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Rifle Magazine
August - September 2003
Volume 38, Number 4
ISSN: 0017-7393
Number 224
On the cover...
The Savage Model 16 features a stainless steel barreled action mounted in a synthetic stock with a 6x Nikon Monarch UCC scope. Rifle photo by Stan Trzoniec. Caribou photo by Ron Spomer.
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It’s rare that any “new” cartridge, whether wildcat or factory, is introduced to fill a genuine ballistic need. After all, humans have been introducing smokeless centerfire cartridges since about 1890. How many gaps are there?

Instead, the vast majority of new cartridges appear because:

1)       A certain manufacturer hasn’t introduced a .224 for misting snails or a .338 for whacking whales, but everybody else has. This has been going on since the beginning of cartridges. Browse through Cartridges of the World some time, particularly the sections on British cartridges and “obsolete” American cartridges. Various companies were cranking out “proprietary” rounds of the same basic design long before the recent Short Magnum wars.

2)       An older cartridge would do snails or whales just fine, but many old rifles can’t be trusted with modern pressures. The 7mm-08 Remington doesn’t do anything the 7x57mm Mauser hasn’t been doing since 1892 - but all 7mm-08s are “modern,” so commercial ammunition can be cranked up.

3)       Somebody wants something different, to make the other boys in hunting camp jealous. This is the case with 99 percent of the wildcats introduced since the .222 Remington appeared in 1950. Most are minor variations on something that first appeared before 1951, but minor variations deserve name changes. The name might as well be yours.

The other one percent of wildcats truly fill some limited purpose. The PPC cartridges shrunk groups a tiny fraction of an inch of .222-based cartridges so took over the benchrest world. Dave Scovill’s .338 and .375 rounds, based on the 9.3x62mm Mauser case, combined the largest case capacity in a .30-06-sized round with a wider selection of bullets than then available in 9.3mm. (Since then several new 9.3mm bullets have appeared, so the Scovills don’t have quite so much purpose. Will they go the way of the .333 OKH, which transformed itself into the .338-06 after the introduction of the .338 Winchester Magnum? Only time will tell. Maybe Dave should introduce the .366 Scovill.)

One of the most sensible and useful American wildcats developed since World War II is just about dead today. The 8mm-06's ballistics and bullet selection are plenty for about any North American game from pronghorn to moose, and the cartridges fit and feed handily in any action suitable for the .30-06. Yet few rifle loonies shed a tear for the round.

But 8mm-06 rifles are fine illustrations of a slice of American history and the human determination to hunt. In the years just after the war, factories took awhile to switch back to sporting rifles. Demand far exceeded supply. The steadiest source of modern rifles came from the war itself. Many returning soldiers brought 98 Mauser military rifles back from Europe, and more captured rifles soon arrived, to be sold at very cheap prices. Some were used as-is for most hunting, but most were cheaply converted into sporters.

The only problem was ammunition. American sporting ammunition in 8x57mm was scarcer than liberals in Idaho. You could re-form .30-06 brass (also cheap, especially if you bought “war surplus”) to 8x57, but it was a time-consuming pain in the butt. Far easier was to rechamber an 8x57 for the .30-06 case necked up to 8mm.

I chanced upon just such a rifle one day while browsing through the consignment rack at Capital Sports & Western. The rifle belonged to the father of one of the store’s owners and was built by a gunsmith in the Lewistown, Montana, area some time after the war.

The rifle wouldn’t appeal to any modern rifle snob, but for the time and place it was semi-deluxe. I know a couple of Montana old-timers who still hunt with Mauser military rifles that are basically straight from the factory. They never saw any sense in spending good money on a rifle that was ready to shoot elk, though one guy did discard the hand guard and sawed off half the military forend.

This 8mm-06 had quite a bit of work done on it, aside from rechambering, including fitting an after-market stock and converting the action to accommodate a scope. The bore had some light pits but was mostly shiny, and an old one-piece Redfield mount was screwed onto the action. It was such a perfect slice of history (and the price so low) that it came home.

According to the markings, the action was made in Brno in 1943, after the Germans took over Czechoslovakia. It’s more finely finished than most wartime 98s I’ve seen; the bolt even has the rib called the “bolt guide,” eliminated on many late-war rifles. None of the steel was altered except for three scope-mount holes and welding on a new bolt handle. The new handle is a fairly deluxe touch on such rifles; most just have the military handle bent down.

The military floorplate/magazine box was retained, complete with screws. The box’s serial number doesn’t match the action, but the number on the stamped floorplate does. An after-market low-scope safety was substituted, and a Timney Sportsman trigger fitted.

The military “steps” in the barrel were lathed off; the contour now strongly resembles a Winchester Model 70 Featherweight barrel. The stock is a plain piece of walnut with a large cheekpiece but doesn’t have any hint of the “Weatherby” styling, then coming into vogue. There are no lightning-bolt inlays, no rollover monte carlo comb, no angled forend tip with white spacer. There isn’t even a white line on the “Speed Cushion” ventilated recoil pad. It’s just an honest stock in fairly classic style and completely glass-bedded from the front of the action to the tip of the barrel, along with a dab under the rear tang. This was the “high-tech” postwar equivalent of pillar bedding, and similar miracles were claimed.

I mounted a 2-7x Compact from Sightron, a newer company that makes excellent, rugged scopes. The next step was the loading bench. I had plenty of 8mm bullets from past projects, plus mounds of .30-06 brass but no 8mm-06 dies. After obtaining a set of RCBS dies, the work began. The dies themselves were okay, but the expander ball was very roughly machined. Necking up .30-06 to 8mm meant really leaning on the press handle, so I stuck the decapping rod in my DeWalt 1/2-inch drill and polished the expander ball with some medium-grit emery cloth. That made necking up 40 Norma .30-06 cases much easier.

Data for the 8mm-06 is still quite common; the caliber’s listed in the latest Hornady, Nosler, Sierra and Speer manuals. The bullets on my shelf ranged from 150 to 220 grains, and if you’re really serious an even wider range is available. Hornady still offers a 125-grain varmint bullet, and Woodleigh makes a 250-grain roundnose bonded-core. I didn’t try either, but anyone determined to use an 8mm-06 for everything from prairie dogs to Cape buffalo has the option. Fact is, many handloaders who select a 7mm, .30 or .338 because of the wide range of available bullets would perhaps be even better served by an 8mm. (See load table.)

Most 8mm-06s are more likely to be used for the common American big game menagerie from pronghorn to elk and moose. In theory the 8mm-06 should be capable of a little more velocity than the .30-06 with the same bullet weights, but the theory is pretty slim.

By crunching some numbers, I’ve found that potential muzzle velocity increases at one-fourth the rate of bore area. The bore area of a .30-06 is .0745 inch, while a .323-inch 8mm’s bore area is .0819 inch, an increase of almost exactly 10 percent. Divide 10 percent by 4 and we get a potential velocity increase of 2.5 percent, or about 60 to 80 fps, depending on bullet weight.

This doesn’t show up in most manuals, because the majority of 8mm-06s are built on old military Mausers that vary widely in quality. It’s also about the variation we get in a couple inches of barrel length or even individual barrels of the same length. The reality is that we should generally avoid trying to push the 8mm-06 past .30-06 velocities.

Some astute readers might point out that even at the same velocities, a spitzer 220-grain 8mm would shoot flatter than the typical roundnose 220-grain .30-caliber slug. Let’s compare a 220-grain Hornady 8mm (listed ballistic coefficient .464) with Nosler’s 220-grain .308-inch Partition (listed BC .331). Let’s even give the 8mm-06 another 100 fps of muzzle velocity, even though we shouldn’t.

Sight them both in at 200 yards, and the “inefficient” .30 roundnose started at 2,500 fps is down about 7.5 inches at 300 yards, 17 inches at 400. The sleeker 8mm at 2,600 is down about 6.5 inches at 300, 13 inches at 400. We gain an inch at 300 yards, 4 inches at 400.

The 8mm-06 loses out to the .30-06 at the other end of the bullet scale by similar trivial amounts. Mostly this is because 150-grain 8mm bullets have such low sectional density (.205) that its ballistic coefficient is pretty pitiful. Hornady lists its at .290. Speer is more optimistic, with .369, but I’d bet the Hornady number’s more realistic. Most 150-grain .30s start around .350 and go on up over .400. This means the '06 will shoot an inch or two flatter at 400, even if the 8mm bullet is started 100 fps faster.

In short, there just isn’t any real difference between the two calibers. You could use either in the field forever, and deer, elk and bear would fall just fine if you did your job. All the same, there’s nothing wrong with 8mm, despite America’s long-standing disdain for the bore, which here in the good, old U.S.A. ranks down below the 6.5mm, .35 and probably even sewer rats.

The 8x57 was probably the cause. During the early years of smokeless cartridge evolution, the Germans developed two bore diameters for the 8mm, the older .318 inch and the newer .323 inch. (These are often called S and J, but in various reference books, I have found no consistency about which is which. In Norma’s latest catalog, for instance, one 8x57 is called JS and the other JRS. Let us leave this mystery to the Europeans, only noting that all bullets mentioned here are .323 inch in diameter.)


In Europe the difference between the 8mm's is commonly known, and ammunition produced for both. Over here we never saw any reason to differentiate, so loaded 8x57 ammunition to very low pressures, just in case a .323-inch bullet got accidentally shot through a .318-inch bore. Only Federal and Remington load the 8x57 today, using a .323-inch, 170-grain bullet at a supposed 2,360 fps. I say “supposed” because I’ve chronographed some that barely beat the velocity of 170-grain .30 WCF ammunition. No wonder the 8x57 never really captured the American psyche!

In Europe the cartridge is still very popular, and ammunition is loaded warmer. For instance, Norma loads its .323 version with a variety of 196-grain bullets (including the excellent bonded-core Oryx) to over 2,526 fps. This load does fine work on larger European game, whether red deer, wild boar or Scandinavian alg, the animal we call moose.

Even John Taylor, the ivory poacher who wrote the classic African Rifles and Cartridges, recommended the 8x57 as a “medium bore.” Though Taylor was distinctly prejudiced toward English cartridges, he particularly liked the German 8x57 loading featuring an H-mantel 244-grain bullet at a little over 2,000 fps, saying it was “an infinitely more satisfactory cartridge than the British .303.” Taylor claimed to have used the 8x57 on “most varieties of game, including two or three elephant.”

There’s even a European equivalent of the 8mm-06, the 8x64mm Brenneke, that appeared in 1912 not only in both .318- and .323-inch versions but also rimless and rimmed. (And Americans think buying a box of “7mm mags” is difficult today!) The factory loads for the 8x64mm closely resemble the results of my experiments.

I found the 8mm-06 a very easy cartridge to work with. The first range test indicated that published data was a little low in this particular rifle, but despite the relatively low velocities and “primitive” rifle, nine, three-shot groups averaged 1.2 inches at 100 yards. This is from a 60-year-old wartime military barrel measuring a rather slim (for 8mm) .6 inch at the muzzle, in a stock rather crudely bedded by today’s standards.

The second range session upped the loads some. With the exceptions of Ramshot’s Big Game and Norma 204, all the powders selected were those suggested by the Nosler and Sierra manuals as most accurate with particular bullet weights. I decided to try Big Game with 150-grain bullets because of the excellent luck encountered with 150s in the .30-06. It did not disappoint, though if I ever hunt with the rifle I’d probably bypass 150s entirely, using the 180-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip for pronghorn- to caribou-sized game. This is one of the above .30-caliber Ballistic Tips with a much heavier jacket. My friend Tim Crawford has used it on three continents from the 8x57R rifle barrel in a German drilling and so far has only recovered one bullet, from a big Argentinean red stag (about the size of a large caribou) taken with an angling shot.

For larger game I’d pick any of the heavier bullets tested. This rifle seems particularly fond of the 196-grain Norma Oryx, at any speed. I decided it deserved to be shot with a Norma powder as well, and N204 appeared to be the best candidate, since its burning rate is a little slower than the 4350’s - about like Reloder 19 - Nosler best of show with 180s. I started off very low just to be safe, and the combination proved to be one of the best of the entire test.

In summation, the 8mm-06 is just as good as the .30-06, a cartridge any sane person (some rifle loonies aren’t) will admit does a fine job on any non-dangerous game on earth. The real disadvantage, of course, is that we can’t go into a sporting goods emporium in British Columbia, Argentina or South Africa and buy a box of factory loads. That has never discouraged real rifle loonies though. If for some reason they get separated from their home-grown ammunition, they can generally borrow somebody else’s .30-06.

Once the American sporting rifle industry cranked up again in the 1950s, the 8mm-06 lost its real reason for being. That doesn’t mean I won’t carry this rifle into the field after some sort of big game. On the other hand, it doesn’t mean I will either. The 8mm-06 had its time and place, and my rifle is a perfect example of both. It will do fine either in the field or resting peacefully indoors, like any other artifact of history.

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