The Saga of John's 1895 Mauser.
By John Fuhring
Note:  This is a STORY that contains technical, historical and autobiographical material.
Please don't expect it to be a collection of statistics and facts.

History and background

 It all started in the early 1880's when the French chemist Paul Vieille developed a process to manufacture smokeless powder - called Pouder B – that was safe to use in a firearm. Since the invention of the firearm and especially after the American Civil War, armies wanted a better propellant to replace the dirty black powder then in use. Black powder is especially nasty because heavy fouling builds up in the bore of a rifle and covers the rifling thereby destroying its accuracy. There is also a highly visible puff of smoke when the rifle is fired and many rifles firing together will create a fog of smoke so dense, you can't see what you are shooting at. No, the armies of the world were desperate to get rid of black powder, but the other, cleaner, propellants were just too dangerous until Vieille developed his process.

The French, still very much smarting from their humiliating defeat in the Franco-Prussian War and now having this wonderful new propellant, quickly developed the world's first smokeless cartridge and a (then) high tech rifle (the Lebel) that could shoot it. This sent shock waves through their principle enemy, the young German nation and so the German government put together a military commission to develop their own smokeless cartridge and an advanced technology rifle to shoot it.

The Commission took in all the latest cartridge design ideas (mostly from the Swiss), and then developed their famous 8X57 MM cartridge.  To this day, this cartridge is throughly modern looking and (with a slightly larger bullet) is still used in rifles today. The Commission then contracted with a Jewish sewing machine manufacturer who had a reputation for making precision machinery of the highest quality. This was the famous Ludwig Loewe of Berlin who then began manufacturing the famous 1888 Commission Rifle (the GEW 88).  There were two things that made the Commission Rifle superior to the French Lebel as a military weapon: (1) it fired a cartridge superior in design and function to the very odd  Lebel cartridge (although it must be said that the overall ballistics of the two cartridges were nearly identical) and (2) it had a vastly superior Mannlicher magazine that was loaded by inserting a clip of 5 cartridges (later modified to a stripper clip cartridge charger) so that it was ever so much faster to reload than the French rifle with its ridiculous tubular magazine. 

By the way, nearly all hunting and military rifles today shoot cartridges very similar to the 1888 8X57, but few or none shoot anything like the Lebel cartridge.  One exception might be the 8 MM Steyr Mannlicher rifle used by the Austrian Army.  It's cartridge is almost as odd as the Lebel's and it likewise failed to survive past WW 2 as a military or hunting cartridge. Other exceptions might be the Enfield .303 and the Russian Mosin-Nagant and, although their cartridges are rimmed, neither has the very odd shape of the Lebel. 

As busy as the Loewe factory was turning out the 88 Commission Rifle, the factory's design department, headed by the famous Mauser brothers, was busy designing improved rifles for the export market. The Mauser brothers greatly improved certain features of the Commission Rifle using their own ideas and Ludwig Loewe started selling Mauser rifles to governments and hunters all over the world.  The Mauser rifles Loewe manufactured for export were the most technically advanced rifles made anywhere and were beautifully fabricated from the highest quality steels and components.  The steel was expertly heat-treated and hardened and the metalwork was beautifully machined and finished.   After this, every country (without a domestic arms industry) wanted a Mauser, so  models (all similar to each other) were produced for scores of countries ranging from Argentina to Mexico to Turkey. When Kaiser Wilhelm boasted to the world about the unmatched quality and excellence of German design and manufacturing, almost always it was Loewe's Mausers he was referring to.

During their ballistic experiments with different diameter and weight bullets, the Mauser brothers realized that the new smokeless  powder and the new rifles they were designing would be even more effective if they reduced the bullet diameter from 8 MM to 7 MM and reduced the weight from 225 grains to 170 grains.  They took the 8X57 cartridge and necked it down for the smaller bullet and came up with the famous 7X57 cartridge.  In 1893, the first 7X57 MM Mausers were manufactured and sold to the Spanish Government.  To say the least, this rifle and its cartridge was a sensation.  In 1895, a very similar, but slightly improved model was produced for Chile and large numbers of that model were also sold to the Boers of South Africa for use in their fight against a British Empire take-over of their country.

1895 Military Mauser
My Mauser was battered and well used and no where near this beautiful condition.

The first real military use of the  7X57 came during the Spanish American War in 1898.  When the American Army invaded Cuba, they came up against vastly inferior numbers of Spanish soldiers armed with their 7X57 Spanish Mausers and the U.S. soldiers got their butts kicked - hard.  Thousands of U.S. soldiers were held back until they could overwhelm the Spanish positions by sheer numbers and only after suffering large causalities.  The 7X57 Mausers proved vastly superior to our old black powder 45-70s and even our new smokeless 30-40 Krag-Jorgensen's. 

This embarrassment on the battlefield resulted in a demand for a new rifle and cartridge since (unlike the Enfields) the 30-40 Krag-Jorgensen's action was too weak to stand up to a hotter powder charge. The demand for a new rifle and cartridge resulted in the model 1903 Springfield rifle and the 30-06 cartridge.  It so happens that the design of the Springfield Rifle is based almost entirely on the Mauser Rifle and the 30-06 cartridge is almost identical to the 7X57 except it is stretched out to hold more powder and necked up for a .308 caliber bullet (since we had millions of .308 bullets manufactured for the Krag-Jorgensen's).  America had ripped off the designs from Mauser so blatantly, the US had to pay patent infringement penalties to Germany up until WW 1 and then to a holding company after that.  By the way, in the 1950s the U.S. Army finally realized that the 30-06 cartridge's extra length wasn't necessary and so it was reduced down to 51 MM for the M14 (NATO .308).  The 51 MM NATO cartridge has been necked down for 7 MM bullets and today they make hunting rifles in 7X51, but they are ballistically no better than rifles shooting the older 7X57 Mauser cartridge.

 The second military use of the  7X57 came a little later (starting about 1900) during the Boer War. The British were using rifles chambered for their “new,” but actually very old fashioned, .30 caliber rimmed cartridge.  Some British units were armed with the Lee Medford rifle that used the .30 caliber rimmed cartridge, but their cartridges were loaded with compressed black powder - yes, black powder.  Other units were armed with the newer, but nearly identical Lee Enfield Rifle that shot a cartridge that looked identical, but was loaded with a smokeless propellant they called cordite.  Because of the 7X57 cartridge and the superb rifling of the 1895 model Mauser rifles, they were far superior to the Lee Metfords and out gunned the Lee Enfields too.  Many British soldiers were killed and wounded at ranges and with an accuracy the British couldn't match.  The “small” 7 MM (.28 caliber) bullet was also surprisingly deadly, even more so than the larger and heaver .30 caliber British bullets. This caused the British to completely redesign how their bullets worked and to abandon black powder entirely in favor of cartridges loaded with cordite.   By the way, the British kept the old rimmed cartridge (even through WW 2) after the changes they made brought the performance of their cartridges and bullets up to Mauser standards.  

After WW 1, there were a lot of beautifully made hunting rifles (called Plezier rifles) still in use in East Africa (particularly in the game-rich former German colony of Tanganyika) and many of them were in the 7X57 caliber. The very famous Elephant hunter of East Africa, Walter Bell, preferred the 7X57 to all other cartridges because the recoil is so light and yet the long 7 MM military bullet has an amazing penetrating power.  Rifles shooting the 7X57 cartridges are comfortable to shoot so that when they fire, the shooter does not tend to 'flinch' and mess up his shots.  Because of this, some very precision shooting can be done with them.  Bell discovered that the penetrating power of a standard military 170 grain full metal jacketed bullet together with the ease of holding the rifle on target combined to make the 7X57 a highly effective elephant cartridge – as “tiny” as the bullet was. Walter Bell went on to professionally kill more elephants with the 7X57 MM cartridge than have been killed by all the many “elephant gun” cartridges combined and that is an amazing record that stands to this day. Today it is illegal to shoot elephants (where elephants are legal to shoot) with a 7X57 because few hunters know the cranial anatomy of the elephant or are as good a shot as Bell was. 

Today, to be legal, you must use something like a .470 Nitro Express shooting a 500 grain bullet with 120 grains of smokeless powder. You must also be able to stand the huge blast and a bone breaking recoil (about 10 times more than my Mauser) all without flinching so badly you miss the elephant (or other dangerous game) altogether – something that few shooters can do.  A modern elephant gun is so intimidating to shoot that it's hard to hold on target and it's easy to miss what you're shooting at.  Missing or failing to disable an angry elephant (or other dangerous game) will likely result in a greasy spot on the ground where your crushed body once was and your sad fate will become a topic of scurrilous jokes told by cruel hunters around their campfires.  The moral of the story: don't shoot any rifle with a cartridge and bullet weight one bit bigger than you can hold on target without flinching.


How and why I got my 1895 Mauser

Now, let's fast forward to 1960. I was a young teenager and across the street lived a family with a son the same age as me. Bobby's father had a WW II era jeep and he and his son would roam the back country during deer season and oh god I wanted to go too. I hitched a ride in the back of the old jeep a few times, but didn't have a rifle, nor would my parents allow me to buy one, so I couldn't actually go hunting with them. The truth is, I have always hated killing things and my prime motivation was not the prospect of shooting a wild animal. I just wanted to experience the out doors in an exciting and dramatic way and just going out driving around the countryside during deer season seemed like a pretty stupid thing to do for various reasons.  First the Game Warden is going to suspect you of hunting without a license, the hunters are going to resent you stirring up the game for nothing and wandering around out there might get you shot by accident and all for nothing.  

As mentioned, my parents were totally against me owing anything more powerful than a .22 and very much against hunting in general. My parents were meat eating people, but who didn't believe in killing things themselves,  Like so many people, they somehow felt that eating meat is OK as long as somebody else does the killing and does the bloody butchering. Even as a kid, I've always thought that if you are going to eat meat (and eating meat is why our ancestors survived and the vegetarian hominids became extinct) then, by everything that's fair, you should experience for yourself the brutal, bloody, stinking and messy thing it is to kill and prepare animal food.  In my case, it has given me greater respect for animals and what they endure to feed us.  Killing, eviscerating and butchering game animals has had the effect of limiting the amount of meat I actually eat because I now understand what actually occurs. 

If anything, my hunting experiences have given me an enhanced sense of reverence for Nature.  Of course, I've also met hunters who have no reverence for anything.  I've met hunters who just love to kill things and have a beautiful work of Nature die in front of them as if somehow that gives them power over life or something.  The power of death is nothing, any fool who can afford a rifle has it.  It is in conserving a vibrant natural environment and a reverence for Nature that takes intelligence.   

Anyway, back to the story.  Regardless of my parent's feelings and my own reservations, I wanted to go hunting with Bobby and his dad, but for that I'd need a rifle – which I couldn't have. One day I was in the old Sears Warehouse (when they had one here in town) and I saw a guy behind the counter playing with this beautiful old rifle. I asked him about it and he told me it was a Mauser and it shot a bullet very similar to the famous .270 that Bobby's dad owned. I asked him how much for the rifle and he said $19.00. I could easily afford $19.00 (around $200.00 in today's money) because I had made money selling news papers on the street since age 11 and was presently working in a drug store. I asked the clerk if he'd sell me the rifle and he said "sure" – no gun laws back in those days. I gave the guy the money, tied it on my bike (kids could do that in those days without the 'SWAT' team being called), took the rifle home and hid it away. 

I then bought some old pre-WW 1 ammunition for the thing – boy do I wish I would have saved some of it because it was really old fashioned with rounded silver colored bullets that would now be a valuable collectible.  Anyway, the ammo was cheap and powerful and friends and I would secretly take my Mauser shooting at the Santa Maria River bed.  The original round nosed bullets were hard and powerful and it was fun to shoot the doors off of abandoned cars down there by aiming at the thick steel hinges of the doors.  Those bullets would also penetrate the six cylinder engines and cause them to smoke.  That was really fun and I smile now thinking about it.  Later I bought more modern military "spitzer" bullets, but my fun was over when I aimed at a door hinge about 20 feet away and before I was aware of the rifle going off, I felt a stabbing pain on my face.  The "modern" bullets must have been much softer than the older ones because instead of penetrating the thick steel, they disintegrated, formed a crater and then the crater directed some of the fragments back at me.  My face was bloody and I picked out a larger lead fragment just below my eye.  Naturally, I said nothing to anybody, but when asked about my face, I'd simply say that I was having a particularly bad time with acne.  Boy did I feel like an idiot and I was so thankful that nothing got in my eye.

After several months one of my friend's mother told my mother that I had the rifle. Oh, there was a scene, but it was too late to forbid me to have it and I had already shown that I could own and use it responsibly, so I was allowed to keep it. After the cat was out of the bag, the first thing I did was to cut down the military stock and then I took the barrel and receiver to a gunsmith to have the barrel cut down, re-crowned, and new front sights put on. The thing looked horrible, but at least it was a hunting rifle and I was all set to invite myself to go hunting with Bobby and his dad when deer season opened in the late summer.

Bobby's mom and dad had a rocky marriage and it didn't help a bit when another woman came in and destabilized the marriage altogether. Divorce ensued with a tragic and disastrous effect on my friend Bobby that made me profoundly sad too. Of course, that meant that any chance to go deer hunting was now dead and I had this old, ugly Mauser rifle as a useless piece of junk sitting in a closet.


Completing a 50 year project at long last

In a closet totally forgotten, the rifle sat for almost 50 years until I took an early retirement. I started going through all my old possessions in an attempt to get rid of old junk I didn't want or need any more when I found the old rifle. Of course, this brought up a lot of memories both good and bad, but the more I looked at the thing, the more I wanted to complete a project started so long ago, but never finished. I've always completed my projects, no matter how long they take, however, this was one project that never got completed. As I looked at the old rifle, I became fiercely determined to turn it into a hunting rifle I wouldn't be ashamed of and to actually go deer hunting with it. I didn't give a damn if I harvested any game with the rifle, in fact I didn't want to, I just wanted to go hiking in the back country armed with my Mauser, loaded with hot, deer killing cartridges and be ready to shoot if something should come into range.

First thing I did was to remove the old military stock and buy a nice modern wooden stock and mount all the steel items securely into it. I bought a nice looking walnut blank that was semi-inletting and then proceeded to carve it up and fit everything into it while filling all the voids with epoxy for a tight fit. I then experimented with mounting a scope forward of the receiver on top of the old rear sight with very limited success. Since the scope was forward of the receiver, I had to use a 'pistol scope' that had a very long eye-relief. It was ugly as sin, but it was far superior to the open military type sights.

I took my new “scout type” rifle with the forward mounted scope and straight bolt to the shooting range and was severely disappointed to see that the bullets were all over the place. I tried several things to improve accuracy and they helped, a little, but the thing was pretty much useless for hunting because it was so inaccurate. I then performed a very heavy copper removal cleaning operation and removed an amazing amount of fouling from the barrel. There was over 100 years of junk that came out of that barrel so I was confident it would now shoot straight, but such was not the case. To my great disappointment, the rifle still shot badly.

At this point, I decided that I was in too deeply to just throw the thing away, so I decided to spend the equivalent of a new rifle by having the barrel reamed out to the 8X57 cartridge size. I found a gunsmith, incompetent as it turned out, who agreed to do it. Well after waiting about 8 months for the rifle, he sent me a note that he had ruined the barrel, but he offered to make me a new one in the original 7X57 for the same price. I was very disappointed because I wanted to keep the rifle as original as possible, but I was pleased to have it in 7X57 again so I told the gunsmith to go ahead with the project.

Several weeks later I received the rifle back with the new barrel only to discover that the “throat” hadn't been machined and you couldn't load cartridges in the firing chamber. I sent it back and a few weeks later it came back more or less machined correctly. For a long time I was severely disappointed with my new barrel because, to tell the truth, it didn't seem to shoot a whole lot better than the old original barrel even with the deep, precision cut rifling.   I had never heard of "barrel harmonics" and when I first heard of it I was extremely skeptical.  After some experiments I became a real believer and by using a couple of different powder types (H414 and IMR 4320) and different weights of propellant, I was able to improve the accuracy, but looking back now, I have to admit that I never did achieve "tack driver" status and the best I ever did was shoot at MOA (within about one inch of a calculated center at 100 yards).  I tried one of those silly looking rubber "deresonators" with very limited success although I tried to fool myself into believing that they worked.  Although no "tack driver," my rifle and its ammo is accurate enough for hunting and that's plenty good enough for me.

Another thing I wanted to do was mount a conventional scope over the action and get rid of the forward mounted pistol scope (the so-called "scout rifle" configuration).  You can't use a scope with a strait bolt handle, so I bought a offset bolt kit and fitted it myself.   I took the rifle to a great old gunsmith who machined flat a portion of the charger guide at the rear of the receiver and then he expertly drilled and tapped the receiver for "Weaver" type scope mounts that I had purchased from a supplier made especially for my Mauser. Having a real rifle scope mounted over the receiver vastly improved the looks and function of the rifle. 

The original "tang" safety flipped up too high for use with a scope, so I fitted a low profile safety lever myself that works well and looks good. Finally, I took off the old military double stage trigger mechanism and installed an adjustable trigger mechanism that has a snappy, light but safe pull. My rifle is now about as complete as any custom-built rifle there is.

My 1895 Mauser as it looks today.

After the scope was mounted, I very carefully bore sighted the rifle so I'd be somewhere on a target when I arrived at the shooting range. To my great disappointment, the first few shots showed a good pattern, but the pattern moved the more I shot the rifle. I'd adjust the scope, but then it shot somewhere else and it didn't make sense. I couldn't understand this until it occurred on me that as the barrel heated up and as I gripped the forearm of the stock differently, the barrel's press against the wooden forearm of the stock was also changing and that resulted in a change in where the barrel was pointing. 

I hadn't considered it possible for the barrel to interact with the stock because, after all, the barrel is made of rigid steel, right? On doing some research, I discovered that most authorities recommend a gap between the stock and the barrel wide enough to allow a dollar bill to slide from the end of the stock to firing chamber to prevent barrel-stock interaction. I was still skeptical so I took a optical bore-sighting tool and attached it to the muzzle of my rifle.  I applied hand pressure on the wooden stock and on the steel barrel and to my amazement, the sight pattern changed quite noticeably just by gripping and pulling on the stock and barrel with minor amounts of force.  

I was now convinced that I needed to "float the barrel" so I then proceeded to carefully sand out the channel in the stock until I could slip two $1 bills all the way down to the firing chamber without touching wood. After that, I took the rifle back to the shooting range and was gratified to see that the patterns did not depend on how many shots I had previously taken. Judging from some discussions I've read, “floating a barrel” is a little controversial and some shooters think you actually do harm to your accuracy, but most authorities recommend the practice and it certainly worked for me.  One thing that must be avoided with a free floating barrel is allowing anything to touch the barrel while shooting and to only hold or support the rifle with the wooden stock or your accuracy will be terrible.


The final task necessary to complete the 50 year project

Well, a little over a year ago I hooked up with a guy who knows a little about where to hunt around here and for the first time in 50 years, I went hunting with my Mauser. It turned out that I didn't see a damn thing, not one single buck and only one doe during the many trips we went out hunting from August to December. Actually, this worked out for the best because I really didn't want to kill anything, I didn't have a way to store the meat should I get a deer and I wasn't looking forward to a diet of deer meat for the rest of my life. Still, I was very pleased that, after all these many decades, I could now say that my Mauser project, started when I was a young teenager, had finally come full circle and I actually went hunting with it, I had carried it armed and loaded and wasn't ashamed to be seen carrying it either. It was a very good feeling to know that I had not let this project go unfinished.


A brief note on my cartridges for hunting.

I reload my cartridges myself  using a hand loader and an accurate powder balance and it's a good thing I do because cartridges with lead-free bullets for the 7X57 Mauser are presently unavailable.  Why should that matter?  It matters because certain rule-making people within the California Fish and Game Department believe in a certain very half-baked hypothesis.  The hypothesis maintains that our nearly extinct California Condors have been poisoned and their egg laying has been deleteriously effected by their ingesting tiny lead particles that may (or may not) be present in the (normally) discarded internal organs of shot game.  Most lead cored bullets do loose a small amount of metal as they pass through an animal's body, but it is a very small amount and highly disseminated.  No other species of vulture or scavenger seems to have ever been effected by lead in this way so many people think this hypothesis lacks both scientific proof and common sense.  This ruling has led to a loss of respect for Fish and Game among many hunters, but the law is the law, so non-lead bullets must be used.  

To comply with the law, I sent away for a supply of rather expensive 'Barns Triple X (tm)' 100% copper bullets, loaded up a box of cartridges, took them to the shooting range and found that I love shooting them.  They are as accurate as any I've ever used in my Mauser and I do rather like the idea of not having to worry about lead in my meat.  Besides that, the copper bullets penetrate deeply and expand in a remarkable way to insure that game is killed swiftly and humanely.  In my opinion, these are the best bullets on the market, with the only downside is the fact that they are double the price of lead core bullets.

For the larger game in this area and for ranges up to 300 yards, it is my opinion that 7 MM bullets should weigh 140 grains.  A bullet of that weight has the power to kill anything ranging from bears to deer to the largest boar.  I now load my cartridges with 45 grains of  H414 behind 140 grain all copper bullets for an average muzzle velocity of just about 2700 feet per second (as measured by my electronic bullet chronograph).   For a 120 year old cartridge, this is pretty hot and yet it is not putting my old rifle under any undue strain.   The recoil from these loads is pleasantly light, but strong enough to give you the very satisfying feeling that you have just shot a deadly projectile.  Overall, this load makes my Mauser a very fun gun to shoot and there is nothing unpleasant or intimidating about firing it.  My only complaint is that this load does not produce the coveted "sub MOA" groupings and indeed I have not been able to shoot even two (2) MOA groups with this powder and bullet combination.  Certainly this is good enough for hunting, but somewhat disappointing.

 The external ballistics of the Barns bullets fired from my Mauser gives me a "Point Blank Range" of almost 300 yards.  That means that if I aim for the center of the chest of a deer (or bear or wild boar) and the target is anywhere within 1 to 250 yards, I will hit a vital area and the creature will be swiftly killed and all without having to adjust my scope.  Beyond 300 yards, my bullets still have a huge amount of kinetic energy, but I'd have to adjust the elevation of my scope and besides, holding any rifle on target beyond 150 yards (even with a scope) is extremely difficult.  In my opinion, shooting at game beyond 150 yards raises a serious question of hunting ethics and knowing my own marksmanship abilities, I would hesitate to take such a shot unless I had extraordinary means to steady my rifle before firing.  In the field, it is difficult or impossible to obtain the kinds of accuracy you can achieve at a rifle range so ethical hunters should consider passing up shots that may be within the range of their rifle, but are highly likely to result in a wounded animal that gets away only to die later in agony. 

In addition to my own reloaded cartridges, I have factory loaded jacketed lead bullets in weights all the way up to 175 grains that would be very effective against Moose, buffalo and other large game animals - maybe even elephants.  

My latest findings regarding loading for maximum accuracy
May, 2013

Since the time of writing all of the above, I made some important discoveries regarding accuracy I'd like to now mention.  Earlier I was convinced that after all my trouble and expense, my Mauser with its new barrel and precision cut rifling, was no "tack driver."  My rifle might be good enough for hunting, but to tell the truth, I found the accuracy very disappointing and I blamed it entirely on the barrel (and my poor shooting abilities).  Now I've discovered my poor accuracy wasn't because of a poor barrel (or my shooting), but mostly due to my cartridge loads not matched to the harmonic characteristics of my barrel.  Up until recently I didn't realize just how critical barrel harmonics are and so I had never tried to adjust my loads to match my barrel's harmonics.  Of course, to blindly try to find a powder type from among the dozens and dozens of different types and then experiment around with dozens and dozens of shots using each type of powder to find the best powder and powder weight for a particular bullet would be very, very time consuming, extremely expensive and very wasteful especially when you consider how expensive Barns or other premium bullets are, not to mention all the pounds of expensive (but mostly useless) powder you will have left over once you've developed that ideal load.

Originally I thought it was a good idea to start with a modern powder, H414, as a standard for all my reloads.  Soon it was apparent that I wasn't at all satisfied with the accuracy of any of the loads I developed for that powder.  Some time after this, just as an experiment, I loaded some cartridges up with some old IMR 4320 powder.  Because IMR 4320 is a faster burning powder, I loaded the cartridges with only 40 grains.  Armed with this IMR experimental load, I took the rifle out to the rifle range and Wow!!  What a difference.  The cartridges loaded with IMR 4320 powder chronographed a lot slower, at around 2630 FPS, but now my groupings were within an amazing one inch of the calculated center.  By sheer luck, I discovered a load where my bullets were exiting the muzzle at a node in the barrel's harmonic wave, at a so-called "sweet spot."

I next fired a series of rounds with the old 47 grain H414 load and got higher muzzle velocity for the same chamber pressure, but the accuracy was much poorer with all the holes about 2 inches or so from the center.  Some were to the right, some to the left and some above the bullseye, but all of them were about two inches from the center.  This really puzzled me why the old IMR 4320 powder was so much better than the much more modern and "high tech" H414 powder.  

In subsequent trips to the range I tried different weights of H414 to see if I could match the accuracy of the IMR powder and I just couldn't.  This seemed to go against my limited knowledge and understanding of internal ballistics, so I was really puzzled.  This situation went on for months and all the while I kept searching for articles on barrel harmonics until I discovered what I think is the most important concept that all small-time reloaders (such as I am) should know about.  What I am referring to is a fascinating article written by Mr. Chris Long called the Shock Wave Theory – Rifle Internal Ballistics, Longitudinal Shock Waves, and Shot Dispersion. In this article Mr. Long presents a theory of annular shock waves propagating up and down a barrel at the speed of sound in steel as a charge is fired.  In a follow up page, Mr. Long offers a series of instructions and presents an Excel program (or you can use his table) to determine the optimum barrel dwell time for any of several nodes for different barrel lengths.  Using this information and plugging it into a powerful program called "Quickload,"  the weights of various powders may be calculated to match the optimum dwell time for the bullet traveling through the barrel.  The result of all this is the discovery of a series of what is generally regarded as "sweet spots" or technically as "annular nodes" of optimum accuracy for different powders and weights.  This theory differs greatly from the traditional model that holds that it is the slow shear waves that cause the barrel to "whip" and the nodes of which are what are responsible for the "sweet spots" of maximum accuracy us reloaders are always looking for.  In fact, Mr. Long's theory holds that these effects have only minimum effect on accuracy.

For me, this article seemed to explain all the mysteries that I had encountered and what is more, it provided an engineeringly sound method of picking the optimum powder type, a good starting load with safe pressures.  By choosing a right node number for the pressures you want to operate at, you can derive an ideal muzzle velocity that you can use as a guide to easily find that elusive "sweet spot" without going broke shooting hundreds of expensive Barns bullets and trying dozens of different powders.  

     I contacted Mr. Long and as an experiment, he ran the numbers I gave him regarding the length of my barrel and the weight of water needed to fill an empty 7X57 cartridge.  Interestingly enough, the shape of the barrel's contour is of no importance and therefore my military contour did not have to be taken into account. Another interesting thing about this engineering model is that the old bugaboo regarding "barrel whip" (shearing deformation of the barrel) is not an important factor either.  The other ballistic variables including the characteristics of a 7 MM, 140 grain TSX bullet are already embedded in the Quickload program.  The calculations resulted in a two page report for any harmonic node of your choice.  The reports listed dozens and dozens of different powders and gave data on the expected performance and ideal MV for each type of powder.  By glancing at the data sheets, it was easy to see what powders would be optimum in terms of cartridge volume and percent of burn.  In addition, the tables give you a safe starting load and tell you what MV you should load for.  For example, for node 6, Reloader 19  would fill the case up to 100% (very good), but would burn only to 91% (very bad).  Accurate 4064 would fill to 95% (very good) and would burn to 100% (very good) and in addition, the ideal MV would be 2709 FPS (highest velocity of all powders with reasonable chamber pressure).

The two nodes that fit my 120 year old Mauser's action were number 5 and number 6.  Number 5 node seemed a bit hot with high pressures I wanted to avoid, so I used the load tables generated for node 6.  That node gives me very acceptable velocity, mild recoil and low pressures.  Wouldn't you just know it, the theoretical node 6 muzzle velocity for IMR 4320 was 2630 FPS, just exactly as I had found earlier by chance and yes, IMR 4320 is an OK, but not a great a powder to use.  Again the engineering model was correct when it listed H414 powder as very poor powder to use in a 7X57 cartridge, thus explaining why I had such poor "luck" with the stuff.   The very best powder that this model recommends for node 6 is Accurate 4064 (at a MV of 2709 FPS), but I was not able to buy Accurate 4064 at any of the shops around here so I had to settle for what I could get.  The best I could get locally was Vihtavuori N135 which is really an excellent choice because it fills the cartridge up to about 92% while burning to 100%.  If the load using this powder is adjusted for a MV of 2633 FPS, you will be at or very near node 6's "sweet spot."  

Although the data tables were originally calculated by the Quickload program for the Barns TSX bullets, I had very few TSX bullets left, but I did have a new pack of TTSX bullets.  Well, the TTSX bullets are much longer than the TSX bullets, so I needed to find the overall length (OAL) of my TTSX cartridges that would match the volume of the TSX bullets.  I measured the weight of water in an empty cartridge with a TSX bullet seated to the recommended OAL of 2.940 inches and after very careful adjustments of the TTSX depth, I found that an OAL of 3.040 gave me the same cartridge volume as the TSX bullets.  With an OAL of 3.040, I assumed that all the parameters generated for the TSX bullets would be similar for these TTSX bullets or close enough that I should be in the ballpark.

I loaded up three cartridges with N135 powder loaded under the 140 grain TTSX bullets and an OAL of 3.040 and three cartridges with TSX bullets to an OAL of 2.940 just to see if my assumptions about their similar performance was correct.  As luck would have it, my assumption was correct because both sets of cartridges had similar muzzle velocities.  For my trip to the range I also packed my portable Lee reloading kit, TTSX bullets, powder, powder scale and other accessories and went off all full of expectations.  The three TTSX and the three TSX shots had very similar muzzle velocities as mentioned, but were all well below the magic 2633 FPS and they did not group well.  There at the range, with my portable equipment, I increased the powder charge under the next set of  TTSX bullets to about what I guessed would bring them up to the right velocity.  It so happens that my initial guess was almost exactly right with the average velocity now a bit over 2633.   Wow, my rifle never shot so well with all the resulting holes touching at 50 yards.  

As far as I'm concerned, Mr. Long's Shock Wave Theory and the engineering model that the Quickload program is based on has a high probability of being correct and I will go so far to say that the use of this approach should revolutionize the way people work up an ideal load for a new bullet or cartridge.  It is my opinion that this way to rapidly and cheaply develop a supremely accurate load is something that every small scale reloader should know about and use.  With the help of this program I found the right powder and the right muzzle velocity and it took me only about a dozen of those expensive Barns bullets to discover this ideal load for my 140 grain TTSX bullets.  I now have a load that not only gives me a great point blank range for deer of about 270 yards but, most importantly, an outstanding and very satisfying accuracy so that my rifle's only limitation is my ability to hold the rifle on target.  


A Final comment on "Small-Ring" Mausers

     Before I end this story, I want to say something about the alleged "weakness" of so-called Small-Ring Mausers.  Not for a moment do I believe that these rifles are in any way weak.  They may be pushing 120 years old, but they were made of the best steels of the era and expertly machined and heat-treated.  They were designed to be the world's best military rifles and as such, to work reliably under the worst kinds of combat conditions in the mud, sand and dirt.  These rifles were designed to hold up under the abuse of minimally trained, illiterate soldiers and to shoot ammunition loaded with primitive and sometimes explosive powders without failing.  These rifles were made strong by people who knew what they were doing.  They may not be quite as strong as the 98 Large-Ring Mausers, or actions with modern proof steels but they are quite strong enough.  For example, quite a while back I made a bad mistake and overloaded some cartridges with fast burning IMR 3031.  I stupidly used a large powder measure I had made for the H414 powder instead of the much smaller measure I made for 3031 (I now use a powder scale and weigh out each charge).  When I shot a round of this dangerous ammunition I noticed an extraordinarily heavy recoil (such as I had never felt from my Mauser before) and a thunderous bang.  I also noticed that I put a hole in the target at 100 yards that was more than two inches higher than normal.  I then noticed that I couldn't open the bolt because the cartridge case had expanded tightly against the bolt face due to the overpressure.  I had to use a rubber hammer on the bolt handle to get the action open and pound on a metal cleaning rod to extract the cartridge case because it wouldn't eject.  By mistake I had "proof tested" my old Mauser and I won't do it again, but it is nice to know that this strongly made receiver & bolt is up to an occasional overload as it had been designed to handle so long ago by Peter Paul and Wilhelm Mauser.

The End

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