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Propellant Profiles
Rifle Magazine
September - October 2004
Volume 36, Number 5
ISSN: 0162-3583
Number 215
On the cover...
The prewar Beissel & Winnieckl 9.3x74R is outfitted with a Leupold M8-2.5x compact scope. The Krieghoff O&U 9.3x74R double rifle features engraving by Bob Evans and custom stock by Paul Dressel. The scope is a Leupold Vari-X III 1.5-5x. Rifle photos by Gerald Hudson. Elk photo by Michael H. Francis.
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For some reason the spark of interest in a particular caliber or cartridge turns into a flame of focused obsession at the oddest times. Sometimes that spark goes to flame in a hurry, and sometimes it just smolders in the back of your mind for years, waiting for that last wisp of information to ignite it.

My interest in 9.3s sparked years ago with the opportunity to hunt northern British Columbia for moose and elk with good friends Lars-Olof and Jan-Olof Swanteson from Sweden and Heinz Krieghoff from Germany. Like any self-respecting gun-nut, curiosity took hold to see what each had brought as his rifle of choice.

When we climbed out of the bush plane and stepped onto the dirt strip at Big-9 (our northern B.C. outfitter), everyone had a gun case and duffel bag except Lars-Olof. The first thought was he had lost the gun case in transit from Sweden, but he said the duffel bag was all he had brought. The “Where is your gun?” question was asked, and all he did was point at his bag.

The curiosity antenna went up as we started to unpack and settle in. Out of the middle of his duffel came a soft leather case that obviously held a takedown rifle. As he gently slid the buttstock and barrel assembly from its case, my jaw dropped to the floor. First came a beautifully engraved and gold inlaid sidelock receiver and then a set of over-and-under barrels that were embellished to match. With gentle, practiced movements Lars-Olof closed the barrels into the receiver, secured the forearm and snapped the claw-mounted Leupold Vari-X II 2-7x in place. To answer the unasked question, his son Jan-Olof told me this was the only hunting rifle his dad owned, and he had used it for over 30 years.

While admiring his rifle, he passed a cartridge and said, “This 9.3x64 should do the job.” Standing side by side with Jan-Olof’s .338 Winchester Magnum, I could see very little difference - same overall length and a slight difference at the shoulder and base diameter. The big noticeable difference was no belt on the 9.3x64 where the .338 had the typical magnum belt. A mental note was made to measure the cases when I got home to see what the difference was.

As our hunt neared completion, Lars-Olof’s score was three shots - one bull elk, one bull moose and a bonus mountain grizzly. The 286-grain TUG bullets completely penetrated all three animals and none had moved more than a few steps after being hit. Impressive performance, so another mental note was made to check this cartridge out a little further when time permitted.

Heinz Krieghoff was shooting one of his company’s beautiful TEC O/U rifles chambered for the .300 Winchester Magnum. Being an excellent game shot, his comment, after having to expend a second bullet for his elk was, “If I had my old 9.3x74R I wouldn’t have had to use two shots.” Hmmm, might have to look into this 9.3 thing a little further.

A trip to Africa a couple of years later produced further exposure to the .366 bore. During the normal discussions around the fire at night, conversation naturally came around to rifles and cartridges. It seemed the Professional Hunters and most experienced African hunters had a lot of respect for a good bolt-action Mauser chambered for 9.3x62 as one of the best all-around rifles for their type of hunting. They called it a “Veld Gun” which translated as a medium-range cartridge with a heavy bullet traveling at a moderate velocity capable of deep penetration with enough sectional density to break big bones when it had to.

Looking at the cartridge, it sure resembled the .338-06 I had been shooting with great success for years. Another mental note was made to do some in-depth comparisons between these two cartridges, or make it three and include the .35 Whelen.

The next spring there was a long phone conversation with a good friend from Nebraska. The discussion eventually drifted to guns, when he mentioned he had seen an old prewar double rifle standing in the corner of a taxidermy shop. The taxidermist had taken the rifle as a partial payment for work and wanted to get rid of it. To most hunters in his area, any side-by-side should have smooth bores and be marked in a specific gauge, instead of a centerfire cartridge designation. Consequently there was not much interest.

Out of curiosity more than anything, I asked him to check it out a little closer. A couple of days later he called and said it was an old German side-by-side chambered for 9.3x74R. It was in excellent condition and the bores were near perfect. Best of all he had four boxes of ammunition for it, and the price was too good to turn down. Any self-respecting gun-nut should have at least one double rifle in his collection - right? The check was in the mail the next day.

A week later UPS delivered the rifle and ammunition. Now the sparks of interest were getting more intense, and by the time the first box of ammunition was expended there was smoke. Where there is smoke there is fire, and the flame of obsession raised its head with a trip to Texas for a nilgai hunt.

Our cowboy outfitter had a definite squinty-eyed look when the old double rifle was pulled from the gun case. It was one of those looks that said volumes without speaking a word, but he did promise not to pass judgment until he saw how it performed.

A nilgai bull is a tough, tenacious critter with a hide that will dull your best knife in a hurry. At 90 paces the handloaded 270-grain Speer slug angled through the boiler room and broke the offside shoulder before exiting. At the shot the bull staggered a couple of steps backward then bit the dust.

Two things happened before leaving Texas. One of the loaded cartridges was left for the outfitter’s cartridge collection, and the flame of obsession for the 9.3s had taken hold.

With a little research on the 9.3s it was found that the .366 bore size has been around almost as long as the .30 caliber. Filling the gap between the .35 caliber and the potent .375s, this medium-bore has been popular everywhere but the U.S. There is a proliferation of 9.3 cartridges, almost as many as the .30 caliber, but the three most popular and the ones chosen to play with were the 9.3x64 Brenneke, 9.3x74R and 9.3x62 Mauser - two bolt-action cartridges and one designed for double rifles, single shot and drillings. A check of the RCBS list of popular die sets revealed that all three made the list; in fact the 9.3x64 Brenneke headed its list of specialty dies.

With the flame of obsession nipping at the back of my jeans, an old Model 70 action that had been waiting for just such a project was headed for Darrel Holland’s gunsmith shop. Aside from being an extremely talented accuracy gunsmith, Darrell is also blessed with patience and understanding when I show up with a pet project, especially a three-rifle project. Surprisingly he told me there were others that had been bitten by the 9.3 bug.

The Model 70 turned into a fairly simple project and very little extra work was needed. After installing the barrel, the only additional alteration needed was to open the bolt face slightly to accept the 9.3x64’s rim. Feed, function and test fire resulted in typical Model 70 reliability. A scope was mounted and bore-sighted, while Darrell started on the next rifle.

In the back of the office gun safe was a beautiful myrtle wood stocked commercial Mauser that had not seen use or daylight for a long time. It had been another project from a few years ago and for some reason had not been used since. It was the perfect candidate for the 9.3x62; all that was needed was a  rebarrel job. No other alterations were needed except to refit the barrel in the stock.

The old double rifle consistently shot groups that would fit inside a small coffee can lid at 80 yards, but I wanted something that could show the accuracy potential of the 9.3x74R. An unused Ruger No. 1 was the logical choice. A single-shot rifle presents a couple of extra problems you do not have with a bolt action. The ejector/extractor has to be fitted to the particular cartridge, and with a different barrel contour, the scope mount system must be changed. Darrell was ahead on this one and had already designed a very solid and simple one-piece mount for the Ruger.

As the single shot has a very short receiver, the 26-inch barrel balanced perfectly and still maintained an overall length equal to the bolt actions using 24-inch barrels. If it shot as well as it looked, it would be a winner.

With the rifles completed the range and reloading work were next. Gathering components for each of the cartridges was not as large a problem as one might think. Factory loaded ammunition and brass were available if you looked in the right place. DWM manufactures and imports all three cartridges, and Norma loads both the 9.3x62 and 9.3x74R.

Quality hunting bullets for the 9.3 are manufactured by most all the major foreign and domestic bullet companies in a variety of weights and configurations. Everything from a Barnes Solid to a Nosler Ballistic Tip are available.

Loading data and information for each can be found in a number of popular reloading manuals. I found good data and information in the Nosler, Speer, Barnes, A-Square, Accurate and Vihtavuori manuals. No special tricks in the reloading, as each cartridge is very straightforward.

Here is a little history and load data I came up with for each of the 9.3s.

9.3x62 Mauser

Some time ago someone said, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” In a way this fits the birth of the 9.3x62. The necessity came from the European farmers and ranchers in Africa who had a need for a firearm that was affordable and yet had enough punch to handle the tenacious crop raiders and large predators they were plagued with. Most cartridges of that time were adequate to handle most plains game, but when it came to dangerous critters, they needed something bigger.

Big-bore double guns were the answer but were financially out of reach for all but the well-heeled. They needed one rifle that would do it all and still fit their pocketbook.

In 1905 German gunmaker, cartridge designer Otto Bock came up with the answer. Using the strong military 98 Mauser action, he designed a cartridge that would fit and feed through the standard-length action. Using a case near identical to the .30-06, he developed the 9.3x62, which with softnosed bullets was more than adequate for even the largest of the antelope, and with solids it had enough sectional density to penetrate and do in the big boys.

An interesting note taken from the recent A-Square loading manual shows just how much respect the 9.3x62 has. It seems that in 1958 when Kenya ruled, the .375 H&H was the minimum cartridge allowed for dangerous game. A footnote was added that the 9.3x62 could be used by experienced hunters.

The 9.3x62's combination of moderate velocity with bullets of high sectional density and a large frontal area (diameter) has proven itself so well it is still one of the most popular cartridges outside the U.S. for any big game. So popular, it is offered by most all European rifle manufacturers today.

When looking at the 9.3x62 by itself, it looks like a .35 Whelen or .338-06. However, when placed side by side, it is obvious which of the three is larger and has a slight edge in case capacity. Even though the 9.3x62 is a slight bit shorter in length (1mm), its straighter case walls and shorter neck give it the advantage.

It is understandable why, in the U.S., the 9.3x62 was not popular in the past. Bullet selection was minimal and availability was spotty. Not so today, as most major U.S. manufacturers produce a selection of 9.3mm bullets along with the normal imported offerings of Norma, Woodleigh and Brenneke. Weights from 234 to 300 grains are available. The most popular bullet weight has always been the 286 grainer.

Factory ammunition and brass are readily available from Norma or RWS; however, it is not a big problem to use .30-06 brass. The normal fireforming process is all that is needed.

Loading data can be found in most all the popular manuals. Nosler, Swift, Barnes, Speer, Norma and A-Square all list extensive data for the 9.3x62.

The 9.3x62 seems to be one of those cartridges that is not finicky to load for. Most all loads tested shot well, some just better than others. This is a hunting cartridge using hunting bullets, but in some cases accuracy was well inside one inch at 100 yards.

9.3x74R

The 9.3x74R is strictly a double rifle, drilling (combination shotgun/rifle) or single-shot rifle cartridge. Long and slender with a slight shoulder, it’s just what its name implies - a 9.3 (.366) diameter bullet in a 74mm case, and the R denotes the rim.

No one seems to know who specifically designed the 9.3x74R, but it emerged at the turn of the last century as a German  equivalent to one of the British medium-bore cartridges of Westley Richards. Over the years it has proven very popular in Europe, especially with wild boar hunters - popular enough that it’s still chambered by all the European break-open rifle manufacturers today. Even Browning converted its 20-gauge O/U shotgun into a slick lightweight 9.3x74R O/U double rifle for the European market.

Ballistically the 9.3x74R is near identical in performance to the 9.3x62 but doing so with lower pressures because of the weaker break-open type actions it is used in.

The long, slender case with its shallow shoulder angle is typical of older cartridges where pressures had to be kept in the 40,000-psi range. A similar comparison can be made with the .416 Rigby and the .416 Remington. The .416 Rigby was a large, long case that required an expensive long magnum action. With the Rigby design pressures were kept below 50,000 pounds. The .416 Remington Magnum duplicates the Rigby ballistics but in a shorter, smaller case that could be used in a standard action. The price is chamber pressure, which bumps 60,000 psi in the .416 Remington Magnum.


Factory ammunition and brass are readily available from Norma, RWS and a number of other European manufacturers.

Handloading for the 9.3x74R is an interesting exercise. Actual loading of the cartridge is not much different than any other cartridge. The one difference found was that when the final combination was accomplished, a slight crimp was used.

The tricky part of loading for any double rifle is finding the right combination of powder, bullet and primer. The barrels are regulated by the manufacturer using a given factory loading to strike or cross at a given point, usually 80 to 100 meters. The goal is to develop a load that will shoot both barrels to the same point of impact at the same range. This is a fun project that sometimes takes a lot of patience and perseverance as each double gun, whether side-by-side or over-and-under, is different. Just like bolt rifles, some loads work great in one and not so great in others.

One procedure that should be used when shooting a double rifle from the bench is to use the front bag for support but grip the forend in doing so. Just grasp the forend and rest that hand on the bag. For some mystical reason, this will give you truer results concerning accuracy and also a true point of impact when used in the field. This procedure also helps control the recoil, which is noticeable.

When the 9.3x74R is chambered in a single-shot rifle, whether break-open or falling block action, the accuracy is as good as any big game rifle. You don’t have to go through the time-consuming procedure you do with the double. Like the 9.3x62, most any load shot well.

The 9.3x74R is cartridge enough to be used on anything that walks or crawls on the North American continent when shooting is kept at a reasonable range. It has proven itself in Europe and Africa with great success.

For double gun aficionados and those who would like to be, the 9.3x74R is a great choice for most any hunting adventure. I have yet to hear any comment from hunters who have used it that a different cartridge was needed. A good double is fun to use, it raises eyebrows around the campfire, and it dispatches game impressively without tearing up too much meat. Besides, there is just something special about the “thunk” when the rounds are dropped in the chamber that brings a smile to your face.

9.3x64 Brenneke

If there was ever an overlooked cartridge that was adequate for any big game anywhere in the world, including the dangerous game of Africa, it could well be the 9.3x64 Brenneke. It was the brainchild of Wilhelm Brenneke in the period around 1910 and was the largest and most powerful of the Brenneke cartridges. The cartridge had an enthusiastic acceptance from big game hunters in Europe, and it didn’t take long for it to find its way to Africa.

The infamous ivory hunter John Taylor rated the 9.3x64 Brenneke as an excellent medium-bore cartridge right along side the .375 H&H Magnum. Not only was Taylor a professional ivory hunter, but he was also a student of ballistics and cartridge performance. Taylor’s theories of knock-out power expounded upon in his books are still considered by some as a valid comparison of different cartridges.

Two things contributed to why the 9.3x64 Brenneke never gained the interest of American hunters. First was the lack of adequate bullets that could perform under the higher velocities, and second was the advent of World War II, which stopped all production of German sporting firearms for quite a few years. In the meantime the .375 H&H proved its worth and is still doing so today.

When European arms manufacturers started production of sporting firearms, sometime after World War II, the 9.3x64 Brenneke surfaced again, slowly gaining popularity as ammunition and components became available. Within the last few years, premium 9.3 bullets such as the Barnes X-Bullet, Swift A-Frame, Nosler Partition and others have made the 9.3x64 Brenneke a cartridge to take note of.

Ballistically it is the near twin to the .375 H&H. Factory loadings for the .375 H&H 300-grain bullet list a velocity of 2,530 fps. The 9.3x64 Brenneke factory load for the 286-grain bullet is 2,690 fps. With a bore size difference of only .009 inch (.375 versus .366) and a bullet weight difference of only 14 grains, you can see how close in performance they are. When you do the math, it even gives the edge to the 9.3x64 Brenneke.

When handloaded the 9.3x64 Brenneke is very impressive. Easy to load with its nonbelted case, the Brenneke, like the 9.3x62, shoots most any load well. Bullets in the 250- to 270-grain range work superbly on any big game in North America. The heavier 286-grain bullets in either softpoint or solid work well on the big boys.

With the 9.3x64 Brenneke there is one big plus and one small inconvenience. The plus is that any standard-length action can be used. If a .30-06 or action of that length and bolt face configuration is used, the only alteration needed is to open the bolt face to accept the .496-inch rim of the 9.3x64 Brenneke brass, screw in the barrel and head for the range.

The inconvenience is obtaining brass. The only manufacturer of loaded ammunition and brass is RWS. It is imported in sufficient quantities, but you won’t find it at Wal-Mart. Most any specialty gun/reloading store will be able to get it for you. A one-shot purchase of 100 rounds of brass should last a near lifetime, as case life is very good.

After using the three 9.3 cartridges over the past few years, I can’t help but be impressed. When ranges are kept within a reasonable distance, the performance, with proper bullets, gets the job done as well as any cartridge on the market. Friends and hunting companions who have witnessed or used any of the 9.3s on big game have come away with praise, and some have gone on to build their own 9.3s.

It is interesting to note that with all the new ultras, shorts, belted magnums, etc. that have surfaced over the past 30 to 40 years, none do any better job as all-purpose cartridges than the ones designed by Otto and Wilhelm 100 years ago.

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