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GUNS Magazine April 2013 Digital Edition - Page 14
SHort or Long? thouGhts on rifle case neck lenGth. he neck length of smokeless rifle cases doesn’t change as often as dress length in the fashion world, but it does change, and for valid ballistic reasons. Understanding those reasons can help handloaders make the correct choices for their shooting needs. When smokeless powder first came into general use, necks started out long because bullets were long. Most early smokeless rifle cartridges, especially military rounds, featured very long roundnosed bullets, because cartridge designers believed they were necessary for penetration. Soon, however, a trend started in both military and hunting cartridges toward much lighter, pointed bullets at higher velocities, due to the obvious advantages of flatter trajectory and longer range. In less than 20 years, the light lever-actioned hunting rifles favored by deer hunters evolved from the .30-30 Winchester, a long-necked case shooting relatively heavy bullets at 2,000 fps, to the .250-3000 Savage, a short-necked case shooting light spitzers at 3,000 fps. This gave sporting magazines another debate to fill their pages, but both cartridges survived, since sporting goods stores can just keep adding different kinds of ammo to their inventory. Still, most cartridges had longer necks than many later designs, partly because rifle manufacturing was still evolving. If some company designed a new cartridge, they could use a new rifle action for that specific round. The history of smokeless rifles is crowded with actions such as the 1903 Mannlicher-Schoenauer, so specialized it’s extremely difficult to convert to anything except the original 6.5x54 cartridge. Eventually, however, rifle actions became more standardized. Most bolt actions came to resemble the 1898 Mauser in size and form, since they were designed to accommodate rounds that worked in the 98. Similarly, the most popular lever-action designs of the early 20th century were the 1894 Winchester and 1899 14 T John barsness Most modern .300 magnums, such as (left to near right) the.300 Winchester Short Magnum, .300 Winchester Magnum and .300 Remington Ultra Magnum have short necks, to increase powder capacity as much as possible in a given magazine length. The .30-378 Weatherby (far right) has a longer neck because it’s designed for the very long Mark V Weatherby action. Savage, so most new lever rounds were designed to work in those actions. shoRT NECK To gain the extra velocity possible with new and improved powders, the newer cartridges became fatter, with shorter necks. The .300 Savage is a perfect example. Appearing shortly after WWI in the Savage 99 (and Savage’s ahead-of-its-time short-bolt action, the Model 1920), the .300 was the .30-06 case shortened, with a steep 30-degree shoulder and a very short neck. When loaded with newer powders it came very close to reaching the pre-WWI .30-06 velocities of 2,700 fps with 150-grain bullets and 2,500 with the 180, but in a much smaller case. Many later cartridges followed this design strategy, crowding as much powder space as possible in a certain magazine length. Dozens of examples exist, including both the .300 Winchester Magnum and its 21st-century version, the .300 Winchester Short Magnum. The .300 Winchester is obviously longer and not as fat, but within the design parameters of 1963 (it had to have a belt and fit in a .30-06-length magazine) it put as much powder space as possible behind a .308-inch bullet. The .300 WSM lost the belt, so manages to squeeze almost as much powder space into an even shorter magazine. In fact, the .300 WSM has just about exactly as much powder capacity as the .300 Holland & Holland Magnum, a much longer round in both body and neck. Old-time handloaders and gun writers such as Townsend Whelen often complained about the short necks on newer cases, for three reasons. First, short necks didn’t allow as much versatility when loading various bullet weights. The relatively long neck of the .30-06 made it easy to load either 150-grain spitzers or 220-grain roundnoses, while the short neck of the .300 Savage made this almost impossible. Today most of us don’t shoot such a wide variety of bullet weights from one rifle, but if we do a longer neck does help. Second, they felt a very short neck didn’t provide enough grip for the If you shoot a lot, especially with a warm barrel, a longer case neck reduces throat erosion. W W W. G U N S M AG A Z I N E . C O M • A P R I L 2 0 1 3