One rifle cartridge holds 94 grains H2O to case mouth, and another holds 98 grains of H20 to case mouth; which will be the most efficient, desirable or powerful? More information wanted? One being a .458 Win Mag case and the other a .340 Weatherby case. I’ve handloaded both. Not just once but literally thousands of times for each – and not always with the same load each time.
In general terms, a straight-wall cartridge case is more efficient than a “bottleneck” case, other matters more or less equal, such as psi and barrel length in using the overall best powders and bullets in each. Why then bother with bottleneck cartridges? The short answer is that they can shoot their comparatively smaller bore and lighter bullets faster and further. Of course, that answer needs more details, but the large straight-wall case has other advantages: more powerful from less propellant and more effective on really large and/or dangerous game. And, of course, that answer needs more details as well for clarification, most of which I’ve done in times past.
For an immediate example, I know that the .340 Weatherby from a 26″ barrel can make upwards of 5000 ft-lbs of kinetic energy at the muzzle, whereas the .458 Winchester Magnum can produce upwards of 6000 ft-lbs of kinetic energy at the muzzle from a 24″ barrel. That’s from 82 grains of propellant for the .458 and 90.5 grains of the appropriate propellant for the .340. And that’s for starters.
While I’ve previously written on this topic a few times, yet the main emphasis in today’s media is long-range shooting and hunting. The long-range shooting part is a spin-off from military applications no matter how far back in history we may want to go! There’s no legitimate argument that’s sustainable against the history of firearms applications – they evolved due to wars, and accuracy at increasingly longer ranges was mandated in consequence of the opposition (whomever they were) going smaller in caliber with lighter and faster bullets. This gave the advantage of surer hits at longer ranges, so they commenced firing earlier and at greater distances than those who were still using black powder and musket balls.
However, our subject hasn’t to do with long-range target shooting, but increasingly longer ranges for hunting! Or so our sporting magazines and videos would have us believe. And it is true that more bullets are both manufactured and fired at ground squirrels and pronghorn than any other live animal. So these same bullets are loaded in factory ammo and handloads for practice and “fun” at both public and private ranges than any other type. Ergo: that helps keep ammo companies in business. It they had to depend only on producing ammo or projectiles for large bores they’d shortly go out of business. That is for large rifle bores, not handguns. Of course, sometimes they are the same ammo for rifles and handguns, but I think you’re smart enough to understand the point of this conversation.
My point is to question any great need for emphasis on “extra” long-range hunting of big game. How far is “long range”? That would greatly vary according to area as well as the hunter. In some places 200 yards may be “extra long”, as where I do 85% of big game hunts. When I hunted in the “Far North”, clear-cut logging was a factor and there was always the potential for a shot on moose beyond 350 yards under less than ideal conditions. Either you take the shot or go home without a moose! It was not like there were moose in herds like elk
< There is a bull, cow and a calf moose in this pic (in a rain storm). Much like when I shot my bull much farther north in our province.
< New moose tracks in the recently logged out area where I was deer hunting this past week. There were three sets: a bull, cow and calf. I fully expected to see them. However, moose hunting season was done two weeks prior, and I didn’t have a license anyway. But it was good to see wildlife moving back into an area after two years of logging. But in season, with a tag for one of those three, the longest shot possible would have been no more than 200 yards.
< This huge, sheer cliff is 20 feet tall and the most prominent feature of the logged out area. My .458 Win in the #1 Ruger is resting against it at the bottom for perspective. Many deer tracks, especially those of a really big buck, and moose tracks, that appeared to be made the previous night, were in view of this photo.
But anything on the far side of 400 yards would be long-range for me, even on a large animal. I’ve shot groundhogs at about 350 with a .223 and 6.5, and they’re very small, so I had to “get the range” by firing a couple of shots before I had a range finder, or even a spotter. But three factors enter the picture here: 1) It’s one thing to be able to “get the range” on small game or varmints by firing a few range shots, but rarely will a big game animal stand around waiting to get hit in the vitals if wounded or even completely missed! 2) A large game animal, like a bull elk or moose, are comparatively easier to hit in the vitals (assuming a proper rifle and load) at 350 yards than a coyote, for example. 3) The real point is, however, that most big game, and especially large game, are shot, on average, much more closely than 350 yards – less than 250 would be “normal”. Yet, as Hagel used to emphasise, we need to be prepared for the unusual, and even extreme conditions, not just the “average”- which, by the way, includes any abnormal or extreme numbers, like 25 yards to 600. Personally, I like to be prepared for the unexpected. So in my treks toward the “Far North”, I toted rifles like a .338 Win Mag AND a .45-70, depending on the location that could dramatically change in a single day’s hunt. Since I’d hunted that same vast area four times, I came to know what to expect, but on the first try I didn’t. So I took two rifles on each trip: one fired a straightwall cartridge and the other a bottleneck cartridge – a 45-70 and a medium bore magnum, or a .458 Win and a .375 H&H (On that trip the .375 never came out of its case!). And, I’ve been known to tote a .300 Win as a backup to a .458, and it also never saw daylight as the .458 can fire a 350 grain TSX like a .30-06 can shoot a 180gr.
< My former CZ 550 in .458 Winchester Magnum. The moose load for “The Far North” of Ontario was a 350gr TSX at 2700 fps, like a 30-06 on steroids!
That’s to say that rarely is a bottleneck cartridge really called for if the intent is “average” hunting of big game. A 444 Marlin is more efficient than a .30-06, and fully capable of killing large game this side of 300 yards. And, it’s fully adequate with good handloads of taking the largest brown bear Alaska has to offer at ranges that most are taken. And I’m not speaking of Remington’s factory load of a 240gr, but a tough 300gr with a flat tip Buffalo Bore at 2200 fps. The case so loaded holds less than 60 grains of powder, at less psi than the .30-06, and much greater momentum. For a .30-06 to have the same momentum a 180gr would have to leave the muzzle at 3667 fps! That’s almost 1000 fps faster than possible! At 200 yards the 30-06 would need 2526 fps to match the momentum of the 444, but it only is making 2379 fps at that range when a 180gr NP is started at 2750 fps. So with less propellant and less PSI, the .444 Marlin has the potential of being more effective on large game than a .30-06 all the way past 200 yards!
The .45-70, from a 22″ Marlin, can make 4000 ft-lbs from a 400gr using 60 grains of AA2015 at 43,000 psi. That’s just over 2100 fps. The Ruger #1 in .45-70 can push a 400gr out the muzzle at nearly 2200 fps at about 32,000 CUP! That’s the older #1 Ruger before they shortened the throat. Mine, with the LT (long throat) would make 2400 fps from a 400gr at about 62,000 psi. All that from a .458″ bore and a straight-wall case of 2.105″, and 2.85″ COL. And the energy is equal to a .416 Rigby! And the Rigby case is enormous – 128 grains of H2O, and a COL of 3.75 Inches!
< Some loads for my former #1 Ruger in .45-70 LT
There’s a point beyond which cartridge case size and volume become redundant. That is in “small arms” for hunting purposes vs military arsenal for tank destruction! And we don’t need 50mm cannons for cow elk! Or even .50 caliber… .458″ is optimum; anything beyond that is superfluous, unless (maybe) in BP.
The .460 Weatherby? It burns 44% more powder, for 53% more recoil and 300 fps more velocity than the GREAT .458 Winchester Magnum! And it will do nothing more than the .458 Win Mag in harvesting the biggest and baddest except hurt you more! A muzzle break on the Weatherby? Yeah, mine has one too – oh, and that’s my Ruger #1 in .458 Win. My current load has 23 ft-lbs of push back… and is fully capable for a big moose at 250 yards, at about the same as a .30-06 in recoil – but with less PSI. Yet some say, “You carry more than you shoot”, so some prefer a rifle a couple pounds lighter? What are those sling swivels hanging fore and aft from a rifle for? Oh, a sling? We need to use them when “we carry more than we shoot”! It’s really a very neat tool that assists in accuracy as well! And, Ohhh… can a .30-06 also make 6000 ft-lbs of ME… about half that, eh? If that historic cartridge were a straight-wall case it would be more like the renowned .405 Winchester, a true big game cartridge that wasn’t simply adapted from military applications. It’s still a good BG cartridge, but not as good as the historic Teddy Roosevelt .405 Winchester for LG. Then, the .400 Whelen is nearly a straight-wall cartridge, and comes from the basic .30-06 case necked up to .411, and with an adequate shoulder for head-spacing, at modern pressure will exceed the ballistics of Teddy’s “Lion Medicine”.