The Venerable 7x57mm Mauser
Updated: Sep 2
Above: My ever reliable and long serving 7x57mm, it was a Waffenfabrik Mauser Oberndorf with the serial number 76629.
Above: Showing the magazine floorplate on my 7x57mm Mauser. For 29 years this rifle served me well as a wildlife management tool, and for plains game guiding.
Some years back I read an internet posting on Straight Shooter by an American called Ken who described the 7x57mm Mauser as ‘The Great Granddaddy of Modern-Day Cartridges.’ Although it wasn’t a lengthy posting it was certainly an interesting read. He described how on 01 July, 1898, some 15,000 troops of the American Army attacked 700 entrenched Spanish soldiers on San Juan Hill in Cuba. In order to keep up with the global arms race after Frenchman Paul Vielle invented smokeless powder in 1884, the American Army had just adopted the Danish Krag-Jorgensen rifle in 30-40 Krag.
Of the 15,000 American troops who went charging up San Juan Hill, (many of them still armed with the archaic 45-70 Springfield), the 700 Spaniards soon inflicted at least 1,500 casualties, holding them off for twelve hours. This loss caused America to relegate the Krag-Jorgensen to the bin and the Springfield Armoury soon developed the 1903 Springfield rifle (whose action was a Mauser 98 copy) and the 30-30 Springfield cartridge, a sort of scaled up 7x57mm cartridge. It predated the 8x57 Mauser and the Mauser ’98 which most bolt action rifles are based on.
In the wake of the Anglo-Boer War too, and the British army’s experience against the Boer’s 7x57 Mauser’s, they too, were forced to re-evaluate their ammunition and rifle design. This resulted in the Brits designing a Mauser-actioned 7mm (.276 Enfield); however, WW1 broke out before they could get it into service so they reverted to the .303. In 1892 Paul Mauser designed the 7x57mm Mauser, one of the first rimless bottleneck cartridges and the 7x57mm’s design is the basis for most modern rimless cartridges including the 30-06 Springfield and all its cartridge family. The Spanish Army first adopted the 7x57mm Mauser in 1893 and it was this cartridge which inflicted so many casualties amongst the American troops mounting the assault on San Juan Hill on that bleak day in July 1898.
During the late 1800s several other countries in Central and South America and following the lead set by Spain also adopted the 7x57mm as their official military cartridge. From a sport hunting perspective, the 7x57mm cartridge was an instant success and has remained so to this day. Virtually every game animal on the planet has been successfully hunted with the 7x57mm and William ‘Karamoja’ Bell shot in the region of about 1,000 elephants using a 7×57mm rifle (in the British equivalent, Rigby’s .275) and this during a period when most ivory hunters preferred larger-caliber rifles.
Bell chose the cartridge because of moderate recoil and he used 175-grain solid bullets (with a velocity of about 2400fps) to ensure good penetration, which the 7×57mm does admirably due to its fast twist rate which enables it to fire long, heavy bullets, with a high sectional density. It must be said though, that after having done his own thorough research, and aside from being a truly exceptional shot, Bell also had a sound knowledge of elephant anatomy. He’d also studied and knew the exact size and location of the brain from any angle, thus ensuring his bullet placement was precise. In his favour too, and in the parts of Africa where he hunted, elephants hadn’t yet learnt to fear man, and in the main lived out in the open, away from dense cover, making them a lot easier to approach, than is the case in much of Africa nowadays.
We must remember too, at the time of Bell’s hunting exploits, jacketed bullets and smokeless powder had only recently been invented, initially in the smaller military calibres and this combination showed impressive penetration, compared with black powder cartridges of that era which fired large-bore all-lead bullets. Thus, a lot of ‘new generation’ experimentation was taking place. Inevitably Bell realised the 7x57 was not a suitable elephant cartridge, and switched to a .318 Westley Richard’s among other calibres, including a .416 Rigby.
Lt. Col. James (Jim) Edward Corbett an ex British Army officer and well-known Indian hunter, owned two .275 (7x57mm) Rigby Mauser’s, one of which is now in the possession of Paul Roberts in the UK, (at one time Paul owned the Rigby company before the name Rigby was sold). Corbett was a maestro with a gun and an accomplished backwoodsman, who aside from using a .450/.400 W.J. Jeffery & Co. boxlock double, also frequently used the .257 Rigby with a 173-grain bullet at 2,300fps to hunt a number of tigers, including the man-eaters of Kumaon, the various tigers who terrorized the villagers of the Kumaon region of India in the early 1930s. He later wrote about these exploits in a book titled Man-Eaters of Kumaon and another book The Temple Tiger. Well known American hunter and author Jack O’ Connor’s wife Eleanor, accompanied her husband on numerous safaris worldwide, killing small and large game with her favoured calibre, the 7×57mm.
As a youngster growing up in 1950s and early 1960s British Colonial Rhodesia there was no shortage of 7x57 Mausers, most having been brought back post WW2 by returning ex servicemen. We Rhodesian kids of that era witnessed a lot of the hunting our elders did being done with either the British ex military Lee Enfield Mk111 .303, or with a Mauser 7x57mm. My late dad had a 7mm Mauser, and a .303 Lee Enfield, and although he was an infrequent sport hunter, he was a excellent shot and with us living on the banks of the Sabi River in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) for much of my boyhood, the old man couldn’t pass up shooting any big crocs that dared to come out onto the sandbanks in front of our house, and for this task, he preferred the 7x57mm Mauser. Perhaps because he was more confident of his accuracy using the 7x57mm with an aperture sight.
In early 1968 when I first joined the Rhodesian National Parks & Wildlife Management department, several field stations I served on had a 7x57mm Mauser in the armoury, and I used the calibre on and off throughout my service. It impressed me, and although the ammunition was standard department ‘issue’, it was so long ago the brand has escaped me, however, I never had a glitch. Most of what I shot was for game scout and labour rations, mainly blue wildebeest, and the odd kudu. Unable to afford a 7x57mm at the time due my meagre game ranger’s salary, I vowed then that one day I would own one, although it took a long time and only came my way as a gift in 1986, through a generous client.
Initially I thought my 7x57mm was a military version due to its apparent full-length stock with handguard on top, so I had it ‘sporterized’. Years later I learned it was a commercial (sporting) Mauser known as the ‘Afrika Model’ which had a fore-end almost to the end of the barrel as well as a handguard. I’d also learn its pear-shaped bolt knob, double set triggers and quarter turn magazine floorplate lever, all identified it as a sporting version although I changed the double-set trigger. It was a Waffenfabrik Mauser Oberndorf with the serial number 76629.
Our middle son Keith who at the time was 14-years old had already decided to embark on a career as a gunmaker, and part of his school holidays were spent with well known gunmaker Johan Morkel who’d set up shop in Tarkastad, Eastern Cape, South Africa. Under Johan’s guidance Keith removed the full stock and made me a no-frills copy turned one. After all, the rifle was intended for general wildlife management work and seasonal guiding on plains game. We also removed the military aperture sights and dressed the rifle with a fixed x4-power Tasco scope, an optic brand which had its detractors, however, the trusty 7x57 wore the Tasco scope for 22 years and it never let me down once. Being a working rifle in the truest sense it was never molly-coddled, and took a pounding around much of Southern Africa, and yet the zero held true.
As an aside, after leaving school Keith did a five-year apprenticeship with Rigby & Co in London, then spent nearly nine years with Purdey’s, followed by seven years with Westley Richard’s as their workshop Foreman, before re-joining Purdey's, before ultimately going on his own. When I was still an active PH it was useful having a son who was a gunmaker. Today he’s considered an extremely successful gunmaker in his own right, with an enviable reputation for regulating double rifles. For those who has an interest in gunmaking Keith's website is; www.kdtandson.co.uk
Above: Our son Keith is now a successful UK based gunmaker
To not digress further from my 7x57mm topic, for a long time, I used factory PMP in various bullet weights, mainly because handloading was a hassle when living back in Zimbabwe after the Ciskei. After returning to South Africa in 2001, however, I started to use Nosler Partition 160-grain bullets extensively and I sighted them in at about 2½” high at 100m. For handloaders, the 7x57mm is deservedly described as ‘a ballistician's delight’.
My 7x57 was also hired on a regular basis by international clientele who with today’s heightened air travel security often found it easier to hire a rifle in Africa, rather than haul one through the sky. All the hunters who used my 7x57 on their plains game went away totally satisfied with the results, and in 2009 I finally retired the old Tasco scope (which was still in fine fettle), and replaced it with a Leupold Vari-X 111 1.5-5 which worked well.
Above: A visiting New Zealander sport hunter who hired my 7x57mm took a variety of plains game trophies in South Africa's Eastern Cape Province, including this excellent blue wildebeest. Prior to his arrival I loaded up a batch of 160gr Nosler Spitzer AccuBond in front of 40grns of South African S355 propellant. A bullet and powder combination I always found exceedingly accurate and reliable for the bulk of South Africa's plains game, eland excluded.
Sometimes I pushed the envelope distance wise and animal size wise when asking my 7x57 to perform, and yet it never failed me. Over the years it took numbers of impala, warthog, blue and black wildebeest, blesbok, bushbuck, kudu, zebra, and gemsbok. Although I have shot eland a few times with it, let me go on record as stating the 7x57 is not an adequate eland cartridge. In my defence I have nearly half a century of game-ranging and professional hunting experience; I stalked to within sure shooting distance, and was supremely confident of that all-important factor - shot placement.
Some years ago, a client brought me a box of 160-grain Nosler Spitzer AccuBond and I loaded up some test batches with variations of S355 (a South African powder) before settling on 40grn (giving me 2345fps), which proved exceedingly accurate. The Nosler AccuBond bullet and the powder load allowed my 7x57 to confidently step up to the plate on a variety of testy shots, and it soon became my preferred bullet for all my plains game hunting. When clients hired the rifle, I’d ensure they used 160-grain Nosler AccuBond bullets.
One-year a regular client brought out some friends from the UK on a quick plains game hunt and we did our usual thing on Woodland’s game ranch, courtesy Keith Gradwell. Given the group size, Keith and Doug Snow also joined us as PHs. My client used my 7x57mm with the 160grn Nosler AccuBond bullets. Interestingly, he’d never fired a rifle in his life but was keen to do a bit of hunting. After some coaching at the rifle range bench, he quickly proved himself an extremely natural and accurate marksman, so we went hunting.
Above: His first animal was a kudu bull, killed at a ranged 208m in a steep-sided valley.
A kudu bull was the first animal he killed using a clean well-placed heart shot across a ranged 208m steep sided valley. The bull careened downhill, tail flagging, before piling up in a spekboom choked donga. Our next animal was a fine black wildebeest. We took him from a blind hastily erected using a hunting jacket, a termite mound, and shooting sticks, way out on the Bedford plains. Unaware of our presence the black wildebeest wandered within a ranged 190m. And again, my client put the 160grn Nosler AccuBond into the shoulder, causing the bull to circle round us as if prancing on parade, before he sunk to his knees, and then fell over sideways. These two species were followed by a blesbok and a warthog, both out at about 180m and cleanly grassed with single well-placed shoulder shots.
Strangely, few of the younger generation PHs in southern Africa have shown much inclination towards owning and using the venerable 7x57mm Mauser. I’ve spoken to several them around safari campfires in South Africa and Zimbabwe, and although all readily acknowledge the bullet as proven on the global battlefields of yesteryear, and right across Africa’s hunting fields, they’d still rather opt for another calibre such as a .300 Winchester Magnum. Obviously, and correctly so, I guess it’s a case of horses for courses. However, I also think it may be because they think the 7x57mm a little old fashioned despite its accolades and sound track record.
Above: After years of using factory loads, and general bullet experimentation with my 7x57, I finally settled on Nosler’s 160gr AccuBond Spitzer, driven by 40gr of South African S355 propellant. It proved to be an ideal bullet and propellant combination for my plains game needs.