A while ago, I read and enjoyed an article by a fellow who grew up in Africa. His dad worked an outdoor job in a wildlife park and occasionally had to cull animal herds. Now, the African Big Five are a dream to a Southern boy like me, although boar, deer and small game are quite a challenge. The author told how his father did the business with the only rifle he owned, a Mauser 98 in 8mm Mauser caliber.
He even dropped elephant with certain aim and cranial shots. I find such reports most interesting and a cause for to break out the old Yugo 48 and look it over again. The Mauser 98 was a very good rifle, and my personal Yugo is generally held to be among the best of the breed.
Mauser Military History
It is no secret among historians that American military men admire the Mauser 98, which so greatly influenced our own Springfield 1903A3 rifle. The ’06 rifle is largely derivative of the Mauser. One of the most influential rifles of all time, the turn-bolt Mauser was a sensation when first introduced.
While American shooters do not mind admitting that the Springfield is based on the Mauser, they stop short of admiring the 8mm cartridge. Just the same, the 8mm Mauser (8 x 57mm) is a formidable cartridge with much to recommend. This piqued my curiosity, so I took a hard look at the 8mm/Mauser combination.
The original 8mm cartridge, like so many of the era, was a heavy-for-the-caliber, round-nose bullet, just more than 220-grains at about 2050 fps. It was faster than the previous 11mm black-powder service cartridges although far below the potential of the cartridge. Bore diameter was similar to the .303 British.
The .303 likely influenced our own .30-40 Krag, and the 7.7mm Japanese cartridge is simply a copy of the .303, except in exact dimensions. However, the Boer War and our Spanish-American War gave us a start when Anglo-Saxon troops faced the 7x57mm Mauser cartridge. Flat shooting and deadly efficient, especially with the fast-loading stripper clips, the Mauser was superior to the Krag and Lee Enfield rifles.
The Mauser rifle featured a very strong bolt, a controlled feed action that has not been bested to this day and good accuracy. Our new service rifle would be based on the Mauser. Meanwhile, German engineers perfected the Spitzchoss or Spitzer bullet. That lighter, pointed bullet proved superior at long-range to anything then available.
We aborted the .30-03 program largely as a result of our knowledge of German developments and adopted the .30-06 with its Spitzer bullet. As it turned out, the rifles were similar, and so were the cartridges. The Springfield had an advantage with its superior sights, otherwise the rifles were quite similar. The Mauser survived two World Wars and produced in sufficient quantity that today we still find unissued rifles available at modest prices.
Mauser Ammunition Types
That leads us to a discussion of Mauser rifle ammunition. There are two diameters of 8mm rifles, the .318-inch bore and the .323. The Army adopted the .323 as the superior diameter, and sporting rifles were available in Germany in the original diameter for many years. Some thought the original diameter was more accurate. I have no comment on that because I have never fired one of the original types.
German ammunition came in J and S bore, clearly marked. Since Americans are less conversant with the differences in Mauser rifle barrels, American companies took steps to produce ammunition that is safe in either. If you fire a Winchester commercial 180-grain JSP, which is .323 diameter in the original .318 bore, it will not blow the rifle. It does require low pressure to maintain safety.
The average 8mm Mauser load is perhaps 2200 fps, which is about 500 fps below the 8mm’s potential. There are foreign loads loaded to the original specification, although they do not use a highly developed JSP bullet as the American loads may. Naturally, the only good choice was handloading.
Bullet selection is limited in the caliber, and I have experience with just a few. Hornady produces a good 8mm bullet, and there are a few others. The Matrix bullet gives good results not only in 8mm and in the more common .308.
When I may find the exact components I desire, my personal go-anywhere, do-anything load is a 150-grain 8mm Sierra bullet with more than 56.0 grains of Winchester 748 powder for 2800 fps. That is a good long-range load with plenty of power for North American game.
It is difficult to get a handle on accuracy potential with the original iron-sighted military rifle, yet I have managed several exceptional 2-inch, 100-yard groups with my personal handloads and about 2.4 inches with the Winchester factory load. I also have fired smaller groups in custom-grade, optical-sighted rifles.
Surplus full-metal-jacketed bullet loads are often corrosive primed, and they are affordable. Those loads usually average 3 inches to 4 inches at 100 yards—not tack-driving accurate and accurate enough for informal shooting and getting the hang of the rifle.
Proper Alignment for Accuracy
The sights of the 98 are not ideal even though they offer a degree of precision when properly aligned. Keep the front post in focus and maintain a consistent sight picture, and you are in like Flynn. After firing the 8mm extensively, my impression of the (full-power) 8mm is different from that of some who have criticized it.
The 8 x 57mm Mauser equals the .30-06 in power and practical accuracy from military firearms. A drawback in practical use is the scarcity of factory loads and full-power loads using well-developed expanding bullets. Versatility is not the long suit.
If one of the many high-dollar, scope-mounted rifles I hunt with suffers a fall and cracks the scope or otherwise fails, I have something on which to rely. The 8mm is just a silly millimeter larger than we are used to, and it is a heck of a cartridge.
Today the situation has changed considerably concerning the 8mm cartridge. If you want a few rounds to use in pleasant target practice, then Cheaper Than Dirt! offers surplus the 8mm Romanian at a fair price. Another good choice, accurate and clean, is the Prvi Partizan 8mm loading. A traditional hunting load, mild enough for even a Chang Kai Shek Mauser, is the Remington 170 grain Cor Lokt.
Hornady two in this caliber, something of an accomplishment for the respected maker. The 196-grain Traditional load really makes the Mauser walk the walk it should. There are quite a few scoped custom rifles that should be in the field with that loading. The 195-grain Interlok is another excellent choice.
Things have never looked better for the Mauser rifle and the 8mm cartridge.
Do you have a Mauser or use the 8mm? Share your experiences in the comments section.
Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooters Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.
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