By PHIL MASSARO Via Gunsamerica.com
It was hot, brain-boiling hot, as South Africa can be in the first week of November. Professional Hunter Nick Prinsloo and I were tracking a herd of kudu, which contained the bull I’d dreamed of for years. Three times we’d figured they were long gone, only to find them again, but this time the bull was at the rear, running hell-bent-for-leather. “Just shoot him!” Prinsloo exclaimed. The Legendary Arms Works rifle can quickly to shoulder, and when the crosshairs met his neck on the downward part of his gait, I broke the trigger. Standing over the bull, I couldn’t help but reflect on the chosen cartridge: the .300 Winchester Magnum.
I have taken a few different heavy rifles on safari, but my light rifle has always been a .300 Winchester. I’ve taken it all over North America as well, using it for deer, bears, antelope, caribou and more. Why? What is it about the .300 Winnie that makes it such a universally applicable cartridge? Allow me to pontificate.
First, some history. Released in 1963, the .300 Winchester Magnum was fourth in a series of shortened, belted magnums based on the .375 H&H case. Instead of maintaining the 2.500” case length, Winchester extended the case to 2.620”, and pushed the shoulder forward to give more room, leaving a neck length of just 0.264”. This design deviated from other belted .300 magnums that were based on the previous Winchester offerings, such as the .30-338 wildcat and the .308 Norma Magnum. Winchester’s new creation pushed a 180-grain bullet to 2,960 fps, giving a very respectable trajectory, and a significant velocity increase in comparison to the previously accepted .300 Magnum: the .300 Holland & Holland. The .300 Winchester fits nicely in a .30-’06 Springfield-length action, and delivers the goods on many different game species.
Being able to fit the new cartridge in a standard action, and backed by the Winchester production and marketing machine, the .300 Winchester pushed the older and more obscure belted magnums out of the limelight, and pushed and shoved its way to the top of the heap.
Norma’s fantastic 180-grain Oryx load; perhaps the most underrated bullet available today.
There is something about the phrase “inherently accurate” that bothers me, and I don’t quite use it often – as I’ve seen just about any cartridge deliver fine accuracy in the right circumstances – but I think the .300 Winchester Magnum falls underneath that heading. Or maybe it’s better said that I’ve seen more accurate .300 Winchester Magnums than maybe any other cartridge in its class. There are so many great factory loads available that just about any desire can be fulfilled. If you’re into the target game – at just about any range – there is a .300 Winchester load for you. If you want an all-around hunting rifle that will readily handle the average guy’s hunting situations (it’s not legal for dangerous game, save leopard, in most countries, and may be on the light side for the huge brown bears), there are fantastic factory loads available to the hunter. And that simple fact – that the cartridge is fully capable of filling both roles equally – is a huge part of the allure of the .300 Winchester. In fact, the .300 Winchester Magnum has developed a dedicated following in the tactical shooting world as well due to its downrange capabilities.
Does it kick? Well, sure. Most of the speedier cartridges do, but I’ve never found the .300 Winchester’s recoil to be excessive, or even unpleasant when compared to the .300 Weatherby or .300 Remington Ultra Magnum. Is it in its own class? Does it do something that other cartridges can’t do? Well, no. The .30 Nosler – a fine design in its own right – and the aforementioned .300 H&H are both superb cartridges for the hunter but suffer from a lack of widely available ammunition. I like them both, but not unlike the .30-’06, the popularity of the .300 Winchester has made it readily available, even at most Mom & Pop gun shops these days. It is very popular in Canada (at least where I’ve hunted), and has gained a ton of ground as an African light rifle.
Let’s take a look at some of the factory loads, to get a feel for the versatility. Federal Premium alone loads at least six different bullets in their .300 Winchester ammunition line, including the Nosler Partition, Sierra MatchKing, Fusion, Trophy Bonded Tip, Trophy Copper and Trophy Bonded Bear Claw. This covers the gamut from distant steel to deer to elk, moose and bear. Winchester offers the AccuBond and Ballistic SilverTip; Hornady loads their InterLock, GMX monometal, SST, InterBond (in the Superformance line) and the ELD-X (in the Precision Hunter line). Barnes TSX bullets are loaded in their Vor-Tx series, and Norma Precision offers their Oryx (perhaps the most underrated bullet out there), Kalahari and TipStrike. Browning has a pair of .300 Winchester loads: the BXR Deer ammo (designed for rapid expansion and energy transfer) and the BXC line (a bonded core, controlled expansion bullet for larger, tougher game animals). ABM (Applied Ballistic Munitions) offers the lineup of Berger target and hunting bullets, including the heavyweight 230-grain pills that hold their energy so well downrange. That inherent accuracy? In the four different .300 Winchesters I’ve owned, I’ve only had trouble with one, and it was a bedding problem. All of them would provide acceptable hunting accuracy and plenty of horsepower.