January 04, 2011
By Craig Boddington
As a grand old magnum rides toward the sunset, the author makes a case to save it from obsolescence.
By Craig Boddington
Left to right: .300 Winchester Magnum, .300 H&H, .300 Weatherby
Magnum. The Winchester magnum has essentially replaced the .300 H&H, and the Weatherby round is actually one of several "improved" versions of the .300 H&H.
Short and fat may not be most popular build for supermodels, but it is definitely "in" in the world of cartridge design. We know that short, fat cartridges burn their powder columns more effectively, producing more energy per grain burned, and this burning efficiency is conducive to accuracy. So why, exactly, do I get such pleasure out of chambering one of those long, tapered, gently shouldered, downright archaic .300 H&H cartridges?
Well, I haven't met a fast .30 caliber I didn't like, and — thick-skinned game excluded — I have seen no hunting situations in the entire world that a fast .30 couldn't handle. At the upper end, the fastest .30 caliber magnums such as the .300 Weatherby, Remington Ultra Mag, .30-.378 Weatherby and Lazzeroni's Warbird are awesome — but with lots of recoil and blast, too.
At the lower end, the short magnums such as the .300 Ruger Compact Magnum, Remington Short Action Ultra Mag and Winchester Short Magnum are simply amazing in the performance they provide from such tidy cases that can be housed in short, light rifles.
I dearly love the .30-06 as well, but when I know the country is going to be a bit more open or the game a bit larger than deer, or both — or when I'm not exactly sure what to expect — then I'm likely to upgrade to a faster .30 caliber. A bit flatter trajectory simplifies shooting, and the impact of greater downrange energy cannot be denied.
With a fast .30 you're prepared for almost anything. I mentioned some of newer, shorter, fast .30s, and I mentioned the large-cased fastest .30s. I didn't mention the cartridges that fall right in between, the .300 Winchester Magnum and the .300 H&H — the latter a cartridge I never used at all until 2003.
I was 11 years old in 1963 when Winchester introduced the .300 Winchester Magnum. Late in that model year, it replaced the long-loved .300 H&H (one of the Model 70's original chamberings) with the shorter, short-necked, straight-sided newcomer — making a pre-1964 .300 Winchester Magnum a real prize for collectors.
As a child of the magnum craze, I owned a .300 Winchester Magnum before I owned a .30-06, and through the 1980s and '90s I became, and still am, a staunch fan of the .300 Weatherby. In the late '90s, I used the big Warbird, the .300 RUM and the .300 WSM. So why in the world would I turn to one of the oldest fast .30s, a cartridge that is rare in any factory rifle, seems to be of antiquated design and appears to be right around the corner from obsolescence?
Two reasons. First, the .300 H&H was one the few .30 caliber cartridges I'd never messed with. It was a gap in my knowledge, and it's a legendary cartridge with much nostalgic appeal.
A while back I talked Ruger into including the .300 H&H as part of a limited-run "safari" series, 250 rifles in each of five cartridges. I don't really think this small gesture will bring the cartridge back, I had a wonderful experience with it in Africa.
Second, my buddy Geoff Miller of John Rigby & Co. is a lifelong .300 H&H fanatic. He insisted I try the .300 H&H, and if I did, he assured me I'd be surprised by the accuracy and the performance. We put a match-grade Pac-Nor 26-inch barrel on a Remington M700 action and cut a tight chamber. I'm not sure what other tricks were performed, but with that barrel the rifle and the cartridge walked and talked.
With the 26-inch barrel and Geoff's handloads — ones you won't find in any manual — he proved to me that the .300 H&H's antique case design could produce 3,400 fps with a 150-grain bullet, more than 3,200 with a 180-grain bullet and almost 3,000 fps with a 200-grain bullet.
That shocked me. In theory you can do a bit better with a .300 Winchester Magnum because, despite its short case, its short neck and straight case give it useable powder capacity of 79.5 grains of water to the .300 H&H's 72.2 grains. In theory, too, the .300 Winchester Magnum's shorter, fatter case gives it more efficiency.
In reality, not all .300 Winchester Magnum chambers will beat those velocities. Not all .300 H&H chambers will produce them, either. Current loading data, as reflected in the accompanying chart, is fairly mild, probably reflecting the fact that this is an older cartridge — with almost no new rifles — and of course reflecting the steady downgrading of published data because of product liability.
The .300 Weatherby Magnum is actually just one of several "improved" or blown-out versions of the .300 H&H, but with the taper removed and the full-length case retained, it has a lot more case capacity, nearly 85 grains. It should be faster, and it is — but it starts to edge toward overbore capacity, so there are diminishing returns. To get to maximum velocity you have to burn a lot more powder, which means more heat, recoil and blast.
The .300 H&H, here in a Ruger No. 1, may be on the way out, but it's an accurate and powerful cartridge capable of taking down nearly any game animal.
Realistically, to get the best accuracy I had to back off just a bit. I've been using Superior Ammunition's loads, and they're pretty darned fast and accurate. Again, in my 26-inch barrel (and it's a tight barrel), I get a bit over 2,900 fps with a 200-grain bullet, about 3,100 fps with a 180-grain bullet and an honest 3,350 fps with a 150-grain bullet. That's faster than any of the short magnums, on par with the .300 Winchester Magnum and not too far behind the .300 Weatherby Magnum.
Velocity, of course, is just one aspect of performance. With the great modern bullets we have, good bullet performance is pretty much a given at the velocities we're talking about, but neither velocity nor energy are useful if you don't have the accuracy to go with them. The next thing I learned about the .300 H&H is that accuracy, though never a given with any cartridge in any rifle, is
This is not a new lesson. The great British firm of Holland & Holland introduced the .300 H&H in 1925, originally calling it Holland's Super .30. It's based on a very simple necking down of the same firm's .375 H&H Magnum, retaining the 2.850-inch case, with considerable body taper, sloping shoulder and long neck.
The original loads were mild by today's standards, but they were a lot faster than the two most popular .30 caliber cartridges of the day: the American .30-06 and the .303 British. It did okay for Holland & Holland and was almost immediately loaded by the old Western Cartridge Company.
There are a few .300 H&H factory loads, and most are premium loads like Winchester Supreme. You can also go the semi-custom route. Superior Ammunition offers several superb .300 H&H loads.
Then, in 1935, Ben Comfort used a .300 H&H to win the Wimbledon Cup 1,000-yard match. This was the boost the cartridge needed, and it got another one two years later when it was among the initial offerings in the brand-new Winchester Model 70, "the rifleman's rifle." For the next 26 years, the .300 H&H was the world standard long-range magnum, known for performance and accuracy.
This was all before my time. The .300 Winchester Magnum uses a very short neck to maximize case capacity. It was long rumored that its "less than one caliber" (i.e., less than .308-inch) neck was a design flaw, giving the case a poor grip on the bullet that would inhibit accuracy. In theory this is true, but we have all seen too many spectacularly accurate .300 Winchester Magnum rifles to fully accept the theory.
Similarly, the short, fat cases of the new short magnums do promote accuracy, and if this is true, the long, tapered case of the .300 H&H is anathema to accuracy. Here's the deal: Case design is a contributing element to accuracy, but it's not as important as a good barrel properly mated to a true action, a precisely cut chamber and consistent ammunition.
The author has had a soft spot for the .300 H&H ever since he used it to make an important shot on this desert ram.
So in that Remington 700, with a great barrel and good ammo, I'm cheating. Or, perhaps, better put, I could get good accuracy with almost any cartridge. But the fact remains that, in .300 H&H, the rifle is a real shooter. With 200-grain Sierras, half-inch groups are routine; with 150-grain Sierras, quarter-inch groups are frequent.
Its best group, at least to date, was 1.5 inches — at 400 yards. Accuracy like that gives you wonderful confidence, and I've put that confidence to good use.
The first shot I ever fired at game with a .300 H&H was on a desert sheep in Sonora, an expensive and long dreamed-of hunt. The shot I drew was about 330 yards, sharply uphill, a quartering angle. That kind of shot is doable with any reasonably flat-shooting rifle, but a desert sheep isn't a big target, and there's an awful lot riding on such a shot. The 150-grain Sierra entered exactly where I wanted it to and lodged against the hide on the off hip.
That rifle has been to Africa twice and to New Zealand twice. On the most recent trip to the latter, I killed a sambar with a 200-grain Sierra.
In September 2009, I took a different .300 H&H, a Ruger No. 1 single-shot, to Zambia and Mozambique. I used different ammo, too — Hornady factory loads with 180-grain InterBond and GMX — and it worked great on a wide variety of game of all sizes.
So, other than just to be different, is there any reason to choose a .300 H&H over the more modern fast .30s? I suppose I could try to build a case. My experience has been that accuracy is superb, including in my Ruger single-shot, but I can't tell you with a straight face that it's really more accurate than other fast .30s with good barrels in equally good rifles.
Ammunition is a bit of a problem, with limited factory loads. Case length requires a .375 H&H-length action, while the .300 Winchester Magnum fits into a .30-06-length action, and the short magnums can be shoe-horned into true short actions. This means a .300 H&H rifle will be longer and heavier, and it probably should have a 26-inch barrel to strut its stuff.
Is it worth the hassle just to be a bit nostalgic? Maybe not, but there's one probable benefit and another that's dead certain. My judgment is that felt recoil is very mild for the performance level. At least in theory, this is because of the smooth acceleration from that archaic tapered case with its gentle shoulder. Take that or leave it, but the .300 H&Hs I have used don't bounce as bad as other fast .30s of similar velocity level.
This one you can put in the bank: That long, sloping case may not be efficient, but it feeds like a dream. We don't talk about it much, but the reality is smooth feeding is often an issue with our perfectly designed and incredibly efficient short, fat cases.
The longer .30s feed better, but none of them feed like the .300 H&H. That tapered case literally falls into the chamber and falls right out during extraction. If you want to experience the ultimate in smooth feeding, try a .300 H&H.
Is there hope for the H&H. Realistically, not much. And perhaps there shouldn't be. After all, we have enough fast .30s without resurrecting the .300 H&H. Why not bring back the .30 Newton as well?
On the other hand, the .300 H&H was extremely popular for many years, and its attributes are genuine: performance, accuracy, smooth feeding. It's also a traditional choice, and nostalgia counts with many of us.
What future it has is primarily as a handloader's cartridge. There are factory loads, and good ones in Winchester Supreme and Federal Premium, and there's now a new load from Hornady. That's the good news.
|.300 Magnum Load Comparison|
|Cartridge||Bullet Weight (grs.)||Powder||Powder Charge (grs.)||Muzzle Velocity (fps)||Data Source|
|.300 H&H||150||RL25||80.5**||3,315||Nosler 6th|
|.300 Win. Mag||150||IMR4350||74.0||3,420||Nosler 6th|
|.300 Wby. Mag.||150||IMR4831||81.0||3,500||Hornady 6th|
|.300 H&H||180||RL22||71.0||3,023||Nosler 6th|
|.300 Win. Mag.||180||IMR4831||73.0**||3,160||Nosler 6th|
|.300 Wby. Mag.||180||RL22||79.0||3,202||Barnes 4th|
|.300 H&H||200||RL25||69.5||2,847||Nosler 6th|
|.300 Win. Mag.||200||IMR4831||71.0||2,972||Nosler 6th|
|.300 Wby. Mag.||200||H1000||87.0**||3,039||Nosler 6th|
|** compressed charge. Notes: These are among the fastest loads published in current reloading manuals. They are NOT starting loads; consult manuals for starting powder-charge weights.|
|Warning: The loads shown here are safe only in the guns for which they were developed. Neither the author nor InterMedia Outdoors assumes any liability for accidents or injury resulting from the use or misuse of this data. Shooting reloads may void any warranty on your firearm.|
The bad news is current loads are limited to 180-grain bullets, and all are pretty conservative at a standard 2,880 fps, about the same as the "enhanced velocity" .30-06 loads. You can do better on your own, but the cartridge is no longer popular enough to make new load development worthwhile to manufacturers. Plus, with all older cartridges in older rifles, there are reasons for keeping the pressures down.
A while back I talked Ruger into including the .300 H&H as part of a limited-run "safari" series, 250 rifles in each of five cartridges. We called the .300 H&H with 26-inch barrel "the kudu." I don't really think this small gesture will bring the cartridge back, I had a wonderful experience with it in Africa.
I hope the other 249 brand-new .300 H&H rifles are allowed to strut their stuff. Just like a previous generation of riflemen was, and just like I have been, their owners will be delighted with how well this grand old cartridge performs.