The Case against Wildcat Hunting Cartridges

By Chuck Hawks

Once upon a time (until the latter half of the 20th Century) there were "gaps" in the cartridge loading lists. For example, when I was born the only common magnum cartridges were the .300 and .375 H&H, which required an extra long rifle action, and varmint cartridges were dominated by the little .22 Hornet and magnum size .220 Swift, with little in-between. There were also openings for new 7mm cartridges.

Wildcatters seized on the opportunities thus presented and created a number of practical cartridges that were later adopted by the major manufacturers. These include the .22-250 (by Remington), .240 Page (.243 Winchester), 6mm-257 (6mm Remington), .257 Roberts (Remington), .25-06 (Remington), 6.5mm-08 (.260 Remington), 6.5mm-284 (Norma), 7-30 Waters (Winchester), 7mm-08 (Remington), 7mm-06 (.280 Remington), .280 Mag. (7mm Rem. Mag.), 7mm STW (Remington), .30-338 Mag. (.308 Norma Mag.), .338-08 (.338 Federal), .338-06 (A-Square), .35 Whelen (Remington), .458 Lott (A-Square) and the entire line of Weatherby cartridges. Roy Weatherby was, in fact, probably the most successful wildcatter of his era. As you can see, wildcatters contributed substantially to our cartridge line-up. In addition, between the end of the Second World War and the end of the 20th Century, the major ammunition companies developed whole lines of new cartridges.

The result of all of this cartridge design activity in such a relatively short time frame is that every imaginable gap in the cartridge line-up was filled, sometimes in duplicate, as Winchester, Remington and recently Hornady, Federal, Ruger and Marlin competed to get their name on as many cartridges as possible. By the late 20th and early 21st Century, they were introducing cartridges that exactly duplicated the ballistics of earlier cartridges and trying to market them as something NEW. Examples include all of the WSSM's, WSM's, RCM's, SAUM's, 6.5mm Creedmoor, .30 T/C, .370 Sako, .375 Ruger, .416 Ruger and others. It has become absurd! These cartridges are redundant and add not one iota of new game-taking capability. They are the result of some marketing department's effort to jack up rifle sales and nothing more. Even the .260 Rem. and 7mm-08, cartridges that I use and regard as superb hunting rounds, are ballistic clones of the earlier and equally useful 6.5x55 and 7x57.

One result of all this frantic activity from the rifle and ammo manufacturers is that a hunting rifle for any purpose can be chambered for a factory loaded cartridge. There is no logical reason to own a hunting rifle in a wildcat caliber and some very good reasons not to. (Merely wanting to be "different" is not a logical reason!)

Perhaps the best reason not to trust your hunt to a wildcat cartridge is that, should your wildcat ammunition go astray, it cannot be quickly replaced. If you land in Anchorage en route to your Alaskan dream hunt and find that the airline or ship line has lost the bag containing your ammo, you are out of luck. You will find that there is not a single round of wildcat .318 Super Slaughter ammo for sale in all of Alaska. You are going to end-up hunting with a borrowed .30-06 (or something similar) that has probably seen better days. The same situation pertains if your dream hunt is in South Africa, New Zealand, or the Rocky Mountains. Given the worldwide incompetence of all forms of mass transportation and baggage handlers, do not trust any important hunt to a rifle for which factory loaded ammunition is not locally available.

All wildcat ammunition must be handloaded. That is not a problem if you are an experienced reloader, but a potential disaster if you are not. A wildcat cartridge that, by definition, requires case modification is not the place to learn about reloading. Get your basic reloading experience with standard cartridges, before attempting to reload for a wildcat and NEVER rely on someone else's reloads.

A rifle chambered for a wildcat cartridge is difficult to sell when the time comes and has a much lower resale value than an identical rifle chambered for a factory-loaded cartridge. I know you intend to keep the next rifle you buy forever, but in ten years, you may change your mind. Perhaps your favorite heir will be stuck with that .318 Super Slaughter instead of a .300 Win. Mag. for which he or she could have purchased factory loaded ammo. A wildcat rifle/cartridge usually comes back to bite you at some point. Maybe that is why they are called "wild cats."

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Copyright 2010 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.