The 7×57, 7mm Mauser Ballistics
The 7×57, 7mm Mauser Trajectory
The 7x57mm is one of the world’s classic hunting calibres, made famous by the exploits of the greatest of the Great White Hunters. It was originally introduced about 120 years ago as one of the first smokeless, high-velocity military rounds, but made its name as a superb game calibre. Today, it remains a classic hunting cartridge, but has much to offer modern hunters.
I first became aware of, and entranced by, the 7x57mm calibre in my boyhood readings of the fabulous Jim Corbett, hunter extraordinaire of Indian man-eating tigers and leopards. Jim’s tales of hunting in the Himalayas with his deadly accurate and long-reaching .275 Rigby Mauser captured my imagination.
The popular shooting press I read then largely focused on American calibres and there was no mention of what I took to be an interesting but obscure English hunting calibre. As my reading of the works of the Great White Hunters expanded to include Africa, I became aware of the popularity, effectiveness and widespread use of the .275 Rigby and also the 7mm Mauser.
I lapped up the enthralling stories of classic African game hunting, both big and small, using these calibres. It came as quite a revelation to me when I later discovered that these were, in fact, one and the same cartridge, perhaps better known now as the 7×57.
Part of my confusion had been due to my lack of appreciation at that time of the difference between British and American calibre naming. The US system is based on the actual projectile diameter, while the old British method used the land-to-land bore diameter of the barrel, not the projectile. Thus, the .275 Rigby Mauser actually fires a .284″ or 7mm projectile.
The South African Boers were quick to adopt the 7×57 soon after its introduction in the late 1800s. Being one of the first of the modem smokeless powder cartridges, it offered much higher velocity and range than the black powder firearms of the time. It rapidly gained a great reputation for plains hunting, which stands to this day. The Boers were also quick to realise its military potential and during the Boer War, they taught the British some lessons that were to introduce a new era of military tactics.
Dug in on top of prominent rocky hills out on the veldt, the Boers would, during the night, pace out the range from their kopje base. With markers every hundred metres to way out past the 1000m mark, they were well and truly ready with their 7×57 Mausers for the British when day dawned.
Following military tactics of the time, the black powder armed Brits marched dutifully in rows towards the Boers on the hill. The best Boer shots began firing first, at ranges out past the 1km mark, with the lesser marksmen joining in as the British got within 1km.Being good shots, and with the distance known to a tee, small groups of Boers inflicted some disproportionate casualties on their enemy.
Our interest, however, is not in the military prowess of the 7×57, but rather its hunting application. Back in the early 1900s, Rigby produced a line of quality custom Mauser-actioned rifles for colonial hunters in that wonderful hunting period leading up to the Second World War. A very popular chambering for African plains game and Indian mountain hunting, the flat-shooting and, for its time, high-velocity 275 Rigby Mauser, was simply a rebadged 7×57.
The 7×57 loaded with 175-grain soft-point projectiles was highly effective on large soft skinned game. The same weight projectile in solid form was also used to take the biggest game. Questionable by today’s standards, ivory hunters such as Karamojo Bell, nevertheless, took thousands of elephant with the .275 Rigby Mauser and similar calibres.
Bell disliked the recoil of the heavy big-game calibres and favoured the 7×57 for its mild recoil, accuracy and effectiveness. Although Bell took advantage of large herds of ‘uneducated’ elephants and was a crack shot, his huge bag of elephants with the 7×57 was a remarkable feat.
In what I consider his best of many stories, Jim Corbett’s tale of the hunting of the Talla Des man-eating tigers with his .275 Rigby Mauser is fascinating. Being at the time quite ill and unable to use his .500 Nitro Express double rifle, he was limited to using the lighter .275 Rigby with 175-grain soft-point projectiles.
Having accounted for two of the man-eaters with some snappy shooting, the hunt for the prime offender stretched to more than a week in what Jim thought would be his last hurrah. However, overcoming a debilitating and life-threatening condition, he preserved and finally accounted for the old tigress in a dry gully, at point-blank range, as she was on the point of pouncing on him.
While there is undeniable pleasure in using the same calibre as that of my boyhood heroes, I am also pragmatic enough to require that it be a practical choice for Australian hunting.
Fortunately, the 7×57 is a great all-rounder and ideally suited to a broad range of our game animals. The 7×57 can handle bullet weights from 100 to 175 grains, effectively covering the hunting spectrum from Australia’s pest animals to bigger game.
Given the number of old bolt-action 7x57s about, factory ammo tends to be a bit low in pressure and velocity. In a strong, modern action, however, handloaders can achieve improved ballistics while still maintaining reasonable pressures and sensible velocities. The 7×57 has a barrel twist of one turn in 9.5″, which provides adequate spin to stabilise long, heavy projectiles.
In fact, it allows the original bullet weight of 175 grains to be employed. Choosing quality soft-points, monolithic expanders or solids in weights up to 175 grains allows scrub bulls and even buffalo to be targeted with accuracy and care.
Hunting further to the south, I have loaded 140 grain Nosier Ballistic Tips, which I have found to be accurate and hard-hitting on pigs. For smaller bodied goats, deer and wild dogs 120 grain Noslers and 130 grain Speer soft points perform very well.
My Ruger No 1 RSI 7×57 is a short, pointy carbine, but is nevertheless quite accurate and a great stalking rifle. The ideal of the single-shot rifle appeals to me greatly and is totally in keeping with a stalking application. When stalking specifically for a single quarry, I like to carry three rounds. Of course, with a single-shot, the question of how to carry your ammunition does arise.
My old friend, leather worker and Goondiwindi handyman, Murray Brown, responded to my needs and produced a small ammo pouch holding three rounds of 7×57, along with a matching sheath for my hunting knife. It makes for both a practical bit of field kit that is also attractive in a simple, workmanlike way. In a culling situation, where it is necessary to carry more ammunition, I simply wear an ammo belt.
Able to handle a wide range of projectile weights, easy to reload, mild in recoil and accurate, the 7×57 offers a lot. This is well known to hunters, through both personal experience and the reading of a well-documented track record extending back more than 100 years. Rifle Metallic Silhouette shooters are also discovering the versatility and competitiveness of the 7×57.
Whether you shoot targets or game, the 7×57 is a classic calibre with a long past and a bright future.
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