The Great Cartridge Families
By Chuck Hawks
"Cartridge families" refers to a series of cartridges based on a common case. Landmark cartridges that became the basis for a whole line of descendants that we will consider here include the .38-55 / .30-30 Winchester, 8x57 Mauser, .30-03 / .30-06 Springfield, .375 H&H Magnum and .308 Winchester. Necked up and down, sometimes with changes to the shoulder angle and or "blown-out," these cases have spawned most of our factory loaded cartridges.
Of course, these cartridge families also include numerous wildcat and proprietary numbers that have never been standardized or offered by the major ammunition and rifle manufacturers, but we don't have the space to consider them in this article. We'll stick to the SAAMI or CIP standardized cartridges.
We will examine our cartridge families in chronological order, based on the parent round. Cartridges that are obsolete in 2007 (no rifles or factory loaded ammunition available) are marked with an asterisk (*) in the lists below.
.38-55 & .30-30 Winchester
The .30-30 Winchester was introduced at the dawn of the smokeless powder revolution (in 1895) as the first smokeless powder sporting cartridge. What many do not realize is that the .30-30 was itself based on the earlier .38-55 Winchester case, introduced in 1884. To say that Winchester hit a home run with the .30-30 would be putting it mildly. It is one of the most popular centerfire rifle cartridges ever designed, for decades the number one seller among centerfire rifle cartridges and still the third or fourth best selling cartridge today, depending on whose "best seller" list you look at. (The .223 varmint/military cartridge is usually in first place.)
None of the .38-55's other offspring sold as well or remained as popular for so long as the .30-30, but there were several other cartridges based on the .38-55 and .30-30 cases, besides the .38-55 itself, that have sold well for many years. Ammunition in most of these calibers is still offered today. Here is a list of the .38-55 / .30-30 cartridge family:
Among these, the American .22 Savage High-Power is obsolete in the US, but still available in Europe as the 5.6x52R. .38-55 rifles are still produced today, mostly for cowboy action shooters and target shooters. Marlin and Winchester have recently made small runs of .25-35 rifles. Over a million .32 Special rifles have been sold and the cartridge will be with us for a long time, although no .32 Special rifles are in production as I write these words.
From the standpoint of the bolt action rifle user, the 8x57mm Mauser is the cartridge that, more than any other, is responsible for the success of the type. Designed in 1888 for the Mauser military rifle, the 8x57 quickly became the standard upon which later rimless cartridges were based, including the famous 7x57 in 1892.
The U.S. Army's .30-06 cartridge, covered elsewhere in this article, is actually an enlarged 7x57 and shares the 7x57's .473" rim diameter and basic design. Actually, the 7x57 appears to be the more modern cartridge due its sharper 20 degree 45 minute shoulder angle. (The .30-06 uses a 17 degree 30 minute shoulder.)
This rimless case with its .473" diameter rim and 2.240" long case turns out to have just about the optimum capacity for bullet diameters ranging from 6mm (.24 caliber) to about 9mm (.35 caliber). In all of these calibers this family of cartridges kills appropriate size game cleanly and without fuss. Naturally, a cartridge as popular and long lived as the 8x57 has spawned a number of successful offspring. Following is a list of 8x57 based calibers, all of which save the 9x57 are still available.
These are predominately European cartridges, of which only the 7x57 is a solid seller in the U.S., although the 8x57 also made Hodgdon's list of the top 50 reloaded cartridges. Note that two of the best (and most under-appreciated) calibers ever introduced by Remington are based on a necked-down 7x57 case.
.30-03 & .30-06 Springfield
The Spanish-American War taught the U. S. War Department a valuable (albeit bloody) lesson about the merits of Mauser pattern bolt action rifles and the 7x57 cartridge. The result was the .30-03 Springfield cartridge, basically an enlarged version of the 7x57 that was used by Spanish troops to wreak havoc on American soldiers.
The .30-03 was introduced by the famous U.S. arsenal whose name it bears in 1903. (.30 caliber, 1903--get it?) But Germany was one jump ahead of the U.S. and in 1905 introduced the JS version of their 8x57 cartridge. This fired a 150 grain spitzer bullet at about 2800 fps and made the new American .30-03 obsolete overnight.
Not to be outdone, the Springfield arsenal shortened the neck of the .30-03 case 0.10" and loaded a 150 grain spitzer bullet at about 2700 fps. Thus was born the .30-06 Springfield. It is worth noting that both the .30-03 (220 grain bullet) and .30-06 (150 grain bullet) cartridges were offered in sporting rifles for several years.
The .30-06 turned out to be the longest non-magnum cartridge to catch on in a big way and its 3.340" cartridge overall length (COL) determined what became the standard length for rifle actions. The U.S. being the world capital of reloading and wildcatting, the .30-06 has been necked up and down for 100 years. Among the most famous .30-06 based wildcats are the 6mm-06, 6.5mm-06 and 8mm-06. Of course, many .30-06 based calibers have reached factory loaded status. One, the .270 Winchester, became extremely popular in its own right and (along with the .30-06 parent cartridge) is among the three or four best selling of all centerfire rifle cartridges. The .30-03 / .30-06 family includes:
Looking beyond the wildly successful .270 and .30-06, the .25-06 is a solid, although not best, seller. The .338-06 A-Square is an excellent cartridge, but has yet to catch on and is not showing any signs of so doing. The .280 Rem. and .35 Whelen had long careers as wildcats before being standardized by Remington, but have not lived up to their promise as factory loaded offerings. Neither made Hodgdon's list of the top 50 rifle cartridges among reloaders.
.375 Belted H&H Magnum
The famous .375 Belted H&H Magnum (.375 H&H Mag. to Americans) was the first belted magnum cartridge, but not the first belted cartridge. The latter honor goes to the .400/.375 Belted Nitro Express, introduced in 1905 by Holland & Holland. The rimless, belted case design was intended to provide a positive edge for headspacing, like a rim, and yet still feed easily from the box magazines of repeating rifles. It was, of course, a very successful idea.
Holland & Holland refined and enlarged the belted case and in 1912 introduced the seminal .375 H&H Magnum, which spawned a rash of popular belted magnum cases. The .375 Magnum case has a .532" rim diameter and this has become the standard rim diameter for standard (.30-06 length) and long (.375 H&H length) magnum cases.
Strangely, despite their diversity and number, few of the long magnum cartridges have been very successful in the marketplace. Today only the original .375 H&H and the .300 Weatherby, probably the best seller among the full length magnums, enjoy much popularity. Among the small bore calibers, the .275 is dead and the .244 H&H, .300 H&H and 8mm Rem. Magnums appear to be on the way out. The 7mm STW had a modest run of popularity that appears to have waned, although it is loaded by all of the major U.S. ammo manufacturers. Probably its propensity to burn-out barrels has not helped its reputation.
The medium and big bore magnums have their place as specialty cartridges and it is here that the big case magnums make the most sense. Unfortunately, few game animals require such cartridges and even fewer shooters can tolerate their outsized recoil. Those factors definitely limit their sales appeal. Factory loaded cartridges based on the full length .375 H&H case include:
The widespread adoption of the .375 H&H case with its big .532" rim diameter provided a big increase in powder capacity compared to 8x57 and .30-06 size cases, but the 3.600" COL of the .375 H&H cartridge required a special long action that some manufacturers did (and do) not build.
Considerable demand developed for standard (.30-06) length cartridges based on a shortened (and blown-out) .375 H&H case. Many of these cartridges have achieved factory loaded status, and the 7mm Rem. Mag. became the best selling of all magnum cartridges, followed by the .300 Win. Mag. and the .338 Win. Mag. These three are in the top 10 on cartridge sales lists, the only magnum cartridges ever to attain that status. The 7mm Rem. Mag. made our short list of all-around rifle cartridges (see the article "All-Around Rifle Cartridges" on the Rifle Information Page) and the .338 Win. Mag. is the premier Western elk and Alaskan CXP3 game cartridge.
Most of the standard length magnums are reasonably healthy. Only the 7x61 S&H Super is obsolete and the critical list is limited to the Norma pair. Here are the standard length belted magnum cartridges derived from a shortened .375 H&H case:
In the mid-1960's Remington went the rest of the boys one step farther by introducing a pair of true short action (.308 length) magnum cartridges based on an even shorter version of the .375 H&H case. These 6.5mm and .350 caliber cartridges did not catch on, although the .350 Rem. Mag. became a cult classic in Alaska as a "guide rifle" cartridge for protection against the great bears as well as a Guns and Shooting Online favorite. (See the article "Guns and Shooting Online Rifle Cartridges" on the Rifle Information Page).
The Remington short magnums seemed to be obsolete when the less well balanced WSM and SAUM cartridges hit the market in 2000 with much media fanfare. The hype surrounding the squat WSM cartridges, which were not based on the .375 belted case, revived interest in Remington's original short action magnums, giving them a new lease on life, so here they are:
Both of Remington's original short magnums are back in production as I write these words and Remington and Ruger are offering new factory built rifles in .350 Rem. Mag. caliber.
The .308 Winchester was the result of a U.S. Army requirement for a .30 caliber cartridge designed for use in machine guns as well as a selective fire main battle rifle. Winchester and military designers used the .300 Savage as a starting point and the eventual result, introduced to the civilian market in 1952, was the .308 Winchester. In 1954 the new cartridge was adopted by NATO as 7.62mm NATO.
The .308 cartridge, with its standard .473" rim diameter but short 2.810" COL set the standard for what became the very popular "short action" bolt rifle. Eventually even magnum cases with .532" diameter rims were adapted to short action rifles, as detailed in the section above.
What we are concerned with here are the successful cartridges based on the original .308 case. Like the earlier 8x57 case, the .308 case has adequate capacity for calibers ranging from .24 to .35. Wildcatters naturally started necking the new case up and down immediately following its introduction and the ammunition manufacturers followed along behind, adopting the most successful of these creations as their own.
Winchester, naturally, took the initial lead in introducing new factory loaded cartridges based on its .308 case. These included the wildly successful .243 Winchester and the sensible but slow selling .358 Winchester. The .308 and the .243 are among the top half dozen best selling factory loaded cartridges on most sales lists.
Remington later got into the act by introducing the 7mm-08 and .260, which virtually duplicate the ballistics of the 7x57 and 6.5x55 respectively. Federal Cartridge recently joined the .308 family with their impressive .338 Federal. Eventually there were a full range of .308 based cartridges. Here is the factory loaded .308 family, new production rifles for all of which are available today:
All of these cartridges are reasonably healthy and none are likely to be discontinued any time soon. The .260, somewhat surprisingly, has not caught up with the 6.5x55 SE in terms of its availability in new rifles and has not made Hodgdon's top 50 list. Maybe the established 6.5x55 just has too big a lead to be overcome, although the .260 is offered in several new rifle models. The .358 is the slowest seller in the .308 family, but it has withstood the test of time and is still offered in the popular Browning BLR rifle.
There you have them, the greatest centerfire rifle cartridge families of the smokeless powder era. All have proven longevity and the most popular numbers in each of these cartridge families are in every day use by sportsmen and hunters all around the world.
Note: Those who are interested can read individual articles about all of cartridges mentioned above on the Rifle Cartridge Page.
Copyright 2007 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.