While hunting rifles and their cartridges will surely be used to punch holes in targets for sighting-in and practice, the emphasis of these articles will be their use in hunting.
There’s no doubt that much more shooting of loads intended for hunting takes place in shooting holes in targets at ranges than in the actual shooting of game.
“Practical”, “Modern”, “Hunting Cartridges”, “Greater than .30-Caliber”, and using the best bullets and powders will be both the aim and scope of the following presentations as they relate to medium to large and dangerous game.
My Ruger No.1H in .458 Winchester Magnum at work at a bear-bait setup in October/2022. The load was Hornady 250gr MonoFlexs at ~2680 fps. In kinetic energy, similar to a 250gr factory load from a .338 Win Mag – its direct descendant – but at only 67% of the .458’s full power!
PRACTICAL implies at least the following: readily available and suitable for handloads from modest to full power.
MODERN suggests cartridges that intentionaly use smokeless powders, or are so loaded by factories despite their origins from the BP era, such as a .45-70.
HUNTING CARTRIDGES. Very few smokeless powder military cartridges over .308″ have become successful hunting cartridges as loaded by factories for large game. Certainly the British .303 (.312″) has taken a fair share of larger game, but it’s not perceived, or recommended, with it’s current factory loads “made in America”, for “the Great Bears” or other game of their ilk. But, certainly capable within safe ranges employing a well constructed handload of a 215gr at ~2250 fps, if they could be found.
Still, I’m thinking of cartridges that start at 8mm (.323) and have practical factory loads readily available for modern-built rifles. Unfortunately, that excludes the excellent 8mm Mauser, even though Euro-factory hunting ammo is far superior to American made 8mm Mauser ammo.
So we’re gonna start with the two American magnums in .323-caliber, the so-called .325 WSM and 8mm Rem Mag. But the main problems with the 8 Rem Mag is the absence of factory ammo and rifles. So, it’s not really “practical” for the average hunter after larger game at longer distances. The .338 Win Mag is much more practical in those regards, so we’ll focus on that one after the .325 WSM – which is also borderline as to factory ammo. Brass from a .300 WSM can be necked-up to .323″.
The .325 WSM (Winchester Short Magnum) was conceived by Winchester’s “brass” in 2004 to compete with their own .338 Win Mag (1958) in a short-action Winchester rifle with a 23″ barrel. It fell short on wishes and has never attained the status hoped for.
First: it’s not a “.325″ but a .323-cal, and secondly, it can’t compete with the standard-action M70 in .338-cal because it’s not a .338-cal, limiting it to lesser weight bullets with poorer SDs and BCs. The standard factory product is a 200gr at a claimed 2850 fps, which is less than the same weight from their .300 Win Mag with good handloads. And a 200gr from a 24” .338 Win Mag can attain 3000 fps using the right formula in handloads.
So while, from it’s best handloads, it could perform well enough to meet the expectations of some users (less weight and recoil), yet it falls behind the cartridge it was deemed to immitate in ballistics. So we’ll give it a nod and endorse it for those with more modest expectations. There are three hunting bullets for handloads from Nosler: a 180gr SB, and two 200 grainers – a Partition and the AccuBond – both excellent. Sectional densities are similar to the 180s in .30-caliber, while their BCs are average at .426 for the Partition and .450 for the AB. Nosler shows a high of 2964 fps for those two, but not from a Winchester 23″ production rifle, but a 26″ Wiseman test barrel. So as a practical best result, I’ll assign 2900 fps for those two. Not too bad, but still short of 3000 fps from a 24″ .338 Win Mag. 3056 fps is assigned to those bullets from a 24″ Wiseman test barrel in 8mm Rem Mag. Of course a few other bullet manufacturers produce 8mm projectiles as well, but the main flaw of 8mm cartridges for larger game at longer ranges is the absence of a “sleek” 250gr, especially for the 8 Rem Mag.
Yet the best “compromise” appears to be the 220gr from Sierra. It was made for the 8mm Magnums, and in particular the 8 Rem Mag. From the .325 WSM is should make ~2800 fps MV from best handloads giving over 2600 ft-lbs at 300 yards, and a TE of 60 – 65 depending on fudge factors – enough for the largest moose but borderline for a 2000 lb Eland at 300. Much better results would be expected from the 8 Rem Mag at ~ +3000 fps MV and ~2500 fps at 300 yards = 3054 ft-lbs/ 70-75 TE. In contrast, my 9.3 x 62 gives 70 TE at 500 yards!
And in all of this, we’re talking about a SINGLE SHOT to the “boiler room”… Agreed, more often than not, a couple or three are required to finish matters!
The .338 Winchester Magnum has enjoyed remarkable success and is still one of the most popular for medium to large and dangerous game, including the Brown Bears of Alaska (which was intended). With component bullets from 160gr to 300gr, and most of the premium type, and with good accuracy and velocity, it’s a very capable and versatile cartridge in a complementary rifle. Just about every rifle manufacturer chambers for it, plus a plethora of private rifle builders and smiths. It’s a TOP choice for any game worldwide where legal. And word has it that it has largely replaced the ol’ .30-06 in the hands of Alaskan guides. And a big plus is one can find ammo for it anywhere ammo is sold in Alaska and most other parts of the world to boot! It’s that much in demand. If I could live with one rifle for all big game, a .338 Winchester Magnum would be on a short list. 2800 fps is possible from today’s powders firing a premium 250gr from a 24″ barrel. Then, of course, heavier premiums are available, but I doubt their usefulness over something like the 250gr AccuBond with a .575 BC. There is also a LR 265gr AB with a .735 BC from Nosler.
The .340 WBY et al: From my former .340 Wby at ~2850 fps from that 265gr AB, I doubt that a bull elk could stop that one at 1000 yards! At that range it would still be making 1806 fps/1920 ft-lbs – plenty for ANY elk and most moose from a descent hit… of course, that’s the rub! The TE is 63.74 by the way, with conditions at +2000 ft, 58* and 58 RH. Giving the hunter credit for an average body hit, we multiply 63.74 x 15 = 956 lbs live weight. A more precise body hit (heart-lungs), I’d multiply 63.74 x 18 = 1147 lbs, a perfect hit (by accident) to CNS, multiply by 25 = 1593 lbs, and so on. Take all that with a grain of salt if you wish, but for me it serves as a potential guide – telling me that nothing more is needed for 99% of any game hunting, anywhere in the world, including for those who attempt such shots in the foothills of the Rocky Mountain States or Provinces. That’s giving academic credit to the Super Magnums in .338-caliber.
The .35 WHELEN: This is an oldie that dates to 1920, or thereabouts, and Col. Townsend Whelen is given credit for it along with his gunsmith, James Howe. Simply: It was the military .30-06 Springfield necked-up to .358-caliber with no other changes. That permitted heavier bullets to 310grs to be used, yet the “standard load” of a 250gr at 2500 fps/3470 ft-lbs was considered the best “all-around” load for most purposes. Not a lot has changed since those days.
Handloaders kept it alive until it was legitimized at SAAMI by Remington in 1986. CUP was set at 52,000, and Remington’s factory loads were a 200gr SP at a promoted 2675 fps/3178 ft-lbs, and a 250gr RN at 2400 fps/3198 ft-lbs. However, having neither dies not brass, I purchased a box of the 250gr SP (due to complaints, Remington eventually produced the 250gr with an SP profile). Chronographed data from ten of twenty fired (for brass to reload) averaged 2247 fps.
I purchased my 3rd .35 Whelen in late March of this year (2022), and have written quite a bit about the progressive experience of developing handloads for/in it. So will not rehearse all that! But, there are new bullets, powders, experiences and knowledge regarding its updated ballistics. In part (NOT wholly) that’s due to new loads in SPEER’s Manual #14, and a fresh understanding of what 52,000 CUP looks like in PSI. The “old” thinking, seemingly promoted by Remington, reloading manuals and “gun writers”, was that CUP and PSI were the same! Identical! It turns out that 52,000 CUP is… wait for it! 62,000 PSI!
Now, some of “us” were very disobedient to those “promotions” by Remington, the “manuals” and the “press”! And, we knew it! You see, knowing there was “fake news” about all this, we went by PRESSURE SIGNS! But we found out on our own that Whelen’s original 2500 fps from 250s was plenty safe… and with better powders, 2600 fps was SAFE! And we were bad boys… reading the SIGNS! BUT! Once SPEER pushed the limit to a new level with newer powders, some of “us” have accepted the challenge of 2700 fps from 250s!!!!!
I haven’t tried that yet, but I’m at 2850 fps/4059 ft-lbs from the 225gr AccuBond, and I know I could safely go another grain of CFE 223 to nearly 2900 fps from the 225gr. So, it’s a new age… and time. But some are still stuck in the dark ages, refusing to admit there are brighter lights shining!
April 27/22 – This was recorded from a 225gr AccuBond fired from my Traditions OUTFITTER G3 in .35 Whelen. Chrony was at 15 ft from muzzle. 67 grains of CFE 223, Rem brass, WLRM primer, and 3.45″ COL. My hunting load is now 69 grains of CFE 223, all else the same = 2850 fps/4059 ft-lbs (corrected to MV) from a 22″ barrel. It shoots into sub-MOA.
Think about that! The .35 Whelen is now producing ballistics that was ascribed to the .338 Win Mag not so long ago… but it too has moved on!
Sometime soon, I’ll be writing a comparison of those two. And recently I made mention that a “modern” .35 Whelen (“modern” in the sense of “updated”) is comparable to the “new” .338 RPM by Weatherby… for elk to 700 yards, using less powder and recoil!
The .358 Winchester: This is one that I often coveted, but for one reason or another it never happened. It was especially attractive, in my view, in a Browing Lever Action (BLR). What the 225 AccuBond from my Whelen can do at 350 yards, the .358 Win can do at 200 yards from a 23″ barrel. That’s inferred from Nosler’s manual #6 at 2528 fps MV, using 49.5 grains of IMR 4895. That also means a recoil of around 25 ft-lbs from a 7 3/4lb rifle. Add a brake and that should reduce that number to about 20 ft-lbs. As a big timber and brush gun, it would be hard to beat for elk, moose and bear. And, of course… bambi.
The downside for a .358 Winchester is availability. Even a used one might be difficult to find. But for those who already have one, they need no recommendations from me! It has also been chambered in the coveted Savage 99.
Since a significant part of our qualifications reads “readily available and suitable”, the .358 Winchester is borderline to say the best about it!
As to any others in this class, such as the .348 Winchester and .356 Winchester, they are destined to shoot FT bullets which limits effective range, but are certainly useful for game up to moose at brush and timber ranges when loaded with the 220gr Speer at ~2400 fps or speciality bullets of 250 grains at around 2200 fps. But for the grizzly and Brown bears at close range, I’d opt for one of the others on our list. But in this essay, the emphasis is on practical and common cartridges over .30-cal that can do it all. And that severely limits choices. Both the .348 and .356 Winchesters verge on obsolescence, as do some more modern cartridges introduced in recent times, such as the . 376 Steyr and .330 Dakota, unless you already have the rifle and have stock-piled components for reloads. and/or commercial ammo.
The 9.3 x 62: On May 31, 2011, I came home with my first (and only) rifle so chambered. And I’ve never felt the need to own another. I’ve owned several in .338 caliber and in .358, but never more than one in .366 caliber (9.3). And it will stay that way. I’ll not repeat all the reasons why, but it’s one of very few that not only has met, but exceeded all expectations in accuracy, ballistics, handling, strength, functioning and reliability.
Most – not all – of the rifles I’ve bought new, regardless of brand, had to have some work done on them by my gunsmith, or myself, to function properly. Not this Tikka T3 Lite in 9.3 x 62. The only work done on it (other than normal cleaning) was adding a brake last winter because of my age and arthritic condition.
< And accuracy at 100 yards – 0.44″ – three 250gr ABs.
It has replaced all my mediums (except for the new .35 Whelen last spring), including .338s and .375s. The only fault with it is that I can’t find any! Well, maybe one: The need for lighter quality bullets, and that’s where another .35 Whelen has entered the picture – the production of excellent quality, lighter weight USA built projectiles in 180s, 200s and 225s. I also have some heavier in .358″, but they will likely never be used as that’s covered by a 250gr AccuBond from Nosler in 9.3, as well as 286s from Nosler and Hornady, and the 320gr from Woodleigh. Then, the 9.3 x 62 can push them all faster, and probably more accurately, than the Whelen. Another reason I like it: It’s not fussy! I “hate” fussy people and things! You never know what there’re gonna fuss over next!
The .375 H&H Magnum: It has been said (and written) more than a few times that “the choice of a .30-06 is never a mistake”… and that in turn has often been applied to the highly regarded .375 H&H. Myself? I might take umbrage from that. But I do, nonetheless, listen with respect to some of the opinions of others whom I regard as being honest and not just political in the use of such expressions.
I’ve owned a few, but have never had to face a lion, leopard, hippo, buffalo or elephant… so what do I know? Be that as it may, I have taken an M70 for bear and moose – but never for bambi. I felt confident in its use for those species in their environments, loaded with 300gr Sierras on one trip for moose and 300gr Hornadys for bear on another, at around 2570 fps for each. But the opportunity escaped me for pulling the trigger on either. But as a side note, my outfitter and guide for bear informed me that since my bait location was on private land, I couldn’t stay past Friday as the weekend was scheduled for other activities. The American hunter who followed on Sunday took over my spot and shot a +500 lb bear the next day! Perfect for a .375 H&H, don’t ya think?
Some argue that the .375 H&H is “too much gun” for N.A. game, yet it’s commonly used on African Plains Game that includes the likes of warthogs and various antelope, so why not for feral hogs, elk, moose and bear? And some of the exotics in Texas…