Compared: .338 Win. Magnum, .350 Rem. Magnum, 9.3x62mm and 9.3x74R
By Chuck Hawks
Let me state at the outset that I regard the .338 Win. Mag., .350 Rem. Mag., 9.3x62mm and 9.3x74R as among the best medium bore cartridges for the North American sportsman who intends to hunt large and/or dangerous game, including the great bears and possibly bison. They are also quite useful for large African, Asian and Australian game, including the big cats.
The .338 Winchester Magnum
The .338 Win. Mag. was introduced in 1958, along with the .264 Win. Mag, as the first of the Winchester standard (.30-06) length magnum cartridges. This was the beginning of a whole magnum cartridge family that includes the .264 Win, 7mm Rem, .308 Norma, .300 Win, .338 Win, .358 Norma, and .458 Win, to name a few.
The Model 70 rifle for the .338 Magnum was initially called the Alaskan. This was a fitting name for both the rifle and the cartridge, since the .338 is just about perfect for hunting the largest game in the 49th state.
Success did not come quickly for the .338, however. It was deemed to kick too hard for most shooters to control (it still does!) and the reality is that only the biggest game in North America or elsewhere requires such a powerful cartridge. At the time of its introduction, most hunters who required a powerful medium bore cartridge were pretty well sold on the .375 H&H. To complicate matters, many of the most hunted African countries had regulations requiring no cartridge smaller than a .375 (or sometimes a 9.3mm) for use on lion, buffalo, rhino and elephant.
Those intrepid hunters who took a chance on the .338 Winchester found that it killed large animals about as well as a .375, shot a little flatter and kicked less. They also found that with light for caliber 180-200 grain bullets the .338 shot as flat as a .300 Magnum with bullets of similar weight and the recoil was also about the same. This made the .338 a more versatile cartridge for large African plains game and most North American hunting than the vaunted .375 H&H or a .300 Magnum.
Very slowly the word got around that the .338 Magnum was a winner. The arms makers adopted the cartridge because it could be chambered in virtually any rifle that could handle .30-06 length cartridges. Pretty soon there were more rifles in .338 Win. than in .375 H&H. The latter requires a long "magnum" length action that is relatively rare among bolt action rifles. Where there are rifles there is a need for ammunition. The ammo manufacturers responded with more .338 factory loads.
Today the foresight of the Winchester designers back in the 1950's has been vindicated, as the .338 Winchester Magnum is the most popular medium bore cartridge in the world. In fact, it is the only really popular medium bore cartridge. It is chambered in the widest variety of rifles, giving the consumer more choices than any other medium bore cartridge. It has, in fact, spawned a whole generation of competing .338 Magnum cartridges, none of which is as useful as the original or has ever come close to overtaking the .338 Win. Mag. in sales.
Ammunition is loaded by just about everyone, with the most popular bullet weights being 200, 225, and 250 grains. Reloaders have additional bullet choices ranging from 180 to 300 grains, although .338" bullets heavier than 250 grains are rare.
The .350 Remington Magnum
The .350 Remington Magnum dates back to 1964, when it was introduced with little fanfare to a market that couldn't have cared less. Remember that in 1964 the .338 Winchester Magnum, introduced nine years previously, still had not caught on and Remington had not standardized the .35 Whelen wildcat. The popularity of short magnums was decades in the future. Very few North American, Australian, South American, or European shooters saw the need for a powerful medium bore cartridge and African hunters already had all the 9.3mm and .375 bore calibers that they needed. Basically, there was no market for Remington's new offering.
It was an interesting development, though. The .350 was the very first short magnum (.308 Win. length) cartridge. It was based on a shortened version of the .338 Win. Mag. case and designed for the Remington Model 600 action, which meant that, potentially, it was adaptable to even more rifles than the .338 Win. Mag.
Remington initially offered 200 grain and 250 grain Core-Lokt bullets in .350 Magnum factory loads. Reloaders have access to bullets ranging from 150 to 250 grains. .35 caliber bullets heavier than 250 grains are rare and would probably take up too much powder space inside the short .350 case to be practical.
I was selling guns at the retail level at that time, thought that the .350 was the neatest idea since sliced bread (which shows how well I understood the market!) and special ordered a Model 600M rifle as soon as I heard about its introduction. I think that I owned the first such rifle in Southern California, where I was living at the time. (This was before California, flooded by immigrants from "back east" and Mexico, became a socialist state and virulently anti-gun.)
The .350 was less powerful than the long action .338 Win. Mag, but also kicked less and could be had in the ever so neat Remington Model 600M carbine, the first rifle from a major manufacturer supplied with a laminated wood stock. I saw it as the perfect rifle for my first trip to Alaska, which I was planning at the time.
In that, at least, I was correct. The Model 600M in .350 Mag. became a hit in Alaska and to this day commands exorbitant used prices that are many times its cost new. It was the first "guide gun" and is still highly prized.
Unfortunately for Remington, both the rifle and its cartridge were about 35 years ahead of their time. Sales of both remained glacially slow. Rifles in .350 were discontinued after a few years, except for special orders handled by the Remington Custom Shop and around 1997 the .350 cartridge was quietly dropped from the Remington loading list.
The introduction of a new generation of short magnum cartridges about three years later, particularly the Winchester WSM line, revived interest in the .350 Magnum. It was re-introduced by Remington in 2003 in their new Model 673 Guide Rifle, essentially an improved and updated Model 600M. The .350 Magnum has also been chambered by Ruger for their Model 77 rifle and appears to be on its way back.
This German smokeless powder cartridge dates back to the turn of the 20th Century. As with other European cartridges, 9.3mm represents the caliber (actual bullet diameter is .366"), 74mm is the case length and the "R" stands for rimmed, which this case is. It was designed to replace the earlier 9.3x72R black powder number for use in single shot rifles, doubles and drillings and is still chambered in such rifles today. Its long overall length prevents the 9.3x74R from being adapted to repeating rifles, but the rimless 9.3x62 was designed for such use and is ballistically identical.
The 9.3x74R has long been used for hunting large European game. It is also used in Africa, where it serves as an all-around medium bore caliber. Now that Hornady has added the 9.3x74R to their loading list and Ruger is offering their No. 1 rifle in the caliber, it is belatedly catching on in the US. It is less powerful than the .375 H&H Belted Magnum, but approximately equivalent to the .375 H&H Flanged version (also intended for use in double rifles) and is useful for the same purposes.
Factory loaded 9.3x74R ammunition is available from A-Square, Norma, RWS, Sellier & Bellot and Hornady, who added it to their loading list in 2007. Reloaders can get 9.3mm bullets from A-Square, Speer, Nosler, Barnes, Swift, Woodleigh and perhaps others. Bullet weights include 232 grains, 250 grains, 270 grains, 286 grains and 300 grains. The more or less "standard" 9.3x74mm load for which most double rifles and drillings are regulated drives a 286 grain bullet at about 2362 fps. 286 grain bullets are commonly available in both soft point and solid (FMJ) form. The latter are often recommended for use on dangerous CXP4 game.
The 9.3x62mm was designed by the famous German gunsmith Otto Bock around 1905. It is based on a case nearly identical to a .30-06 modified to accept .366" bullets. 9.3x62mm cases can be formed from .30-06 (or, even better, .35 Whelen) brass in one pass through an RCBS reforming die.
Hornady began offering factory loaded 9.3x62mm ammunition in 2010. Hornady has joined A-Square (USA), Nosler (USA), Norma (Sweden), Sako (Finland) and Sellier & Bellot (CZ) in recognizing this medium bore caliber that is widely used for hunting heavy game in both Europe and Africa, but less so in North America. In Sweden, it is one of the more popular moose and bear cartridges. Now that a major American ammo company is supporting the cartridge, its popularity in North America is likely to increase and it has become one of the most popular medium bore cartridges with the Guns and Shooting Online staff.
Factory loaded bullet weights are 232, 250 and 286 grains. 9.3x62 ballistics are identical to the 9.3x74R, which was the motive for the design of this standard length, rimless cartridge. It offers 9.3x74R ballistics in a shorter case adaptable to magazine fed rifles. Recoil is about like a .35 Whelen and noticeably less than most medium bore magnum calibers.
In order to compare and evaluate these four powerhouse cartridges, we will examine them in terms of velocity, energy, trajectory, sectional density, frontal area, killing power, recoil and the availability of both arms and ammunition. In addition, we will look at the suitability of these calibers for their intended purpose of hunting heavy game.
To keep the comparison as fair as possible, we will compare factory loaded ammunition using bullet weights of 200, 225 and 250 grains in .338 and .350. These are the most popular bullet weights in both calibers. For the 9.3x74R and 9.3x62mm, we will use bullet weights of 232 and 286 grains.
The representative loads for the .338 Win. Mag. will be the Winchester Super-X with 200 grain Power Point bullet, Remington Express with 225 grain PSP Core-Lokt bullet and Winchester Supreme with 250 grain CT Partition Gold bullet. The representative loads for the .350 Rem. Mag. will be the Remington Express with 200 grain PSP Core-Lokt bullet, Stars & Stripes Production ammo with 225 grain Nosler Partition bullet and Stars & Stripes Custom ammo with 250 grain Nosler Partition bullet. The representative loads for the 9.3x74R will use the Norma 232 grain Vulkan and 286 grain Alaska bullets. Note that Stars & Stripes is now defunct, but identical loads can be turned out by anyone who reloads.
Catalog velocities for the .350 Mag. were taken in an 18" barrel. In the 22" barrels of Ruger M77 or Remington 673 rifles the muzzle velocity (MV) should be (using Remington's figures for velocity loss/gain) about 40 fps faster. I have made that correction for the loads listed below. The ballistics for the .338 Mag., 9.3x62mm and 9.3x74R were taken in 24" test barrels.
Availability of arms and ammunition
To dispense with the obvious first, .338 Winchester Magnum caliber rifles are far more common than either 9.3x74R or .350 Remington rifles, while in popularity the 9.3x62 falls somewhere in-between. The .338 is offered by all major arms makers and can be had in bolt action, autoloading and single shot rifles. The .350 (at this time) is available only in the bolt action Ruger M77 (occasionally) and Remington Model Seven rifles. The 9.3x74R is offered in the Ruger No. 1 single shot and various European doubles and drillings including Merkel, Beretta, Heym and Bernardelli rifles. None of the latter, of course, are common in the U.S. In North America, 9.3x62mm rifles are available from CZ, Sako, Tikka, Merkel and possibly others.
The situation is similar in ammunition. The .338 Win. Mag. is available from all of the major ammo companies in a variety of bullet weights. The 9.3x74R and 9.3x62 are loaded by several companies, but aside from Hornady, none of these are widely available across the U.S. The .350 Rem. Mag. is offered only by Remington among the major ammo companies and only in one bullet weight (200 grain Core-Lokt PSP).
The bottom line is that the .338 Win. Mag. has the advantage of better availability of both rifles and ammunition than the .350 Rem. Mag. or either of the 9.3mm cartridges. Some of the specialty ammo makers offer 9.3x62mm, 9.3x74R and .350 Rem. Mag. factory loads, including Nosler here in the US.
Here are the velocity figures (in feet per second) for our selected loads:
Velocity matters because it is the most important factor influencing both trajectory and kinetic energy. The .338 Mag. clearly has a velocity advantage over the .350 Mag. and the .350 has an advantage over the 9.3mm cartridges. Next we shall see how this affects energy and trajectory.
Here are the kinetic energy figures (in foot pounds) for our selected loads:
Energy is the ability to do work. In the case of a hunting rifle bullet, energy powers penetration and bullet expansion, very important factors in killing power. In this case, the .338 again has a clear advantage over the .350, 9.3x62 and 9.3x74R. The latter trio are similar in their ability to deliver energy on target. However, it should be borne in mind that all four hit very hard and have plenty of energy compared to most rifle cartridges.
Here are the trajectory figures in inches for our selected loads at 100, 200 and 300 yards. For comparison purposes, all are assumed to be fired from rifles with telescopic sights mounted 1.5" over bore and zeroed at 200 yards.
It should come as no surprise, given its higher velocity, that the .338 shoots flatter than the .350 Mag., which in turn shoots flatter than the 9.3x74R and 9.3x62. Perhaps somewhat surprising, though, is the relatively small difference in the trajectories of these three cartridges. All shoot flat enough to be zeroed at 200 yards without risk of shooting over even the smaller CXP2 class game animals like pronghorn antelope or impala. That is pretty good, considering that these cartridges are intended for use on large animals.
The sectional density (SD) of bullets is calculated by dividing a bullet's weight (in pounds) by the square of its diameter (in inches). A heavier bullet of any given caliber will have greater sectional density than a lighter bullet of the same caliber. If you compare bullets of the same weight in different calibers the smaller caliber will have superior SD for any given weight. The actual diameter of a .338 Mag. bullet is .338", the diameter of a .350 Mag. bullet is .358" and the diameter of a 9.3mm bullet is .366".
Sectional density is important because, given bullets of identical design at identical velocity, the bullet with the greatest SD will penetrate the deepest. A crude example would be that a needle (long and slender) would penetrates better than a ball of the same weight at the same velocity. The deeper the wound channel (of any given diameter) in a game animal the more tissue is destroyed and the greater the killing power.
The best way to compare rifle bullets is on the basis of SD, rather than weight. Here are the SD numbers for our selected bullet weights:
As a practical matter, medium bore bullets with a SD of about .250 or better have proven adequate for all CXP3 game and all thin-skinned game, including the great bears and big cats, worldwide. The 250 grain .338 and 286 grain 9.3mm bullets, with their SD's in excess of .300, are the bullets most suitable for CXP4 game. These bullets are the primary reason why the .338 Mag., 9.3x74R and 9.3x62 have good reputations on very large game (brown bear and Cape buffalo, for example). For comparison, the famous .375 caliber 300 grain bullet, perhaps the most widely used dangerous game bullet in the world, has a .305 SD.
Bullet cross-sectional (frontal) area is important because the wider the wound cavity (of any given depth), the more tissue is destroyed and the greater the killing power. Bullet cross-sectional area is independent of bullet weight. (A 150 grain .35 caliber bullet is the same diameter as a 250 grain .35 caliber bullet.) Here are the bullet cross-sectional areas of our calibers:
Clearly, a 9.3mm bullet will, other things (such as bullet expansion) being equal, always punch a larger diameter hole than a .35 caliber bullet, which in turn will make a bigger hole than a .338 bullet. The advantage in cross-sectional area belongs to the 9.3mm cartridges. The fat 286 grain 9.3mm bullet, with its high SD, is a good bet to create an impressive wound cavity.
I have observed that, within reason, SD and cross sectional area tend to cancel each other out, as long as both are adequate for the purpose. In terms of killing power, one medium bore caliber's advantage in SD will probably be negated by another's advantage in frontal area. Remember, however, that due to their greater velocity the .338 bullets generally carry more energy than the .350 and 9.3x74R bullets. This should be reflected in killing power.
Killing power is very hard to quantify due to the mass of variables, not the least of which are the game animal's state of mind when shot and the effect of bullet expansion on the wound channel.
Those facts notwithstanding, many gun writers and sundry authorities have tried to devise formulas to estimate the killing power of rifle bullets. In my opinion, one of the best attempts is the "Optimum Game Weight Formula" devised by Edward A. Matunas. It attempts to take into consideration at least some of the various quantifiable factors affecting killing power without trying to prove some special theory about bullet weight, caliber, or velocity.
The results of Optimum Game Weight (OGW) are expressed in terms of the range and live animal weight for which a given cartridge is optimum. There is an extensive OGW table on the Tables, Charts and Lists Page of Guns and Shooting Online.
Here are some OGW results (in yards) for our cartridges against 600 pound (elk / grizzly bear size) and 1000 pound (moose / Cape buffalo size) game animals:
Killing power is where the .338's advantage in velocity and energy come to the fore. The .338's 225 and 250 grain bullets are optimum beyond 400 yards on 600 pound game. That is the outer range limit for the OGW table, as 400 yards is beyond the maximum point blank range of any hunting rifle cartridge. So the OGW for these loads is listed simply as "400+."
All of these loads, with bullets of proper construction, are adequate for shooting elk and similar size big game beyond 200 yards. The 225, 250 and 286 grain bullets are adequate beyond the MPBR of the cartridges, so it is trajectory rather than killing power that is the limiting factor in their effective range.
Outsize 1000 pound game is seldom shot at ranges exceeding 150 yards and common sense suggests relatively heavy bullets (SD in excess of .270) for such large animals. That would tend to indicate that the 225 or 250 grain bullets in .338 Mag., 250 grain bullet in .350 Mag. and 286 grain bullet in 9.3x62 and 9.3x74R would be the best choices.
The .338 Magnum's advantage in flatter trajectory and killing power is purchased at a price, and that price is increased recoil. The .338 Mag. burns more powder and drives its bullets at higher velocity, factors that contribute significantly to recoil.
Recoil is the "catch 22" for most medium bore calibers. Shooters today seem to think that it is macho to shoot hard kicking rifles. The reality is than anyone can shoot more accurately with a rifle that kicks less--and bullet placement remains, by far, the most important factor in killing power. Here are some representative recoil energy figures taken in 8.5 pound rifles (7mm Rem. Mag. included for comparison):
None of these cartridges are soft shooters. Even the .350/200 grain load kicks hard compared to a typical all-around rifle, such as the 7mm Rem. Mag. The recoil of a 7mm Rem. Mag. rifle is enough to be considered unpleasant by most shooters. (At least those shooters willing to admit the truth!) The majority of shooters are happier with a rifle that kicks with less than 15 ft. lbs. of energy and 20 ft. lbs. is about the maximum tolerable recoil for most experienced hunters.
The .350 Mag. shooting a 200 grain bullet generates 4.5 ft. lbs. more recoil energy than the 7mm Magnum. Few shooters can do their best work when they have to endure that much recoil. While the .350 kicks hard, it is definitely more comfortable to shoot than a .338 Magnum.
The .338 kicks harder than the .350 or the 9.3mm's in rifles of equal weight and it is the worst kicker in our comparison. Shooting the popular 225 grain bullet, the .338 develops well over twice the kick with which the average shooter is comfortable and 13.5 ft. lbs. more recoil than a 7mm Magnum.
The 9.3x62 and 9.3x74R are in-between the other two medium bores, but closer to the .350. The most common loads, which made these cartridge's reputations, use 286 grain bullets and those loads do kick. Developing around 30 or more ft. lbs. of recoil energy makes them similar to the .338/200 load. The 9.3mm/286 is, however, probably the mildest kicking load commonly used on CXP4 game. It is hard to beat the effectiveness of this long, fat bullet at medium velocity on heavy game.
These are powerful medium bore cartridges that, with the right loads, are capable of taking all North American big game, including bison. They are excellent elk cartridges and it is elk hunters who buy most of the medium bore rifles sold in North America. All four are good moose cartridges, superior to any small bore (8mm or smaller) cartridge on these massive beasts. The polar, grizzly and brown bears are also fair game for the hunter with a .338 Win. Mag., .350 Rem. Mag. or one of the 9.3mm's.
The .338 Win. Mag. is the most popular, as well as the most powerful, of our four contestants. Based on those factors it wins this comparison. It is probably the most versatile of all medium bore calibers, as long as the hunter can handle its considerable recoil.
However, the others have their advantages. For one, if you want your medium bore cartridge in a short action rifle, perhaps something along the lines of a "guide gun," you should choose the .350 Mag. It was designed for carbine length rifles. If, on the other hand, you want a traditional single shot or double rifle the rimmed 9.3x74R is clearly the best choice. The 9.3x74R and 9.3x62 are the smallest calibers legal for hunting dangerous game in many African countries.
The .350, 9.3x62 and 9.3x74R are quite similar in killing power with bullets of similar SD. The 9.3mm's main advantage lies in the superior SD of their heavy 286 grain bullets. The greater SD of that 286 grain bullet can be important when hunting CXP4 game and over the years the 9.3mm cartridges have been used to harvest a lot of dangerous African game.
The .350 Mag., 9.3x62 and 9.3x74R kick less than the .338 Mag., perhaps enough less to be tolerable for some shooters who are inclined to flinch when shooting a .338 Magnum. For that matter, precise bullet placement is easier for anyone with a rifle that kicks less and it is proper bullet placement that collects big game trophies. The .338 is somewhat more powerful than the .350, 9.3x62 or 9.3x74R, but not much can live on the difference.
Copyright 2007, 2014 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.