June 18, 2018
Usually, this column looks at recent innovations related to today's military rifles and ammunition, but this issue I'm taking a look back. Sort of. I decided to examine what happens when you take a classic 19th century military rifle cartridge—specifically the 7x57 Mauser—and update it using the latest modern projectiles currently available for handloading.
Few pre-World War I cartridges will have their exterior ballistics dramatically improved simply by topping them with a modern bullet—although accuracy and terminal performance often will be. The famous 1892-vintage 7x57 Mauser is one cartridge that can really benefit from load development with today's components and powders.
Unlike most military rifle cartridges, Paul Mauser's 7x57 quickly earned an impressive reputation among soldiers and sportsmen alike. At the time, it was known for its accuracy, flat trajectory, mild recoil and impressive performance on game animals well beyond what its paper ballistics would lead you to believe.
It decisively trounced the U.S. Army's .30-40 Krag and the British Empire's .303 in combat, and its exploits in the hands of hunters in Africa and India is legendary. Today, though, the 7x57's original 2,300-fps 173-grain roundnose ball round seems worthy of little more than scorn.
What happens, though, if we drop the 7x57 into a modern rifle and top it with contemporary high ballistic coefficient projectiles? Will we see a truly dramatic improvement in its exterior ballistics? Will the improvement be enough to allow it run with the current "big dogs" popular with American riflemen? Good questions.
A quick perusal of three popular bullet manufacturers—Berger Bullets, Hornady and Sierra—reveals a host of interesting possibilities. All three manufacturers offer high BC projectiles in bullet weights suitable for use in the 7x57. While some, such as Berger's 195-grain EOL Elite Hunter, may initially appear a bit on the heavy side, it handles them surprisingly well.
Options include the Berger 180-grain VLD Target (with a G1 BC of .683), Berger 195-grain EOL Elite Hunter (.755), Hornady 150-grain ELD-X (.574), Hornady 162-grain ELD Match (.670), Hornady 180-grain ELD Match (.796) and Sierra 183-grain MatchKing (.707).
Considering BCs starting in the high .500s and running to almost .800, you can see the 7x57's potential and understand why this bore size has been so respected for well over 100 years. Factory 7x57 loads typically run from 139 to 175 grains, so Hornady's 150-grain ELD-X and 162-grain ELD Match appeared perfectly suited for this. The Berger 180-grain VLD Target, Hornady 180-grain ELD Match, Sierra 183-grain MatchKing and Berger 195-grain EOL Elite Hunter have impressive BCs, but I was concerned whether the old 7x57 could drive the heavier bullets fast enough.
The 7x57 Mauser has a case length of 2.235 inches. Shoulder angle is 22.45 degrees, and maximum overall cartridge length listed as 3.071 inches. Case capacity is 60 grains of water.
A variety of powders readily available to handloaders perform quite well in the 7x57. These include IMR 4064, IMR 4350, WIN 760, RL-19 and RL-22. Of these, I am particularly fond of RL-22 and used it in testing because its slow burn rate works well with heavy bullets, and I found it capable both of high velocities and excellent accuracy. I used Winchester standard Large Rifle primers and Norma cases. Cartridge OAL was 3.15 inches—a length chosen based upon previous testing as it provided the best accuracy while still feeding smoothly from the Ruger's magazine.
For testing I selected a factory Ruger Model 77 African with a 24-inch barrel. Ruger has been doing runs of handsome .275 Rigby marked hunting rifles, and the .275 Rigby is nothing more than a 7x57 with a catchy Irish name used for marketing it to the Empire.
My goal was simply to see how close I could come to matching the exterior ballistics of the 6.5 Creedmoor—the current darling of the long range and hunting crowd—and hopefully to best it in drop and/or wind drift. You'll find my results for the Hornady bullets in the accompanying chart, along with two new 6.5 Creedmoor factory loads from Hornady for direct comparison.
Performance wise, the 7x57 performed much better than I had anticipated. The 150-grain ELD-X bullet stayed supersonic past 1,200 yards while the 162-grain ELD Match was supersonic to almost 1,400 yards. The 180-grain ELD Match, 183-grain MatchKing and 195-grain Tactical Hunter all will remain supersonic to about 1,500 yards. This is impressive.
The first thing I noted during testing was that Hornady's 7mm 180-grain ELD Match bullet allowed the 7x57 to best the two factory 6.5 Creedmoor loads when it comes to wind deflection. This was most dramatic past 1,000 yards. Sierra's 183-grain MatchKing and Berger's 195-grain Tactical Hunter allow the 7x57 to match the 6.5 Creedmoor factory loads wind deflection out to 1,000 yards—and to best them past that. The 6.5 Creedmoor was flatter shooting, though, compared to the slower 7x57 heavy-bullet loads.
The 7x57's 150-grain ELD-X bullet was just a step behind the 6.5 Creedmoor for both drop and wind deflection. Keep in mind this is a hunting bullet. Recoil was mild, unlike the 195-grain Berger.
My favorite 7x57 bullet was Hornady's 162-grain ELD Match. This was very close in drop and wind deflection to Hornady's 147-grain ELD Match 6.5 Creedmoor load.
The 7x57 Mauser remains a fine cartridge capable of excellent performance, despite being designed some 126 years ago. Yes, it does require a standard-length action, and it does recoil harder than a 6.5 Creedmoor. However, the 7x57 also hits harder, and its performance with very heavy bullets on game is legendary for a reason. Do you need a 7x57 in your stable? Maybe, maybe not, but it's certainly one to consider.