Compared: .375 H&H Magnum, .375 Ruger, .416 Rem. Magnum and .416 Rigby
By Chuck Hawks
What we have here are four of the most popular big boomers designed for use in bolt action safari rifles. All are recommended for the largest and most dangerous game, including all CXP4 class game (buffalo, rhino, and elephant). The same could be said for the .458 Win. Mag. and .458 Lott, but the .375 and .416 calibers shoot flatter than the .45 calibers and are considered at least marginally acceptable for the largest CXP3 class game. Thus, the .375's and .416's are more versatile than the bigger bores. It is the versatility of the .375 and .416 calibers that sparked this comparison.
Ballistically the .375 H&H Magnum and the newer .375 Ruger are, depending on the loads chosen for comparison, pretty much identical. The .375 Ruger was designed to offer .375 H&H ballistics in a cartridge that works in standard length actions, meaning actions intended for cartridges such as the .338 and .458 Winchester Magnums. The old .375 H&H requires a long (or "magnum" length) action. For the purposes of this article the two .375's fire the same bullets at the same velocity and can be considered together.
Likewise, the .416 Remington Magnum and .416 Rigby are ballistically identical. The Remington cartridge was designed to duplicate the ballistics of the earlier .416 Rigby. The difference between the two is again in the rifle actions for which they are suitable. The Remington cartridge uses a blown-out .375 H&H case and thus is suitable for use in any action (including the Remington Model 700) designed for full length magnum cases with the standard .532" magnum rim diameter. The .416 Rigby is based on a huge, non-standard case with a .590" rim diameter and there are very few actions that can accept the Rigby cartridge. Again, the twocartridges fire the same weight bullets at the same velocity and for our purposes they can be considered together.
The ballistic equality of the two .375's and the two .416's considerably simplifies our comparison. Henceforth in this article, ".375" represents both the .375 H&H Magnum and the .375 Ruger; ".416" represents both the .416 Rem. Mag. and .416 Rigby.
Typical .375 factory loads and full power reloads use a 270 grain pointed soft point bullet at a MV of 2670-2700 fps and a 300 grain round nose bullet at a MV of 2500-2530 fps. Typical .416 factory loads and full power reloads use a 400 grain round nose bullet at a MV of 2400 fps. We will use those loads for this comparison. To keep the comparison as fair as possible we will use Hornady bullets, which are available in factory loads and to reloaders, for all loads in both calibers. Our representative .375 caliber bullets will be the 270 grain Hornady Spire Point (SP) InterLock and the 300 grain round nose (RN) InterLock. Our representative .416 caliber bullet will be the 400 grain Hornady RN InterLock.
We will compare the .375 and the .416 in sectional density (SD) and ballistic coefficient (BC), bullet cross-sectional area, velocity, energy, trajectory, killing power and recoil. At the end we will summarize what we have learned and see if any conclusions can be reached.
Sectional Density and Ballistic Coefficient
The sectional density of bullets is calculated by dividing a bullet's weight (in pounds) by the square of its diameter (in inches). Note that the shape, material or ballistic coefficient of the bullet has no bearing on SD, only weight and diameter count. If you compare bullets of the same weight in different calibers, the smaller caliber will have superior SD for any given weight.
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 long and slender shape like a nail penetrates better than a ball (short and fat) of the same weight driven by the same force. The deeper the wound channel (of any given diameter) in a game animal the more tissue is destroyed and the greater the killing power. Here are the SD numbers for our selected bullet weights.
A SD of .270 or better is excellent for the largest and most dangerous predators, such as lion and the great bears, while a SD in excess of .300 is generally recommended for use on thick-skinned CXP4 game. All three of the bullet weights compared here are therefore sufficient for their intended purposes, with the 400 grain .416 bullet being the overall winner in SD.
Ballistic coefficient is a measurement of how well a bullet flies through the air. A higher BC helps a bullet retain more of its initial velocity and energy down range and results in a flatter trajectory. The formula is complex, but practically speaking, BC is primarily a function of the bullet's SD and shape. Here are Hornady's published ballistic coefficients for the bullets compared in this article.
These figures show that our bullets have significantly different drag coefficients. The 270 grain .375 SP should be the best long range bullet, but it is worth noting that the 400 grain .416 RN is considerably superior in BC to the 300 grain .375 bullet. We will see how much difference these BC numbers make in the real world when we compare down range velocity, energy and trajectory.
Bullet Cross-sectional Area
Bullet cross-sectional area is important because the wider a wound cavity (of any given depth), the more tissue is destroyed and the greater the killing power. The actual diameter of a .375 caliber bullet is .375" and the actual diameter of a .416 bullet is .416". Here are the bullet cross-sectional areas for our two calibers.
Clearly, a .416 bullet will, other things (such as bullet expansion) being equal, punch a larger diameter hole than a .375 bullet. The .416's advantage in cross-sectional area is a constant, regardless of velocity, energy, SD, or bullet weight.
Velocity matters. Velocity above some (undefined) level may or may not have "shock" value to an animal's system, but for sure higher velocity flattens trajectory. Velocity is also a major factor in computing kinetic energy. Here are the velocity figures (in feet per second) at the muzzle (MV), 100, 200 and 300 yards for our selected loads.
The 270 grain .375 SP is clearly the velocity champion, and its superior BC helps it to retain--and increase--its advantage down range. The superior BC of the .416 RN bullet (compared to the .375 RN) is apparent from these figures. The .375 bullet starts out 100 fps faster, but at 200 yards it is traveling 30 fps slower.
The bullet's remaining energy at impact powers bullet penetration and expansion, the keys to quick and humane kills. Although it is fashionable in some quarters to disparage the value of energy figures, this merely reveals the commentator's ignorance, bias, or both. Kinetic energy is essentially a function of mass and the square of velocity, and is expressed in foot-pounds.
As can be seen from these numbers, the relatively low BC of the .375 RN bullet costs it dearly in energy downrange. This explains why CXP4 game is usually shot at short range (100 yards or less). Note that the 270 grain .375 SP bullet is close to the 400 grain .416 bullet in kinetic energy at 200 yards and has surpassed the bigger bullet at 300 yards. This merely reiterates that the .375/270 is the way to go if longer range shots will be on the menu. On the other hand, no .375 load comes close to the bone crushing power of the .416 within about 150 yards.
Trajectory is important because a bullet that shoots flatter is easier to place accurately as the range increases. And bullet placement is, by far, the most important factor in killing power. The following trajectory figures are predicated on scoped rifles with the line of sight 1.5" above the center of the bore. The trajectories below for the RN bullets are predicated on a 100 yard zero, which is typical for these CXP4 class game loads. The trajectory for the .375/270 grain bullet is predicated on a 200 yard zero, which is typical for that bullet. For comparison, the trajectory for the .416/400 is included with a 200 yard zero.
The .375 shooting a 270 grain spitzer bullet is a 250+ yard CXP3 game cartridge and it easily outranges the other two loads. Based on its trajectory the .416 could serve for CXP3 game (or even CXP2 game!) out to approximately 230 yards with a 200 yard zero. Unfortunately, its bullets are generally very tough and unlikely to give proper expansion on light, thin-skinned animals.
Optimum Game Weight (OGW) is a system devised by Edward A. Matunas to express the killing power of rifle cartridges in terms of distance and the weight of the animal. We need not go into the formula itself here (the main factors are velocity and bullet weight). Suffice to say that while it is not perfect, the OGW system does seem to have a higher correlation with reality than most other systems for estimating killing power and I regard it as useful for comparing similar cartridges. The figures below represent game weight in pounds and distance in yards.
These numbers indicate that the .375/300 is a good 100+ yard Cape buffalo cartridge, while the .416/400 has adequate killing power for such game far beyond its MPBR. The .375 is limited by its energy and killing power, while the .416 is limited by its trajectory. For even larger game, rhino and elephant, neither is probably ideal. However, the .416 has proven quite dependable given good shot placement. So, for that matter, has the .375, although on paper it is clearly inferior for such outsized animals. This indicates that it is shot placement and not raw power that is the deciding factor in quick, clean kills of CXP4 game.
This is the key and deciding factor for most hunters. Only a tiny fraction of nimrods can handle .375 Magnum rifles with the requisite precision and even fewer are up to the .416's. A quick look at the recoil figures for energy and velocity that follow, given for rifles of typical weight for their respective calibers, will make that abundantly clear. I have added the .30-06/180 grain load for comparison since that is the most powerful load with which the majority of experienced shooters are familiar and reasonably comfortable. (If you are not an experienced shooter you should not be considering a .375 or .416 in the first place.)
A couple of things stand out. One is that the myth that the big bores deliver a "long, slow push" is a lie. The recoil figures show clearly that the bigger calibers kick faster as well as harder. Another point is that while both the .375 and .416 kick much harder than the average shooter will be able to stand, the .416 is far more punishing than even the .375. Be warned: recoil at that level can detach retinas and damage shoulder joints, particularly those of older hunters. I have experienced both problems myself, so I know of what I speak.
Summary and Conclusion
In most performance categories the .416 is superior to the .375 as a CXP4 game cartridge. The notable exceptions are velocity, trajectory and recoil, where the 270 grain .375 load takes first place. Both calibers are clearly more than sufficient for all dangerous CXP3 class game, including lion and the great bears, so the .375 is the better choice for such use. (For a comparison of powerful medium bore calibers suitable for use on CXP3 game, see the article "Compared: Medium Bore Magnum Rifle Cartridges" and the other medium bore comparison articles on the Rifle Cartridge Page.)
The chief drawback to both the .375 and .416 calibers is their outsized recoil. Accurate shot placement is, by far, the most important factor in killing any game animal and the larger the quarry the more important precise shot placement becomes. A heavy kick encourages flinching, which is poisonous to accuracy. Unless you are accustomed to handling very heavy recoil, avoid the .416 like the plague and think twice before buying a .375.
Copyright 2007, 2012 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.