Hunting With the Old Warhorses


by R.K. Campbell

photography by R.K. Campbell

January 25th, 2007




I donít think it is any secret that many of our favorite hunting calibers have a military heritage. The .223, .308 Winchester, .30-06 Springfield, and the .45-70 are just a few. The 6.5 Swedish Mauser, 7x 57 Mauser, and 7.65 Argentine are others. I have always enjoyed collecting and shooting older military rifles, but sometimes it can be a pain to locate ammunition and loading supplies. This is no longer the case with many of the older calibers, thanks to Hornady Ammunition and Graf and Sons. Recently, Graf and Sons entered into an agreement with Hornady as the exclusive agent for several hard to find calibers, including the 6.5 Carcano, the 7.65 Argentine and the 7.7 mm Japanese, and others.  These calibers are produced with the famous Hornady Custom quality. We no longer have to rely upon indifferent surplus ammunition or be scalped, price-wise, by foreign makers.  This is a great boon to the shooter versus the collector. The collector doesnít fire his guns but the rest of us just love to see what the old iron will do. This is now possible.  Sure, there has been pricey ammunition in some of these calibers available from time to time but few of us will be willing to pay forty-seven dollars for a box of twenty rounds of rifle ammunition - but that is just what I was asked for a box of 7.65 Argentine recently.  The ammunition is no better than Hornady as far as quality control and accuracy goes, but the Hornady loads use a bullet that offers good expansion and penetration potential. In other words, the old rifles are now shooters and hunters! Hornady is operating at a fraction of the volume they operate on in other calibers.  I would not be surprised if the margin is very slim on these cartridges, as it is but a few dollars more than the .30-06.  We should be thankful we can get the ammunition! I am seeing quite a few old guns come out of the closet these days.

I own and fire quite a few older shooting irons. Some of them are remarkably accurate.  A common thread in these rifles is that they are pleasant to fire. Somehow, our ancestors got by with the 7x57mm Mauser and the .30-40 Krag and did not need a heavy loaded 7mm Magnum or a .300 Magnum. Most of the rifles are more accurate than we realize, although the sights can be a limiting factor. Everything I write presupposes you have had your rifle checked out by a competent gunsmith. Some of the higher pressure cartridges occasionally cracked a bolt, and the locking lugs in the 1890s types are subject to wear.  Just the same, quite a few early bolt action rifles are very accurate, safe to fire, and pleasant shooters. Always be on the lookout for caliber confusion. I was once sold a 7x57mm rifle that turned out to be an 8mm - and I almost touched off the wrong cartridge in the chamber!  Find a sensible gunsmith with gray in his hair with practical experience, not all book learning and you will be fine. Those old coots are getting to be more and more rare so appreciate him when he is found.  

Let's look at some of the more common old war horses and how well they perform in the field. Since they have been around for many years, their performance is pretty well known.  I wont get into a knock down drag out on the relative merits of the 7.7 Japanese versus the 7.65 Argentine, as both, and the .30-40, are pretty similar. Rifle barrel lengths differ and a good handloader can make any of them talk Ė for practical purposes, many of these cartridges are in the same class.

The Carcano

One of my friends told me I would ruin my reputation even talking about the Carcano. Comments range from "It's only good for a tomato stake" to the more complimentary comment that "It may make an adequate fencepost". The Carcano will not win any beauty contest; it is finished in a dull, utilitarian manner. But the rifles are easy to shoot, kick lightly, and have some historical significance. The 6.5 Carcano must be used with a special clip that holds the cartridges and falls out the bottom of the magazine when the last round is fired.  These clips are available at a modest price from Gun Parts Corporation. This is a dated system, but it works well enough. I appreciate Hornadyís new load.  The Carcano actually won a couple of NATO shoots, so the rifle is accurate enough for hunting.  For small hogs, this is a fifty yard cartridge. Ammunition is a Graf and Sons exclusive.

6.5 Swedish Mauser

This is a different rifle! The 6.5 Swedish Mauser is one of the most accurate and pleasant to fire cartridges ever made. A once-inch 100-yard group is not uncommon with a rifle in good condition. Hornadyís Light Magnum loading makes short work of North American game. While paper ballistics are not impressive, the sectional density of this cartridge and its long for the caliber bullet offer excellent penetration and effect on game.  The rifles are long and heavy, but modern rifles are also chambered for this timeless cartridge. An excellent but effective cartridge for a small-statured young man or for a small-framed woman, this is a classic cartridge. My handloads use the Hornady SST and Accurate Arms powder. They are sweet shooting.

7x57 Mauser

This is a powerful cartridge that offers good accuracy without a harsh blast or kick. Many modern rifles such as the Ruger M 77 are chambered for this cartridge. Hornadyís Light Magnum is the strongest factory load produced in this winning caliber

7.65 Argentine / 7.7 Arisaka

Some of the Argentine Mausers are the best fitted and finished Mauser rifles of all time. Even my little engineerís carbine is accurate, smooth, and well finished.  The 7.65 Argentine runs short of the .308 Winchester in power, at least in common loadings. This is an adequate cartridge for most North American game, given good shot placement. There are a number of experienced shooters who feel that the Argentine is a grand cartridge, among the best-balanced made. For ammunition, Graf and Sons is the ticket once again. The 7.7 Arisaka, often called the 7.7 Japanese, is basically a rimless .303 British. As such it is powerful enough for most hunting needs. I have never warmed up to the Arisaka rifle but it is a common war trophy and a few custom hunters have been made up on this action. Again, Graf and Sons on this one.

The .30-40 Krag

The Krag is an elegant old rifle that is possibly the most underrated military rifle of all time. I have often read of how the 7mm Mauser gave the US Army a surprise in Cuba. I am sure soldiers armed with the single shot .45-70 may have thought they were badly outclassed, and in fact they were at a considerable disadvantage. But most Spanish and Cuban soldiers were armed with the .43 Spanish, a single shot Remington rifle less powerful than the .45-70.  Only a few elite units used the Mauser. The Krag was a good rifle, arguably the best for its time, as it first appeared in the early 1890s.  By 1898 the í98 Mauser offered considerable improvements. But remember, the Krag soldiered on until well past the introduction of the Springfield 03A3 in 1906, serving with National Guard units until the 1920s and perhaps beyond. The Krag is a very smooth rifle and an accurate one as well. The ballistics of the .30-40 are a 180 grain bullet at 2300 fps. It is unwise to attempt to approve upon these ballistics. When loading lighter weight bullets, the point of impact in relation to the point of aim is affected, so best to stick with 180 grain bullets. The roundnose bullets are best, pointy bullets can hang up on the Krag's feed way.  I have used Hornady 180 grain bullets designed for the .30-06 with good results, but the 170 grain bullet designed for the .30-30 also responds well to hand loading. Accurate Powder has given fine results in this classic caliber.

The .308 Winchester

The .308 Winchester or 7.62mm NATO is now an old warhorse, having served for just over fifty years. The .308 is a well balanced cartridge. This is probably as powerful a cartridge as we need for North American game. With a choice of bullets from 110 to 220 grains at velocities of up to 3,000 fps, this is a powerful cartridge. The 165 grain Hornady JSP at 2500 fps is just about right.  The Hornady Light Magnum is a great choice.  In keeping with the spirit of the article, I tapped my CETME semi auto rifle for a firing demonstration. Loaded with the short "hunterís clip", this rifle is not too heavy and offers excellent handling characteristics. Unlike hunting-designed autoloaders, this is super rugged rifle that is reliable in all conditions. The safety is easy to manipulate, and our friends at Century Arms International check each rifle for reliability.

The sights are ideal for firing at a quick-moving boar hog. And, who knows, with the world situation the way it is, with crime ever more dangerous, keeping your hand in on mastering a 20 round .308 caliber semi auto rifle may be a good thing! I find the CETME at least comparable to the HK G 3 it spawned.  (H and K magazines fit the CETME.)  This is a good rifle, a ball to fire, and very accurate. From a bench rest, I was able to fire several two inch 100 yard groups with the Light Magnum loads. If you handload for this rifle or any other semi auto, then be certain to full-length resize the cases and take extra care in load practice.  I used Forster head space gauges to be certain my CETME was properly assembled and headspaced, an important step with older rifles. All is fine with this rifle, and it is an important part of my shooting battery.

The Garand

Some years ago, a friend of my fatherís returned form a hunting trip with his Garand. A former Marine, the man had chosen the Garand based on long familiarity. But he remarked that he had forgotten how heavy the rifle was! He got his animal. The Garand is perhaps the most important rifle in American history, the rifle that gave our men a great advantage over the evil empires. Unlike many military rifles, including bolt actions, the Garand feeds jacketed soft point bullets well. In order to insure proper function, a 180 grain bullet is best. My personal Century Garand is a parts gun but it works just great.  I have fired several two-inch 100-yard groups with the Hornady JSP loads, but in close rapid fire is where the Garand excels. I will admit the Argentine engineerís carbine is much handier but the Garand is more pleasing to own and use.

Older military rifles, especially the relatively compact short bolt action rifles, are well suited to hunting in brush. But there is no reason not to give others in the battery a work out. The Russian Mosin Nagant sniper rifle or the Lee Enfield .303 have plenty of power for hunting boar.  Use a suitable powder (the Accurate reloading manual is a must) and Hornady 174 grain .312  inch bullets and you will have a winner. And you will do so on the cheap, with a bit of history thrown in to boot.

R.K. Campbell

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Click pictures for a larger version.


Hornady's new loads are a great boon to those who shoot military rifles. Since they are loaded with modern soft point ammunition each load is more than suitable for game. This is the 7.7 Arisaka loading.



The Century CETME .308 is a good rifle, comparable to the H&K 91.



This young soldier, complete with Australian campaign hat, practices with his Australian Lithgow produced .303. The Hornady 174 grain bullet is produced especially for this rifle.



The Lee Enfield bolt can be worked quickly, offering a second shot on an animal if need be.



Accurate enough for hunting to 100 yards, the .303 British has seen more use in this country than perhaps any other foreign military caliber.



The 98 Mauser can be a smooth, accurate rifle. The old saying was the Americans made a rifle for target shooting, the Germans made a rifle for hunting, and the British made a rifle for war.



A custom .308 inch bullet and the red tip Hornady SST. The long skinny SSTs are for the 6.5 Mauser.



The SST is available in 6.5 and 7mm as well as larger American calibers.



Accurate Powder has given good results in a number of foreign calibers and the selection cannot be faulted.



You donít have to run wide open at all times. These Leadhead cast bullets are for practice in rifle calibers. They work just great.



For inexpensive practice, the author loads his 6.5 Swedish Mauser with Leadhead cast bullets.



The Swedish Mauser offers good sights that are suitable for most hunting conditions.



While we didnít find an Enemy At The Gate this old Russian sniper rifle is more than suited for taking game well past 150 yards. Be certain only expanding hunting ammunition is used! Lots of foreign stuff has failures to fire, poor accuracy, and suffers from poorly developed bullets.  Handloads with the Hornady 174 grain JSP work just fine.