|December - January 2002
Volume 37, Number
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)
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 couldnt be prouder if hed 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? Ive rarely met a wildcat that could do anything some
older round couldnt 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 youre
the same way.
Old-cartridge fans have a sense of
history. Many rifle loonies confine their reading to this years magazines, hoping to
discover an In- Cartridge that will transform their elk hunting forever (or until the next
In-Cartridge). Dont 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 thats 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
hunts end they proclaimed the .270 WSM to be the perfect nilgai cartridge. Combined
with the Fail Safe, Id 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
Its only fault? Its 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 cant 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
Ive 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
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 todays
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 hunters 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. Its also the lightest centerfire scope Ive 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
didnt buy this magazine to read about factory ammunition. Youre a handloader,
and a handloader can make the .300 Savage sit up and do tricks. Over the years Ive
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 thats 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, Ive 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 dont 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 Ive had excellent
luck with InterLocks on deer-sized game. If recovered, theyre normally expanded back
to the InterLock and have taken care of any deer-sized bones on the way. This loads
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 Hodgdons Extreme powders. The Extremes Ive
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 isnt
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 isnt a bad combination for any hunting from varmints to plains deer to black
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
(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 cant 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 isnt a problem. Ive 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. (Hodgdons 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 1890s 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
This past spring the High Wall went on a
prairie dog shoot in Wyoming. This amused my partners immensely, but theres 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
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 Hodgdons data, and groups three shots into
1.5 inches at 100 yards. This would work fine for any moose in North America at woods
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
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.
Weatherbys 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 Weatherbys 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 doesnt 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
Ive 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.
Dont get me wrong. The .300
WSM is an excellent cartridge, which Im quite familiar with, both in the field and
on the range. Theres 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. Id 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 didnt 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. Id fooled around with a custom
.300 H&H from DArcy 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. Hodgdons H-4350 is recommended for the 165, and 70 grains (the maximum
listed) averaged just over an inch at 3,225 or so. I didnt 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 didnt 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 chambers
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.