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Montana X-treme
Rifle Magazine
December - January 2002
Volume 37, Number 6
ISSN: 0017-7393
Number 220
On the cover...
The Ruger Blackhawk .30 Carbine has been in the company lineup since 1968 (photo by Gerald Hudson). Stan Trzoniec loads the classic favorites, including the .44 Smith & Wesson Special, .38 Smith & Wesson Special, .45ACP and .38 Super (photo by Stan)
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Tastes in hunting cartridges vary enormously. Some handloaders are completely pragmatic, shooting only common rounds like the .223 Remington, .270 Winchester or .300 Winchester Magnum. This makes life simple. Components, brass and dies are inexpensive and usually of good quality. You could spend a long hunting career with those rounds and do very well.

Some boys always carry the latest In-Cartridge. These tend to flit from the .280 Remington to the 7mm STW to the .300 Remington Ultra Mag to the .300 Winchester Short Magnum with a flick of the Visa card. The farthest-gone go straight to wildcats, bypassing the .300 WSM for the 6.5 WSM.

Some shooters like to fool around with older cartridges, an activity often more troublesome than wildcatting. My South African friend Mike Birch is a professional wildlife biologist, part-time professional hunter and full-time rifle loony. His most recent project is an old two-barrel “Cape gun,” a 12-bore combined with a truly obscure .45-caliber cartridge. His cases were hand-turned, by a Johannesburg gunsmith, a trifle oversize at the base so Mike could lathe them to fit his chamber. He finally got the old gun running    last July and slew some sort of duiker (a very small African antelope) with a hand-cast .45 bullet. He couldn’t be prouder if he’d just slain the world-record Cape buffalo.

Many of us combine the three types. I go well beyond rifle loony toward what one of my friends calls a “gun slut,” though my wildcatting has been very tame, mostly the .257 Roberts Ackley Improved and the .338-06. Why so few wildcats? I’ve rarely met a wildcat that could do anything some older round couldn’t do as well. It satisfies me more to dink around with an older cartridge - hopefully combined with an older rifle or a reasonable facsimile. Maybe you’re the same way.

Old-cartridge fans have a sense of history. Many rifle loonies confine their reading to this year’s magazines, hoping to discover an In- Cartridge that will transform their elk hunting forever (or until the next In-Cartridge). Don’t get me wrong. I like new cartridges and have already taken four big game animals with the .270 Winchester Short Magnum using the factory-loaded 140-grain Fail Safe bullet. Two were bull nilgai, the big Indian antelope that’s gone wild down in South Texas. Nilgai are reputed to be bulletproof. When several gun writers showed up at the King Ranch to field-test .270 WSMs, the local guides predicted a train wreck. By hunt’s end they proclaimed the .270 WSM to be the perfect nilgai cartridge. Combined with the Fail Safe, I’d choose the .270 WSM over any of the short .300s, since it kicks less yet provides everything needed on all but the largest non-dangerous game on earth.

Its only fault? It’s less than a year old.

A few years back I picked up a book published by Outdoor Life before World War II. Even then attention had turned to spitzer bullets and higher velocity. The list of such “modern” rounds available in America was short, consisting of the .22 Hornet, .220 Swift, .250 Savage, .257 Roberts, .270 WCF, 7x57mm Mauser, .300 Savage, .30-40 Krag, .30-06,.and the .300 and .375 H&H Magnums. I read the list and realized those 11 rounds would still cover the known world. Much of my hunting had already been done with the .220, .257, .270, 7x57, .30-06 and .375, so I decided, in a rather disorganized way, to try the other five.

Eventually this happened, and I really got smitten with the three “old thirties,” the .300 Savage, .30-40 Krag and .300 H&H. Original rifles in all three can be found, but if you can’t find exactly what you want, reasonable facsimiles can be acquired without extreme effort or expense. All three are very practical hunting cartridges, especially within their historical parameters.

I’ve fooled with the .300 Savage more than the other two, always in Savage 99s. The cartridge was introduced around 1920, in the 99 and the Savage bolt rifle known as the Model 20. (The 20 was so far ahead of its time that few are seen these days. Think Remington Model 7 with a tang safety and “controlled-round feeding.”)

The .300 Savage was designed to approximate original .30-06 ballistics with a 150-grain spitzer at nearly 2,700 fps and a 180-grain roundnose at just under 2,400. Even in 1920 this was possible due to improvements in powders since the .30-06 was born 14 years earlier.

For decades I disdained the .300. The darling of Savage 99 enthusiasts has always been the .250 Savage, so I eventually acquired a couple of good ones. Finally the conclusion was reached that the .250 was a lot better deer cartridge with 115- to 120-grain bullets. (Duh! Larry Koller came to the same revelation 50 years earlier in his best-selling Shots at Whitetails.) Eventually I had a custom bolt action built with a one-in-10-inch twist barrel, which suggested that a one-in-9-inch twist might be better yet for some of today’s very long .25 spitzers.

My .250 experience softened me toward the .300. In the .300, 150s can be handloaded just as fast as    a 120 grainer in a .250, so shoot just as flat - yet with little more recoil than a .30-30 Winchester. There are a bazillion 99s in .300 around in a grade or condition for every hunter’s budget. At one point I owned three, a takedown made in 1921, an absolutely pristine EG made just before World War II and a well-used but well cared for EG made in the 1950s. In due time these got weeded down to the latter, mostly because it shot so well.

As an experiment I once mounted a Zeiss Conquest 3-9x on the keeper, and it grouped better than most out-of-the-box bolt rifles. Right now it wears a Noske 2.5x scope, made in the late 1940s, with a flat-topped post reticle. This seems to be the perfect scope for still-hunting with incredibly long and flexible eye relief. It’s also the lightest centerfire scope I’ve ever weighed, 5.75 ounces, and the rifle weighs exactly 8 pounds with the scope in 7/8-inch Weaver rings. Sometimes the scope is swapped for a Redfield receiver sight of    the correct era. In either guise it makes me want to slip into Maine hunting shoes and a red plaid jacket and go slithering through the whitetail woods.

Because of those zillions of .300 Savage 99s, all three major ammunition manufacturers still make good .300 ammunition, but you didn’t buy this magazine to read about factory ammunition. You’re a handloader, and a handloader can make the .300 Savage sit up and do tricks. Over the years I’ve read numerous words from “experts” about how the straight, sharp-shouldered, short-necked .300 Savage case makes reloading difficult. In my Redding dies this proved to be pure B.S. The .300 resizes just like any other bottlenecked, rimless case, and the short neck holds bullets firmly.

The real problem lies in finding empty cases. While .300 cases can be made by resizing and cutting down .308 Winchester brass, this is slow, and the headstamp offends purist .300 shooters. You can, of course, buy factory ammunition and shoot it up, but that’s expensive. Luckily, in 2001 Winchester made one of its occasional runs of odd brass, and I bought 500 brand-new .300 Savage cases from MidwayUSA (1-800-243-3220). Some of these have been doled out to other .300 loaders, though never at a profit, as the cult of .300 Savage enthusiasts forbids such crassness. Over the past couple years, I’ve settled on the following handloads, all in Winchester brass with CCI 200 primers:

Varmints: 125-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip and 43 grains of Ramshot TAC. This chronographs around 2,900 fps in 24-inch barrels and is extremely accurate, three shots usually grouping around an inch at 100 yards even with peep sights. It expands (rather than explodes) prairie dogs out to 200 yards, and turns the 99 into a dandy little coyote-calling rifle. It would also probably do fine on pronghorns, if you don’t care for shoulder steaks.

Deer: 150-grain Hornady InterLock Spire Point and 41 to 43 grains of IMR-4895. Flatbased InterLocks normally have the shortest bearing area of any game bullet of similar weight, allowing noticeably more velocity than other bullets - and muzzle velocity flattens trajectory more than slight differences in ballistic coefficient out to 250 or 300 yards. Over the decades I’ve had excellent luck with InterLocks on deer-sized game. If recovered, they’re normally expanded back to the InterLock and have taken care of any deer-sized bones on the way. This load’s also very accurate, in my scoped 99EG averaging under an inch for three shots at 100 yards and close to that with peep sights.

The charge depends on your normal hunting temperatures. IMR-4895 is a very flexible and accurate powder, but even with my latest lot (2000), velocities vary about 2 fps with each degree of temperature. At 25 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit (average daytime hunting temperatures here in Montana during the November rifle season), 43 grains runs around 2,700 fps.   When chronographed at 70 to 80 F., the same load runs closer to 2,800, a little much for the .300; so for warm-weather shooting it gets cut back to 41.5 grains. (You might also try this load with H-4895, one of Hodgdon’s Extreme powders. The Extremes I’ve tested all chronographed just the same at zero degrees Fahrenheit as at 70 F.)

Black bear, elk, moose: 165-grain Nosler Partition and 42 grains of Alliant Reloder 15. This chronographs around 2,600 fps in 24-inch barrels, and with recent lots of RL-15 velocity stays right up there at lower temperatures. Accuracy is almost as good as the 150-grain load.

More traditional shooters, especially those who hunt thick cover, might choose the 170-grain Nosler Partition roundnose designed for the .30-30, which does excellent work with 41 grains of RL-15. Velocities beat the factory 180-grain loads by about 200 fps, averaging around 2,550. In some rifles accuracy isn’t so fancy, but 2- to 3-inch groups are plenty at woods ranges. The roundnose really whops game yet tears up little meat thanks to the lower velocity.

In my rifle, when the 165/170 load is sighted to hit point of aim at 100 yards, the 125- and 150-grain loads land 3 inches high. This isn’t a bad combination for any hunting from varmints to plains deer to black timber.

The .30-40 Krag is only slightly more cartridge, but because of its longer neck and throat, it works better with heavier bullets. The old Krag has almost exactly the same case capacity as the .308 Winchester, but thanks to the rimmed case works in traditional single-shot rifles as well as original Krag bolt guns and Winchester Model 95 levers.

The traditional load for the .30-40, based on the original military ammunition, is a 220-grain roundnose at 2,100 to 2,200 fps, which penetrates very well on big game at woods ranges. My own .30-40 is a reproduction of the famous Winchester High Wall single shot (purchased very slightly used from my friend Tim Crawford) stamped Single Shot, Inc., Big Timber, Montana. As I understand it, well-known “traditional” gunmaker Ed Webber was involved in producing the action, and the rifle was put together by the C. Sharps Arms Co. (Box 885, Big Timber MT 59011). With a 26-inch octagonal Douglas barrel and Axtell tang sight it weighs just over 9 pounds and is almost an exact match of the rifle Townsend Whelen carried on many hunts before he became a fan of the 1903 Springfield and    the .30-06.

(The Winchester High Wall itself is a slight variation of the very first rifle John Moses Browning ever designed and produced and was the first American production rifle to be chambered for a smokeless-powder cartridge, two years before the 1894 lever action was chambered for the .30-30 WCF. That first cartridge? The .30-40 Krag, of course. I mean, this rifle is full of historical footnotes.)

As with the .300 Savage, the big problem is cases. Unlike the .300, .30-40 cases can’t be easily formed from common brass. Only Remington still makes cases (or ammunition), and I bought 200, again from MidwayUSA. The loads were all worked up with this brass, also with CCI 200 primers.

Most .30-40s have long throats; and, of course, in a single shot, overall cartridge length isn’t a problem. I’ve never even tried 150-grain bullets, settling on 180-grain spitzers and 220-grain roundnoses for various purposes. This rifle likes 180s in front of 47 grains of Hodgdon H-4350 for a muzzle velocity of just over 2,500 fps. The same load has worked great with several different 180-grain bullets, and three shots at 100 yards group right around an inch, if I aim them right. (Hodgdon’s No. 27 manual lists 46 grains as maximum, from a 24-inch barrel, for 2,110 fps. A modern-steel High Wall action is much stronger than an 1890's-era Krag bolt, or for that matter an 1890’s High Wall, the reason I risk life and limb by stuffing an extra grain of powder in the case, mostly because 47 grains shoots better than 46 in this rifle. The only explanation I can figure for the extra 400 fps is a tight Douglas barrel.)

This past spring the High Wall went on a prairie dog shoot in Wyoming. This amused my partners immensely, but there’s nothing like a prairie dog town for teaching what any rifle will do at various ranges. For this use the quick-expanding Nosler Ballistic Tip seemed like a good idea, so 50 180s got loaded up. The third shot took a big dog through the chest at 229 yards, measured on a Leica 800 rangefinder. My companions were quite astounded, and I never admitted the placement was pure luck.

The Ballistic Tip did expand some, even on such light resistance after having slowed to 2,000 fps or so. A few closer dogs were also hit, but the most fun was sitting on one side of a big coulee and shooting over crossed-sticks at dogs on the other side, out to 500 yards. I never did beat my 229-yard shot but did scare a few at long range. A 180-grain Ballistic Tip really explodes a prairie dog mound! After 30 rounds, I could eyeball a mound, adjust the Axtell sight and come within a few inches out to 300 yards. A mule deer would be in serious danger at that range.

The same powder also works with 220s. In this rifle 43 grains (again, a grain more than Hodgdon recommends) gets just under 2,200 fps, about 250 fps more than Hodgdon’s data, and groups three shots into 1.5 inches at 100 yards. This would work fine for any moose in North America at woods ranges.

The .300 H&H is an entirely different proposition. Introduced around 1920, the original Holland & Holland factory loads were designed to match .30-06 factory loads of the era. (Funny how both the .300 Savage and .300 H&H were introduced at the same time to approximate the .30-06.) The .300 H&H is considerably larger than the .30-06 case, but in the tropical reaches of the British Empire, the only way to keep pressures down with cordite was to increase case capacity.

The H&H is the long, gently tapered round Roy Weatherby “improved” into his own .300 magnum in the 1940s. At the time factory .300 H&H ammunition supposedly drove a 180-grain bullet to 2,920 fps. Weatherby’s first factory ammunition claimed 3,190 fps, but by the early 1960s, spurred by competition from the .300 Winchester Magnum, Weatherby claimed 3,350 fps, over 400 fps faster than the .300 H&H.

Weatherby claimed this was possible through the magic of his “double Venturi shoulder.” In actuality, it was possible because the .300 H&H was slightly underloaded by the factories, and the Norma-made .300 Weatherby ammunition got stuffed to the gills. In all probability Weatherby .300 ammunition was loaded to at least 10,000 psi more than Winchester or Remington .300 H&H ammunition.

When both cartridges are loaded to equal pressures, the Weatherby’s advantage amounts to around 100 fps. This is confirmed by a hard study of loading manuals, and follows the formula that potential velocity increases at one-fourth the rate of case capacity. I measured case capacity in both by filling fired brass with water and hand-seating a 180-grain Nosler Partition to factory overall cartridge length. Federal Weatherby brass held 89.5 grains of water; Winchester H&H brass, 77 grains.

This may seem like an enormous difference, which many shooters would intuitively believe should gain 300 to 400 fps. But when we divide the increase (about 16 percent) by four, it doesn’t turn out that way. Most manuals suggest the .300 H&H is capable of 3,000 fps with a 180-grain bullet. Multiply this by 1.04 and we get 3,120 fps, which oddly enough is exactly the velocity Remington claims with 180-grain .300 Weatherby ammunition. These days Weatherby lists between 3,190 and 3,250 fps for its factory 180-grain loads, depending on the bullet, but I’ve never chronographed .300 Weatherby factory ammunition that averaged much over 3,150, even from a 26-inch barrel.

The .300 H&H has almost exactly the same powder capacity as the .300 Winchester Short Magnum, and handloads attain just about the same velocities. In a 24-inch barrel you can safely get 3,000 fps, but not 3,100. This despite the vast differences in case shape, which supposedly allows the .300 WSM case to burn powder much more “efficiently.”

Don’t get me wrong. The .300 WSM is an excellent cartridge, which I’m quite familiar with, both in the field and on the range. There’s no doubt that short, fat cartridges shoot well. But various experimenters proved long ago that case shape has no bearing on potential velocity - and my recent experiments with both the .300 H&H and .300 WSM bear that out.

My own rifle is a modern version of the original .300 H&H offered by an American manufacturer, the Winchester Model 70. Mine was originally a 7mm STW, an LT model with a classic walnut stock designed by well-known custom gunsmith David Miller. I hunted with it some, but never could see much advantage in the 7mm STW, especially when the throat started looking like alligator skin after only 100 rounds. I’d been thinking about getting it rebarreled when I got a phone call from Dan Pedersen of the Wells Sport Store in Prescott, Arizona. Dan had seen my piece on bore scopes, which mentioned looking down an old cut-rifled .270 barrel to find reamer marks on top of the lands. Dan said his barrels didn’t have reamer marks, since he hand-lapped them. He also said he could match the contour of any barrel. The Model 70 headed down to Prescott the next day. It came back nicely blued with a 24-inch .300 H&H barrel that did drop right back into the LT stock.

Brass can be a problem with the .300 H&H, but Capital Sports & Western in Helena, Montana, had a bunch of Winchester stuff in 50-round bags, perhaps because one of their gun-counter guys, my hunting and fishing buddy Tom Brownlee, really likes the .300 H&H. The Winchester brass turned out to be excellent and was combined with Federal 215 Match primers.

It always seemed to me that a 180-grain bullet at 3,000 fps was the real strength of any of the smaller .300 magnums, so the first load used the 180-grain Nosler Partition. I’d fooled around with a custom .300 H&H from D’Arcy Echols before, so knew enough to avoid the 4350s with 180-grain bullets. Best of show turned out to be (surprise!) Alliant Reloder 22, with 71 grains averaging about 3,050 fps and about .7 inch for three shots at 100 yards. Other than that, all the usual suspects worked acceptably with 180-grain bullets, especially Hodgdon H-4831, Norma 204 and RL-19.

Just for fun, I also tried the powders Nosler had the best results with when combined with the 165- and 200-grain Partitions. Hodgdon’s H-4350 is recommended for the 165, and 70 grains (the maximum listed) averaged just over an inch at 3,225 or so. I didn’t fool around anymore, figuring that was close enough, but the astonishing thing was the extremely low velocity spreads. Three shots rarely varied more than 10 fps, and one string varied only 5. So much for the long, slender case burning powder inconsistently. Nosler indicates H-4831 as the best powder for the 200-grain slug. Its maximum load of 66 grains didn’t reach 2,800 fps in my rifle, so I added   another grain, which bumped velocity up to 2,820. Groups averaged 1.5 inches, more than good enough for any game the 200-grain Partition might be needed to subdue.

With a 3-9x Leupold Vari-X II (the new, improved model) in Talley mounts, the rifle weighs an ounce under 9 pounds. Partly this is because I replaced the aluminum trigger guard with a Williams steel model, ordered from Brownells (it has a new toll-free number: 1-800-741-0015). Nine pounds is a good weight for a .300 magnum, especially one as handsome and accurate as this one. Oh, and one other advantage of this antique .300: Cases slide out of the magazine and into the chamber’s mouth like greasy sausage - and I literally mean empty cases, not just ammunition. A rifle loony looking for a hunting round somewhere between commonplace and too-difficult could do worse than these three old thirties.

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