The .280 Ross (.280 Rimless)

By Chuck Hawks

The .280 Ross, introduced in 1906, was one of the early high intensity cartridges. Charles Ross and F.W. Jones created it for use in the Ross straight-pull bolt action rifle.

A military version of the Ross rifle was adopted by the Canadian government and used by Canadian troops in the First World War. The Ross rifle had serious design problems, some of which were never eliminated, and proved both dangerous and unreliable in combat.

The most famous of these defects was its bolt design, which allowed the bolt to be assembled incorrectly. If fired in that condition a catastrophic failure occurred, injuring and often killing the shooter. (For more on the story of the Ross rifle, read "The .280 Ross Rifle, A Fast Shady Lady" by Erin Boyd, which can be found on the Collector's Corner.)

For a time the sporting version of the Ross rifle and its high velocity .280 cartridge became reasonably popular with sportsmen in North America, Europe, and Africa. It gave spectacularly quick kills on cleanly hit CXP2 game animals, much like the later .270 Winchester.

Any cartridge designed for a rifle with fatal flaws is born under a cloud. As one of the very first high intensity cartridges, the .280 Ross was doubly cursed, as bullet technology had lagged behind smokeless powder technology.

Given a large capacity, magnum size case--which the .280 Ross had--even with the relatively fast burning smokeless powders available in 1906 it was possible to drive bullets at speeds beyond their ability to provide reliable terminal performance. In other words, hunting bullets fired at high velocity from .280 Ross rifles would sometimes fragment and fail to penetrate into a vital area.

This was not much of a problem on pronghorn antelope and whitetail deer, but on larger, tougher animals it could be. Particularly if the bullet had to break large bones on its way to the animal's vitals. And particularly if the quarry were a large, dangerous beast such as a grizzly bear, lion, or tiger that might take out its rage on the hunter who had hurt (but not disabled) him.

The .280 Ross was based on a large case of semi-rimmed design. This case measures 2.59" long, which is slightly longer than a .280 Remington case. It has a rim diameter of .556" and a base diameter of .534" (slightly larger than a typical belted magnum case). The diameter at the shoulder is .404", smaller than the .444" of the .280 Rem. This is due to the considerable body taper of the Ross cartridge. The cartridge overall length is 3.50". The .280 Ross used .287-289" diameter bullets, as did the British .275 H&H Magnum, rather than the .284" bullets of German and American 7mm cartridges.

The original factory loads included a 180 grain FMJ spitzer bullet at a claimed muzzle velocity (MV) of 2800 fps, and a 146 grain spitzer hunting bullet at a claimed MV of 3100 fps. I say "claimed," as I understand that these loads actually delivered less velocity than specified. They still traveled right along, however, particularly the 146 grain bullet that may have delivered MVs of 3000 fps. Later factory loads advertised a MV of 2550 fps for a 180 grain bullet, and a MV of 2900 fps for a 140 grain bullet.

The .280 Ross became popular enough to be picked up by both Remington and Winchester, who offered factory loaded ammunition until 1935. These included, I believe, a 150 grain SP bullet at a MV of 2800 fps and muzzle energy (ME) of 2610 ft. lbs. Contemporary British factory loads gave a 160 grain bullet a MV of 2700 fps and ME of 2600 ft. lbs.

The 146 grain hunting bullet used a bronze point, somewhat on the order of the later Remington Bronze Point bullet. Like the Remington Bronze Point and today's plastic tipped bullets, the 146 grain Ross bullet expanded very quickly against light resistance, but unlike modern hunting bullets it did not have a heavy, tapered jacket or bonded core to control that rapid expansion and prevent the bullet from "blowing-up" against heavier resistance.

What with being chambered in rifles that could be assembled incorrectly and kill the shooter, and saddled with early hunting bullets inadequate for the velocity at which they were being fired, the .280 Ross had an understandably checkered career. Many hunters praised the cartridge for its lightning like kills on deer and other light framed game, while some others had bad experiences trying to shoot elk, moose, and heavy African plains game with .280 Ross rifles.

The biggest problems occurred when hunters, impressed by the quick kills on CXP2 game, tried their .280 Ross rifles on dangerous game. Some of these Nimrods ended up bitten, clawed, and occasionally dead when the primitive bullets fired at high velocity failed to get the job done. This, of course, was not the fault of the cartridge, but as word about erratic bullet performance got around, the popularity of the .280 Ross declined.

Probably the last nail in the .280's coffin was the introduction of the .270 Winchester in 1925. The .270 actually delivered velocities in excess of 3100 fps with its 130 grain bullet. That bullet, with the advantage of better technology, was carefully designed to avoid the problems encountered by the .280 Ross. Through research, Winchester was able to develop reliable bullets for their new .270. That bullet evolved into the famous Silvertip, still produced today. It was probably the first good, high velocity hunting bullet to be offered in North American factory loads.

Such bullets were not invented until near end of the .280 Ross' commercial life, when the damage had already been done. It was too late to save the .280 Ross.

There is an interesting little footnote to the history of the .280 Ross cartridge. After World War I a Germany company, Halbe & Gerlich, marketed a cartridge they called the .280 Halger Magnum and provided bolt action, double, and single shot rifles for it.

During the 1930s rifles for the .280 Halger were imported into the U.S. Halbe & Gerlich claimed a MV of 2900 fps with a 180 grain bullet and 3350 fps with a 145 grain bullet, but when .280 Hager cartridges were chronographed in the U.S. the actual velocity was found to be considerably less. The .280 Halger was based on the .280 Ross case but, I believe, used standard 7mm (.284" diameter) bullets.

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Copyright 2005, 2015 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.