“Nothing ventured, nothing gained”. “Win some, lose some.” “Sometimes you are the windshield sometimes you are the bug.” Guns lend themselves to strong opinions on what is best and many gun aficionados are always looking for the next big thing. For their part, gun and ammunition manufacturers are always looking to move more product, fill their customers needs, and make more dinero. But for every home run, there are many strikes outs, and some un-forced errors…these are some of those stories….
In the 1950s, almost immediately after its introduction, Warren Page, legendary firearms editor for Field and Stream magazine, necked-down a .308 to accept a .24 caliber bullet. Remington took a look at what he’d done and said, aha!, a varmint round someone might shoot a deer with. They necked a .257 Roberts down to .24 and released the .244 Remington (which used a .243 bullet). Winchester soon came out with their standardized version of a necked down .308 they dubbed the .243 Winchester. But they saw it as a DEER cartridge someone might want to shoot varmints with. They were more right. The important difference wasn’t in the cartridge itself but the difference in the barrel twist rate of the rifles. Remington barreled theirs with a slower twist favoring lighter bullets, resulting in the perception that the .244 would not work well on larger game. Winchester rifled their barrels at 1:10 allowing bullet weights of around 100gr which the market readily accepted and the rest, along with the .244, was history. Remington tried renaming it to 6mm Remington, but it was too late to garner wide acceptace. The .243 Winchester has gone on to being in the top 6 rifle cartridges sold for 50 years. Liberty Tree Guns has about 220 Models of Rifles chambered in .243 Winchester. .244 Remington? Perhaps someday there will be a used one on the rack.
The 6.5 Creedmoor was introduced by Hornady in 2007, based off of the .30 T/C case, which was itself based on the .308 Winchester case. Hornady envisioned it as a long range target cartridge. You may have heard of it? Here is the thing though, it is nearly the ballistic and physical twin of the .260 Remington which was released in 1997 (by necking down a .308 case to accept a .264 bullet). The .260 is the 6.5 mm’s older identical cousin; only, most folks aren’t familiar with the .260. So why is the 6.5 Creedmoor getting so much buzz while the .260 Remington is barely surviving? What manner of marketing voodoo is this? First, yes, marketing savvy plays a part. Despite the fact that the .260 was designed as a target round, Remington didn’t regard it as such, and loaded and sold it as a hunting cartridge. To understand why this might have been a blunder we have to talk about the 7mm-08. The 7-08, introduced a decade before the .260, is a necked down .308 and has a 7mm bullet – approximating the ballistics of the 7 x 57 Mauser which has killed everything, everywhere. The 7-08 is the third most popular cartridge in the .308 family. It was introduced as a hunting cartridge, and has been very successful. This success sort of dampened any excited feelings anyone might have had for the .260 when it was introduced, because the .260 didn’t drop a deer with any more authority than a 7mm-08. Where the .260 shines, and really outshines most cartridges, is at long range, creating tiny group sizes, but that was not what it was marketed for, and most people at the time felt that the 7mm-08 was better because, well, because. The other thing that the .260 did not have in its’ favor, is when loaded to its maximum overall length it is ever so slightly too long to fit in a standard AR-10 mag. The Creedmoor does not suffer from this problem. Compare the tale of the .260 to the marketing of the 6.5cm. Liberty Tree Guns lists 25 loads for the .260 Remington in its’ ammo department, which ain’t bad. That ammo will cost about 30% more than comparable ammo for 6.5 CM. There are 36 choices in firearms in .260 Remington on Liberty Tree’s website, which is more than I would expect and shows how popular long range shooting has become. Compare that the the 6.5 CM though. There are Two Hundred (2-0-0) possibilities on the Liberty Tree Guns website for you to choose your rifle from. From a humble (yet very good) Savage Axis for less than $400 to the Barrettt MRAD for around $6k. Ammunition too, for the Creedmoor is plentiful and less expensive than that of the .260 Remington. I count 48 choices in ammunition, starting at less than $20 a box. The 6.5 CM was designed and fully thought out, the execution matched the design, and the marketing machine did its’ job. It gained a reputation as a competition round. It began to generate real buzz. Rifle makers and cartridge makers took notice and developed new loads for it. It and has now begun to be seen as an incredibly desirable hunting round. Meanwhile the .260 languishes in obscurity, loved by some, unknown to most.
.280 Remington/7mm-06 Remington/7mm Express
Taking the .30-06 case and necking it to 7mm, Remington should have knocked this one out of the park. In a sane world people should have flocked to it as a harder hitting .270 or a flatter shooting .30-06. I am going to blaspheme here and say that the .280 should have obsoleted one or both of those cartridges. Several things stood in its’ way.
- The american shooting public has historically, and until very recently, distrusted metric designated cartridges (at minimum they were Eurotrash and perhaps even communistic) whereas we have complete trust in, and affection for, .30 caliber cartridges.
- It splits the size difference between two beloved calibers (.30-06 and .270) and that seems to have an odd effect of making everyone dismiss or even despise it, instead of love it. (see also .40 S&W).
- Anything the .280 can do the 7mm Remington Mag can do, and Americans love Magnums, what with their extra noise and recoil, they make things deader.
- Jack O’conner didn’t write about it.
- Pure marketing blunder: it had 3 names in a decade.
A name means something. When it was introduced it was called a .280, what is that?, it means nothing, is not flashy at all. It sounds like a copycat of the .270 (arguable). In the late 70’s Remington, probably hoping to call attention to it being in the .30-06 family, renamed it to the 7mm-06 Remington. It is a shame they didn’t stick with it, because that would have probably been a winner (see 7mm-08). Before a year elapsed they renamed it again calling it the 7 mm Express. Again no one in the US knew what “Express” was supposed to mean and people began to confuse it with the very popular 7 mm Remington Magnum, so Remington changed the name back to .280 in 1981. Three names in one decade, now only an enlightened few knows what it is. There are only about 20 loadings listed on the Ammo side of the Liberty Tree Website (that is probaby 19 more than the big box store nearby). There are but ten rifles available for order on Liberty Tree’s website, Liberty Tree sources from national distributors, if they can’t get something, generally speaking that is because it is not available. The .280 Remington it remains, unloved, and terribly underappreciated, though still produced, forever doomed because of inconsistent marketing. Perhaps there really never was a place for it to begin with, kind of like the next cartridge.
.30 T/C –
Sometimes you just can’t build a better mousetrap. This cartridge, developed by Hornady and Thompson/Center Arms and released in 2007 was supposed to bridge the gap (?) between .30-06 performance and .308 length. To the extent there is a marketable difference between the two it has always been based on length, and maximum bullet weight. Few people have ever thought that there was a real performance gap between those two cartridges beyond the fact that the .30-06 required a longer action, and could, when handloaded, surpass the .308 in maximum energy. Generally for most hunting applications there has not been a perceived difference. However they gave it a try. It didn’t go over well because if you are going to buy a new rifle most people want something with new capability. The gist of the experiment was using a modified .308 case and some sort of unobtainium for powder. The average hunter didn’t see the big deal, and the handloading community was totally unimpressed, especially since reloading the .30 t/c case to factory specs was not possible due to the secret recipe powder. They hit the fail button big time there, but hark!, the .30T/C case lives on in the Creedmoor line which is enormously successful.
.338 Federal –
Intended as a big game cartridge with reasonable recoil for lightweight rifles and released by Federal in 2006. The 338 Federal was presented as a non-magnum cartridge boasting magnum energy, a big game caliber offering tolerable recoil in lightweight rifles. Most .338 caliber projectiles do their best work when driven at high velocities as they were designed. But the .338 Federal does not generate high velocities. Furthermore, the .338 bore does not show a meaningful increase in frontal area over the .308 Winchester in the field. Simply put, the .308 Winchester is just as capable of firing heavy bullets, and while it it is also not a magnum velocity wise, neither is the .338 Federal. If you want to duplicate the .338 Federal performance load a .308 with a heavy bullet and good powder charge and keep the shots inside 150 yards. It is neither fish nor fowl; it is not really a thumper, and it definitely is not a magnum. Perhaps the blunder here was releasing it at all. If you need further proof that this cartridge was not a home run, Liberty Tree’s Site lists only 5 loadings available on the ammo side, and it appears that Savage is the main purveyor of factory chambered rifles. The next cartridge, however, has the attributes that the .338 lacks.
.358 Winchester –
In my opinion the most under appreciated cartridge ever, the .358 Winchester was brought to market in 1955. It was the original effort at necking up a .308; this time to .358 (to somewhat offer what the .35 Whelen did in the .30-06 package). The thing I can’t figure out about the .358 Winchester is its complete and utter lack of popularity. It has a little less recoil than a .30 caliber magnum, it’s much faster than a .45-70, only a little slower than the .308. The .300 Win Mag only has about 50 yards more maximum point blank range, and gets there by burning more powder, out of a longer barrel, with much more recoil. The .358 does have a meaningful difference in frontal area and bullet weights over the .308 (where the .338 doesn’t) The .358 Win is the best player never to get called to the big leagues. It simply does the job and does it very well with a minimum of fuss. Meanwhile, everyone goes gaga over faster magnums or is drunk with nostalgia playing buffalo hunter with 19th century cartridges (I am guilty too). What is often forgotten is that 30 caliber, and similar, magnums do all their good work because of high velocity, high velocity creates a slightly flatter trajectory. They trade velocity for mass, and while it does allow them to reach farther out with less hold over, it does not really increase killing power. Remember also that a .45-70 has a rainbow like trajectory but is considered accurate to 1000 yards, if you know your hold overs, and will drop buffalo at range; it is able to do so because of mass, not velocity. While there are a few high velocity cartridges intended for dangerous or truly big game, the great majority of of “guide” cartridges fall into the medium velocity, heavy bullet category. The fact that the .358 combines these traits (medium velocity, heavy bullet) should make us stop and think. This is a true thumper of a round in a cartridge that doesn’t require an iron shoulder. The only reasons I can see why this cartridge has not been widely accepted are thus:.
- No ammo maker has taken the cartridge under its’ wing and developed a full line of cartridges. Currently its true potential is limited to handloaders which cuts out most of the shooting public.
- It has been labeled as a woods gun and is currently offered only in a lever action rifle; making people think it is similar to a .30-30 instead of being a fully capable medium and heavy game cartridge like the .35 Whelen.
- It is not a “Magnum”.
- The biggest reason that I can see that the .358 doesn’t dominate the market as a step up in performance to the .308 for taking large or dangerous game at sane ranges is lack of a good partnership with a rifle maker. There is only one rifle chambered for it currently available ; the Browning BLR, which is an excellent, but not top selling, rifle
If Ruger or Mossberg would chamber a few rifles in the .358 and if Hornady or some other ammo manufacturer was to develop a range of cartridges for it; it could be marketed as a harder hitting companion to the 6.5 Creedmoor and it would be a winner. They could fiddle with the neck like the T/C case and call it the 9mm Creedmoor (I know that Creedmoor references a long distance shooting contest, but marketing is marketing and the word is kinda popular). You would have the long range elk gun, and the short/medium range thumper cartridge. Sell them as matched sets. I’d buy a set. It is the perfect heavy cartridge for a short & handy 20” barrel rifle. Cash in on the AR popularity and come out with a reasonably affordable AR10 in .358. I’d buy one of those too. Come on Guys!