There are a lot of rifle cartridges, some gain popularity then die out like the 8mm Lebel or 25-35, some lose popularity and make a comeback such as the 45-70. Some are introduced to much fanfare and then disappear (WSSM for example).
Others…they stick around. Like the 30-30 and 30-06. And my three favorite metric cartridges are also in that sort of category of just “sticking around.” From small to large, the 6.5×55 Swede, the 8x57JS, and the 9.3×62. All of three are over a century old, and all three are still on the market, with new rifles being made for them.
The 6.5×55 Swede is interestingly named because it was not used only by Sweden, but Norway as well. It would be more appropriate to call it the “6.5×55 Scandinavian” but the large numbers of high quality Swede Mausers on the surplus market as opposed to the smaller number of Norwegian Krags, made the 6.5×55 associated with Sweden.
The Swedes made three main variants, the M94 Cavalry Carbine with a short 17″ barrel, the M38 carbine with a very nice 24″ barrel, and the 1896 rifle with a 29″ rifle. Someday I wouldn’t mind getting a real Cavalry Carbine, but my collection is limited to a stock M38, made by Husqvarna, and an M96 made by Carl Gustoff (and there are at least three different ways to spell that, Gustav is also common, depending on who did the translation in what era). My M96 I destroyed any collectors value by configuring it into an M41 sniper variant to compete in NRA vintage sniper competitions, as it was the cheapest good option for me. 250 bucks for the rifle, 100 bucks for a reproduced short slide rail, and a vintage Weaver K4 (NRA authorized substitution), and I was ready to compete. The rifle is very accurate, the Nosler 140gr Custom Competition BTHP match bullets fly true and make poor wind calls less dramatic.
Today the “sweet Swede” has a reputation of being gentle on the shoulder and excellent on game. The NRA vintage sniper competitions have brought the 6.5×55 back as a serious marksmanship round, and it has never stopped being offered commercially from ammunition manufacturers. It is not a difficult cartridge to reload using commercial jacketed bullets, although the strength of your rifle action dictates the max pressure which you should consider safe. A small ring Mauser is best kept to 40k CUP or less, while an M98 or Savage could easily, and safely, beat the ballistics of a 260 Rem or 6.5 Creedmoor. Reloading with cast bullets is a bit more of a challenge as the 6.5×55 typically has a very tight twist, which often limits good accuracy to velocities less than 1,500 fps. But cast bullets at that velocity are perfect for small game at close range, gallery style target practice, and training new shooters.
Next up is the 8x57JS. Based on the earlier .318″ bore simply opened up to .323 for reasons most lost to history but there are plenty of good stories that explain the change, the 8x57JS incorporated all the features we expect in the a modern rifle cartridge; rimless, bottleneck design, smokeless powder, and spitzer bullet, even though it wasn’t the first for any single one of those features it did bring them all together. The Mauser 1898 action proliferated, and the 8x57JS proliferated with it across Europe, Africa, and Asia. For some reason or other North and South America had less enthusiastic reception for the 8x57JS as ammunition despite many countries adopting M98 based rifles. The 8x57JS can also participate in NRA vintage sniper matches in a period appropriate mauser from Gew98 to K98 with other variants also authorized.
The “8mm Mauser” in American form is a rather sedate hunting number, slightly more powerful than the old 32 Special. Excellent for deer, very little meat damage. And full power European loads are available for hunting all things bigger than deer, although I would rate it on the light side for the great bears. The millions upon millions of M98 surplus rifles from Germany, Czech Republic, and the former Yugoslavia didn’t hurt the popularity of the 8x57JS one bit.
The 8x57JS is also very easy to reload with commercial jacketed bullets, but reloaders should understand that not all .323 diameter bullets were designed for the velocity range of the 8x57JS. Many of the round nose bullets work best at 32 Special velocities, and some of the more premium bullets were marketed with the massive 8mm Remington Magnum in mind. Shooting cast bullets is easier than with the 6.5×55 because the nominal twist is only “slightly fast” by todays standards, and velocities up to 1,800 fps are generally achievable with good accuracy. This is well into deer/hog taking capabilities using a bullet weight over 200 grains, and makes a pleasant “silhouette” load for people who like to knock them over.
The last metric, the 9.3×62, is the only round in this mix that didn’t start out as a military cartridge. In 1905 a German riflesmith named Otto Bock released the 9.3×62 as a low cost, high quality, hunting option paired with an essentially no frills Mauser 98 rifle. The original load pushed a 286gr bullet at about 2,100 fps, which was later increased to the modern standard of 2,350 fps (and you can get faster than that with modern powders). Performance wise the 9.3×62 is between the 35 Whelen launching heavy bullets, and the 375 H&H launching a 300gr bullet at 2,400 fps. Ironically enough though there was a lethality study done on Scandinavian moose several years back which found the 9.3×62 was less of a “stopper” than an 8x57JS, which puzzled the authors as the relationship between bore diameter and fewer steps taken by the moose was clearly linear up to that point. My personal hypothesis is that many of the hunters were using a very light for caliber 232gr “green” bullet loaded commercially by Norma which was really intended for deer size game, but that is only my guess.
The 9.3×62 has taken the big 5 of Africa, and to this day some African nations specifically allow the 9.3×62 as the minimum for “Class A: Dangerous Game.” Commercial ammunition is available, but unless you don’t mind PPU all of it is expensive. Reloading is straight forward wether with jacketed or cast as the normal twist rate for the 9.3×62 is 1:12 or 1:14 which puts the good accuracy at top velocity in the 2,200 to 2,400 fps range with cast bullets. With jacketed bullets handloaders can easily outperform most factory loads as far as velocity is concerned.
Any one of these rifles will serve you well as a game getter. And every cartridge here has served in war, or as protection from hostiles. The 9.3×62 was very popular in Africa, and it wasn’t always the tooth and clawed variety of predators that needed shooting. I wouldn’t go out and buy one as a first rifle, I recommend a budget rifle like a Savage, Marlin, or Ruger American in 308 Win for that. But there is nothing wrong with a metric solution.