Feeding the Steyr M95/30 rifle one man's solution for cheap 8x56R ammo: if you have a 95/30 you haven't been shooting because the ammo is scarce, expensive and hard-kicking, here's the info you have been needing.
The M95's straight-pull action has always intrigued me, but I resisted the urge to purchase one. I have previous experience with rifles that were hard to keep supplied with ammunition, and that's something I try to avoid. Anything that shoots obsolete or non-standard ammo can be a real pain, and at my age I really don't need the aggravation.
Apparently I am not the only one who feels this way, as boatloads of these handy little rifles have washed ashore in the surplus military arms market in recent years, but it seems many languish in dealer inventories, with potential buyers put off by the daunting task of finding the proper ammunition to feed them, or the cost of such ammo when it is located.
I tried to ignore the growing desire I felt to own one of these guns, but the little rifles kept calling to me. Finally, I saw an advertisement from J&G Sales offering them for a paltry $89.95, and I could resist no longer. A money order and a copy of my C&R license was sent off without further delay.
When I opened the box, I found a rifle that looked nearly new. The M95 exhibits genuine craftsmanship you don't see much anymore. My rifle showed little sign that 80 years had passed since its arsenal rebuild in 1930.
The major reason these cute little rifles have been used so sparingly over the years they have been imported is because they are so ghastly expensive to feed that many shooters shy away from them. I checked one online dealer in military surplus ammo and found that 8x56R cartridges dated in the late 1930s were being offered at $2 per round.
I knew the situation was bad, but it appeared to be even worse than I imagined. This kind of ammo cost would never do if I was going to enjoy shooting my new rifle. A less expensive alternative to the pricey and increasingly difficult to find surplus ammunition would have to be found.
Perusing a couple of Internet discussion forums, I learned that Lee Precision, Inc. makes reloading dies in this caliber and that cases using Boxer primers are also available. The problem lies in that awful, one-of-a-kind bore dimension the Austrian gunmakers saw fit to inflict upon the military rifle collecting world.
The 8x56R does not use the standard .323" diameter bullet familiar to shooters of the 8x57 Mauser. No, they had to be different and bore the barrel for a .329" projectile. This odd bore size is a genuine orphan; the only available bullets I have seen are from Graf & Sons and they are bit pricey for plinking.
All is not lost, though. It turns out that in addition to manufacturing dies for this cartridge, Lee also makes a .329" bullet sizing die. Actually, they make a huge variety of such dies. In fact, they will make a die in any size you order for a very modest price which opens a whole new world of possibilities in reloading for obsolete calibers.
The Lee sizing die screws into a standard reloading press and comes with all needed accessories and full instructions. The process is relatively straightforward and simple. A lubricated bullet is pushed through the die, which is tapered to reduce the bullet's diameter.
I discovered most M95 shooters using the Lee sizing dies were starting out with 200-grain jacketed bullets in .338" diameter intended for the .338 Win. Mag. This is fine if you need a jacketed hunting bullet, but I did not. My intentions for this rifle were purely for casual recreational shooting. I needed inexpensive prinking ammo.
The resized .338 bullets were far too expensive to suit my humble needs. I needed something less extravagant. Then it occurred to me that what I needed was a lead bullet. Bullets don't come any cheaper, and such a bullet driven at around 1800 fps would be perfect for what I had in mind.
But there are no readily available lead bullets in .338" size. I wondered if a .357" bullet intended for the .357 Mag. and .38 Spl. could be successfully run through the Lee sizing die.
It would be quite a leap going from .357" to .329", but I figured that lead bullets should be easier to resize than jacketed. If worse came to worse, I could always spring for another die in .340" size and run the slugs through it before going to the final .329" die to ease the transition. As it turned out, this wasn't necessary.
I picked up a carton of .357 cal. 158-grain round-nosed lead bullets. Following the instructions that came with the die, I was pleased to discover that the bullets could be resized with no difficulty.
In short order, I had turned out a sufficient quantity of .329" bullets for test-firing the M95. In preparation for this project, I had purchased 100 cases from a dealer selling reloading supplies on GunBroker.com. The cases were reformed from Remington-Peters .45-70 brass and appeared to be of the proper dimensions.
Of course, when using lead bullets, it's necessary to slightly flare, or "bell" the case mouths to prevent shaving lead when seating the bullets. I used a quick and dirty method where I inserted a .375 bullet point down into the case and gave it a light tap on the base with a plastic hammer.
That was just enough give the case mouth a tiny flare and was cheaper than buying a fancy expanding die. I'm a simple man and I have found that quite often the simple solution to a problem is the best one.
I was on my own in figuring out a starting point with the powder type and charge, as I found no published information on using lead bullets in the 8x56R. At least, I found nothing in my library on loading this caliber.
I referred to my trusty Lyman Lead Bullet reloading manual (this not being my first rodeo when it comes to loading lead bullets for rifle shooting) and after considering the recommended loads for similar-sized cases, I decided that a charge of 25 grains of 2400 would likely be very close to what I had in mind.
I calculated that this would put me in the 1800 fps range and should be a mild load. There's really no point in trying to drive lead bullets to ultra high velocities, given the type of shooting for which they are intended.
Besides, in my experience, anything much beyond 2000 fps starts to lead the bore so badly that you really don't even want to shoot them due to the effort required to clean the barrel after shooting. I had some Winchester Large Rifle primers on the bench, so they got the nod for this project.
The finished rounds looked odd, as the bullets are much shorter than the 205-grain jacketed projectiles normally used for this cartridge. But I wasn't building them for looks. I was more interested in how they would shoot.
As long as I was working at the loading bench, I decided to try a couple other loads, as well. I loaded the 158-grain lead bullets over 22 grains of 4227. I also loaded these bullets over 14 grains of Unique, which would be the ultimate in reloading economy with such a small amount of powder consumed per round.
I also threw together a few rounds using 210-grain jacketed soft points that had come with the brass as a package deal. These were originally in .338" size and had been run through a .329" sizing die. The original military load pushed the FMJ bullet just shy of 2400 fps and I found that 40 grains of IMR 3031 will nearly duplicate this velocity. Of course, these loads will also nearly duplicate the recoil of the original ammo, which many shooters find objectionable.
On a beautiful but chilly day I headed on out to the gun club and set up the trusty Shooting Chrony. This is a compact chronograph that is simple to operate and has served me well over the years. I loaded 10 rounds into a pair of clips (the M95 uses clips to hold the rounds in place) and found that the reloaded rounds fit and functioned perfectly in the metal devices.
The initial load of 25 grains of 2400 produced a very consistent 1850 fps velocity. This was almost exactly what I was seeking and my calculations proved to be dead on. Recoil was fairly meaningless.
I saw no great reason to test at 100 yards, given my 55-year-old eyes and those military sights, so targets were hung at 50 yards. The load using Unique did not deliver match-grade accuracy, but then I didn't really expect that it would. If we attribute the one shot that was farthest out to "pilot error" and discount it, the remaining shots ran about 2.50" which is good enough to ring the steel gongs at 100 yards or chase the swinging targets.
Next I tried shooting a group with the ammo made up using the 210-grain jacketed soft-points. I was fairly amazed at the 1.25-inch group this load produced. Three of the bullets went through one enlarged hole, while the other two nearly perfectly flanked the center cluster of hits.
The rifle definitely seems to prefer the heavier bullets and demonstrated accuracy potential I had not expected. Perhaps using 200-grain .357" bullets would lead to increased accuracy.
Just for fun. I shot a few rounds of military surplus ammo I had obtained and those full-power loads definitely generated some kick in that lightweight rifle. My cast bullet loads would be much easier on the shoulder during recreational shooting.
After purchasing the bullet sizing die, it came to my attention that the M95s can vary quite a bit on bore dimension. I tried the old trick of inserting a bullet into the bore to check for looseness and it seemed a tight fit. I doubt that the bore on my rifle is excessively oversized, given the excellent group made with the jacketed bullets. But it would be best to slug your barrel before buying the sizing die to ensure getting exactly what you need.
Back home after the shooting session I checked the bore and found nary a hint of leading. Some Hoppes #9 on a brass brush required only two passes to have the bore shining like new. The bullets were labeled as hard cast and I had worried if this might pose difficulties in running them through the sizing die, but I don't believe it was a problem and maybe the hardness of the bullets helped in keeping the bore free of residual lead.
I believe I have solved the mystery of how to feed the M95 cheaply enough to enjoy some recreational shooting. While it's not as convenient as simply buying ammo off the shelf, I feel the savings justify the time and effort spent in putting this old warhorse back to work.
See you at the range!
By Dr. Franklin Allen Latimer