .318 inch in diameter. This one is commonly referred to as the 8x57J with the “J” suffix indicating infantry. When the German army later replaced the old 88 Commission rifle with the new Mauser Model 1898, some of the first rifles built were also chambered for the 8x57J, but in 1905 it was replaced with a new high-velocity version loaded with a 154-grain Spitzgeschoss (spitzer) bullet at a muzzle velocity of 2,936 fps. The new loading was officially designated as the 8x57JS, and bullet diameter was increased to .323 inch.
No doubt about it, the introduction of the new flat-shooting 8mm Mauser load by the German military influenced military powers in other parts of the world, and it is what prompted the U.S. Army to abandon the .30-03 with its 220-grain roundnose bullet at 2,300 fps and replace it with the .30-06 and its 172-grain spitzer at 2,700.
European hunters who were familiar with the 8mm Mauser were aware that rifles chambered for it had bores sized for two different bullet diameters, and they chose ammunition for their particular rifles accordingly. To them, the 8x57J and 8x57JS were as different as the .243 Winchester and .260 Remington are to us. Things didn’t go that smoothly among American hunters, who somehow failed to get the message and sometimes made the embarrassing mistake of firing full-power 8x57JS ammo in rifles bored for the smaller bullet. The result was often poor accuracy and excessive chamber pressures.
When the first wave of war-surplus Mausers began to wash up on U.S. shores soon after World War II, various attempts were made to prevent Americans from blowing up themselves and their rifles. Winchester, Remington and Peters tried to head off the problem by introducing a special loading of the 8x57JS called the 8mm Special. Bullet diameter for the new load was .323 inch, so it would shoot accurately in rifles chambered for the 8x57JS, but its jacket and lead core were made soft enough to squeeze through the .318-inch barrel of a rifle in 8x57J without generating excessive chamber pressures.
The new bullet worked well on deer-size game, but it proved to be too soft for adequate penetration on moose and elk, so it was dropped in the 1950s. From that point on, domestic ammunition has been loaded with a .323-inch bullet of harder construction but at an extremely low maximum chamber pressure of 37,000 cup, which is actually milder than the .30-30 Winchester. While it is best to refrain from firing this ammo in any rifle with a .318-inch barrel, doing so is not as likely to cause catastrophic failure as might be the case if full-power ammo is fired in a tired old Commission 88 rifle.
There are those who believe the barrel of any caliber of 8x57mm Mauser rifle made after 1905 is suitable for use with full-power ammo loaded with the .323-inch bullet. While this might be true of Model 98 military rifles, it most certainly is not true of sporting rifles built at the Mauser factory. Like American hunters, German hunters become set in their ways, and even after the 8x57JS was adopted by their army, many Germans were convinced the old 8x57J was more accurate. For this reason Mauser sporting rifles were available in both versions as late as the 1950s. Since many of those rifles now reside in America, the only safe way to know which ammo to shoot in one is to slug its bore. Kits for doing just that are available from Dillon and Midway.
American ammunition manufacturers find it necessary to provide low-pressure 8mm Mauser ammo deemed safe to use in a variety of firearms. However, the individual shooter can tailor loads specifically for his rifle, and that makes the old cartridge a perfect candidate for h
andloading. Rifles like the Remington Model 700 Classic and the near-mint-condition 98 Mauser in my battery are strong enough to handle loads capable of matching the power of ammunition presently loaded by foreign manufacturers such as DWM and Norma. Data for the 8mm Mauser in the Speer manual lists chamber pressure as high as 50,000 CUP, the same as for the .30-06 Springfield. The Speer manual also goes on to warn that such loads should be used only in rifles in excellent condition. If in doubt about the suitability of your rifle to handle modern loads, have it checked over by a gunsmith who owns headspace gauges for the 8x57mm Mauser.
Average gross capacity of the 8x57mm Mauser case is about five grains less than for the .30-06 and about five grains more than for the .308 Winchester. On paper, this puts it about midway in performance between those cartridges when the three are loaded to comparable chamber pressures, but in actuality the 8mm Mauser is capable of duplicating .30-06 performance. The Remington cases I used when chronographing loads in the Persian Mauser and the Remington Model 700 have a two-grain-greater capacity than the Winchester and Federal cases I checked, but this is important only when the bit of extra room is needed for a bulky, slow-burning powder such as H4350. As quality and longevity go, it is a tossup between the three brands of cases.
There certainly is no scarcity of .323-inch bullets available for handloading. Those weighing 150 to 170 grains are the best choices for use on deer-size game while the heavier weights are our elk and moose medicine. Sierra’s 220-grain spitzer boattail has both the heft and the accuracy, but it is best reserved for target shooting since it is too heavily constructed to expand at the outer limits of 8mm Mauser range.
Moving to the opposite weight extreme, while the Hornady 125-grain spire point is intended for varmint shooting, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it work just as well for long-range shots at pronghorn antelope. For all-around use on everything from Texas whitetails to Washington black bear to Alaska moose, the Barnes 180-grain XFB at 2,700 fps should be an excellent choice. Same goes for the Swift 200-grain A-Frame and the Speer 200-grain spitzer. All are capable of expanding at impact velocities delivered by the 8mm Mauser, even at the outer fringes of its effective range.
Hunters who decide to handload for rifles chambered for the 8x57J don’t have as many options, but they do have a couple of readily available choices I can think of. Either is better than allowing fine old Mauser sporting rifles to gather dust in the corner. Buffalo Arms (208/263-6953; www.buffaloarms.com) and Huntington Die Specialities (530/534-1210; www.huntingtons.com) offer 150-, 175- and 200-grain .318-inch bullets.
Most 8mm-caliber military rifles have extremely long chamber throats, and for this reason they will often deliver their best accuracy with bullets seated out as far as bullet length or magazine length will allow. Chamber-throat length will vary from rifle to rifle, but even with the heavier bullets seated out to an overall cartridge length of 3.185 inches (the longest the magazine of the Persian Mauser test rifle would allow), they still had to leap through a bit of space before engaging the rifling.
Excessive free-travel is why some military rifles refuse to shoot the lighter (meaning shorter) bullets as accurately as the longer heavyweights, although the test rifle shot both about the same with one exception. In addition to being the only bullet to shoot inside two inches, the Nosler 200-grain Partition was the only one to average less than 11⁄2 inches; the smallest group fired with it measured 0.789 inch, which is darned good for a military rifle with its original barrel.
Four of the bullet/powder combinations I tried in the Persian Mauser stood above the others as far as top velocities are concerned. Beginning with the lightest bullet and w
orking up, they include the 125-grain Hornady pushed to 3,007 fps by H4198, the 150-grain Sierra propelled to 2,942 by AA-2520, the 180-grain Barnes shoved to 2,755 by H380 and the 200-grain Speer at 2,618, compliments of IMR-4350. Those velocities with 125-, 150- and 180-grain bullets exceed the maximum speed of the .308 Winchester when it is loaded with the same bullet weights. Those combinations were also some of the more accurate ones in the Mauser. Boiling it down to fewer options, while a number of recipes work quite well in the 8x57mm Mauser, I would have to classify H380, W748, IMR-4350 and AA-2520 as must-have powders for anyone who handloads this cartridge.
I found it interesting to compare the velocities I reached with a 29-inch barrel to those shown in various handloading manuals for shorter barrels. Beginning with the Speer manual, it shows a velocity of 2,723 fps for 49 grains of IMR-4064 behind the 170-grain bullet, which is slower than the 2,806 fps for the same load clocked in my rifle. Moving right along, 52 grains of H380 and the 200-grain Speer bullet clocked 2,618 in my rifle but only 2,469 in Speer’s 24-inch test barrel. The Nosler manual indicates a velocity of 2,698 fps for a 24-inch barrel when 52 grains of IMR-4350 was burned behind the 200-grain Partition, but that load exited the muzzle of my rifle at a considerably less speedy 2,560 fps.
Then we have the Sierra manual where 49.7 grains of AA-2520 pushed the 150-grain spitzer along at 2,800 fps from a 23-inch barrel while 49 grains of the same powder pushed that bullet to 2,905 fps in my rifle. On the other hand, 44 grains of H4198 pushed the 125-grain Hornady from my 29-inch barrel at 3,007 fps, which is just about dead-on the 3,000 fps the Hornady manual shows for the same load in a 23-inch barrel.
|ACCURACY/VELOCITY RESULTS: PERSION MODEL 98 MAUSER CALIBER 8x57JS, 29-in. BARREL|
|Hornady 125-gr. PSN||H4198||44.0||Win.||2.56||3,007|
|Hornady 150-gr. PSN||W748||56.0||Rem.||3.54||2,828|
|Sierra 150-gr. PSN||AA-2520||49.0||Rem.||2.33||2,905|
|Speer 170-gr. PSN||IMR-4064||49.0||Rem.||2.68||2,806|
|Winchester 170-gr. PP||W748||51.0||Win.||3.46||2,739|
|Sierra 175-gr. PSN||H4350||54.0||Rem.||4.66||2,551|
|Barnes 180-gr. XFB||H380||52.0||Rem.||2.64||2,755|
|Nosler 200-gr. Part.||IMR-4350||52.0||Win.||1.48||2,560|
|Speer 200-gr. PSN||H380||52.0||Win.||2.10||2,618|
|Swift 200-gr. AF||RL-15||45.0||Win.||2.70||2,621|
|Sierra 220-gr. SBT||IMR-4350||50.0||Rem.||2.94||2,444|
|Remington 170-gr. RNCL||Factory Load||- – -||Rem.||3.21||2,311|
|Winchester 170-gr. PP||Factory Load||- – -||Win.||4.87||2,284|
|Federal 180-gr. HS||Factory Load||- – -||Fed.||2.84||2,330|
|Norma 196-gr. Alaska||Factory Load||- – -||Nor.||2.00||2,610|
When everything is considered, it becomes obvious that, like any other cartridge, velocities produced by the 8mm Mauser can vary considerably due to variations in bore and chamber dimensions of various barrels, not to mention the influence a change in reloading components can have on chamber pressures and bullet speed.
Chamber-throat length also has its influence on velocity. A few years back I worked with a fine old Mauser sporting rifle. While it had been built at the Oberndo
rf factory during the 1920s, its bore was still in mint condition. The barrel of that rifle was 231⁄2 inches long, and yet, due to its shorter chamber throat, it delivered velocities as high as and sometimes even higher than those clocked with a 29-inch military barrel with its longer throat. Maximum velocities with the Mauser sporter were 3,100 fps with the 125-grain Hornady, 2,950 with the 150-grain Speer, 2,800 with the 180-grain Barnes and 2,525 fps with the 200-grain Speer. While I have yet to have the opportunity to do more than fire a few rounds of factory ammo in the Remington Model 700 Classic with its 24-inch barrel, I expect handloads to perform the same in it as they did in the Mauser sporter.
I am glad to see Remington offer the 8x57mm chambering in the
limited-edition Model 700 Classic rifle. After all, what could possibly be more classic than an old 19th century round that has managed to outlast most of the sporting cartridges of the 20th century?