We have had many new cartridge designs in the last three decades, from the revival if the .416-inch bore in the late 1980s to the more recent 6.5mm craze, and most of them have been good, despite a bit of redundancy.
But what about the classics— those cartridges you may find rifles chambered for in the dusty corners of your favorite gun shop? Does all the modern cartridge development preclude buying a rifle chambered for one of the lost classic?
I say no, as they are classics for a reason. Let's look at some of the classic cartridges that I've seen in the shops lately, as well as their history and availability.
.300 Holland & Holland Magnum
Ah, Holland's Super .30, the original .30-caliber magnum. Holland & Holland set a trend in 1925 that rages on to this day, as we're still figuring out the best way to launch a .30-caliber bullet. For years, when a rifle was marked ".300 Magnum," it was a .300 Holland & Holland. It betters the velocity of the .30-06 Springfield by just over 150 fps, without a huge increase in felt recoil, and is only slightly slower than the .300 Winchester Magnum. It does require a magnum-length action, but to those who've spent any time behind a good .300 Holland, that poses no issue.
The beauty of the .300 is the way that it feeds; the sloping shoulder results in one of the slickest feeding rifles ever. The belt at the rear of the cartridge is used for headspacing — most of the offspring of the H&H cases wear that belt, but don't use it all — and there is enough case capacity to drive even the heaviest of bullet in .30 caliber to very respectable velocities.
Factory ammunition is still available from Federal, Hornady and Nosler, and it's good stuff. If you handload, even better, as you can get good brass, like Hornady and Norma, and customize your load. I owned one in a Colt Coltsman — now in the possession of dear friend — and that rifle was as accurate as you could ask for from a hunting rifle.
Based on the 7x57 Mauser necked down to hold .257 bullets, Ned Roberts' brainchild is still a cool cartridge, being very effective on deer and similar size game, as well as handling coyotes neatly.
The Bob — as it is affectionately known among its devotees — can push a 117-grain bullet to between 2,750 and 2,950 fps in modern loads with the +P designation, making for an excellent choice for a deer hunter looking for a cartridge out of the ordinary. It sits comfortably between the .250 Savage and the .25-06 Remington and has what I would describe as a sweet recoil, being a good choice for a new shooter who wants a good blend of striking power and the ability to accurately place their shots. Ammunition for the Bob is still available from Nosler, Norma, Hornady and Federal.
.350 Remington Magnum
Here we have one of the original short magnums, developed by Remington in 1965 before short magnum was cool. It is a shortened H&H case, designed to fit in a short (.308 Winchester-length) action rifle, embracing the short-fat theory. In terms of velocity, it sits just north of the .358 Winchester and just south of the .35 Whelen, which isn't a terrible place to be.
What I've found when handloading for the .350 Remington is that the sleek, pointed bullets — especially the polymer tipped 225- and 250-grain bullets— have an ogive too long to work with the case and magazine length. However, with the shorter bullets, the .350 Remington Magnum can be a real winner of a cartridge.
I saw a Remington Model 700 Classic chambered for the cartridge, which was nearly the twin to the one my good pal Dave de Moulpied has, and for a guy who wants a light, trim, hard-hitting rifle, it'd be hard to argue with that combination.
It makes a great choice for bears, elk, moose and other large mammals with the heavier bullets, and the lighter 200-grain slugs are certainly effective deer medicine.
Is it as flat-shooting as a .300 Winchester? No, but that's not what it's supposed to do. It's supposed to be a cartridge that will give a hunter 300-yard capability, while putting a period at the end of the sentence.
I like the way the .350 Remington performs and don't feel a hunter should hesitate to use one if the rifle tickled their fancy. Nosler loads factory ammunition, but I'd plan to handload if I wanted the most out of my .350 Mag.
A young hunter once called me and asked me, "Just what is a .300 Savage?" He had found a used custom Mauser chambered for the cartridge, and he wasn't remotely familiar with it. I explained that is was sort of a.308-Lite, being an older design that gave sufficient velocities in its day, and still made a sound choice for most of our local hunting, where shots were inside 250 yards.
Introduced in 1920 in the Savage 99 lever-action rifle — designed to replace the .303 Savage cartridge — the .300 Savage became very popular in the first half of the 20th century, being unseated by the .308 Winchester which came along in 1952. It still makes a good all-around cartridge, when you consider that it was released in an era when iron sights were the prevalent sighting method, and for those who don't embrace the "next zip code" mentality of hunting, it represents a low-recoil option that is actually fun to shoot.
It will drive a 180-grain bullet to 2,350 fps, and the 150-grainers to 2,650 fps; this is by no means a barn-burner, but again, at common shooting distances, has the horsepower to get the job done. Ammunition is available from Hornady, Federal and Winchester. Were I to spend the rest of my time in the deer woods with a well-tuned .300 Savage, I'd have no qualms whatsoever.
These are just a few of the classic cartridges you may encounter while perusing the gun shops. While each presents its own unique set of challenges, as well as its own "cool factor," sometimes swimming against the stream of the most popular cartridges is fun in and of itself.
Even if ammunition for some of these cartridges isn't readily available at the large box stores, there are always solutions to ammunition issues, whether you make it yourself or hire a small, custom ammunition shop to make it for you. I like the oddball cartridges; they can provide a connection to the hunters of yesteryear, and that's something we all appreciate.