The .284 Winchester

By Chuck Hawks

Winchester introduced the .284 in 1963. Their intention was to duplicate .270 Winchester ballistics in a cartridge short enough to function through Winchester's short action Model 88 lever and Model 100 semi-automatic rifles.

To achieve this miracle in a short action case they went to a rebated rim design, which allowed a case with a fat .500" body and a smaller .473" diameter rim that would mate to standard bolt faces. The .284 case is 2.170 inches long and the cartridge is 2.8" in overall length. It uses standard .284" (7mm) diameter bullets.

I was a freshman in college when the .284 was introduced, and already a gun nut of the worst sort. My dream rifle was a Model 70 in .270 Winchester caliber (which I could not afford at the time, of course), and the .284 did nothing to turn me on. In addition, I distrusted the rebated rim case design, reasoning that it increased the area of the case unsupported by either the chamber walls or the bolt face. I remember predicting that the .284 would be a sales flop. Winchester should have sought my opinion before introducing the .284, because for once I was right.

As it turned out, few shooters outside of Winchester thought much of this design and the .284 was a commercial failure from the beginning. We had to wait until 1980, when the 7mm-08 Remington was introduced, for a commercially successful short action 7mm cartridge.

The exception was wildcatters, who seized on the new .284 case with glee, necking it up and down. At least one of those wildcats, the 6mm-284, eventually became more popular with shooters than the .284 itself. You can read about the 6mm-284 in my article The 6mm-284 and 6mm-06.

Most North American shooters were quite satisfied with their .270's and .280's and saw little point in a third cartridge that duplicated the same ballistics. In Europe they also had the 7mm Brenneke (a .280 Remington look-alike). I think that by 1963 most shooters interested in long range cartridges were pretty well convinced that they needed bolt action rifles. The Winchester M-88 and M-100 were viewed more as woods rifles than as all-around rifles, so the .284 was not a good match for those rifles in the minds of shooters. Out to at least 275 yards it did nothing that the .308 Winchester, which had been chambered in both rifles since they were introduced, couldn't already do. In addition, the .308 kicked less with the same weight bullets and could handle heavier bullets for use on large game like elk.

Winchester did achieve their design goal of approximating .270 ballistics in a short action case. There were originally two factory loads for the .284 Win. One called for a 125 grain Power Point bullet at a muzzle velocity (MV) of 3200 fps with muzzle energy (ME) of 2840 ft. lbs. This load showed a mid-range trajectory of 5.3" over 300 yards, which was identical to that of the 130 grain bullet in the .270 Win.

The other factory load was a 150 grain Power Point bullet at a MV of 2900 fps with ME of 2800 ft. lbs. The mid-range trajectory of that load was 6.3" over 300 yards, identical to that of the 150 grain .270 bullet. At least no one could complain about the ballistics of the .284 Win.

As I write this only the 150 grain factory load survives, somewhat throttled down but still potent. The current Winchester load drives a 150 grain Power Point bullet at a MV of 2860 fps and ME of 2724 ft. lbs. from a 24" test barrel. At 200 yards the figures are 2344 fps and 1830 ft. lbs. The Winchester trajectory figures look like this: +2.1" at 100 yards, 0 at 200 yards, -3.4" at 250 yards, and -8.5" at 300 yards. These ballistics make it clear that the .284 is still every bit as good as the .280 Remington with the same weight bullet. Of course the short, handy mountain rifles for which the .284 seems best suited seldom come with 24" barrels. As far as I know, aside from Winchester, no other major company has ever loaded factory ammunition for the .284.

The .284 has become a handloader's cartridge and the great variety of .284" bullets work to the handloader's advantage. As with all other standard 7mm cartridges, the ubiquitous 139-145 grain bullets are probably the best all-around compromise. According to the Barnes, Hornady, Nosler, Sierra, and Speer reloading manuals, bullets of these weights can be driven to velocities of 2800-3100 fps, with 2900 fps being about average for most maximum loads in 22" barrels.

According to the second edition of the Sierra Reloading Manual their sleek 140 grain boat-tail spitzer bullet can be driven to a MV of 2400 fps by 46.3 grains of IMR 4350 powder, and 2900 fps by 54.9 grains of IMR 4350. At a MV of 2900 fps this bullet has ME of 2614 ft. lbs. At 200 yards the figures are 2524 fps and 1981 ft. lbs. The trajectory of that load looks like this: +3" at 100 yards, +2.7" at 200 yards, +0.6" at 250 yards, -2.9" at 300 yards, and -8" at 350 yards. Clearly, with this bullet the .284 Winchester is a good 300 yard deer, antelope, sheep, and goat cartridge.

Savage offered the M-99 lever action rifle in .284, Ruger briefly chambered the M-77 bolt action for the .284, and at one time Browning offered the .284 in their A-Bolt rifle. None of these rifles sold well in .284 Winchester, although they all sold well in other calibers.

Winchester didn't chamber the Model 70 for the .284 (except in 1994), probably because the .270/Model 70 combination made the .284 redundant. In 1994 Winchester produced a run of less than 200 Model 70 Classic DBM rifles in .284 caliber, I assume primarily for collectors.

The .284 Winchester has gotten some play from custom rifle builders over the years, and New Ultralight Arms offers the .284 in its short action, 4.75 pound rifle. I shudder to think about touching off a cartridge as powerful as the .284 in such a light rifle! Such creations probably do the reputation of the .284 Winchester more harm than good.

I think that part of the reason for the commercial failure of the .284 was that it was a cartridge out of step with its time. Shortly after the introduction of the .270 in 1925, lever action shooters began clamoring for a cartridge that could approximate .270 ballistics in lever action rifles. Had the .284 Winchester been introduced 20 years earlier, I think it might have been a resounding success. But by 1963 the market for and perception of lever action rifles had changed, and demand for such a cartridge had dwindled. Unfortunately, Winchester did not appreciate that fact. To make matters worse, the desire for light, short action, bolt rifles ("mountain rifles") would not become a major market factor until a couple of decades after the .284's fate had already been sealed.

Thus the .284 Winchester might have been more successful if it had been introduced either 20 years earlier or 20 years later. Either way, the .284 might well have made both the .280 Remington and the 7mm-08 Remington superfluous. But Winchester's timing was bad and today it is the .284 that faces extinction.

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Copyright 2002, 2012 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.