01/24/2020

Caliber .366, the “European .375,” is an effective and versatile option!

Boddington with Buffalo taken with 9.3 Sabatti
This Mozambique buff was taken cleanly with a single 286-grain Hornady from a Sabatti double.

The buffalo took the bullet hard but was instantly swallowed by thick trees. He crashed away, then silence, and in a few seconds the mournful death bellow. Sixty cautious yards later we found him down and completely out. Our tracker commented to PH Ben Rautenbach: “I didn’t think he could kill a buffalo with that little rifle!”

Thanks for the vote of confidence, but I wasn’t 100 percent sure myself! The rifle was extremely trim, just over seven pounds with two slender barrels. The cartridge was the 9.3x74R, the light weight made possible by the low pressure of the long, tapered cartridge, allowing doubles to be made lighter and handier than any larger cartridge. The 9.3x74R is just one of several European cartridges using the 9.3mm (caliber .366-inch) bullets.

Across the pond, the 9.3mm remains extremely popular. The 9.3mms are often used as a thumper for bears, boars and moose; and many experienced European hunters take their 9.3s to Africa, considering them equivalent and equal to the various .375s.

A .375 ALTERNATIVE?

We Americans are among the last to think in English rather than metric terms. It’s been drummed into our heads for so long that we take as Gospel that the .375 is the legal minimum for dangerous game. This is simply not true! Although common sense should apply, there are some African jurisdictions that stipulate no minimums at all. In countries that have caliber minimums, the actual minimum is more frequently 9.3mm rather than .375. Zimbabwe is unusual in she expresses energy minimums are energy requirements, unfortunately expressed in metric kilojoules. Never mind, Zimbabwe’s current energy minimums for dangerous game were crafted so that both the 9.3x74R and its ballistic twin, the 9.3x62mm Mauser, are street-legal for the largest game.

The 9.3x74R with its slender cigarillo-like case is believed to date to about 1900. It’s a rimmed cartridge intended for double rifles and single-shots and although Ruger has done limited runs of their No. 1 in 9.3x74R it’s largely unknown in the United States. Until fairly recently much the same could be said of its companion bolt-action cartridge, the 9.3x62. Otto Bock developed the 9.3x62 in Germany in 1905, using a slightly lengthened 8x57 Mauser case with base and rim just a few ten-thousandths different from our .30-06 case. The rimless 9.3x62 was designed to equal, in bolt-actions, the performance of the already-established 9.3x74R in doubles and single-shots. Their relationship is thus the same as the .450/.400 Nitro Express and the .404 Jeffery, although bullet diameters differ, the rimless.404 Jeffery was designed and originally loaded to equal .450/.400 performance in bolt-actions.

9.3 Montana Rifle Co. rifle and target
The Montana M99 in 9.3x62 Mauser is a solid MOA rifle, consistently printing its best groups with Hornady’s traditional 286-grain load.

The standard load for both the 9.3x74R and 9.3x62 was, and is, a heavy-for-caliber 286-grain bullet at 2,360 fps, yielding about 3,550 ft./lbs. Energy yield is not quite equal to the .375 H&H which exceeds 4,000 ft./lbs. with most loads. I guess that’s why anglicized and American me has always been skeptical. True, bullet energy is needed, but no one can say exactly how much. Equally important is penetration and the 9.3s have long been famous for deep, straight-line penetration. The 9.3x74R is much less common—as are double rifles! Chambered to inexpensive bolt-actions, the 9.3x62 became a mainstay. Initially, of course, in Germany’s colonies, German South West and German East Africa (now Namibia and Tanzania), but its popularity extended far beyond those borders.

With solids, historically 293 grains, the 9.3s were often used for elephant. I’m okay considering the 9.3mm marginal for elephant. In the thicker cover where most elephant hunting is done today, I feel exactly the same way about the .375s. As for buffalo, today I’m prepared to side with the old-timers and the Europeans. The 9.3x62 and 9.3x74R are adequate for any buffalo that walks and thus at least adequate for all lesser game.

I’ve long said that a scoped .375 is one of the most versatile of all rifles and among very few choices as a sensible one rifle safari battery. The former remains true, but to the latter must be added a scoped 9.3. The 9.3mm cartridges offer a viable alternative to the .375s.      

IF SO, WHY?

As with .375s, we have to be clear which 9.3mm cartridges we’re talking about. To me the .375 H&H is the baseline .375 cartridge. There are milder cartridges that happen to use .375-caliber bullets. Obsolete and mild .375s like the 9.5mm Mannlicher and .400/.375 Nitro Express and the .375 Winchester. The .376 Steyr is on the fence. It is buffalo-capable, but since it was designed for shorter actions it is normally loaded with bullets of 270 grains or less. There are also several .375 cartridges faster than the H&H; .375 Ruger, .375 Weatherby, .375 RUM and .378 Weatherby Magnum. They shoot flatter and deliver more energy and are extremely effective, but at increased cost in recoil

The spectrum of 9.3mm cartridges is not as broad, but there are choices. Still occasionally seen in older rifles are mild 9.3s; 9.3x57 Mauser rimless for bolt actions and the rimmed 9.3x72R for doubles and single-shots. These must not be confused with either the 9.3x62 or 9.3x74R. These latter two, with essentially identical ballistics are the baseline for 9.3s as general-purpose cartridges. There are faster 9.3s. Developed in Finland in 2002, the 9.3x66 Sako is based on the .30-06 with a short neck and loaded to higher pressure than the 9.3x62. It equals .375 H&H velocities, so if the 9.3x62 sounds too anemic for you this is an option.

Boddington with Idaho black bear
Mike “Sparky” Sparks and Boddington with a nice Idaho black bear, taken with the Montana 9.3x62 and 250-grain Hornady GMX.

Some years back when Federal introduced it in this country as the .370 Sako Magnum, a group of us used it in Zimbabwe, taking multiple buffaloes each and, among the group, a couple of elephants. No problems, awesome performance, in all ways the equal of the .375 H&H with similar velocity and energy and only .009 (nine thousandths) difference in bullet diameter.

There is just one faster 9.3. The 9.3x64mm Brenneke, introduced by Wilhelm Brenneke in 1910. Using a fatter case, the 9.3x64 is faster than the .375 H&H and produces more energy. Thus, it must be considered more powerful than the .375 H&H. So, if you simply must have that magical 4,000 ft-lbs of energy either the .370 Sako (9.3x66) or 9.3x64 Brenneke can provide.

Despite what I considered significant promise, the .370 Sako has not taken off. The 9.3x64 still has some following in Europe, but it is almost unheard of in the U.S. and both ammo and cases are hard to find. At the same time, the 9.3x62 Mauser has made a comeback. Most of the majors offer 9.3mm bullets and while Hornady is the primary domestic source, Norma and other European makers load 9.3x62 ammo with a variety of bullets. Choices are fewer in 9.3x74R (because there are fewer rifles and they are costlier), but ammunition is readily available.

So, why in the world might one choose a 9.3x62 instead of a .375? There are good reasons. First, provided bullet performance is as good (and it is), I’m convinced no game animal will notice either the nine-thousandths difference in bullet diameter, nor do they seem to notice the max 170 fps difference in velocity. However, you will feel the difference on your shoulder. The .375 H&H is manageable, but the 9.3x62 is more manageable.

There’s more. The 9.3x62 fits into a standard (.30-06-length) action, while the .375 H&H requires a full-length action. This means a heavier action and a heavier rifle. The ammunition is lighter and much more compact. Few of us carry enough ammo to lose sleep over a few extra ounces, but most standard bolt-action magazines will house five unbelted, rimless 9.3x62 cartridges, while the most common capacity for the fatter, belted .375 H&H is just three. Yeah, I don’t run a magazine dry very often, but five in the magazine means fewer extra cartridges in pockets or on belt.

So, adequate and seemingly indistinguishable performance with less recoil, less gun weight and bulk, greater magazine capacity and less ammo weight and bulk.      

BOLT, DOUBLE, OR BOTH?

Few major U.S. manufacturers have chambered to the 9.3x62, although it’s a standard chambering for CZ, Sako, Tikka and other imported brands. On the custom and semi-custom market, the 9.3x62 is a fairly common request, in part because it’s so adaptable to standard actions. I had a Tikka 9.3x62 some years ago. It was a great pig gun, but I didn’t use it as much as I should have. Just this year I got a gorgeous Montana Rifles M99 in 9.3x62 on their controlled-round-feed Mauser clone action.

Accuracy is fantastic and recoil is mild, it’s a great rifle. Montana does awesome work in good walnut, in this case the stock was almost too pretty to beat up. I talked Montana’s new CEO, my old friend Ron Petty, into fixing up a synthetic stock as well, which is what I’ve been using.

Sabatti double rifle and grouping
Boddington’s Sabatti in 9.3x74R wears a 1.25-4X scope in detachable mounts, greatly extending the versatility.

Perhaps oddly, I got a Sabatti double 9.3x74R a couple of years before I got this bolt-action 9.3x62. John “Pondoro” Taylor (African Rifles and Cartridges) often wrote about the advantages of having both a double and a bolt-action in the same cartridge. Although a nice concept, this is difficult in practice because doubles are most reliable with rimmed cartridges, while magazine rifles almost invariably use rimless or belted rimless cartridges. However, with a 9.3x62 bolt-action and a double in 9.3x74R you can have identical performance in the two rifles.

Both rifles are scoped, so there’s no difference there. The Sabatti is exceptionally accurate for a double; it will hold two inches at 100 yards, making it potentially a 200-yard double rifle. But there’s really no comparison. The Montana 9.3x62 consistently groups under one MOA with Hornady’s 286-grain load. So long as I know the distance and the drop, it has no range limitation.

With scope the Sabatti weights 7.5 pounds; the Montana bolt-action is slightly heavier at eight pounds. I always wanted a light double I could use for some North American hunting. No double can be built much lighter—but there is a cost. The Sabatti bounces pretty hard, the half-pound extra weight in the bolt-action Montana makes it a lot more comfortable to shoot. Also, doubles being doubles, the Sabatti has heavier triggers while the Montana 9.3x62 has a clean crisp, much lighter trigger that is easier to control.

With exactly identical ballistics, it’s fun to have both, and I will use both in the future. However, with apologies to Pondoro Taylor, I don’t see myself taking both rifles on the same hunt. While the ballistic capabilities are the same, the double’s instantaneous one-two punch can be invaluable for larger game at close range, but a double cannot match the precision of an accurate bolt-action.

IMPRESSIVE PERFORMANCE!

The loads I’ve been using mostly in both cartridges are: Hornady’s 286-grain RP and 250-grain GMX. In both the 9.3x62 and 9.3x74R the 286-grain load is rated at 2,360 fps, long the standard velocity. This heavier bullet delivers a slight bonus in my rifles, 2,380 fps in the double and right at 2,400 in the Montana bolt-action. The lighter 250-grain GMX in their International load is quite a bit faster, 2,525 in the 9.3x74R double and 2,540 in the bolt gun.

The 250-grain bullet shoots a good deal flatter, and, because of its lighter weight, has less recoil, but it depends on what you intend to do. For buffalo it’s an easy choice. The traditional heavy bullet is the one to use. It was Hornady’s 286-grain RP bullet in the 9.3x74R that performed so well on a buffalo last year and that’s the bullet I’ll use for buffalo next month in the 9.3x62.

However, the 9.3s aren’t just for buffalo and the relatively new 250-grain GMX offers some interesting versatility. The Sabatti double actually groups slightly better with the lighter bullet and, since the GMX is lead-free, that’s what I’ve used for hog hunting around home on the Central Coast, where unleaded bullets are mandated. Performance has been decisive, with all bullets passing through.

Sabatti Double and Montana Rifle
Boddington’s Sabatti double in 9.3x74R, bottom, and Montana M99 bolt-action in 9.3x62 deliver exactly the same ballistics in the two different actions.

Accuracy with the Montana 9.3x62 is just the opposite. Topped with a Leupold 1.75-6X the traditional 286-grain load consistently groups well under an inch. This rifle doesn’t like the 250-grain bullet as well and it won’t do that, but with groups running about 1.25 inches it’s still plenty accurate enough for anything I’m likely to do with a 9.3. I took the Montana 9.3x62 to Idaho in June for a black bear hunt with Mike “Sparky” Sparks. Hunting over bait, I knew the shot would be close so I could have used either bullet, but that 250-grain GMX had worked so well on wild hogs that I thought it would be perfect for black bear.

I saw five bears in five days, pretty good action, but I almost messed up. On the second afternoon I passed a gorgeous chocolate-colored bear in good light. I have no idea what I was thinking, except that I thought it was a big sow and, since I was seeing bears, I decided to hold out. On my last night, with about seven minutes legal shooting remaining, a nice black bear stepped out of the trees. I was pretty sure it was a boar and I was out of time. At about 70 yards the bear quartered to me, stopped and offered a clear shot. The 250-grain GMX dropped it on the spot, entering on the point of the shoulder and exiting the rear flank. Perfect!

A couple of weeks later, I headed for Namibia on an SCI auction hunt with Jamy Traut, me accompanying the winning bidder. I wouldn’t be doing a lot of shooting, but I needed a versatile rifle; the Montana 9.3x62 was the only rifle I took. It was a leopard hunt for winning bidders Dan Baker and Gladys Taggart, up in Kaokoland in Namibia’s remote northwest corner. That’s big, dry country, so I stayed with the 250-grain GMX. Hornady’s loads aren’t the only options. Norma has excellent loads in both 9.3x62 and 9.3x74, but at the time all they had in the U.S. was a 275-grain Norma solid, a wicked-looking flat-point homogenous alloy solid at 2,450 fps. Kaokoland is too dry for buffalo, but has a significant elephant population. Just in case, I always kept a couple of Norma solids on hand, but fortunately I never needed them.

As expected, I didn’t do a lot of shooting, but enough to know I’d made a good choice. The 9.3x62 with the 250-grain GMX shot plenty flat enough for shots to 250 yards with no difficulty and proved devastating on plains game up to zebra. On the way home I spent a few days with Mike Birch near Kimberley and we did a bit of culling. No GMX bullets were recovered, every single one fired at game exited and hit with dramatic effect. For sheer versatility I’m a lifelong fan of the .375, but the 9.3mm has proven equally effective…in a lighter package with a bit less recoil. I’m now convinced that, short of the really big stuff, the 9.3mm may actually be a more versatile option!--Craig Boddington

Hunt Forever