6 classic rifle cartridges that should be more popular
New rifle cartridges are introduced almost every year in the hope of luring hunters into something fresh, innovative and different. The grass is always greener, isn’t it? New cartridges are exciting, but some old cartridges are also exciting. In fact, some old cartridges are more exciting than some of the new ones. Some cartridge hunters who think of themselves as relics need a second chance to prove their worth to a new breed of shooters, shooters looking for that little bit of ballistic advantage to putting meat in the freezer and antlers on the wall. Here are six cartridges that need that second chance, some are almost ancient and some may not even be as old as you.
1. .264 Winchester Magnum: The Creedmoor Killer
The 6.5 × 55 has been with us since 1891. The .264 Winchester Magnum appeared 62 years ago and the .260 Remington is a quarter of a century old. But over the past decade, the 6.5 Creedmoor became a legend and became the first 6.5mm cartridge to gain mass acclaim in America. This is weird as the Creed can’t compete with any of its older brothers from a muzzle velocity standpoint. When Winchester launched the .264 Winchester Magnum, the ad announced, “It makes a hell of a racket and packs a hell of a wallop.” And by God it did; A 140-grain bullet at almost 3100 fps is serious business. But the .264 battled Remington’s 7mm magnum and built a reputation for burning barrels.
Regardless, the .264 Winchester Magnum remains one of the slimmest shooting big game-ready cartridges of all time. Yes, it could roast a barrel in 1500 rounds, but they make new barrels every day and few hunters will shoot 1500 rounds over the life of their rifle. On my first safari, I shot a wildebeest from a distance of about 250 meters with a .264. Before I pulled the trigger, my hunting partner asked if I had enough gun. When the wildebeest slapped on the African dirt and the cloud of dust settled, my friend just said: “Damn it!” Winchester has to bring this cartridge back at a faster rate of rotation and name it 6.5 Winchester Magnum.
2 .25-06 Remington: Killer of the big and small things
In 1969, Remington legitimized a Wildcat cartridge that uses a .30/06 case to fire .25 caliber bullets and they named it .25-06 Remington. It quickly became one of the most successful cartridges, suitable for predators, pests and large game. It can drive a 75-grain bullet at more than 3700 fps for the small creatures, but also fire a 120-grain bullet capable of moose at 3000 fps. With ballistics like this, you’d have thought the .25-06 would still be popular for hunting. It’s been a while, but now it’s forgotten
The problem with the .25-06 is that it offers a compromise that most hunters of the new millennium don’t want. You want rifles that specialize in each specific pursuit. The .270 Winchester and 7mm Magnum are better suited for big game, and the more easily recoilable .22-250 Remington is a better pest cartridge. The real appeal of the .25-06 is its flat trajectory, which allows it to do almost anything that needs to be done. Hunters who can or only want to afford a rifle is a niche that has yet to be filled, and few cartridges fill it better than the sleek and sexy .25-06.
3. .284 Winchester: The Misunderstood Magnum
With its rebated rim and thick body, the .284 Winchester could be considered the original short magnum cartridge. What’s wrong with a short action cartridge that can push a 7mm bullet faster than 3000 fps? Nothing! Then why isn’t it more popular? The first reason was that it was introduced for Winchester’s Model 88 lever and Model 100 semi-automatic rifles. The second reason was that the Remington’s 7mm Magnum was a year ahead. Finally, around the time people were beginning to see what the .284 was capable of, Remington introduced the 7mm-08 in a snap. If you’re not a baby boomer or a Gen Xer, you’ve probably never heard of the .284.
That doesn’t mean the cartridge is out of date or has no value in today’s world. Indeed, if you like the idea of a short-stroke rifle that can compete with long-stroke cartridges like the .270 Winchester or .280 Remington, the .284 is for you. It beats the 7mm-08 by about 200 fps and offers that flat, canyon-spanning trajectory that today’s hunters are tweeted about. If Winchester had introduced the .284 in a shortened version of their famous Model 70 repeating rifle, the cartridge would not be obsolete and the world would be a better place. It still may if you just give the .284 a try.
4. 307 Winchester: Lever Gun Magic
One would think that the traditional lever rifle would slide from extinction in the age of long-range wonder. That’s not the case; the lever rifle continues to pull on the hearts of American shooters. In 1983 Winchester introduced the 307 Winchester cartridge in their 1894 Big Bore with side ejection, which made them compatible with the rifle scope. Suddenly, traditional leverage was no longer just a 150-meter deer cannon that hunters deemed unsuitable for larger game like moose and moose. But the 307 didn’t catch on. Hunters who want better ballistics with lever rifles have opted for the more modern Browning BLR and the older .308 Winchester.
Using modern powders like Alliant’s AR Comp, the 307 Winchester can be loaded to squeeze a 150-grain bullet at 2700 fps from a 20-inch barrel of a tube-fed lever pistol. In case you don’t know your ballistics history, this is the same as the original .30/06 charge. Fortunately, Winchester made many 94s in 307, and for about a giant you can buy a used copy in good condition. Hornady also offers 307 Win. LEVERevolution ammunition. But now it’s time for a new 94 in 307 Winchester, and to add to it, Federal should add a 2700 fps 150-grain load to their excellent HammerDown range of lever arm ammunition. Otherwise this cartridge will be sent to the scrap heap.
5. .30 Remington AR: The best big game round for the AR-15
The .30 Remington AR was introduced by Remington in 2008, just in time for the Obama-inspired AR shopping spree. It couldn’t have come at a worse time. Everyone wanted an AR15, but not for hunting, which is the strength of the 30 Remington AR. The same stupidity that would eventually bankrupt Remington made the cartridge forgotten. Some early advertisements for the 30 Remington AR listed the cartridge’s 300 yard speed as the muzzle velocity. Even more foolish, Remington had never offered a complete top receiver and magazine in a blister pack to allow shooters to easily convert an AR-15 to a .223 Remington.
The .30 Remington AR is specially designed for the AR-15 platform and will push a 150-grain bullet to nearly 2600 fps and a 125-grain bullet to around 2800 fps. Nothing else in the AR-15 platform comes close, and with this rifle now twice as popular as it was a decade ago, it’s time that cartridge returns and makes the AR-15 what it is for the Can be a hunter. Some people get through it. Each year Melvin Forbes sells several .30 Remington AR rifles at New Ultra Light Arms in its Model 20-Short bolt action rifles that weigh less than five pounds. I got mine and the deer in West Virginia hate me for that.
Read more: The 10 Most Overrated Cartridges of All Time
6. .35 Whelen: For breaking bones and hearts
When my best friend moved to Kodiak, Alaska to lead the Baptist Mission on the island, he knew he would need a bear-grade rifle. I sold him my .35 Whelen and we were both glad I did. Before a year had passed, he was using this rifle to stop an attacking grizzly. The .35 Whelen was originally wild-bred in 1922 to bring a 200-grain bullet to 2900 fps. It has more muzzle energy than a .30 / 06 or .300 Winchester Magnum. And it was popular enough for Remington to legitimize the cartridge in 1988. But while the sale was never boastful, those who loved her loved her like their mother.
Now, just three decades later, you’d be hard pressed to find a new – non-custom – chambered rifle for the .35 Whelen. The .35 Whelen is to North America what the .375 H&H is to Africa; It’s a cartridge that works great for everything on the continent. There are still many good factory loads for the Whelen. It only takes a good rifle for the cartridge to give it another chance before it becomes a memory. As for my friend in Alaska, it may be the one cartridge he will never forget.