The .375 Dakota

By Chuck Hawks

.375 Dakota
Illustration courtesy of Dakota Arms

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

Dakota offers a line of proprietary magnum hunting cartridges designed by Don Allen and based on the big .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 Arms.

This article is about the .375 Dakota, the most powerful of the standard length cartridges. This cartridge uses standard .375" diameter bullets. The .375 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 .529". It is 2.57" long and has a sharp 30-degree shoulder. The cartridge overall length is 3.33".

Dakota claims their cartridges not only fit standard length actions, but also feed more smoothly, improve powder burn, and allow better bullet alignment. These claims are probably more theoretical than practical as related to hunting cartridges and hunting rifles.

Because the .375 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.

The .375 Dakota is designed to replicate the power of the .375 H&H Magnum. The published factory load ballistics and available reloading data back up that claim.

According to the Dakota web site, .375 Dakota factory loads are currently offered with 250 grain Swift A-Frame, 300 grain Swift A-Frame, and 300 grain Barnes Solid bullets. The 300 grain Barnes Solid bullet is essentially the elephant bullet. The MSRP in 2003 for Dakota .375 factory loads range from about $91 to $98 for a box of 20 cartridges. At around $4.75/shot, range time for most shooters will be limited with factory ammunition! Dakota also offers unfired .375 brass to reloaders, priced at $225/100 cases.

At this time no ballistic information is provided for the 250 grain A-Frame load, which has evidently replaced a previously offered 270 grain factory load. (The ballistics of the discontinued 275 grain bullet are still shown on the Dakota web site.)

Fortunately, more information is provided about the 300 grain factory loads. The 300 grain bullets have an advertised muzzle velocity (MV) of 2600 fps and muzzle energy (ME) of 4502 ft. lbs. The trajectory of the 300 grain A-Frame semi-spitzer at a MV of 2600 fps should look like this: +2.8" at 100 yards, +2.7" at 150 yards, +0.7" at 200 yards, -3.1" at 250 yards, and -9.1" at 300 yards. The maximum point blank range (MPBR) of this load is 249 yards, +/- 3". This should be an effective load for CXP4 class game.

The handloader has more bullet choices. Projectiles from 225 to 300 grains (and sometimes heavier) are commonly available, but for a case the size of the .375 Dakota the 250, 270 and 300 grain bullets make the most sense.

The Sixth Edition of the Hornady Handbook of Cartridge Reloading shows .375 Dakota loads for their 270 grain bullets at MV's from 2300 fps to 2800 fps with several powders. 58.2 grains of RL-15 powder behind a 270 grain Hornady Spire Point Interlock bullet gives a MV of 2300 fps. A charge of 70.5 grains of the same powder gives a very practical MV of 2700 fps and ME of 4370 ft. lbs. with the 227 grain bullet. The trajectory of that load looks like this: +2.7" at 100 yards, +2.8" at 150 yards, +1.3" at 200 yards, -2.0" at 250 yards, and -7.0" at 300 yards. The MPBR (+/- 3") of that load is 262 yards. This seems like a good general purpose load for a .375 Dakota rifle. 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 .375 caliber Magnum rifle is recoil, and the .375 Dakota generates plenty of it. In the case of an 8.5 pound rifle shooting a 300 grain bullet at a MV of 2600 fps, the recoil energy is about 44.5 ft. lbs. Needless to say, this is not a caliber for inexperienced or recoil sensitive shooters!

The .375 Dakota's other disadvantages, in addition to its very heavy 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, never a good thing when hunting dangerous game of any kind.

To summarize its positive attributes, the .375 Dakota is a powerful medium bore cartridge that essentially duplicates the ballistics of the famous .375 H&H Magnum and is suitable for use in rifles with standard length actions. With ME approaching 4500 ft. lbs. it is suitable for hunting CXP3 and CXP4 class game, including dangerous species, world-wide. Dakota rifles are very well made and high quality products, and there is a reasonable choice of .375" bullets available to the reloader.

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