Wolfe Publishing Group

    Cartridge Board

    .300 Winchester Short Magnum

    Development of the centerfire, rimless, bottleneck, smoke- less powder military cartridge seemed to give all anyone could ask for in a round intended for small arms. It was hard to imagine how the 7.92x57mm Mauser or .30-06 Springfield could be improved upon. Of course, both were immediately taken into the hunting field and, given suitably constructed bullets, they performed well on all but the largest game.

    Nevertheless, many riflemen felt improvement was possible by increasing both velocity and bullet diameter. This would require a larger case diameter to accommodate larger charges of powder and allow maintaining an adequate shoulder for headspacing as bullet diameter got larger. Then something strange happened.

    In 1905, English gunmaker Holland & Holland introduced a case slightly larger in diameter for a round called the .400/.375 Belted Nitro Express. Instead of headspacing on the rim or shoulder, it used a wide belt just forward of the extractor groove. It appears this idea was borrowed from artillery shells. In 1912, this belt was slightly modified to create the .375 H&H Magnum cartridge. The idea worked, but nobody else seemed interested, preferring instead to just make much larger bottleneck cases, like the .404 Jeffery and .416 Rigby.

    The only enthusiasts who eventually took to the belted case were American wildcatters, with Roy Weatherby leading the pack. By the 1950s, major U.S. companies were turning out new cartridges using the belted case, but they used a 2.5-inch long case, rather than the 2.850-inch H&H case. The reason was that powder development had progressed to the point where greatly increased case capacity was not thought necessary. The shorter case also allowed these rounds to fit in a “standard” .30-06 length bolt action.

    The most popular .30-caliber sporting cartridges in the U.S. include: (1) .308 Winchester, (2) .300 WSM, (3) .30-06, (4) .300 Winchester Magnum and (5) .300 Weatherby Magnum.
    The most popular .30-caliber sporting cartridges in the U.S. include: (1) .308 Winchester, (2) .300 WSM, (3) .30-06, (4) .300 Winchester Magnum and (5) .300 Weatherby Magnum.
    There was, however, no need for the belted case as all the new rounds, except the .458 Winchester Magnum, had adequate shoulders to maintain headspace. Marketing alone justified its existence by creating the idea of the belt’s mystical powers; cartridges couldn’t be “magnums” if they didn’t have belts. Period. Unfortunately, given the belt’s thinness (some .012 inch), it is hard to manufacture. The same applies to chamber reamers and headspace gauges. More than a few rifle/ammunition combinations give enough headspace to cause head separations in two to three loadings, unless the sizing die is set to headspace the case on its shoulder rather than the belt. This would have been a perfect time to create a new case not having the silly belt.

    Forty years later, benchrest shooters discovered that in some instances short, fat cases gave slightly more uniform shot-to-shot velocities than smaller diameter cases of equal volume. Theoretically, this should mean smaller groups. It is more important in long-range target competition, because velocity variation yields a change in vertical bullet impact.

    A caliper shows the .300 WSM actually has a rebated rim so it will fit in a standard belted case bolt face recess.
    A caliper shows the .300 WSM actually has a rebated rim so it will fit in a standard belted case bolt face recess.
    All this is of interest to competitors who shoot at long, known distances, but it is of little use to hunters who never fire at extreme ranges. Certain varmint shooters may see some benefit, if exact distance to target can be determined. If not, an error in range of 40 to 50 yards would have more effect on where the bullet landed than a normal velocity variation. Then too, both handloaders and ammunition companies have come up with very uniform loadings for all popular hunting rounds. Velocity spreads of only 30 to 50 fps or less for 10 rounds are common. This is simply not a concern for shooting game under at least 400 yards.

    Given the foregoing facts, it was rather interesting to see the announcement of a new cartridge called the .300 Winchester Short Magnum (WSM) early in 2001. Gone was the useless belt. In its place appeared a new rebated-rim case having a base (head) diameter of .555 inch and rim of roughly .535 inch, the latter figure being roughly the rim and belt diameter of the old H&H case. The much larger body diameter was carried forward instead of stopping at a belt. Case capacity increased greatly per unit of length over the old magnum.

    Case length is where we see another surprise. It is 2.1 inches, or just slightly more than the .308 Winchester. Capacity, however, is almost equal to the .300 Winchester Magnum, depending upon bullet weight and seating depth. Shoulder angle is 35 degrees. The new round looked noticeably different than anything else – even wildcats. Marketing teams were ecstatic.

    Of course, Winchester produced a shorter Model 70 action to accommodate the new cartridge. The complete rifle was listed with a 24-inch barrel and a weight of 4 to 8 ounces less than the .300 Winchester Magnum with a 26-inch tube. The first year of ammunition production showed a 150-grain Ballistic Silvertip at 3,300 fps, a 180-grain Fail Safe at 2,970 fps and a 180-grain Power Point at the same muzzle velocity. All were equal to .300 Winchester Magnum velocities. Indications are that factory ammunition achieves figures slightly less than this, but then shooters’ chronograph screens are set 10 feet or so ahead of the muzzle while the factory corrects its readings to muzzle velocity. Since the .300 Winchester Magnum’s 3,500+ foot-pounds of muzzle energy is, with proper bullets, adequate for any game in North America, the same can be said for the identical figures produced by the .300 WSM. And, yes, to be absolutely correct, the longer barrel of most .300 Winchester Magnums, combined with its very slightly greater case capacity, means careful handloaders will always see to it the .300 WSM comes in second to their round.

    Nevertheless, the .300 WSM is, for all practical purposes, a short .300 Winchester Magnum. After all, once the base of the bullet

    The .308 Winchester (left) and .300 WSM (right) both fit into .308-length bolt actions.
    The .308 Winchester (left) and .300 WSM (right) both fit into .308-length bolt actions.
    clears the muzzle, it behaves exactly the same as if it had come from a .300 Winchester Magnum. Any benefits derived from the .300 WSM can only exist from buttplate to muzzle of the

    rifle firing it. In that light, if a .300 WSM weighs the same as a .300 Winchester Magnum, it will produce the same recoil. Also, given the burning rate of the powders necessary for the .300 WSM, any shortening of the barrel would only increase an already devastating muzzle blast and push velocities down toward .30-06 levels.

    There are really only two probable pluses for the .300 WSM. One is more uniform velocities due to the short, fat case, though this is largely negated by years of load development lavished on the .300 Winchester Magnum by competition shooters and the military. Second is that a slightly shorter bolt action with a shorter bolt throw is used for the .300 WSM. For those who feel this is important, there is now that option.

    The .300 WSM seems to be a success. Last year, Winchester listed 10 factory loads for the .300 Winchester Magnum, and 11 for the .300 WSM. All totaled there are some 37 by at least seven different makers in the .300 WSM column. On the other hand, just think what a big-game and target cartridge we could have had if the .300 Winchester Magnum had originally been designed on a 2.4-inch .300 WSM case!

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