LocaCarnivore’s regular readers know I hold one rifle cartridge above all others: the .375 Holland & Holland Magnum. Trust me, I’m no fan boy, though. You know, those insufferable people (mostly on the Internet) who are in love with something just because they have one, never mind they’ve never tried anything else. I love the old British safari veteran based on how I’ve seen it perform on game, season after season. I’m no cartridge snob either, I use and like others as well. I have a particular fondness for the .308 Winchester and .300 Winchester Magnum, for instance.
This is Why We Have .375s
Where I hunt, I often carry tags for many game species. A few years ago, I had mule deer, whitetail deer, elk, black bear, wolf, and pronghorn in my pocket all at the same time. Add in the fact there are critters around here who can and will hunt you, and the .375 makes sense. You can get the full .375 H&H love in my story, The .375 H&H, When Everything is on the Menu, Including You. Suffice to say, I take my .375 H&H ammo seriously–my life may depend on it.
Then it should come as no surprise I am dismayed and downright angry with some ammo makers these days. I’m a simple guy with simple needs. One simple need is a .375 H&H load with a 300 grain bullet which leaves a rifle’s muzzle at 2500 – 2550 feet per second. This need stems from an encounter I had with a black bear two years ago. This cinnamon phase guy dwarfed any black bear I’ve ever laid eyes on. Closer to an interior Alaskan grizzly than a black bear in size. While I didn’t get close enough for a shot, this big fella made me reconsider the load I packed for bear. For the full low down on bears and big-bores, read my other story, Why You Should Bring a Big-Bore to a Bear Hunt.
Until the fateful day I just mentioned, I had relied on either 260 or 270 grain bullets, but now I want to step up to 300 grains. This is the bullet weight which made the “Three-Seven-Five’s” reputation in Africa and Alaska. Holland and Holland’s original recipe when they released the cartridge in 1912 called for a 300 grain bullet at 2500 fps. For decades, ammunition makers adhered to this specification. No longer.
|Author used 270gr. CoreLokt (top) & 260gr. AccuBond before he met “The Bear.”|
Without warning, Federal reduced their 300 grain offerings from 2500 fps to 2450 or even just 2400 fps. Boutique brand, Nosler followed in Federal’s footsteps as well. They’ve also scaled back the legendary .300 H&H by 100 to 150 fps. Did someone in their boardrooms suddenly decide they didn’t like these venerable Brits?
“Just load your own,” you might say. I’ve done it. Developed a load with Nosler’s 300 grain Partition and H4350 powder, just as H4350 became more rare than myrrh. Since this powder is scarce, I’ve decide to reserve the small quantity I have for my long-range rifles, which means either I switch to a different powder ( I don’t fancy a whole new time and money intensive development program) or use factory loads.
|Author’s hand loaded 300gr. Partition recovered from test media.|
Over the Counter
Don’t get me wrong, here. Until now, I’ve been satisfied with Federal’s ammunition for decades. I don’t want to run them down, I just want them to bring back their A-game for the .375 H&H.
Ready-made ammo has advantages. The bullets in .375 H&H loads are crimped into the case mouths to prevent bullet creep-back in the magazine under recoil. The cases are often nickel-plated to ensure smooth feeding (important when you are desperate for a second shot as something big and grumpy charges you). Plus, the primers are sealed, which is important in my hunting area with its rain and heavy, wet snow. This all assumes a particular load is accurate in your gun (each gun is different). It’s good stuff, if a bit spendy.
Since I don’t shoot more than ten or twenty rounds a year in my .375, factory fodder’s price is justifiable–as long as it performs as I want. Unfortunately, the two companies whose ammo I use most don’t seem to care. If they did, they wouldn’t have watered down their best loads.
Right the First Time
“What significant difference can 50 or 100 fps make, anyway?” you might ask. When it comes to the .375, I think it makes quite a bit. If Holland and Holland had thought it no big deal, they wouldn’t have insisted on 2500 fps. These folks knew their business. They had made dangerous game guns and ammunition for decades prior to 1912 and had a better than fair idea what worked, and why. Mind you, the cartridge applied this velocity to old-style cup and draw construction bullets. When those failed, more often than not, the bullet broke apart when it hit an animal because it traveled too fast. Now, if H&H were worried this might happen at 2500 fps, they would have dialed the scoot factor back a bit, but they didn’t. I’ll trust their judgement–someone stayed up late at the office to make sure it worked right.
So why are these two ammo makers convinced, after more than a century, slower is better? Modern, premium bullets seldom if ever fail like the their early 20th century predecessors. Frankly, if I were toe to toe with a Cape buffalo or Kodiak bear, I’d want every last foot per second I could get. When your life depends on it, you sweat the details.
|Hey Federal, tell this 1200 pound Kodiak you don’t need 2500 fps!|
An email exchange with the boffins at Nosler yielded no proper explanation. They just muttered about how some bullets hit the pressure wall sooner than others. So how come even with Nosler bullets, ammo companies had no problem in the past driving them at 2500 fps or even 2600? Theirs is a non-answer.
The difference is significant. I ran some simulations through shooterscalculator.com’s free online ballistic software just to see if I protesteth too much. The results were conclusive. While the change in velocity had little effect on trajectory (ballistic coefficient determines drop more than speed), the real story lay in the energy figures. At 2500 fps, a 300 grain Partition generates 4164 ft-lbs at the muzzle while at 2450 the figure is 3999 ft-lbs. The bullet holds this difference for some ways down-range. At 300 yards, for instance, the numbers are 2390 versus 2283, still more than 100 ft-lbs between them. Yes, both are more than sufficient if applied to an elk’s tough carcass at 300 yards, but let’s say you have a good reason to take a similar shot at a bear (you better have a very good reason to poke at a bear beyond 100 yards). Now, which energy figure would you want? Thought so. It makes no sense to water down these loads, none whatsoever.
Nothing Like a Good Conspiracy Theory (Chuckle)
The only rational I can find, and it is a supposition on my part, is these companies want people to migrate away from the .375 H&H. In preference to what? The .375 Ruger or .375 Remington Ultra-Mag? Those are fine cartridges, mind you, but they are almost extinct in their own right. Midway, an on-line ammunition retailer noted for the variety they stock, offers 36 different .375 H&H loads, versus just six .375 Ruger and .375 RUM loads, respectively. Who is kidding who here?
Warning: Decisions Ahead!
All this bellyaching still doesn’t get me what I want, though. I suppose I will either break down and buy what’s on the shelf, test it with my protocols (yes, you’ll all get a full report at LocaCarnivore.com), and try it in the field on something which doesn’t fight back such as deer or elk. Otherwise, I’ll have to pick another powder (I’ve tried one other than H4350; its accuracy and velocity didn’t impress) and grind through yet another development program (sigh).
The other brands out there? None fit my requirements. Either their bullets are too hard to use on deer and elk, or I don’t trust the brand for various reasons. Winchester offers the Partition at full velocity, but if you can find any, it carries a price tag which only makes sense to the clinically insane.
Dear Federal and Nosler, I am not happy. Strong letter follows.
Other helpful stories you’ll like:
LocaCarnivore Expert: Best Dangerous Game Cartridges for Bolt-Action Rifles
Best Dangerous Game Rifles: Your Life Could Depend on It
Bear Hunting is Dangerous Game Hunting [Insane Bear Charge Video]