Sunday, October 9, 2011

What's New Isn't Exactly What's Best

I received an E-mail depicting photographs of a very ugly firearm mishap.  After reading the shooter’s tale of woe, there is no doubt in my mind that the cause of this incident was operator error.  It seems this guy was preparing for the hunting trip of a lifetime and was sighting in his .300 Remington Ultra Magnum. 

While he was shooting, he inadvertently placed a .325 Winchester Short Magnum round into the chamber and pulled the trigger.  Since the .325 WSM is a much shorter round than the .300 RUM, the .325 chambered.  The .325 WSM is a shortened version of the now defunct 8 M/M Remington Magnum.  Essentially, this guy was trying to push a .323 bullet diameter through a .308 diameter barrel, so he is lucky enough just to be alive.  The chamber pressures had to be off the scale.  Mixing ammunition is a recipe to disaster.  If you’re sighting in several rifles during one range outing, it’s a prudent idea to move any other rifles and ammunition off of the shooting bench.  Then check and double-check your ammunition prior to shooting it or when storing it away.  Don’t mix various calibers of ammunition in the same storage containers.

Now maybe it's just me, but when the firearm industry introduced all of these Super-duper, Super-short and Super-long Magnums I thought they were trying to reinvent the wheel to revive a stagnant industry.  Most, if not all of these so-called "Modern" hunting cartridges have already gone the way of the Passenger Pigeon.  Maybe I'm old fashioned but I'll stick with the tried and true rifle rounds.  I personally like the .223 Remington, the .243 Winchester, the .308 Winchester and the .30-06 Springfield.  All of these afore-mentioned rounds have harvested boatloads of game of both the two and four legged variety. 

Now don’t get me wrong, I also like several of the magnum cartridges as well.  It’s not a secret that I'm quite fond of Weatherby rifles, so I do cherish my .257 Weatherby Magnum, my .300 Weatherby Magnum, and my .378 Weatherby Magnum.  My .257 WM has accounted for several Pronghorn and a Mule Deer or two.  The .257 WM is my top choice for Deer and Antelope.  It has never failed to drop any animal I shot with one round. 

I also think the .300 and .338 Winchester Magnums in their original forms are both wonderful performers on big, heavy tough animals.  I once owned a .338 Winchester.  It was quite a rifle.  An acquaintance of mine has taken several large Moose with the .338 in Alaska and a large Bull Elk.  I’ve also taken a very good Bull Elk in Wyoming with a .300 Winchester Magnum. 

I know, I know, belted magnums are supposedly passé but so what!  I once owned a 7 M/M Remington Magnum for about 30 years and shot the snot out of it.  The Big 7 was a great performer on targets as well as on big game, but I did feel severely under-gunned with it when I went to Alaska in 1988 and saw Grizzly prints as big as my head.  On that trip I shot a Caribou on a dead run with the 7 M/M Magnum at over 230 yards.  It fell as if a bolt of lightning had struck it.  When I got home from Alaska I bought a .375 H&H Magnum.  I was never going to travel into big bear country again without a major fight stopper in my hands.  The .375 H&H Magnum was like a good insurance policy.  I hoped I never have to use it but if I did, I was well covered.    

Belted magnums have been around since at least 1912.  That was back during the Holland & Holland days and Cordite stick powder.  The .300 and .375 H&H Magnums killed thousands of head of African game throughout the years with excellent results.  The belted magnums became even more popular with big-game globetrotters when a man named Roy Weatherby began building rifles out of his garage in South Gate, CA in 1944. 

Winchester then introduced their own line of belted magnums in 1958 with four stellar rounds.  The .264 Winchester Magnum, the .300 Winchester Magnum, the 338 Winchester Magnum, and the .458 Winchester Magnum.  The .264 WM was a real screamer and barrel life suffered greatly because of it.  You were lucky to get over 1,000 rounds out of a .264 WM barrel.  I once knew a man out west who burned one out in about 700 rounds.  But up to that point it was a Mule Deer and Pronghorn killer deluxe.

The point I’m making here is that we’ve had a slew of excellent tried and true Magnum and standard game-getters available to us for decades.  So why the fuss over these new rifle rounds?  Ironically, most if not all of these new flash in the pan rounds are already dead and buried.  I think the only ones that seem to be holding on are the 7 M/M and .300 Remington Ultra Magnums. 

The only new magnum rifle round that I believe to be relevant is the .338 Lapua.  Now that’s one Hell of a cartridge.  Ask any British or American military sniper in Iraq or Afghanistan what they think of this long-range death ray.  It can drive a 250 grain bullet at 3,000 feet per second and still remains supersonic at 1,000 yards.  That is awesome killing power.  The .338 Lapua doesn’t sport a belted case so it headspaces on the shoulder like most standard cartridges.  Because of the military’s high regard for this round and its growing acceptance in the law enforcement community, I believe the .338 Lapua is definitely here to stay.