Yes, todays bullets go faster because we
shoot faster cartridges, but most of those same cartridges were in existence in some shape
or form before World War II. However, they didnt actually push bullets much faster
than the .270 or .30-06 until IMR-4350 came along in 1940. The original ballistics of the
.300 H&H, for instance, was about the same as the .30-06 of 1935. The Nosler Partition
was the direct result of new powders and faster velocities: John Nosler shot a moose with
a .300 H&H, and the bullet came apart, so he invented a better bullet.
The big wildcatting craze of the 1950s was
made possible by IMR-4350 and H-4831, along with cheap military actions like the 98
Mauser, 1903 Springfield and 1917 Enfield. Every other insurance agent and TV repairman
had his own string of wildcats. My handloading bookshelf includes several titles from that
era, including Phil Sharpes Complete Guide to Handloading (1953 third edition), the
Speer Handloaders Manual, Volume One (1954) and P.O. Ackleys Handbook for
Shooters and Reloaders (1962). Any shooter reading those books soon realizes no really new
cartridge has been developed since 1950, when the .222 Remington appeared.
In his book, Sharpe tells of the development
of the 7x61 Sharpe & Hart, which some claim is the first commercial 7mm magnum, even
though the nearly identical .275 H&H Magnum preceded it by 40 years. Speer gives case
dimensions and loads not only for several Newton cartridges (the original beltless
magnums) but also for the .333 Express, which except for .005 inch of bullet diameter is
the same round as todays .338 Winchester Magnum.
Ackley lists the notable wildcats of the day,
including precursors of almost every commercial cartridge introduced since the book saw
print. A sample would include the 6mm PPC (6mm Donaldson International), .240 Weatherby
(Ackleys own 6mm Belted Express, made by forming a belt on .30-06 brass), .25-06
Remington (.25 Niedner), .260 Remington (.263 Express), 6.5mm Remington Magnum (.264
Durham Magnum), 7mm-08 Remington (7mm-308), .284 WCF (7x57 Ackley Improved), 7mm STW (7mm
Mashburn Super Magnum), .307 Winchester (.30-30 Ackley Improved), 8mm Remington Magnum
(.323 Critser Magnum), .356 Winchester (.35 Lever Power), .35 Whelen (.35 Whelen), .416
Remington Magnum (.416 Barnes Supreme) and the .470 Capstick (.475 Ackley Magnum or .475
What is the 7mm-08 but a "modern"
version of the .270 Savage, the .300 Savage necked down to .270? This lever-action .270
round was a fairly popular wildcat before World War II. Aside from fitting in
"short" actions, what real difference is there between the .260 Remington/.263
Express and the 6.5x55 Mauser? Or the 7mm-08 and 7x57? Both old Mauser rounds were
invented over 100 years ago.
Just try to invent a really new cartridge
case. Ill bet a new Douglas barrel that somebodys been there before you.
The two latest wildcatting crazes involve new
"short" cartridges and longer beltless magnums. Lets look at the short
rounds first, designed to fit into a 2.8-inch magazine but providing long-cartridge
ballistics. This idea has been around for awhile, commercial examples being the .284 WCF
(1963) and 6.5 Remington Magnum, introduced with its big brother .350 in the mid-1960s.
All three did what they were supposed to: provide long-action punch in short actions. The
.284 fit into Winchesters Model 88 lever action and Model 100 semiautomatic, while
the Remingtons arrived in the compact Model 600 bolt-action carbine. The 6.5 and .284
provided .270 WCF ballistics, while the .350 basically matched the .35 Whelen in a short,
light bolt rifle.
The trouble was, almost nobody except gun
writers cared. Hunters wanting .270s bought .270s. Most had long ago decided any cartridge
not pushing bullets at close to 3,000 fps was a woods rifle. Most woods hunters were happy
with .30-30s and .35 Remingtons, not some squished-down moose round like the .350
The gun writers wrote many articles that
helped kill the short rounds. Most suggested all three would work much better in longer
magazines so their bullets didnt eat powder space. The only problem with this theory
is that it doesnt make much difference in the real world. A 6.5mm or 7mm bullet
seated a fraction of an inch farther out doesnt provide much extra powder space, and
velocity only increases at 1/4 the extra capacity. Seating a .284-inch bullet .3 inch
farther out, for instance, provides an 8-percent increase in powder space but only a
2-percent gain in velocity. Call it 60 fps with a 140-grain bullet. The fat bullet of the
.350 Remington does better, but hunters wanting a 250-grain bullet at over 2,600 fps
bought a .338 Winchester Magnum in a 9-pound rifle that wouldnt knock them silly.
The gun writer who really got it was Jack
OConnor, who wrote: "Aficionados of the rifled tube assumed that Winchester
would bring out the Model 70 for the .284 but such a rifle has never appeared. Actually
there would be no point in it, as any difference between the .284 and .270 lies in the
realm of theory. What one cartridge will do the other will do, and just as well."
American sporting rifle history since World
War II sees these themes played again and again. Evidently most shooters wanting
short-action bolt rifles are content with cartridges on the .308 WCF case, such as the
.243 WCF and 7mm-08 Remington. The 7mm-08 lags 150 fps behind the .284 but, wonder of
wonders, still kills deer at the ranges most hunters can shoot. Its become a popular
cartridge, unlike the .284, which despite occasional spasms lies as dead as the Susan B.
Anthony dollar. None of the .308-based cartridges kick much, and many short-action bolt
rifles are fairly light. If most hunters want more zip, they buy a heavier full-size
rifle, chambered for anything from the .25-06 Remington to the .300 Winchester Magnum.
If they buy a bolt-action rifle, they sure
dont want a cartridge lobbing bullets under 2,700 fps, such as the .358 WCF or .350
Remington Magnum. If for some reason they desire a genuine woods rifle, they dont
care if a .30-30 is given another 200 fps, as with the .307 Winchester. If they want a
bigger bore, they buy a .35 Remington, not some newfangled version of a cartridge they
already rejected, which is why the .356 and .375 Winchesters took the big dirt-nap. They
basically copied the .358 WCF and the old high-velocity load of the .38-55. Nobody but gun
nuts has used either for decades. Theyre both fine loads, but do they kill deer
better than the .30-30 or .308? Maybe, but Ive used all four and cant tell
that much difference.
Of course, wildcatters have necked the .284
Winchester and 6.5/.350 Remington case up and down over the years. The .284 has slightly
less capacity than the .30-06 case, the 6.5/.350 somewhat more. These all make into nifty
wildcats for the real gun nut. The emphasis, again, is on standard rifle ballistics in a
lighter rifle. Chub Eastman of Nosler has a pair of these, both Ultra Light Arms Model 20s
chambered for the 6.5-284 and .338-284. They match the ballistics of the 6.5 Remington and
.338-06 in 5 1/2-pound rifles. Melvin Forbes, the maker of Chubs Ultra Lights,
shoots a 7mm-350 Remington. It gets .280 Remington Ackley Improved ballistics in a short
magazine, but Id bet my next years income that such rifles would never sell on
the open market.
Short-action nuts always emphasize the lighter
weight and shorter, quicker bolt throw of their darlings. There might be something to both
claims, but not much. The average short action weighs four ounces less than the same model
of long action - a full quarter-pound! My first two bolt rifles were Remington Model 700s,
one a short- action .243 WCF and one a long-action .270 WCF. At the time I was mostly
hunting deer jumped out of coulees on the Montana prairie. Sometimes it took two or three
shots for a bounding whitetail or muley to collide with a bullet. Darned if I could ever
tell the difference in that extra .8 inch of bolt throw. Lifting and dropping the bolt
handle took the time, not running the bolt back and forth. Some people do tend to
short-shuck bolt guns. For these folks, a short action might work better.
Real gun nuts claim short actions are stiffer,
allowing more accuracy. This is undoubtedly true in varmint or benchrest shooting, where
fractions of an inch can make the difference. On big game rifles . . . so what?
Despite all the evidence that the world at
large is satisfied with .308-based rounds, short-action wildcatters persevere. Lazzeroni
has its own line of short, fat rounds, and Rick Jamison has developed several. All provide
more case capacity than the 6.5/.350 Remington case. Ricks neat little .30 beats
modern .300 H&H ballistics in a small rifle. Rumor has it that a major ammunition
company and arms manufacturer might bring it out. Undoubtedly theyll sell a few, but
based on history Id bet not many. The average hunter looking for more power buys a
7mm Remington or .300 Winchester rather than some lightweight oddball hes sure will
hurt his feelings. Or maybe he just buys a box of Federal High Energies or Hornady Light
Magnums for his .30-06.
The related "beltless" magnum idea
is also old. Charles Newton designed a pile of them about, oh, 85 years ago. They
didnt sell, partly because he started up business just before World War I, but
mostly because the powders and bullets of the day couldnt keep pace with the cases.
The ballistic advantage of big beltless cases
lies in a little more powder capacity, while still using the same basic action and bolt
face of standard magnum rifles. The body of a belted magnum case is smaller in diameter
than the rim and belt, while a beltless case is just as large as the rim, or even somewhat
Beltless advocates talk about the
"useless belt" on rounds like the 7mm Remington, .300 Weatherby and .338
Winchester magnums. With the sharp shoulders of such rounds the belt isnt needed for
headspacing, its original purpose with tapering rounds such as the .300 and .375 H&H.
But 25 years ago, when I was a young gun nut, writers talked about the extra strength of
that belt of brass. Was that just typewriter theory too, like the extra velocity from
Whatever. These days everybodys bringing
out beltless magnums, at the forefront Remingtons .300 Ultra Mag. This really is a
fine cartridge and very accurate in the rifle Ive shot, but history has also shown
that Americans are well satisfied with established rounds that pretty much do the same
thing. The .300 Ultra Mags factory ballistics of 3,300 fps with a 180-grain Nosler
beat the factory ballistics of the .300 Weatherby by 60 fps - at least with
Weatherbys own 180-grain Nosler load. Some other brands arent quite so fast,
but Federals High Energy 180-grain .300 Weatherby load is listed at 3,330 fps, and
the High Energy ammunition Ive chronographed has all equaled or exceeded factory
The reason for these slight gains, despite the
.300 Ultra Mags 12 percent capacity advantage over the .300 Weatherby, lies in the
rule noted earlier: Any capacity increase results in 1Ú4 that amount of velocity
increase. In a cartridge capable of 3,300 fps, 12 percent more powder capacity means an
increase of about 100 fps. (Need some evidence? If X amount of extra case gained an equal
amount of velocity, the .300 Ultra Mags 100-grain case would double the velocity of
the 150-grain .308 WCF. The .308 drives a 180-grain bullet to about 2,650 fps. Does the
.300 Ultra Mag get 5,500 fps? No. It gains about 650 fps; 1/4 of 2,650 is 662.5.)
Will the Remington round sell? Maybe, but
older rounds like the .300 Winchester and Weatherby are chambered in lots of rifles, and
the ammunition is available all over the world. Many gun nuts will buy the Ultra Mag, but
it probably would have done better before the .30-378 Weatherby became a factory round. Of
one thing I am sure, however: The .300 Ultra Mag case will be necked up and down by
Remington, and wildcatted in dozens of ways. True rifle loonies will purr in ecstasy over
each variation, even though something very much like it has already been done, either by a
firm like Lazzeroni or some machine-shop foreman in Gary, Indiana, back in 1953.
With 61 grains Im getting 3,050 fps. A 165-grain X-Bullet will shoot through an
elks chest from most rational angles, even if you hit bone. With this
boat-tails ballistic coefficient of nearly .500 (which from my range tests seems to
be accurate) this load shoots as flat as North Texas. (I havent seen the same sort
of gains from the newest moly-coated Fail Safes, but they also seem to work at slightly
less pressure due to their slick coating.)
Even varmint rounds have benefited by new
super bullets. In the old days we had a choice of match-grade hollowpoint boat-tails that
didnt expand worth a whoop at long range or explosive softpoints that didnt
shoot nearly as flatly or accurately. These days, however, we have the Nosler Ballistic
Tip and Hornady V-Max that shoot little tiny groups, expand way out there and, because of
their super-sharp tips, fly flatter. Consequently we dont need a .22-250 Remington
or .220 Swift for 400-yard prairie dog shooting, because a .223 Remington will start a
40-grain plastic tip at 3,700 fps or more. Moly-coat them, and barrels dont foul and
last almost forever.
While handloaders cant match the
compacted powders and super velocities of the Federal High Energy and Hornady Light Magnum
factory rounds, with modern powders and slick bullets we can come close. With
Hodgdons Extreme line of powder, our handloads maintain their velocities at
subfreezing temperatures, instead of losing 150 fps or more, and we can stuff all these
bullets and powders into brass thats tougher and more consistent. Ive started
using Federals match brass in my Ultra Light .30-06, because the rifle is capable of
.5-inch groups and deserves it. Neck thickness variation runs at most .001 inch, and
weight varies less than two grains.
These days we have great brass, powders that
give us an edge at any temperature, primers to ignite them consistently and bullets that
turn a .223 Remington into a .22-250 Remington, or a .30-06 into a .300 magnum. Problem
is, the bullet and powder inventors have all the fun. We really dont need to invent
more cases but will anyway, because thats what we can do . . . sometimes in our very
Case design depends on a number of factors,
including the designers whims, but the most important factor is whether or not it
will feed reliably.
This lineup of .30-caliber cartridges has
proven reliable on big game, but the only part that touches an animal is the bullet. New
advances in bullet design have also made the entire lineup more effective at responsible
Lower left, a 225-grain Barnes X-Bullet or
230-grain Winchester Fail Safe will generally penetrate as well as the 275-grain Speer
semispitzer, but the lighter bullets fly faster and shoot flatter. Lower right, despite
the array of new .35-caliber bullets, North American hunters have remained loyal to only
one .35-caliber rifle cartridge, the mild-mannered .35 Remington. Right, newer bullets
have inspired renewed vigor in a vast array of older cartridge designs.
Above, different primers can have a decided
effect on accuracy. Above right, newer powders offer a wealth of options in the quest for
accuracy and optimum velocity.
Modern brass is strong, consistent and