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8MM Lebel

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In 1886, the French introduced the 8mm Lebel. It was groundbreaking. In an era when other nations were using blackpowder cartridges launching heavy, large-caliber round-nosed bullets at about 1200 fps, France standardized a smokeless round that launched a 232-grain bullet at over 2000 fps.

To say the 8mm Lebel was revolutionary is understating the matter rather badly. Long-range performance so outclassed any blackpowder round as to make it no contest. If that were not enough, in 1898, France introduced a modern Spitzer load launching an amazingly efficient 198-grain bullet at 2400 fps.

The 8mm Lebel spitzer load so outclassed anything in use by any other Government that it was no contest. The velocity of the 8mm Lebel Spitzer load combined with the high BC of the bullet allowed it to deliver significant energy to great distances. And, while the trajectory was not up to modern standards, it was so superior to that generated by other standardized Military chamberings of the era, all using round-nosed bullets launched much slower, that the Lebel allowed practiced marksmen to make hits to about twice the distance.

The problem for France and the Lebel was the rifles chambered for the round. The original 8mm Lebel rifle used a tubular magazine — it was expensive to manufacture, ungainly, and awkward and slow to reload. The box magazine of the first replacement held only three rounds. France never resolved these limitations by coming up with a battle-rifle that could compete with the Mauser in overall functionality and convenience.

Had it simply eliminated the useless rim on the case, it would have solved most of the issues but so many designers of the era just could not realize that the rim was entirely obsolete as a fundamentally necessary feature in case design. In centerfire designs, the rim was necessary when cases used internal priming, which ended about 1880. After that, excepting straight-walled cases, a rim is a 100% useless affectation in any bottlenecked case.

The problem for the handloader is getting bullets of the correct diameter, 0.327-inch. I can find no source for commercial jacketed bullets. No cast bullet can allow the Lebel to perform up to its potential. If a hunter could get a 200-grain Spitzer of the correct diameter made to expand properly, with modern propellant, getting 2700 fps would be easily achieved without exceeding the surprisingly high 45,000-psi pressure limit of this cartridge, when used in the original rifles. Such a load would generate energy comparable to conventional 30-06 factory loads.

The text associated with the cartridge description reflects opinions and conclusions of the author, M.L. (Mic) McPherson. Lee Precision and its employees do not necessarily either agree or disagree with any of his comments. We present these with due deference to his recognized expertise in the firearms field. His acumen extends to handloading and all aspects of ballistics - internal, external, and terminal.
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