The Medium Bore Rifle Cartridges

By Chuck Hawks

.338 Win. Mag.
.338 Win. Mag. Illustration courtesy of Hornady Mfg. Co.

The medium bore rifle cartridges are those for .33 to .39 caliber rifles. They are mostly intended for use on large (Class 3) and/or dangerous game.

The only really popular North American medium bore caliber in is the .338 Winchester Magnum. A standard length belted magnum, it is regarded as the perfect elk caliber by many western hunters and widely used for all Alaskan and Canadian heavy and dangerous game.

Another standard length medium bore that has been around a long time is the .35 Whelen. Based on the .30-06 case necked-up to accept .358" diameter bullets, the .35 Whelen is the ballistic twin of the .350 Rem. Mag. For use in short action magnum rifles the .350 Remington Magnum provides the same killing power and has a cadre of hard core fans. Remington has failed to support their potent .35s and no longer offers production rifles for either caliber.

The .338 Federal and .358 Winchester are standard, short action cartridges ideal for deer, black bear and elk at woods ranges without magnum recoil. The rimmed .338 Marlin Express gives traditional lever action fans the same capability.

Among European and African hunters the 9.3x62mm, 9.3x74R and .375 H&H Magnum have long been popular for large game. The 9.3x62mm is for standard length actions, the .375 H&H Magnum requires a long magnum action and the 9.3x74R is a long rimmed cartridge designed for single shot and double barreled rifles. In Africa the medium bore rifle is the true "all-around" rifle and some North American shooters have adopted these excellent cartridges.

These nine calibers do about all that needs to be done in North America and the rest of the world with a medium bore rifle. They run the gamut of action lengths and styles, offering something for everyone.

As a group, medium bore cartridges have never been very popular with most North American hunters and shooters, for whom one of the small bore cartridges (.22 to .32 caliber) has usually seemed sufficient. However, there has always been a small, vocal minority of shooters in North America who like big, heavy bullets. These shooters dote on medium bore cartridges.

For years the late Elmer Keith, a prominent gun writer, was the best known spokesman for this group. His views, and the views of his disciples, have always gotten a lot of exposure.

The only real drawback to the medium bores is their considerable recoil, which in most cases is well beyond the 20 ft. lbs. of recoil energy that most shooters can tolerate for any length of time. I think their heavy recoil, plus the fact that there are not many very large or dangerous big game animals hunted in North America, is why the mediums have generally not been more popular with the average shooter.

There are medium bore rifle cartridges that are not intended for use on outsized or dangerous game, such as the old .38-55 Winchester or the .35 Remington. These are basically deer cartridges that happen to be of medium bore caliber. They are generally ignored in discussions of the medium bore cartridges suitable for heavy game.

There are a series of articles that cover nearly all of the medium bore cartridges in detail on the Rifle Cartridges page. They start with the .33 caliber cartridges and go all the way through the .375's. Wildcat medium bores are covered on the Wildcat Cartridges page.

Back to Rifle Information

Copyright 2001, 2016 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.