America adopted her first .30-caliber military rifle, the Norwegian Krag in .30-40, in 1892. Our long-beloved .30-30 Winchester came out a couple of years later. After the turn of the century we changed military horses, first to the original .30-03 and then to the matchless .30-06. Arthur Savage had his .303 Savage and, later, his .300 Savage. Remington had, you guessed it, the .30 Remington. You know the bad kids’ joke about what you would have if everybody drove a red car? A red “car-nation,” right? Well, like it or not, somewhere in there we became a .30-caliber nation.
The 7mms, caliber .284, have their fans, and lots of them. Old Elmer Keith spent much of his career touting the .33-calibers, and I love them, too. But the .30-caliber is America’s darling, with the right bullet big enough for anything on this continent…and with plenty to spare for much of our game. The .30-30, made into the many millions, has probably accounted for more deer than any cartridge except the .30-06, which has probably accounted for more of all types of North American big game than all the rest put together.
The only problem with our traditional .30-caliber cartridges is that they are fairly slow, which probably offers advantages in consistent bullet performance, but reduction in down-range performance. No problem. We have had “fast .30s” for many years: .30 Newton (1913); .300 H&H (1925); .300 Weatherby Magnum (1944). Increase velocity and you increase recoil (significantly). You also increase the need for tougher bullets that will hold together at the higher impact velocity. But with increased velocity you flatten trajectory (probably not as much as you think), and you definitely increase downrange energy (probably more than you think). Like all red-blooded American riflemen, I have a .30-30 and I revere the .30-06. But, also like so many American riflemen, I’m a .30-caliber nut, and I also have a ridiculous array of “fast .30s.” They kick harder, but they are “better” in big country…and this is how I think of them.
This is actually the largest group, faster than the .30-06, but not as fast as the .300 Weatherby Magnum and its superiors. The classic cartridge in this group is the .300 H&H, which has greater potential for handloaders but is somewhat limited by the fact that it’s an 85-year-old cartridge. Most popular, and in my view most useful, among this group, is the .300 Winchester Magnum. It has at least two great advantages: First, it will fit into a .30-06-length action (the .300 H&H requires a full-length .375 H&H action). Second, after the 7mm Remington Magnum it is the most popular belted magnum in the world. This means it has the largest array of factory loads, the richest selection of handloading recipes, and will be chambered to more rifles in more configurations than any other .30-caliber magnum.
In exactly the same group must be considered the short magnums from the major manufacturers: .300 RCM, .300 RSAUM, .300 WSM. Essentially, all of these replicate .300 Winchester Magnum velocities, but in (more or less) .308 Winchester-length actions. This is clearly beneficial. I have shot all of the short .30-caliber magnums, and have hunted with most of them. I don’t own one for this simple reason: I already have too many .30-caliber rifles, both fast and slow. For me, retirement approaching and too many rifles on hand, the difference isn’t enough to acquire a new rifle. For you, well, what are you looking for? All of the short magnum cartridges do pretty much what their manufacturers say they will do…and in wonderfully compact packages.
Now the field narrows. No matter what you hear or what you read, the short magnums and the .300 Winchester Magnum cannot come up to the velocity of the .300 Weatherby Magnum, which is ‘way ahead of me in reaching retirement age. Much newer, but only slightly faster, is the unbelted .300 Remington Ultra Mag. Amazingly close to both of these is John Lazzeroni’s 7.82 (.308) Patriot, a very fat short magnum that uses a .308 Winchester action. I’m sure there are several other proprietary and wildcat cartridges that I’ve missed, but these will do to illustrate the point. They are fast (150-grain bullet at sort of 3400 fps; 180-grain at sort of 3200 fps). In the right platform they can be very accurate. They kick like fiends, of course, but these are the cartridges I like to use when serious long-range shots might be in the offing.
This group is limited in cartridges, if not application. I am thinking about the .30-.378 Weatherby and the 7.82 (.308) Warbird from Lazzeroni, but I’m sure there are several wildcats and proprietaries that I haven’t thought of. Recoil goes up exponentially, along with muzzle blast and the gun weight required to harness the package-but for those who learn to handle it, performance is spectacular.
I have personally not used the .30-.378 in the field, although I’ve gotten very good accuracy on the range. I have used the 7.82 (.308) Warbird quite a bit. Honest, there is really nothing like a 180-grain .30-caliber bullet at 3500 feet per second! Provided you know what the rifle is doing and the wind is manageable, you can shoot as far as you wish (and I have). Issues are the same old problems of recoil and muzzle blast, plus gun weight: These are not small platforms! Truly, these fastest .30s are probably the ultimate in long-range performance, but are probably somewhat beyond what most of us need.
Changes, too, include better bullets, better barrels, better optics, and more precise rangefinding equipment. Today you don’t have to try to bull it through; you can organize your equipment for the trajectory you have. Just recently, in Nepal, I was faced with a 500-yard shot with the new .300 Blaser Magnum, an unbelted magnum with much potential but, regrettably, slow initial loads. No problem. I had the Zeiss Rapid Z reticle calibrated to the velocity of my load, and I knew what to do. (A steady position, favorable wind, and lots of luck helped!) I held where I needed to and the sheep fell over. That’s what any of the fast .30s will do for you…provided you take time to learn how to use them.