The Deadly Little 6.5×54 Mannlicher

Q. I own an old Mannlicher-Schoenauer carbine in 6.5×54 MS calibre that my father bought back in the early 1950s. I understand that this rifle and cartridge has an illustrious history with early African big game hunters. John “Pondoro” Taylor commenting, “The lightness and handiness of these little short-barreled MS rifles appealed greatly.” Yet my mates tell me that the 6.5×54 is not enough gun for deer.
I’d appreciate your opinion about this and would appreciate any additional information about the 6.5’s ballistics and effectiveness.
– Morris Redman

A. The ballistics that brought the little 6.5x54MS a.k.a the .256 MS, its fame and glory in the Dark Continent was a full-metal- jacket round-nose bullet weighing 156 to 162 grains that left the muzzle at around 2300fps. Sir Alfred Pease in “Book of The Lion” wrote: “With the .256, I have killed many lions as well as pachyderms, it is no weight to carry on foot or on horseback, and the mechanism is of the simplest and strongest kind.” Blayney Percival wrote:”I shot most of my lions, say forty, with the .256. I do not remember exactly, but feel sure that two-thirds of the lions did not need a second bullet.” I believe that the great sectional density of the 160gn FMJ bullet was what made the .256 so deadly.The only other hunting bullet that came close to the S.D of the 160gn 6.5mm bullet back in those halcyon days was the 400gn bullet of the .416 Rigby; its SD is .330, but it didn’t appear until 1911 – almost 20 years later. The long, slim 160gn 6.5mm bullet has been known to penetrate 2 metres of oak, so little wonder that it would go through an elephant’s skull. Loading data for the 6.5x54mm is in the current Hornady and Sierra loading manuals. Loaded with a 140gn spitzer bullet at 2400fps your little carbine should prove effective on the largest deer out to 200 metres or thereabouts.




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Nick Harvey

The late Nick Harvey (1931-2024) was one of the world's most experienced and knowledgeable gun writers, a true legend of the business. He wrote about firearms and hunting for about 70 years, published many books and uncounted articles, and travelled the world to hunt and shoot. His reloading manuals are highly sought after, and his knowledge of the subject was unmatched. He was Sporting Shooter's Technical Editor for almost 50 years. His work lives on here as part of his legacy to us all.