Top 5 Hunting Cartridges of the 21st Century

posted on November 9, 2018

Undoubtedly, the cartridge designs of the 20th Century were among the best ever conceived. Yes, the 19th Century gave us some undeniable classics, like the 7x57mm Mauser, .45-70 Government, .450 Nitro Express and .30-30 Winchester, but man it’s going to be hard to top what the 20th Century gave us. The .375 H&H Magnum, .30-06 Springfield, .223 Remington and .270 Winchester; these are but a paltry sampling of the 20th Century genius wrought in brass. While I fully expect the 21st Century to be a good sophomoric effort, to top the 20th Century, cartridge designers are really going to have to bring their A-game.

That said, there have been some solid and revolutionary designs released since Y2K that have earned their spot among the classic cartridges. Let’s take a look at five that I consider to be particularly innovative, in no particular order.

1. .28 Nosler
Announced at the 2015 SHOT Show, the .28 Nosler was the second in a series of proprietary cartridges from Nosler based on the .404 Jeffery, and designed to fit in a long-action receiver. A true magnum—even without the moniker—the .28 Nosler will better the velocities of the 7mm Remington Ultra Magnum by almost 100 fps, driving the heavy 175-grain bullets to 3140 fps. The .28 Nosler gives a shooter a blend of horsepower and tolerable recoil, which can handle nearly all North American game, and makes a good choice for longer shots at African plains game. It shoots flat, and the Nosler 175-grain AccuBond Long Range bullet is a perfect mate to the big case. If I owned a 7mm magnum—I’ve fallen under the spell of the .300 Winchester Magnum for decades—it’d be a .28 Nosler; the design maximizes the long-action receiver for the 7mm bore diameter.

2. .17 Winchester Super Magnum
This little rimfire is a serious design, giving excellent velocity and trajectory for varmints and furbearers. Based on the .27-caliber nail gun blank—used in construction—necked down to hold .17 caliber bullets, the .17 WSM will push a 20-grain bullet to 3000 fps. It was a collaboration between Winchester and Savage released at the 2013 SHOT Show, and I’ve had the pleasure of using the little hot-rod on a prairie dog shoot on the famous Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota; we were making solid hits out to 375 yards, even with a good crosswind. The .17 WSM betters the velocity of the .17 HMR by 650 fps, yet is 500 fps slower than the centerfire .17 Hornet. In a rimfire rifle, I feel the .17 WSM is the pinnacle of long-range designs, and with a velocity like that, those prairie dogs don’t stand a chance.

3. .375 Ruger
Attempts to compete with the revered .375 Holland & Holland Belted Magnum have been lukewarm, at best. The .375 Weatherby had a brief following, and the bigger .378 Weatherby and .375 Remington Ultra Magnum are generally deemed too fast by the professional hunters and clients across Africa. However, 2007’s .375 Ruger has had the most success, and with good reason: it’s a sensible and sound design, available in an affordable rifle, giving the shooter the ability to hunt any and all game on earth. It is a joint development between Hornady and Ruger; the beltless design offers a wider body (the same diameter as the belt of the H&H case), and velocities on par with the benchmark .375 H&H. Some test data indicates that the .375 Ruger will actually beat the H&H in the velocity department, but my experiences have shown it to be slower by 25 to 50 fps. At any rate, it is still plenty fast enough for dangerous game hunting, and for a hunter who wants to take advantage of the Ruger Hawkeye African rifle to have a do-all combination, the .375 Ruger makes an awful lot of sense; it runs in a long-action rifle (the H&H requires a magnum-length receiver), and the case design is very efficient.

4. .224 Valkyrie
Federal’s brainchild was released at the 2018 SHOT Show, and made some serious waves among both long-range shooters and hunters who love the .22 centerfires. Designed to give supersonic flight out past 1,300 yards—the .22 Nosler will drive the high B.C. 90-grain Sierra MatchKing to 2700 fps—the .224 Valkyrie gives true long-range performance with very little recoil. I spent some time with it on the range, and could watch my own vapor trails to nearly 900 yards. But it’s not just a target gun; the 90-grain Federal Fusion load gives deer hunters who like the .22s a perfectly viable deer cartridge, nipping at the heels of the 6mm’s performance. The 60-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip load—at 3300 fps—will most certainly create the ‘red mist’ varmint hunters love. A fast twist rate and high B.C. bullets are all the rage these days, and the .224 Valkyrie epitomizes that formula.

5. 6.5 Creedmoor
Alright, you knew it was coming, so I saved it for last hoping you’d read the entire piece. If you leave now, I understand, and appreciate the time we’ve had. The 6.5 Creedmoor has an equal amount of devoted fans and fervent haters, with both sides having valid claims. The Creedmoor is one of those cartridges like the .308 Winchester or .30-06 Springfield in that its performance is solid to the point of being boring. Are there other cartridges that can equal or exceed this performance? You betcha. It’s not exactly a miracle wrought in brass, but it sure makes it easy to ring 1,000-yard steel without turning your shoulder to hamburger. At the very least, the 6.5 Creedmoor finished the revival of the .264-inch bore diameter that the .260 Remington initiated. I personally prefer the 6.5-284 Norma as a hunting cartridge, but there is no denying that the Creedmoor makes a great choice for deer and similar-sized game. Based on the obscure .30 T/C case, necked down to hold 6.5mm bullets, the Creedmoor is accurate and easy to shoot, and those 140-grain bullets seem to slip through the air as if the atmosphere lost all its influence. So, love it or hate it, 2007’s 6.5 Creedmoor has changed the way we look at cartridge design.

Want to read more from Philip Massaro? Check out the following articles:
Top 5 Deer Bullets for 2018
 An Ode to the .30-30 Winchester
 5 Reasons to Book a Spring Bear Hunt
• An Ode to the Ruger Mini Thirty
• Boattail vs. Flat-Base Bullets
• How to Build a Custom Rifle
• Choosing a Cartridge for North America's Big Game
• Top 5 American-Made Hunting Rifles
• How to Choose a Buffalo Rifle
• An Ode to the .223 Remington
• Top 5 Coyote Cartridges
• The Ultimate Long-Range Hunting Cartridge
• The Greatest Whitetail Cartridge Ever Designed
• An Ode to the Browning BAR
• Top 5 Bear Bullets
• Do You Really Need a Magnum Cartridge?
• Why the Ruger No. 1 is Not No. 2
• Top 10 Mythical Game Species
• Top 5 Monometal Soft-Point Bullets
• Top 5 Subsonic .22 Long Rifle Loads
• The Most American Rifle Cartridge
• Tips for the Traveling Hunter
• How to Choose a Gun Safe
• Best Gun Cases for the Traveling Hunter
• An Ode to the .30-06 Springfield
• Top 5 Boutique Bullet Companies
• Top 5 .22 Long Rifle Loads
• 5 Reasons Round-Nose Bullets Are Still Cool
• Top 5 Dangerous Game Loads
• Top 5 Turkey Loads
• 5 Rifle Cartridges That Need to Make a Comeback
• Top 5 Safari Calibers
• 5 New Year's Resolutions for Hunters
• What Your Favorite Rifle Cartridge Says About You
• America's Most Wanted Cartridges
• America's Strangest Game Laws
• What Your Favorite Rifle Cartridge Says About You, Part II
• Top 5 Overrated Rifle Cartridges
• Top 5 Underrated Rifle Cartridges
• 5 Cartridges You Might Not Know About
• Top 5 Wildcat Cartridges
• An Ode to the Ruger Mini-14
• Top 5 Hog Loads
• Why .30-30 Winchester Will Never Die


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