Pros & Cons of the .300 Magnums
April 11, 2011
Here's an objective look at the vaunted .30-caliber magnums.
Regardless of whether the .300 magnum you choose is old, new, short, long, fat, skinny, belted, or beltless, you are in good company. Left to Right: .300 H&H Magnum, .30 Newton, .300 Weatherby Magnum, .308 Norma Magnum, .300 Winchester Magnum, .300 WSM, .300 Remington SAUM, .300 Remington Ultra Mag, .30-378 Weatherby Magnum
When it comes to magnum cartridges of .30 caliber, there seems to be no middle ground among hunters. Some consider them just the ticket for everything that walks, crawls, slithers, flies, and has a leg on each corner. Others consider them too much for deer and not as good as cartridges of larger calibers on larger game. I believe more experienced hunters will agree that the question is too complicated for such simple answers, and accurate conclusions can be made only after a close look at a few details.
While it is true that a .300 magnum is a bit much for bumping off a skinny, little, 100-pound southern whitetail deer at ranges we commonly find in thickly forested country, try telling that to hunters who head to Alberta, Canada, where a buck can push 400 pounds on the hoof and the only shot you get after a week of freezing your fanny off may be 400 yards or farther in a strong sidewind. I have been there on more than one occasion, so believe me when I say magnum cartridges excel for that type of shooting, and those of .30 caliber are among the best. Moving to heavier game, I have taken a very large pile of elk and moose with a number of cartridges ranging in calibers from .270 to .416, and I'll just be darned if I can see that anything kills either any deader or more quickly than a .300 magnum loaded with the right bullet.
As for the few animals in North America that may decide to shoot back, I have taken two Alaska brown bear, one with the .300 Remington Ultra Mag, the other with the .358 Shooting Times Alaskan. Both died very quickly. Even so, I do not consider any .300 magnum to be the ultimate brown bear cartridge. They are fine when squeezing the trigger on a bear in an open area, where a follow-up shot can be taken if necessary before the animal makes it to heavy brush. I have never been faced with the unpleasant task of going into the thick stuff to finish off a wounded bear, but if it ever happens, I would want to be shooting a heavier bullet of larger caliber.
On more than one occasion I have stalked along streams meandering through thick woods and alder thickets, and their banks were littered with the fresh carcasses of salmon partially eaten by bears. Tracks were so fresh I could have sworn they were still smoking. Under those conditions, one shot at a bruin is all you will likely get, and it had better be a good one. For that, I believe one of the .338-caliber magnums is better than any .30, and a .35 might be a tad better still. I actually prefer the .375 H&H
Introduced in 1925, the .300 H&H is the oldest of the .300 magnums, but it's still one of the best.
Magnum and would not whimper a bit if the rifle I carry is chambered for one of the .416s from Remington, Weatherby, or Rigby. When hunting brown bear in really thick country, one of the most comforting things you can have on your team is a rifle with a very large hole down the center of its barrel and a magazine full of big, fat, heavy bullets.
Hunters and shooting enthusiasts tend to get excited with the introduction of each new cartridge, and I am usually near the head of the pack. The latest breed of .30-caliber magnums with no belts in both full-length and abbreviated form has prompted a lot of dancing in the streets, and a number of claims have been made about them. Perhaps it is time we sift through the rumors and seek out a fact or two.
The author has taken a lot of big game, including Alaska brown bear, with the Remington Model 700 in .300 Ultra Mag, and he likes both the rifle and the cartridge.
The belted case was a British idea that originated with the .400/375 Belted Nitro Express in 1905, and it was later used in the development of the .375 H&H and .300 H&H Magnums. Since the .400/375 and .375 H&H cases have virtually no shoulder and the shoulder of the .300 H&H is long and mildly tapered, the British figured all needed a belt for positive headspacing, and they were right. Magnum-size cartridges, such as those developed during the early part of the 20th century by Charles Newton, were exceptions, but other magnums that came along after the 1920s had belts on their cases. While the belt was unnecessary on most of those cartridges, it spelled high performance to many hunters, and for that reason it sold lots of rifles and ammunition through the years. Then came a new breed of magnum cartridges without a belt, and suddenly that little band of brass just forward of the extraction groove of a case had more critics than Michael Moore at a soap-makers convention.
While I agree that the belted case outlived its useful life almost a century ago, I am just as quick to add that I have absolutely no objection to a cartridge having one. I have been using rifles chambered for belted cartridges since the 1960s, and not once have I discovered anything to complain about. I am not alone with this opinion. Just ask a few brown bear guides in Alaska what they think of the .338 Winchester Magnum and the .375 H&H Magnum, and their answers will likely be quite positive. You will also get the same response from professional hunters in Africa who have long been, and probably always will be, extremely fond of the .375 H&H Magnum as well as another belted number called the .458 Winchester Magnum. I am saying all this to say that whether or not a cartridge has a belt on its case is of no importance. Like a faithful old hunting dog that has become too old for the chase, it is not actually needed anymore, but keeping it around doesn't hurt anything either.
The short and fat .300 magnums are no better than other magnums of the same caliber, but the author likes them because by working in a short action, they help trim ounces from lightweight rifles like the Browning A-Bolt Mountain Ti in .300 WSM (top) and the Remington Mode
l Seven in .300 SAUM (below).
We have also been given several reasons why one of the new breed of super-short magnum .30 cartridges is the thing to have, while long, slim .30 magnums are out of style. One argument in favor of the super-stubbies is their greater efficiency. A look at the efficiency comparison chart on page 56 backs up that opinion with fact, but are the differences enough to really matter? As you can see, when the maximum loads of five .300 magnum cartridges listed in six reloading manuals were compared, the .300 WSM produced an average of 45 fps in velocity for each grain of powder used. Closest to it in propellant stinginess is the .300 H&H Magnum at 43 fps, while the .300 Winchester Magnum averaged 41 fps. Looking at it another way, when the three cartridges are loaded to maximum velocities with 180-grain bullets, the .300 WSM burns an average of 3 grains less powder than the .300 H&H and 5 grains less than the .300 Win. Mag.
My trusty calculator tells me that it takes a pound more powder to load 2,300 rounds of .300 H&H
Magnum cartridges than for the same number of .300 WSM cartridges. For the .300 Win. Mag., an additional pound of powder is required for each 1,400 rounds loaded. Whether or not the slightly better efficiency of the .300 WSM is worth more than a hill of beans depends on how many rounds are loaded each year. It obviously can be quite important to an ammunition manufacturer who loads thousands of rounds annually, but far less so to the hunter who loads only a few rounds for his deer rifle each year. In other words, only the individual handloader can decide if the difference in efficiency is enough to make him choose one cartridge over the other.
Truth of the matter is, most hunters who choose a magnum cartridge want the highest performance available and few think twice about cartridge efficiency. And when it comes to delivering a deadly blow to a target standing way out yonder, case capacity wins out over case efficiency every time. As can be seen in the maximum velocity comparison chart, the 85-year-old .300 H&H Magnum sends a 180-grain bullet on its way about as fast as the .300 WSM, and the .300 Win. Mag. is a bit faster than those two. As magnum cartridges of .30 caliber go, .300 Weatherby performance is awfully hard to beat, and cartridges such as the .300 Remington Ultra Mag and .30-378 Weatherby Magnum are a bit more of the same.
Any of the .300 magnums is an excellent choice for all North American game.
Then we have the matter of recoil. Our perception of recoil is influenced by many things, including the shape of a riflestock and how well its pad soaks it up, but if the various .30-caliber magnums are fired in identical rifles, some are more comfortable to shoot than the others under certain circumstances. As illustrated in the recoil comparison chart, there is very little difference in recoil between the .300 H&H Magnum, .300 WSM, and .300 Win. Mag., but it starts to increase as we move up to the faster .300 Weatherby Magnum. We then have a substantial jump between that cartridge and the .300 Remington Ultra Mag. Do recoil energy figures on paper accurately equate to actually shooting those cartridges? At the benchrest, I find the .300 H&H and .300 WSM a tad more comfortable to shoot, and while the .300 Win. Mag. and .300 Weatherby do kick a bit more, those two feel about the same to my shoulder. I can really tell a difference when switching to the .300 Ultra Mag. On the other hand, when shooting game in the field, I am never conscious of a rifle's kick, and for that reason all .300 magnum cartridges feel the same.
Promoters of short and stubby .300 magnum cartridges seldom fail to mention that since the 6mm PPC is also short and stubby, they have to be incredibly accurate as well. The 6mm PPC wins most benchrest matches today simply because it is the cartridge most benchrest shooters shoot. Those guys switched from the long and slim .222 Remington to the short and fat 6mm PPC not necessarily because it was more accurate, but because they wanted to move up to 6mm, and the PPC proved to be the best cartridge of that caliber available. In addition to being easy to work with, the 6mm PPC is incredibly accurate, but had benchresters stayed with the .222 Rem., they would still be setting new accuracy records simply because actions, barrels, bullets, powders, and shooters have continued to improve through the years. I know of at least one record set decades ago by a competitor using a rifle in .222 Rem. that has yet to be beaten by the 6mm PPC.
If someone eventually proves me wrong and a .30-caliber magnum on a short, stubby case actually is slightly more accurate than one on a long, slim case, the difference will be so slight that only benchrest rifles will be able to prove it on paper. Hunting rifles, even those capable of half-MOA accuracy would never know which cartridge they are chambered for.
While writing this I posed the following question to a well-known gunsmith who builds big-game rifles capable of shooting three bullets inside half an inch at 100 yards: "If a customer were to ask you to build the most accurate rifle possible in .300 magnum and left the cartridge choice up to you, which would you choose?" I was not surprised when he said he would rather leave the choice to his customer since he is capable of building a half-MOA big-game rifle chambered for any magnum cartridge ranging from the .300 WSM to the .30-378 Weatherby Magnum. Riflemen who shoot competitively at extreme distances know a lot about accuracy, and if cartridges like the .300 SAUM and .300 WSM were more accurate than the others, you can bet those guys would be using one. Instead, most who shoot a magnum cartridge continue to stick with the .300 Win. Mag.
By now you are probably thinking I absolutely despise short and fat magnum cartridges, but nothing could be further from the truth. I think they are a wonderful idea, and I believe there is plenty of room in the hunting scheme of things for each and every one of them. But I do not for one minute think they have made other .300 magnums obsolete. The .300 WSM has become one of my favorite cartridges--not because it is better than the others, but because it works in a short action. Using a short action sheds ounces from a rifle, and that's important when climbing a mountain steep enough to make you think each ounce you are carrying seems to weigh at least a pound. The .300 WSM is why my Browning A-Bolt Mountain Ti weighs the same as a rifle in .308 Winchester but equals the .300 Win. Mag. in performance. The .300 SAUM is why my Remington Model Seven feels like a .308 but hits like a .300 H&H.
That alone makes super-stubby magnums worthwhile.
Bottom line is, you are in good company regardless of which .300 magnum you choose.
NOTES and WARNING: All load data should be used with caution. Always start with reduced loads first and make sure they are safe in each of your guns before proceeding to the high test loads listed. Since Shooting Times has no control over your choice of components, guns, or actual loadings, neither Shooting Times/InterMedia Outdoors nor the various firearms and components manufacturers assume any responsibility for the use of this data.