And so, after hauling my old .280 out of the gun safe in order to write about it for the blog, I wondered why I ever retired it, seeing as how it is still such a good rifle. And one of the reasons it’s so effective is because of the .280 cartridge, which is vastly unappreciated.
In 1957, Remington wanted a round for its pumps and autos that would match .270 Winchester ballistics and turned to a wildcat called the 7mm/06, which was the .30/06 necked down to .284, or 7mm. But American cartridge designation requires that you never call something by its correct diameter, so Remington labeled the new round the .280.
It sold OK, but Remington wanted it to sell better, so in 1979 they redesignated it as the 7mm Express Remington, but when that failed to catch fire they went back to .280 after only a year.
Name games aside, the .280 is one of the top cartridges for North American hunting. It ranks right alongside the .30/06 in general usefulness. If you have one, you can take anything except the big bears, and do it handily. One of the two or three biggest elk I’ve ever seen–a true 1,000-pound monster–was killed dead in his tracks by one shot from a .280. You can think of it as a 7mm magnum but without the added powder, recoil, and muzzle blast.
Comparisons to the .270 are both inevitable and futile. In the real world, you could hunt with them from now until the crack of doom and see no difference. If there is an advantage, it lies with the .280, and it’s for handloaders only, because there are a lot more .284 bullets on the market than .270 bullets. Also, if you want to hunt something really big, like Alaska moose, you can use 175-grain bullets in the .280, while the top end for the .270 is 150 grains.
The .280 cartridge does just fine with 140-, 150-, and 160-grain bullets, and most factory loads these days seem to be the middle weight, which is just fine with me. If you’re a handloader, stick with slow powders such as Hodgdon 4831 and RelodeR 22. I’ve had very good luck with RelodeR 25 and IMR 7828 as well. Magnum primers work well with these propellants.
If you already own a .270, there’s no need to trade for a .280, but if you have a chance to buy one of the latter, there’s no better all-around big-game cartridge.