Mastering the Magnums

When it comes to this powerful cartridge, ‘bullet choice is imperative for the best results.’


I had just obtained my first .300 Winchester Magnum – a cartridge I’d come to absolutely love, and one that I’d end up taking all over the world – and simply could not wait for the first day of deer season. I had the rifle zeroed perfectly, so any shot in the open woods of our hunting property was a dead hold, and it was grouping very well. When opening day finally arrived, the morning had been rather quiet – just a couple does here and there – so I returned to my truck for lunch, planning to try a different spot for the afternoon. As I approached the second stand, reeling from the effects of a huge lunch, a respectable six-point buck stood up in front of me, just as surprised to see me as I was him.

Getting the InterArms rifle to shoulder and tracking the buck as he ran, I was absolutely ready when that deer made the fatal mistake of stopping near the ridge top and looking back. When the trigger broke, the buck fell out of the scope, as dead as yesterday. I remember thinking, “This is a deer rifle!” No tracking, no wondering, just dead-right-there. Oh, that deer was dead alright, as was evidenced by the softball-sized hole on his side shoulder and the huge radius of bloodshot meat around it. Essentially both front shoulders were inedible, and the scowl from my father upon skinning the deer made me rethink my choice of rifle/cartridge/ bullet.
To the best of my recollection, it was a 150- or 165-grain Hornady factory load, but that was over two decades ago. Can I say the Hornady InterLock bullet failed? Absolutely not; the deer was killed immediately, and the bullet went exactly where I aimed it. The issue was the speed of impact, and the construction of the chosen bullet for the task. The InterLock is a (wonderful) cup-and-core design, and like so many cup-and-core bullets, will expand quite violently when the impact velocities are high, which was invariably the case with that particular deer. Simply put, I should have chosen a dierent bullet for the velocities generated by the big case.

Massaro handloaded 220-grain Hornady InterLock round-
nosed bullets in his .300 Winchester, at a reduced velocity of 2,425 feet per second to hunt whitetail deer and black bear at woods distances. (J.D. FIELDING PHOTOGRAPHY)
LET’S FIRST LOOK at what makes a magnum cartridge. “Magnum” is the Latin word for “great,” and in the cartridge world it denotes a cartridge that delivers a higher level of performance than standard, but that can be subjective. The .375 Holland & Holland Magnum is most certainly a magnum when compared to its predecessor – the Velopex – but has become the industry standard, taking away the .375 Winchester and .38-55. The .416 Rigby doesn’t have the magnum name, probably because it was the first of its bore diameter, but shares identical ballistics with the .416 Remington Magnum. The .300 H&H Magnum betters the velocities of the classic .30-06, which predated it by 19 years, but pales in comparison to the .300 Weatherby Magnum, let alone the .30- 378 Weatherby Magnum.
And the .30 Nosler has no magnum in its name, but is absolutely a magnum cartridge, as it has a velocity on par with the .300 Weatherby Magnum. So, whether or not the cartridge has “magnum” in its name, you’ll need to look at the velocities to see if they may pose an issue. When you are shooting a magnum, those high velocities can put an awful lot of strain on the bullet, especially when the shots are close, say, inside of 100 yards, and that’s exactly what caused that horrific exit wound on my deer.
Had I chosen a heavier bullet with a better sectional density value, things would have been diff­erent, just as they would if I had chosen a premium bullet, or if the distance to that deer had been longer, giving the bullet a chance to slow down. At .308 Winchester velocities, the 150-grain .308-inch-diameter cup-and-core bullets are no issue, but increase that velocity from 2,820 feet per second to 3,250, and you’ve reached the point of undesirable terminal ballistics.

The longer, heavier 180-grain bullets make a better choice for the .300 Winchester Magnum, as the muzzle velocity slows down to 2,960 fps and the increased sectional density value (.226 for the 150-grain bullet vs. .271 for the 180-grain bullet) helps slow down rapid expansion, thereby reducing the amount of wasted meat. This type of thinking coincides with the ELD-X line from Hornady; most of their choices have a sectional density value of .250 or greater (though I believe that is a secondary thought, running hand-in-hand with the high ballistic coe†cient) and usually deliver perfectly acceptable terminal ballistics, especially on deer and similar-sized game. Mind you, a 143-grain ELD-X delivered from a 6.5 Creedmoor is not the same as a 143-grain ELD-X delivered from a 6.5 PRC (the latter having a much higher velocity), so expect results to vary with speed. Even the high-SD cup-and-core bullets can shed a considerable amount of original weight.
A buddy recovered a 200-grain ELD-X from his recent whitetail kill – delivered from a .300 Weatherby Magnum at 230 yards – and the upset bullet weighed a mere 77 grains. The deer was absolutely flattened, but it gives an idea of how speed can radically upset a cup-and-core bullet. I’ve had more jacket/core separations with magnum cartridges than with standard cartridges, and especially with the boattail spitzers; it’s just part and parcel of the design.

The Nosler AccuBond features a thick jacket chemically bonded
to the lead core. The white polymer tip helps maintain ballistic coefficient and initiate expansion.
Norma’s Oryx has the rear portion of the jacket bonded to the core, to prevent premature expansion. This is a recovered 300-grain bullet from the .375 H&H Magnum.
IF YOU DO prefer using cup-and-core bullets for magnum cartridges at closer distances, and you can hand load your own ammunition, you can use the lower end of the load data to reduce the velocities. For example, one of my favorite rifles is a Winchester Model 70 Classic Stainless, chambered in .300 Winchester Magnum. It has a polymer stock (that I don’t worry about scratching) and the stainless metal won’t rust in the rain and snow; however, in the New York deer woods, our shots rarely exceed 100 yards, so full-house loads are a bit excessive. Because we also have a healthy black bear population, I went the route of the classic African cartridges:
at a moderate velocity. I handloaded 220-grain Hornady InterLocks at 2,425 fps; that load accounted for both deer and black bear, and remains a sub- MOA favorite. There are thick-jacketed choices from Sierra and others that can also help mitigate the expansion issues. If you don’t handload and are dependent on factory ammunition, I will happily recommend using premium bullets, of any conformation or construction. Classic choices like the Nosler Partition or Barnes TSX will never let you down, even at the closest distances.

Bulk Ammo In-Stock

Modern bonded iterations, like Federal’s Fusion and Trophy Bonded Bear Claw, the Swift A-Frame and Norma’s Oryx, will also make your life easier when the shooting is in close, giving high weight retention and penetration, working very well with the additional horsepower of the magnums. Should you want to maximize the trajectory and wind deflection values of your magnum cartridge – and there is no reason you shouldn’t; that’s why you shoot a magnum, after all – the polymer-tipped, boattail bonded and monometal bullets are most certainly the way to go. Look to Nosler’s AccuBond and AccuBond Long Range Federal’s Trophy Bonded Tip and Terminal Ascent, the Swift Scirocco II, Hornady’s InterBond, Norma’s EcoStrike and BondStrike, and Barnes’ TTSX and LRX; there are others, but you get the drift.

The Woodleigh Hydrostatically Stabilized Solid – shown here as loaded by Federal in .375 H&H Magnum and .416 Remington Magnum – gives the slightest bit of expansion at the nose and unprecedented penetration.
These bullets can be wonderfully accurate, they usually give expansion of at least twice original caliber, and weight retention somewhere in the 85- to 90-percent range. I find these premium bullets to be the most useful designs for a magnum cartridge – speaking about the all-around calibers between .25 and .35 – as they can really do it all. The heavy magnums – those designed for the pachyderms and the true heavyweights – like the .458 Winchester Magnum, .458 Lott, .450 Rigby, all of the .416s, and I’ll include the .500 Je¡ery and .505 Gibbs, will all benefit from premium bullets, in both expanding softpoint and non-expanding solids.
There are many round-nosed, semi-spitzer and flat-nosed choices for these bullets, as well as spitzer bullets, which will flatten trajectories a bit. And going back to that .375 Holland & Holland Magnum, it will be equally at home with the flat-nosed solids like the Barnes Banded Solids and Woodleigh Hydro Solids, the semi-spitzer softpoints like the Swift A-Frame, and the polymer-tipped spitzer boattails like the Nosler AccuBond.

The cartridge shoots nearly as flat as a .30-06 Springfield, while generating 4,000 foot-pounds of muzzle energy, and can handle bullets weighing between 235 grains, in the case of the Barnes TSX and Cutting Edge Raptor, up to the 350-grain Woodleigh Weldcore and FMJ solids. There are cup-and-core choices that will perform well in the three-seven-five, as the muzzle velocities are rather sedate in comparison to the .378 Weatherby Magnum and .375 Remington Ultra Magnum, but when it comes to dangerous game, I much prefer the premium choices. I love the magnum cartridges – having spent considerable time with the .300 H&H, .300 Winchester Magnum, 7mm Remington Magnum, .375 H&H, .416 Remington Magnum and more – but learned the hard way that bullet choice is imperative for the best results. Try some di¡erent designs (when the ammunition becomes available again) and see which of the premium bullets shoots best in your magnum, and you’ll remain a happy hunter for years to come.

6.5 Creedmoor – $32.99 Hornady ELD Match U2122 – 20Rnds

.223 – $194.95 HPBT 75gr 200Ct

5.56 NATO – $198.50 HPBT 75GR 200Ct