By Nick Harvey
History shows that once a new factory cartridge of the same calibre with improved ballistics has been introduced, the skids are greased under the old one which will begin a steady slide in the oldsters popularity and eventually, into obscurity. A good example of this is what happened to the 7x57mm Mauser when the 7mm-08 appeared in 1980. Factory loads for the 7×57 were being loaded to moderate chamber pressures to drive a 140gn bullet at 2660fps in deference to all the old rifles still in use. Then suddenly in 1980 the 7mm-08 appeared on the scene, lofting out a 140gn bullet at 2860fps. Being based on the .308 case necked down, it fitted neatly into a short action, whereas the 7×57 needed a standard length action. The 7mm-08 was developed for metallic silhouette shooting and according to tests carried out by Remington, at 500 yards it showed an edge of 238 fps and 750 lbs of energy over the .308. So, the 7mm-08 drove the last nail in the coffin of the 7×57 which had been barely hanging on by the skin of its teeth.
In factory ammo at least, then, the 7mm-08 is faster and flatter shooting. It fits modern concepts of what a hunting cartridge should be better than does the 7×57. Ideally chambered in lightweight, short action rifles, the 7mm-08 combined mild recoil and superb accuracy with adequate killing power for medium-size game. Early summations that the 7mm-08 could be loaded with bullets heavier than 140 grains making it suitable for heavier game such as wapiti may have fired up the hoi polloi, but
I was unconvinced and still am. In my book, the 7mm-08 falls far short of what I would consider to be an adequate calibre for wapiti, and I’d draw the line at red stag and then, only within the 200 yard mark. Me, I still prefer the old 7×57, although I’ll admit my preference may be strongly influenced by nostalgia.
Above:The 7×57 really comes into its
own with handloads. B ullet
choices include: Speer 115gn H .P,
Sierra 120gn spitzer, Speer 130gn
SBT , Hornady 139gn SST , Barnes-X
140gn HP , Rem. 150gn Core-Lokt,
Woodleigh 160gn Weldcore PP ,
Lapua Mega 170gn and Nosler
History is uncertain of the date of origin of the 7×57 cartridge. The 7.65mm Mauser rifles adopted by Belgium in 1889 and by Turkey a year later, had so proven their worth that Spain placed an order with Mauser in 1891 for 7.65mm Mausers of a slightly modified Turkish type. This earlier gun is the “Spanish Mauser, Model of 1891”.
Then, in 1892, Paul Mauser visited Spain, taking with him a new rifle and cartridge of his own design. Apparently this was the round that later became known as the 7mm Mauser.
The 7mm bullet had a flatter trajectory than its contemporaries because of greater muzzle velocity, which was a definite advantage in the eyes of the military. The superiority of the 7mm was probably due its being loaded with the then new smokeless powder which was at that stage of its development making great improvements in propellants.
Physically, the cartridge was something of a composite of earlier Mauser cartridges since it had the case length of the German-type of 1888 and the shoulder position of the 7.65mm. Ballistics gave a 172.8gn FMJ bullet a muzzle velocity of 2296fps and energy of 2025 ft/lb for a breech pressure of 44,823 psi.
The Spanish military were so impressed with Mausers new cartridge that they officially adopted it on the 30th November 1892, designating it as the “Mauser Rifle, Model 1892”. The rifle was very similar to the Spanish Model of 1891 which had the magazine extending below the stock because the cartridges were held in a single column. For mounted troops, there was a carbine of the same style.
The 7mm Mauser cartridge was adopted prior to the Model 1893, which appeared late in 1893 and was the first military rifle to use a staggered magazine contained in the stock. It copied the British Lee types, but because the 7mm was a rimless round, the magazine posed fewer problems.
Eleven countries, several in South America have used the 7mm Mauser as their military round, in both rifles and machineguns. In the U.S, Remington chambered the famous rolling-block military rifle as well as the Lee bolt-action for the 7mm Mauser. Later the Remington Model 30 was regularly made in 7mm, and it was also included in Winchester’s calibre line-up for the old Model 54 and later Model 70 bolt-actions.
Bore and groove diameters were standardised at .276” and.284” respectively, with four lands and a twist rate of 1:8.66”. Post World War II F.N Mauser sporters clung to the original twist rate, but Steyr-Mannlicher slowed it slightly to 1:9”, and the Winchester Model 70s had a 1:10 twist. Later Ruger rifles have a 1:8.75” twist and most European rifles an odd 1:8-2/3” twist. My own rifle built on a Turkish Mauser action had a 1:9” twist; the 7mm-08, however, has a 1:9-1/2” twist.
Very few rifles are being chambered for the 7×57 today, but they include the CZ 550, Dakota 76 and Ruger International, while several European makers like Voere, Krieghoff and Merkel still list it.
This is one of the best-balanced cartridges ever designed. It has proven to be fine for all-around hunting with a fairly flat trajectory, moderate recoil and a wide selection of bullet weights, with sufficient energy to cleanly kill most species. In England it was called the .275 Rigby, after that famous gunmaker adopted it in 1907, along with the import of original Mauser actions. In Europe, the 7×57 is still a popular choice for all-round use. It does not destroy a lot of meat on smaller animals, such as roe deer, yet is powerful enough for use on larger species.
With the proper bullet, careful shot placement (and a hunter who is willing to pass up shots at too great a range) it is adequate for most American game, although some experts would consider it to be on the light side for wapiti, moose and bears. W.D.M. Bell used it with FMJ bullets to take several hundred African elephants as well as thousands of head of plains game. Other famous hunters who enjoyed success with the 7×57 included Major James Corbett who used it on the big game of India between 1920 and 1940; and in more recent years it was the a favourite of Prince Abdorreza Pahlavi of Iran and American gun writers like Jack O’Connor and Clyde Ormond who once commented “It has stood the test of time”.
Over the years I’ve tested a number of 7x57s including Sabatti Rover, Remington Model 700 Classic, post-64 Winchester Model 70, Ruger M77 and No 1, & Voere LBW.
There’s nothing spectacular looking about the7x57 case; it’s quite demure with a long 8.64mm neck. This is better for handloaders than the relatively short 7.22mm neck of the 7mm-08 when seating longer bullets. Shoulder angle is 20 degrees 45’. While the 7mm-08 looks to have a steeper shoulder angle, this is deceptive. The difference is only one degree. The illusion is fostered by the fact that 7mm-08 cases are larger in diameter at the shoulder and have a shorter neck. Maximum overall loaded cartridge length for the 7×57 is usually listed as 3.065”. When loading the 7×57, maximum case length should be 2.235” with the minimum not more than .005” less than that figure.
Just as with other calibres, different brands of 7×57 cases vary slightly in capacity. Filled to the base of a 139gn Hornady spire-point bullet, seated to an overall cartridge length of 76mm, Remington was the smallest holding 52 grains of water, Norma cases held 53 grains, and Winchester were the largest, with 54 grains. That’s an average of 53 grains, but Lapua 7×57 cases and Remington 7mm-08 cases both held exactly the same amount of powder – 49.5 grains – and delivered the same velocities with the same loads. No surprises there, but most 7×57 cases show a 3.5gn advantage over the 7mm-08. Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to weigh cases if you change brands. The heavier they are, the less powder they’ll hold. Pressures will run higher in smaller capacity cases, and this should be considered if you load to near maximum.
The best powders for this 7×57 are slow and medium slow. my favourites, AR2208, W-760, AR2209 and Re-19. For velocity and accuracy choose the burning rate of the powder to suit the bullet weight.
Any large rifle primer works well with these powders even the slower burning Re-19, but I generally prefer a magnum primer when using W-760 or any other ballpowder to insure uniform combustion.
The lightest 110 and 115gn bullets can be driven pretty fast, but are only suitable for varmint-predator work. I’ve found that optimum velocities with 120, 130, 139/140, 150 and 160gn bullets can safely reach 3150fps, 3100, 3000, 2900 and 2700 respectively, albeit from a 600mm barrel. However, I’ve noticed that most 7×57 rifle have 600mm barrels while 7mm-08 rifles typically are fitted with 550mm barrels. I have a decided preference for 600mm barrels and that’s what all of my rifles have.
There’s a wide range of bullets available in .284 calibre. The selection includes just about every type and style you could wish for in weights ranging from 110 to 175 grains.
I have found little use for any 175 grainer since a premium-grade controlled- expansion bullet of 160 grains is all that’s needed to ensure adequate penetration on the largest, toughest game animals. I’ve yet to use any bullets more reliable than Remington’s 140gn and 150gn pointed Core-Lokts and the Hornady 139gn SST for most deer, but the Hornady GMX and Barnes 140gn MRX are more emphatic killers on larger species like sambar because they penetrate more deeply.
I don’t see any advantage to using a bullet lighter than 120gn in the 7×57 and much prefer the 130gn Speer. Both Re-15 and AR2208 work well with light bullets but the best accuracy was obtained using the ADI powder. Tests showed W-760 is versatile with bullets up to 140 grains, but AR2209 was good with 140gn & 150gn bullets, but with heavy charges it is quite heavily compressed – something some handloaders perfer to avoid. An excellent load which performs well on medium size deer is 53gn of Re-19 driving the 140gn Sierra at 2930fps. One grain less of Re-19 launches the 50gn
PSP Core-Lokt at 2885fps. But both are heavily compressed charges.
The criterion of what any 7mm Magnum will do is with a nicely pointed 160gn spitzer bullet, and that’s as heavy as I want to go in the 7×57. While 2660fps is achievable using 48gn of AR2209, 59gn of Re-19 adds another 40fps, and there’s certainly no flies on 49gn of VV N 160 delivers a hefty 2735fps. My testing with the 175gn Sierra was limited to two powders – 45gn of AR2209 and 49gn of Re-22 both got it out of the muzzle at 2600fps with 2627 ft/lb of energy. This is an exceptionally fine cartridge when deep penetration with heavy bullets is required, and ranges are moderate, yet the recoil developed in sporter-weight rifle is not punishing. Loaded with heavy powder charges it can equal the velocity of the 7mm-08 and even approach that of the .270 Winchester. The difference in bullet diameter of the two is approximately .006”, which would not have a great effect on sectional density of a given weight of bullet. At this late date it has become perfectly obvious why the 7×57 is not as popular as either cartridge, but the excellent, dependable performance of this oldtimer is certainly an unimpeachable recommendation for owning one.