If American hunters could be defined by a single bullet diameter, it would be the .30 caliber. The .300 Savage, .30-30, .30-06, and others have filled countless tags over the past century and more. The .30-06 is probably still the king of the hill in terms of overall popularity, but for decades, hunters, particularly those who hunt the western half of the country, have relied on the faster .30-caliber magnum cartridges. Smaller cartridges such as the 6.5 Creedmoor have received the bulk of the media coverage, but that doesn’t mean the larger cartridges have lost merit. Now with the introduction of new cartridges such as the .300 PRC from Hornady, the .300 magnums are enjoying a well-deserved revival.
These .300 magnum cartridges certainly aren’t new. The Holland and Holland Magnum, originally called the “Super Thirty,” is closing in on its 100th birthday, and the .300 Winchester Magnum has been around since 1963. Simply put, the reason these cartridges have remained relevant for so long is that they work. A 180-grain bullet at 3,100 feet per second or a 200-grain bullet at 3,000 fps (or more) is a tremendously effective tool for big-bodied deer, elk, and even larger game.
My friend D’Arcy Echols is a custom gunmaker and longtime hunting guide who specializes in building high-end rifles for demanding situations. Many of these rifles are chambered in the .300 magnums.
“I have the most experience with the .300 Weatherby, .300 Winchester, and the older .300 H&H,” he said. “I’ve built dozens of each and have guided countless clients using them on everything from antelope to moose.
“With the 200-grain bullets, especially, they are highly effective on elk-sized animals. The .300 Weatherby is a favorite of mine. Not only are they accurate, they kill really, really well if you can put the bullet where it’s supposed to be. I build them with a shorter-than-standard throat to cut the amount of bullet jump, and they are far less temperamental than the .300 Winchester in my experience. I love the 7mm magnum, and it’s a great cartridge, but it doesn’t quite match the killing power of the various .300s.”
The .300 Weatherby, which actually predates the .300 Winchester Magnum, was the biggest game in town in terms of muzzle velocity for much of the 20th century, but now that has changed. Cartridges such as the .300 Remington Ultra Magnum, the .30 Nosler, and the .30-378 Weatherby have pushed the envelope further in terms of velocity. What these cartridges offer hunters is the ability to maintain an effective hunting velocity at greater distances. Many traditional hunting bullets are engineered to expand reliably down to around 2,400 fps.
The distance at which a bullet falls below that threshold is, in many cases, its maximum effective range in terms of terminal performance. The .30-06 hits 2,400 fps at 300 yards while the .300 Winchester, Weatherby, and Remington Ultra Magnums push that boundary out to 450, 525, and 550 yards respectively.
Long-range shooting—and dare I say long-range hunting —has become incredibly popular over the past decade. Shooters are making hits at ranges that were considered unimaginable in the old days. Accurate laser rangefinders, precision optics that reliably adjust for elevation and windage, ballistic applications, better barrels, and better bullets have all led to this revolution. None of that matters, though, if you’re using a cartridge with the trajectory of a thrown rock. The decreased bullet drop and wind drift of the fast .300s makes them excellent tools for the long-range game, but pure speed isn’t everything. To make hits at extreme distances requires great bullets and consistent velocities.
Like Echols, I’m a fan of the heavy-for-caliber bullets, and I prefer bullets 200 grains and heavier in the .300 magnums. This brings us to the new kid on the block: the .300 PRC. This cartridge isn’t designed to be the fastest on the market; rather, it was built for precision shooting at extended ranges. Long-range shooting requires bullets with a high ballistic coefficient (BC), and when these long, aerodynamic bullets are loaded into traditional .300 magnum cartridges, they often eat up too much powder capacity to achieve effective velocities. To address this problem, Hornady developed a cartridge specifically designed around long-range projectiles.What started as a test vehicle for bullet development was adapted to meet a very specific requirement for the Department of Defense. They wanted a cartridge that could give special operations snipers an effective tool out to 2,000 meters. Hornady’s ballistic engineers took what they’d learned from the 6.5 Creedmoor and designed a chamber with minimal throat dimensions to maximize accuracy. The result is a cartridge that pushes a high BC 212-grain ELD-X bullet at 2,860 fps in the factory Precision Hunter load and handloaded 250-grain match bullets get to 2,700 fps. If that doesn’t sound fast, remember we’re not talking about a 180-grain projectile. The PRC is perfectly capable of launching lighter bullets and can get to 3,200 fps with a 180-grain bullet.
So what’s the catch? Well, physics still apply. The more powder you cram into a case to get those impressive velocity figures, the greater the recoil. The amount of recoil created by the fastest .300 magnums can be downright painful in some rifles, and that is not conducive to good shooting. If you can’t hit what you’re aiming at, no amount of velocity is going to help you. There are two solutions to this problem: adding rifle weight and muzzle brakes. All things being equal, a heavier rifle will recoil less than a lighter one. With a rifle of an appro-priate weight, any of the .300s can be relatively comfortable to shoot. I’m not opposed to heavy rifles since they are more forgiving. Some hunters swear by flyweight rigs, and for those rifles, brakes may be the only feasible option.
If hunters can handle the recoil, the .300 magnums are fantastic tools for the field. The early success of the .300 PRC proves that the big .30s are here to stay. For good reason. I love my 6.5s, but for larger animals, such as elk, bears, and Africa’s larger plains animals, the .300 magnums provide a greater margin of error. When I draw a coveted tag and a magnificent bull is about to disappear over a ridge on the last afternoon of a hunt, I want a cartridge that is up to the task. For many hunters, the choice for that shot is a .300 magnum.