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>> Examining .30 Caliber Magnums :: By J. Marshall Stanton on 2002-04-09
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As part of our Open Sight articles, we have made provision for inclusion of industry trends. In this article, we’ll look at one of those prevailing themes in the world of sporting arms and ammunition.

Faster, bigger, farther and flatter; these are familiar buzzwords from today’s sporting arms manufacturer’s advertising promotions. Too, these seem to generally typify American life-views as well. Super-size, Super-fast, Super-Duper, it’s all new and improved. In many instances this is indeed true. Today’s computers are certainly faster, smaller, more flexible, have more memory, faster modems, faster CPU’s, bigger hard-drives, Ethernet cards, USB ports, higher resolution monitors, and the list continues. Computers are an exception to the “new and improved” myth, as they really are, new and certainly improved.

However, bigger, better, faster and new and improved are somewhat dubious terms when the sporting firearms industry is concerned. Looking at the annals of chronology for cartridge development, there is little or nothing new in the latest litter of “new” cartridge offerings. Ackley, Barnes, O’Neil, Gibbs, Whelen, Page, Keith, and a whole host of gentlemen from half a century ago, pioneered, tested and evaluated most, if not all of the cartridges now appearing on the “domesticated” factory cartridge lineups. This is not to diminish the usefulness, nor innovation of many of these fine cartridges. Simply put however, the newest go-fast-whiz-bang-loudenboomer is simply a revisitation of past achievements.

Usefulness and application of any cartridge should be paramount criteria in the selection process when acquiring a new rifle. Evaluation of ballistic performance, trajectory, downrange performance, recoil characteristics, accuracy potential and cartridge or component availability all play critically into the picture. In this brief overview, we’ll take a quick, critical look specifically at the thirty caliber magnums now offered by our arms and ammunition manufacturers.

The last couple of years have brought supernovas of performance in the realm of .30 caliber cartridges and firearms specifically designed for these applications. The ideology of long range game capability has fueled, and delivered both guns and ammunition delivering tremendous velocities designed for extended downrange terminal performance from the thirty caliber bore. Let’s look at hard numbers.

The following table is compiled using published velocity figures for premium grade factory ammunition, not handloads. (Data for .30-06 Springfield are velocities based on Hornady's Light Magnum Ammunition in .30-06 with 180 grain bullets) Ballistics data was calculated using factory velocities, Nosler 180 grain partition .308 diameter bullets with a ballistic coefficient of 0.458, and using the G1 ballistic tables for all calculations. (Not all the ammunition use the 180 grain Nosler Partition bullet, but for sake of fair comparison, this bullet was used in calculations in all cartridges, using factory velocities) In continuing with uniformity throughout comparison, trajectories were calculated implementing a maximum bullet rise above line of sight of three inches in computing trajectory tables.

Cartridge Muzzle 100 Yards 200 Yards 300 Yards 400 Yards
  velocity trajectory velocity trajectory velocity trajectory velocity trajectory velocity trajectory
.30-06 Springfield 2900 -1.5 2691 2.6 2491 2.0 2301 -4.3 2122 -17.2
.300 H&H 2880 -1.5 2674 2.6 2477 1.9 2290 -4.5 2111 -17.7
.300 SARUM 2960 -1.5 2750 2.6 2550 2.1 2359 -3.8 2178 -16.0
.300 WSM 2970 -1.5 2759 2.6 2559 2.1 2368 -3.7 2186 -15.7
.300 Win Mag 3070 -1.5 2855 2.5 2650 2.3 2455 -2.9 2269 -13.9
.300 Weatherby 3190 -1.5 2969 2.5 2759 2.5 2558 -2.1 2368 -12.0
.300 RUM 3250 -1.5 3026 2.4 2813 2.5 2610 -1.7 2417 -11.1
.30-378 Weatherby 3420 -1.5 3187 2.3 2967 2.5 2757 -1.2 2557 -9.4

Now, for some practical field application of our data. The average North American harvest of big-game animals is less than 100 yards! True this factors in the close, fast hunting of the South East, and Eastern portions of the country, yet even out West, where visions of six-hundred yard Hail Mary elk kills dance in the heads of giddy hunters, the fact is, it just isn’t so! True enough, with today’s logging practices, and tendencies towards larger tracts of open farmland, power-line and gas company right-of-ways, there is the opportunity to stretch the ranges where game is harvested. However, the limitations lie not with our equipment, but with our human abilities to control that wonderfully precision piece of equipment with which we’ve armed ourselves.

What we are talking about here, is the actual field ability, under less than perfect conditions to hold our rifle consistently steady, and the range limitations that ability imposes. Have you ever been looking at a hundred yard target through a high powered scope, shooting for groups, and noticed how even your pulse will cause your scope cross-hairs to jump about on the target? Keep in mind that this happens when you are at virtual rest, comfortably seated at a bench-rest with a good solid steady rest! Consider factoring into your abilities such things as less than perfect rests, or shooting from an improvised position, being winded, physically fatigued and an unknown, and shifty cross-wind! On a nice, comfortable summer’s day, try wrapping up in your sling, and shooting at a paper target three hundred yards distant with a favorite big game rifle! You’ll be humbled!

All this is said, simply to underscore the human limitations, which dictate the longest reasonable yardage at which attempts at harvesting big game should be responsibly undertaken. This will vary for individuals, based on a number of factors, but most people, if they are honest with themselves, and responsible to the game they hunt, and ethical in their practices, will find this self-imposed shooting range limitation somewhere around three hundred yards, and that with a good field rest, and when calm and somewhat rested. We owe the grand big game animal we are hunting, the dignity of a clean, sure kill, every time we pull the trigger! Banging away at something “way over yonder” in hopes of “hitting” the animal is an irresponsible slob practice that a true sportsman abhors.

Consider too your shooting abilities and how they are exacerbated geometrically as the yardage increases. If, when shooting off your knees, or an improvised prone position using a pack for a rest, that your average group at 100 yards is two inches. This group when carried out to four hundred yards is now eight inches! Eight inches, providing that your vision, optics, field conditions and nerve allow holding that closely over that long distance!

What does all this have to do with the usefulness of our hunting cartridge selection? Quite simply, our human limitations are far greater than any range limitations imposed by cartridge trajectories. What difference is there between shooting a magnum cartridge that delivers a bullet with a six-inch flatter trajectory at four hundred yards than does a standard ’06, if your physical abilities only allow a field accuracy of eight to nine inch groups at that distance?

Cartridge Point Blank Range (Yards) Thornily Relative Stopping Index Taylor Knock Out Recoil Ft/Lbs Recoil Velocity (fps)
.30-06 Springfield 285 116 23 25 14
.300 H&H 282 116 23 30 15
.300 SARUM 290 120 23 28 15
.300 WSM 291 120 24 31 16
.300 Win Mag 301 124 24 38 17
.300 Weatherby 311 129 25 41 18
.300 RUM 317 132 26 55 21
.30-378 Weatherby 332 139 27 68 23

If we look specifically at the point-blank range of our thirty caliber cartridges in the accompanying table, these are calculated with a maximum trajectory rise and drop of three inches from line of sight, practical field ranges for the various rounds aren’t too different. The Hornady Light Magnum loading of the .30-06 with our same 180 grain bullet develops 2900 fps and has a point blank range of 243 yards, and the new .30-378 Weatherby Magnum launches the same projectile at 3420 fps and has a point blank range of 332 yards. What does this mean in practical terms? Simply that the fire-breathing Weatherby Magnum has an 89 yard further distance that you can hold dead on and have your bullet hit no more than three inches from the line of sight. When we look introspectively at our shooting abilities in the field, few hunters would greatly benefit from the difference in trajectory!

Too, when evaluating the terminal performance, much hype has been proliferated regarding necessary ballistics delivered on target for “sure kills”. Hype it is! It is only to cover-up sloppy and irresponsible hunting practices and poor marksmanship in the field. This brings us right back to the age-old story of shooting “at an animal” or deciding “where to shoot the animal”. They are two entirely different approaches, one haphazard, and the other surgical precision, each with vastly differing outcomes. When shooting “at an animal”, of course a person wants all the sheer energy possible…. To make up for lousy shooting and poor ethics!

John (Pondoro) Taylor, in his book, African Rifles and Cartridges, spoke highest praises for the “Super .30 Magnum”, the .300 H&H, on all manner of African plains game. Too, in the same passages, he acclaimed the new “American Springfield”, our .30-06 as being the equal of the Super .30 in terms of game performance on the African Veldt.

Precision shooting comes through practice, and rounds fired down-range. When looking at the recoil figures for the various .30 caliber cartridges represented on the table, it doesn’t take a degree in physics to understand that more velocity, and powder burned will result in more recoil. When comparing both the .300 RUM and the .30-378 Weatherby, these cartridges dish out more than twice the recoil in ft/lbs than the .30-06 Hornady Light Magnum. This kind of recoil doesn’t foster controlled trigger release and follow-through, especially with the occasional shooter! In fact, many professional elk guides would far rather see a client carrying a .30-06 into the field, than any of the .30 caliber magnums, for just this reason! If the gun hurts you, odds are really against the shooter doing any truly precision riflemanship, this is especially true once under field conditions.

One downside of these huge capacity cases, is a cost factor, yes price of ammo. Practicing with these big, heavy recoiling cartridges isn’t hard only on the shoulder, but on the pocket book as well. For example, the big .30-378 Weatherby at 89.00 per box is 4.49 per cartridge. When ammunition is this costly, the likelihood of many hunters going afield with enough practical shooting experience using the rifle is very, very slim indeed! Although this is an extreme example, it still is representative of the cartridges today’s gun scribes are touting as the ultimate answer to today’s hunter’s needs!

There is another price as well to these big cartridges in the form of barrel wear and throat erosion! Nope, nobody wants to talk about these issues with the extremely over-bore .30 caliber cartridges. Not too many shooters today remember the heyday of the .264 Winchester Magnum, and the serious problems of barrel wear and throat erosion in these guns after even moderate use. The truth is, that the .300 RUM and .30-378 Weatherby will both claim a dubious distinction of having extremely short barrel life down the road.

It’s interesting that Parker O. Ackley, forty plus years ago, stated in his authoritative two volume set Handbook For Shooters And Reloaders, that the maximum amount of powder in a .30 caliber cartridge is 73.0 grains, after which, a point of greatly diminishing returns in the ratio of powder burned, pressures created and velocities gained was encountered. Too, he even stated that the .300 Weatherby Magnum, then new at the time, delivered relatively short barrel life due to its extreme overbore capacity. What then, with the new “super magnums”?

Yes, there seems to be a consistent and persistent market for rifles in these big magnum chamberings, but a good question to ask when contemplating this market, is what drives it? Is the demand for these big heavy recoiling cartridges because there is a genuine need for the extra ballistic advantage, or is it merely a perceived need, fuelled by the pen of gun scribes needing to meet another publishing deadline in a magazine funded by advertising dollars from the developers and promoters of these products? When examining the motives behind the popular gun press of the day, it’s important to look at who pays for the advertising in those publications. Would the editor have the integrity to publish articles that decried the newest latest and greatest loudenboomer? Or would he cater to the hand that fed his organization?

In some limited applications these over-bore .30 caliber magnums have their rightful place, but common sense, practicality and logic show that for the vast majority of shooters and hunters, the actual “need” for these cartridges is nil. No, I’m not magnum bashing, I just look at real-life applications and try to exercise a reasonable degree of common sense.

Special thanks for use of their facilities and inventory to:
Black Sheep Sporting Goods
308 W. Seale Avenue
Coeur d'Alene, Idaho 83815

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