6.5X55 SWEDISH MAUSER
Sweden adopted the 6.5x55 as a military cartridge in 1894 for use in their Model 94 rifle, a modified version of the 1893 Spanish Mauser bolt-action. The cartridge was also chosen for the Norwegian Krag-Jorgensen military rifle. It remained in military service in Sweden and Norway for many years – until after WWII in fact.
The 6.5x55 is accurate and very popular for target shooting and hunting in Scandinavia – it accounts for about half of the 75 000 moose taken annually in Sweden. It has been said that the 6.5x55 has the recoil of a .257 Roberts, shoots as flat as a .270 and penetrates like a 7x57. While that may be a slight overstatement, this Scandinavian .264” is nevertheless an excellent cartridge, and it is therefore surprising that it has not become more popular elsewhere in the world. In the 1950s and 1960s the Canadians began using it, and about ten years later the Americans also started becoming aware of the virtues of this cartridge.
Owing to the strong European influences in Africa during the colonial era, metric calibres have always been popular on the Dark Continent. All the 6.5mm cartridges saw quite a bit of use, though none were ever as popular as the 7x57. However, when cheap, high-quality surplus Swedish military Mausers became available in recent years, they sold like hot cakes, and after using them on game many hunters became fervent 6.5mm Swede fans.
The 6.5mm Swede is what reloaders call an ‘efficient’ cartridge, that is, it uses less powder to achieve the same ballistics as cartridges of larger case capacity. With bullets up to 130gr, the 6.5mm requires 6 to 10 grains less of a given powder than the .270 to obtain very similar velocities, and it uses between two and five grains less powder than the 7mm-08 with 100120gr bullets. This not only makes it more economical but also generates less recoil and muzzle blast.
Although the 6.5x55 is slower than the .270 and the 7mm-08 with all bullet weights, in terms of practical performance, it comes very close with 120 and 140 grainers. So close in fact that the 6.5’s bullets only drop 1 to 1½” more at 300m. Bullets that are long relative to their diameter, i.e. which have a high sectional density factor, usually penetrate better than shorter, bigger calibre bullets of the same weight.
A 140gr 6.5mm has a higher sectional density factor than a 160gr 7mm bullet (.289 vs .287). And the 6.5’s 160 grainer has a sectional density of .328, which beats that of the .308-calibre 220gr bullet (the heavier bullet will, of course, still have a greater momentum). High sectional density is the reason why the ‘mild’ Swede’s 160gr bullet is so effective for its weight, even on large antelope. ‘Karamojo’ Bell even tried the 6.5s on elephants but soon stopped because the long bullets deformed too easily in the tough heads.
For antelope hunting the 6.5 is as good as the .270 and similar calibres. Loaded with a 120gr bullet at 2 900fps the 6.5 is outstanding for springbuck and blesbuck while a premiumgrade 140gr bullet at 2 650fps will take care of game up to the size of a hartebeest out to 200m. For close range work in thick bush a 156 or 160gr bullet at 2 300fps should do the trick on kudu-sized game.
Some regard the little 6.5 as too light for animals in the kudu class but because of its mild recoil most riflemen shoot more accurately with it, and we know that accurate shot placement is more important than calibre size (assuming adequate penetration and bullet performance, of course). Although we have to be conservative when recommending hunting calibres for different sized animals, I do feel at times that many hunters are over-gunned, relying more on calibre and power to kill than shooting skill. Hunters don’t
need bigger bullets and higher velocities as much as they need higher levels of shooting skill and self-discipline to know when and when not to pull the trigger.
As far as we could establish, rifles in 6.5x55 are manufactured by Carl Gustav, Krico, Sako, Tikka, Sauer, Steyr-Mannlicher CZ and Winchester. Those who operate on a tight budget can shop around for a surplus military Swedish Mauser, but these, though once readily available, are now difficult to find. The other option is to have a custom or semi-custom rifle built. Factory ammunition and reloading components are readily available and the range of bullet weights (85 to 160gr) is wide enough to satisfy most hunting needs. A rifle chambered for Sweden’s 6.5x55 would also be ideal for ladies, youngsters or small-framed per- sons, or anyone who is intimidated by recoil.
It is not known exactly who designed the 6.5x55 Swedish Mauser but whoever it was, did the hunting world a favour. This user-friendly cartridge is as relevant in the new millennium as it was over 120 years ago.