Having cleaned and checked over the Mannlicher–Schönauer next job had to be getting some rounds loaded and the rifle down the range.
I had around me 20 new unfired Norma cartridge cases and around 130 once and twice fired RWS plus a couple of hundred Hornady 6,5mm 160 grain RN expending bullets so no excuses well none other than where to start with the powder load and even more important, which powder would I use. After some research followed by extensive theoretical testing with QuickLoad I opted for H4831SC which seemed to give a slight pressure advantage over my original choice of N160, plus we have a few tubs of the H4831SC as it is used for the Vikings 22-6,5×47
First job was confirm the build length and out of curiosity I stuffed my OAL gauge complete with a 160 grain bullet into the chamber and carefully pushed the bullet forward until I could feel resistance, locked the thumb screw off and withdrew the gauge. Hmmm… the throat was a long way forward however that was really just an exercise to satisfy my curiosity and I loaded 5 test rounds without powder or primers, slowly bumping the bullets in, at 77,5mm OAL I had loaded rounds would both feed and cycle through the rotary spool magazine. 77,5mm is a tad shorter tan the CIP 77,8mm however at CIP length they seemed to drag ever so slightly through the spool and reducing the OAL by 0,3mm/0.012″ made enough difference with the Hornady bullets for me to stick with it.
Powder start load was to be a conservative 36.0 grains with groups of 5 going up in 0.5 grain increments, quite a coarse increment however I was basing everything on my self imposed maximum of 39 grains which I had no intention of getting near on the first outing.
I opted to use the RCBS full length sizing die followed by the Hornady seater and the cases were de-capped to start followed by a thorough cleaning in a LEM stainless micro pin cleaner.
Once I had sized with the RCBS I cleaned the cases a second time to remove some minor surface marks and tested the shoulder datum to case head length of the now sized RWS brass versus the remaining un-sized RWS and the reference Norma brass and noticed quite a difference, in fact the now sized cases were shorter than the fired cases by around .007″ although it is fair to say I was using a 6,5×47 Lapua shoulder bump gauge as I am yet to build a gauge specifically for the 6,5x54M-Sch. Actual difference is only a few thou so I was not overly worried at this stage regarding accuracy of reading however I was confirmed that I had just set the shoulders back so far and with hind sight I would have worked down to the length needed which would have been chamber length less a couple of thou. The joys of working with 115+ year old rifles, it is so easy to forget when you working with a rifle with such a slick action and pleasing appearance.
One issue I noticed with the Hornady dies was the less than ideal bullet run-out with the first couple of rounds I built, being in excess of .010″ – I had been seating and rotating followed by seating in a couple of goes however I thin moved to inching the bullet in followed by a slight twist over a few stages and run-out reduced to .005″ ish. The reason I had opted for the Hornady over the RCBS was because the seater stem face was designed for a spitzer type meplat whereas the Hornady was more round nosed bullet however I had already decided to machine new seating stems for both and test for best accuracy after the initial load development.
I finally ended up with 5x 36 grains H4831SC, 5x 36.5 grains, 5×37 grains and 5×37.5 grains which would suffice for test purposes.
We had already decided to had out to the range on Christmas day with some rifles so this was added for testing purposes and a suitable target chosen, namely an A3 sized copy of the WDM Bell book cover ‘The Wanderings of an Elephant Hunter’
You can find it free for Kindle on the webynet and it is an interesting read, plus Bell shot a .256 Mannlicher for a while whilst hunting elephants, apparently accounting 300 Bulls with the cartridge so a fitting target in my mind.
Distance to shoot was a modest 25m however I was more interested in the rifles function than distance. Also once we arrived at the range I realised I was wearing the wrong contacts so the front sight bead which is minute by anyone’s standards was blur and the target being a mass of varying shades of grey, despite this the first 5 rounds were within a 2.5″ group at the bottom of the paper and careful inspection of the brass revealed nothing of concern. No excessive sooting around the neck, in fact the necks were clean and the cases in perfect condition however with the most minute evidence of the primers backing out, the cases were definitely too short for the chamber when full length sized with the RCBS and the load was probably too low. After some consideration I decided to continue and shot the following 3 groups of 5 over a few minutes with less primer issues with the final 5 shots being centre mass as I had aimed which when looking at the drops for the round at the predicted 2200fps would suggest this would put the sights on or around a true zero at 100 yards. I did not chrono the loads during these early stages which I rather regret now.
So what have I found out? Well the rifle functions flawlessly with the 37.5 grain load and it is certainly one to test at 100 yards, the other good news is I have since tested the sight picture with the new multi focal contacts I have and I can see quite clearly, in fact they are a bit of a revelation and I will be using them full time in the new year.
I need to test the true shoulder to case head length when full length sizing with both the RCBS and Hornady dies and in adjust set-up dependant on my final choice.
Shooting a Mannlicher–Schönauer 6,5x54M-Sch on a Christmas day is something everyone should do given the chance, the rifle despite its light weight is a delight to shoot and recoil is very modest. I can see why WDM Bell advocated the use of the .256 Mannlicher cartridge and it was only ammunition failure that led him to move to the larger Mauser cartridge.