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Coming of Age

by Layne Simpson   |  August 31st, 2011 2

Nosler legitimizes the .280 Ackley Improved as a factory cartridge.


Nosler’s
2nd Edition rifle
is chambered
for the
.280 Ackley Improved
round. Being a
limited edition,
only 500 rifles will be produced.

For about the past 10 years, I have watched a cartridge called the .280 Ackley Improved enjoy increasing popularity among hunters. Nowadays, just about every gunsmith who builds or rebarrels rifles has the chamber reamer for the cartridge, and those I have talked to describe it as extremely accurate.

How high the cartridge will eventually climb on the popularity chart remains to be seen, but the Nosler introduction of not only a rifle chambered for it but unprimed cases and ammunition loaded to SAAMI specifications have to be considered nothing less than a good omen. You read that correctly; the .280 Ackley Improved is now a factory cartridge.

An improved cartridge usually delivers higher velocities than its parent cartridge simply because it holds a bit more powder. The increase in powder capacity is a result of reforming the case to have less body taper and often a sharper shoulder angle as well.

An improved cartridge is not the same animal as a wildcat cartridge. When chambered properly, a rifle in an improved chambering has the same headspace dimension as the parent cartridge from which it originated. Creators of improved cartridges did this intentionally in order to produce cases by fireforming factory-loaded ammo of the original chambering in a rifle now chambered for the improved case. During fireforming, the elasticity of the brass case allows its body to expand to take on the dimensions of the chamber without rupturing. As a rule, when a factory cartridge is fired in an improved chamber, its velocity will be anywhere from 50 to 100 fps slower than when fired in a standard chamber.

On the other hand, a rifle chambered for a wildcat cartridge can use only that particular cartridge.

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SIMPSON’S FAVORITE HANDLOADS

POWDER VELOCITY
TYPE GRS. FPS.
Nosler 120-gr. Ballistic Tip VV N 160 63.0 3334
Nosler 140-gr. AccuBond AA 3100 59.0 2965
Nosler 140-gr. Ballistic Tip Reloder 22 64.0 3125
Nosler 140-gr. Partition H4831 SC 62.0 2985
Nosler 150-gr. E-Tip IMR-7828 61.0 3014
Swift 150-gr. Scirocco IMR-7828 63.0 3058
Sierra 168-gr. MatchKing Reloder 22 56.0 2864
Nosler 175-gr. Partition Reloder 25 58.0 2726
NOTES: Velocity is the average of 10 rounds measured 12 feet from the gun’s muzzle. .280 Improved cases and Federal 210M primers were used in all handloads. Reduce powder charges shown by 10 percent for starting loads.

Introduced by Lysle Kilbourn around 1940, the .22 K-Hornet is thought to be the first improved cartridge to gain nationwide popularity. But of the many improved cartridges created during the past 100 years or so, very few have managed to eventually gain factory-cartridge status. Without doubt, the most famous and most successful of them all is the .300 Weatherby Magnum, which Roy Weatherby designed in the mid-1940s as an improved version of the .300 H&H Magnum.

Through the years, many people have developed improved cartridges, but not a single one has been
as prolific as Parker O. Ackley, or P.O. to those of us who knew him. Some of Ackley’s cartridges are in the two volumes of his out-of-print Handbook For Shooters & Reloaders, but they represent a mere tip of the iceberg. Many more ideas got no further than his reloading bench, and it is for this reason few people have ever heard of them.

Through the years, Ackley did a bit of gunsmith work for me, and I used to enjoy occasional telephone conversations with him. It was during one of those conversations that I asked P.O. to send me samples of his .17-caliber cartridges. Expecting to receive perhaps a dozen or so, I was absolutely amazed when I opened the box and counted 38 cartridges of that caliber on cases ranging in capacity from the shortened .22 Hornet to the full-length .220 Swift. For good measure, he also sent a few wildcats in .12 and .14 calibers.

But Ackley seemed to be most proud of his improved cartridges, with the .257 Roberts Improved and the 7x57mm Mauser Improved being two of them. Through the years, I have worked with them as well as the .22-250 Improved, .243 Winchester Improved, and .250 Savage Improved.


P.O. Ackley developed a lot of wildcat cartridges, but he didn’t actually come up with the .280 Improved wildcat. Fred Huntington did, and Ackley simply changed the .280 RCBS Improved wildcat’s shoulder angle to 40 degrees. That cartridge became known as the .280 Ackley Improved.

It may come as a surprise to learn that Ackley didn’t come up with the improved .280 cartridge. Fred Huntington, who founded RCBS, beat Ackley to the punch with his .280 RCBS Improved, a cartridge shown on page 394 of Ackley’s handbook. Several years prior to the introduction of Remington’s .280, Ackley did come up with a cartridge he called the 7mm-06 Improved, and according to him, its powder capacity was a bit less than that of the RCBS cartridge due to its slightly shorter body length. There are a couple of other differences as well. The .280 RCBS Improved has a 30-degree shoulder, whereas Ackley went with his customary 40-degree shoulder on his cartridge.

After Remington introduced the .280 in 1957, Ackley decided that since factory ammo could be fired in a rifle chambered for Fred Huntington’s cartridge, it was more practical than his 7mm-06 Improved. So he started chambering rifles for the .280 RCBS Improved with one change—he increased its shoulder angle to 40 degrees. And so it happened that a cartridge we know today as the .280 Ackley Improved came to be. I mention all of this not to discredit Ackley in any way. Rather, my intention is to set the record straight, as I am sure he would want.

When a member of the .30-06 family of cartridges is improved, its capacity will be increased by around 5 percent. The additional powder that can be safely burned in the larger boiler room usually yields a velocity increase of around 3 percent, assuming everything, including barrel length and chamber pressure, remains the same. Whether the cartridge is the .25-06, .270 Winchester, .280 Rem., or .30-06, its velocity potential will usually increase by 75 to 100 fps when improved. Handloading manuals that contain data for standard and improved versions of a particular cartridge generally agree with this.

The 6th edition of Nosler’s reloading manual has data for the .280 Rem. and .280 Ackley Improved, both fired in 26-inch barrels. Maximum respective velocities shown for the .280 with 120-, 140-, 150-, 160-, and 175-grain bullets are 3,286, 3,152, 2,995, 2,929, and 2,760 fps. Maximum speeds shown for the .280 Improved for those same bullet weights are 3,396, 3,266, 3,107, 3,045, and 2,828 fps. As you can see, velocity gain with each bullet weight in the .280 Improved is around 100 fps. Hodgdon’s 2008 Annual Manual also shows the improved version of the .280 Rem. to be about 100 fps faster with most bullet weights. The Sierra manual shows a greater difference in velocity between the two cartridges, but the test barrel of the .280 Improved used there was 4 inches longer than for the .280 Rem.

What it all boils down to is the .280 Improved is a bit faster than the .280 Rem. but slower than the 7mm Remington Magnum. Some say it is capable of equaling the velocity of the magnum cartridge, but this is true only if it is loaded to exceed what is now considered to be industry standard chamber pressure. And it often is.

Another benefit to improving a case—one discovered and written about decades ago by Ackley—is a reduction in backthrust on the bolt of a rifle during firing. Handloaders who use sticky bolt lift as a sign of excessive chamber pressures often don’t realize that it usually comes at a higher level of actual pressure with an improved case than with a standard case. In other words, if the .280 Rem. and .280 Improved are loaded to the point of sticky bolt lift and then their powder charges are decreased by the same amount for a safe usable load, chamber pressure is likely to remain higher in the improved case. So only by loading the .280 Improved to higher than recommended chamber pressures can velocities exceed those of the .280 Rem. by much more than 100 fps.

Looking at the same thing from a different direction, if both cartridges are handloaded to the same velocity, case life will likely be longer with the .280 Improved due to lower chamber pressure.


Nosler now offers factory-loaded .280 Ackley Improved ammo as well as unfired brass through its NoslerCustom line. The unprimed cases are weight-sorted and fully
prepped for loading.

None of this is meant to take anything away from the .280 Improved. Quite the contrary, I consider it to be an excellent choice for use on any game animal in North America with the exception of brown and polar bears. I am also convinced it is extremely accurate. I am tempted to go way out on the limb by saying the standard .280 Rem. is not quite as accurate as its improved offspring, but I’ll refrain from doing so since the half-dozen rifles in that caliber I have worked with through the years were custom jobs, while most chambered for the standard version were factory rifles.

One thing in favor of the .280 Improved over a wildcat of the same caliber is that in a pinch, a rifle properly chambered for it will fire .280 Rem. factory ammo. So if you and your rifle arrive for a sheep hunt in Alaska but your ammunition does not, chances are a gunshop in Anchorage will have a box or two of .280 Rem. cartridges sitting on the shelf. And we must not overlook the fact that since more and more gunshops are stocking NoslerCustom ammo these days, you might even be lucky enough to find a supply of .280 Improved cartridges before heading to base camp.

If P.O. Ackley is looking down from that big gunshop in the sky, I am sure he is proud to see the .280 Improved become a factory cartridge.

The NoslerCustom 2nd Edition Rifle
The folks at NoslerCustom call their rifle Limited Edition because only 500 of a particular caliber are built. The first rifle in the series was chambered to .300 WSM, while the second and the one presently being produced is in .280 Ackley Improved. Among its many features are a figured American walnut stock with ebony forearm tip and Pachmayr recoil pad, and an integral scope-mounting base atop the receiver. A three-position safety at the right-hand side of the receiver tang, a Sako-style extractor, a plunger-style ejector, a fully adjustable Timney trigger, and a 24-inch match-grade barrel round out the major features.

Each rifle comes with a Leupold Custom Shop VX-III 3.5-10X 40mm scope that houses a special ballistic reticle matched to the caliber and is zeroed at the factory. The rifle also includes two boxes of NoslerCustom ammunition and a Kalispell aluminum carrying case. It is guaranteed to shoot three bullets inside an inch at 100 yards with any load capable of equaling its accuracy. If for any reason a purchaser is dissatisfied with the rifle, it can be returned within 30 days for a full refund as long as it has not been altered or modified.

Any rifle that comes with that kind of guarantee was built with a lot of confidence behind it. And as you’ll see by the accompanying accuracy chart, its performance provides loads of confidence for the shooter.

  • R. Theron Cammer

    Hello, Mr. Pearce. I must have read the Shooting Times magazines out of order, because I didn't see the offer for the "tent stake". I'd love to have it. I am a machinist and can, when necessary, make my own dies. I have quite a few firearms, as I'm a very small-scale firearms and ammunition manufacturer, and very few of them are for common cartridges. Most of my guns an barrels are for handguns, but if it's in an unusual cartridge, I'll buy it in a rifle. I load cartridges from a .14 Flea (6" Contender) to a .50-70-750 (13" Encore by SSK) and everything in between. I'll also make you another proposal: If you'd like to recoup the cost of your .256 forming dies I'll make you a deal. If you give me the forming dies, I'll make up as much .256 brass as you'd like, with me supplying the brass. For life. I can use the dies to manufacture brand-new factory-made, pressure-tested ammunition for sale to the public. Also, I read your articles whenever I see one, and have learned much from them. I certainly appreciate your work, including inventing new cartridges like the STW.

    R. Theron Cammer

    Alternative Ammo

    4012 W. Opal St.

    Pasco, WA 99301

    (509) 542-0504

  • http://shooting martin Rizo

    do u carry nosler custom in 257 akley Improve if u do I would like to buy some let me know . thank y

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