Tag Archives: Rifle Cartridges

The 6 best cartridges you are not using.

More than in any other industry, merit has nothing to do with success.   Especially when it comes to Cartridges.  Here’s my The 6 Best Cartridges that you are not using:


#6.  .338 Federal.  By simply taking a .308 case and blowing it out to .338 Diameter, Federal created something very special.  .338 projectiles are very naturally stable and aerodynamically slippery.  They retain a great amount of accuracy and impact energy at long range… all while operating in a non-magnum, short action.   A little more “push” than a .308, it’s kick isn’t as “sharp”.     This is a fantastic cartridge, and one that would do especially well in a suppressed AR-10 platform.  Think about that for a bit.  Big Bore, without big recoil.  Going bigger than .338 you start to get Nerf-like trajectories.   This is pretty much that Sweet Spot for bullet diameter and weight, while still being able to reach out there and smack something down.  A friend of mine took an elk with a .338 Federal at 600 yards.  Dropped it like it was pole-axed.  When he opened the Elk up he described the heart tissue was like “pudding”.

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#5.   .280 Remington.  Also known as the 7mm Remington Express.  Same cartridge, different name, because of “Marketing”.   This is basically a .30-06 necked down to 7mm/.284 diameter.  This is giving you better exterior ballistics than your .30-06, and more terminal effect at long range, with about the same felt recoil as your regular old .30-06.  And you are not giving up as much bullet weight as you are with .270.   It’s the perfect balance.   But too many guys have never even heard of it.   It’s not their fault though… There’s been a great deal of cartridges based on the .30-06 case, but the .280 Remington is probably the best of them.


#4.  .35 Remington.  What everyone considers a Lever Action cartridge, this one came out in 1906 and was first chambered in a Semi Auto hunting rifle.   It wasn’t until 1950 that Marlin finally chambered their new 336 rifle in .35 Remington.    This is a good upgrade over the .30-30, which has bullets typically from 150 grains to 170 grains… The .35 Remington has bullets typically from 180 grains to 220 grains, yet offers a similar trajectory to the .30-30.  So shooters of the .30-30 can pick up the Big Brother and will be able to make good hits right out of the gate.  There is a bit more felt recoil though.  More Push but it’s not a sharp or unpleasant kick.  It’s really quite moderate with velocities around 2100 to 2200 FPS.  Like the .30-30 it’s, good out to about 400 yards, but is far more capable at harvesting larger game.   It’s been referred to as Bear Medicine in Appalachia… referring to Black Bear.  And for that purpose, it’s probably ideal.  Especially in a light and handy Lever Action rifle.


#3. 7mm-08.  By necking down the .308 case to .284″ you get pure magic that hasn’t really been explored enough.  That 7mm slipstream is far superior to .30 caliber… Allowing for improved long range results.  The only problem though is that while the 7mm-08’s projectile is smaller and lighter, it’s not as fast at the muzzle because the longer bullet is taking up more internal case volume.   Because of this, it gets dismissed off hand by most shooters that take a cursory glance at it.   It’s ideal for small framed shooters who don’t want recoil and don’t want to go down to .243.


#2.  .257 Roberts.   It was popular in years prior and is now in a rather deep decline.  I was in Cabella’s the other day and mentioned .257 Bob and the guy had no idea what I was talking about.   The Twenty Five Bob is based on the 7x57mm Mauser cartridge, necking it down to a Quarter Bore.  The result is an accurate, flat shooting cartridge that gives very little recoil in return.  I’ve seen guys shooting .257 Roberts at over 4000 FPS…. Exploding prairie dogs like grenades.  And the cartridge can handle more typical 100 and 117 grain hunting projectiles at 3000 to 3500 FPS.   Smoking hotness.  More so than the more common/popular .25-06.



#1.  .357 SIG.  One of the more misunderstood loads out there.   By taking a .40 cal case and necking it down to 9mm, SIG and Federal worked together to give you a cartridge that’s pushing that 9mm sized projectile about 200 FPS faster than the standard Luger/Para loads.

Now, it’s not really a .40 case, as it’s made with thicker walls to help withstand about 5,000 PSI higher in pressure than the .40.   It’s often compared to the .357 Magnum – which is just an unfair comparison.  You are not getting the heavier 158 grain projectile options out there.  And it’s not really a 9mm as .357 SIG projectiles are more bluntly shaped than those for the Luger/Para loadings.  It’s really it’s own little beast.  Most common commercial loads are loaded down from peak performance, as ammo makers want to make sure that the projectiles stop within the FBI recommended 13 to 18 inches of Gel.

This reminds me of how Porsche down tuned the Cayman.  The Cayman was priced exactly between the entry level Boxster and the high end 911 sports car.  It’s performance was also tuned to be exactly in between the Boxster and 911.  It was the Average because it was Tuned to be Average.   The reality is that you can take the Cayman, tune it to it’s full potential, and it’s going to stomp a mud hole in the higher end 911.   See, the .357 SIG is much the same.  There are loads for the SIG round that exceed 1700 FPS.  Out of a shorter barreled auto pistol barrel, not some 6″ horse pistol.  That is fantastic.


Now lets not just end the conversation with Velocity.  There is more to it than that.   Reliability is another important factor.  A bottle necked cartridge is going to want to feed much easier as you have a smaller peg fitting into a much wider whole.  (this is why no one wanted to come in sloppy seconds after Eightball)  Also having that higher pressure impulse, the ejection is going to be much easier as well.  There will be less case drag as the slide pulls away from the breech, so sticking cases are not going to be a problem like you can get in some 9mm and .40 loads.

Accuracy is where the .357 SIG wins.   In talking with some US AIR MARSHALS, they discussed at length the importance of accuracy.  After Reliability – which was a Pass or Fail for them – Accuracy was their #1 factor.  Accuracy in a Firearm comes from Consistency, and that starts with the Ammunition.  .357 SIG is remarkably consistent, making it naturally accurate.  .45 and .40 are not naturally accurate.  Throwing projectiles shaped more like Pumpkins and little Missiles, it’s quite an achievement that they are as accurate as they are.  9mm has an easier time of it.  .357 SIG though, being accurate isn’t a challenge.  Kenyan that’s running away from a fat kid… it’s just too easy for him because he’s build for it.   Shooting at a full 25 yards, it’s far easier to make your hits with .357 SIG than with .40 cal even with the same gun.    If money wasn’t an object for everyone, I’d suggest getting .357 barrels for all your .40 cal guns and never look back.

The Thirties

One of my least favorite things at the gun shop is when some guy who we don’t know, sends in his wife who we don’t know, to buy some “300”. We don’t know the people, so we don’t know which 300 the guy might have. 300 generally means a .30 Caliber of some sort and well, there are too many common options to just pick one. During hunting season, this happens on a regular basis. So guys, if you do send your girl into town to pick up a box of ammunition – do your wife a favor. Rip off the end tab of your last box of ammo and send that with her so the guys at the gun store know exactly what you need, and we don’t think of you in a less than flattering manner.

Let’s look at some of these 30 cal cartridges. There are 10 different common 30’s. Each one has its own strengths and weaknesses.

The .30-30 Winchester. The Thirty really started as a market success with the .30-30 Winchester. This was the first serious high velocity metallic cartridge using smokeless powder. It was a hot rod back in its day. Shooters were amazed. These days, the .30-30 is often scoffed at by those that don’t get it. Personally, the .30-30 remains a favorite of mine. It’s mild, yet potent enough to take down an elk at 200 yards. Typically it fires bullets from 150 grains to 170 grains, at moderate velocities from 2250 FPS to 2400 FPS. Accuracy is average to pretty good from most rifles. Most of which are lever action rifles with open sights. The best I’ve ever seen a .30-30 do was half inch groups at 100 yards in a rifle that had about 250 bucks worth of gunsmithing to tune it for better accuracy.

The .30-06 Springfield. This is the classic .30 caliber cartridge that America has used all around the world fighting for our freedom. The Aught Six as it as loving called, has fathered more offspring cartridges than anything else. Most notable is the .270 Winchester, which has become the second most popular cartridge according to nationwide sales… but that is another story. The Aught Six fires bullets usually between 150 grains to 200 grains, but there are loads out there going lighter or heavier… I’ve seen them as low as 110 grains and as high as 225 grains. Velocity is high, but remember, this is not a Magnum cartridge. Velocities are typically centered around 2800 FPS. Accuracy is very good, but could be better because the case has a lot of wasted space in it, reducing the efficiency of cartridge and allowing for less consistent powder burn. This cartridge went to war in WWI in our bolt action Springfield 1903 rifles, then into WWII in our M1 Garands, and into Vietnam still in our 1903 Springfields that were accurized and scoped and used as sniper rifles. Because of the shear number of surplus rifles on the market, and because of the almost universal acceptance, use, and general fondness of this cartridge… it has become the Number One cartridge in America for overall sales. Still today, it remains the Top Dog. Every company that makes a rifle, makes one in .30-06. There are those that love it with a passion, and there are those that don’t really like it… but no knowledgeable shooter disrespects it.

The .308 Winchester. After WWII, the M1 Garand was altered and the action was tweaked to fire from a detachable box magazine. This needed a cartridges that was shorter for better feeding. This is where the .308 Winchester came to the spotlight. This gives us almost the same performance of the .30-06, but does so with greater efficiency and thus better overall accuracy. Again, like the Aught Six, the Three’oh’eight fires rounds from 150 grains to 180 grains like most of the .30 cals going on… but does so at about 2700 FPS, which is only about 100 FPS slower than the Aught Six.

The .300 Savage. This one goes back to 1921 and was the first “300”. It was hugely popular for a time, and chambered in Savage’s strange yet good model 99 lever action. It’s a bit shorter than the .308, and milder, pumping out 150 grain loads to a pleasant 2630. You can bump up the loads to 180 grainers, but the speed drops off a bit too much I think. So while it’s a lighter hitter than the .308 and a harder hitter than the .30-30, it occupies a comfortable place in that middle ground. It very well could be the ideal .30 caliber for light carbines. Imagine a Model 7 Remington in this cartridge… that would be great combination. The round is very accurate and just a pleasure to shoot.

The .300 Winchester Magnum. In 1963 gun makers decided to go big in terms of velocities. Winchester hit the home run with the .300 Win Mag, and its the ballistic equivellent of the Mona Lisa. A work of art. And a work by which all other .30 caliber magnums are compared to. It’s powerful and has a strong kick to it, but not too hard as to be punishing. In a full sized rifle, it is quite manageable. You can load a 180 grain bullet up to 3,000 FPS… a dramatic increase in horsepower. People just call this round “The Win Mag” and most everyone knows exactly what you are talking about.

The .300 Remington Ultra Mag. Remington had to do something big, so they came out with the .300 Remington Ultra Mag…. or the .300 RUM as I like to call it. This cranks to the same slug as the .300 Win Mag about 250 to 300 FPS faster and hitting harder by about 600 foot pounds of energy according to typical load data. This cartridge is a dragon slayer. There are some out there that are hotter, like the .30-378 Weatherby magnum, but not by much. If a scope is going to get bucked off a rifle and break mounts and rings – most likely the gun is going to be a .300 RUM. Around where I live, we call these “Elk Cannons” and we sell a ton of them. For long range knock down, this has it. The .300 RUM can body slam an Elk at a thousand yards.

The .300 Winchester Short Magnum. When this one first came out a few years ago, I scoffed at it. “Same ballistics as a .300 Win Mag? What’s the point?” Well, what it gives you is that classic Win Mag power, but it does so with greater accuracy and with about 20% less felt recoil. I set up two rifles exactly the same… Synthetic stocked Weatherby Vanguards, using the same rings and bases I mounted the same scopes on each. The only difference was that one was a Win Mag, the other a Short Mag. The Win Mag kick was tolerable, but after 10 rounds I was done shooting it for the day. I shot a sub 1 inch group with it and it was great. Reaching out with that much crushing power, that is a lot of violence to focus into a inch. Then I shot the Short Mag. I shot a one hole group, and it was actually fun to shoot. Less recoil enough to shoot all day… I ran out of bullets for it. Same speed, greater accuracy, less recoil… this round has no downsides. Marketing didn’t come up with this round like I thought… this is ballistics engineering at its finest.

The .300 Remington Short Action Ultra Mag. Remington wanted to do something in a Short Mag type platform and they came out with the Short Action Ultra Mag… and it flopped. It’s a decent round, just a tick behind the .300 WSM, but it does so in a slightly shorter length, allowing it to be able to be used in .308 length actions. This allows us to make AR-10/SR-25 type rifles that hit like a .300 Win Mag. To me, that makes it a winner. I think this is just about the perfect cartridge for military applications in GPMG’s (General Purpose Machine Guns such as the M-60 and M-240). The US Military wants more power? Here it is. Take our current crop of .308 caliber SR-25 sniper rifles and rebarrel them to .300SAUM… presto. While I think the SAUM has it’s place, it is a commercial flop. The WSM beat it, but I think this is more of a perception matter than performance. People hear “Ultra Mag” and they want a dragon slayer, not just another Win Mag Mirror. I think Hornady could lend a hand and blend some powders and do their alchemy and come up with a Heavy Mag load for the .300 SAUM and it would then enjoy a ballistic advantage… But that is neither here nor there.

The .30 T/C. With the trend for making all things short and chubby, someone had to do it… so TC did. They made a .30-06 Short Mag. This cartridge mirrors the classic .30-06 ballistics. But it is more than that. It does so in a shorter, more efficient case. It’s the same length as the .308 Winchester but a touch chunkier. It is of course more accurate thanks to the greater efficiency. It also does two things that we are going to take as a bonus. It has less felt recoil, and it’s actually faster than the Aught Six by a few FPS, and in some loads up to 100 FPS faster. Not much… and nothing to make me want to run out and buy a new rifle in this caliber. It’s a like a hot handloaded .308, and in my opinion nothing more. TC brags that it’s the first cartridge with the TC head stamp, and that’s fine. Bully for them, but I’m thinking it’s rather un-needed. Now if they had taken this chunk of brass and necked it down to a 7mm, 6.5, or a .25 caliber – maybe we would talk.

The .300 RCM. The RCM stands for Ruger Compact Magnum, and in the same 24 inch barrel, it’s a clone of the .300 WSM. The RCM uses a different powder blend and gets up to speed quicker, meaning it works in shorter 20 inch barrels. I guess that’s nice. For guys guys that want short barreled Magnum rifles… all three of those guys should be happy with the .300 RCM. I have to be honest here, these last two rounds, the .30TC and the .300 RCM… the .30 caliber market is crowded enough and good, proven, classic calibers are being pushed out by these new rounds that do things slightly different. Yes, yes, yes, it’s accurate. But so was the .300 Savage. I don’t see a place for the .300 RCM in the future, and I think the .30T/C is going to die out as well, rather sooner than later. But that’s just my prediction. Who knows. It could really take off like the .300 WSM did. Now, Ruger has a version of this cartridge in .338… the .338 RCM and that has some serious potential there. I like that idea, but in the .300 class, it’s like just another boy band. We’ve heard that tune before and looks the same as the others.

If I was to pick a new .30 caliber round for all around use, I’d pick the .300 WSM. It does everything right, and nothing wrong. As a beer commercial once said, “Tastes Great, Less Filling”.