Magnum – The word evokes rugged masculinity, hairy chested power, the pinnacle of firearms achievement. But what does it really mean? In yonder days of old it meant a cartridge case having more capacity, and with certain design features, such as a “belt.” The evolution of the idea of what Magnum means has been increasingly to denote a cartridge that has “More” where “More” usually means velocity. Propellant development has taught us that we don’t always have to have a MAGNUM case to generate MAGNUM levels of velocity. Another thing that is usually required of a MAGNUM is that it must generally have a weaker predecessor that uses the same bullet weights at more mundane power levels. Thus allowing it to be easily compared, and found superior to, something else. What I am getting at here is that there is no scientific or established criteria to define what a MAGNUM must be. It is, simply put, a marketing term that sort of somewhat means “bigger”, and people, Americans especially, tend to equate “Bigger” with “Better”.
The genesis of the MAGNUM fever hinged on three things. The first was the invention of the 9.3 x 62mm cartridge and the Mauser bolt action rifle. The Mauser was a strong and elegantly designed firearm, better yet, it was cheaper to produce than traditional fine English double rifles. The second was the rise of the great white hunter in Africa. The third was smokeless powder, which could propel bullets at a significantly higher velocity than black powder and could withstand temperature and moisture extremes better. Safari hunting became extremely popular in Africa in the early 20th century and the advent of quality bolt action rifles and smokeless powder made the experience attainable for the upper middle class westerner. The introduction of the revolutionary 9.3x62mm Mauser cartridge in 1905 , which had the power to take the largest game on the dark continent, caught the major British gun makers totally by surprise and in a move to retain market share Holland and Holland, developed the .375 H&H Magnum. The goal of H&H was to create a cartridge for Africa that was better than the then favorite 9.3 x 62 Mauser cartridge. H&H desired a cartridge with at least as good penetration, higher velocity for flatter trajectory (somewhat negating the need for precise range estimation) and increased terminal energy with a case designed to allow for smooth, reliable, feeding and more importantly extraction, in tropical weather. The .375 H&H is a long, elegant cartridge, with gently sloping shoulders which was designed to ensure reliable and smooth feeding in a bolt action rifle. The problem with not having a sharp shoulder and lacking a proper rim, is that there was no good place on the cartridge to “index” the round with the chamber (headspace). H&H designed a “belt” near the rebated rim, that allowed the cartridge to headspace properly. The Magnum was born.
Interesting side note: Many people believe that the belt on a MAGNUM enhances the strength of case, but that isn’t its purpose, in fact some tribal elders believe it may actually weaken the case somewhat.
After WWI American hunters also wanted to hunt in Africa and H&H allowed other manufacturers to chamber rifles for the cartridge. This allowed Winchester, Remington, and others to develop rifles chambered for the round and American hunters fell in love with Magnums. The .375 H&H is still the standard the others are judged against. It is a legend, still the most versatile medium bore cartridge ever created. It will push a 235gr bullet at about 2,800 fps, a 270 gr bullet at about 2,650 fps, and a 300gr bullet at 2,500 fps generating about 4000 ft lbs of energy. It was, and is, Big Medicine. The 9.3 x 62mm hung around for a long while, but after WWII the German arms industry suffered incredible damage, and German companies were not loved by the former Allied Powers which obviously made 9.3x62mm ammunition difficult to obtain and unpopular to shoot.
The .375 H&H still sits at the top of the Magnum Mountain, it is the High King of The three kings of the Magnum Triumvirate. Pretty much anyone can handle the .375, and the .375 can handle pretty much anything. That’s why it’s the No. 1 choice for many African safaris and for brown bear hunters who want to put down their quarry with authority. The .375 H&H ignited the magnum craze in 1912 and soon there was the .275 and .300 H&H which were both based on the .375 H&H (and subsequently most of the other magnums as well)
The .300 H&H – Sometimes called the Super 30, this was the first .30 caliber MAGNUM. Spewing a 180 gr slug at 3000 fps. For comparison a .30 ‘aught six fires a 180 gr slug somewhere around 2500-2700 fps.
Special side note: upon its’ introduction cordite was used as a propellant, peculiarities of this choice of propellant necessitated it being loaded very similarly to the .30-06 power level, but after the intial introduction its’ power was brought up to the above stated velocities.
The case is extremely tapered which contributes to buttery smooth feeding. The .300 Win Mag below is a near carbon copy of the the .300 H&H power wise and both are excellent cartridges. Between the two it may be wiser to choose the 300 Win Mag these days due to availability of ammo and rifles chambered for the Winchester offering.
The .275 H&H
If the .375 H&H was intended for large and dangerous game in Africa, the .275 H&H was for long distance shots on smaller game which was fleet of foot. Very similar to the .270 in power, it is now considered mostly obsolescent, but it did showcase the ability of a sub .30 caliber for long range shooting at for what, at the time, was pretty high velocities.
These two mostly obsolete H&H Magnums were followed by the:
.264 Win Mag – This is a strange case of MAGNUM where the MAGNUM really existed before the standard cartridge. Because, before there was a 6.5 Creedmoor there was a .264 Win Mag chambered in a Winchester model 70 for making those long shots on class 2 and 3 game. The .264 Mag fires a 140gr missile at a little above 3100 fps. It is pretty hot stuff. The comparison between the 6.5 Creedmoor and the .264 Win Mag is pretty much the same as between the .308 and the .300 Win Mag. The 7mm Remington Mag (.284 inch) came out after the .264 Winchester Magnum, in the (3 rings of steel) Remington Model 700 Rifle, and bullet weights American hunters trusted at the time, The .264 Win Mag was quickly relegated to the niche market well before it could have shined, but it shoots like a frickin’ laser beam and is probably all the cartridge anyone would ever need for North America. OTOH, it isn’t that much better than a .270 Win or even the 6.5 CM.
.300 Win Mag- The Second King of the Magnum Triumvirate, introduced in 1963 by Winchester it may be the best of the entire bunch. A ridiculously versatile round used for every kind and size of critter on every continent and the whole gamut of competitive shooting. The .300 Win Mag remains the most popular .30 caliber MAGNUM with American hunters, despite being surpassed in raw performance by some newer and more powerful (larger) competitors. The Pre-1964 Winchester Model 70 chambered in .300 Win Mag is the crem-de-la-crem of all 20th century rifle lovers’ dreams. A typical load for the 300-mag is 150gr bullet @3000 fps, generating 2998 ft/lbs of energy and resulting in a 318 yd max point blank range.
7mm Rem Mag– The last of the Three Kings and perhaps the best balance of Magnum performance against reasonable efficiency and comfort: the 7-Mag sends a 150gr bullet downrange at about 3100 fps. Released by Remington in 1962, a little before introduction of the 300 Win Mag, the 7mm Mag is perfect for almost anything without claws or thick skin and bad disposition the world over. It will forever be locked into a deathmatch with the 300 Win Mag and is the final King of the Magnum Triumvirate. Its introduction spelled the trip to the old folks home for the .264 Win Mag.
.300 Weatherby Mag – Roy Weatherby always felt a need for speed. His method was to take a .300 H&H case, fire form it: reducing the taper, and put a convex double radius shoulder on it. Whether this double radii shoulder was to increase the efficiency of the powder burn, strengthen the case, or simply a genius marketing ploy, one thing is very true: Weatherby Magnums are perceived as a mark of exclusivity, they also shoot a little hotter than the non Weatherby magnums. The .300 Wby Mag is hot stuff, and an upgrade to the .300 Win mag in power.
.338 Win Mag with a representative load of a 225-grain bullet cruising @ 2,750 fps this is the go-to cartridge for elk hunters who want to be ready for anything. The .338 Win Mag is the preferred prescription of Alaskan guides, slightly edging out the .375 H&H in popularity there. I’ve never shot a .338 Win. Mag., but the tribal wisdom says what prevent it from being even more popular is its stout recoil—a hard, fast pulse that not everyone can get used to, at least not well enough to shoot it accurately. Once you are shooting this cartridge you are in rarefied territory of shooting serious lead at serious velocities and nothing in Norte Americana is out of your grasp.
.458 Win Mag – When something big and nasty really has to be put down, this is one of the best ways. Literally an Elephant Gun, it is honestly more gun that anyone needs for North America. But when you care enough to send the very best, the .458 Win Mag will do the job. Polar Bears and Tyrannosaurs beware.
There is also the .375 Ruger which combines standard .30-06 action length with the gold standard ballistics of the .375 H&H cartridge. This is due to the Ruger round having less taper than the H&H. It is generally believed to be a viable alternative to the H&H. Having it in chambered in a Ruger’s Alaskan, would make it one of my dream rifles.
To be fair there are others I will mention but will not devote much time to, in most cases, because even though they exist, they are not that popular. Such honorable mentions such as the 8mm Remington Magnum, which has never been that popular because it was late to the party and the .338 Win Mag was already in the market. Another couple honorable mentions would be the 7mm STW, and the entire list of Remington RUM (Remington Ultra Magnum) cartridges, most notably the 7mm Rum. These cartridges simply push the power levels higher and higher, and none are very popular, although I am sure that there is a small group of fervent believers in each of them.
The early 2000’s were chock full of the fad(?) of creating shorter cartridges with magnum power. The theory was that short, fat, powder columns were more efficient and also had more accuracy potential and could also be chambered in short action lightweight rifles. However, several factors in the market seems to have relegated them to the attic. First, short lightweight rifles firing magnum power cartridges are not fun to shoot for most folks. Second, most of these Short Action Magnum, and Short Action Ultra Magnums had horrible feeding issues. At least, that is my opinion of them. No real new performance, in a shorter lighter less comfortable to shoot rifles, with the additional downer of poor feeding…not a recipe for long term success. The only deviation to this trend is the .30 Winchester Short Magnum, which is pretty nifty.
There ARE cartridges that exist which are larger and still man portable, but really anything shooting a payload larger and faster than these mentioned is less for animals and more for Jeeps and Troop Carriers than hunting game.
As always, if you have an itch that only a new gun can scratch, drop in to Liberty Tree Guns, they have the prescription Magnum Feva…