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Norma 9.3x62

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Norma 9.3x62

by Ganyana

"There isn't really a great deal to say about it. Everybody found it so generally satisfactory that there wasn't anything to start a discussion."

This is how John "Pondoro" Taylor sums up the 9.3x62 Mauser in the classic African Rifles and Cartridges. From the moment of its introduction in 1905 until it was hobbled by ammunition supply problems in the 1960s, the 9.3x62 reigned supreme as the allaround, and probably most popular non-military, calibre in Africa.

When cartridges loaded with smokeless powder and jacketed bullets were first introduced, a truly remarkable small-bore revolution began among hunters and farmers across the continent. The military rifles that introduced this revolution were chambered for the 7x57, .303, 6.5mm Mannlicher, 8mm Lebel, or 7.92 Mauser. Their flat trajectories and almost unbelievable penetration changed the way people thought about rifles.

The Martini-Henrys, Snider-Enfields, and 11.2mm Mausers they replaced packed a most impressive clout on small and medium game, but they were no slouches in the recoil department, had a rainbow-like trajectory, and their military bullets were too soft to give the desired penetration on big game. Almost overnight, the old black-powder rounds became obsolete, and only those who couldn't afford a new rifle were left with the older ones.

A good example of this rapid change was Zimbabwe, where the Martini-Henry (.577/450, roughly equivalent to the American .45-90) was THE universal rifle up until 1894. By March, 1896, when the first outbreaks of rebellion occurred, the Martini was obsolete. Those remaining in Government stocks were in disrepair, while many civilians and all of the militia had .303s. By the end of the war, everybody had acquired a .303, and the story was much the same throughout Africa.

What cut the small-bore revolution short was the rinderpest epidemic from 1894 to '97, which ravaged southern and central Africa. Antelope died in their millions, becoming locally extinct in many areas.

This huge drop in animal numbers meant a change in hunting ethics. Prior to this, it was accepted that any animal shot at, which did not immediately show signs that it was badly hit, was assumed to be a miss, and the hunter went after another one. Now, however, game was scarce. It might take a couple of days of hard hunting to get a second shot, so the first one needed to bring the animal down quickly. Marksmanship on game improved, as did efforts to recover wounded animals.

It didn't take long for people to realise that game had to be hit “just so” with the fullmetal jacketed military bullets in order to bring them down quickly. Softpoint ammunition improved the situation, but even these lacked the terminal clout of the old black-powder rounds, and was in very short supply to boot.

By 1900, many hunters had either gone back to their Martinis or invested in one of the new medium bores being brought onto the market by the British and German gun trades. The British were also quick to introduce heavy-calibre rifles for use on dangerous game, but these were specialty weapons designed more for the gentleman hunter than the working professional or farmer. What the working man required was a cheap, reliable rifle chambered for a cartridge that would comfortably sort out a crop-raiding elephant or hippo, while at the same time securing good knock-down times on plains game for the pot. And, it had to do all of this with full-metal jacket bullets, with a recoil mild enough to allow sustained fire in case the owner needed it for self defence.

The British were quick to meet this demand with the 400/350 Express (Rigby), the 400/360 (Purdey & Westley Richards), and the .375 Flanged Express (BSA). The Germans produced the 9x57 and 10.75x57.

British rifles fell into two categories: Very expensive, high-quality guns chambered for proprietary cartridges, or very cheap and nasty ones chambered for the .375 Express. Only the .350 Rigby achieved any measure of success, but it was available only in expensive Rigby rifles (even Rigby’s single-shots cost more than twice that of a B-grade Mauser), while proprietary ammunition was expensive and sometimes difficult to obtain.

In addition, the Boers, French, German, and, to some extent, Portuguese colonists, were not exactly pro-British, and were unlikely to buy another nation’s rifle unless it was the only choice or offered clear advantages over any home-produced product.

German cartridges based on the military 7.92 (8x57) round necked up were great on softskinned game, but lacked penetration to kill elephants with frontal shots, and were marginal for raking shots on game such as buffalo or hippo. It was into this market that Paul Mauser launched his 9.3x62.

The standard Model ’98 Mauser rifle cost only £5 (US$20) in 1905, and it was renowned for its reliability. The rifles came with acceptable sights, were superbly accurate, and the
earlier 8x57 and 9x57 cartridges were easily the best of the early smokeless small bores, although they lacked the knockdown power needed for the largest game. The 9.3 corrected the power problem while not having excessive recoil. In short, it was a well balanced cartridge, loaded with good soft-point bullets or solids, and came in a reasonably priced, high-quality rifle. It was an instant success, and not only in the German colonies.

To cater to the British market, Mauser introduced the A-grade rifle, with express sights and/or a peep sight, rhino- or buffalo-horn fore-ends and grip caps, and an English-style stock. Even with the extras, tthe 'A' class Mauser was still half the price of contemporary British rifles of similar quality, and they sold like the proverbial hot cakes to the colonists. Here at last was a serious all-around cartridge; its 286-grain bullets at 2350 fps had enough energy and penetration for amateur hunters and farmers to safely kill even elephants in all but the worst circumstances, while its moderate recoil made its use reasonable even on such small game such as warthog or impala.

The velocity was high for the period – higher than contemporary British cartridges – and gave a flat enough trajectory for all hunting out to 200 metres or so without having to change the sight settings. This was just what the working man ordered.

As its popularity spread, so did conditions that further enhanced its popularity, including a ready supply of ammunition. Anywhere from the Cape to Cairo where there was a general store, 9.3 ammunition could be obtained. This was vital to the farmer or hunter who was often cut off for months on end by rains, local wars, or rinderpest. In fact, the 9.3 came to have a truly international flavour by NOT being a country’s military cartridge, and this further enhanced its general appeal. By comparison, .303 ammunition was not available anywhere in Africa outside the British colonies, while 8mm Lebel ammunition was confined to French Africa, and so on. Wherever you went in all six of the colonial powers’ spheres of influence, however, 9.3x62 ammunition was available.

The only use for which Taylor considered the 9.3 unsuitable was following up wounded elephant in thick cover, and most hunters would agree: Penetration is there aplenty, enabling the bullet to reach the vitals from any angle, but the sheer bullet energy needed to turn a close-quarters charge just simply is not – but then, nor is it with the .375 H&H.

Nevertheless, the 9.3 found immediate acceptance among even large-bore fans in the professional elephant-hunting fraternity, for use in open country where shots over 20 metres were the norm. In thick cover, or following up a wounded elephant, the professional would switch to his heavy rifle ( a .500, .505, or larger). Even die-hard small-bore fans (including W.D.M. Bell) kept at least a .450 double in reserve for wounded jumbo in the thick stuff.

Wounded elephant aside, the 9.3 fitted the bill for everything else.

George Rushby favoured his 9.3 double for both elephant-control work and for shooting lions. Ten of the man-eaters of Njombe fell to George's 9.3, and he records with sorrow how he was forced to sell the 9.3 for financial reasons and purchase a .400 which, although just as effective on elephants, lacked the “shocking power” on the big cats. This, of course, was simply a matter of velocity, as the 9.3’s velocity is above the critical point at which explosive wounds occur in flesh (2200-2250 fps), and so the bullets tend to produce much more extensive wounds and shock to the central nervous system than larger, slower bullets.

World War II marked the beginning of the end for the 9.3. Mauser stopped producing rifles, and by the 1960s, supplies of good-quality Kynoch and DWM ammunition became scarce. The Norma and Sellier & Bellot (Czech) ammunition that remained was designed for medium game up to eland or elk, and their solids were too poor to take against elephants. European rifles that remained in production were no longer cheap. Many hunters now coming to Africa were Americans who wanted cartridges with designations they could understand (Imperial measure, not metric), preferably with a belt to show they were a “magnum,”and chambered in a cheap, home-grown American rifle.

It didn't matter that .375 H&H solids broke up far more readily than the 9.3’s, or that the .375 produced greater meat damage with no improvement in effectiveness, and all this with a significant increase in recoil. Ammunition was available, it was cheap, and a new Winchester or Remington was half the price of a Steyr-Mannlicher or Husquvarna. By the 1970s, the 9.3 was all but dead in Africa, although it remained very popular in Europe.

In recent years, the 9.3 has seen something of a revival. Good quality Brno (CZ) rifles arrived on the market which are substantially cheaper than any quality .375. Supplies of new-generation Norma ammo became available, and custom bullet makers from Ken Stewart to Woodleigh began producing first-class 9.3mm bullets.

People are rediscovering that the 9.3 is a great all-around rifle. For the man who occasionally gets to shoot a buffalo or elephant, and spends most of his time hunting kudu or eland, the 9.3 makes an awful lot of sense. Recoil is not excessive, nor the meat damage so severe as to make it an unreasonable choice even for game as small as impala, so its owner might as well use it on everything.

This makes much more sense than doing most of your hunting with a small- or mediumbore rifle, then having to change to a different rifle, often with a longer bolt throw, for a buffalo hunt once in two or three years. A hunter who uses only one rifle knows it intimately, where it shoots at longer ranges, and so rarely causes screw-ups or wounds game. Loaded with good bullets, the 9.3 delivers the same terminal performance as a .375, and does so without the sharper recoil, longer action, and greater weight of its modern replacement.

Norma currently offers 9.3x62 loads for just about everything. The solids are perfect for elephant and hippo (on land), while the 286-grain Swifts are buffalo medicine par excellence. They are also suitable for giraffe, hippo in the water, and general plains game.

The Norma Oryx is a fast-expanding bonded bullet originally intended for moose but which works especially well on lion and leopard and is, of course, suitable for all plains game from impala up. In Europe, the Vulcan is a popular bullet for wild boar, giving limited penetration and rapid knock-down effect.

For those who need very fast knock-down on moderate-size game, such as shooting bush pigs in the corn at night, the Plastic Point provides the most rapid knock-down of any Norma bullet. On game up to 250 pounds, with the 9.3 the result is as near a “bang-flop” as it is possible to get.

For those who desire less recoil, Norma offers the lighter 232-grain bullets. The Oryx is loaded to full speed for medium-range shooting, and there is a pointed full-metal jacket design (Jactmatch). This is used in Scandinavia for training purposes, but it’s absolutely perfect for the “Tiny 10” (the smallest antelopes in Africa), where a regular soft point would destroy both trophy and meat.

Overall, the classic Mauser 9.3x62 is a bit of overkill on dassies, and a bit short on horsepower for a tyrannosaur, but on everything in between it is perfectly adequate.

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