Cartridge Debate: .375 Ruger vs. .375 H&H Magnum

The .375 H&H Magnum has long been extremely popular among guides in Alaska, but on my last two hunts there—one for grizzly, the other for moose in grizzly country—my guides carried Ruger Model 77 Alaskan rifles in .375 Ruger. And though it is not likely to entirely replace the .375 H&H, the Ruger cartridge is catching on.

I think the .375 Ruger's popularity among Alaskan guides has more to do with the rifles in which it has been available than with the cartridge itself. Its effectiveness on game is just as good as that of the .375 H&H, but rifle options for the two have diverted.

Most rifles in .375 H&H have nicely blued barreled actions and walnut stocks, and the traditional barrel length is 23 to 24 inches. They have always been that way because the grand old cartridge is used in Africa more than anywhere else in the world, and most of us who hunt there prefer the classical look of nice wood and blued steel and barrels of standard lengths.

The .375 Ruger was introduced in the African variant of the Ruger Model 77 Hawkeye. American walnut, blued steel, extremely rugged open sights, front sling swivel out on the barrel—it looks, handles, and feels the way a rifle for Africa should. But from the very beginning, the .375 Ruger also has been offered in a down-and-dirty, no-nonsense rifle capable of withstanding the hard knocks and terrible weather of places like Alaska. In 2008 it became available in the Model 77 Alaskan with a synthetic stock and a 20-inch barrel. That one was replaced in 2013 by the Guide Gun, which has a laminated wood stock, stainless-steel barreled action, and Ruger's detachable muzzle brake system.

Some bear guides in Alaska are fond of compact rifles because they weigh less and are more maneuverable in alder thickets than rifles with long barrels. Those guys also demand low-maintenance rifles capable of going an entire season without being cleaned, dried off, or pampered. No factory rifle fitting that description is available in .375 H&H, so their searches for new backup rifles over the past few years have often ended at stores selling the Ruger Alaskan and Guide Gun rifles.

Ruger Vs. H&H

Hornady engineers did a good job of making the .375 Ruger case short enough to work in the standard-length Ruger Model 77 Hawkeye action while at the same time giving it enough girth to increase capacity a bit beyond that of the .375 H&H case. To avoid exceeding the required maximum overall cartridge length of 3.340 inches, bullets have to be seated quite deeply into the case. Doing so displaces a great deal of powder space, but because gross capacity of the .375 Ruger case is slightly greater than that of the .375 H&H case, net, or usable, capacity of the two are close to the same. For that reason, velocities of the two cartridges are about the same.

This is clearly illustrated in the Nosler Reloading Guide 7. When the 300-grain Partition was loaded to overall cartridge lengths of 3.550 inches in Nosler .375 H&H cases and 3.300 inches in Hornady .375 Ruger cases, there was only 2 grains difference in net water capacity in favor of the latter. Had Hornady cases been used for both cartridges, the difference might have been even less. Regardless, the minor difference in usable capacity between the two cartridges has an insignificant effect on velocities when both are loaded to the same chamber pressure. Maximum velocities listed in the Nosler manual for the 300-grain Partition are 2,600 fps for the .375 H&H and 2,715 fps for the .375 Ruger, with much of the velocity difference due to a 2-inch-longer test barrel used with the Ruger cartridge.

The .375 H&H has long had a reputation for excellent accuracy, and from what I see, the .375 Ruger is a chip off the old block in that respect. The African and Guide Gun rifles I have will shoot about any load inside 2.0 inches. Groups fired with Hornady Superformance ammo loaded with the new 250-grain GMX often measure less than 1.0 inch.

Due to its mildly tapered case, the .375 H&H feeds from magazine to chamber a bit more smoothly than the .375 Ruger, but the difference would go unnoticed during a follow-up shot on brown bear or Cape buffalo. With its chamber loaded, my Model 77 Magnum holds five .375 H&H cartridges, and the African and Guide Gun in .375 Ruger hold four.

An advantage the H&H cartridge has over the Ruger cartridge is the availability of ammunition. Just about every ammo company in the world loads the .375 H&H, but as far as I know, only Hornady and ProGrade offer the .375 Ruger. Hornady Superformance loadings are 250-grain GMX at 2,900 fps, 270-grain softpoint at 2,840 fps, and two loads with 300-grain DGS and DGX bullets at 2,660 fps. In its Hunting Grade and Safari Grade lines, ProGrade offers 11 different loads, ranging from the Barnes 235-grain TSX at 2,950 fps to the 350-grain Woodleigh at 2,300 fps.

Hornady offers six different loadings of the .375 H&H, three Superformance and three standard velocity. The Superformance options pretty much duplicate the .375 Ruger loadings: 250-grain GMX at 2,890 fps, 270-grain softpoint at 2,800 fps, and 300-grain DGS at 2,670 fps.

Then we have the important matter of ammunition availability outside the United States. While .375 Ruger ammo is likely to be seen in gunshops and hunting camps in Alaska, and perhaps other places in the U.S., the same does not hold true in other countries, especially those on the African continent. Hunters customarily leave behind ammunition left over from a hunt, and for this reason every PH in Africa usually has a supply of cartridges, many of which will be .375 Holland & Holland. The fellow you hunt with may not have your favorite load on hand, but he will likely have something to shoot in your rifle.

With that said (along with a big knock on wood), I will have to add that of the many hunts in various parts of the world I have been on through the decades, only one time have I arrived at my destination to discover with dismay that the airline had sent the duffle bag containing my ammunition elsewhere. TSA now allows ammo to be packed in the same case as the rifle, so if one arrives, then the other is likely to as well.

The .375 H&H has been around for more than 100 years, and during most of that time it's been extremely popular among hunters who go to Africa and among professional hunters there as well. But based on what I witnessed with my guides in Alaska, the growing trend there is to go with the .375 Ruger.

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