Large Caliber Rifles Simplified

For over 20 years, I was given to chasing elk* around the mountains of Montana. In the course of these merry pursuits I carried a variety of rifles and eventually decided that the ideal gun would be a .338 that weighed 7½ pounds--lots of power and not a lot of weight. And so I had one built, but every time I shot it several of my body parts would fall into the snow and I'd have to grope around and find them.

A 7½-pound .338 produces roughly twice the recoil of the average .30/06. It was more than I cared to put up with, so I sold the rifle, but I was so besotted with the concept that I had another one built--with the same results. So I sold that one, too, but I still yearned for something that would shoot a bullet of significant size, not weigh a ton, and not knock my parts off. Now I think I've finally found it. It is a Browning A-Bolt chambered for the newest shortfat from Winchester--the .325 WSM.

Just about everyone thought the next step in Winchester's shortfat progression would be a .338. But Winchester's ballisticians couldn't get the kind of results they were after with that diameter, so they went to .323, or 8mm. This took some guts, because 8mm cartridges have been as popular with American shooters as lepromatous leprosy. There's no good reason for this, but it is a recognized fact, and it may be why the round is called the .325.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

.338 WM 250 grains 2630 fps .325 WSM 220 grains 2639 fps .30/06 180 grains 2700 fps

IT LIKES A BIG MEAL

Winchester intended the .325 WSM to be versatile and came up with three loadings: a 180-grain Ballistic Silvertip at 3060 fps, a 200-grain AccuBond CT at 2950 fps, and a specially toughened 220-grain Power-Point at 2840. In real life, chronographed at 15 feet from the muzzle of my .325 Browning A-Bolt, the 180-grain bullet registered 3001 fps, the 200 clocked 2850, and the 220 did 2639.

As for paper punching, the 180- and 200-grain bullets were so inaccurate that I couldn't use them for hunting at even 100 yards. I got not only big groups but wildly thrown shots. Ah, but the 220-grain? Just over a minute of angle, time after time.

The rifle's abhorrence of 180s and 200s was fine with me because I'm not a fan of using different bullet weights in the same rifle. I've found that if you settle on one and stick with it, you are able to hit far more than if you switch back and forth. For years now, I've used only 250-grain bullets in my various .338s and have had no problems dropping animals out to 300 yards, despite the fact that I get only 2600 fps. If you feel the compelling need for speed, buy an additional rifle that will give it to you. It's what any decent American would do, and it's good for the GNP.

My A-Bolt's preference for 220-grain bullets continued when I test-fired all three bullet weights into the Ballistic Buffalo (see fieldandstream.com/ballisticbuffalo). The 180-grain Ballistic Silvertip blew apart as expected but penetrated extremely well. The 200-grain AccuBond CT, which was supposed to hold together, blew apart and penetrated the Buffalo no better than the lighter bullet. The 220-grain Power-Point, which was supposed to hold together, did so in spectacular fashion, giving tremendous penetration and retaining 80 percent of its original weight, which is nearly premium-bullet performance.

I caution you all to remember that the Ballistic Buffalo is not meant to see how bullets react on real animals--it's meant to tear apart bullets that can be torn apart. There are plenty of slugs that come unglued in the old BB but do just fine on the light game for which they were designed.

When I handloaded 220-grain Swift A-Frames, I got a virtual duplicate of the accuracy and velocity shown by the 220-grain PowerPoint. And A-Frames will shoot through a redwood tree and kill a sasquatch on the far side.

LIKE AN ENTHUSIASTIC '06

If you read my At the Range test of the Browning A-Bolt (April 2006), you know that I liked the rifle so much that I bought it. It's the first light rifle I've come across that will shoot a heavy bullet at good velocity and not kill you with the recoil. Just for the hell of it, I put an entire box of ammo through the rifle offhand, shooting quickly, and did not find that any parts of myself had fallen off. It was about like shooting an enthusiastic .30/06.

This is not logical, because a .338 shoots 250-grain bullets at 2600 fps, and the .325 is the same save for 30 grains of bullet. Even the powder charges are almost identical. Most of my .338 handloads use 68 grains, and the .325 takes 65.

It would be nice to see the .325 succeed big-time. Since 1888, 8mm game cartridges have made an enviable record on game all over the world. Maybe we should stop being ignoramuses where they're concerned.

*I didn't really chase them, as elk can move very quickly and I am slower on my feet than Kirstie Alley before she lost the 56 pounds.

SO ROUND, SO FIRM, SO FULLY PACKED*

If you've never carried shortfat cartridges before, you'll find that they don't fit into ammo cases made for conventional rounds. The solution to this is to get a C-1 Rifle Shell Holder from Murray Custom Leather ($55 plus $7 shipping; 817-441-7480; murraycustomleather.com). It holds nine shortfats, noiselessly, in three separate inner compartments, and takes up hardly any room on your belt. --DAVID E. PETZAL

*Can anyone out there tell me where this came from? There are two correct answers.

CHECK OUT PETZAL'S DAILY BLOG, THE GUN NUT, AT FIELDANDSTREAM.BLOGS.COM