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Classic African Cartridges Part VI:
The 6.5 x 54 Mannlicher-Schoenauer - Ganyana

There were of course men who really ‘over did it’ with regard to the cartridge’s capability. Men like Percival and Banks used them on lion and were lucky to survive the encounters, particularly as the softpoint bullets of the day could not be relied upon to penetrate the chest muscles, forcing the hunter to use solids. Stigand was badly injured by both an elephant and a rhino that he failed to stop at close range, whereupon he reverted (as did Bell) to a 7mm Mauser which had greater penetration. “Pondoro” Taylor summed the 6.5 up very well, as being a dandy rifle for a man out after plains game for meat or sport, but not as a big game calibre. Another disconcerting feature was the propensity for the case necks to split, and so jamb the case in the breech upon firing. This applied not only to the cheap military ball ammo (it was the Greek military cartrige from 1900 to 1940) but also to both Ely and Kynock brands. None of this mattered if the rifle was used as a small bore rifle on appropriate plains game. For every hunter who wrote about his success on dangerous game with the 6.5 there were several who died proving it wasn’t really suitable.

The model 1903 Mannlicher has to be one of the sweetest handling rifles ever produced. Weighing only 6½ lbs and only 38" (97cm) long, it was the original “scout” rifle.

As a small bore though, the 6.5 excelled. By 1920 the problem with splitting cases had been largely resolved, whilst bullet quality slowly improved. Improvements in powders also enabled manufacturers to increase velocity slightly from the original 2230fps to 2330fps (in a 17" barrel). In short, on game up to the size of wildebeest or kudu, the 6.5 worked reliably and did so from a rifle that still captivates anyone who handles one.

World War II ensured that the 6.5 M-S relinquished its place as one of the most common small bore cartridges in Africa. Basically only Mannlicher had produced rifles chambered for it, and following the war, Mannlicher rifles with their complex (‘though beautifully smooth) rotary magazines and trigger mechanisms and exquisitely machined actions ceased abruptly to be budget priced sporters that appealed to the ordinary man in an African street. Secondly, Kynock ceased manufacturing ammunition in the 1960’s, leaving only the very expensive European brands.

Model-A Mauser and 6.5 Mannlicher-Schoenauer.
Standard Model-A Mauser and 6.5 Mannlicher-Schoenauer.

Mannlicher, however, continue to produce rifles in 6.5 M-S which are top grade weapons and thousands of old rifles are found across the continent. Sadly many of the old rifles have ruined bores resulting from not being properly cleaned after using British ammunition, which retained its corrosive primers until the 1960’s. None-the-less, the little 6.5 continues to put the venison on the table, and, largely due to the excellent sectional density of its 160grain bullets, seems to perform much more reliably on Kudu sized game than many of its more modern and more powerful conterparts, and do so without the bruising normally associated with the high velocity numbers.

Article continues below.

About The Author
Ganyana is a gun and ballistics fanatic, actively involved in Zimbabwe's hunting industry. His years spent in the field, both as a wildlife management researcher and hunter, have resulted in volumes of data collected, which through this magazine he shares with like interested individuals.

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African Hunter Vol.5 No.1 February 1999
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