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What Is the ‘Best’ Magnum Cartridge

by J. Scott Rupp   |  January 13th, 2012 30
Rupp with .375 H&H Ed Brown rifle and Cape buffalo

The author took this old Cape buffalo in Tanzania with an Ed Brown .375 H&H, one of cartridges he considers a gold-standard magnum.

Magnum-itis. Most of us American rifle shooters have it to one degree or another. It’s in our genome. And that explains why so many rifle chamberings with the “magnum” suffix can be found on dealer shelves. What is “best”? That depends on your viewpoint. It could be best in category, best all-around, most powerful, fastest, coolest, whatever.

Following are thumbnail sketches of a number of magnum cartridges. It’s not all-inclusive. Most are commercially available and commercially popular, but some are not—their inclusion based solely on the fact that I think they’re cool. Or I want one. I leave it to you to weigh in on what magnum cartridge you think is “best.”

.22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire

Representative load: 30-grain bullet @ 2,200 fps

Ha, thought I’d start with centerfires, didn’t you? The .22 WMR is a big step up from the .22 Long Rifle and a first-class small game cartridge. Its modern offspring, the .17 HMR, gets all the press these days, but if you like stalking groundhogs and such instead of sniping them, the .22 WMR is a very capable round.

.222 Remington Magnum

Representative load: 40-grain bullet @ 3,640 fps

A lot of my perceptions are based on my rabid study of ballistics tables when I was a kid. My dad wasn’t much of a groundhog hunter, but I was fascinated by it, and I wanted a .222 Rem. Mag. real bad. But of course the rise of the .223 Rem. did in the .222 Rem. Mag., so by the time I was old enough to buy guns on my own, the .222 Mag was a goner.

.257 Weatherby Magnum

Representative load: 115-grain bullet @ 3,250 fps

Years ago when I was editor of Petersen’s Hunting, I opined that if I lived in the West and spent a lot of time hunting pronghorn and mule deer, this would be my choice among the .25s. I’ll go further now and say it would be my number one choice period. Yeah, it burns a lot of powder and is surely over-bore, but having killed a couple of deer and antelope and a bunch of coyotes with one, I can tell you it’s a freakin’ laser beam.

.264 Winchester Magnum

Representative load: 140-grain bullet @ 3,030 fps

I’m almost embarrassed by how many times I’ve written about how I was sure, as a 12-year-old kid, that the .264 Win. Mag. was the ultimate cartridge for North American big game. It’s got those excellent 6.5mm bullet stats, coupled with a flat trajectory. But the 7mm Rem. Mag. pretty much relegated it to cult status, so there you go. I still want one, though.

.270 Winchester Short Magnum

Representative load: 130-grain bullet @ 3,300 fps

I’m not a big .270 guy, so I’m biased, but Craig Boddington is a fan of the .270 WSM, and that’s good enough for me. You can certainly see the logic: fast, flat cartridge in a short action rifle. Certainly a “magnum” improvement on a much-beloved standard  that’s perfect for all but the largest North American game, most of the African antelopes and more.

7mm Remington Magnum

Representative load: 150-grain bullet @ 3,100 fps

One of the three gold-standard magnums. The learned John Wootters once wrote that it may be the best all-around, world-wide big game cartridge of all time. I’m not going to argue with him, plus its ballistics, load variety and availability in loadings and rifles make it very appealing. The knock: Some elk guides I’ve talked to don’t like it, although a lot of that can be traced to early prejudice stemming from bullets that weren’t up to the cartridge’s velocities.

7mm Weatherby, Winchester Short Magnum, Remington Short Action Ultra Mag

Lumped together, these three cartridges aren’t a pimple on the 7mm Rem. Mag.’s butt. The Weatherby has excellent numbers, but it’s strictly proprietary. Unlike it’s .30 caliber brother, the 7mm WSM never caught on, while the 7mm RSAUM was too late to the short-mag party and not well-supported by its creator.

7.82mm (.308) Lazzeroni Patriot

Representative load: 180-grain bullet @ 3,184 fps

John Lazzeroni deserves due credit for developing the short-magnum concept. But despite efforts to move beyond proprietary status (I own a Savage in the Patriot, and there was a Sako TRG chambered in it as well), if you want this cartridge—which essentially matches the .300 Weatherby Magnum but in a short action—you have to be willing to spend the bucks to buy one of Lazz’s well-made but expensive rifles.

.300 H&H Magnum

Representative load: 180-grain bullet @ 2,800

Yes, it has nostalgic appeal, but read that representative load again, and, well, enough said.

.300 Remington Short Action Ultra Mag

Representative load: 180-grain bullet @ 2,960 fps

See 7mm SAUM entry above. I did get a chance to hunt caribou in Labrador with this cartridge, but… Too late, no support. Buh bye.

Rupp with red hartebeest and Kimber .300 WSM

Rupp took this red hartebeest in Namibia with a Kimber in .300 WSM, the most successful short magnum and a great all-around cartridge.

.300 Winchester Short Magnum

Representative load: 180-grain bullet @ 2,980 fps

Talk about a home run. I was fortunate enough to be on the ground floor of this round when it first came out, and I think it really delivered on all its promises: .300 Win. Mag. performance out of a short-action rifle (which tend to be more accurate because they’re stiffer, in addition to being lighter and handier) without a lot of recoil. I killed a lot of big game with it in North America and Africa, but for some reason I never actually bought one.

.300 Ruger Compact Magnum

Representative load: 180-grain bullet @ 3,040 fps (Superformance load)

The new kid on the block is designed with one thing in mind: Get .300 magnum-level ballistics out of very short barrels, the idea springing from veteran mountain hunter Steve Hornady’s desire for a short, light rifle with lots of power and a flat trajectory. The knock: If you’re not a short-barrel aficionado, there are plenty of cartridges that match the ballistics and provide more rifle and load options.

.300 Winchester Magnum

Representative load: 180-grain bullet @ 2,960 fps

The second of gold standard. Some have given it short shrift because of its short neck, but that’s a lot of bah humbug. From military snipers to long-range competition shooters to big game hunters, the .300 Win. Mag. has proven a more than capable warhorse. Factory loads abound, and nearly every rifle maker chambers it. Mine’s a Savage Model 16.

.300 Weatherby Magnum

Representative load: 180-grain bullet @ 3,240

Aside from its Weatherby pedigree and serious ballistics, it’s interesting how other .300 magnums are often compared to how they stack up to the Weatherby. A hunting buddy of mine from Alaska who I really respect used it for everything—deer, sheep, moose, bears—and typified the “one-gun man.” The cartridge is certainly up the to the task.

Rupp with red stag and Remington XHR .300 Ultra Mag

While he at first thought the .300 Ultra Mag was too much gun, a hunt with Remington's since-discontinued XHR in that caliber for Argentinian red stag changed his mind.

.300 Remington Ultra Mag

Representative load: 180-grain bullet @ 3,230 fps

There was a time I dismissed this cartridge as too much gun, based on what other people I’d hunted with had told me: “Bought one, shot one round, boxed it up and sent it back.” I’m a recoil wuss, but they must’ve been wussier. Based on the .404 Jeffery, this is certainly a powerful cartridge, but it’s also relatively manageable and definitely gives you an edge over other .300s. And as long as Remington keeps up its Power Level ammo effort (loads that approximate .30-06 and .300 WSM performance, plus full-power .300 RUM), I think this may be in fact be the most versatile of the .300s.

.338 Ruger Compact Magnum

Representative load: 225-grain bullet @ 2,750 (Superformance load)

See .300 RCM above. I think this actually one makes more sense, at least for elk hunting where you might find yourself in timber where a short barrel would be a big advantage.

7.82 (.308) Lazzeroni Warbird, .30-378 Weatherby Magnum

I’m including these because, while they’re propriety/not popular, they are screaming fast. Both of them spit out 180-grain bullets from 3,400 to 3,500 fps, so if you can handle the blast and recoil, more power to you. Literally.

.325 Winchester Short Magnum

Representative load: 200-grain bullet @ 2,950 fps

The 8mm diameter has never been big on these shores, but this largest member of the WSM family would seem eminently sensible for bear, moose, elk and more. Deferring again to our friend Craig Boddington, he believes it is a terrific choice for African plains game.

.338 Winchester Magnum

Representative load: 225-grain bullet @ 2,750 fps

The go-to cartridge for elk hunters who want to be ready for anything, from an in-your-face bugling bull to one easing into the timber across a distant alpine meadow. I’ve never shot a .338 Win. Mag., but the rap on it is its stout recoil—a hard, fast pulse that not everyone can get used to, at least not well enough to shoot it accurately.

.338 Remington Ultra Mag, .338 Lapua Magnum

Representative load: 225-grain bullet @ 2,975 fps (RUM)

Representative load:: 225-grain bullet @ 3,100 fps (Lapua)

Every time we run an article on the .338 Lapua Magnum in RifleShooter, we get indignant letters from .338 RUM shooters, demanding to know why they’re getting short shrift. For some reason, the Lapua round has captured the attention of the tactical crowd while the Remington round, which like all RUM cartridges is based on the .404 Jeffery, has not. But in the hunting realm, there are more game-appropriate bullets in this cartridge than for the Lapua. Either way, unless you’re chasing elephant or buffalo, you’ll have enough gun for any situation with either of these.

.375 Holland & Holland

Representative load: 270-grain bullet @ 2,690 fps

The last of the gold standards. Once you move beyond this cartridge, you’re well past anything utilitarian. Having killed two Cape buffalo with a .375 and having spent weeks and weeks working with Hornady’s old Light Magnum loads, I can attest that pretty much anyone can handle the .375, and the .375 can handle pretty much anything. That’s why it’s the No. 1 choice for many African safaris and for brown bear hunters who want to put down their quarry with authority.

.375 Ruger

Representative load: 270-grain bullet @ 2,740 fps (Superformance load)

H&H performance out of a .30-06-length cartridge due to the Ruger round having less taper than the H&H. Once again turning to Craig Boddington’s experience, he believes it’s a viable alternative to the H&H. Having shot it in Ruger’s Alaskan, I give it a thumbs-up from a shootability standpoint and would make it my first choice if I ever went for grizzlies.

Peter Barnhart with .416 Remington Magnum

The author's PH on his Tanzania buffalo hunt, Peter Barnhart, carried a .416 Remington Magnum as his backup gun, and that convinced Rupp it was a round to consider for his next Cape buffalo safari.

.416 Remington Magnum

Representative load: 400-grain bullet @ 2,400 fps

Remington’s 8mm Rem. Mag. case necked up to .416, providing ballistics on par with the legendary .416 Rigby. I think the next time I go for Cape buffalo, this is one cartridge I’ll take a hard look at. Why? More diameter than the .375 and, the real reason, my last PH carried one and swore by it for backing up clients on dangerous game hunts.

.416 Ruger

Representative load: 400-grain bullet @ 2,400 fps

See .375 Ruger above. Not much background here as I have no personal experience beyond shooting it at the range, and I haven’t spoken with or read anyone who’s hunted with it. In the Ruger Alaskan I found it marginal as far as shootability, but you’d certainly have to give it a look for certain situations.

.458 Winchester Magnum

Representative load: 500-grain bullet @ 2,240 fps

I mean, c’mon: Clint Eastwood used one in the first “Dirty Harry” movie! What else do you want? Oh, real-world stuff. It’s a widely available cartridge, relatively speaking, capable of taking the world’s largest game. I’ve shot it in a double, and while I wouldn’t want to spend a whole day shooting one, it’s more manageable—at least in that platform—than I expected. It has its detractors, but Finn Aagaard thought well of it, and that’s good enough for me.

  • Diana Rupp

    As someone who likes to hunt in Africa, I'll cast my vote for the .375 H&H. It's a caliber that can handle anything on the Dark Continent, from plains game to the biggest and most dangerous critters–the ultimate all-rounder. It's been around for 100 years and I'll bet it remains a gold-standard magnum for another 100.

  • Eric Karnes

    I mostly shoot long range. I shoot the .338 Lapua among others and think it's an excellent tactical round especially with the 250 gr. HPBT (or the 225 plus grain Berger VLD's) I think for an all around big game cartridge for anything in North America the .300 Remington Ultra Mag. beats them all. Everyone talks about what a "kicker" it is, but a good muzzle break like the one integrated in my .338 (no larger than the barrel diameter) an it makes it very tolerable and you don't look like you have a rocket engine mounted to the end of your barrel. As was mentioned above it's very versatile with the current factory loads available and even more so with reloading your own ammo.

  • Anon

    I already know what Boddington has written. I already know the reputations/characteristics of the cartridges. I read this sort of thing looking for advice from experts -new advice, new experts. But the whole thing is suspect when reading through rehash of the obvious to get to an admission of never shooting a 338 Win -one of the most common of all magnums. I know it can be hard to fill columns and word quotas but I could have written this. And I don't think anyone would benefit from my non-expert advice. Like athletes, we pay to get something from the pros that we can do or provide ourselves. It's disappointing when the take a knee or watch three strikes with the bat on their shoulder. I would have done as well.

    • Jeff

      Very good summation!

  • Matt Vanek

    Is this the same Scott Rupp that attended WVU in the early 80"s? If so, I would love to touch base. Matt V.

  • Lt T. Siewert USMC

    Most are likely unaware of the .30-338 Win mag but it will do everything all the other 30 mags will do and better than the 7 mags. Other than that, I am with Diana Rupp, the 375 H&H rules. Also, in experienced hands, the 30-338 or the 6.5×284 is just as good for shooting holes in paper at 1000 yards as the 338 Lapua belch-fire mag or even a 50 BMG.

  • DJMESQ

    WHAT ABOUT THE 8MM MAG?

    • Butch Houser

      I agree with 8mm Mag.

  • Bill K

    Having hunted various parts of this old world, and with numerous calibers. The 375 H&H is at the top of the list, for just about anything walking, with the correct bullet. Bill K

  • Butch Houser

    Actually the 375 H&H is the most versatile. Great cartridge!!

  • Ed Herb

    I have the .300 Rem Ultra Mag. and the .375 Rem Ultra Mag. The .300 shoots Fed. Trophy Tipped 180 gr. @ 3348 and the .375 shoots hand loaded Swift-A-Frame 300 gr.@2982. They are both superior elk cartridges here in Washington state, especially the .375. They are both Sako 75's that weigh about 9 lbs. so the recoil is very managable.

  • Jager

    The 375 H&H is the gold standard. I have taken all the Big 5 and many pigmy antelope with it. Not to mention everything in between. Load a soft followed by a solid; see a caracal or klispringer while tracking, jack out the first round. The solid makes a great follow up round any any rinning game. Alaskan moose, Brown and Grizzly bears…Perfect round. Ammo is readily available in EVERY country and in most safari camps. I always leave any extra I have with the PH. I've had a scope go bad on safari and burned up some precious ammo re-sighting the relacement. No problem, there is usually some 375 H&H in camp. You brought your 375 Ruger? Good round but good luck finding any in Tanzania. (or Fred's hardware in small town Alaska)

  • Draeger

    im kind of partial to y 338-378 weatherby, bit ill take my A bolt and no 1 in 375 h and h over anything else when push comes to shove :)

  • 300 H&H Fan

    I share Scott's fondness for the 257 Weatherby. The 375 H&H has to be the most versatile. But don't sell the 300 H & H short. It has the same case capacity as the 300 WSM and when properly loaded performs the same but with smoother and quieter feeding. I use the 338 Winchester the most only because I do a lot of elk hunting. But if I had to pick a favorite it would be the 300 H&H.

  • Robert J. Braun

    Africa and Alaska are out of reach of the largest amount of hunters. About all of the mags are not needed for most hunters. The Seven MM is by far the most useful of the bunch for the average hunter in the US. Sort of dublicates the ol' 06. Premium bullets and WELL placed shot are the answer. WE are talking what will work not what we dream of. Good Hunting and Good shooting.

  • Peter Wetzig

    Mine's not listed, the now all but obsolete .308 Norma Magnum. Identical to the wildcat 30/338 and the ballistic twin of the .300 Win Mag, it's a flat shooting, hard hitter for soft skin non dangerous game. This has got to be one of the most versatile magnums

  • Gary Travis

    Gary Travis

    376 Steyr , Hornady is the exclusive manufacturer for the Steyr Designed cartridge ,developed for the 19" barreled Steyr Scout Rifle. Long before the 375 ruger came in to the Scene, which was developed by Hornady for Ruger. The Steyr Case is slightly shorter than the Ruger, the head diameter is also slightly less.
    The Steyr is a very efficient cartridge. I own a Steyr Mountain Rifle w/a 20" iron sighted barrel and Synthetic Stock , the Hornady 270 gr SP 2600/2650 fps at over 4000 f/p Muzzle Energy. The Ruger 375 Alaskan w/a 20" Barrel 270 gr SP 2650/2700 fps at also over 4000 f/p M/E . As you can see the shorter Steyr Cartridge does not give up much in the speed or power Dept over the Ruger, or the 375H&H with the longer 24" barrel.The most important part is my Rifle is exceptionally accurate Shooting from a bench rest :sub-MOA at 100 yards w/ Factory ammo. For whatever reason this cartridge did not catch on over here, But I have heard that it is very Popular in Africa. Powerful, Efficient and easy Handling. Just like the Ruger but with a shorter case

  • oldtimer

    Lots of good ones listed here, but the .300 Win Mag is by far the most practical. I have two–a Model 70 and a Rem 700 custom and both are good for anything from woodchucks to elk. For heavy work, the 35 Whelen also can't be beat with 250 grainers, although not really a "magnum"…or is it? You don't necessarily need a belted case to get superior performance. I have one and I like it, and in the end that is what it is all about.

    • Draeger

      ive been wanting a 35 whelan for years. hard to find in my neck of the woods, so I'm finally building one on a P14 action. I'd like one with a nice short barrel for hunting wild boar in heavy brush.

      from your experience, do you think i'd lose too much velocity with an 18 inch barrel

  • el-oso1942

    Some that were left out: The 270 Weatherby which is superior to the 270 WSM, the 7 STW which beats all those 7mms mentioned, and the 338-378 which also is superior to those 338s on the list. My personal favorites are the 257 Weatherby, great for deer and antelope, particularly with the 100 gr Barnes TSX, the 7STW that has made 3 trips to South Africa with me and used 160 gr Barnes XLCs (;now discontinued, but I stocked up) on game up to and including Eland, the 300 RUM with 150 gr Swift Scirocco on deer and the 180 gr Barnes TSX on larger game, and last, the 416 Remington Mag with a 400 gr Barnes TSX that took a cape buffalo with one frontal chest shot last year. Others have their favorites, but these work for me.

  • frank

    how bout a 25-08

    • Jerry A

      "what a great cartridge, the 25 Souper in a Browning BLR would be the ticket with a 22 inch barrel

      • Keith

        25 souper how could it be worng

  • 7×57

    375 Ruger

  • Barry Sensing

    I like the 7mm Remington magnum best of all the magnums. For the game that I hunt, it is more than enough. It shoots 150 grain bullets slightly faster and flatter than a .270 Winchester with 130 grain bullets. It has slightly more hitting power than the great old 30-06, especially at longer ranges. The recoil is on par with the 30-06 as well. Of course the .300 magnums are better on game the size of elk and up, but I don't get the 0pportunity to go on these expensive hunts. A cartridge that gives you the best of both worlds between the .270 and the 30-06 and outperfoms both, is pretty hard to beat in my opinion.

  • Jim Campbell

    How abour the 350Rigby for plains,leopard and most things in north America and I have also used my Weatherby338-378,30-378 and 338-06. My 325 wsm Winchester is also a fine one in Alaska and Africato much success

  • Jerry A

    I like the 340 Weatherby for Western and Northern Canada, super on the big stuff , overkill on deer of course. Weatherby rifles are fantastic, wanted one ever since I was a kid now i'm in my mid 50's and I have 2 . A 340 and a 7MM Weatherby, They both shoot very good and with a little practice handling the rifle they easy to load properly. I really like reloading for both these cartridges also.

  • Dave

    My Dad gave me his .358 Norma Magnum – It's another wonderful option for mid-range work on Elk and Bear.

    • DALE61

      hey me too,its been my one gun killer for years.250 grain grand slam at 2800 out of a husky crown grade. got it of my grandpas friend along with his barely used fox sterling worth in 20 gauge.all for a song back in 1976.

  • X180A

    I’m just curious why all the companies named have a link to their website except Holland & Holland. Their .300 H&H and .375 H&H are at or near the top of almost everyone’s list. Also, the ten year old .400 H&H is a wonderful big bore cartridge that belongs on this list.

    Below are the .400H&H, .357H&H, and .300H&H for comparison.

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