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GUNS Magazine June 2012 Digital Edition - Page 22
STORY: Dave Anderson Ruger’s new .338 Compact Magnum. FirMLy in the MiddLe O f the many big-game cartridges introduced in the last couple of decades, my favorite is .300 RCM. Not because there is anything particularly dramatic about it. It’s a short cartridge with a bit more capacity than the .3006. My fired RCM cases hold about 75 grains of water; a lot closer in capacity to the .30-06 (69 grains) than to the .300 Win Mag (90 grains). No, the magic of the cartridge lies in the strong .30-06 ballistics in the outstanding Ruger 77 Compact Magnum rifle. This little rifle is just a gem, being less than 40" long with a 20" barrel and a field-ready weight just over 8 pounds. It is perfectly balanced, handles beautifully, provides the power and trajectory I want, and does so with moderate recoil. I like the combination so much I decided to have a look at the similar .338 RCM. Calibers in the middle ground between .30 and .375 have a steady, if not particularly large, following with North American hunters. Such cartridges have a long and honored history. In classic hunting literature of the 20th century there are plenty of references to cartridges such as the .318 Westley Richards, .333 Jeffery, .35 Whelen, and 9.3x62. Very seldom will you find a critical opinion. It seems these and similar cartridges produced velocities well matched to bullet technology of their era. With heavy-for-caliber bullets they gave good penetration, adequate expansion, adequate trajectory and tolerable recoil. The .318 is a particularly intriguing cartridge. Despite its British borediameter name, it fires .330" bullets. Case capacity and dimensions are very similar to the .30-06 case (which in fact can be used to form .318 cases). It earned its reputation with a 250-grain bullet at a nominal 2,400 fps. There was also a 180-grain load at a claimed 2,700 fps. With bullet design of the era it apparently couldn’t handle the velocity, with very rapid expansion and fragmentation, making it unsuitable for all but the smaller-plains-game species. Experienced African hunters like John Taylor and W.D.M. Bell spoke highly of the .318. Currently the cartridge is undergoing a mild revival, and original rifles command rather breathtaking prices. Although .330" bullets are available it’s unlikely your local gun shop has them. However excellent .338" bullets Ruger’s .338 RCM (left) has a Weaver 3-9X Grand Slam scope and compared favorably in performance with this Sako Finnbear carbine in .338 Win. Mag with 3-9X Zeiss Conquest. These three Ruger 77 Mk II rifles cover an awful lot of hunting opportunities and are chambered for .375 Ruger with 3-9X Trijicon, .338 Compact Magnum with 3-9X Weaver Grand Slam and the .300 Compact Magnum with 3-9X Leupold. The .375 is great if you really need its power, but it sure is tough to put down the lighter, fasthandling Compact Magnums. are widely available and relatively inexpensive. For American hunters the .338-06 provides performance virtually identical to the .318, and with readily available components. Those who have used the .338-06 invariably seem to love it. A couple of times I started assembling components to build a .338-06 but for various reasons never quite saw it through. The .338 Federal (on the .308 Win case) almost got me to pull the trigger but again other projects intervened. Enter Ruger and Hornady with the .338 RCM. The combo seems to be exactly what I was looking for. As with the .300 RCM the rifle itself is a delight, short, light but not too light, and with excellent balance and handling. Naturally everyone wants to compare it to the .338 Win Mag. To be fair, the comparison should be in similar barrel lengths. Fortunately I have a lovely old Sako L61 Finnbear carbine in .338 Win Mag with full-length “Mannlicher” stock. Measured from bolt face to muzzle the 22 W W W. G U N S M A G A Z I N E . C O M • J U N E 2 0 1 2