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Hot Off the Press: Shooting the .264 Winchester Magnum

by Joseph von Benedikt   |  May 13th, 2013 18

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The .264 Winchester Magnum is like a beautiful, unloved stepchild. It shoots faster and flatter than any standard-length magnum other than the .257 Weatherby, it hits with undeniable authority at extended ranges courtesy of the extraordinary aerodynamics of its 6.5mm-diameter projectiles, and it recoils with unexpected politeness for such a high performer. Yet—aside from a small group of followers of cult-like loyalty—it has never gained the affection of the American hunter.

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Introduced in 1959, the .264 Winchester Magnum (center) outperforms the ever-popular .270 Winchester (left) with ease, but it was overshadowed by the 7mm Remington Magnum (right) that was introduced three years later.

Introduced in 1959, the .264 Win. Mag. was an extraordinary cartridge. Heck, it still is, especially when handloaded to its full potential. Initially chambered in Winchester’s “Westerner” Model 70, it was meant to fill the needs of far-shooting mule deer and elk hunters. When pushed right to its maximum pressure of 64,000 psi (as established by SAAMI), it will hurl a long, slender 140-grain bullet at more than 3,100 fps from a 26-inch barrel. That’s faster than a 130-grain projectile out of the .270 Winchester, giving .264 Win. Mag. owners the advantages of increased velocity and the dramatically better ballistic coefficients gained by a heavier projectile of smaller diameter. The average 130-grain .277-diameter bullet struggles to achieve a BC of much more than 0.450, while even a moderately aerodynamic 140-grain .264 bullet approaches 0.500, and a streamlined one, such as Berger’s 140-grain Hunting VLD, offers an astonishing 0.612. Note that the .264 Win. Mag. typically must be handloaded to achieve the above velocity figures.

Hard on barrels? Yes—historically. With today’s improved barrel steels, slower-burning propellants, and improved cleaning solvents, it is not the throat-toaster it was reputed to be. Still, reasonable maximum-accuracy life expectancy is around 700 to 1,000 rounds.

Alas, Remington and its new-in-1962 7mm Remington Magnum dealt a resounding deathblow to the .264 Win. Mag. Offering heavier bullets, greater terminal energy, more frontal diameter, and a vast selection of projectiles suitable for handloading courtesy of its 7mm military cartridge predecessors, all at a price of only a bit more recoil and a little lost velocity, the “Seven Mag” became a cartridge in every American hunter’s vocabulary, while the excellent .264 Win. Mag. slipped quietly into near-obsoletion.

Today, the 7mm Rem. Mag. is still the more versatile cartridge; however, it is, and always has been, a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none kind of round, while the .264 Win. Mag. is a legitimate niche cartridge that does what it does better than any other American cartridge. With deer-size game on the menu, there is absolutely nothing flatter shooting or with more carrying ability.

As far as I’m aware, only Winchester Repeating Arms and Shaw Precision Guns (a division of E.R. Shaw barrels) currently produce factory rifles chambered in .264 Win. Mag., though Remington did feature the cartridge in the Model 700 Classic at one point (and those rifles are reputed to shoot very well). Of course, any custom riflesmith worth his salt can build a rifle in .264. Win. Mag.

Barrel length is important to the .264 Win. Mag; it really needs 26 inches to achieve full velocity potential. Winchester’s current Model 70s feature 26-inch tubes, Shaw rifles are available with whatever length the purchaser wants, and the Remington 700 Classic had a 24-inch barrel.

As far as ammo goes, both Winchester and Remington still produce .264 Win. Mag. factory ammunition (though only one load each, in basic, nonpremium lines), Nosler offers a premium load in its Trophy Grade line, and ProGrade lists a whopping three loads in its Hunting Grade line.

My choice of the “economy” loads (both the Winchester and Remington loads are priced $47 per box at the local Cabela’s) is Remington’s 140-grain Core-Lokt round. The 140-grain projectile is fairly streamlined, providing acceptable aerodynamics, and it has a protected tip (meaning only a bit of exposed lead, a tiny flat meplat where the bullet initiates negotiations with its target). While this does protect the bullet from deformation during recoil and during travel up the feedramp and into the chamber, its more important function is to limit potentially explosive expansion (as a result of high velocity) upon impact. The bullet holds together well, and though I’ve never shot truly big game, such as a mature bull elk or moose, with it, I’ve heard that it performs well.

It’s not loaded particularly hot; factory figures suggest a muzzle velocity of 3,030 fps from a 24-inch barrel. That results in a 500-yard drop of 42.3 inches when zeroed at 200 yards. Maintained energy at 500 yards is 1,139 foot-pounds. My Winchester Model 70 Sporter pushes it to 3,021 fps from a 26-inch tube (I chronographed it in 20-degree temps, and it would have been higher on a warmer day). Average accuracy is an acceptable 1.54 inches.

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For handloading, slow-burning propellants like IMR-7828, IMR-4831, Reloder 22, and H1000 are necessary to achieve the highest velocities.

The Winchester 140-grain factory load is also pretty good. Though not quite as aerodynamic in shape, and sporting a good bit of exposed lead at the nose, impact result on deer-size game is typically spectacular. Advertised muzzle velocity is the same as the Remington load: 3,030 fps (my rifle gives 3,010 fps). The suggested 500-yard drop is 42.2 inches when zeroed at 200, and maintained 500-yard energy is the same as the Remington load: 1,139 ft-lbs.

For pure downrange performance, Nosler’s 130-grain AccuBond load banishes both of the above in disgrace. (Of course, it costs more, too.) Due to enhanced muzzle velocity (3,100 fps according to the factory and 3,108 through my rifle) and greatly increased aerodynamics, it drops only 34.7 inches at 500 yards, and though it is a lighter bullet, its maintained velocity provides 1,389 ft-lbs of 500-yard impact energy.

I haven’t been able to get my hands on any of the ProGrade ammunition yet, but all three options (120-grain Barnes TTSX; 125-grain Nosler Partition, and 140-grain Nosler AccuBond) look good, especially if the company pushes them to the .264’s full velocity potential.

Today, many outstanding component bullets and suitable propellants are available for loading the .264 Win. Mag., and it really comes into its own with carefully developed high-performance handloads. See the handy tear-out on page 54 for more details.

What It Can Really Do
Too many statistics make my head hurt, and they surely can be used to misrepresent facts, but let me try and simplify this and compare one good, aerodynamic .264 Win. Mag. handload with a couple of quality factory loads in its nearest cousins: the .270 Winchester and the 7mm Rem. Mag.

  • .264 Win. Mag. Handload: 130-grain Swift Scirocco II (BC: 0.571) at 3,200 fps
  • .270 Win. Federal Factory Load: 130-grain Nosler AccuBond (BC: 0.432) at 3,060 fps
  • 7mm Rem. Mag. Federal Factory Load: 150-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip (BC: 0.495) at 3,025 fps

At my home elevation of 5,000 feet, calculated with a temperature of 50 degrees and 50 percent humidity, with all loads zeroed at 200 yards, we get the following ballistic projections:

The .264 Win. Mag. load drops only 29 inches at 500 yards and 109 inches at 800. A 90-degree, 10-mph crosswind causes it to drift 11 inches at 500 yards and 29 inches at 800. Maintained energy at each range is 1,813 ft-lbs and 1,319 ft-lbs respectively.

The .270 Win. load drops 35 inches at 500 yards and 137 at 800, and the 10-mph wind causes it to drift 16 inches at 500 yards and 45 inches at 800. Maintained energy is 1,383 ft-lbs at 500 yards and 880 ft-lbs at 800.

The 7mm Rem. Mag. load drops 35 inches at 500 yards and 132 at 800. The 10-mph wind causes it to drift 14 inches at 500 yards and 39 inches at 800. Maintained energy is 1,703 ft-lbs at 500 yards and 1,156 at 800.

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A very good selection of .264 (6.5mm) component bullets is available to the handloader. The author prefers bullets in the 129- to 140-grain range. From left to right: Swift 120-Gr. A-Frame; Sierra 120-Gr. Pro Hunter; Hornady 120-Gr. GMX; Sierra 130-Gr. GameKing HPBT; Hornady 129-Gr. InterBond; Swift 130-Gr. Scirocco II; Swift 140-Gr. A-Frame; Nosler 140-Gr. Partition; Hornady 140-Gr. A-Max; Berger 140-Gr. Hunting VLD; and Sierra 142-Gr. MatchKing.

Surprisingly, the .264 Win. Mag. handload betters even the 7mm Rem. Mag. factory load in every category. It has less drop, less wind drift, and more maintained energy. Of course, a good handload in the 7mm would close the gap and certainly surpass the 6.5mm projectile in energy, but the comparison shows just how good the .264 is.

Practical Application
Though it’s more than a half-century old, the .264 Winchester Magnum is one of the few niche cartridges that is as yet unsurpassed by the motley assortment of modern magnums. It is still the fastest, flattest light medium bore available.

As such it has a legitimate but rather overlooked place in the modern hunting realm. With proper loading, it can outperform the .270 Win., 7mm Rem. Mag., .30-06, and its other sibling cartridges, and it does so with less recoil. Combining history, high performance, and excellent manners, it is a true aristocrat among rifle cartridges.

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  • http://twitter.com/Lakan_Kildap Lakan Kildap

    Since the author mentioned the .257 (“It shoots faster and flatter than any standard-length magnum other than the .257 Weatherby”), why not mention the .270 and 7mm Weatherbys, which both shoot way faster than the .264?

    There is a reason this cartridge is almost dead.

    • dennis

      that 270 wsm,,,pound for pound,,,,probabilly,would kick all there butts

      • ElderAmbassador

        Pound for pound? If you are talking about the projectile weights, you need to check your hole card.
        That’s the biggest knock on the WSM and WSSM chamberings. They are fine with the lighter weights, but when you want or need to throw a heavy weight, you need to go back to the Original loadings.

    • TP

      maybe faster, but not flatter at long range.

    • Doug Willingham

      Not to mention the SD and BC of the 6.5mm is phenomenal. The 7mm SD is impressive as well but its kinda the same argument about the 6.5mm & 7.62mm SD. Less is more.

  • Randy Cornman

    The .270 Win, with a 26 inch barrel shooting a sleek 140 grain bullet loaded to original 54,000 pound pressures, is still the original magnum. Cost, availability, and performance make it a champ. But the .264 is very impressive, especially for the handloader. The .270 Win began to lose out when SAAMI arbitrarily reduced its 54,000 pound pressure, hence performance, levels. Older manuals will give higher performance .270 loading data.

    • Paul W.

      Holy cow guys does it really matter what one uses to kill game with ? As long as you hit what you shoot for. Knowing your weapon is what it’s all about. My .264 win mag has done all what I asked it to do and so has my .17 hmr. It’s not the weapon as much as it is the shooter. It dosn’t matter what you shoot as long you shoot

  • 277Volt

    Thanks for the great article. I’ve always had a soft spot for the .264 and it always struck me as the 10mm Auto of the rifle world. I have an uncle that has a Westerner in .264 and I’ve yet to talk him out of it but not for lack of trying. Seems to me the .264 would be a dandy for those long shots at Coues Deer here in southern AZ.

    • JvB

      My pleasure, 277Volt. The 10mm Auto comparison is a great analogy… Keep working on that uncle. My old shooting mentor has a Pre-64 Winchester M70 Super Grade in .300 H&H that I’ve been lusting after for years…

      • 277Volt

        Boy howdy getting your hands on that Pre ’64 Super Grade would be amazing. I wonder how many shooters of contemporary .30 magnums realize how the H&H paved the way.

  • ElderAmbassador

    I have to say, I too like the 10mm and have one by the bed. My Brother likes the .40 S(hort) & W(eak) but I told him I prefer the real thing.

    I still do NOT have a .264 Mag even though I love that diameter. I’ve got the 6.5 Swede in both military Mauser and in a Winchester, but I’ve just never run across a .264. I will someday, though!

  • petru sova

    As usual the idiots that market cartridges have not got a clue as to which barrel twist or length to use. The .264 when made with a shorter 24 inch barrel does not have much over the standard .270 Winchester and the .264 is a real barrel burner to boot which can be toast in as little as 2,000 rounds of fire as opposed to the .270 that can go up to 6,000 rounds. The .264 is often found with the wrong barrel twist to boot as the only real excuse for this cartridge is with the long 160 grain bullets that have never been plentiful. Hornady is about the only U.S. manufacturer that makes a heavy 160 grain bullet which is an inefficient round nose shape and some foreign makers supply 160 grain pills. This is the bullet that makes the .264 shine as it can and has killed even elephants with its tremendous penetration that eclipse the 7mm magnums. All this of course was and still is unknown to gun writers who never bothered to read the likes of Agnes Herbert who in 1900 used a 6.5 Mannlicher at 2,300 fps with a 160 grain bullet in Africa, Russia and Alaska. She taught people to shoot with both eyes open when the gun writers of the era were telling them to shoot with one eye closed and only use big bore rifles on everything including vicious charging barn mice. Agnes stated the gun writers of the era often did not know what they were talking about. Nothing much has changed in that regard over 100 years later.

    • donlaw

      Most writers have only read what they see or read and copy and have never loaded or shot the weapon in question.

  • Bigbore458

    The guys that criticize the grand ole .264 win.mag. have never shot one! For a handloading gun crank like me, it’s a great long range wonder. I have probably shot over 500 woodchucks with 85 gr. sierras screaming out the barrel at around 3750-3800 fps. This load shoots like a laser beam out to 400 yds. and if the chuck is standing at 500 yds. I just hold 3 or 4″ over its head and vaporize em. For deer and antelope it has an advantage of heavier bullets than the .257 weatherby and less recoil than the 7mm mags. Burn out barrels? That can be accomplished with any smallbore magnum in short order if you don`t let the barrel cool between shots. Besides, they make new barrels everyday. Keep the barrel cool and clean it with a good copper solvent and bronze brush when your groups start to open up and that .264 win.mag. will out live most mortals.

  • Ragnar

    I had a .264 Win Mag in a Winchester Model 70 Featherweight when I was in high school. I was not able to manage the recoil it produced, but the rifle was accurate. It was just darned unpleasant to shoot. As a mature adult, I have put lots of rounds through my .375 H&H, and it does not come close to the recoil I remember from the .264WM. My .458WM, now, that’s another story.

  • REED F. POND

    My 1st Magnum I hand loaded for was the 264 Winchester Magnum Model 70 Westerner with a B&L 3×9 in a Buhler mount that had the windage and elevation adjustments in the mount, as the scope had no turrets at all!
    It was a hold on hair, hit on hair all the way out there!
    Winchester was putting 2 diameter bullets in the factory ammunition. The front bearing surface rode the top of the lands; while the portion inside the case was .264 caliber!
    Back then we could not get Winchester bullets in any caliber here in Vermont, or any where else either!
    When I used Speer, Hornady, Sisk, or Bushnell’s .264 bullets; the primers were flattened severely! That barrel had a very short throat in the chamber. When I checked the mouth of the case on a once fired factory case had less than a .1 of an inch to the rifling! NO FREEBORE AT ALL!!!
    At least I could buy factory ammo for my .264 Win Mag in my home town. If I wanted factory ammo for my .257 Weatherby Mag I had to go to the county seat or Burlington the only other place where the stores stocked the Weatherby ammo!
    But that .264 Win Mag could kill the deer and bears deader than a door nail!
    It was my first big game rifle that could shoot into an inch or less at 100 yards, when I took my time with each shot.

  • ted_walpole

    All you have to do is go to ballistics at the Remington website and go to ballistics and it will straighten you out about the 264 Win Mag

  • Nick Lansing

    My uncle lent me his .264 Remington when I started hunting whitetail. It is a fantastic caliber. Flat, fast and hard hitting. No deer went further than 20 yards after a hit.

    The only concern is availability of ammo. Only 2 stores in northern MN and WI stock .264 Win Mag. A third has it occasionally. Selections are small, dusty and expensive. I recall the caliber being unavailable anywhere one season, maybe ’08 or ’09.

    The caliber was a ridiculous choice for my deer hunt. We’re in thick northern MN pine forests where my longest shot is 100 yds. I’m shooting a Thompson Center .50 muzzleloader now. But I knew the .264 would go exactly where I aimed which is comforting when surrounded by spruce swamps and rocky ridges. My uncle was happy having his old rifle in the forest for a few seasons. I was happy handing him venison and spent brass when returning the rifle.

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