“Magnum.” The word invokes a sense of something bigger, grander, or in the sense of our cartridges, faster. Just as the Nitro Express moniker was adopted to allude to the fact that the new smokeless propellant helped those cartridges to hit like an express train, a magnum cartridge gives the indication of a higher level of performance over a standard cartridge.
Many of the finest magnum cartridges with have the word “magnum” in their name, and others will not. And, in some instances, a cartridge with the magnum name and reputation will have, over time, become the standard for that bore diameter. Whether or not a magnum cartridge is needed has become a controversial topic, having fueled campfire arguments for decades. Some folks absolutely love the additional velocity, flatter trajectory and increased striking energy, others feel the tried-and-true standard cartridges are all they need to get the job done. Whichever camp you find yourself in, knowledge is power, and a study of magnum cartridges may affirm your opinion, either way. Let’s take a look at my ten favorite magnum cartridges for hunting.
1. .300 Winchester Magnum
America’s love affair with .30-caliber cartridges rages on to this day, and in a market where the .30-06 Springfield, .308 Winchester and .30-30 Winchester still sell very, very well, the .300 Winchester Magnum holds its own as America’s top selling .30-caliber Magnum. Released in 1963—there are a handful of pre-’64 Model 70’s chambered for the .300 Winchester Magnum—it is based on the same formula as Winchester’s three previous belted magnums: a shortened Holland & Holland belted case, designed to fit in a long-action receiver. Where the first three—the .264 Winchester Magnum, .338 Winchester Magnum and .458 Winchester Magnum—used a case length of 2.50 inches, the .300 was lengthened to 2.62 inches while maintaining the 3.34-inch cartridge length of the .30-06 and its ilk. It has a neck on the shorter side (0.264 inches) but still gives good tension, and while it is designed to headspace on the belt, handloaders can get it give better concentricity by using the 25-degree shoulder. It will drive a 180-grain bullet to a muzzle velocity of 2960 fps, and can use the full range of .30-caliber bullets. There are few species which cannot be hunted with a .300 Winchester Magnum and a premium bullet.
2. .375 Holland & Holland Magnum
The year 1912 saw the release of what I feel is the most useful cartridge ever invented: the .375 H&H Belted Magnum. While not the first cartridge to wear a belt—that honor belongs to an earlier .375-bore cartridge which H&H called the Velopex—the .375 H&H Magnum would go on to set the bar for travelling sportsmen headed to Africa for truly big game. It also makes a rather flat-shooting rifle, with a trajectory on par with that of the .30-06 when using a good spitzer bullet. The .375 H&H is usually housed in a magnum-length receiver, but has a recoil level manageable by most shooters. Driving a 300-grain bullet to a muzzle velocity between 2450 and 2550 fps, the three-seven-five will generate right around 4,000 ft.-lbs. of energy. You can get lighter bullet weights for lighter game—the 235-, 250-, 260- and 270-grain bullets all work well—or go up to the 350- and even 380-grain bullets for a bit more stopping power. It has been used for any and all game species on earth, and remains a fantastic design, despite celebrating its 111th birthday.
3. .338 Winchester Magnum
What happens when Winchester shortens the .375 H&H case, and mates it with the projectiles for the now-obsolete .33 Winchester? Why you have what many consider the finest choice for an all-around Alaskan cartridge. Pushing a 250-grain bullet to a muzzle velocity of somewhere between 2600 and 2660 fps depending on brand, you’ll see between 3,750 and 3,950 ft.-lbs. of energy; knocking on the door of the .375 H&H. The lighter slugs, weighing between 180 and 225 grains over a much flatter trajectory, and make a great choice for elk, moose and other ungulates. I’ve always found the recoil of a .338 Winchester Magnum to be snappier than that of the .375 H&H, but in a properly fitting rifle it can be managed. If your hunting plans and dreams are all on the North American continent, the .338 Winchester Magnum will handle it all.
4. 6.8 Western
If the .277-inch bore diameter is your jam, and you appreciate speed and versatility, look no further than the 6.8 Western. Designed by Winchester/Browning and based on the .270 Winchester Short Magnum case, shortened to facilitate the use of longer and sleeker projectiles, the 6.8 Western uses a 1:7.5 or 1:8 twist to allow the use of bullets weighing up to 175 grains. I feel this cartridge makes the most of the .277 caliber, as it still allows the use of the highly popular 130- to 150-grain slugs, yet offers the heavier stuff for higher ballistic coefficient (BC) and sectional density (SD) values. My Browning X-Bolt runs about ½- to ¾-MOA with the factory loads (using 162-, 165- and 175-grain bullets) as well as with handloads featuring the lighter bullet weights; the rifle likes the Winchester 165-grain AccuBond LR load best, and that makes a great all-around choice for game animals from deer to elk, moose and bear. The fact that it is housed in a short-action receiver (making for a lighter and more rigid action) is an added bonus.
5. .17 Winchester Super Magnum
Several years ago, Federal Premium’s JJ Reich and I were sitting on a hot prairie dog town on the Rosebud Reservation, having a ball with some rimfire rifles. To use a rimfire to eradicate the plague-ridden varmints is a definite challenge, but I found the .17 WSM to be a wonderful tool for the job, making consistent hits out to 350 yards. Based on the .27-caliber nail gun blank necked down to hold .172-inch-diameter bullets, the .17 WSM will drive the 20-grain bullets to a muzzle velocity of 3000 fps, and will certainly create the red mist! This speedy rimfire remains one of my favorites.
6. 7mm Remington Magnum
Released in 1962, the 7mm Remington Magnum fits in the same family as the Winchester Magnums released in the late 1950s, and was first offered in the then-new Model 700 rifle. The belted case measures 2.50 inches long, with a cartridge length of 3.29 inches, and will drive a 160-grain bullet to 2925 fps. Often compared to the .300 Winchester Magnum, the 7mm Remington Magnum is a sound all-around choice for the hunter wanting just one rifle. It does wear the H&H belt, and comes with the case-stretching issues associated with that, but the fact remains that the Seven Mag continues to be a popular selling cartridge—in fact, early on it killed the popularity of the .264 Winchester Magnum. If you want a fast Seven that has a wide selection of ammunition, this might be the choice for you.
7. .257 Weatherby Magnum
Bring up the topic of quarter-bore cartridges, and fans of the .25-06 Remington and .257 Roberts will begin to wax poetically, but those rabid fans of the .257 Weatherby Magnum will begin to chant “Roy! Roy! Roy!” The little .257 Magnum was one of Roy Weatherby’s favorites (many tell the tale of how he actually used it to take a Cape Buffalo), and with good cause: that small bullet at Weatherby speeds imparts a whole lot of hydrostatic shock, and when paired with a premium bullet is more effective than it may look. Based on the belted H&H case, with the famous double radius shoulder common to the majority of the Weatherby cases, the .257 Weatherby Magnum sits comfortably in a standard long-action receiver. Driving a 110-grain Nosler AccuBond to a muzzle velocity of 3460 fps, the .257 Weatherby will still have over 1,300 ft.-lbs. of energy at 500 yards.
8. 28 Nosler
The second in a series of magnum-performance cartridges based on the .404 Jeffery, the 28 Nosler is a speedy, long-action cartridge which headspaces off the 35-degree shoulder. This gives both better chamber concentricity and avoids the issue of case stretching associated with belted magnums. Using the 3.340-inch overall cartridge length which sits so nicely in a long-action receiver, the 28 Nosler uses its voluminous case to drive a 160-grain bullet to 3300 fps, giving extra horsepower to the hunter, and making a great all-around choice. Of all the Nosler designs, I feel the 28 Nosler has the most appeal, as it seems to be an excellent blend of accuracy, speed and striking energy. It has a good selection of ammunition, available from Nosler, Hornady and Federal among others.
9. .44 Remington Magnum
If there is a more iconic double-action revolver than the Smith & Wesson Model 29, I can’t name it, and the .44 Remington Magnum is equally timeless. The brainchild of Elmer Keith and some close friends, the Forty-Four Mag would be released by Remington and Smith & Wesson in early 1956, and would go on to be made famous by Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty” Harry Callahan. But the stout cartridge would not just be relegated to handguns; the Ruger 44 carbine and more recent 77/44 rifle, along with lever guns chambered for the cartridge would make it a popular choice for those who hunt in close in the woods and thickets. Based on an elongated .44 Special—and using a .429-inch-diameter bullet weighing between 240 and 340 grains—the .44 Mag was once the “most powerful handgun cartridge in the world” and is still the choice of many handgun hunters. A good single-action hunting revolver chambered in .44 Magnum can produce surprising accuracy and will handle nearly any situation where a handgun is relied upon for hunting or as a defensive weapon in bear country.
10. 7mm PRC
Here is the youngest of the bunch, yet just as impressive as those which came before. Based on a shortened .375 Ruger case, this new offering from Hornady sits perfectly between the short-action 6.5 PRC and the magnum-length action .300 PRC, giving 7mm Remington Magnum performance from a rimless, non-belted case. A 30-degree shoulder and 2.28-inch case length allow for good chamber concentricity and the use of bullet with longer ogives, respectively. Muzzle velocities are on par with the 7mm Remington Magnum, yet the throat of the 7mm Precision Rifle Cartridge will accommodate the modern, high-BC bullets which work so well in this hunting/target hybrid cartridge. Driving a 160-grain CX monometal and 175-grain ELD-X to 3000 fps, and a 180-grain ELD Match to 2975 fps, the 7mm PRC is a great dual-purpose cartridge. I've used it to punch steel at 1,500 yards, as well as to take pronghorn antelope at 330 yards and black bear at 75 yards. I was very impressed by the new design in both applications. The 7mm PRC just might be the best of the PRC bunch.
Honorable Mention: .300 Holland & Holland Magnum
I have a very soft spot for this old cartridge, as even in a world where the belted magnums seem to have gone out of vogue, the .300 H&H Magnum is still classy. Using the belt for headspacing and the slight 8½-degree shoulder to neck the case down to hold .308-inch diameter bullets, the Super .30—as it is known across the pond—feeds like it were greased. Driving a 180-grain bullet to 2850 fps to 2950 fps, depending on manufacturer, the .300 H&H can be a great all-around cartridge. Yes, it requires a magnum-length action, and yes, it has been usurped by the .300 Winchester Magnum and other modern fast .30s, but the .300 H&H is cooler than Miles Davis. It has been to Africa with me more than once, and will return again, in addition to joining me on North American hunts. Ammunition is not as readily available as it once was, and handloading makes the most sense, but I just love carrying the classic .300 H&H; sitting between the performance levels of the .30-06 Springfield and .300 Winchester Magnum is not a bad place to be at all.