The .330 Dakota

By Chuck Hawks

.330 Dakota
Illustration courtesy of Dakota Arms

Dakota Arms of Sturgis, South Dakota, USA manufactures a deluxe falling block single shot rifle, and several fine bolt action rifles. The company was founded in 1986 by the late Donald Allen, an avid hunter, shooter, and well-known custom gunmaker who also served as the first President of the American Custom Gunmaker's Guild.

Dakota offers a line of proprietary magnum hunting cartridges designed by Don Allen and based on the .404 Jeffery case shortened to function in standard (.30-06) length actions. These come in 7mm, .300, .330, and .375 calibers. There are also two long (.375 H&H length) Dakota magnum cartridges, a .416 and a .450. Factory loaded ammunition for all of these is supplied only by Dakota.

This article is about the .330 Dakota. The .330 designation refers to the bore diameter; the cartridge uses standard .338" diameter bullets. The .330 Dakota case is a rimless, bottleneck type with a rim diameter of .545"; the case diameter at the head is also .545". The case tapers to a diameter at the base of the shoulder of .530". It is 2.54" long and has a sharp 30-degree shoulder. The cartridge overall length is 3.33".

Because the .330 Dakota has a larger rim diameter than the standard belted magnum cartridges, it requires a bolt specially manufactured or modified to match. No doubt this has and will continue to limit its popularity.

Due to its fatter diameter the .330 Dakota has about 15% greater case capacity than a standard belted magnum case of the same shape and length. This greater case capacity allows velocities higher than can be attained by the standard length .33 caliber belted magnums such as the .338 Winchester.

According to the Dakota web site, .330 Dakota factory loads are currently offered with 230 grain CT Fail Safe and 250 grain Swift A-Frame bullets. No ballistic information is provided for the 230 grain load, beyond its price ($76.34/box of 20). This 230 grain bullet appears to have replaced the earlier 210 grain bullet in the cartridge line. Dakota also offers unfired .330 brass to reloaders, priced at $175/100 cases.

Fortunately, more information is provided about the 250 grain factory load. The 2003 MSRP of this load is $74.20/box. The 250 grain bullet has a rather optimistic advertised muzzle velocity (MV) of 2900 fps and muzzle energy (ME) of 4668 ft. lbs. (The hottest reloading data I can find anywhere, including from Dakota, claims 2878 fps and 4595 ft. lbs. for a 250 grain bullet.) The trajectory of the 250 grain A-Frame bullet at a MV of 2900 fps should look like this: +2.6" at 100 yards, +2.9" at 150 yards, +2.0" at 200 yards, -0.4" at 250 yards, and -4.3" at 300 yards. The maximum point blank range (MPBR) of this load is 285 yards, +/- 3". This would be a deadly load for large (CXP3 class) game.

The handloader has more bullet choices, of course. Projectiles from 180 to 250 grains (and sometimes heavier) are commonly available, but for a case the size of the .330 Dakota the 225 and 250 grain bullets probably make the most sense.

The Sixth Edition of the Hornady Handbook of Cartridge Reloading shows .330 Dakota loads for their 225 grain bullets at MV's from 2400 fps to 2900 fps with a half-dozen powders. Hornady reports good results with RL-19 powder behind their 225 grain bullet and RL-22 powder with their 250 grain bullets.

65.9 grains of RL-19 behind a 225 grain Hornady Spire Point Interlock bullet gives a MV of 2400 fps. A maximum charge of 79.7 grains of the same powder gives a MV of 2900 fps and a ME of 4201 ft. lbs. with the 225 grain bullet. The trajectory of that load looks like this: +2.6" at 100 yards, +2.9" at 150 yards, +1.9" at 200 yards, -0.5" at 250 yards, and -4.6" at 300 yards. The MPBR (+/- 3") of that load is 282 yards. These Hornady loads used Dakota cases and Federal 215 primers and were chronographed in the 25" barrel of a Dakota 76 rifle.

The price you pay for the power of any .33 caliber Magnum rifle is recoil, and the .330 Dakota generates plenty of it. In the case of an 8.5 pound rifle shooting a 250 grain bullet at a MV of 2878 fps, the recoil energy is about 40.8 ft. lbs., which ought to get a 600 pound gorilla's attention.

The .330 Dakota's other disadvantages, in addition to its excessive recoil, include its oversize rim diameter (requiring bolt alterations if it is to be used in standard magnum actions), the scarcity and expense of factory loaded ammunition and brass, and the scarcity and cost of Dakota rifles. Because it is fatter than ordinary belted magnum cartridges, the magazine capacity of most rifles adapted to it will be reduced by one round.

To summarize its positive attributes, the .330 Dakota is a powerful medium bore cartridge suitable for use in rifles with standard length actions. With ME well in excess of 4000 ft. lbs. it is suitable for hunting CXP3 class game world-wide and large, dangerous predators such as brown bear and lion. It should also do for thick-skinned (CXP4 class game) where it is legal for such use. Dakota rifles are very high quality products, and there is a good selection of .338" bullets available to the reloader.

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Copyright 2003, 2012 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.