Another (Near) Scout
By Paul Nixon
About a year ago, I was introduced to the M96 Swedish Mauser, 6.5X55mm, sort of by accident, when Dave Markowitz was looking to sell one. Price was right, so I gave it a try.
The 6.5X55 Swedish Mauser is still a popular caliber in Europe. It's been used there as a "moose" (a critter similar to and a bit smaller than our elk) and deer killer, and for many years held distance accuracy records. This round has a distinguished history, and it has many devotees here in the states, although it's not wildly popular. Reloading industry estimates place it at about 18th in popularity in the US.
The 6.5 "Swede" has the low recoil of the .257 Roberts, the flat shooting of the .270 Winchester, and penetrates like a 7X57 Mauser.
And is probably more accurate than all three.
My first experimental shooting took place at a local match an informal group shoots here in the desert. My "Swede" proved to be a fine shooter. Unfortunately, in its original military trim it weighs about the same as a small truck and is about as long. I guess either the Swedish army guys are bigger than I am, or they issued caissons to go along with the rifle...
Anyway, the gun was such a sweet shooter that I decided that if it could be made reasonably light, it should make a good backup deer rifle, a back up to my usual match rifle, and a general purpose truck gun.
I didn't want to go whacking at a gun that was in very good to excellent condition, and decided to pick up another for experimental purposes, since the retail cost of these things isn't all that high. I found another example that had a somewhat rough stock and a couple of parts that had been changed over the years, so the price was very right.
Sent off to Mr. Smith, it soon returned with a 21" barrel. The bolt handle was turned down at the same time. I also ran across a used sporter stock at a gun show. At $30, it was overpriced, but I figured that some judicious lightening and an application of the secret sauce would make it look rather wicked. Turns out when the old crud was removed, a nice piece walnut emerged. With a bit of rasping to remove the recurve filigrees from the mad stock maker's art and some smoothing and oiling this has gotten raves from the bystanders. Darn thing actually came out the other end of the process approaching pretty.
At that point I had an investment of about $170 or so. Time to try it out. Unfortunately, my 50-year-old eyeballs are not as effective as these old military iron sights were designed for. When properly focused on the front sight the target is blurred to the point of being effectively gone. Let's just say a man-sized target at 100 yards isn't in much danger unless he's really unlucky that day.
Okay, so I can't see the sights any more. Now the simple solution is to have the gun drilled and tapped and install a scope and call it done. I've never been one to do things the simple way.
I'd run across a fellow who had mounted a shotgun scope on a .22, as an experiment, which turned out quite effective. And since I'm also a student of the "Scout rifle" concept I decided that it was worth a try to mate an inexpensive scope to this rifle, mounted forward of what is considered the "normal" position, giving the Swede handling characteristics of a scout rifle.
As they say, "Kids, don't try this at home." The shotgun scope that worked so well on the .22 just didn't work on the larger rifle. Well, it did work, but only out to about 75-100 yards -- anything farther out made the viewer's head swim and eyeballs cross with the slightest movement. So, unless I wanted a bench rest rifle to use on targets less than 100 yards away, I had to re-think the sight system. Hey, that's why they call it an "experiment," it teaches what won't work, right?
Fortunately, I resold the scope for what I paid, and the mounts can be used on another project, so I "only" wasted $50.
Next step was to look for another sighting system that would give the characteristics of a "scout." Well, I had this 1X pistol scope...
So, grinning, Mr. Smith took his retirement project off, removed the old mounts for the shotgun scope and drilled and tapped for the pistol scope.
Bore-sighted and zeroed, we shot several groups using some factory ammunition from different manufacturers. The best group was slightly smaller than the diameter of a quarter. I can live with that.
I also shot the Swede at our desert match last week. These are sort of practical, i.e. we shoot under conditions resembling the field. At up to a measured 400 yards there's no doubt in my mind that this gun will consistently hit the kill zone of any reasonably appropriate target, if the operator does his job. It may reach out farther, I just didn't have anything set up to measure the results.
Another aspect of this gun that I find very appealing is that after a morning of hauling it around and shooting a couple of boxes of ammo I felt that I could comfortably do it all over again that afternoon. A similar rifle should make a fine all around shooter for someone of small stature or who is recoil sensitive. Recoil is light enough that it doesn't hammer the shooter, so a person should have no reason not to feed it enough ammunition to become thoroughly familiar with it.
We'll do some load development for accuracy to find out what this thing prefers, and play with a couple of different bullet weights. Based on the limited shooting so far, it appears the Swede is capable of very serious accuracy.
It isn't a "real" scout: slightly longer, at 42". Also slightly overweight, and in the "wrong" caliber. However, it does follow along with the scout in concept: the caliber is capable of a wide range of targets and it's light and fast, with the forward scope. And it has the clip feed.
The investment turned out to be higher than I'd originally intended for this project, but a guy with younger eyes could do very well to either retain the military irons or add a ghost ring, an example of which I shot a few months back, which seemed, with limited experimentation, to work quite well. Nor would a fellow have to change stocks, I've run across several examples where the original military stock was modified to a more "sporting" configuration which was perfectly adequate. A person who didn't insist on doing the amount of experimenting I've done could get away with a decent shooter as a starter, or second or "truck" gun without having to take out a 4th mortgage.
Original "Swedes" are available in the Phoenix market at $110-130 or so. The M94 carbine, with its 18" barrel, and the "Artillery" (M38) model run slightly higher locally.
Would I do it again? Well, with irons a guy could have a decent shooter for about $150, figuring the initial cost of the gun, having the barrel cut and crowned and doing the stock configuration himself. Add a few dollars to drill and tap, and for mounts if you go with a scope and it would still be in the "inexpensive" range for a highly serviceable general purpose rifle.
For a somewhat heavier investment USRAC (Winchester) chambers a 6.5 in their popular M70 Featherweight.
For some good technical information about the 6.5X55 and how it compares to other calibers in its class, see Petersen's Hunting magazine, May 1994.
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