Johan van Wyk
I held the crosshairs steady, high on her shoulder, and squeezed the trigger as gently as I could.
We have the calamity of World War II to thank for the near-demise and belated resuscitation (in a few instances) of many of the wonderful European metric cartridges. In this instance, a few cartridges that teetered on the brink of obsolescence for many years immediately springs to mind: just take the 9,3×62, for instance.
Prior to World War II, Berlin gunsmith Otto Bock’s creation was the clear frontrunner for the title of African all-round cartridge, yet by the late 1970s ammunition was expensive and hard to find. Thankfully, this situation has been reversed, and today the 9,3 is again enjoying a well-deserved spurt of popularity. Similarly, the 8x60S. If life was fair, the .30-06 would have been an also-ran in competition with the punchy Mauser-designed medium, yet today it is on the verge of being confined to the doldrums of the cartridge world.
My own flirtation with the mediums began many years ago when, as a school kid, I did a fair amount of hunting with a very nice little 7×57. That little rifle did its duty on my behalf on numerous species, including wildebeest, in the thick bush of what was then South Africa’s northern Transvaal, and later – before things went haywire in that country – Zimbabwe’s lowveld, where it accounted for kudu and impala. Thinking back on it now, a 175-grain bullet travelling at a relatively pedestrian 2 400 fps is certainly no ballistic thundercracker, but everything I shot with that combination died in its tracks. I didn’t recover a single bullet, either. I often wonder why I no longer own a 7×57, but consistently fail to arrive at a sensible conclusion.
I am an ardent reader of the late Jack O’Connor’s writings. Professor O’Connor was a big fan of the .270 Winchester, and although the .270 is a fine cartridge with a proven track record, I cannot help think that Jack would have been impressed with the 7×64 Brenneke as well, had he used it in anger. I owned a nice custom rifle chambered for Wilhelm Brenneke’s hot-rod cartridge for some years, and after a few hunts became convinced that I had laid my hands not merely on a hunting rifle, but the proverbial death ray.
The Brenneke printed 160-grain Swift A-frame bullets in tiny clusters, and it was deadly not only on smaller antelope such as impala and springbok, but on some of the big fellows such as kudu, gemsbok and red hartebeest as well. One shot at a gemsbok on a bitterly cold Karoo morning particularly stands out in my mind. We had to find a lone gemsbok cow that had evaded all efforts at capture and had taken up residence in a cattle paddock. We found her early one morning, but the closest she would let us get to her was still well in excess of 300 metres. Eventually, at a distance of 322 metres (much further than I would normally shoot at game, just for the record) I held the crosshairs steady, high on her shoulder, and squeezed the trigger as gently as I could. The sound of the bullet striking home reached our ears a second or so later, just in time to see the gemsbok collapse into the wintry yellow grass.
Today the 7×64 is rightly very popular in Europe, but everywhere else it has a modest (though very loyal) following. Even its American cousin, the .280 Remington, has failed to set the cartridge world alight, which again goes to show that things don’t always work out as they should.
My current metric flirtation is with the 6,5×55 Swedish Mauser. The Swede is one of the very first cartridges meant for use with smokeless propellant, and was designed way back in the early 1890s for use by the Norwegian and Swedish armed forces. Over the years the Scandinavians discovered just how good a cartridge the 6,5×55 really was, and it became one of the most celebrated long-range target shooting rounds of all time in that part of the world. In addition to target shooting, the 6,5 Swede was also introduced to the hunting fields, and it is still being used with great success on animals as big as Scandinavian moose.
My own and the 6,5×55’s paths crossed by default when I was offered a near-new Tikka T3 rifle chambered for the 6,5×55 at a price that no sane person would pass up. I mounted a well-used but thoroughly reliable Swarovski scope on the rifle, and set about concocting a few reloading recipes. Well, suffice to say that the Swede not only smashed my most optimistic expectations in the accuracy department, but smashed them completely to bits. It prints tiny little groups exactly where I want them, has almost negligible recoil, and has proved to be deadly on impala, springbok, blesbok and black wildebeest. I stick to 140-grain bullets, as the rifle seems to prefer that weight above all others. We understand each other, the Swede and I.
I suppose I can go on to wax lyrical about many other metric cartridges as well. Take the dragon-slaying 8x68S, for instance. It is very popular in Namibia where its flat-shooting and hard-hitting characteristics are rightly appreciated. Or the 9,3×64 Brenneke, which in a perfect world would have rivalled the great .375 H&H Magnum in popularity. Its following is relatively small but quite vociferous. In the double rifle world, the long-necked 9,3x74R (ballistically equal to the 9,3×62 Mauser) is holding its own, and is even chambered by the British from time to time. Proof positive that you cannot keep a good cartridge down.
If you are on the lookout for something different for your next rifle, or perhaps even just something with a bit of history behind it, I have a good bit of advice for you: go metric!
The author with the gemsbuck cow mentioned in the article. His custom-made 7×64 Brenneke reached out across a windswept Karoo plain and killed the animal quickly and cleanly with a single bullet to the heart.
Some of the author’s favourite metric cartridges include (L to R) the 6,5×55 Swedish Mauser, 7×57 Mauser, 7×64 Brenneke, 8x57JS Mauser, 8x68S, 9,3×62 Mauser and 9,3×64 Brenneke.