Everyone gets into guns for a different reason. When I was growing up, I had many separate interests that all got focused on guns. I loved woodworking, metalworking, history, and, above all, minute details about specific things. I became fascinated by the historical markings on old guns and eventually got into collecting and shooting surplus rifles. This article is about one of those minute aspects that I love reading about: historical ammo.
Disclaimer: The load data here is for educational purposes only. Some of the loads here were developed with only approximate information and should not be attempted. I do not recommend that you try these loads yourself in any rifle. I used a longer process than this article describes to make sure they were safe in my rifle. The author assumes no responsibility for any injury that may result if you go ahead with loads anyways. Always have your gun checked by a competent gunsmith to ensure that it is safe to fire.
The 6.5x55mm cartridge is one that I have a great deal of experience with. I’ve shot it in CMP competitions for nearly ten years and have achieved great results with it. I’ve loaded a lifetime’s worth of ammo — about 10,000 rounds — with my heaviest year of shooting seeing me go through 1/3 of that. I love the cartridge and it hasn’t let me down in competition or hunting.
What interests me the most about old cartridges, the 6.5x55mm in particular, is that they can represent incredible forward thinking, innovation, and have features that are constantly mimicked by today’s most popular commercial rounds. People have beaten the dead horse to the point of turning its bones into powdered aphrodisiac when it comes to today’s 6.5 rounds and it seems like they are drinking the concoction with their morning coffee to further fuel their spiral into madness.
The 6.5×55 has seen several iterations over the years that I will be attempting to replicate with modern components. The cartridge began development as a joint Swedish/Norwegian effort in the early 1890’s. It’s what most would consider a ‘generation 1’ bottlenecked, smokeless powder cartridge.
I used only Hornady bullets and brass and CCI #200 Large Rifle primers for all loads featured here. Powder used was provided by Hodgdon. I fired all test loads over my Oehler 35P chronograph at a distance of eight feet from the muzzle. I used a 1914 vintage Swedish M96 Mauser rifle for the testing. The gun is in like-new condition, including the bore.
Some of the first ammunition developed for the 6.5×55 was the SK PTR M/94 PRJ M/94 which had a 156gr roundnose bullet loaded at a stated velocity of 700m/s. I have done a great deal of research in period publications and this is a common number for this velocity. American publications typically reference it at 2296-2380fps. This is what most people reference as the ‘moose hunting load’ when they talk about the 6.5×55 in a hunting context.
For this load I tested several Hodgdon powders with the excellent Hornady 160gr RN bullet. This is about the closest thing you can get to the original as far as size, bearing surface, and profile. The bullet features a lead tip and is designed to expand (it’s part of the InterLock line), unlike the original military FMJ bullet. I loaded these bullets to the cannelure. Feeding and cycling was reliable in my rifle.
I looked for historical powder charge weight for my test loads and came with a single reference to a weight of 36.3gr of unknown powder in an old, crumbling 1970’s-era copy of The Book of Rifles. I cross referenced my Hodgdon reloading data and came up with one load that really matched my goals, which was a 36.0gr charge of Varget. This was a max listed load and states 2354fps from a 24” barrel. I opted to forgo the 0.3 grains and stick with 36gr with the 160gr bullet.
I thought that the extra length of the Mauser’s 29-inch barrel would increase speed, but it didn’t go up as much as I feared. My initial test proved that my estimate was spot-on.
My first five loads over the chronograph produced an average of 2301fps. I fired for group using my CMP shooting coat and sling at 100 yards. The ammo grouped to 2 inches for ten shots, which was wonderful. Recoil was very low and the gun was pleasant to shoot with this load.
The next ammo I wanted to replicate was the experimental FM/13 load that had a 135gr bullet at 845m/s. The only information about this load was in metric, so I came up with a single listed velocity of 2772fps. I selected the Hornady 130gr ELD bullet for this test. Since I had no real data to work with, I looked up data for the 129gr Hornady SP bullet and extrapolated on it.
There were no max loads for the 129 SP that matched or any data for the 130gr ELD bullet, so I had to go out on my own and look for a matching load. I looked at both H4350 and H380 for this. I loaded up a small number of experimental cartridges with 46 gr of H4350 and 43gr of H380. These were loaded to 3.030” in length.
I was pleasantly surprised that my efforts paid off and I reached a velocity goal of 2790fps for the H4350 loads and 2749fps for the H380 loads. There were signs of pressure on these loads, but no significant cratering of the primers. Accuracy was great with both at 1.8” and 2.1” for five shots, respectively.
The next load I tried to replicate was the SK PTR M/94 PPRJ M/41. This load featured a bullet that weighed approximately 113gr, although I’ve spoken to a couple cartridge collectors that said the bullet was actually 118gr. Either way, the load featured an armor-piercing projectile at a blistering 3116fps.
I settled on the Hornady 120gr ELD bullet for this one. I ended up testing max loads with both H4350, H380, Varget, and H4895 and wasn’t able to produce the listed velocity. The fastest load I was able to generate was with 40gr of Varget at 2875fps. I didn’t want to push it and damage my rifle.
I called up a friend of mine with had some 100gr Hornady ELD bullets (not in the article photos) sitting around that he didn’t want to use for his rifle and I snagged twenty of them. I wasn’t ready to give up on this cool load and figured that the 100gr bullet could be used to approximate the 113gr version of the load. I wasn’t disappointed.
I settled on 42gr of Varget to test it and it turned out to be a winner. I was very happy when I saw 3150fps flash across my chronograph. They grouped 2.5” for five shots at 100 yards.
My last replica load was the SK PTR M/94 PRJ M/41 PRICK. This is the ‘sniper load’ that was used in the WWII era. It featured a 139.97gr bullet loaded at 2600fps. The listed powder weight I found for this load was 37gr, but I didn’t see a load that would exactly match that among Hodgdon’s listed powders at that charge weight. I instead looked to get close and tested Varget (38gr), H380 (40gr), and H4350 (44gr).
I ended up landing right around my goal area on these. Varget at 38gr got me 2590fps, H380 at 40gr reached 2540fps, and H4350 landed at 2614fps. I called the last one good and shot it for group. It managed 1.75” at 100 yards for five shots.
Overall I was happy with my replica loads. It’s fun to test ammo and powder that closely resembles what was used back then. My favorite was the 160gr RN load, as it was just so fun to shoot and I got lots of interested looks at the range.