Loaded for Bear: The Saga Continues [Exclusive]

I’m mad.  Okay, perhaps frustrated is more accurate.  Why?  Simple.  Spring bear season is a scant few months away and I still don’t have the 300 grain load I want for my .375 H&H.

Why?  Simple.  I can’t get the powder for the load I developed over a year ago: Hodgdon’s H4350.  Those readers who’ve followed my saga know I decided a while back to reserve the small amount I do have to feed a particular .300 Winchester Magnum.  I just can’t find any more H4350 right now.  Yet, Hodgdon swears they are shipping it to retailers.  I guess you need to know the secret handshake or something before stores, or e-retailers, will let on they have some in the backroom.

If you recall, I decided two years ago to upgrade from my .375 H&H from the current 260 grain loads to a 300 grain on the off chance I might have to go toe to toe with a big, grumpy bruin.  The matter is more urgent now with the possibility some Lower 48 states will allow grizzly hunting soon.  If you don’t know how this all started, Use Enough Gun: Why You Should Bring a Big Bore to a Bear Hunt will bring you up to date.  Big difference between just killing a bear and stopping a bear.

I decided to develop a load with Nosler’s excellent 300 grain Partition after I couldn’t find factory ammo which met my requirements (minimum 2500 fps).  See Is the Ammunition Industry Trying to Kill the .375 Holland & Holland? for more details.  Since then, the search has gone on for a Plan B load.  While I continue to look for suitable factory .375 ammo, I have enlisted the .300 Winchester Magnum.  Might as well have a Plan B gun as well.

300 gr. .375 Partition (L), 180 gr. .308 Accubond (C)

Hunters have used thirty caliber cartridges for over a century to take bears, from the .30-30 through .308, .30-06, and all the magnums.  Every successful bear hunter I’ve either talked to or read about who used a thirty has almost without exception used the heaviest bullet they could find.

Bears are tough, not bullet proof, but darned tough, and they don’t take it well when shot around the edges.  This toughness means the bullet you use has to do two things.  It must expand well for maximum tissue damage and it must penetrate deep.  The short list for bullets which have these contradictory qualities includes Nosler’s Partition and AccuBond, Swift A-Frame, Woodleigh Weldcore, Barnes TSX, and Trophy Bonded Bear Claw.  When it comes to thirty calibers, these bullets are best served to bears in 200 grain portions, or heavier.  Those maximum weight slugs have high sectional densities which allow them to drive through thick hide, muscle, and bone easier than their lighter brothers.

Back when I had next to no H4350, I mucked about with a Plan B for the 180 grain AccuBond load (2960 fps, 1 MOA) which is the mainstay for my .300 Win. Mag.  I splurged on some 200 grain Nosler AccuBonds in hopes I could use another powder I did have on hand to cobble together something for deer and elk out to 500+ yards (the 180’s original mission).

A few 180 gr. AccuBonds from a previous loading session.

I sat down at the loading bench with some H4831 and Nosler’s reloading manual.  After testing, I had good news and bad news.  Good news, the Savage 111 liked–no it loved–this bullet.  Most powder charges, based on two-shot test groups, promised to hit 1.5 MOA to around 0.25 MOA.  Bad news, the velocities were nowhere near those promised in the manual.  Before you send me fan boy rants, I never expect the exact numbers shown in a load manual.  They are developed under controlled laboratory conditions with spendy equipment you and I can’t get.  In a real rifle under real conditions, I am happy if I get within 50 fps or less compared to the book numbers.  In this case, the chronograph wouldn’t budge much beyond 100 – 150 fps low.

Savage 111 Package Rifle used for .300 WM load development

Expletive–well, a bunch, truth told.  Congratulations, sir!  You can have either a warmed up .30-06 or a nice, cuddly .300 H&H Magnum, but not a .300 Win. Mag.  After I sulked for a few weeks, I realized this new load may not replace my beloved 180 grain one, but it might make a fair bear hammer.  Perhaps not the stopper the 300 grain .375 is, but in a pinch and handled well, it could do the job.

At this point, I still have to get out to the range for some tests with thee shot groups before I make a final decision.  I have two candidates from the initial development thrash with velocities well beyond .30-06 levels.  One load generated 2750 fps and less than 0.5 MOA (made one elongated hole, in fact).  Another managed 2780 fps at 1.25 MOA.  Both are in the .300 H&H velocity range and better than factory .30-06 loads in this bullet weight.  Those are both proven bear cartridges, but if I wanted to hunt with either, I’d have bought one.  Why put up with the powder consumption and recoil if you don’t?  Oh, almost forgot.  Why yes, these loads will rattle a few fillings when launched from the eight pound Savage, thank you.

So I face the age-old dilemma.  Power or accuracy?  Keep in mind, I’m happy with any load which shots under 2.0 MOA for bear.  I don’t intend to toss lead at them beyond 200 yards, and less than 100 is preferred.

If the more powerful load in this pair stays inside 2.0 MOA, I’ll go with it.  Otherwise, if the slower one lives up to the preliminary accuracy promise it made, I’ll call it good.  Thirty feet per second is not a big enough difference to get excited about, but more is more.

There is a third alternative, here.  I’m tempted to experiment with either Nosler’s 220 grain Partition, long considered the go-to bullet for bear in .30-06, or Woodleigh’s 240 grain thumper.  The Woodleigh is designed for dangerous African game and should do well on bear, the big ones in particular.  H4831 is a premier powder choice for driving heavy bullets in large-cased magnums.  It might make more steam behind the flat based bullets just mentioned than the boat-tail AccuBond.  Even if they don’t, they are designed to go deep even at .30-06 velocities–physics, ya know.

Stay tuned for the next exciting episode.

Other helpful stories:
Do You Know How to Call in a Bear?

The Best Bear Defense Handgun

LocaCarnivore Test and Review: PPU 300 Grain .375 H&H Magnum


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