The Retro Rifle Page
The page will be dedicated to pushing the envelope to the outer reaches of firearms performance. Since firearms and ammunition
manufacturers perform this task everyday in researching new products almost exclusively in the realm of faster, harder and 'more
of everything' in ways no individual can hope to match, we will concentrate on other parameters in the hope of expanding firearm
performance in all directions. We will concentrate on field expediency, retrogressive technology and reduced loads.
We will explore techniques the average shooter has never thought of and which necessity has yet to call into question.
THE RETRO RIFLE
The working hypothesis of these volumes has always been that, with a little imagination and a few raw materials to work with,
one can overcome virtually any adversity—in style. While pondering this idea and thinking again of the limits (or the lack of them)
to what one can do with a firearm, I thought of an old Mauser K-98 on my wall gathering dust. You can still find ammunition for
it (8mm X 57, or “8mm Mauser”), but you must order it from a specialty house. You can still get reloading dies, but the bullet
choice is relatively limited. Modern powder works fine, as does Pyrodex or black powder in a pinch, as long as you regard the
limits you see in the charts. It is an old rifle and requires some finesse and caution in reloading or choosing modern ammo for it.
Some years ago I had purchased it along with several others for about $20 apiece with the idea of getting the receivers for
possible barrel conversions but got side-tracked with other projects, and it has gotten little of my attention since. Then, the
thought occurred to me during the writing of this volume: what if I were caught in a survival situation and this rifle was all I had
for protection and hunting? What “Retro” solution might I apply here?
It occurred to me that, if I were faced with a situation in which I had no reloading capability, I could still use it under extreme
conditions if I were to apply the principles of muzzle loading. As I have already stated elsewhere, black powder does not generally
create the kinds of pressures that can damage more modern firearms. The big ring Mauser will certainly withstand these.
Virtually any firearm can be muzzle loaded if it is done with care; after all, muzzle loading is essentially building a cartridge in the
barrel. The only thing missing is the shell case. Supposing that the bolt was locked into place and everything were loaded down
the muzzle, the only problem would be to develop an ignition system—perhaps one the rifle was not designed for. Here’s how it
1. Clean the rifle thoroughly and make sure the bolt achieves a positive lock at the breech.
2. Inspect for defects or problems that may cause blockage or explosion
3. Make sure the firing pin achieves a reasonable lock and release and that the trigger and safety work
4. If you have some on hand, locate as many fired 8mm casings as you can and re-prime them
5. Punch out the old primers with a nail of suitable size; ; if you don’t have primers that fit, reload the old ones with the
ground heads from matches "Reloading Primers" and press them back into place
6. Fill the brass casing with black powder or Pyrodex and pack with wadding
7. Locate a projectile that will fit easily down the bore while nestled snuggly in a patch you make from an old tee-shirt or
other available material; smaller bullets, lead balls (like buckshot), even “bird shot” will do if you wad it properly; you can even
make your own custom bullets in a pinch (see “bullet making" below).
8. With the rifle pointed in a safe direction, insert a primed, powder-filled casing into the breech, lock the bolt and apply the
9. Keeping hands and face clear of the muzzle(all the usual precautions of all muzzle loading) and using a cleaning rod or an
improvised ram rod, push the projectile from the muzzle end of the barrel towards the breech until it is firmly seated
10. Flip the safety off, acquire a target and fire.
11. Follow all the same safety precautions and cleaning requirements you would with any muzzle loader.
As always, this example of field improvisation assumes the materials are available to accomplish the endeavor. When they aren’t,
improvise again. Say, for example, there are no 8mm brass casing available; find a casing that will work. All you need the casing
for is to hold the powder and primer in place; the rest of the cartridge elements will be pushed down the muzzle. Here, you can
apply the shotshell principle without the projectile. Take any casing that will fit in the chamber and measure the base against the
face of the bolt. Once fitted to the bolt face, make a conscious effort to make sure the firing pin will strike the primer. Virtually
any shell casing that will fit the chamber and still be positively extracted by the more than ample Mauser extractor, with a little
ingenuity, can be made to work. Those that most closely approximate the dimensions of the 8 X 57mm case (or the one for
which your firearm was originally chambered) will work best. My Mauser K-98 action (in 8mm) will chamber and extract 8mm,
7.62 x 39 (very grudgingly, as the case is too short), 35 Remington, .308 Winchester, .270 Winchester and 30-06 Springfield (if
you trim the cases a bit). Virtually any brass that fits the bolt face can be trimmed or the bevel and neck eliminated to form the
equivalent of a shotshell; it can then be loaded with powder and wad and inserted into the breech similar to the old breech loaders
with paper case and bullet before the brass case was adopted.
Tips: when you locate your ram rod and make sure it works properly—that is that it fits snuggly but not too snuggly all the
way down the barrel to the bolt face with a hand’s width left sticking out of the muzzle—mark it for several crucial depths: 1) to
the bolt face; with the bolt closed, push it in as far as it will go, open the bolt and see the end of it [that’s where the bolt face is
when the bolt is locked behind the chamber at the lug channel], and draw a mark around the rod circumference exactly at the
muzzle; 2) the powder column; chamber the loaded casing (using appropriate precautions), ram the rod in until it meets
appreciable resistance (that is, firmly, without forcing it) and mark the rod at the muzzle; and 3) ram in the bullet or ball to the
appropriate level of snugness, and mark the rod. This is the same principle the avid muzzle loader uses to mark his various load
columns (see “Black Powder Rifle”). You need to know the load column length for several important reasons. For one, a repeated
use of black powder establishes a load column (or fouling column) length of its own. You will want to be sure you don’t lengthen
this load column in the barrel by short-stroking the ball. If you do this, you will get a slight delay between trigger pull and ignition
or recoil that will affect accuracy. This is known as delayed convergence (similar to but not identical with firing pin
convergence). When ramming the ball in, make sure the rod goes to the same place every time—the long-mark, or where you
marked the last line. If it doesn’t go back to the same place and you cannot force it there without undue effort, a good cleaning is
in order. When cleaning, give special attention to the ignition chamber, the breech bevel and the chamber throat.
From this point onward, you follow the basic rules of muzzle loading. As with muzzle loading, you will be required to do an
appreciable amount of practicing to achieve the kind of accuracy you want to achieve for hunting. Through experimentation with
various materials at hand, you can develop a workable load for your rifle. The process is helped along by the fact that your
modern muzzle/breech loader has superior rifling than its predecessors and is therefore capable of equal, even better, accuracy.
Even the old Mauser I speak of here, although the lands and grooves of the barrel are almost gone, still gives the ball enough spin
to make a remarkable difference.
Combinations that work:
The main problem with cases other than the 8mmX 57 case is the placement of the shoulder bevel. The shoulder (or that point at
which the case neck begins at the top of the shoulder bevel) of the 8X57 is 1.933 inches from the base; for the .308 Winchester,
this length is 1.711 inches, for the 30-06, 2.11 inches. This means the .308 is too short and the 30-06 is too long. The case bases
of these (where the case meets the bolt face) however are exactly the same, .409 across the base and .473 at the base bevel and
outer edge. This means you can use .308 Winchester cases without modification, but you will have to cut the 30-06 cases (below
the bevel shoulder) to make them fit. [Or, if you have one available, run the 30-06 case through an 8mm decapping die to reshape
it, then trim it.]
.308 Winchester—load a primed, powdered case. Use an old case with a good throat to cut cardboard wads of proper size.
Using a case throat trimmer or a file, bevel the inner edge. Take a hammer and a piece of wood or other soft material and tap the
casing against the cardboard, cutting the wadding. Use a paper clip to recover them. Fill the primed case with black powder and
seal with the wad.
It will take some experimentation, but determine how much compression is necessary by filling the case and compressing by
packing the wad into place against the pressure of the powder. Using a dowel of proper diameter, tamp in the wad. Measure the
amount of compression by the number of wads you end up using: one wad of compression, two or three, depending on how
thick the wads are. When you achieve the performance you seek, record this in your loading diary.
1. .308 brass casing
2. Federal Large Rifle Primer, No. 215 (magnum)
3. Pyrodex (case filled to brim and compressed about 3/8ths of an inch)
4. wadding (card board/paper)
5. projectile ( I used both a Hornady.32 cal (.310) lead muzzle loader ball and a 113 grain, .30 cal. Lead bullet cast in a Lee
mold, see picture)
6. patch – an 8mm bullet is .323 diameter; a .308 cast bullet from a Lee mold is .310 before lubing and sizing. A .310 Lee
bullet patched with muslin (from a typical bed sheet) is .3225, or slightly undersized. The same bullet patched with a cotton tee-
shirt is .323 diameter but compresses to .322. Using material from a wool sock, the diameter is .329 but can be compressed to .
325 in the barrel. You will have to experiment with patching materials that best suit your barrel. Consider chamber pressure you
may be creating by hard patching the ball or bullet.
Left to Right: .308 brass (primed, powdered and wadded); .32 cal ball; 113 grn, .30 cal. Lead bullet; fired .308 Winchester
cases (note fouling and neck expansion).
With this recipe you may expect the following: 1) case and chamber fouling; 2) case fire forming (the case will assume the shape
and dimensions of the Mauser chamber); 3) less accuracy than is achieved by the 8mm cartridge; 4) a great deal of smoke; and
5) regular cleaning and rodding of the barrel and brushing of the chamber to remove fouling. All of these are a small price to pay
to have a functional firearm where there was none before.
Cases form fired in the Mauser chamber will have to have new wads cut for them as they now match the dimensions of the
chamber throat. Use method described below. Fouling can be cleaned with brass cleaner or soap and water. Punch out primers
and clean by hand or put in a cotton sack in the dishwasher; soak in boiling water for a few minutes and wipe dry; or, use your
vibrating case cleaner. Discard split cases or cut and use to cut new wadding.
Accuracy will drop from the customary precision for which the Mauser K-98 is renowned, but, with the right load
combination, you can expect to consistently stay within about 3-4 minutes of angle (about 4 inches at 100 yards). This is good
enough for deer (at 100 yards or less) or rabbits and squirrels (with some practice at 50 yards or less).
Rod the barrel and chamber frequently when shooting a lot. Use a good muzzle loading lubricant or cleaner. In final cleaning,
plug the barrel at the chamber entrance with cloth or wood cut to fit, pour boiling water down the barrel; use several changes of
water until the barrel gets too hot to hold with bare hands. Pour out the water and rod the barrel with a clean patch, and then
allow to dry. The heated barrel will be dry in a short while. Coat with thin layer of oil.
Making Wadding: Virtually any coarsely fibrous material will do. Cardboard, recycled paper egg cartons and so forth. I used the
compressed, recycled paper that my cell phone came in. Cut out all the flat sides and cull the rest.
You will need a hammer or mallet, a brass case of proper diameter (I used a cut .30-06 casing), a paper clip, a piece of dowel,
a cutting surface (leather or soft wood, like pine) and a container for your freshly cut wads.
1. sharpen the tip of the brass neck with sand paper or a beveling tool
2. place the wadding material on the leather and use the mallet to drive the brass casing into the material until the wad is cut
3. use the paper clip to push the wad out of the brass
4. tamp and compress the black powder or Pyrodex with the dowel (this may take a bit of experimentation to get it right;
work with it until the wadding stays in; if it is too loose, cut a larger one (go to brass of a larger caliber, with a bigger neck)
Left to Right:
1. wooden mallet
2. paper clip (for pushing out freshly cut wads)
3. .30-06 brass (with base cut off with a hacksaw; beveled, sharpened neck)
4. an Altoids can to put wads in
5. a piece of dowel shaped to pack wadding in about 3/8’s in
6. a piece of recycled, compressed paper (from the packaging of my Motorola cell phone)
a well-used piece of thick leather for a cutting surface
Projectile/bullet/ball Making [See The Black Powder Page]