The Column, No. 2:

Medium Bore Musings

By Chuck Hawks

The medium bore hunting rifle is the stuff of dreams: a big Alaskan grizzly flattened at close range, an African eland blasted in the bush, or an Newfoundland moose driven to its knees. Those dreams usually include the romance of campfires in the exotic game fields of the world and a rifle on which you can bet your life.

By definition a medium bore rifle is chambered for a cartridge from .33 to .39 caliber. To the big game hunter, rifles of .32 caliber on down are small bores and rifles of .40 caliber on up are big bores. Note that this column is not about deer cartridges, such as the .35 Remington, that happen to be of medium bore caliber. No, these musings concern the medium bore cartridges designed for heavy game around the world. The .338 A-Square and .35 Whelen can be considered the entry level for these purposes.

For most of us a .30-30 is more appropriate, year in and year out, than a .338 Magnum. Still, when I wrote the article "Favorite Centerfire Rifle Cartridges" for the Rifle Information Page, I was forced to limit my choices. And when I got down to the last two cartridges (the "practical minimum" for hunting, as I called it), one was a powerful medium bore. What was I thinking?

Well, I'll tell you. My first choice was a small bore cartridge, the 6.5x55 SE. A mild yet effective round for everything from practice at the rifle range up to hunting elk.

However, I think that even the most enthusiastic 6.5mm enthusiast would admit that a medium bore cartridge is generally superior for hunting CXP3 class game. CXP3 game includes elk, kudu, eland, moose, the big cats and the great bears--the largest thin-skinned game animals. Only the thick-skinned CXP4 class game (buffalo, rhino and elephant) are tougher or harder to put down. And a powerful medium bore cartridge will also serve for them, in a pinch. Hence my choice of the .350 Remington Magnum for my second cartridge.

I think that these are defensible choices. A capable but relatively mild small bore caliber for everything from CXP1 class game with light weight bullets to the largest CXP2 class game with heavier bullets and a medium bore caliber for CXP3 class game on up. Not ideal for every situation, but workable for most.

The only flaw in my logic is that all of the powerful medium bore calibers kick more than the average shooter is prepared to handle. Which explains why I chose the .350 Rem. Mag. over the ubiquitous .338 Win. Mag. or some other even more powerful medium bore caliber. The .350 kicks less and hits almost as hard.

The .350 is a hard kicking caliber to be sure, but usefully less so than most other powerful medium bore cartridges. Taken in small doses over time, the average shooter has a reasonable chance of mastering the .350. He or she may never do their best shooting with it, but they have a fighting chance to develop the skill required to reliably kill large animals at reasonable range. Remember that bullet placement is everything. More powerful medium bores, like the .338 and .375 Magnums, are more likely to instill an accuracy destroying flinch. Likewise, the .350 Magnum has proven that it can do the job.

As I write this, the .350 cartridge is available in only a couple of rifles, from Remington (Model Seven) and Ruger (Model 77). Those who are interested can read my reviews of .350 rifles on the Product Review Page. This may change in the future, but for now that's the way it is. However, as they say, every cloud has a silver lining. The silver lining in this case is that the Ruger Model 77R is a very good rifle for the .350 Mag. cartridge; not too heavy to carry and not too light to shoot, not too long and not too short, and with a stock design adequate for heavy recoil.

Most of the more popular medium bore cartridges have been adopted to some really unsuitable rifles due to stock design, barrel length, weight, or what have you. At least those sorts of problems are avoided with the Model 77/.350 Mag. combination!

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Copyright 2004 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.