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Ramshot Powders
Rifle Magazine
June - July 2002
Volume 37, Number 3
ISSN: 0017-7393
Number 217
On the cover...
Stan Trzoniec used a custom Ruger Model 77 MKII .284 Winchester topped with a Burris 3-9x scope to develop handloads with the Barnes X-Bullet in Winchester Brass and Redding dies. Photo by Stan Trzoniec.
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One could argue, I suppose, that other men and rifle designs were more important in history, more important that is, than Mauser. Perhaps in a pure military sense, we would give the nod to John Browning, maybe to Kalishnikov. But, if we consider not only military, but also the great influence on sporting arms, then there can be only one king of the rifle. For not only do we see 130 years of Mauser bolt actions, but we see also influence to our own grand Model 70 Winchester and Dakota 76. If we look at the history of best quality, bolt-action sporting rifles, a vast majority of them will be made around one of those three names.

While there were some earlier experimental designs, the first, successful Paul Mauser rifle was the Model 1871. It was somewhat of an evolution of the “needle gun” designed by von Dryse. This design used a bolt action and a central firing pin. However, this pin was a long “needle” that actually struck all the way through the powder charge and ignited a bit of priming at the base of the bullet, or sabot. Mauser’s Model 71 basically made a giant leap almost all the way to the bolt action as we use it today. It had: self-cocking, self-extraction, a “flag-type” safety, gas shield, an excellent two-stage trigger and, most important of all, a self-contained metallic centerfire cartridge!

This cartridge was the 11mm, or 11x60R, or 11.15x60R, and to non-metric types, the .43 Mauser. In basis this means an approximately 11mm (.437 inch) bore with a cartridge case 60mm (2.36 inches) long. The R stands for rim, as the case was rimmed with the unusual but highly successful “Mauser” base. This base had a concave bevel on the outer rear corner of the case head, making the part that contacted the bolt smaller in diameter and raised above the rest of the rim. The actual reason for this is obscure. Ludwig Olson, the great authority on Mausers, suggests it might have been for metal distribution and efficiency in forming the case head. My own opinion is that the head was, at least in part, designed to be a cam for the extractor. The 71 Mauser was a single shot with a short extractor that had to bend out to jump over the rim. The bevel on the back of the head naturally guides the face of the extractor out and around the edge of the rim. Whatever the reason for this case-head design, it was immensely successful.

When I say successful, I mean both in scope and longevity. A witness to the longevity was that the 11mm Mauser round was loaded by Dominion in Canada into the mid-twentieth century and there is enough demand for MAST to make new brass in 2002. But more important than how long the original round lasted in production was its influence on other rifles and cartridges. From a cartridge designer’s, reloader’s, wildcatter’s point of view it was every bit the equivalent of our .30-06.

If we look at the H. Utendoerffer Hulsen-Katalog (catalog of cartridge cases) from 1908, we get a glimpse of the Mauser case head’s popularity. There are 74 cases that use the same base as the 11mm Mauser cartridge, that is with a 13mm body and a 15mm rim and 52 more that use the basic head shape with slightly larger or smaller dimensions. These cartridges range from a colossal 12.9x100 (.50 caliber, nearly 4 inches long) to wee fellows just over an inch long or with bores as small as 7mm. (It is with this reality in mind that I tell people the only rare continental chambering is when you find two rifles cut for the same cartridge!) Then too, this is just one manufacturer of brass cases. There were several more, not to mention those who offered loaded cartridges.

Before we begin to delve into the 11x60 cartridge itself, we should study its rifles for a moment. The Model 71 rifle was a bolt-action single shot. In this guise it was adopted as the issue infantry rifle for Prussia in 1872. The action worked around a bolt that locked and unlocked with a 90-degree turn. The locking lug was the back of the massive bolt handle, butting against the front of the rear receiver ring. The face of this surface was a cam that offered powerful leverage to force a round into the chamber. The camming action for extraction came when an extension of this handle, or lug along the side of the bolt, worked against a similar cam surface on the rear of the front receiver ring. The sum total of the two offered powerful loading and extraction capability.

There was no ejector on the Model 71. Instead, it was only necessary to roll the rifle slightly to the right after drawing the bolt to the rear. This movement causes the spent shell to roll neatly out of the action. The basic rifles had 33.5-inch barrels and weighed 10.1 pounds. Bores measured .431 to .433 inch with four grooves approximately .006 inch deep. The twist was one turn in 21.65 inches. Model 71 rifles were usually sighted to 1,600 meters, using a standing leaf for 270 meters, a folding leaf for 350 meters and a tangent sight for the rest.

Additionally there were three other issue models. The first was a Jaeger with a nice iron pistol grip and shorter 29.4-inch barrel that weighed 9 pounds. A short rifle and carbine version used barrels about 20 inches and weighed a delightful 8.4 and 7.3 pounds, respectively. These rifles, in single-shot configuration actually saw service well into World War I, usually in obscure regions of the German Empire such as German East Africa (Tanganika). There were also some smallbore variations.

Following a now very familiar trend, there was intense interest in increased firepower in the 1880s. This led to the Mauser patent of the Model 71/84. The basis of the Model 71 was retained, with modifications such as an enclosed bolt head (remember there is almost nothing new in firearms) and an ejector. But by far the most important new addition to the rifle was an eight-shot tubular magazine. This was fed by a coil spring and housed under the forend. The shells were fed into the tube from the top of the action by dropping rounds onto the follower and then pressing them forward into the tube. The follower, in action, was very similar to that found on a Model 97 Winchester shotgun. The German army had fully converted to the repeater by 1886, only to replace it with the smallbore, 7.9mm, Model 1888 two years later. The use of the 71/84 rifles again persisted long after the main German army “upgraded.” Essentially the repeating rifle had the same dimensions as the Model 71, excepting a 2 inch shorter bar-rel. Whatever its shortcomings and longevity, just imagine the pure magic of holding a powerful eight-shot, self-contained repeating rifle Ð holding such a rifle, that is, literally in the shadow of muzzleloading muskets!

There are a modest number of Model 71 and 71/84 rifles still in circulation. Many were imported into the U.S. and Canada many years ago and, like many surplus arms, can be found up to and including pristine, mint condition. Additionally, to the delight of modern shooters and collectors, Gibbs Rifle Company had located and imported literally a “cave full” of 71/84 rifles from South America. The rifles have been cleaned up, some have been partially reblued and restocked. I had two samples, one in cleaned original condition and one of the “refurbished” ones.

To my surprise and delight, the cleaned one had a bore that was absolutely new, while the refurbished rifle had a bright bore with some reasonable pitting. Both rifles showed moderate to heavy pitting on the furniture (trigger guard, buttplate and barrel bands). What makes these really fun is the price. The ones with the original stocks are just over $100, while the restocked versions are just over $200! An important note is that Gibbs does not sell these rifles as shooters. Rather, they are offered as non-firing collectors’ rifles. That is not to say they cannot or should not be fired – only that you are on your own when you do. If you are not very familiar with the requirements that make such a rifle safe to fire, you should consult a knowledgeable and qualified person before shooting them.

Whenever we look at a military Mauser rifle, the potential for conversion into a sporting rifle comes to mind. This was certainly done in the past. You can see an example of a converted Model 71 here. This one was done on the continent, by cutting down the original stock and checkering it. A horn pistol grip was added behind the trigger guard, and special adjustable sights were fitted to the barrel. Last, but not least, a sophisticated double set trigger replaced the original.

While I feel it is absolutely unconscionable to alter a crisp, original black-powder rifle of any kind, sporterizing one of those being imported by Gibbs would not be a bad thing. The serial numbers on the parts do not match, and the original wood and finish have considerable distress. If we consider shortening the wood and magazine tube, perhaps changing sights and refinishing the wood, the results could be a very unusual and wonderful rifle. I can see where it would be quite easy to be the first one on the block with a powerful, black-powder bolt-action repeater. Also, in this era of contraptions, you would be armed with a real rifle in the deer woods.

The cartridges for the Model 71 and 71/84 rifles were very similar. The 71 was loaded with a 386-grain, roundnosed paper patched bullet. The charge was 77 grains of black powder, giving 1,443 fps velocity from the long 33-inch barrel. The cartridge for the repeater was identical to the Model 71 round, except the roundnose bullet was replaced with a flatnose design. This change was surely in deference to the tubular magazine, with the goal being to prevent rounds firing in the magazine.

Moving to our favorite sports, reloading and shooting, we find a surprising availability of pieces and parts that allow our 11mm Mausers to go bang. We begin with loaded “factory” ammunition from Old Western Scrounger. The rounds are loaded in new BELL shells, with black-powder and lead bullets. The bullet shape is very similar to the original, and the ammunition fits and works quite well in the original rifles. It is not without its drawbacks, however. In deference to modern, economical loading practices, the bullets are lubricated with one of the modern, very hard lubricants – a lube that is quite ineffective with black powder. Further, there is no wad between the bullet and powder. This translates into good accuracy for two rounds, then the bore must be cleaned. If not, by the end of the eight-shot magazine, the bore is fouled to such a degree that a 2-foot target can be missed at 100 yards. Now this is not really a bad thing, just an economic one as I stated. You probably do not want to pay someone to load with special wads and sticky lube. If you want long-string accuracy performance, without cleaning, you reload.

It is good to know that MAST Technology (BELL) is making completely formed, ready to go .43 Mauser cases. These are wonderful quality and require no attention, save deburring to be perfect. RCBS and Redding have dies, and RCBS has a bullet mould made specially for the .43 Mauser. This is number 44-370-FN. With an alloy of 1:20 (tin:lead) the bullets came out of my mould at .447 inch and 390 grains - or said another way, perfect! They were perfect because the original bullets were 386 grains, and the grooves in the rifles are almost always .445 to .446 inch. SPG lube works great with either black or smokeless powder.

Before we delve into successful black-powder loads, we will use the criminally easy nitro-for-black combination. This is the standard 40 percent of the black-powder weight of 4198 (Hodgdon or IMR) with the case filled with Dacron polyester fiber; the weight of the filler is 8 grains. You can see the results of velocity and accuracy in the table. They are wonderful to say the least. The 71/84 rifles with their long barrels react considerably to velocity changes. Faster usually goes significantly higher. Loads, either nitro or black, strike from 8 to 15 inches high at 100 yards.

This is not as out of whack as it might seem. These are military rifles, and the standard sight is for 250 meters. If we plug numbers into a trajectory table, the load should be about 17 inches high at 100 to zero at 250. Also, keep in mind that military rifles are designed to hit a long, narrow target. The plan was to aim at the belt buckle and hit the critter somewhere, the precise “where” did not matter. If you are a hunter and want to use the grand, old rifles, you should consider a taller front sight, because it is very difficult to remember to hold low when it counts.

I tried a few different combinations of black powder and bullets. That is, five different brands of black powder were put to the test. The results varied from brand to brand, which is not a surprise. However, one powder was indeed a pleasant surprise. This was KIK, a Slovenian powder imported by GOEX, with the intent of being “economically” priced. [Unfortunately, GOEX will no longer be importing this powder. - Ed.] The surprise was that this was not only the strongest but also the most clean burning of any powder tried. A regulation charge of 77 grains by weight was used. (Yes, we weigh powder around here and do not succumb to the “coon-skin-cap-ism” of pretending to know what is in the cartridge by some random volume.) With this load, the test rifle from Gibbs produced 1,478 fps, or just a sniff over original velocity. Best of all, the third of three, five-shot groups (rounds 11 to 15) grouped less than 4 inches, with four of the five in 2 inches! This was without any cleaning or bore treatment between shots whatsoever. The precise load combination used a paper patched bullet (see below) with two .060 inch, .45-caliber Walters vegetable fiber wads compressing the powder 1/4 inch. The patch was lubed with Rooster Jacket and a pea-sized dab of SPG lube was compressed between the bullet base and the wads. The primer was Winchester Large Rifle (WLR). Accuracy with conventional, lubricated, not patched bullets was just slightly less than with patched. These were sized .445 inch and lubed with SPG.

Paper patched bullets form a subject of their own, but some details of the ones used here will be of interest. To begin, I used the same bullets, from the same RCBS mould, for greased and patched application. For those who make brash statements that sizing bullets ruins accuracy, I have a revelation. I size them all the time, size them substantially, and accuracy is fine. To that end, I sized the .447-inch bullets down to .435 inch. Then they were paper patched with 13-pound paper, bringing them back up to .445 to .446 inch. The die is piloted and used correctly, but the results speak for themselves.

I was not surprised that the accuracy edge went to the patched bullets. The barrels were designed around, made for patched bullets. A patch tends to be more forgiving than a bare bullet. Now, this is not to say that bare bullets cannot be accurate. They can indeed be phenomenally accurate, perhaps more accurate than patched in extreme cases. For me, military/hunting accuracy is easier to get with patches - the aggravation of patching the bullets notwithstanding.

All in all I would say they are very interesting, very accurate, very powerful and with the current supply of rifles from Gibbs, very affordable. When you think about it, amazing might be a better word. We are playing with rifles that are more or less equivalent to our .45-70. These rifles are bolt-action repeaters, of reasonable weight, made over 110 years ago. The accuracy will nudge many production rifles today. They are antiques and therefore do not require FFL dealers in most states. The original Mauser rifles offer us a way to physically touch and even fire some of the most historic firearms of all time.

Handloading Beyond The Basics
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