The .280 Ross Rifle, A Fast Shady Lady

By Erin Boyd

I was visiting a friend who has a very extensive array of firearms and their various components. If you needed a part for your 98 Mauser for example, he would fossick about in his armoury and eventually come up with several for you to choose from. Want some rings for your newly acquired Sako Hunter? Another trip into the den and out he comes with a shoebox stuffed to the brim with used scope mounts of all sizes and descriptions. Sure enough, there are several different styles to fit your obsolete darling. For the sake of anonymity we will henceforth refer to this gentleman as 'The Squirrel.'

As to be expected we were soon involved in deep discussion on some firearm-related gossip over an afternoon cuppa. The .280 Ross was briefly mentioned in passing.
"Wait, wait!" exclaimed the Squirrel, leaping to his feet. "Don't panic!" He then disappeared into his warren.

A little while later he emerged with a contented smile on his face and a very long sporting rifle, with a rich red patina, grasped in his hand, "I knew I had one of these around here somewhere." He carefully passed it over for my perusal.

The rifle was slender and well made, with an elegant Schnabel tipped walnut stock that had excellent point pattern, wrap round chequering on the grip and forearm. It had an odd-looking bolt action. It felt right in the hand and exuded that air of quality and mystique that only a pretty lady with a shady past can.

"Ross Rifle Co." and "Canada M 10" was stamped into the large receiver, and ".280 Ross proved 28 tons" into the barrel. It was designed and manufactured by Sir Charles Ross, a Scottish Baronet, inventor, and among many other things, one time owner of the fabled Ngoro Ngoro Crater game park in Tanzania. This strong, straight pull bolt action was to earn itself a very shady reputation indeed.

Some background information

Ross's original design was in .303 British and intended to create a superior military rifle. At the time of the Boer War there was some diplomatic discord between Great Britain and Canada. The British Government declined Canada when they requested to be supplied with, or be given rights to manufacture under license, the Lee Enfield service rifle for the Canadian Military. The upshot of this was a decision by the Canadian government to manufacture their own infantry rifle.

Ross had developed a hunting rifle with a straight pull bolt action that was manufactured in Hartford, Connecticut, U.S.A. He claimed it as his own design, but in fact it had many features in common with the Austrian Steyr straight pull model of 1890, and inherited the design faults unique to that action. Ross was very well connected in upper Canadian society and much politicking resulted in the issuing of contracts in 1902 for his newly formed Canadian company to provide 12,000 Mark 1 Ross rifles to the Government.

The first 1000 Mk. 1 rifles were issued to the Royal NorthWest Mounted Police. Routine inspection found 113 defects warranting rejection. The rifle was found unsatisfactory for many reasons. One of these was a poorly designed bolt lock that enabled the bolt to fall from the rifle and be lost, thus rendering the rifle useless. Another was poorly tempered component springs that were described as being "soft as copper." In 1906 the R.C.M.P. reverted back to their Model 94 Winchesters and Lee Metfords.

The rifle was redesigned to correct the myriad faults and called the MK. 11 Ross. The final design was the Mark 111 or Model 10 (1910). Many changes had been made to the original Mk. 1 Ross that altered the rifle almost beyond recognition.

Despite all of this, it was still a problem fraught design. The Mk. 111 (or Model 10 Ross) was the rifle Canadian troops carried into action in France during World War I, and it failed dismally under combat conditions. Serious problems with reliability included failures to extract a fired case, and constant jamming of the bolt due to field debris. Many troops were killed by the enemy while attempting to clear malfunctions.

Another extremely undesirable fault was that after disassembling the bolt, it could be incorrectly reassembled. In that case the rifle would pick up a round and chamber it, and the extractor would hold the round against the bolt face, but the seven large locking lugs would not be in battery. The striker would be cocked, and if the trigger were pulled the rifle would fire with the bolt unlocked. Several cases are recorded of serious injury or death from bolt blowback.

Regarding the Ross as more of a threat to their lives than the Kaiser's soldiers, the troops threw away their Ross rifles en masse at the earliest opportunity, snatching up Lee Enfields from dead Tommys. The Ross was withdrawn from service in 1915 and replaced by the Lee Enfield.

It did establish a very good record for accuracy, winning the English 1000 yard Bisley Match three times consecutively. Many Ross Rifles also saw service in the Russian Army, and it was used with great success by them in the Olympics in a modified form and caliber (7.62 x 54R) as a moving event type target rifle. It was also retained for several years, with good results, as a specialized sniper weapon by the Canadian Army.

The .280 Ross Hunting Rifle

"Have you got any rounds for this rifle?" I ask the Squirrel, as he looks intently into my grandfatherly face.

"You just don't know, you young fellows of today, you just don't know how it is, just how much stress you put on an old pensioner like me."

Shaking his head and muttering he disappears yet again into the darkness. When he eventually emerges back into the sunlight, he is holding a couple of cartridge packets and several loose rounds in his hands.

Introduced in the Mk 11 action in 1907 as a sporting round, the .280 Ross is a large semi-rimmed case, bigger and longer than the 7mm Remington Magnum that it preceded by over 60 years. The actual caliber of the projectile is .289" and can be duplicated by bumping up a .284" (7 mm) in a special die and swaging it to size if you want to reload this baby.

The original factory loads were a pointed FMJ 180 grain target round at 2800 fps, and a 146 grain bronze point type spitzer hunting bullet at 3100 fps. This was in 1907 remember, before the word Magnum had been co-opted by the shooting fraternity, and without the advantage of modern slow burning powders. The .280 Ross is not far behind the performance of the excellent 7mm Remington Magnum.

This was truly an outstanding hunting round, and it was widely praised. It was a quick and spectacular killer on deer sized game; unfortunately, foolhardy hunters were encouraged to tackle larger game for which it was not designed.

Bullet types were generally limited to FMJ and soft point styles. The jacketed expanding bullet technology of that time was not developed enough to understand the special requirements of very high velocity. Many soft point hunting projectiles over-expanded and broke up with insufficient penetration when striking large or dangerous game at high velocities.

The case of a refined English gent named Grey will provide an excellent example. Grey and two companions were hunting driven lion from horse back in the African Savannas, early in the last century. Grey was armed with a .280 Ross rifle. The agreement was that if the beaters put up a lion, the riders were to merge together before an attempt was made to take it. The beaters did put up two lions, and Grey's companions were a considerable distance away.

Grey foolishly decided to take the male lion himself with his .280. He rode close and fired a shot into it, wounding but not disabling the beast. Understandably, the lion took exception to this unprovoked assault and charged, knocking Grey to the ground and biting and clawing him to teach him some manners, before bounding off into the long grass.

Although terribly mutilated, Grey did not die straight away. He managed to communicate to his companions that his fate was entirely due to his own stupid actions and not the fault of the beaters. He died several days later in a hospital. The wounded lion was tracked and dispatched by Grey's companions. Such incidents only added to the shady reputation of the .280 Ross as unreliable cartridge in an unreliable rifle.

The Ross Action

The action on this Model 10 Ross sporter is a well engineered, straight pull bolt of robust proportions. To enable locking, the bolt head was manufactured with a helical thread on the shaft and an interrupted thread locking system of seven lugs. The helical thread on the shaft caused the bolt head to rotate when pushed or pulled, screwing the locking lugs into or out of battery in the receiver.

This locking system is very strong and the same as used on heavy artillery pieces. To operate the action the user only has to smartly pull the bolt handle straight back and then shove it forward. This simple movement unlocks the lugs, extracts and ejects the empty case on the rearward stroke, then chambers a new cartridge and locks the bolt closed on the forward stroke. It is very fast and smooth to operate. There is a safety lever conveniently mounted on the top of the bolt handle. A rivet was put into late production bolts to prevent incorrect assembly and solve the bolt blowback problem, but this came far too late. The rifle had already earned its infamous reputation by then.

An idea of the strength of this action can be gleaned from the prominent stamp, "proved 28 tons." This converts to a working pressure of 62,000 psi, higher than any modern magnum by about 7000 psi. Most English sporting rifle manufacturers of the period proved their rifles, at the Birmingham Proof House, to 18 tons psi.

The magazine holds four of the .404 Jeffery size rounds in a staggered formation, allowing the bottom of the magazine to be flush with the lines of the stock. The barrel on this rifle is twenty seven and a half inches long with a very large and nicely shaped reinforce. The barrel twist rate is in the region of 1 turn in 9 inches.

Affixed to the barrel is a curious ramp mounted rear sight, a single folding leaf calibrated out to five hundred yards; a somewhat optimistic vision of the flat shooting capabilities of this century old hotrod. The front sight is a tall ramp mounted blade.

The trigger on the Ross is a two-stage type with a very clean and crisp let off. This is due to using a roller bearing and a conventional sear. There is also a trigger connected lug that locks the bolt in position when the trigger is pulled, to eliminate any chance of the bolt rotating out of battery on firing.

Overall it is a very interesting rifle that was in some ways decades ahead of its time, and with a rather sad history, too. The potential was there for it to become a great rifle had more thought been put into how the bolt was assembled.

There were other rifles chambered for the 280 Ross. One that I know of is a Westley Richards built on a magnum length, square bridge, Obendorf Mauser action.

When I took the rifle back after the photo session, my friend gave me a mischievous grin, "I see you have cleaned and oiled it, as well as linseeding the stock. Did you take the opportunity to sight it in for me?"

"I couldn't see a rivet on the bolt" was my lame reply. "I didn't want the shady lady to take me out."

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Copyright 2003, 2016 by Erin Boyd and/or All rights reserved.