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GUNS Magazine November 2011 Digital Edition - Page 12
• J O h N B A R S N E S S • thE .338 WINChEStER MAGNUM After a slow start, this modest .33 is proving its versatility. he .338 Winchester is the most popular “magnum” T above .30 caliber in North America, though it had a slow start. To understand why and how handloading the .338 has changed, let’s take a memory trip down cartridge lane. In the 1950s, Americans found themselves prospering in the postWorld War II boom, and many hunters wanted new rifles for use on big game in distant places from Alaska to Africa. At the end of the war, only two American rifles were being chambered for above .30 cartridges designed for game bigger than deer: the Model 71 Winchester lever action in .348 WCF, and the Model 70 Winchester chambered for the .375 H&H. The Model 71 was relatively short-ranged, and American hunters had already started moving toward scoped bolt actions. The .375 was considered perfect for brown bear, but most hunters considered it too large for everything else in North The .338 Winchester is a relatively large biggame cartridge for north American hunting, but it still isn’t enough to guarantee an Alaskan moose won’t end up in the water. In 1958 Winchester brought out two more cartridges on the .458 case, the .264 and .338 Magnums. The .264 was a direct assault on three of Roy Weatherby’s sub-.30-caliber magnums: the .257, .270 and 7mm, and eventually became the most popular Winchester Magnum. keith’s Influence The .338 appeared primarily because of gun writer Elmer Keith, who’d been experimenting with medium-bore rounds for decades. In the 1930s, he used the .35 Whelen on game from mule deer in Idaho to brown bear in Alaska. But Keith was also a long-range target shooter, and through experimentation with British bullets for the .333 Jeffery, eventually decided that .33-caliber bullets were the best compromise between upclose thumping and long-range trajectory. Along with gunsmith Charlie O’Neil and a wealthy sportsman named Don Hopkins, Keith developed wildcats called the .333 and .334 OKH (O’Neil-KeithHopkins). The .333 was the .30-06 necked up, while the .334 was the .300 H&H necked up, with a sharper shoulder. Keith wrote about his .33s in several magazines, including GUNS. Eventually, they stirred up enough interest for Winchester to make one of their new “short magnums” a .33, though they changed the bullet to .338", the same diameter used in their obsolete .33 Winchester. Keith much preferred 250- to 300-grain bullets in .33 caliber. Winchester obliged with a 250-grain Silvertip spitzer at 2,700 fps and a 300-grain roundnose Power Point at 2,450. They also slipped in a 200-grain Power Point spitzer at 3,000 fps, a load Keith loathed. He’d railed his entire adult life against “high-velocity, blow-up rounds,” and here Winchester stuck their (his) new .33 with exactly that sort of bullet. Even with a wide variety of factory loads the .338 Winchester Magnum didn’t sell very well for an excellent reason: With 250- and 300-grain bullets it kicked too much for most shooters, and even hunters heading for Alaska and Africa often stayed with America—and those who hunted in Africa considered it a little too small for Cape buffalo, rhinoceros and elephant. (And yes, in the 1950s, rhinos were still part of a “general bag” in Kenya and Tanganyika, then the center of the safari industry.) In 1956, Winchester introduced the .458 Winchester, a belted magnum designed to approximate the ballistics of the traditional British big bores. Even though the Model 70’s action easily accommodated the long .375 H&H, Winchester made the .458 the same overall length as the .30-06, to fit in the magazines of war-surplus 1903 Springfield and 98 Mauser rifles, at that time a mainstay of the custom rifle industry. 12 WWW.GUNSMAGAZINE.COM • NOVEMBER 2011