January 04, 2011
By Jon R. Sundra
If the author were in the ammo business, which calibers would stay, and which old favorites would go?
By Jon R. Sundra
Those of you long enough in the tooth to have been reading magazines like this one prior to around 1990 probably remember Col. Charles Askins, a prominent member of the gunwriting fraternity and a man whom I considered a colleague and friend. To say that Charlie was contrary, crusty, controversial would be putting it mildly, but he could charm the pants off you if he wanted to.
Excellent and classic cartridges, but ones that the author would cut from production if he owned an ammo company, are the .22 Hornet, .222 Rem., .220 Swift, 6mm Rem., 6.5x55, 7x57, .284 Win. and .300 Savage.
On a regular basis the good Colonel would write articles like "Let's Junk the .30-06" (or the .30-30 or the Winchester Model 94--or any other sacred cow he could think of that would tick people off).
Early in my writing career Charlie advised me to write the occasional contrarian article to stir up the readers, just as he did. I took his advice to some degree, but where he was purposely confrontational and intransigent, I tried to be diplomatic. I have, for example, written several articles over the years about why I'd never choose the .30-06 for any kind of hunting, yet I never hesitate to recommend the caliber as being the very best choice for those who are not handloaders, who are not frequent shooters, who do not dote on guns and who want versatility from one rifle rather than a rack full of specialized ones. And I've had no crosses burned on my front lawn.
When editor Jerry Lee suggested I do a piece on calibers I would junk, I thought it would be fun--at least I did at the time. Now that I've been able to give it more thought, how do you tell someone who gets his buck every year and is perfectly content with his .35 Remington or .30-40 Krag that he's using the wrong caliber and that he should junk his rifle? Moreover, how could one presume to tell an ammo manufacturer to stop producing an obsolete or duplicitous caliber if it's still profitable?
If the author owned an ammunition company, these are the only
cartridges between .20 caliber and 7mm he'd see a future in loading: (left to right) .204 Ruger, .223 Rem., .22-250, .243 Win., .257 Roberts, .25-06, .260 Rem., .270 Win. and 7mm WSM.
But just for the sake of argument, if one could go through the commercial-caliber lineup and eliminate the redundancies and the losers without concern for those who own such rifles and the ammo-makers who still find it profitable enough to keep producing the stuff, what would my list of commercial calibers look like? To put it another way, if I were heading up a brand-new company just getting into the business of manufacturing centerfire rifle ammunition, which calibers would I produce?
Let's start with the smallest bore, the .17. I suppose, if we have to have a .17-caliber centerfire cartridge, the .17 Remington fills the bill nicely, but what does it offer that can't be accomplished by the new .204 Ruger? Now that I've had a couple of seasons of field experience with the .204, I'd eschew the .17 Rem., along with the .22 Hornet, .221 Rem. Fireball, .222 Rem., .225 Win. and the .220 Swift.
Among the .30 calibers, these are the ones the author would keep: (left to right) .30-30, .308 Win., .30-06, .300 WSM, .300 Win. Magnum and .300 Ultra Mag.
The rationale for such lunacy? None has much of a future as far as sales are concerned. The Hornet represents a tip of the hat to history, to "Townie" Whelen and to the embryonic days of varmint cartridges, but it's anemic, old fashioned in its case design, and what can it do that the .223 Remington can't do infinitely better? The same goes for the .222 Rem., an epochal cartridge to be sure, but as a varmint round, the .223 is better. And with it being the U.S. martial cartridge, its continued popularity is assured.
To not produce the .225 Winchester is a no-brainer that needs no explanation. As for the Swift, I can hear the howls of derision now. But c'mon, we're talking about an old-fashioned, semirimmed case with too much body taper that offers less than 100 fps advantage over the .22-250. If it's such a great cartridge, why do so few manufacturers chamber for it?
As for the new .223 WSSM, I'm going to hold off on this one because the jury is still out. This and the other two members of the Super Short Magnum family are so short and fat that they require special actions (read: a new rifle rather than rebarreling an existing action if you want to build one up), and I'm not sure that an extra 150 fps is worth it barrel-life-wise. Having said that, my varmint-rifle lineup would look like this: .204 Ruger, .223 Rem. and .22-250 Rem. A pretty sparse lineup to be sure, but all calibers I'd sell a ton of.
As to his favorite caliber, the author would load only for the 7mm-08 Rem., .280 Rem., 7mm WSM, 7mm Rem. Magnum and 7mm Rem. Ultra Mag.
Next up are the 6mms. From an ammo manufacturer's standpoint, I'd go with the .243 Win., only because it outsells the 6mm Rem. by a wide margin and remains a popular caliber. As for the .243 WSSM, it just doesn't offer enough of a ballistic edge for me to consider worthwhile, at least not in the context of a "dual purpose" cartridge.
All three make fine long-range woodchuck/marmot rounds, as well as predator cartridges, but that's about all. All three are needlessly powerful for high-volume shooting, such as at prairie dogs, gophers, ground squirrels, etc., and not enough for long-range (300 yards and beyond) antelope and mule deer hunting. I've come to consider the 6mm as being a compromise caliber--too much for half of what it's supposed to be used for and not enough for the other half. My 6mm offering, then, would consist solely of the .243 Win. and only because there's a lot of 'em out there.
It could still be a bit too early to tie one's star to the short magnums, but the author thinks they're here to stay. The ones that he'd bet on surviving are Winchester's. Shown here is the family portrait consisting of the .270, 7mm, .300 and the .325.
Going to the .25s now, I'd chuck the .25-20, .25-35 and .250 Savage--all of which are still being produced--as having lived way too long. The first two were designed for weak lever actions and the .250 Savage for the short magazine of the Savage 99 rifle. The only .25s I'd keep are the .257 Roberts and the .25-06 because they offer two distinct levels of performance within the caliber. I believe the Roberts makes a better deer cartridge than either the .243 or 6mm Rem., but that really shouldn't enter into it because it's not a good seller in any case. Nevertheless, I figure I'm entitled to one irrational, sentimental decision, and loading for the .257 would be it.
As for the .25 WSSM, I'd again hold off on it, for the same reasons articulated earlier for the two other members of this Super Short family. In fact, at least the .223 and .243 versions offer a slight velocity advantage over the .22-250 and .243 Win., respectively, but this one merely duplicates the 3,100 fps of the .25-06 pushing the same 100-grain bullet. The .25 WSSM, therefore, has to justify its existence solely on the fact that the rifles chambered for it are about one inch shorter than a rifle chambered for the .25-06. At this point, I'm not about to bet on its future success.
Including the .25-06 as the other round within the caliber seems like another no-brainer to me. It was one of the all-time great wildcats, and now, as a commercial round, it's one of the most perfectly suited to pronghorn hunting I can think of.
Graduating to the .26 caliber, as fine a deer cartridge as the classic 6.5x55 Swedish cartridge is, I'd exclude it from my caliber lineup, along with the almost-obsolete .264 Winchester Magnum. I'm not in business for sentiment; to keep good and/or classic cartridges like these alive when there's little market for either is bad business. I feel the same about the 6.5-284 Norma--a super cartridge but one that has to come a long way before it establishes itself as a viable commercial round.
My 6.5mm lineup would be slim indeed, consisting only of the .260 Remington; it will do anything the 6.5x55 can, and in a short-action rifle. I think it's one of the best whitetail cartridges ever conceived, as well as the perfect round for youngsters, those who are slight of build and the recoil conscious.
Now we come to the threshold of big-game calibers, the .270 bore. I'd keep both of them--the legendary .270 Winchester and the upstart .270 Win. Short Magnum. I mean, how could one dismiss the former? Not only has it proven itself to be one of the all-time greats, but it's phenomenally popular as well. The .270 WSM, however, is a better cartridge that improves the original's ballistics by 125 fps pushing the same-weight bullet. As more new rifles are sold, I believe the WSM version will make serious inroads into .270 Win. sales, and I, for one, would want a piece of it.
There is no shortage of cartridges that will do the job, and the author has used dozens with great success, but there is so much duplicity in today's commercial offerings that many are in production through the generosity of the ammo companies rather than because they are profitable.
The 7mm, along with the .30, is the most popular caliber cartridge-wise. I'd pass on the legendary 7x57 in favor of the 7mm-08 Rem. Crazy, you say, to not include this truly epochal cartridge? Maybe, but as an ammo manufacturer I'd have to hold down pressures as per SAAMI, just like the other ammo producers must. So why load a caliber that's 200 fps slower and that ideally should be based on a standard-length action when the 7-08 will work through a short one?
A personal favorite of mine is the .284 Winchester, but in factory-loaded form it's not as good as the .280 Remington, which I would definitely have in my lineup, along with the 7mm Rem. Magnum. And though it duplicates the latter ballistically, I'd also want the 7mm WSM (along with the .300 and .325 WSM) because I believe the WSM family represents a new generation of sporting cartridges that is here to stay.
I can't say the same for Remington's Short Action Ultra Mags, which have about seven percent less case capacity than the Winchester hull. I cannot understand why Big Green just had to have its own version of the short magnum once it saw the success Winchester was enjoying instead of saying, "OK, they beat us with the short magnums, but we've got the Ultra Mags. We'll chamber for theirs, they'll chamber for ours, and we'll both be happy." But I guess the corporate mind just can't stand the idea of being left out of anything that appears to be successful for a competitor.
Topping out my 7mm lineup would be Remington's 7mm Ultra Mag, at the expense of the 7mm STW, which it beats handily. My 7mm offerings, then, would consist of the 7mm-08, .280 Rem., 7mm Rem. Magnum, 7mm WSM and 7mm Ultra Mag.
My .30-caliber players would start with the .30-30, not because of any ballistic merit, but how could any ammo manufacturer ignore the most popular deer caliber of all time? As for the rest of the line, it would look very much like the 7mms as far as case capacities are concerned. It would start with the .308 Winchester, then the .30-06, .300 Win. Magnum, .300 WSM and .300 Ultra Mag. Simple, clean, yet every rung on the performance ladder is represented. The only ballistic redundancy is the .300 Win./.300 WSM, but for the same reason as described with the 7mms, I would include them in my lineup.
Let me again state that those cartridges I've not mentioned aren't necessarily ones that I would personally like to see junked; it's just that, as an ammo manufacturer with an eye for the bottom line, I wouldn't want them in my lineup.
You'll notice I left out proprietary cartridges such as the Lazzeronis, Weatherbys and Dakotas and cartridges over .30 caliber. That was for brevity's sake. Either of those categories would make a feature article by itself.