Winchester came out with the .458 in 1956, the .338 in 1958 and the .300 in 1963. Over time I’ve owned and used all three. But at one time I thought I’d like to own their complete series of four, including the .264, at the same time and all in the M70. That is a set I could have lived with throughout my hunting life — I’m sure there are those who have done just that!
There’s little doubt that the most common and popular of those four is the .300 followed by the .338. Both are still widely embraced, if the sale of rifles, ammo, dies, bullets and discussions are indicative of their use. At one time – near it’s beginning in 1958 – the .264 was quite popular, then some problems developed, real or imagined. With such a large case for a relatively small bore, large doses of powder tended to create a lot of heat with the unhappy result of throat erosion. Then an ideal slow-burning propellant was difficult to find – either they were too slow or too fast for a maximum-efficient burn. Some claimed the .270 Win was better overall. Then Remington created the 7mm Remington Magnum based on the same case as the .264 with improved ballistics. Potential buyers of the .264 Win saw the 7 Rem Mag as a more favorable choice.
Yet with the current fad and resurrection of 6.5s as “wonder cartridges”, it appears a resurrection of the .264 Winchester Magnum is due – especially with more modern and appropriate powders. If I were younger, I could “dig” that one shooting a 140gr Partition at 3200 fps without fear of a “burnt-out” barrel in less than a thousand rounds! But it needs a full dose of “the right” modern powder – like 72 – 75 grains in a 26″ barrel and some “free bore”. Nosler’s #6 manual uses a 24″ test barrel and a max load of 57.5 grains of RL-19 for 3021 fps… about the same as a .270 Win! That’s scandalous for a cartridge like the .264 that can hold 84 grains H2O compared to the .270’s 67 ! Even I could do better having never owned a .264 Win! From a 26″ barrel and a 140gr NP or AccuBond, it should go not a hair under 3200 fps! Even a 7-08 can make 3000 fps from a 139gr and a 24″ tube using 48 grains of powder! Some of the results in manuals are void of making much sense – not all, but some…
Of course, Nosler now has their own magnum in 6.5 that is not under-loaded with a 140gr advertised at 3300 fps from a 26″ barrel…
Back to our theme: The .300 and .338 Win Mags… Which is better?
<This rifle was chambered in .338 Winchester Magnum when bought new. It’s a Browning A-Bolt SS in left-hand with a 26″ barrel. In that form it gave up to 2842 fps from a book load of RL-19 and a 250gr Hornady SP. Sometime within it’s first year I had it re-chambered to a .340 Wby Mag that shot the 250gr Partition to 3000 fps. That became my moose hunting load.
Having considerable experience with each in thousands of rounds of handloads, there is quite a bit of overlap with the .338 coming out on top in sheer energy numbers, while the .300 has slightly less recoil and flatter shooting for smaller big game. I’ve tended to favor the .300 as being slightly more versatile. But with the multiplicity of component bullets for each, the handloader can tailor ballistics for anything from bambi to brown bear. Though when it concerns a hunt for the likes of large moose and bear, under all conditions, I’d choose the .338 over the .300. In such a case, there’s no substitute for bullet weight, sectional density and energy, assuming the “best” bullets in each.
To get the best all-around results from each, a 26″ barrel is mandated. I fail to understand why a majority of hunters seem to prefer 24″ barrels. I’ve owned each in Browning A-Bolts with 26″ barrels and I defy anyone to prove why a 24″ is better in any sense. 26″ tubes do give increased velocities over 24s, all else equal. From my 26″, .300 I could quite easily get 3000 fps from the 200gr Partition, and 2840 fps from a 250gr in the 26″, .338 Win Mag, using RL-22 in the former and RL-19 in the latter, using a near identical amount in each.
At one time I was faced with a choice of either one in the same make and model rifle: the Ruger SS, M77 with the “boat paddle” stock. After some dithering, I chose the .300 as I already had a “heavy hitter” that filled that niche. Today, I’d lean toward the .338. Both had 24″ barrels.
While, as suggested, there are more than enough bullets of different types and weights for each, this is how I might load them today:
< A selection of .338″ sectioned bullets from L to R: 275gr Speer, 250gr Sierra, 225gr NP, 250gr NP, 250gr Speer GS, 250gr Hornady SP Int., and 225gr Hornady SP Int. (The bullet on far left is a .264″, 140gr NP for comparison). Today, there are many others, such as Barnes TSX and TTSX’s.
The .300 Winchester Magnum (26″)
Bullet: 200gr Nosler Partition
SD = .301
BC = .481
Powder: 73 grains of RL-22
MV = 3000 fps/3996 ft-lbs
300 yards = 2436 fps/2635 ft-lbs
500 yards = 2098 fps/1954 ft-lbs
The .338 Winchester Magnum (26″)
Bullet: 250gr Nosler Partition
SD = .313
BC = .473
Powder: 74 grains of Rl-19
MV = 2840 fps/4477 ft-lbs
300 yards = 2280 fps/2885 ft-lbs
500 yards = 1860 fps/1920 ft-lbs
Analysis of results:
1) Recoil: I’ve owned identical rifles in each with 26″ barrels, so the weight was similar at around 8.75 lbs with scope and ammo. The load for the .300 WM in a 8.75 lb rifle would be approximately 35 ft-lbs recoil. The load for the .338 WM would develop about 42 ft-lbs.
2) The .300 has a flatter trajectory but not enough to make a significant difference on large game such as moose or elk. However, for small deer, wolf or coyote, the .300 has an advantage at long range. But both are adequate for moose or elk to 500 yards at least.
3) In a choice for dangerous game like large grizzle or brown bear, and large Alaskan/Yukon moose, the .338 has a distinct advantage as most will be shot much closer than 500 yards. And the .338 has greater momentum from its 250gr even at 500 yards, as well as a higher SD and larger bore by 21% in cross-sectional area at any range from muzzle to terminal ballistics. So today (If I didn’t already have the 9.3 x 62) I’d choose the .338 over the .300 if given a choice between two otherwise identical rifles.
Then, there is the matter of 20% greater recoil from the .338 (depending on how each is loaded). If someone can’t be comfortable with the “kick” of a .300 Winchester Magnum (or other .300 magnums) then I’d certainly not recommend a .338. My .340 Wby produced 54 ft-lbs of recoil from it’s hunting load and I really couldn’t say it was punishing in the least. That’s considerably more than the typical .375 H&H. But with time and experience in shooting such rifles, blindfolded, it would be difficult to discern the difference between any of them. For a time I used a local smith for some work, who formerly worked for the Canadian military as a smith. He told me: “I did so much testing that they were all just another firearm. I couldn’t honestly tell you the difference between a .458 or .30-06, they are all just another firearm to me”.
I pretty much came to that same conclusion. The biggest difference in “felt” recoil was the rifle itself – its form and did it “fit”? Weight was also a major factor. Then, how I held it in bench shooting. I learned early on to pull it tight to the shoulder WITH BOTH HANDS! And don’t slouch – sit up straight allowing the body to move with the recoil as in shooting offhand in hunting.
If one only learns to shoot small bores as in benchrest style, they’re gonna get whacked in the chops real hard if they use that “style” for a .338 Win Mag, and maybe from a .300 too!
In my view, Winchester did a great job in producing that series of four in the late ’50s and early ’60s, that have really never been improved on by their “Short Magnums”, nor other brands and iterations. The .458 is still a factory standard for African DG firing a 500gr at 2130 to 2150 fps (over 5000 ft-lbs), and handloads that equal or surpass the Lott (to 6000 ft-lbs); the 300 is a world class cartridge for big game at any realistic range as well as a favorite for target shooting. The .338 is still a serious choice in Alaska for its overgrown moose and bears, and the .264, despite a lot of negative press and more than enough competition, is still alive and capable of “getting the job done” on anything to meet Winchester’s intentions – at stretched ranges.
Long may they live!
< Three heavyweights loaded for my Ruger No.1 Tropical in .458 Winchester Magnum. L to R: a 600gr Barnes Original, a 550gr Woodleigh Weldcore and a 500gr Hornady DGX. The one in the middle was fired today (Friday, June 10/22) along with several 250gr MonoFlex’s. The rifle is sighted for those 250s at 2686 fps MV/4005 ft-lbs that cluster into a tight group at 50 yards. A .458 WM can shoot that bullet to 3000 fps with ease! The 550 Woodleigh registered 1657 fps, and corrected to MV = 1666/3389 ft-lbs, which is adequate for anything short of elephant. That’s a greatly reduced load, but within range is more than adequate for the largest and most dangerous game Alaska can throw in its direction! That bullet at “full bore” can easily register 2200 fps from a 24″ barrel at the COL presented above.
(A couple points of interest for the curious: 1) Though the 250gr MonoFlex at 2686/4005 ft-lbs appears more suitable for big bear than the slow 550gr Woodleigh at 1666/3389 ft-lbs, the 250gr would have to make 3665 fps to equal the momentum of the “slow moving” 550gr, and 2) The 550gr actually retains its velocity-momentum much better down range than the 250gr due to a significantly higher B.C. So, the effective range of the 550 on large game is better than the 250gr, though compensation for a meaningful disparity in trajectory would have to be made. Another note: Felt recoil from the 550 was noticeably more than from the 250gr – 34 ft-lbs for the 550 vs. 29 ft-lbs for the 250 – all within the range of our two main subjects, the .300 and .338 Winchesters.)
And despite its critics, the father of them all – the .458 is not only able to fulfil its promises, but is better than ever!
Til the next…