There are a whole lot of reasons why naysayers knock magnums, and some of their complaints are legitimate. Yes, magnums burn more powder than standard cartridges. Yes, they have increased recoil and muzzle blast. And, yes, they generally cost more to shoot. But for long shots on big game, magnums certainly have their place. Over the years there have been a number of quality rounds introduced that bear the magnum moniker.
In general, magnums refer to large, belted cartridges that are an increase in power above "standard" cartridges like the .270 and .30-06, though there are no strict rules regarding the name. Some cartridges, like the 7mm Shooting Times Westerner and the new .26 Nosler, certainly feature magnum-class speed and power without the name.
This list looks at eight great cartridges that bear the magnum title and have served dutifully from the plains of Africa to the peaks of the Himalayas. No matter the game, when you need a flat-shooting, hard-hitting cartridge these magnums get the job done.
Many of these cartridges were spawned during the "magnum craze" of the mid-20th century, but they date back as far as the 1940s, and one of them appeared on the scene as recently as 2002.
But these cartridges all share one thing in common — they are proven on big game at long ranges.
7mm Remington Magnum
It's hard to say if the 7mm Remington Magnum's huge popularity was directly linked to the fact that it was introduced in 1962 along with the company's venerable Model 700 rifle, but the point is moot. Both the 7mm Remington Magnum and the Model 700 have become huge successes.
Traditionally, metric rifle cartridges have failed in the United States, but the 7mm Remington Magnum fared much better than previous metrics, and today it is one of (if not the) most popular hunting magnums. Its heavy-for-caliber, high-BC bullets shoot extremely flat, and with 150- and 160-grain bullets it is capable of velocities exceeding 3,000 feet per second. Recoil is roughly equivalent to a .30-06 Springfield, but trajectories are much flatter.
Virtually every bolt action rifle manufacturer offers at least one 7mm Mag model, and if you don't handload this is a great choice in magnums because factory ammo is available everywhere. As a result, there are plenty of budget-friendly 7mm Mag loads. The 7mm Remington Magnum doesn't require a 26-inch barrel and has been proven on game fields around the world. Factory loads are generally in the 150- to 162-grain weight, but the heavy 175-grain projectiles have a sectional density of .310, better than a .375 Magnum with 300-grain bullets.
8mm Remington Magnum
While the other cartridges on this list earned a spot at least in part due to their popularity, availability and mass appeal, the 8mm Remington Magnum has been a dud in terms of sales. But that doesn't diminish the fact that it is a very good, albeit hard-kicking and hard-to-find, hunting cartridge. Remington introduced it in 1977 with 185- and 220-grain loads, and while it proved to be a great cartridge for big game like elk and moose, it didn't elicit the kind of following that the 7mm Remington Magnum generated.
That's a shame, because the 8mm Rem. Mag. is truly a great cartridge. In fact, its offspring, like the .416 Remington Magnum and 7mm Shooting Times Westerner, have outpaced it. However, the 8mm Remington Magnum still has the goods to be a really good big game cartridge if you can find one — if you hand load and if you can handle the recoil.
With bullets like Hornady's .323-inch, 195-grain Interlock and Nolser's 200-grain Partition, handloaders can beat 3,000 feet per second, and high BC bullets like the Interlock, which was designed for the 8mm Remington Magnum, offer flatter trajectory and more energy than the .30s. It also shoots flatter and is slightly less punishing than the powerful .33s. If you're looking for a serious elk cartridge that can drop a bull across a windy canyon, or an African plains game rifle that will handle anything from duiker to eland at extended ranges, this is a great choice.
.257 Weatherby Magnum
The .257 Weatherby Magnum came on the scene in 1945. Roy Weatherby had a special affinity for this cartridge, purportedly taking a cape buffalo with it. Though it isn't considered a dangerous game gun, the .257 is one of the fastest, flattest-shooting .25s ever designed. Factory ammo is currently available, with bullet weights ranging from 80 to 120 grains, and the 80-grain Weatherby load pushes a TTSX bullet out of the barrel somewhere around 3,870 feet per second.
Zeroed at 300 yards, that load hits only 2.55 inches high at 200 yards and 6.41 inches low at 400 yards. Even the heaviest Weatherby factory load (120-grain Partition) leaves the muzzle at 3,305 feet per second and retains 1,221 foot-pounds of energy at 500 yards. As magnums go, the .257 Weatherby is a mild kicker, and it's a great long-range cartridge for deer, pronghorn, sheep, and the like.
It's also remained one of Weatherby's most popular cartridges as it's available in both the flagship Mark V and the more budget-friendly Vanguard Series 2 line.
.270 Winchester Short Magnum
Introduced in 2002, the .270 WSM appeared on the scene with the 7mm WSM, the second and third additions to Winchester's family of Short Mags. While the .300 WSM managed to earn a respected spot in the crowded .30-caliber magnum lineup, the 7mm WSM didn't win over the hearts of shooters the way the .270 WSM did.
Today, it remains very popular, especially with mountain hunters who want a flat-shooting cartridge that can be housed in a light, short rifle. The .270 WSM is easily capable of better than 3,100 feet per second with 130 grain bullets and can top 3,000 fps with 140-grain and 150-grain bullets. Zeroed at 200 yards, it shoots just 5.4 inches low with Federal's 130-grain Ballistic Tip load, yet recoil, while stiff, is still manageable for most shooters even in light, short mountain rifles.
Handloaders have a huge assortment of .277-inch bullets from which to choose, and the .270 Short Magnum works on just about any game on the planet. It's little wonder this stubby magnum has garnered such a loyal following.
.264 Winchester Magnum
It's a small wonder the .264 Winchester Magnum is on this list, or that it is still popular enough to be considered a viable option in the magnum category. The original guns didn't have enough barrel length to reach its velocity potential and therefore spewed unburnt powder. In addition, it was the first American 6.5 cartridge.
Although we understand the potential of high-ballistic coefficient .264 bullets today, shooters in 1959 waved off the Winchester. But renewed interest in the 6.5 class of cartridges, better powders, longer barrels and a hefty amount of nostalgia are bringing the .264 Winchester Magnum back. In truth, it's an outstanding long-range cartridge.
Based on Holland & Holland's Belted Magnum, it has a capacity of 79.6 grains of water, and, with powders like Reloader 19, it's capable of pushing high-BC, 140-grain hunting bullets at or just above 3,000 feet per second with a 26-inch barrel. It is a great choice for most non-dangerous game around the world and, with the recent increase in .264/6.5mm bullets, there are plenty of good options for handloaders.
.300 Weatherby Magnum
Like the .257 Weatherby, the .300 Weatherby Magnum was introduced in 1945 and has remained a top cartridge since that time. It was based on an improved version of the .300 H&H case and bears the trademark double radius shoulder found on other Weatherby cartridges. The .300 Weatherby is an extremely powerful cartridge, capable of driving a 150-grain bullet at better than 3,500 feet per second from the muzzle. Even with heavier 180-grain bullets it can beat 3,200 feet per second, generating in excess of 4,200 foot-pounds of energy.
The mighty .375 H&H Magnum produces only a few hundred more foot pounds of energy, which helps you understand why the .300 Weatherby is such a killing machine. There are lots of good .308 bullets available, and that's important, because at .300 Weatherby velocities light, weak bullets won't hold up. Although a few other makers have offered rifles chambered for this cartridge, the bulk of .300 Weatherby rifles come from the company.
It's chambered in the Vanguard Series 2 rifles, which start under $700, so it's not out of reach for the average shooter, however. The .300 Weatherby isn't for everyone, but if you can handle this rifle's recoil it's a flat-shooting magnum that is excellent for darn near anything.
.300 Winchester Magnum
If there's a more popular magnum than the 7mm Remington, this is the one. Introduced one year later than the 7mm, the .300 Winchester Magnum fits in a standard action and utilizes .308-inch bullets, which are commonly available in weights from 110 to 220 grains. With 180-grain bullets, it can best 3,000 feet per second, and with a 200-yard zero the bullet drops about 6 inches (depending on BC) at 300 yards. It's also available loaded with flatter-shooting 150- and 165-grain bullets, as well as heavier projectiles from 200 to 220 grains.
Short of the really big and dangerous stuff, a .300 Winchester Magnum will work just fine. There are plenty of rifles available, and ammunition is easily obtained. I had great success with the cartridge in Africa with everything from springbok to kudu, and in North America it is a great choice for big game of any size at any reasonable range.
If you question the .300's popularity, consider this: There are now more Boone & Crockett game animals killed with this cartridge than the .30-06 Springfield. Recoil is stiff, and it's not a gun for everyone, but if you can shoot the big .300 it will get the job done.
.300 Remington Ultra Magnum
Did the shooting world need another .30-caliber cartridge in 1999 when Remington introduced their fire-breathing Ultra Magnum in 1999? Probably not, but the .300 RUM boasted impressive ballistics; it was capable of driving a 150-grain Swift Sirocco bullet at a muzzle velocity of 3,450 and it produced energy levels that rivaled dangerous game cartridges. It was based on the rimless .404 Jeffery cartridge and has a water capacity of more than 110 grains, an increase of 20 percent over the standard .300 Winchester Magnum.
The .300 Remington Ultra Magnum was chambered in the very popular Model 700, which gave sales a boost, but it was a legitimate long-range hunting cartridge that had plenty of power, a very flat trajectory and utilized widely-available .308 bullets. In addition, Remington introduced their Power Level ammunition, which allowed the .300 Ultra Magnum to be fired at .30-06 (Power Level I), .300 Winchester Magnum (Power Level II) and .300 Ultra Mag (Power Level III) velocities, all from the same rifle and all with very similar points of impact.
The ability to adjust loads was a selling point for shooters who did not hand load, and it meant that you didn't have to put up with the .300's hefty recoil and muzzle blast when sighting in from the bench. Even though it is fairly new, the .300 Ultra Magnum has remained popular for 15 years and it deserves a spot as one of the best long-range rifle cartridges available today.