The aoudad ram was quickly increasing the distance between us, and as we were trying to get this hunt on camera, the stress of getting both the camera shot and rifle shot were increasing rapidly. Once I had the okay from the cameraman, the familiar trigger of my well-worn Model 70 broke like the icicle that it is, and the sound of the 180-grain Norma BondStrike striking flesh came back across the dry Texas air. Notoriously tough, I sent a second, striking within a couple inches of the first, on the point of the shoulder, and putting him down for good. Standing over a beautiful ram, I tapped the Winchester, adding one more great memory in a long line of hunting experiences.
That .300 Winchester Magnum and I had been all over together, taking pronghorn antelope on the Wyoming prairie, as well as numerous whitetail deer and black bear in my native New York. There have been other rifles chambered in that cartridge, including a Legendary Arms Works Professional which took my first kudu bull, and an Interarms Mark X which went on my very first safari, and with which I took my first head of African game.
Personally, I feel the .300 Winchester Magnum rules the roost among the mediums, and here are five reasons why.
1. It’s .30-caliber, and that’s a good thing. I feel that .30-caliber bullets have the most diverse range of choices of hunting bullets of any caliber, and the .300 Winchester Magnum handles them all well. While the 150-, 165-, 180- and 200-grain loads are among the most popular for hunting, there are lighter bullets in the 125- and 130-grain range which work just fine, and the 220-grain round-nose bullet still makes a great choice for large game; in fact, that’d be my personal minimum for hunting brown bears. The lineup of premium bullets almost always includes the popular .30-caliber weights, and there are probably more choices of excellent premium hunting bullets than any of us have the opportunity to use.
2. It offers a great blend of manageable recoil, flat trajectory and horsepower. Any .30-caliber cartridge is going to receive the inevitable comparison to the excellent .30-06 Springfield, which is the benchmark. Is the .30-06 Springfield not the do-all, be-all and end-all .30? Look, I’ve got a ton of respect for the ’06, and have had great experiences hunting with it, but anything the ’06 does, the .300 Winchester does a bit better (faster) in the same weight of rifle. The .300 runs in a standard long-action, and though it retains the belt from the H&H parent case, headspacing off that belt, I prefer to set up my handloads to work off the shoulder. Most 180-grain loads, when zeroed at 200 yards, will print in the neighborhood of 6 inches low at 300 and 18 inches low at 400. Most of us have no business shooting much farther than that at game animals. If the trajectory doesn’t matter much to you, perhaps the energy figures do. That 180-grain .300 load will have a muzzle velocity of 2960 fps, just cracking the 3,500 ft.-lb. mark. Compare that to the ‘06s muzzle velocity of 2750 fps, which yields just over 3,000 ft.-lbs.; there’s a definite advantage to the .300 Win. Mag. Yes, the .300 Weatherby and others generate higher figures, but at the undeniable expense of increased recoil. I’ve found most shooters can handle a properly-stocked .300 Winchester, but I can’t say the same for the faster .300s.
3. It’s become readily available. When I was young, the small gun shops and hardware store shelves were occupied with boxes of .270 Winchester, .30-30 Winchester, .30-06 Springfield and other classics. But times change, and the last few decades have seen the .300 Winchester added to the ranks of that list, with ammunition available nearly everywhere. MidwayUSA alone offers 85 different ammunition listings for the .300 Winchester Magnum, including both hunting and target ammunition. Bonded-core, lead-free, cup-and-core, premium, affordable; you name it and there’s probably a load in .300 Winchester for it. It is a bit more expensive than the .308 and .30-06 ammo, but not nearly as much as the more obscure cartridges. You can get into a good box of .300 ammo for under $45. And as much as I like the classic .300 H&H Magnum—nearly the ballistic twin—the ammo is much more expensive and difficult to procure.
4. The design is sound. I’ve had folks tell me the neck of the .300 Winchester—at .264-inch—is too short for proper neck tension. I’ve had them say that the bullets extend too far into the case and that causes accuracy issues. I’ve had folks curse the unnecessary belt, which is admittedly a throwback to the H&H design, and that was chosen for the case capacity, not for the belt. Here’s my take on these points: I’ve had nothing but great accuracy with the .300 Winchester, and there are a number of military folks who would concur. Ballistic engineers continue to try and out-design the .300 Winchester, and while some of those designs certainly work, the .300 Winchester checks all the boxes for me as a hunting round. The case capacity is large enough to accommodate even the longest bullets without much trouble, though the high B.C. target bullets may extend too far outside the case to fit in the magazine. Unlike the .300 WSM, I’ve yet to see a feeding problem with a .300 Winchester; it seems to be right at home in a long-action rifle.
5. It can be as versatile as you want it to be. The .300 Winchester Magnum can be loaded to roar like a lion or purr like a kitty. Like the .30-06, it is a fantastic all-around choice, perfectly suitable for all but the largest of dangerous game. Want to be a one-gun, one-load guy? Grab a box of 180-grain Nosler Partition or Barnes TSX in the .300 Winchester, and just go hunting. Moose, elk, sheep, deer, hogs, bears, kudu, eland, leopard, sable, red stag, whatever; it’ll handle it. If you enjoy the versatility of a cartridge, the .300 Winchester may be one of the most flexible available. If there aren’t enough factory choices—and there are tons—handloading can extend things even further. I can load the .300 down to .308/.30-06 levels, or bring it right up into the red to nearly match the factory loads. Comparing it to other magnums, I find the .300 gives a wider range of bullet choices than does the 7mm Remington Magnum, especially at the top end of the bullet weight, yet makes a much better choice on deer and similar sized game than the .338 Winchester Magnum does.
Being absolutely honest, the .30-06 Springfield isn’t going anywhere, but neither is the .300 Winchester Magnum. I’ve used a number of different .30-caliber cartridges for hunting, but were I forced to pick just one, I’d reach for that battered Winchester 70 Classic Stainless in .300 Winchester.