Small Ring Mauser, the never ending internet debate.

For years debate has gone on about exactly what is the “safe” pressure levels for small ring Mauser actions.

Someone I respect, Larry Gibson, has used his ballistics lab to produce some data. Larry and I have been arguing about the relative safety of small ring Mausers for fifteen years now, and I’ve come to the conclusion that “He may be right, but I’m not wrong.”

You can see Larry’s original post here:×57-psi-for-use-in-sr-mausers/

For the 7×57:
The SAAMI MAP is 51,0
The C.I.P. PTc maxis 57,0
Both are with transducer measurement.

Commercial Factory and hand loads:
Federal 175 RNSP; 49,9 2400
Rem-UMC 175 RNFMJ; 57,2 2311 
Remington 175 RNSP; 48,2 2393
Winchester 175RNSP; 50,2 2376
My standard load 175 RNSP; 49,2 2334
Hornady Light Magnum 139 SPBT; 44,5 2624
My standard “light” hunting load 154 SP; 55,7 2579

Military Surplus:
CAVIM (Venezuela) 139 FMJBT; 46,0 2590
PS 1950 (Spanish) 154 FMJBT; 59,8 2442
PS 1951 (Spanish) 154 FMJBT; 60,5 2543
FAMME (Chile) 133 FMJBT; 55,3 2718
DWM 1918 (German) 172 Cupro RNFMJ; 54,8 2295

This data, combined with pressure data for surplus and commercial 308 Win and 7.62×51, convinced Larry that the Small Ring Mauser’s are essentially safe to shoot with 7.62×51 ammunition, because so many of the 7×57 loads tested were above the 51k PSI SAAMI max.

This is where I disagree with Larry. All of the new manufactured commercial ammunition in his data set are below 51k PSI except for the Rem-UMC 175 RNFMJ load, which is pretty dang old.  The Rem-UMC headstamp was discontinued around 1959 and transitioned to the R-P headstamp for “Remington Peters” so whatever ammunition Larry shot, it was at least 57 years old based on possible latest date that Remington could have made that particular headstamp on 7×57.

So, with that data in mind, lets ask ourselves why all the older ammo had a much higher max average pressure then new commercial ammo, despite having essentially the same external ballistics? The answer lies in the chemistry of smokeless powder.

Single base smokeless powder is a mixture of nitrocellulose, binders, preservatives, and burn rate conditioners. The purpose of the preservatives is to be “sacrificed” as the nitrocellulose breaks down over time, and one of the byproducts of this breakdown is nitric acid. Nitric acid is will etch the inside of a brass case and even eat all the way through it over time. The other thing that it will do, is once the preservatives are eaten up, is go after the burn rate conditioners which changes the burn rate of the powder.

So, how does powder that has no preservatives and fewer burn rate conditioners perform? It performs like a faster burning powder and for the same charge weight as a slower burning powder you get a faster and higher pressure spike. This is why lots of ammunition are regularly tested, to see if the powder is still within operating specifications, and some lots last a long time (I’ve shot off 7.62×51 from the late 70s not even a decade ago as it was issued to me, and some 50 BMG literally from the Korean War era). Other lots…go bad and get demilled and sold off as components much quicker.


When IMR4895 goes bad over time, notice the corrosion inside the brass and on the base of the bullets.

But, and this part is important, the amount of energy contained in the gun powder doesn’t increase. This means that the maximum amount of energy that this old powder can impart to the projectile remains roughly about the same (some power is lost as the powder degrades). So you get a higher initial pressure spike, but then also a more rapid pressure decrease as the bullet goes down the bore and out the muzzle. This is why Larry’s data can show an almost 9k PSI difference in pressure (the max pressure) and less than 80 fps in velocity difference (with the lower pressure load being faster). If you run into a situation where a powder didn’t get 100% burn before leaving the bore, you may see an increase in velocity as the powder burns faster and you get 100% burn before the muzzle is unsealed.


Another cutaway to show internal damage to cartridge brass from smokeless powder degrading over time.

Now once the powder has really degraded, you begin to have significantly less and less energy in the cartridge, and so you start seeing more and more significant velocity losses. You also begin to see many more hangfires and duds as the remaining powder gets harder and harder to light off as so much of it has degraded to the point of being mostly inert. Even Larry’s M80 ball data shows this:

Military Ammunition:
M80 Ball WRA 68; 5 2,8 2790 (oldest is slowest, most powder degradation, lowest MAP and velocity, might still be using IMR stick powder)
M80 Ball LC 87; 61,2 2924 (next oldest, over NATO EPVAT pressure, nitric acid eating those burn rate inhibitors, velocity higher than specified for the load)
M80 Ball LC 90; 57,3 2852 (only 27 years old, not too bad)

I wish we had more data to discuss, but the data Larry presented is consistent with the published literature about pressures rising with age until they start falling.

The other reason that I disagree with Larry about what is an acceptable pressure level for a small ring Mauser is the gas handling capabilities of the actions themselves. You can add a flange to redirect gasses, cut a gas port in the receiver ring and bolt, and several countries did at least the gas port cutting on some of their small ring Mausers.

And here’s why they added those upgraded bolt shrouds and cut gas ports, brand new Federal Gold Medal Match can still suffer a catastrophic case head failure…


Fed GMM 308 Win. Case Head crack, how does your rifle handle this type of failure?

If you get a full or partial case head failure on a small ring Mauser, there is dang near nothing stopping all that hot gas from pushing directly down the left receiver rail along the bolt and shooting right back into your face. If you shoot a small ring Mauser, and you don’t wear quality Z87 or better safety glasses while doing so, I highly recommend that you start immediately.

And that’s the real reason why the old “45k CUP” or “51k PSI” limit comes from, brass is less likely to fail at lower pressures than higher pressures.

So, unlike Larry I won’t tell you to go out and rechamber your Spanish M93 into a 243 Win or 260 Rem and run max SAAMI pressure loads through it. Larry is right that many people have done it, the 308 Win conversion was very popular at one point. But I’m not wrong either, those rifles were designed in the late 1800s and the reason why the small ring Mauser platform was abandoned for the M98 Large Ring Mauser platform was because they had obvious design deficiencies that showed up in actual use.

Here is a picture of an M96 swede bolt with both bolt lugs sheared off:


I hope the bolt was bent into a notch on the rear of the action and stock to slow this bolt down as it shot backward…


Losing both front lugs is the reason why the M98 action has the third safety lug at the rear, to stop bolts from flying back and killing the shooter.


See that yellow brown patina on the bottom of the receiver and front of the bolt? That’s not rust, that’s vaporized brass from the cartridge failure coating the steel of the Spanish small ring. Notice how far rearward that bolt shot when the rifle failed, black eye at the least, broken cheekbone most likely.

Yes, you can blow up any rifle. But different rifles handle failures more or less gracefully than others. The small ring Mausers can give you a lifetime of good service, and you may, like Larry, have no issues whatsoever going through multiple barrels on a single action. Or it could go the other way, which is why I recommend keeping the pressures down. The 6.5×55 and 7×57 have killed game cleanly (and cleaned targets) for over a century without being high pressure hot rods, and there is no need to start today.

And if you want a long range target or hunting rifle, there are much better and cheaper actions to build on than a small ring Mauser. But, it’s your money and your life, and all I can do is state my case for loading conservatively.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Small Ring Mauser, the never ending internet debate.

  1. pigpen51 says:

    I started to try and leave a comment and it was lost. I have a spanish mauser M1916, from classic firearms, that was rechambered in .308. They assured that it was safe to fire. Now I am having my doubts. The way I see it, I only have 3 options. Shoot the imported NATO rounds, that are lower pressure, shoot the new .308 off the shelf rounds, or shoot reloads, at no greater than a certain pressure, say perhaps 47,000psi?

    I am planning on using this rifle for Michigan whitetails out to 100-150 yards, not really planning on stressing it much, not as a match gun or hundreds of rounds per year. Once I get it sighted in, it will see less than 20 rounds per year. Can you give me some advice/help? The gun looks to be in good shape, the bore is very good, no rust, with only a couple of pits, it looks like it has just sat in some warehouse for a long, long time. The bolt closes tightly, but this is the first time I have ever bought a used rifle from a source like this, that I have not known the person, and while I have shot old guns before, they have always been from my family. My dad gave me a 30-40 Krag that was built in 1902, and it is in my son’s hands, and is still a beautiful looking and shooting gun. So I know that old doesn’t mean unsafe. But I am looking for some guidance on how to approach this particular gun, from someone who sounds like they know exactly what they are talking about. Any help you could send my way would be greatly appreciated.


    Liked by 1 person

    • rthtgnbs says:

      I’d keep it and hand load for it. Michigan white tail are bigger than their southern cousins, but not bulletproof.

      A 150gr hunting bullet with a starting charge of IMR 4007 SSC, 4320, 4064, 4895, 3031 are all under 45k psi. If you go the Hodgdon route you can use Varget, BLC2, H335, and be under the 45k CUP.

      And the velocity on that starting charge is going to be over 2,500 fps, which gives you a “point blank zero” in excess of 250 yards, which is well beyond your planned engagement range.

      I recommend starting off with Varget, H4895 or IMR 4064 for decent case fill with a starting charge and very good temperature stability in case you get a warm Autumn day, or an early cold snap.

      Good hunting!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. monkfelonious says:

    In the pic showing the Spanish mauser the shooter would have destroyed his thumb, because the bolt moved only 1-1/4″ or so. In my blow-up tests the only way I could get the bolt to completely leave the action was to REMOVE the lugs entirely. Also, the only way brass ‘vaporizes’ is at extreme pressures and never at working pressures. I did a little messing around with blowing some actions up some years ago:


    • rthtgnbs says:

      Thanks for the link, that’s good reading.

      I guess I should have covered the difference between “Deflagration” which is normally how gun powder burns, and “detonation” which can cause those massive overpressure events that small ring Mauser’s don’t handle very well. It isn’t that normal pressure ranges are going to destroy a small ring in good condition, it’s that the amount of powder in a normal pressure range load is more than enough to destroy the action if it “detonates” rather than “deflagrates.” or there is a stuck bore, or there is a secondary explosive effect (SEE), etc.


      • monkfelonious says:

        Thank you for the reply. We could quibble about more, but generally you wrote a good essay. Regards…


  3. fred says:

    Would one of those Husqvarna mausers from 1960 have the small ring mauser safety issues? I’ve read that it’s an improved 96 small ring and not a true 98 mauser. But I’m not sure.


    • rthtgnbs says:

      Fred, the commercial Husqvarna small ring Mausers are generally very good actions, and were chambered in such high pressure cartridges as 8×57. So yes, they were built to handle modern high pressure cartridges right from the factory. Although honestly if you have one, I’d leave it as is rather than build on one since you can get a nice modern rifle like a Ruger American Predator in 6.5 Creedmoor for cheaper than you can pay a gunsmith to build you a custom Mauser. Although if you are doing the work yourself, there’s no reason to not use a commercial Husqvarna action.


      • fred says:

        Thanks for the reply. I was looking at one here locally chambered in 308 which is the same pressure as 35 whelen. I was thinking about getting one of the green mountain barrels for $100. I really want a 35 whelen but there don’t seem to be many for sale at a good price. I understand what you mean about leaving them original and kind of feel the same way. I may leave it for someone else who wants a 308.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s