Okay, before we go any further, I have to get the official bit in:
Reloading Metallic Centrefire Cartridges Can Be Dangerous!
Careless or incorrect handloading procedures can result in serious personal injury. Handloading should only be done after thorough and complete instruction. Since individual handloading procedures, operations and safety practices are beyond our control, we disclaim all liability for any damages which may result.
If we put twenty stalkers in a room and ask them all which calibre is best it is a fairly safe bet that the argument will still be going many hours later. How many of us have been told that this or that calibre is better and why and in all fairness, gun shop owners are probably the worst culprits of all. Well lets put an end to the calibre debate right now because this is not what the article is about – any deer legal calibre will take any of the six UK deer species, full stop!
Since I started shooting deer twenty two years ago I have owned a .243 and have managed just fine. Some years ago I added a .30 Cal to my lineup and have owned one in various guises ever since, my current being a .308 and between the two calibres there was nothing I wasn’t tooled up for, I also prefer the shorter actions and it helps with some reloading components such as shellholders and gauges. However for the past year or so I have been looking at the 6.5 x 55 Swedish Mauser as another option. Now, the calibre debate aside, the 6.5 Swede has to be the most discussed calibre in common usage today, some love its mild manners and are sold on its ‘knockdown power’ whilst others hate the loopy trajectory and are convinced that the ‘knockdown’ is just smoke and mirrors. Certainly on paper there are arguments against the round but equally there can be no denying the effectiveness of it on UK deer, but surely there must be a way of improving its overall performance?
I have always advocated that any rifles performance can be enhanced through proper load development and I was sure that the Swede would be no exception so with some trepidation I took delivery of a new barrel for the Blaser. Before I started with new loads I was keen to put it through its paces with some factory ammo and chose Norma loaded with 120gn Nosler ballistic tips with which it performed perfectly adequately, very tight groups on paper and very effective on deer with both roe and fallow bearing the brunt. After giving the factory ammo a reasonable test on twenty or so deer I decided to up the ante a little, the Swede is capable of throwing a much heavier projectile, certainly up to 150+ Gn so I chose two similarly weighted bullets, a Hornady SST 129Gn and a Nosler Accubond 130Gn for some of the larger fallow we were culling towards the back-end of the season, I matched these with Hodgdons H4350, a powder I use an awful lot for the .243 with tremendous results.
Now, here we get into the nitty gritty. What I was looking for was to propel these chosen projectiles at somewhere around 2800-3000 FPS to see a) how flat shooting the round was? And b) what were the terminal ballistics like? There are two other 6.5mm calibres that I was looking at around the time both with excellent ballistics, one was the .260 and the other was the 6.5 x 284. Unfortunately, Blaser only do the .260 as a special order with a three month wait and a surcharge, the 6.5 x 284 barrel was on the shelf but is a bit of a barrel burner, good for 1000 rounds or so but then more than likely a scrapper, so it had to be the Swede and some tasty loads to try and wring the true potential out of the round. The .260 propels the 130Gn bullet at somewhere around 2800 FPS, the 6.5 x 284 up to around 3000 FPS, so anywhere in and around those marks would be perfect, the only problem being that the book velocities for the Swede were around 2500-2600 FPS with the same bullet!
At this point we have to give the situation some very serious consideration. Reloading manuals are compiled by very knowledgeable people with our safety in mind, hence my earlier warning, they are also compiled mostly by Americans who have an inherent fear of litigation should anything go wrong, I could go further but I wont! I would suggest that reloading manuals are an excellent guide and that is all, which brings me onto a bit of the history of the Swede; It was developed in 1891 as a Swedish/Norwegian service rifle, the Norwegians adopted a Krag design whilst the Swedes adopted a Mauser designed action. Unfortunately the two actions were different enough to cause some concern over the maximum pressures which each could withstand, without going too deeply into the differences between the two it is suffice to say that modern ammunition still has to take into account the possibilities of some of these older actions being in service today – thankfully the clever chaps at Blaser have chosen to make their guns out of modern steel rather than iron railings and bits of old tanks, and are pressure tested to far greater pressures than the older guns, as are most other modern day weapons. All this means that book data becomes a little less restrictive and provided that we followed the usual safety precautions and remained observant whilst developing the load the chances were that we could significantly improve the performance of the little Swede.
As always, I started lower on the powder scale, but not at the lowest which was 39.5 Gns for the powder selected. Due to the inherent accuracy of the round it was sometimes difficult to differentiate between groups and I was consistently achieving 1cm three shot groups. By the time I had reached the book max powder charge there was absolutely no pressure signs at all and I was achieving a little over 2700 FPS which would give me a 3.9 inch drop at 200 yards and delivering 1611 Ft lbs according to the ballistics tables, a bit average really, so I started to increase the powder charges by 0.5 gn at a time, all the time watching carefully for pressure signs. To cut a long story short, by the time I got to 45.5 Gn, 2 whole grains over book max, I was achieving 2920 FPS with absolutely no pressure signs at all, the ballistic tables gave me 3.2 inch drop at 200 yards delivering 1845 Ft lbs, the .270 for comparison travelling at 2950 with the same weight bullet drops 3.15 inches and delivers 1849 Ft lbs. I should also add that the increase in recoil from the milder rounds was barely noticeable, still nowhere near a .270 in that respect yet with virtually identical ballistics. I recently had a chance to test the accuracy of the ballistic tables and was very surprised that the drop at 225 yards was actually 7 cm or 2.75 inches!
Having achieved part of what I set out to do the next test was to try them on deer, in short they were devastating. I had loaded up some SST’s as well as some Swift Sciroccos along with the Accubonds, all producing similar velocities, unfortunately the Hornady SST’s when driven that hard were prone to jacket/core separation (see my earlier article on Bullet performance) particularly on bigger animals, however, the bonded core bullets retained their integrity and did the job delivering massive energy leaving huge internal damage whilst still passing completely through with minimal meat damage which on the estates where we were shooting was an important consideration. I have also started loading the Nosler 120 Gn Ballistic tip over a slightly higher powder charge which gives me just under 3000 FPS and only 2.2 inches drop at 225 – properly flat – but obviously the meat damage is a little worse, however if I have a client with me, that is what I want every time.
All in all I now have a favourite all round calibre, it is mild shooting, inherently accurate and yet has the flat shooting and energy delivering capabilities of a more ferocious calibre – the perfect all rounder? I think so.
Once again let me state that in no way do I advocate exceeding maximum powder charges, however I should state that reloading guides are just that, guides, and with a good deal of experience in reloading it is possible in certain circumstances to improve performance without increasing pressures dramatically thus staying within safe boundaries.
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