I had just returned from my first out-of-country hunting trip; my Dad and I had hunted moose in Quebec among those willow bogs and innumerable lakes, and though we came home empty-handed, it was life changing. I had but one serious big game rifle at the time—a Ruger Model 77 MKII in the do-all .308 Winchester—and based on the sheer size of the moose we did see, I was convinced I needed a bigger rifle.
I headed to the local gun shop in search of a .338 Winchester Magnum, a cartridge I thought might mate well with any .30-caliber cartridge, and which would handle all of North America (I had no idea that Africa would grab hold of me soon). “We don’t have a .338 in stock right now, but if you don’t mind a bit more case capacity and bullet weight, we’ve got a used Winchester Model 70 in .375 H&H Magnum. It’s a favorite in Alaska.” Long story short, I walked out with that rifle, and fell deeply in love with the long, sleek belted cartridge; so much so that it would influence my travel plans.
There is something about this century-plus old cartridge that allows it to maintain its position at the top, remaining what I have often called “the most useful cartridge ever designed.” There have been attempts to unseat the King of the Mediums, though as of yet, they’ve been unsuccessful. Perhaps it is the fact that the .375 H&H Magnum has a classic blend of sensible ballistics, British charm, inspiring design and user-friendliness.
Perhaps it is the longevity of the cartridge’s performance around the globe—it is equally at home in Alaska, Africa and Australia, and was embraced in India when hunting was open—in the hands of both Professional Hunters, guides and visiting sportsmen alike. Perhaps part of the allure is that for most of us, a 7mm or .30-caliber cartridge will suffice for nearly all of our hunting tasks, and that the step-up to the .375 may well represent the adventure of dangerous game. Nonetheless, the three-seven-five developed a head of steam after the conclusion of the First World War and knocked a good many cartridges—including a couple of my favorites, the .318 Westley Richards and the .350 Rigby Magnum—off the stage.
Mechanically speaking, the .375 H&H Belted Magnum was one of the first belted cartridges—Holland & Holland’s Velopex—released in 1912. The belt of brass allowed the cartridge to feed smoothly from a magazine, yet provided headspacing similar to a rimmed cartridge. The gentle 15-degree shoulder allows the cartridge to give excellent neck tension—the .375 rarely requires a roll crimp—yet assuredly aids in that smooth feeding. The case measures 2.85 inches, with an overall cartridge length of 3.600 inches. Bullet weights will range from 235 grains to 350 grains, with the most common choices coming in at 270 and 300 grains. The muzzle velocities will range from over 2850 fps for the 235-grain load, to just under 2700 fps for the 270-grain loads. The classic 300-grain loads run between 2450 fps and 2550 fps (generating over 4,300 ft.-lbs. of energy), and the heavy 350-grain leaves the muzzle at 2300 fps. And, the .375 H&H Magnum shoots rather flat for a cartridge of its size. Using the Federal 300-grain Swift A-Frame load at 2450 fps and a 200-yard zero, you’ll see the bullet strike just 12 inches low at 300 yards.
With the lighter bullets, the .375 handles black bear, deer, elk and caribou, the 270- and 300-grain slugs handle nearly everything from larger African plains game, cats, buffalo and elephant, as well as brown bear and bison here in the States. The 350-grain softpoints and solids are sound choices for Cape buffalo and elephant (solids only on elephant) as the additional sectional density will only enhance the already superb penetrative qualities of the .375 H&H.
The .416s, .404 Jeffery, .458s, .470 and .500s surely have more stopping powder, and the .300 magnums shoot flatter, but few other cartridges possess the versatility of the three-seven-five. It conjures images of Wally Johnson and Harry Manners taking ivory in the wilds of Mozambique, of John ‘Pondoro’ Taylor’s praise for its performance across the board, of giant coastal brown bears in Alaska, and of what may have been the single most dramatic kill I've seen, when my buddy John swung his Heym Express .375 H&H on a running water buffalo in Australia and crumpled it like a piece of paper. And, it brings back many personal memories of hunts from Canada to Africa to the Adirondacks.
Yes, the .375 Ruger mirrors the ballistics of the H&H, and the .375 Weatherby Magnum, .375 Remington Ultra Magnum and .378 Weatherby all better the velocity; sometimes by over 400 fps, but at the cost of a severe increase in recoil and bullet strain. There are those who frown upon the belted cartridges, and their tendency to stretch just above the belt, but I’ve never found it to be an issue. And while I’ve long championed the .404 Jeffery and .318 Westley Richards—because of their performance and for the nostalgia alike—I must admit that the .375 H&H Magnum, which is readily available around the world, makes the single smartest choice for the traveling hunter who pursues a wide variety of game. Long live Holland & Holland’s .375!