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The Lonesome Story Of The Long-Lost 8mm

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The 8mm Mauser and other 8mm cartridges are deadly accurate and versatile as a Swiss Army knife. So, why are they virtually unknown in the U.S.?

Why Didn't The 8mm Mauser Make It In The U.S.?

Some might think success in life is all about who you know.

The same could be said for rifle calibers. Some cartridges ought to be more popular. Case in point—the mighty 8mm Mauser.

Like many successful American cartridges, the German-created 7.92x57mm owes its beginning to the military. (Notice that I didn’t say, “8mm Mauser.”)

The 8mm caliber has a wide range of cartridges using it because it was developed in the late 1800s. Here, we can compare the relatively mild 8mm Mauser 198-grain load to a 8mm Remington Magnum 200-grain load. The 8mm Mauser is its own case, and the 8mm Remington Magnum was developed from the .375 H&H case.

According to Norma, “The designation, ‘Mauser,’ is actually a misnomer, because the cartridge was developed by a German military commission at Spandau Arsenal for a forerunner of the famous Mauser rifle, which was adopted in 1898.”

Of course, the Swedish ammunition company is right. In 1888, the German Rifle Testing Commission did develop what we commonly call the 8mm Mauser. SAAMI calls it the 8mm Mauser or the 8x57mm, and the European C.I.P. calls the 7.92x57mm the 8×57 IS (which is precisely what’s stamped on the barrel of the brand-new Sauer 100 Classic on loan to me for this story).

Back then, however, it was simply called Cartridge 88 or Patrone 88. You might even know it as the M/88. Regardless, the octo-millimeter pushed a massive .318 (groove)-caliber, 225-grain bullet at 2,000 fps down a lanky, 29.1-inch barrel. In 1888, that was impressive.

By April 1903, the Germans had tweaked the M/88 quite a bit. In 1894, they changed the original .319-inch diameter to .323 to improve the cartridge’s accuracy and reduce barrel wear. It worked. The Germans had figured out that a more aerodynamic bullet that was also lighter flew better than the 225-grain, round-nosed bullet.

After World War II, there were a lot of Mauser 98 actions available in the United States, with many chambered in 8mm Mauser. While 8mm Mauser ammunition could be found, it was rare, so resourceful Americans rechambered their 8mm Mausers to use the .30-06 Springfield case, and the 8mm-06 wildcat was born. The Interarms X action shown here—actually an 8mm-06 Improved—was built by Zastava of Serbia and imported into the United States under the Interarms X name. It’s a large-ring Mauser 98 action copy and a favorite of many collectors.

As a result, they started loading the 7.92x57mm with a 153-grain, spire-point bullet and created a new gunpowder as well. These changes also worked and, by 1904, the M/88 had evolved into the lighter, faster, longer-lasting 7.92x57mm Mauser S.

Designation Clarification

I’ll let Norma explains the “S” and “J” designations for the 7.92x57mm as follows:

“The ‘J’ in the name stands for ‘Infanterie.’ The ‘J’ is due to a mistake resulting from the previous use of gothic letters in Germany and has no significance regarding bullet size. But, in 1905, the German army switched from a round-nosed, 226-grain bullet to a 154-grain, pointed boattail bullet. At the same time, the diameter of the bullet was altered from .318 inch to the present standard of .323 inch. Accordingly, the ‘S’ (for ‘Spitzer’) means that the barrel is made for .323-inch bullets.”

German Engineering Genius

How good was the new 7.92x57mm Mauser S? Not only did the Germans use it during World War II, so did the Polish, the Chinese … and the British. A bloody 8mm? Yes! They used in it their Besa machine guns. And who could blame them?

Say what you will about the politics of the German war machines of yesteryear, there’s no denying their engineering genius.

The Sauer 100 Classic chambered in 8×57 IS and the Interarms X custom rifle chambered in 8mm-06 Improved are two examples of how the 8mm Mauser has remained relevant in today’s highly competitive hunting and shooting market. Both cartridges can handle heavy bullets, with the 8mm-06 Improved giving the .323-caliber bullets a bit more speed. The far more common .30-06 Springfield case makes handloading the 8mm-06 relatively simple and is a great choice for new handloaders who want to enjoy a wildcat cartridge.

Case in point: Back in 1933, the German army understood long-range shooting, because it fed its 8mm-armed snipers 198-grain bullets with a ballistic coefficent of .593 (G1), which is so aerodynamically slick that it would make today’s PRS shooters wet their pants. The 7.92x57mm, loaded with the 198-grain bullets, gave the German army arguably the best performing standard rifle bullet of World War II.

One would think a cartridge with that kind of pedigree would have a bigger following in the United States. I do realize that if my only exposure to a cartridge were via it being shot at me, I wouldn’t like it, no matter how well designed it was. Thus, I can forgive America’s Greatest Generation for snubbing its nose at the 8mm Mauser. Still, there are plenty of other reasons the 8mm Mauser (and, honestly, all 8mm-caliber cartridges) doesn’t do well here.

“In my opinion, the 8mm never really thrived in the United States because it didn’t really do anything the .30-06 wasn’t capable of doing,” said Zach Waterman of Nosler Ammunition. “The .30-06 was also the cartridge most members of the military were familiar with at the beginning of the last century; and, in my experience, people generally stick to what they know.

“I believe another limitation of the 8mm Mauser is the lack of bullet weight options that also have relatively low BCs. Nosler offers 180- and 200-grain bullet weight options, and that’s it. Compare that to the ubiquitous (and more powerful) 338 Win. Mag., which has bullet weight options ranging from 180 to 300 grains, making this cartridge more appealing to a broader demographic.”

The 8mm Mauser is still very popular worldwide. Here, we see a factory box of Prvi Partizan 198-grain 8x57mm JS full-metal-jacket ammunition used for long-range shooting.

Waterman is mostly correct. However, the 8mm—specifically, the .323-caliber—is a little more popular than just the two bullets he mentioned.

MidwayUSA lists 34 different bullets you can reload. The most popular is Nosler’s 180-grain Ballistic Tip, followed by Hornady’s clever 170-grain SST and Nosler’s do-it-all 200-grain AccuBond. Folks who roll their own ammunition can find bullets ranging from 150 grains all the way up to 250 grains. The most popular bullet weight to manufacture for the .323 8mm is, by far, the 200-grain variety, because MidwayUSA lists no fewer than nine of them for sale. Need a high-BC bullet? Some of the 8mms have BCs as high as the .520s.

Duane Siercks, the lead ballistics technician at Sierra, agreed with Waterman and expands his opinion about the less-popular 8mm-caliber for Americans: “The bullet diameter change (.318 to .323) years ago really confused a lot of shooters. The .30-06 was able to outperform the 8×57. The wildcat 8mm-06 probably did as much for the 8mm as anything.”

The 8mm-06

So, what is an 8mm-06, and why does it exist?

The 8mm Mauser inspired plenty of wildcats; one of the most popular is the 8mm-06 and its peppier 8mm-06 Improved version. On the left is an unfired 8mm-06 with a Hornady 150-grain Interlock bullet loaded with IMR 4064 powder. On the right is the fire-formed “improved” case with a 40-degree shoulder, which added as much as 5 percent more powder capacity. The 8mm-06 Improved cartridges were fire-formed in a custom-built Zastava-built Interarms X-based rifle owned by the author.

After World War II, there were a lot of surplus Mauser rifles available in 8x57JS in the United States. While Mauser rifles were plentiful, 8x57JS ammunition was not. However, Americans quickly figured out how to make 8x57JS ammunition from .30-06 Springfield cases. Wildcatters then figured out that simply necking-up a .30-06 Springfield case to accept the 8mm bullet gave Americans a robust cartridge. The 8mm-06 outperformed the 8x57JS by as much as 200 fps and up to 50 fps faster than equivalent .30-06 Springfield loads.

I own an Interarms X-based custom rifle chambered in 8mm-06 Improved, which adds an honest 1 to 3 percent increase in velocity over the 8mm-06. So, I’m pushing a 200-grain Nosler Partition out of my 24-inch, 8mm-06 Improved barrel at about 2,800 fps. That will do just fine for anything in North America and most things everywhere else. In addition, I can get .30-06 Springfield brass everywhere, and I have a set of custom 8mm-06 Improved reloading dies from Redding.

Nevertheless, the 8mm-06 isn’t the only .323-caliber cartridge still breathing, however faintly, in the United States. The 8mm Remington Magnum and the much newer .325 WSM top the list of 8mm cartridges that Americans use enough of to register sales these days.

“Nosler only offers three 8mm offerings—the 8×57 JS Mauser, .325 WSM and 8mm Rem. Mag., with the .325 WSM being the most popular by a large margin,” said Waterman. “The .325 WSM came out of the gate with a lot of momentum after it was introduced along with the other WSMs, so I think there are a lot of rifles chambered in that cartridge. But not a lot of ammunition offerings are available for those folks, which keeps our ammo sales for that cartridge pretty strong. I’ve personally taken the .325 WSM to Africa, and it performed perfectly on all the plains game I was after. I’ve also seen it shine in the tundra of northern Canada on caribou. My 8mm bullet-of-choice and our most popular offering is the 200-grain AccuBond. If you’re looking for .338 Win. Mag. performance in a short-action, it’s hard to beat the .325 WSM shooting a 200-grain AccuBond.”

Yes, the .325 WSM has helped resurrect the 8mm today—much as the 8mm-06 did after World War II. In fact, the WSM craze a few years ago that spawned the .325 WSM was revolutionary to 8mm-caliber bullet-lovers, because it inspired bullet manufacturers to pay attention to the 8mm again.

The 8mm Remington Magnum is a spectacular big-game cartridge that delivers substantial energy for .323-caliber fans. Here, the 200-grain Swift A-Frame bullet is factory loaded by Remington to give shooters 3,734 ft-lbs of energy at the muzzle. The 8mm Remington Magnum is a violent cartridge with a significant amount of recoil … and limited fans across the globe.

Newer, better bullets help any caliber, and the 8mm wasn’t any different—with better-built bullets offering high-speed terminal performance and less drag for flatter, faster flights toward the shooter’s intended target. The 8x57JS crowd can, and have, taken advantage of the technology applied to 8mm bullets these days.

According to Siercks, the popular 8mm bullets for them are the 150 and 175 SPTs. “The 8×57 will always have a loyal following. With 150-grain bullets for deer and 175 for elk-sized game, it is a solid performer. The .325 gives considerable ballistic advantage without the punishing recoil of the 8mm Rem. Mag. The .325 is certainly capable of harvesting all but dangerous game.”

Still, in America, the 7mm and .30-caliber bullets reign supreme. Even so, don’t ignore the mighty 8mm-caliber.

Waterman pointed out, “I’ve seen 7mm and .30-caliber bullets do some impressive things in the field, but the 8mm has more frontal surface area and, in my opinion, hits like a Mack truck. It might not possess the higher BCs the 7mm and .30-caliber bullets have, but for distances of 400 yards and in, that’s not really a concern anyway. Flatter trajectories can be achieved with the 8mm options; 9.3s simply don’t have the velocities behind them that the 8mms have.”

Ballistic Coefficients

Let’s take a closer look at the BCs of 8mm bullets compared to similarly weighted .30-caliber bullets. The 8mm (.323) 180-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip gives shooters a ballistic coefficient (BC) (G1) of .394 and a sectional density (SD) of .247. The equivalent .30-caliber Nosler Ballistic Tip gives a BC of .507 and an SD of .271. This one is no contest with the .30-caliber, leaving the .323-caliber, 180-grain bullet in the dust.

Let’s move up to 200-grain AccuBonds. The .323-caliber, 200-grain AccuBond has a BC of .450 and SD of .274. The .30-caliber, 200-grain AccuBond has a BC of .588 and SD of .301. Again, the .30-caliber bullet blows the ballistic doors off the 8mm bullet.

On-Target Ammunition Information:

Let’s go bigger: How does the 8mm bullet fare against the popular .338-caliber bullets?

The 8mm (.323) 180-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip gives shooters a ballistic coefficient (BC) (G1) of .394 and SD of .247, whereas the .338-caliber bullet weighing 180-grainers falls short of the .323-caliber with a BC of .372 and SD of just .225. When comparing Nosler AccuBond 200-grainers, the 8mm does better with a BC of .450 and SD of .274, versus the .338-caliber, 200-grain BC of .414 and SD of .250.

Simply put: Physics can’t be denied. The .323-caliber bullets fall ballistically right in between the .30-caliber and .338-caliber bullets— a big “duh” there, folks. Ballistically speaking, it is cursed with what some of us know to be the dreaded “middle child syndrome.”

According to Siercks, “The 8mm cartridges are great for all medium-sized game, but I cannot say they are better than 9.3mm or 30-caliber. Their nearest rival would probably be .35-caliber for performance.”

In the end, does the 8mm Mauser—and, more specifically, the 8mm caliber—do anything better than its more popular American calibers to the north and south of its size?
“Not in my opinion,” said Waterman. “I think that’s the very reason it hasn’t taken off in the United States.”

Even so, this Oregon-based bullet PR representative did offer some advice about how to make the .323-caliber relevant: “The only thing I can think of is to reinvent the caliber with faster twist rates and longer, high-BC bullet offerings. That definitely seems to be the trend with folks who are looking to improve upon what they already have.”

The bottom line? The 8mm Mauser and the rest of the .323-caliber cartridges will never be voted “most popular” in the ballistics yearbook then, now or in the future. It will, however, give any caliber a run for its money in another category—”most likely to succeed”—because the 8mm has been, and always will be … enough.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the September 2019 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

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