“He will be right out there somewhere,” whispered my 28-year-old PH, Schalk Pienaar, on temporary assignment with Jamy Traut Safaris, as he came to an abrupt halt and pointed to a clump of tall grass directly in front of us. “We will wait a bit here,” he said.
“Were you able to get a glimpse of him to confirm his size?” I questioned. “I don’t want to shoot an immature one.”
“Not yet, but the tracker and game scout both saw him from the boat seconds before they signaled me to turn around and for us to climb out onto the bank. I assume it is a respectable one,” replied Schalk.
The four of us, game scout, tracker, Schalk and I, stood there peering intently into the grass, and I had just raised my 10×42 Leica binoculars and begun a systematic search when Schalk motioned me forward. In a moment he again halted, simultaneously erecting the shooting sticks he had been carrying.
He then raised his binoculars and settled them on our quarry, a beautiful, red lechwe ram.
“He is a very good one. Can you see him?” asked Schalk.
“Yes,” I replied, “I can see in my binoculars that he is standing, looking directly toward us, but behind some fairly heavy strands of grass. Do you think I can get a bullet through them?”
“Yes,” was Schalk’s abbreviated response.
In my hands was a very exceptional rifle, a new Winchester Model 70 Super Grade Lightweight, a gorgeous amalgamation of steel and walnut, assembled at Winchester’s facility in the Fabrique Nationale (FN) arms plant in Columbia, South Carolina, and chambered in the venerable 7x57mm cartridge. (All the other Winchester Model 70s I have owned were built at the former Winchester plant in New Haven, Connecticut.) Mounted on it, using the innovative DNZ Reaper mount, was my favorite scope for use in Africa, a Leupold VXII 3-9×40 mm with duplex reticle.
In 1892, a brilliant German firearms designer named Peter Paul Mauser created what was to become one of the world’s most enduring and beloved cartridges–the 7x57mm. At the time, the 7×57 was recognized as a milestone in cartridge design, as it utilized a rimless, bottleneck case containing smokeless powder, and produced relatively impressive ballistics.
Commencing in 1893, the 7×57 was adopted as a military cartridge by the Spanish government. During the ensuing years, numerous other countries followed suit. The cartridge established an exemplary service record that did not go unnoticed by hunters, and it subsequently found favor as a sporting round.
Today, it remains in widespread use over the world, most notably in Africa. There, it has been used to take all manner of game, from the diminutive dik dik up to and including elephant, albeit in the hands of skilled, professional ivory hunters in the latter case.
I fell in love with the 7×57 when I was searching for a rifle/cartridge combination that offered moderate recoil, relatively flat trajectory, good accuracy and reliable functioning. I found it in a beautiful, brand-new Winchester Model 70 Super Grade.
Over the years following I somehow became separated from that firearm, and I cannot remember the circumstances. But my high regard for the 7×57 never waned. Several other rifles in that caliber came and went, among them an older Ruger Model 77 with push-feed action; a very accurate Remington Model 700 with which I took a handsome, 13-point whitetail in the Missouri River breaks of South Dakota, a nice whitetail buck near Twodot, Montana, and a bull elk in the same locale.
That elk shot will remain indelible in my mind, as it was taken across a canyon at about 400-500 yards. I held a considerable distance over the bull’s back, aligned the vertical crosshair just behind the shoulder, and launched that 175-grain round-nose on its way. Upon the bullet’s impact, the bull hunched-up, took four or five steps, and keeled over dead.
For those readers who do not handload, no need to be downhearted. There are plenty of alternatives to handloading the 7×57. Here are a few of them: Norma is once again marketing its fine line of ammunition in the USA. For years we shot their superb 154-grain 7×57 load, the efficacy of which was something to behold, until it disappeared from the market here. When I discussed this with Norma representative Ron Petty and some of the other Norma people at the 2014 SCI Convention, they told me about the 156-grain Oryx load now being imported that has replaced it.
Hornady is offering a Superformance 7×57 load with its 139-grain GMX lead-free bullet. I have been experimenting with this round and find it to be very good. Then we have the excellent Federal Premium 140-grain Nosler Partition load. Remington offers its fine 140-grain Core-Lokt bullet in its 7×57 round. A buddy of mine has had good results with this load. And Federal (not Federal Premium) is selling that modestly priced, old faithful 175-grain round-nose load so familiar to longtime 7×57 aficionados. The list goes on….
At the report of the rifle we could hear the dramatic sound of the Federal Premium 140-grain Nosler Partition bullet as it impacted the lechwe directly in the chest. The animal dropped instantly.
“Good hit, he’s down!” exclaimed Schalk.
As we walked up to that beautiful animal and gazed down at it, we experienced that feeling of elation so familiar to hunters everywhere after they have collected a prized trophy. We stood there a few moments reliving the event when Schalk finally broke the silence by saying, “Now we will carry him back to the boat and get some pictures.”
As we winged our way homeward across the Atlantic, I paused to reflect on why I hunt with the 7×57. Simply put, it is because the 7×57 forms a bond with its user. This phenomenon is very real, and has been recognized for over 100 years. “There’s just something about it.” –Mel Toponce