E ver since the invention of smokeless powder and even before, we have searched for higher velocity in our hunting guns. I think this search really kicked off when the .30-03 was loaded with a 150-grain spitzer bullet at 2,700 feet per second and became the .30-06.
Before that moment we were pretty happy with a 220-grain round nosed bullet at 2,300 fps. But when the U.S. military changed over to spitzer bullets to match the Germans, we found that the 150-grain sharp pointed bullets at much higher velocity gave us a much longer sure hitting range. If this were true with 150-grain bullets at 2,700, the guys thought, what would that bullet at 3,000 fps, or 180-grain spitzer at 2,800 do? And the race was on!
The race really got into high gear when Winchester entered it in 1925, with the .270 Winchester although a couple of high velocity rounds preceded it such as the .250-3000, introduced in 1915 by Savage. The .270 fired a 130-grain bullet at the fantastic velocity of 3,140 feet per second.
A young journalism professor in Arizona, named Jack O’Connor, bought one of the new .270s and found that it would kill deer and desert sheep just as surely as his .30-06 and 7mm Mauser and do it at greater range. He latched onto the .270, used it, wrote about it, and it was his talisman for the rest of his life.
Next, in 1935, Winchester introduced the .220 Swift, which launched a 48-grain bullet at the unheard-of velocity of 4,100 fps. The .220 Swift was, I believe, intended as a varmint cartridge, which is where it belongs, but it was used all over the world on big game.
Sometimes it killed like lightning, but often it just blew a big, shallow crater in the animal, which then wandered off to die miserably of infection or predators. Even though the Swift produced almost mystical velocity, many of the game departments in the country began, rightly I believe, to legislate against it for big game.
Famous writer, Robert Ruark, took one to Africa, tried it on wart hogs and hyenas, and found that it was terribly ineffective. He went back to his .30-06 and .470 Nitro Express for everything.
In 1944, Roy Weatherby took a .300 H&H Magnum, blew it out to hold a lot more powder, and came up with the vaunted .300 Weatherby Magnum. The .300 Weatherby could fire a 180-grain bullet at as much as 3,300 fps, although 3,150 was a more common, and safer, load. It soon became the darling of the globetrotting hunter.
With a .300 Weatherby Magnum the hunter could sight his rifle in to be three inches high at 100 yards and kill an Ovis poli ram at 350 yards without holding over it. It gave the hunter the advantage of not having to know the exact range of his prey.
For decades, almost every winner of the famed Weatherby Award used a .300 Weatherby, and not just to placate Roy. The big .300 Weatherby was a real advantage when hunting in strange places for strange animals before the invention of laser rangefinders. It had both tremendous range and great knockdown power. It is still one of the best big game cartridges in the world for soft skinned game.
Remington hit a pair of back-to-back home runs when in the late 1960s it introduced the .22-250 and .25-06, both formerly wildcats. The .22-250 fired a 55-grain bullet at 3,650 fps and the .25-06 was loaded with an 87-grain bullet at 3,500 fps. Then Remington upped the ante by loading the .25-06 with a 100-grain bullet at 3,300 fps and a 120- at more than 3,000.
This made the .25-06 a great long range deer cartridge. In Texas, especially, the .25-06 is one of the most popular cartridges for white-tailed deer. I have used one since the early 1970s and feel that it, along with the .270 Winchester, is one of the best cartridges made for Texas deer.
Today we are still searching for higher velocity. The Winchester Super Short Magnums were a part of the search. The Remington Ultra Magnums are also a step up, but a small one, as is the 7mm STW.
The colossal .30-378 Weatherby Magnum is another hot number in the search, but even with modern powders it is so over bore capacity that it only manages to beat the much older .300 Weatherby Magnum by 100 fps with 180-grain bullets. And it uses 114 grains of powder rather than 80.
The moral is that we have reached the point where just stuffing more powder into a cartridge produces very little gain in velocity. To make substantial gains it is necessary to find a different type of propellant.
There may be some ballistics whiz kid out there working on the next great step in high velocity, but for now we are at a wall. I will be interested to find out how we manage to kick a hole in the wall and go on to even higher velocities. Maybe the next step in hunting weapons will be phasers, but I hope not. How in the world would you reload for a phaser?
Email Steve LaMascus at
Email Steve LaMascus at [email protected]