A Light Sufficiently Powerful Rifle with Mild Recoil
The 6.5×57 Mauser rifle cartridge has been with us for over a hundred years and yet it has not become obsolete. Rifles in 6.5×57 are still made by a number of European manufacturers and in Europe its main competitor is the Scandinavian 6.5×55 Swedish (and Norwegian) which is of very similar dimensions and pretty near identical case capacity (so 6.5×55 load data is a good starting point if you are loading for the 6.5×57 Mauser).
The 6.5×55 Swedish has become a very popular cartridge in part because in Sweden and Norway it is regarded as “their” cartridge and because the Swedish Mauser rifles are so beautifully made. It is because of those surplus Swedish Mauser rifles that the 6.5×55 has also become quite popular in the United States, whereas the 6.5×57 Mauser has not, because it was never chambered in a nation’s military rifles and so did not have the springboard to popularity that inexpensive surplus rifles can give a cartridge. Instead the 6.5×57 Mauser has only been chambered in more expensive European commercial sporting rifles such as the Mauser, Steyr, and Mannlicher-Schönauer.
So in the United States rifles chambered for the 6.5×57 Mauser are a rarity, but with the surge in interest in new American 6.5 calibers, such as the 6.5 Creedmore, 260 Remington, and 26 Nosler that has been happening of late, perhaps there will be those who might just want to discover Paul Mauser’s original 6.5×57, and its rimmed sibling the 6.5x57R. They are gems worth discovering: and many years ago an American cartridge designer created an almost identical cartridge which became a Remington standard caliber, and which became popular in the United States.
The Human Passion for Re-inventing the Wheel
A good idea will often not die on the vine even if at first it looks as if it has: but if it is not immediately picked up to become popular it may get “re-invented”, typically by someone who had not heard of the original invention. This has happened to a few old rifle cartridges – especially those from Europe – which have gone on to be re-invented in the United States. An example that comes to mind is the .264 Winchester Magnum which was arguably inspired by the British 26 BSA and was of the same case capacity and performance as the 6.5×68 Schuler which made its debut in 1938. But for a “peas in a pod” case of re-invention there is probably no better example than the 6.5×57, which was recreated by an American to become the 257 Roberts.
What was the motivation for Ned Roberts to invest much time and creative energy into the creation of a .25 caliber cartridge based on the 7×57 Mauser? It would be a cartridge that would be very much at home in a light rifle or carbine and capable of taking most North American game. It had the potential to be highly accurate as a target cartridge, much the same motivation that led to the recent creation of the 6.5 Creedmore: and with its mild recoil it would be a cartridge one could shoot all day with no risk of having one’s teeth shaken loose. Accurate, mild recoil, able to be built into a very light rifle and with light to medium bullets able to deliver a flat trajectory. With its relatively light powder charges barrel life could be expected to be excellent too.
The 257 Roberts was first created by American Ned Roberts by necking down the popular 7x57mm Mauser to use “quarter bore” .257″ bullets back in the 1920’s. Ned Roberts did painstaking work on the design of his wildcat .25 Roberts, much of that work being in refining the shoulder angle to minimize throat erosion and optimize combustion. This work was effectively undone by Remington when they began loading the .257 Roberts as a factory cartridge however as they returned to the same 20°45′ shoulder angle as the original 7x57mm.
Ned Roberts was a friend of Adolph Otto Neidner – the creator of the .25 Neidner, (the 30-06 necked down to take .257″ bullets with no other changes), which was also put into production by Remington and nowadays is known as the 25-06. Roberts and Neidner’s circle of friends included the famous Colonel Townsend Whelan and they were a group with a high level of technical expertise.
Roberts and Neidner’s choice of the .25 caliber using .257″ bullets was near certainly to have been because they could use bullets manufactured for the 25-35: 6.5mm bullets not being common in the United States during that period of time.
A Potted History of the 6.5×57 and 6.5x57R
Paul Mauser created the 6.5×57 in 1893-1894 as a part of the line-up of nitro cartridges for his military bolt action rifles that began with the Model 1889 and which would progressively be refined into the models 1890 and 1891, followed by the Spanish Model 1893 which was chambered for the 7×57 cartridge as was the Model 1895, while the Models 1894 and 1896 were made for Sweden and were chambered for the 6.5×55 Swedish cartridge. This development work culminating in the Model of 1898 becoming the Gewehr 98 chambered for the 7.92×57 cartridge and then the 8x57JS.
Mauser’s work was primarily aimed at military contracts and the 6.5mm was one of the popular sizes for the new nitro powered military rifles and so a 6.5mm was included in Mauser’s offerings, although no nation’s military purchased Mauser rifles in 6.5×57, for example Sweden ordered their Mauser rifles in their own 6.5×55 while their neighbor Norway also used the 6.5×55 in their Krag-Jorgensen rifles. The 6.5×55 Swedish is both in dimensions and in performance very close to the 6.5×57. Mauser was also involved in the creation of the Mauser-Vergueiro rifle for Portugal. This rifle was chambered for a unique 6.5×58 cartridge very similar to the 6.5×57, and the action was also unique being a hybrid of Mauser and Mannlicher design features including a Mannlicher style split bridge receiver.
The fact that the 6.5×57 was not adopted by anyone as a military cartridge was likely the factor that led to the cartridge becoming a moderately popular sporting cartridge in Europe and surviving through to the present day. A number of countries in Europe and elsewhere banned civilians from owning rifles chambered for military cartridges and so for those countries sporting shooters were compelled to purchase their hunting rifles in such calibers as the 6.5×57 and other civilian only calibers such as the 7×64 Brenneke, 6.5×68 and 8×68 etc.
So it was that the 6.5×57 survived two world wars and became a standard chambering for European rifles. What made it a survivor in a rather crowded field of other similar cartridges were the same things that Ned Roberts would work to create in later years. The 6.5×57 was very at home in light hunting rifles and capable of taking most if not all deer species as long as the correct bullet for the job was chosen, and the hunter placed that bullet where it needed to go.
In creating the 6.5×57 it appears that Paul Mauser decided that the 20°45′ shoulder angle of the 7×57 was not optimal for this new cartridge and instead made the shoulder angle 18°55′. So Ned Roberts experimental work changing the shoulder angle for his 25 Roberts in a sense duplicated the engineering done by Paul Mauser a couple of decades previously.
6.5×57 and 6.5x57R Rifles
While the 6.5×57 is pretty much unknown in the United States it is a standard offering for many sporting rifle makers in Europe. Blaser offer their R8 in this caliber as do Roessler, Zastava, and Voere, for example.
Second hand European rifles will sometimes be encountered in 6.5×57 also. The Mauser 66 and Mauser 77, Mannlicher-Schönauer and Steyr Mannlicher rifles were all offered in 6.5×57 and turn up from time to time, as will original Mauser M98 sporting rifles.
European sporting shooters tend not only to favor bolt action and straight-pull rifles, but they also are rather fond of break action single shot, double rifles and combination guns. To accommodate this the 6.5×57, like many European sporting rifle cartridges, is made in both rimless and rimmed versions: the rimless version being the 6.5×57, and the rimmed version the 6.5x57R.
6.5×57 and 6.5x57R Ammunition
6.5×57 ammunition is currently made by Sellier & Bellot, PPU (Prvi Partisan), RWS, and Brenneke. In the past 6.5×57 ammunition has also been made by Norma and Austrian company Hirtenberg so old boxes of ammo by them may also be found on a gunshop’s shelves.
Serbian ammunition maker PPU makes very good quality ammunition and also sells empty brass cases. PPU offer four loadings for the 6.5×57 Mauser; a 123gn Soft Point, 139gn Soft Point Boat Tail, a 139gn Full Jacket Boat Tail target loading, and a 156gn Soft Point Round Nose. The PPU brass is boxer primed and excellent to reload. I’ve been using PPU ammunition and reloading their brass for my 9.3×62 with very satisfactory results.
Sellier & Bellot are based in Czechoslovakia (as is firearm maker CZ). This company produces both ammunition for calibers familiar to Americans, and ammunition that is most common on the European market including “Screen Ammo” for use in shooting cinemas.
For the 6.5×57 Sellier & Bellot have four loadings as follows:-
eXergy Blue: The eXergy is a copper alloy lead free bullet which has a blue plastic tip inserted into its hollow point. This bullet also features drive bands to ensure stability in the barrel and moderate pressures, and has a spitzer point and boat tail for optimum ballistic coefficient. For the 6.5×67 the eXergy bullet is of 120gn weight and has a muzzle velocity of 2,723fps.
The eXergy is Sellier & Bellot’s original lead free bullet. The eXergy features an aluminum insert in the hollow point and is of semi-point style.
For the 6.5×57 the S&B eXergy is a 130gn bullet leaving the muzzle at 2,631fps.
Nosler Partition: Sellier & Bellot offer ammunition loaded with the American Nosler Partition bullets.
For the 6.5×57 Sellier & Bellot load the 140gn Nosler Partition bullet at a velocity of 2,526fps.
Soft Point: The Sellier & Bellot soft point ammunition is loaded with conventional lead core jacketed bullets. For the 6.5×57 the bullet is a 131gn pointed soft point that leaves the muzzle at 2,543fps.
For the 6.5x57R Sellier & Bellot offer only one loading, that being the 131gn Soft Point at the same muzzle velocity as the rimless 6.5×57: 2,543fps.
RWS: Famous German ammunition maker RWS are a great source of some of the best ammunition money can buy. This is very much “Porsche class” ammunition and RWS offer intelligently designed bullets that perform beautifully on game.
For the 6.5×57 RWS offer three ammunition options; the Evolution Green, the Kegelspitz, and the Doppelkern.
The Evolution Green is a lead free bullet which has dual cores made of food safe tin. The front core is partially pre-fragmented to ensure that once it has entered the heart lung cavity the front core will fragment which causes instant and extensive destruction of heart/lung tissue resulting in loss of blood pressure and a quick humane death for the game animal.
The RWS 6.5×57 Mauser Evolution Green loading features a 93gn bullet with a muzzle velocity of 3117fps.
The second RWS loading for the 6.5×57 Mauser is the “KS”, the “Kegelspitz” These are cone pointed bullets with a long bearing surface to ensure optimum stability in the barrel. The 6.5mm Kegelspitz is a 127gn bullet and years ago I used the 127gn KS bullet quite extensively in my 6.5×68. The 127gn Kegelspitz has a retaining groove in the jacket that holds the bullet core and jacket together. On game this bullet almost always produces an exit wound but what is impressive is, in my experience at least, the way game so often drops to the shot.
The RWS 6.5×57 Mauser Kegelspitz loading features a 127gn bullet with a muzzle velocity of 2,756fps.
Last but not least is the 140gn DK “Doppelkern” This is a bullet with a cone point like the Kegelspitz but it is of dual core construction to ensure full penetration.
The RWS 6.5×57 Mauser Doppelkern loading features a 140gn bullet with a muzzle velocity of 2,625fps.
For the rimmed 6.5x57R RWS offer the same three loadings as for the rimless 6.5×57, but because the 6.5x57R is designed for break action rifles and combination guns these are loaded to slightly less pressure and velocity.
- The 6.5x57R Evolution Green bullet weighs 93gn and has a muzzle velocity of 3,018fps.
- The 6.5x57R Kegelspitz bullet weighs 127gn and has a muzzle velocity of 2,625fps.
- The 6.5x57R Doppelkern bullet weighs 140gn and has a muzzle velocity of 2,493fps
Brenneke: Although Americans will most likely only be aware of Brenneke’s shotgun slugs the company has been an innovative creator of rifle cartridges and specialist bullets for over a hundred years. Wilhelm Brenneke designed the shotgun slugs that are named after him and his most famous rifle cartridges are the 7×64 and 7x65R, and the 9.3×64 Brenneke which equals the power of the 375 Holland & Holland Magnum.
Brenneke load ammunition for both the 6.5×57 and 6.5x57R with their 139gn TOG (Torpedo Optimal Bullet) and the 130gn TAG (Torpedo Alternative Bullet).
Reloading the 6.5×57 and 6.5x57R
Reloading dies and empty cases for the 6.5×57 and 6.5x57R are made by Huntingdon Die Specialities. Hornady, and RCBS also make dies.
If you don’t have access to original 6.5×57 cases then they are easy to make from 30-06 brass. It is as simple as trimming the 30-06 cases to the correct length for the 6.5×57 and then running them into the 6.5×57 full length sizing die. (Note: after sizing check case length again and trim to correct minimum if needs be).
Making 6.5×57 cases from 7×57 brass is not easier. You must first expand the 7×57 up to 30 caliber and then size down to 6.5. This is needed to create a small false shoulder for headspacing and is necessary because the shoulder angles of the 7×57 and 6.5×57 are not the same. Once the cases have been expanded 30 caliber and then sized down to 6.5 caliber the cases must be fire-formed. If using a conventional bolt action rifle I would prefer to only partial full length size so that the cases are an easy crush fit in the chamber to ensure close headspacing. If you are using a straight-pull rifle make sure the cases chamber easily before loading with powder and bullets for fire-forming. A straight-pull rifle does not have the same sort of camming power as a conventional bolt action to chamber/extract a sticky cartridge case, and you don’t want to finish up with a live cartridge stuck in the chamber. (Note: If you do finish up with a live round stuck in the chamber under no circumstances attempt to dislodge it by inserting a cleaning rod down the muzzle against the bullet and then thumping it to hammer the live round loose. People who have attempted this have had the cartridge discharge sending the cleaning rod out of the muzzle with lethal force while the cartridge case is sent in the opposite direction also with lethal force. Instead make the rifle safe by removing the bolt or firing mechanism and take it to your local friendly gunsmith who has the equipment to extract the stuck live cartridge safely).
6.5x57R cases can be made from 8x57R, or from 7x57R using the same methods outlined above.
Although not every American reloading manual lists data for the 6.5×57 and the 6.5x57R some do. Hornady and Sierra both provide excellent data. Australian bullet maker Woodleigh also publish load data for the 6.5×57 and 6.5x57R in their reloading manual. So there is plenty of published data available. Additionally, because the case capacity of the 6.5×57 is almost identical with the 6.5×55 Swedish load data for the 6.5×55 Swedish can be used to work up loads for your 6.5×57: of course begin with the listed starting loads and work up carefully watching for signs of excess pressure.
For the 6.5x57R reduce the load levels by 10%-15% to ensure they are mild enough for the break action rifles and combination guns these will be used in. That being said, if you are loading for a single shot 6.5x57R based on the Ruger No.1 action then you can of course work up to full 6.5×57 loads because that action is as strong as a front locking bolt action.
Note: If you are using 6.5×55 Swedish load data you won’t have a listed Cartridge Overall Length (C.O.A.L) and you will have to measure that for the specific rifle and bullet you are loading for. There are a few methods of doing this and some manufacturers offer tools for this job. I use the cleaning rod and sharp pencil method. Ensure you have a cleaning rod or a piece of wooden dowel that is slightly smaller than the bore diameter of your rifle and of more than half the bore diameter: the reason for this is to ensure the rod sits on the bullet point and does not slip down the side of the point, which would give you a false reading.
From the breech end drop in a bullet (of the type you are planning to load for) and hold it in place with another rod (I use a rod from my Sinclair Action cleaning kit). With the bullet held gently against the lands insert the cleaning rod/piece of dowel into the muzzle all the way down until it contacts the tip of the bullet, then mark the cleaning rod/dowel with a sharp pencil. Once that is done remove the bullet, insert and close the bolt with the striker either cocked or removed so the firing pin does not protrude, and then insert your cleaning rod down the muzzle until it contacts the breech face. Mark your cleaning rod again with your sharp pencil making sure to do it in the exact same way you did for the bullet. The distance between the marks on your cleaning rod/dowel is the length of a cartridge loaded with that bullet seated out to contact the rifling. You don’t want to load like that so reduce that length by at least .050″ and that will give you a starting C.O.A.L. to use with starting loads.
You may find that this length is too long for your rifle’s magazine so you’ll have to shorten it accordingly.
For a really good lesson on how to do this have a look at this video from the GunBlue490 YouTube channel
The 6.5×57 and its rimmed sibling the 6.5x57R are cartridges that offer light recoil with sufficient power for most hunting. The 6.5×57 can be built into the same sort of lightweight rifle that the 257 Roberts commonly was: in fact one of the most ideal rifles for it would be a Winchester Model 70 Featherweight (although Winchester do not currently chamber it). European rifle-makers have been building lightweight sporters in this caliber for around a hundred years and they still are: its a perfect caliber for a Mannlicher style full-stock carbine or an ultra modern Blaser K95 Carbon single-shot.
By comparison with the American 257 Roberts the 6.5×57 allows the shooter an arguably much better selection of bullets to choose from, meaning it can do everything the 257 Roberts can do, and it can use heavier 160gn bullets which enables it to do things the Roberts can’t so conveniently do.
Light recoil, great accuracy potential, wonderful selection of suitable bullets crowding the gunshop’s shelves: if you’re planning on a light rifle, especially a European one like the Blaser or Roessler, this is a cartridge to take a good look at.
Jon Branch is the founder and senior editor of Revivaler and has written a significant number of articles for various publications including official Buying Guides for eBay, classic car articles for Hagerty, magazine articles for both the Australian Shooters Journal and the Australian Shooter, and he’s a long time contributor to Silodrome.
Jon has done radio, television, magazine and newspaper interviews on various issues, and has traveled extensively, having lived in Britain, Australia, China and Hong Kong. His travels have taken him to Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Japan and a number of other countries. He has studied the Japanese sword arts and has a long history of involvement in the shooting sports, which has included authoring submissions to government on various firearms related issues and assisting in the design and establishment of shooting ranges.