Short, Fat & Fierce

In an era when the trendy cartridges are as long as cruise missiles, one gunmaker is doing things differently.

Field & Stream Online Editors

Way back in 1963, Winchester tried a Noble Experiment. The company designed a short cartridge that would give lever-action rifle shooters the long-range capability of the .270 and .280; they called the new round the .284 and chambered it in the Model 88 lever and Model 100 auto rifles. It was short and fat with almost no taper and an extremely sharp shoulder. The .284's rim was smaller than its body -- rebated is the term -- so it would fit a standard-sized bolt face. As loaded by the factory, the .284 slung a 150-grain bullet at nearly 2900 fps, and it was hot stuff -- but there were problems.

In 1974, both the Model 88 and the 100 were dropped from the Winchester line. The only other maker to chamber rifles for the .284 was Savage, who offered the Model 99 in that caliber for a while. The cartridge itself suffered because Winchester could not use a magazine that was long enough and had to jam the bullets so far back into the cases that powder capacity was lost, and the .284 was sentenced to life as an underachiever. It should have died -- but it didn't.

The .284 was ideal for shooters who were looking for short bolt-action rifles that packed a real wallop. Custom gunsmiths were happy to build them, and .284 ammo has continued to sell steadily for all these years. Winchester has put it on the discontinued list several times, but when they do, the howls of rage are so terrible that they bring it back again. It is short, fat -- and when handloaded to capacity -- fierce.

The .22 PPC
In 1974, a pair of benchrest shooters -- Ferris Pindell and Dr. Louis Palmisano -- developed a short, fat, fierce cartridge. They were after extreme accuracy and knew that to get it, they needed highly consistent velocities. They believed that the way to that end was a case that would give them as short a powder column as possible, and so they picked the 5.45x39mm Soviet service round. (It was short and fat and had proved excellent at shooting wildlife such as capitalist swine and running-dog lackeys of imperialism.) They lessened the shell's taper, sharpened its shoulder, changed the neck diameter slightly, and christened the new round the .22 PPC.

Not only did the .22 PPC deliver very consistent velocities, but it produced velocities that were close to those of much larger cartridges, simply because it burned its powder so efficiently.

** The Next Short, Fat Generation
** For 37 years it's been no secret that short and fat is not only efficient but fierce. However, the trendy cartridges today are those that are as long as Tomahawk missiles. They appeal to hunters who dream of shooting into the next ZIP code and want all the velocity they can get. Among the most terrifying are those made by John Lazzeroni of Tucson, Arizona. But now, Lazz has fooled us all and brought short, fat, and fierce into the 21st century with a line of rotund, ravening rounds.

There are eight of them, all the same length as a standard .308. They are: Spitfire (.243), Phantom (.264), Tomahawk (.284), Patriot (.308), Galaxy (.338), Eagle (.358), Hellcat (.375), and Maverick (.416).

Hoo boy are they fat -- so fat, in fact, that they hold about the same amount of powder, and get the same velocities, as much longer magnum rounds. The .308 Patriot, for example, shoots a 180-grain bullet at 3100 fps, which is just a bit more than what you get with a .300 Winchester Magnum. The .284 Tomahawk fires a 160-grain bullet at 3087 fps, which is identical to the 7mm Weatherby Magnum.

The Lazzeroni short magnums burn their powder so efficiently that they require standard, not magnum, primers to ignite them, and because almost all the powder burns before it reaches open air, there is minimal muzzle flash and report. On the negative side, you can't have a standard .308-length action modified to take these cases; they're too porky to work through the magazine.

Heavy, Not Hyper**
Some years ago, I discovered that when bullets are going way over 3000 fps at the muzzle, you are going to spoil a lot of meat unless you limit your shooting to long ranges. So when I tested a Lazzeroni short magnum, I wanted something that would shoot medium-weight bullets at something less than warp speed. This meant either the 7mm Tomahawk with 160-grain bullets or the .30-caliber Patriot with 180-grainers, and since John Lazzeroni had a left-hand Tomahawk already built, that settled that.

The Lightweight Mountain Rifle
Lazzeroni's standard long-action rifle is the L2000ST. It's a big gun and requires a 27-inch barrel to burn the powder in his huge cartridges. It weighs 8 pounds without scope, and its stock, while very comfortable, is bulky. I wouldn't want to haul an L2000ST through the peckerpole pines or try to yank it out of a saddle scabbard in a hurry. But it is a gorgeous piece of machinery, and I have vivid memories of bouncing a Pepsi can around with a .264 Phantom at a measured 640-plus yards.

The Lightweight Mountain Rifle (L2000SA), on the other hand, is only 61¿¿2 pounds without scope and 8 pounds with. The bigger gun is 48 inches overall, but the L2000SA is 44, and where the larger gun's stock swoops and flares, the L2000SA is economy of line itself.

The L2000SA is first cabin in every component: 24-inch stainless-steel fluted barrel by Gary Schneider; fiberglass stock by McMillan; trigger by Jewell; action with fluted bolt by McMillan; all metalwork electroless nickeled. It don't come no better than this.

It shoots good, too. With 140-grain bullets, I could get sub-minute-of-angle groups. With 160-grain slugs, spreads averaged 1.1 inch, which is as much accuracy as you'll need in this lifetime.

Is there a downside? Of course there is. The price for the Lightweight Mountain Rifle is $4,195, but if you have the money, it's an elegant, superbly made firearm that will handle 99 percent of the hunting in North America with aplomb. And Lazzeroni makes 'em right-handed, too.

Is the Future Fat?
Is there a short, fat, fierce cartridge in your future? Probably yes. Eventually, hunters who have bought big, heavy rifles that kick like the hammers of hell will discover that these guns are no fun to hunt with and that most of the shots they get are at ranges where all that power is wasted.

Even as you read this, one of our major ammo producers has a short, fat, fierce .30-caliber round waiting to be introduced; I've hunted with it, and it's deadly.

The Austrian firm of Steyr has a brand-new cartridge that's loaded in this country by Hornady Manufacturing. It's called the .376 Steyr (it's actually .375), and even though it's a shade shorter than the .30/06, and much shorter than the .375 H&H;, it nearly matches the ballistics of that monstrous round. Steyr chambers the .376 in its ultra-high-tech Scout rifle.

And these are just the beginning, I think. Fat is not fashionable in people at the moment, but for cartridges, it may be just the thing.