From my last blog (July 17) you will have noticed that some “Light Big Bores” have been added to these essays due to not much variance by manufacturers from bullets considered “normal” for true Big Bores. Bullets from the major companies produced for big-bore rifles are usually intended for the likes of elephant and Cape buffalo; they are heavy for caliber and tough. They must be. Many of these rifles find little use in a domestic setting, not only due to their heft and un-handiness, but most often due to a lack of projectiles suitable for medium, thin-skinned game. While most sportsmen who hunt both domestic and African fauna, will own several rifles for a variety of purposes, yet some would still like to try their Big Bores closer to home on the likes of hogs, elk, moose and bears. So that’s the motive behind this series of blogs.
Last time, there was a brief overview of the current situation, plus somewhat of a more detailed perspective on one of the “Light Big Bores” as it has been experienced by a handloading hunter – experimenter. That, of course, being the author of this piece.
That the .350 Remington Magnum can “cover a lot of ground” in the hunting world has been amply demonstrated. While not legal for the elephant, yet there is little doubt it could manage that chore in the hands of an experienced and confident shooter — using a good solid (which is available) if it were legal. For all other large thin-skinned game it is ideal. And, as shown in the article of July 17, it is not merely a close range/medium range rifle-cartridge either! Most of what has been said of the .350 Remington Magnum could be transferred to the .35 Whelen, its near cousin — “most”, but not all. Each has proven itself on all large and dangerous game of the North American Continent. Al Miller, former chief editor of Wolfe Publications, once wrote that if he were limited to one rifle for all big game, it would be chambered in the .350 Remington Magnum. If I didn’t own my current bolt-action rifle in 9.3 x 62 Mauser, and if I didn’t have the experiences of the past seven years it has granted, I might well reiterate those words of Al Miller.
But this piece is concerning how versatile the 9.3 x 62 has proven itself to be through countless occasions in Africa and Europe on anything it has encountered, including elephant! Then, my limited experience through a variety of bullets and handloads, has confirmed its value as a one-rifle, do-it-all. Nothing more is needed domestically or abroad — much like the famed .375 H&H that it preceded in production by seven years. (The .375 H&H will be the main focus of our next article.)
While another piece by myself on the 9.3 x 62 might appear as “overkill”, yet regular readers need to keep in mind that new readers frequent this site as well. In addition, my goal is to present a couple of slants to this topic that may not have been considered previously by the reader, or presented by the author.
The WORLD-CLASS, famed 9.3 x 62 Mauser
How I came into possession of my Tikka T3 Lite in 9.3 x 62 has been recounted a few times in previous blogs, so I’ll not retell the whole story here. But, for myself, it was somewhat dramatic in that it was to become a new experience — I just didn’t know how much of a “new thing” it would be! I’d done some research, and while hoping for a new rifle in .35 Whelen (I’d owned a couple previously) I came across two identical Tikkas chambered in 9.3 x 62. By the time I’d more or less decided to investigate further, the shop had lowered their price by $180! As the saying goes: “It was a no-brainer”! There was also a .338 RUM (Remington Ultra Magnum) for sale at the same place at about the same cost. It featured a stainless action and barrel in a grey-black laminated stock. Barrel was 26″ and the action was the M700. I was tempted, but having previously owned a .340 Weatherby with a 26″ barrel for about a decade, I knew pretty well what to expect. Side by side, the .338 RUM was longer and much heavier. Brass would be costly and rare, which I actually came to realize at a later date that had no influence on my choice prior to choosing the 9.3 x 62. Of course, I was aware that, in a pinch, cases for the 9.3 x 62 could be formed from .30-06 brass, though that was not recommended as it has a smaller case head. In the past, however, it has been done in the absence of true 9.3 x 62 cases. Today, there is an ample supply of 9.3 x 62 brass from several sources for the domestic market.
1) As described above: the Tikka was much lighter and handier.
2) It would really lack little to nothing in effective reach on large game in a world of practical hunting.
3) The cartridge case issue — the .338 RUM was a unique case that couldn’t be formed from anything extant.
4) Cost: It turned out that the initial costs for each rifle was near identical. Yet when the price of the Tikka was lowered by $180, that sealed the deal for me.
5) It would be a new challenge.
Little did I realize what I’d brought home, except I knew ballistics would be similar to the .35 Whelen with the caveat that it was a larger bore shooting heavier bullets that would give an edge to the 9.3 x 62. And, I also was aware, in part, of its renown on African fauna. So, I also brought home some new Hornady brass cases, Hornady reloading dies and 286gr Hornady SPRP bullets. That’s where it got started, and since several cans of gun powder that had worked well in the .350 Rem Mag, the .35 Whelen and the .375 H&H were still around, I felt certain that good to excellent ballistic results was a realistic prospect.
The long and the short of it is that within a couple years of purchase I was using RL-17 for propellant and the 286 Nosler Partition as my hunting bullet. That combination worked exceedingly well — indeed, beyond all expectations based on the very scarce information in reloading manuals and what others seemed to claim as adequate. Thanks to a good friend who suggested RL-17 to me, and then nearly insisted I give it another try after initial results seemed little better than RL-15. In fact, it took seven more grains of RL-17 over my max load from RL-15 to merely attain the same MV.
However, that’s not the complete picture. In truth, the “max load” from RL-15, that was giving 2460 fps from the 286 Hornady, shooting into 3/4″ at a hundred, was only good (safe) in cool temps in the fall. In hotter ambient conditions it became erratic. But, while an increase of seven grains of RL-17 gave near identical results (2466 fps into 3/4″) at a discernible increase in recoil, it was stable with evident reduced pressure behind the 286 Hornady! So, in 2013 I went “whole hog” with RL-17 from that point on and never looked back! (Well, so as not to give false impressions, I still use RL-15 for the relatively light 232gr Oryx for a medium velocity, very accurate load (2450 fps).
“From that point on”, I did gradually — in one grain increments — increase the charge of RL-17 to 68 grains for an average of 2546 fps from the 286 NP with NO signs of excessive pressure! That was shooting into MOA. I thought I had my hunting load — and a very good one at that. Of course, that was possible due to a number of factors. My COL was 3.37″ that allowed smooth functioning from the clip magazine. That bullet was still about 1/32″ off the lands. The standard COL for the 9.3 x 62 is 3.291″, and that’s about where the cannelure of bullets for the 9.3 x 62 would permit a COL of 3.291″. I ignore cannelures. They serve no purpose in such cartridges when the powder charge is 100% or more. That, plus a tight grip of case neck on the bullet is more than sufficient to keep the bullet from being pushed further back into the case under recoil. Believe me, I’ve done enough reloading for many powerful cartridges, including in .458″, to have absolute confidence that the bullets will not move, IF the above conditions are met.
COL was not the only factor involved in those results. The Hornady case was also a significant cause. They hold 77 grains water to the mouth in their unfired condition. While cases may, and do, differ in brass thickness that determines actual case volume, the following is the norm for these cartridge cases: .30-06 = 69; .35 Whelen = 72; and .350 Rem Mag = 74. Now, it may well be that some brands of 9.3 x 62 brass give significantly less volume than Hornady — I believe that to be true based on some personal correspondence with inquirers. However, even at a COL of 3.37″, employing the 286 Nosler Partition, there’s still ample room to increase the charge over 68 grains of RL-17! That was a slightly compressed load, but with NO signs of instability based on ambient conditions, and less pressure indications than RL-15 at max (safe) pressure, I decided to go on. 69 grains was not as accurate at about 2575 – 2585 fps as 68 grains at 2546 fps. But, since I had already loaded 70 grains in three Hornady cases, I fired them… THAT was the sweet spot! A group of three into MOA at an average of 2619 fps. That was on June 3/2013. So, after two years plus a month, I had the best possible ballistic results from my TIKKA T3 Lite with it’s 22 and 1/2″ barrel, and all-up weight of 7.7 lbs! That fall (2013) I shot my first bruin using the 286 NP over RL-17. My actual first bear using the TIKKA was in the fall of 2011, using the 286 Hornady over RL-15 at a tad more than 2400 fps. It was a young friend’s bear that he had crippled by shooting his first shot into the left front leg and his second shot into the right rear leg as it was trying to escape through 30-inches of grass. I caught up enough to shoot it from the rear into the right short ribs and the Hornady made exit through the folds of hide and fur at the back of the neck, after taking out three vertebra. It did it’s job at an impact of over 2300 fps.
The following is to make a comparison between my goto load of the 286 Nosler Partition at an average of 2622 fps/4365 ft-lbs, and an Euro factory load. (I’ve fired a full box of the 286 Noslers over the Chrony during a period of two years, and under variable ambient conditions, to have determined accuracy and average MV. The load has proved to be consistent regardless of conditions.) As stated, it has proven itself to be safe in my rifle and as tested for me by a friend using QuickLOAD. Running at about 64,000 psi, it is the same PSI as a .338 Win Mag which has also been chambered by TIKKA in a rifle identical to mine. So PSI isn’t an issue to be forever haggled! Yes, I’m aware of CIP standards, but that was for brass and rifles in 1905, NOT 2018, anymore than the .30-06 or .280 Remington should be held to a 60,000 psi standard when the .270 Winchester is loaded to near 65,000 psi! And most handloaders are unaware that those standards had more to do with the brass cases than the rifles themselves. For example, .45-70 cases of today have been tested in labs to 70,000 psi without any signs of failure. They are among the strongest I’ve ever used in handloads for about thirty different rifle cartridges. I load my Ruger #1 in .45-70 (Long Throat) to over 60,000 psi and the cases have NEVER experienced “loose” pockets! I eventually discard them when cracks slightly appear at the case mouth, or on principle after ten firings. The Ruger No.1 is as strong as the strongest, new bolt action ever made! Likewise, I loaded my .340 Weatherby (former .338 WM) “hot” for ten years; like 3000 fps from the 250gr Nosler Partition. The brass was Remington .375 H&H fireformed to .340. NEVER did a primer pocket “stretch” or open-up! Nor, was there EVER a difficult bolt lift. What was the PSI? I don’t know, and frankly I didn’t care or worry about it as long as that load worked/functioned flawlessly every time it was fired/used. It became my hunting load for that rifle. A bull moose was killed with it and my last concern was over the load and rifle functioning flawlessly… which it did!
I tell all this because there will be some who think themselves “experts” in these matters, that will disbelieve my results from my 9.3 x 62 to be authentic or “safe”! Here’s something you need to know about me… I could care less about what others think about me! I’ve had to develop that (a tough hide!) being a public figure, realizing what others think may have a smidgen of truth, but to waste energy, time, thought and emotion on peoples opinions, trying to dance to their tunes, is just that… a wasted life! (By the way — I’m VERY sensitive to what my Father, Creator thinks!)
In this comparison, I’m going to use a typical factory load from Norma, and I think it may clarify why so many potential serious users of a 9.3 x 62 actually turn to a .338 something or other, or a .375 Something. The average buyer of a new 9.3 x 62 is simply adding to their collection of firearms. That’s sad because they will never realize its potential. Or, on the other hand, real hunters who employ it with factory ammo, or hunters who handload their own, mostly lack comprehension of the ballistics available to them from what they are using. Many Europeans, for example, who have used it for game hunting are satisfied with below par trajectories and ranges — still believing it to be a mid-range caliber; 250 meters, maybe…
The following data will reveal something quite different from the “Old School’s” thinking and beliefs!
Using numbers from NORMA’s website, I’ll choose what appears to be their best factory load for large game that could include Cape buffalo: The bullet is the 286gr A-Frame from SWIFT bullets. From SWIFT’s website, they rate that bullet as having a .385 BC, also rated for heavy game and some expansion on game as low as 1650 fps at impact. NORMA, on the other hand, rate its BC as .428. Why this discrepancy, one can only guess. Anyway, I’ll give them credit and go with .428 BC. That will grant a better result on paper at least. This factory load is said to leave the muzzle at 2362 fps/3543 ft-lbs. That’s about standard for factory products and that bullet weight. See the results below. As to why NORMA doesn’t, or hasn’t, given a better ballistic shape to some of their numerous bullets for that cartridge… again, one can only guess. But it would seem that might be due to Europeans rarely, or never, taking shots on large animals beyond about 200 meters. Mind you, that is not a wimpy load; it still produces over 2100 ft-lbs at 300 yards. However, compared to the 286gr Nosler with a BC of .482, even at 2500 fps it hardly compares.
Up front, I’ll add this personal conviction: There’s nothing I’d take aim on using the A-Frame for which I wouldn’t choose the Nosler 286gr Partition. In any long-range shooting, I’d always choose the Nosler as the following will amply provide the rationale. And that goes for the 286gr Barnes TSX as well. That one showing a high in Barnes manual of only 2282 fps/3307 ft-lbs falls short of my load using the Nosler by more than 1000 ft-lbs at the muzzle! Then its BC is poorer than that claimed for the A-Frame! None of the TSX’s have decent BCs, plus being too long for this cartridge. That applies to most cartridges, by the way. That’s why they suggest dropping down to a lesser weight than normal, claiming it works as well, or better than, other brands using heavier bullets! Quite a claim, that! But I will never use the TSX’s in my TIKKA T3 Lite because ballistics will suffer drastically as a result.
(For any who may subscribe to, or purchase SPORTS AFIELD, read the article by RON SPOMER in the latest May/June/2018, Volume 241/Number 3 edition entitled BALLISTICALLY EFFICIENT. It’s a very important piece on why a bullet from a non-magnum, smaller cartridge can out-perform a more powerful, larger magnum cartridge down range because of the choice of bullets with better ballistic coefficients (BCs). That’s something I’ve paid attention to in all purchases of bullets. That is a main emphasis in this article, as I will choose Noslers over TSXs where possible. That also applies to Cutting Edge bullets for cartridges such as the 9.3 x 62. As Spomer graphically points out: Why choose a FN (flat-nose) or RN (round nose) bullet for a cartridge capable of long-range shooting; or one like the 9.3 x 62 that can be turned into a long-range shooter of large game, when manufacturers are producing bullets with very high BCs of .500 to .700 for common cartridges like a .308 Winchester — there’s a 200gr Accubond in .308 for any .30-caliber, including magnums, with a BC of .588! The 250gr Accubond in 9.3 has a BC of nearly .500, which makes it into a long-range cannon, as does the older 286 Partition at .482 BC. I could go with either for anything on this Continent, and most others as well.)
Yeah, I know there are idealists who think differently. They believe a 250gr TSX at 2550 fps/3609 ft-lbs is at least the equal of Nosler’s 286 at 2550 fps/4129 ft-lbs. Well, let’s check that out: The 250 TSX, leaving at 2550 fps is making 1903 fps/2010 ft-lbs at 300 yards. Not too bad! The .30-06 can also make those ft-lbs at 300 yards using a good load of the 200gr Accubond! But that’s over 700 ft-lbs in arrears of my 250gr Accubond load at the same range, and over 800 ft-lbs using the 286 Nosler! So, I’ll stick with what I know, not what others believe is wonderful.
Let’s just be honest and seriously mull-over the following comparison:
NORMA factory load of the 286 A-Frame
BC = .428
MV = 2362 fps/3542 ft-lbs (-1.75″)
50 = 2268 fps/3267 ft-lbs (+1.74″)
100= 2177 fps/3010 ft-lbs (+3.52″)
150= 2088 fps/2769 ft-lbs (+3.47″)
200= 2001 fps/2543 ft-lbs (+1.42″)
250= 1917 fps/2332 ft-lbs (-2.80″) zero @ 220 yds. Always, I try to stay not more than +3.50″ at 100 yds.
300= 1834 fps/2136 ft-lbs (-9.39″) This is approximately the results of my load at 500 yds.
350= 1754 fps/1959 ft-lbs (-18.6″)
400= 1677 fps/1786 ft-lbs (-30.6″) This is about the cut-off point for some expansion according to SWIFT.
450= 1603 fps/1631 ft-lbs (-45.6″)
500= 1531 fps/1489 ft-lbs (-64.1″) No one should use this load beyond 400 yds. Even then results may be poor.
MV = 2622 fps/4365 ft-lbs (-1.75″)
50 = 2534 fps/4077 ft-lbs (+1.53″)
100= 2448 fps/3804 ft-lbs (+3.44″)
150= 2363 fps/3546 ft-lbs (+3.90″) This is where the NORMA A-Frame load starts.
200= 2280 fps/3301 ft-lbs (+2.80″) This is where the BARNES book load starts, and goes downhill from there!
250= 2199 fps/3070 ft-lbs (+0.03″) Zero is 250 yards.
300= 2119 fps/2852 ft-lbs (-4.54″) At this range, just hold dead on for the vital zone of large game.
350= 2041 fps/2646 ft-lbs (-11.1″)
400= 1965 fps/2452 ft-lbs (-19.6″) Good for large bull moose. Hold top of spine.
450= 1891 fps/2270 ft-lbs (-30.48) Just hold a foot over the moose’s hump!
500= 1818 fps/2099 ft-lbs (-43.8″) Ample for moose with a steady hold on broadside shot. Hold 2 feet over.
** A few things to keep in mind
1) I load to 64,000 psi — same as for a .338 Winchester Magnum, not to CIP standards.
2) Recoil from my rather light rifle is more than a .338 Win Mag and on a par with a light .375 H&H.
3) I’ll not be critical of anyone who is not a handloader and uses factory ammo… BUT, they should become a handloader to get the best from this cartridge, and most others like the .30-06 and still others that arrived on the scene prior to the 1960s. Even then, more modern cartridges could profit from the best handloads because of new powders and other modern components like brass and bullets. I obviously like “old” too, as the .45-70 and 9.3 x 62 are my favorites, but I also have a passion to bring them into the modern era. That also includes the 1956, .458 Winchester Magnum.
This has become longer than anticipated, but I’m hoping there’s profit herein.
Til the next on the grand .375 H&H, and a few other .375s.