A Solution to Magnums?

By Mike Hudson


There is a story that has been told around campfires here in the Northeast for the better part of a century. In it, two friends go out deer hunting, one armed with a custom .30-06 and the other with a humble lever action .30-30 carbine. Each gets a shot at a whitetail buck at a typical woods range of around 50 yards and each connects with a shot just behind his animal’s shoulder. The man with the .30-30 simply walks over and begins dressing his deer. His companion, armed with the much more powerful ought-six, must track his through 250 yards of thick brush before recovering his.

Both were clean, one shot kills, but while the flat-nosed, medium velocity lever action round smashed through the heart and lungs, inflicting maximum tissue damage, the pointed spitzer bullet of the more powerful gun failed to expand properly. The 180-grain .30-06 simply zipped right through the animal, without striking any big bones and expended most of its energy on the countryside beyond where the deer had been standing. This explains the continuing popularity of the .30-30 in these parts.

Right off the bat, I will tell you that, with the possible exception of Eastern moose, I believe the .30-06 is overdoing it a bit when it comes to calibers suitable of big game hunting in the Northeastern United States. Still, it remains perhaps the most beautifully balanced cartridge ever developed, and there is not even a close second when it comes to an all-around cartridge for just about every type of North American hunting. I am no different from anyone else when it comes to daydreaming about that Alaskan or African adventure, which for most of us will not even be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Recently, I began work on sporterized 1909 Argentine Mauser with which my grandfather killed his last deer, in 1969. The rifle is chambered in .30-06, but for a number of reasons may have to be rebarrelled. Because I am pretty much full up on rifles firing bullets of between 120 and 175 grains, I want my new rifle to be able to handle the big stuff, should the opportunity ever arise.

Like any gun nut given the slightest excuse, I went to the bookshelf and pulled out the ballistics tables in search of ways to “improve” upon what I already had. My first thoughts went to the various .300 magnums and I exercised due diligence in checking each of them out.

The venerable .300 H&H Magnum, called the “Super Thirty” in Great Britain, was the first thing that popped into my head. Back in the day, it enjoyed a tremendous popularity in both Africa and Alaska and was used on everything, although elephant, rhino and Cape buffalo were considered a bit out of its league. As currently loaded by Federal, the .300 H&H fires its 180-grain bullet at 2880 fps, producing muzzle energy of 3315 foot/pounds. That would still do quite nicely for anything that walks on this side of the pond, I reasoned. Then I looked at the price. Depending on whether you prefer the Nosler Partition or the Barnes Triple-Shock, factory loaded fodder cost between $60 and $70 a box.

Shuddering, I turned to the various short magnum cartridges, those little fat things brought out of late by Ruger, Remington and Winchester. With the 180-grain bullets the magazine writers recommend, these rounds give the tyros who use them 2900 to 2950 fps, with muzzle energies ranging from 3361 to 3410 foot-pounds. These are the actual factory figures, as currently (2008) printed on the boxes rather than the wishful thinking of some public relations flack when the cartridges were first introduced. The numbers for all have been scaled back 50-100 fps since then. This was slightly better than the .300 H&H, but once again, I gave up on them after looking at the prices for factory-loaded ammunition.

Hornady loads the .300 Ruger Compact Magnum and charges $30.49 a box for it. No less expensive practice rounds are available. The .300 Remington Short Action Ultra Magnum is available from Remington at $53 a box or from Nosler at prices starting at $48.50. The .300 Winchester Short Magnum can be had for between $33 and $67 a box from Black Hills, Federal, Nosler, Remington and Winchester.

My next stop was the big .300 Winchester Magnum. Why mess around? There are far more loadings for this round than there are for any of the other .300 Magnums and all the keyboard jockeys at the print magazines seem to consider it heap big medicine. Some have even gone so far as to say it renders the .30-06 obsolete. My heart was gladdened when I saw that the Serbian manufacturer Privi Partizan offered practice ammo at just $15.79 a box.

The other numbers looked good as well. Averaging out ballistics and other data on a dozen premium 180-grain loads manufactured by Black Hills, Cor-Bon, Double Tap, Federal, Hornady, Lapua, Norma, Nosler, Remington and Winchester, I arrived at a mean muzzle velocity of 2976 fps and muzzle energy of 3539 foot pounds. Average price for 20 rounds was still a bit steep, however, at $51.45.

That’s when I came across data on the relatively new Light Magnum loads offered by Hornady for the .30-06. Loaded with a special powder unavailable to reloaders, and using a revolutionary system of dropping the powder into the cases, muzzle velocity is increased by as much as 10 percent over standard premium loads. With the 180-brain bullets, zero your rifle in to hit 3” high at 100 yards and the bullet will strike about 3” low at 285 yards. Dangerous game, of course, should never be fired on beyond 150 yards.

Relatively few favorable articles have appeared about the Light Magnums in the gun magazines, for reasons I think will become quickly apparent. With the 180-grain boat tail bullet, you get a muzzle velocity of 2900 fps and 3339 foot pounds of energy. That is slightly superior to the .300 H&H and equal to any of the short magnums. The Light Magnum loads retail at $30 a box, and boatloads of cheap practice ammunition are available at $13.50. You do lose 76 fps and 178 pounds of muzzle energy when compared to the .300 Winchester Magnum with the same bullet weight, but the elk, moose or grizzly you shoot with it isn’t likely to notice the difference.

In fact, those numbers are roughly the same as the difference between the .243 Winchester and the 6mm Remington rounds. While the more popular .243 comes out on the short end of that comparison, I’ve never heard anyone argue that it is incapable of taking game the 6mm would stop in its tracks.

For me, another argument in favor of the .30-06 is that it also is available factory loaded with the round-nosed 220-grain bullets, unlike any of the magnums. At ranges of under 150 yards or so, I think these would give a hunter some advantage over even the Light Magnum load, despite the paper ballistics. The sectional density of the 180-grain .30 caliber bullet is .271, while the 220-grain slugs give the shooter a whopping .331 SD, which is going to provide serious penetration and plenty of shock value even at 2410 fps.

Finally, there is the matter of muzzle blast and recoil, both of which can be brutal with the magnum rounds. Because of the higher pressures involved, the various magnums generate a recoil energy of between 23.5 and 27 foot/pounds when used with 180-grain bullets, compared to the .30-06’s relatively sedate 20.3 foot/pounds. While Guns & Shooting Online Editor Chuck Hawks has not yet added a comparative decibel listing to his lists and tables (see the Tables, Charts and Lists Page for extensive recoil and ballistics tables), the ear-splitting noise generated by the magnums is at least as responsible for the development of flinching as the recoil itself. It is also one of the reasons why so many guides and outfitters hate the things.

Keeping the Mauser in .30-06 would give me a greater selection of heavyweight factory ammo, reduced recoil and muzzle blast, and ballistic numbers that compare well with any of the magnum rounds. Did I mention it’s about a buck a round cheaper to shoot?

Of course, the current short magnum mania has gripped the imaginations of gun writers and gun makers everywhere and is lining the pockets of the print magazine publishers and their advertisers. Is it any wonder that they are reticent to promote an improvement to an already existing, 102-year-old cartridge that provides comparable performance and won’t have us flocking to the gun shops in search of a new rifle in which to fire it?

Note: More articles about all of the cartridges mentioned above can be found on the Rifle Cartridge Page.




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Copyright 2008 by Mike Hudson. All rights reserved.



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