July 25, 2018
By Layne Simpson
Remington has domesticated more wildcat cartridges than any other company. The 7mm-08 is one of them. Announced in late 1979, it became available in two rifles in 1980. One was the Model 700 Varmint Special with a 24-inch heavy barrel. At the time the 7mm-308 wildcat was popular among metallic silhouette competitors, and many of their custom rifles were heavy-barrel jobs on Model 700 actions. The Varmint Special was aimed at that segment of the market. The other rifle, the one of greater interest to me at the time, was the Model 788. The first 788s in 7mm-08 had 18.5-inch barrels, and I got one fresh off the production line.
The first factory ammo introduced by Remington was loaded with Hornady 120-grain hollowpoint and 139-grain softnose Spitzer bullets at advertised velocities of 3,000 fps and 2,860 fps. Bullet weight for the latter was said to be 140 grains, but anyone with good eyesight and a powder scale could easily identify it as the 139-grain Hornady. As a deer hunter, I had no interest in the 120-grain load because its thin jacket was designed for use on varmints, but the heavier load exited the 18.5-inch barrel of my 788 at an average of 2,816 fps. From the 24-inch barrel of a Varmint Special, it clocked an incredible 2,948 fps.
Here's the interesting part of the story. At the time, the lightest bullet loaded by Remington in the .280 Remington was 150 grains, and it averaged only 2,745 fps from the 24-inch barrel of a custom rifle on the '98 Mauser action. Remington was obviously loading the 7mm-08 to much higher chamber pressures. That first lot of 139-grain ammunition was actually a bit faster than some .270 Winchester factory ammo loaded with a 130-grain bullet.
Remington eventually backed off on the throttle quite a bit. I never got around to chronographing the 120-grain load, but when checked during the early 1990s, the 139-grain recipe had slowed down to an average of 2,864 fps from a 24-inch barrel. It lagged almost 100 fps behind the first batch of ammo I received during early 1980. Today it's even slower.
The 7mm-08 is best described as a short-action version of the grand old 7x57mm Mauser. Capacities of cases from various makers vary slightly, but on average, the 7x57 holds three to four grains more water. This may not sound like a lot, but the difference is about the same as with the .280 Rem. and the .280 Ackley Improved. The 7x57 is slower because SAAMI maximum pressure for it is only 46,000 CUP versus 52,000 CUP for the 7mm-08. When both are loaded to the same chamber pressure and fired in modern rifles with barrels of the same length, the old Mauser cartridge is about 100 fps faster.
Through the years I have taken quite a few deer with the 7x57mm Mauser, but I have taken far more with the 7mm-08. One of my most enjoyable hunts was for blacktail deer on the Queen Charlotte Islands off the coast of British Columbia. The rifle I used was the very first Model Seven KS built by Remington's Custom Shop. I still have it, and it has also accounted for a couple of black bears. All rifles used in the past had 18.5-inch barrels, so when Nosler began offering the 7mm-08 in the Model 48 rifle with a fairly light 24-inch barrel, I was curious about how much faster it would push bullets of various weights. The differences are illustrated in an accompanying chart.
For several years I used a handload with the Speer 130-grain Spitzer because it exited a short barrel about 100 fps faster than a 140-grain bullet. My two Model Sevens were more accurate with the flatbase version, while my Model 788 preferred the boattail. I later switched to the Nosler 120-grain Ballistic Tip because it was equally accurate and could be safely pushed about 200 fps faster than a bullet weighing 140 grains, or at about the same velocity as a 140-grain bullet from a 24-inch barrel.
Some hunters mistakenly believe those two bullets were designed for use on varmints, but the ghosts of many deer would disagree. The Speer bullet expands nicely on deer, and penetration leaves nothing to be desired. The jacket of the 120-grain Ballistic Tip is actually a bit thicker than for its 140-grain mate, and it also offers plenty of penetration. Those were used on deer, but when hunting black bear, I moved up to heavier bullets.
Nosler's 7mm-08 Model 48 Liberty Rifle
While preparing for a 2017 mule deer hunt in northern Utah, I rounded up a Nosler Model 48 Liberty in 7mm-08 and attached a Zeiss 4-12X scope with a Talley mount. Four cartridges and a lightweight nylon carrying sling brought its weight to 8 pounds, 6 ounces.
The Liberty variation of the Nosler Model 48 rifle was introduced in 2014, and it is available in short and long action lengths. The action and barrel wear a black Cerakote coating with an attractive matte finish. Like all rifles built by Nosler, it comes with a sub-MOA accuracy guarantee for three shots with "prescribed Nosler ammunition."
For those who are not familiar with the Model 48 action, its bolt is a two-lug design with its release button located on the left-hand side of the receiver bridge. The face of the bolt is deeply counterbored with its wall interrupted for the passage of a Sako-style extractor. As is typical of push-feed actions, case ejection is accomplished by the nose of a spring-loaded rod protruding from the face of the bolt. The body of the bolt has shallow flutes and measures 0.685 inch in diameter. Bolt travel for the short action featured in this report is just under 4 inches. Travel is quite smooth with wobble reduced to a minimum by the engagement of a groove in the right-side locking lug with a track in the receiver. Inside the bolt, its firing pin and spring are coated with MicroSlick, a dry lubricant that reduces friction and wear while preventing corrosion. Unaffected by temperatures as high as 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit, it is commonly used to lubricate piston skirts, cylinder bushings, crank shafts, and other parts of automobile engines.
In the unlikely event of a blown case, propellant gas and debris are diverted into the magazine by two large openings at the bottom of the bolt. Any gas traveling back between the bolt and the left side of the receiver wall should be deflected away from the shooter by a shallow flange on the side of the bolt shroud. Protrusion of the cocking piece through the rear of the bolt shroud indicates a cocked firing pin. A rocker-style, two-position safety lever located just behind the bolt blocks the trigger. The bolt can be rotated for loading and unloading the chamber with the safety engaged.
The bottom of the receiver is flat while facets machined into its sides at the top trim away ounces and add a nice touch. The shape and heights of the receiver bridge and ring along with holes drilled and tapped with the proper spacing allow the use of any scope mount made for the Remington Model 700. The recoil lug is integral with the receiver.
Bottom metal is aluminum, replete with straddle-style hinged floorplate and a release button located at the front of the trigger guard. The release works fine, but I'd rather see it on the inside of the guard. The internal magazine holds five cartridges in staggered positions and is plenty long enough for short cartridges like the 7mm-08. Overall length for a couple of my handloads was 2.840 inches, and they traveled from magazine to chamber without a hitch.
Creep and overtravel were totally absent from the fully adjustable Timney trigger. Pull weight from the factory averaged 3 pounds, 3 ounces on a Lyman scale with a variation of 6 ounces. Its smoothness made the trigger feel much lighter, so I did not adjust it prior to hunting with the rifle.
The Bell & Carlson stock has a Whelen-style cheekrest and is constructed of Aramid fiber-reinforced fiberglass composite. Hand-laying the material into a mold makes the stock stronger and more rigid than a less-expensive injection-molded stock, but it is a bit heavier. Replete with a Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad and a pair of quick-detach sling-swivel posts, the stock weighs 2 pounds, 2 ounces with several of those ounces added by a full-length aluminum bedding block. The finish is gray with black accent webbing. A thinner grip would be better, but otherwise the stock needs no improvement.
After several handloads and factory loads were tried, Nosler ammunition loaded with the 140-grain Ballistic Tip emerged as the most accurate, with three-shot groups averaging 0.52 inch at 100 yards and 2.23 inches at 300 yards. Velocity from the 24-inch barrel averaged 2,816 fps. Zeroed 3 inches high at 100 yards, bullet impact at 300 yards was 5 inches below point of aim and 15 inches low at 400 yards. Residual energy at the longer distance was around 1,350 ft-lbs. My handload with that bullet was about as accurate at 100 yards, but for reasons I have yet to figure out, the average group size was considerably larger at 300 yards.
The 7mm-08 is often thought of as best suited for use on deer, and for the most part, that's how I have used it through the years. But when loaded with the right bullet and used at ethical distances, it will handle larger game with aplomb. An Alaskan guide I once hunted with has used a rifle in 7mm-08 to bump off more moose than most of us will ever see. His favorite handload with the Nosler 175-grain Partition is included in the accuracy chart except he uses regular H4831, and I chose the Short Cut version for its higher density. While hunting elk in Utah with a friend, I watched him bag a magnificent bull at just over 300 yards. His handload pushed the Swift 140-grain A-Frame along at 2,800 fps.
Some First-Rate Powders for the 7mm-08
There is an abundance of suitable powders for use in 7mm-08 handloads. For many years H414 was my favorite behind 120-, 130-, and 140-grain bullets, and it along with W760, which is the same powder with a different name, now share the top slot on my preference list. As more modern powders go, CFE 223 is equally good with bullets of those weights. H4350, IMR 4350, and IMR 4451 also work fine, although charge compression is quite heavy, so they are better matched up with heavier bullets. When loading those weighing 160 and 175 grains, Hybrid 100V, Reloder 19, Hunter, VihtaVuori N160, and good old faithful H4831 are hard to beat. Spherical powders are more difficult to ignite than stick powders, and the colder the temperature is during a hunt, the more stubborn they become. Switching to a magnum primer in loads for cold-weather hunting is a good idea.
Before leaving the subject of powders, I must point out that discrepancies in various reloading manuals for maximum loads of H414 in the 7mm-08 remind us of the importance of beginning with a recommended start load and carefully working toward maximum. The Hodgdon Annual Manual has maximums of 46.0 grains for a 140-grain bullet and 46.5 grains for a 150-grain bullet. That's not a misprint- half a grain more powder for a bullet weighing an additional 10 grains. Maximums in the Hornady manual are 49.9 grains for various 139-grain bullets and 48.3 grains for those weighing 154 grains. That's almost four grains more for a 139-grain bullet than Hodgdon shows for a bullet weighing only one grain more. Nosler shows 46.0 grains as maximum for 140- and 150-grain bullets. So who is right? They all are for their lots of components in their pressure barrels and under their ambient conditions.
Any way you look at it, the 7mm-08 is a great little cartridge. It delivers excellent accuracy from an accurate rifle and generates all the power most hunters need for most of the hunting they do. There are too many factory loads to count, and those who are sensitive to recoil find it quite comfortable to shoot. Handloaders love it because it loves many different powders and is quite stingy about using them. There are more glamorous big-game cartridges on both sides of its performance range but the 7mm-08 has been handling many jobs quite well for the past 35 hunting seasons and will continue doing so for many years to come.