In this case, I’m asking and will attempt a sane answer to the question: How do I choose the best bullet for my big-bore hunt?
I suspect hundreds of buckets of ink have been used up on that one. Nonetheless, that question is still being asked on forums, emails, literature, phone calls, formal and informal discussions, and in responses to my blogs.
Recognising my own limitations, as well as those of other writers who have a broader experience, as somewhat of an annalist in .458-caliber, I thought some practical applications of basic knowledge and principles might be helpful.
The title of this piece suggests there might be differences in weight, style and construction. If we’re thinking true Big Bores, that would limit the choice of calibers to only one where there would be an adequate selection of bullets designed specifically for anything from whitetails to elephant. That being, of course, in .458-cal.
In checking the various web sites and manuals of bullet manufacturers that regularly offer projectiles designed specifically for soft-skinned medium game all the way to the pachyderms, the choices are limited. Hornady and Barnes are at the forefront of that short list, and they have been the traditional leaders. More recently SWIFT has entered the fray of the Big Bores and offers a selection in .416 that might be considered appropriate for game as light as whitetail deer. Barnes, on the other hand, has gone away from lighter bullets in .416 according to their manual #4. But their website reveals a couple of TSX’s that could qualify for light medium game — a 300 and 350 in TSX. Also North Fork and Woodleigh offer a 325 and 340gr respectively. Cutting Edge has several offerings in .416 starting at a 180gr FB with a large poly tip. But frankly, I have no experience with their bullets and still entertain lots of doubts and questions. I just don’t see them as an all purpose bullet that may work on most game at a variety of ranges. Generally they have very poor BCs. One correspondent described them this way on a cull hunt for water buffalo in Australia: “They were like a hard thrown bag of leaves…” Sorry if that offends, but that confirmed my own suspicions. They may work as well as anything else at relatively close range but loose velocity (and energy) rather quickly due to construction and shape. The added tip makes most too long for optimum results from standard barrels and actions.
Some lesser known family owned bullet making firms may offer speciality bullets from time to time or on special order — but the waiting time may cost a hunt if wanting to use your .416 Something-Or-Other. That is, unless the timeline includes such potential delays. It’s a catch twenty-two situation for both speciality bullet makers and the hunter who wants to use his “Big Bore” somewhat more frequently than a rare trip to the African Continent or up in Alaska. Should you want to use your .404 or .416 for something other than a too costly Alaskan or African trip, you might be stuck with 400-grain super-premium bullets — unless, of course, you make your own cast bullets or order some well in advance from some speciality shops, as suggested. Small shops can’t afford to tool-up quickly for someone who wants to order even a couple hundred 315-grain cup-and-core .416s that might be useful for wapiti, moose, caribou and black bear. Unless they have some certainty of selling a few thousand of such a number, at a “premium” price point, it would be hardly worth their while in time and start-up costs. Hence the dilemma.
Truth be told, there really isn’t a lot to offer in .416″ that could cause any kind of mental fatigue over choices — and that applies in spades in anything more than .416, again with the sole exception being .458″. For some nostalgic reason, .416 is, and has evidently been, perceived as an African only dangerous game caliber, so little interest and therefore demand has surfaced to make it anything but that. Not so in .458 — thanks to the historic .45-70. All others combined in present big-bore rifle sales, both used and new, could hardly get the most liberal bean counter excited. The most prolific gun emporium in our area lists 56 dangerous-game rifles, most of which are NOT Big Bores to begin with — a few .338 Win Mags are listed as DG rifles, and the other sub-.416-caliber is various .375s (mostly H&Hs). The few others remaining of those listed as DG rifles are used and exotic calibers that have been “dumped” — and demand truly horrific prices! A very informative fact is that the same store offers over 40 NEW rifles in .45-70, and NOT one single used one! (Edit to add: To prove me wrong, a couple of .45- 70 used models have just recently appeared; a Marlin “Cowboy” in 26″, and an 1886 Winchester.) And NO used .458 Winchester Magnums — and I’ve been following their web-site for many years as well as being a semi-regular client.
Therefore, a plethora of bullet types in .458-caliber are currently extant from 250-grain to 550-grain in RN, FP, HP, SP, cast, mono-metal, bonded, traditional and exotic form for literally anything that may be legally hunted worldwide from medium-game to the biggest and baddest! And yes, if you need practice, very modest loads could efficiently dispatch a gopher or three. I know of one Ontario group that spent a whole season knocking off chucks with their Four-Five-Eights!
Since there really is little to zero competition in bullet choices from all other “Big Bores”, I’ve decided to include a couple from what I’d originally designated as the “Light Big Bores” — from .358-cal to .375-cal., and one from the 9.3s/.366-cal that I’ve written quite a bit about over the past seven years. That is IF they make 4000 ft-lbs at the muzzle and include in their repertoire of bullets at least one solid made expressly for pachyderms, plus at least one “soft-point” that could reasonably be useful for all “plains game”. Of course, all my blogs are in some way related to personal handload experiences.
Let the games begin! (I had to begin somewhere to make this interesting!)
Of course, any such arrangement, while somewhat logical is still arbitrary — no matter who makes whatever lists or divisions.
My choices for “Light Big Bores” are from those that I have at least from “some” to considerable experience with. In .358″ it will be the .350 Remington Magnum and from .375 the choice is natural — the .375 H&H. The “true” Big Bore being in .458-caliber; the .458-Winchester Magnum, and it’s equivalent in my Ruger No.1 in .45-70
LT (long-throat), or “Improved” (IMP).
Though the .350 Remington Magnum has been around for a long time (1965) it is still relatively obscure for the average hunter who thinks rifles for big game must be chambered in .30-06, .270 Win or .308 Win. Other than that, those who have ventured past .30-caliber think .338. Still, the .35 Whelen has experienced some awakening in recent times but sales still leave it in a slumbering mood. There have been several attempts to re-introduce the very good .350 Rem Mag in new garb but sales have hardly sparked new interest among those having a fling with the “short-fats”! I think it’s a case (pun intended) of “too skinny” and too early for the latest generation “fat” crowd!
My experience is limited to two Remington models in .350 RM: The first a Rem 700 Classic with a very good walnut stock embracing a short-action with a 22″ tube screwed into it. It was one that was coveted and should have been kept, being one of the best handling/proportioned bolt-action rifles I’ve ever handled and owned. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a ton of experience as a handloader in those days, and didn’t fully appreciate its potential.
The second, and last, was the Model 673 (that I’ve written about a few times). After my gunsmith got it sorted out by finishing the chamber that was left in the rough by Remington, it became one of the very best shooters, and most efficient, that has ever graced my gun cabinet. It too carried a short action and a medium-heavy 22-inch barrel. I’ve never owned a more accurate big-game rifle. In fact, it would shoot it’s preferred 250gr Grand Slam into 3/8″ at 100 yards, leaving the muzzle at over 2700 fps, thanks to RL-15 ignited by WLRM primers, and, of course, Rem brass.
As a further insight into it’s capabilities compared to the .35 Whelen, check out Barnes #4 manual. It’s insightful in that the ballistics from the .350 RM are from a 20-inch test barrel while those for the .35 Whelen came from a 24-inch.
My best results from each came from 22″ barrels using RL-15 and several 250s. Results from 225s were similar, but the .350 (M673) would fling the 250 GS at an average of 2710 and the 250 NP at an average of 2695 fps. I could get about 2600 from the 250 Speer and Hornady from the Whelen, but not even 2500 fps from the 250 NP without pressure problems! In fact, the distinction between those two shooting the 250-grain Nosler was more like 150 fps in favor of the .350 RM. Plus, while the accuracy of the Whelen was good, the .350 produced superb accuracy. Oh yeah, I know, that may depend more on the rifles than on the chamberings.
Anyway, if I were to do it all over again, I’d choose a 22″ barrelled .350 with a standard action as in the M700 that Remington produced at one time. I heard rumors before my first purchase that it would come close to the ballistics of a .338 Win Mag when fitted with a 22 – 24″ tube and choosing the right components in powder and bullet… I found that to be true enough! My choice of bullet for all big game would have been the 250 GS or 250 Nos. Partition if the GS were unavailable. That combo was plenty for anything in North America, and most anything else the world over. While the 225s have their proponents, the only practical advantage, and a slight one at that, is slightly less recoil. Downrange, the 250s hold their velocity and energy much better. I loaded my 673 with the 250gr GS over 60.5 grs RL-15 for a very consistent sub-moa at over 2700 fps. That was plenty good enough for me, and would still be today!
Guns, like humans, have their own ideas of what works best for them, in them and through them. While general descriptions may be made about “if the shoe fits, wear it”, yet a handloader does need be somewhat of a psychologist to convince firearms to behave in a manner suitable to their physical form. Despite that, however, they do appear to have a mind of their own. Just like in human relationships, when you think you’ve figured them out, they will often prove you wrong. So, as in raising kids, eventually you have to let them decide for themselves what they do best — otherwise big disappointments may be around the next turn in life’s road! At a rather early stage in my life, my Mom thought I’d like to learn piano lessons since she came from a very musical lineage, but I liked the outdoors much more than that! Later, since I came from a lineage of musicians, I wanted a guitar for Christmas — an Hawaiian one at that! Well, that didn’t seem to work out too well either — I still liked the outdoors too much! It wasn’t until adult years that I actually learned to play a musical instrument, took some music courses in college, and learned to sing tenor in a choir and high-tenor in a quartet. All that to say, I’ve also had to learn patience with rifles as to what their preferences might be in handloading components, and to what degree! And they didn’t always agree with what others dictated should be the norm for their purpose and existence!
If you get the drift here, don’t assume that you, or anyone else for that matter, knows best for the rifles under my care! And I’ll extend the same courtesy to you.
The following is a comparison of two loads from my former M673 in .350 Remington Magnum. As mentioned, many shooters seem to prefer the 225s over the 250s in the mid-bores. The advantages are slim, but there are a few: Slightly less recoil (29 vs 31.5 ft-lbs in mine); slightly better trajectory; and in some places, perhaps slightly better cost for the 225s over the 250s. In downrange energy, as well as in starting out, the 250 NP is the winner over it’s sibling. It also carries more momentum and penetrating power due to a better sectional density (.279 vs .251). So, depending on the game being pursued, I’d choose the 250 for most applications. Although, Woodleigh makes a 310gr in both RN and FMJ, I believe.
I’ve a friend who had his .350 RM in a Rugger 77 re-chambered to .350 WSM — simply the .300 or .325 WSM necked to .358″. Since it’s a “Cat”, I’ll not include its specs here except to say that it appears to be the full equivalent of the .358 Norma in a 24″ format. There is no lack of good to excellent bullets in .358-caliber these days. My friend also likes the 250gr Speer. It has a good reputation from a long career.
CARTRIDGE = .350 Remington Magnum
Barrel length = 22″
Bullet: 250 Nosler Partition
Primer = WLRM
Zero @ 250 yards
MV = 2695 fps/ 4031 ft-lbs (-1.6″)
50 = 2598 fps/ 3747 ft-lbs (+1.52″)
100= 2504 fps/ 3480 ft-lbs (+3.33″)
150= 2412 fps/ 3228 ft-lbs (+3.76″)
200= 2321 fps/ 2999 ft-lbs (+2.69″)
250= 2232 fps/ 2766 ft-lbs (+0.01′)
300= 2146 fps/ 2555 ft-lbs (-4.41″)
350= 2061 fps/ 2357 ft-lbs (-10.7″)
400= 1978 fps/ 2171 ft-lbs (-19.1″)
450= 1897 fps/ 1998 ft-lbs (-29.7″)
500= 1819 fps/ 1836 ft-lbs (-42.7″)
Yes, I think that at 1819 fps, that bullet should give some expansion on a moose or elk. With precise shooting on a broadside hit through shoulders and lungs, 1836 ft-lbs should be ample for a 1000 lb animal… but barely. Nonetheless, most of us, most of the time should get closer before squeezing the trigger. The 225gr NP, that provides the following ballistics, should be adequate on the same game to 400 yards with good to excellent shooting.
Same conditions as above:
225gr Nosler Partition
MV = 2775 fps/ 3847 ft-lbs (-1.60″)
50 = 2673 fps/ 3569 ft-lbs (+1.37″)
100= 2573 fps/ 3308 ft-lbs (+3.11″)
150= 2476 fps/ 3063 ft-lbs (+3.54″)
200= 2381 fps/ 2832 ft-lbs (+2.54″)
250= 2288 fps/ 2614 ft-lbs (+0.02″)
300= 2197 fps/ 2410 ft-lbs (-4.17″)
350= 2107 fps/ 2219 ft-lbs (-10.2″)
400= 2020 fps/ 2039 ft-lbs (-18.1″)
450= 1936 fps/ 1871 ft-lbs (-28.2″)
500= 1853 fps/ 1715 ft-lbs (-40.6″)
To help put these numbers in perspective, when I owned my Remington Classic in .350 Rem Mag, the only manual in which I could find a number of loads for 250gr bullets was SPEER’s No.11. In fact, it was the ONLY current manual available from a company that actually made those bullets. And that bullet was the 250gr Speer SP with a BC of .446 (the same as the later 250 Nosler Partition). I immediately purchased a can of Winchester 748 ball powder as it was listed as giving the best velocity and energy, of course. Being a ball powder permitted a larger charge. They showed 57 grains as max at 2484 fps from the 22″ barrel of a M77 Ruger. Mine was a 22″ Remington, so I figured I should get close to that number from 57 grains of WW 748. It turned out that my rifle fell short of that. So I managed to cram in 58 grains that produced slightly more than 2400 fps. I was beginning to feel some disappointment. No other powder tried would even come close to that. So, I settled on that as the best possible from that rifle. Eventually, I chose a 200gr SP (Hornady) at around 2700 fps and took it deer hunting. My dream was “busted”.
All of that came after the purchase of a .338 Win Mag in a SAKO FS with a 20″ barrel. It was giving factory specs for 250s and 225ts.
Fast forward to today’s manuals: Some are still “stuck” with original factory ballistics for the 350 RM; others are NOT! For instance, take BARNES #4. From a 20-inch barrel they show 2943 fps from their 200gr TSX, and 2764 fps from the 225 TSX. That’s equivalent to original ballistics from a .338 Win Mag. In my 20″ SAKO in .338, I couldn’t do better than that for the same weights. From a 22″ .350 RM those Barnes numbers should look more like 3000 fps for the 200 TSX and 2800 fps for the 225 TSX. Again, that would about match results from a 22″ to 24″ .338 Win Mag. How could that be when “everyone knows” that the .338 WM is greater because it has more case capacity? Evidently, not “everyone” knows about ballistic efficiency, or how a larger bore is more efficient in the use of a faster powder than a smaller bore with a larger case capacity that is compelled to use a slower powder… It’s called Expansion Ratio. A .35-caliber is much better at that than a .33-caliber — meaning, a .35 Whelen, and especially the .350 Rem Mag, really lack little to nothing in real life ballistics, when barrel lengths and pressures are the same, to the highly toted .338 Winchester Magnum. More bullets, you say, for the latter? Yeah, perhaps, but not to any meaningful degree.
From Nosler’s #6 manual, I see they used a 22″ — same as mine. For their 250gr Partition, they record 2571 fps from WW 748. That should easily give 2500 fps from a 20-inch tube. However, there are better powders available today. I think it’s reasonable to expect a good improvement over those more modern results if RL-17 was given a try, as it has in my own 9.3 x 62.
Til the next on the 9.3s (of course, I couldn’t leave that one out, could I?)