Seventh heaven

Brad Allen has a soft spot for the dependable 7mm

It should come as no surprise to most older shooters that ‘new’ hunting cartridges generally equate to just another way to sell new guns. Not necessarily a bad thing but as I’ve said before, there’s very little that’s actually ‘new’. If we remove the hype and hoopla and ignore the advertising for the next new ‘Super-Short Ultra Compact Improved Magnum’ in any particular calibre and just concentrate on the ballistics, generally we’ll find it’s not all that different from some ‘older’ cartridge, particularly when dealing with medium game-hunting cartridges.

For my money, in Australia medium game-hunting cartridges, particularly deer calibres, start with the .270 and specifically the great .270 Winchester. The ‘why’ in that statement is quite simple – .270 is the legal minimum for larger deer species in some states. Sure, a slightly smaller calibre and cartridge will undoubtedly do the trick, though if you intend to hunt interstate you might just need to upgrade to comply with their regulations.

Yet as fond as I am of the.270 Winchester, I’ve always had a soft spot for some of the great old 7mm too. The obvious contenders start with the wonderful 7x57mm Mauser that’s been with us since 1892 and both times I’ve hunted in Africa, this was still a preferred calibre with local professional hunters. Starting life as a military cartridge, the 7×57 soon became the calibre of choice for hunting all manner of African and European medium game. Those ‘long for calibre’ 160gr bullets performed well on notoriously hard to kill African antelope, providing the deep penetration usually required to accomplish the task.

Calibre designations, both here and in Europe, can have you scratching your head and wondering how inventors came to their decisions. No big deal with the .270 Winchester as the bore in Imperial measurement is 0.277 of an inch, thus the .270 Win. Yet if we convert .277” to metric we arrive at 7.03mm, so the .270 is in fact the real 7mm! What we’ve come to know and accept as 7mm is 0.284” but when conversion is done, we quickly learn 0.284” is actually 7.21mm. So there you have it, the .270 Winchester is the original and real 7mm cartridge while all others in the 0.284 calibre are imposters.

That said, 0.284 calibre cartridges (even though they’re really 7.21mm) are very useful for medium game-hunting. In fact as a teenager I owned a Ruger M77 in 7mm Remington Magnum for quite a while before I discovered the .270 Winchester. Released in 1962, the 7mm Rem Mag is still an extremely popular cartridge in Australia, Europe, Africa and America. Yes there are bigger, faster, newer 7mm Magnum performance cartridges out there but for all the hype, and bearing in mind most medium game is (and should be) taken at ranges inside 300 yards, the old 7mm Rem Mag does it without raising a sweat.

It’s worth mentioning the 7mm Rem Mag sounded the death knell for an equally good 7mm Magnum cartridge (the 7×61 Sharpe & Hart) which had been released a few years earlier.  Although they were almost ballistic twins the Remington cartridge won out, probably due to better marketing and being chambered in the venerable Remington 700 rifle, while the 7×61 was originally offered only in the Schultz & Larsen (rear locking action) with ammunition made by Norma of Sweden.

My old mate Carl has owned his Remington 700 in 7mm Reg Mag since the early 1970s and has accounted for truck-loads of deer, pigs, wild dogs and other ferals, both in Australia and New Zealand. And the cartridge is still a firm favourite with some long-range North Island sika hunters where, with the right equipment, many deer are taken at ranges well in excess of 300 yards.

A few years ago I took a keen young man on his first deer hunt. South-east Queensland red deer were the target during the rut and Anthony was using his Ruger M77 in 7mm08 with 140gr Sierra handloads, which virtually mimics the ballistics of the old 7×57 Mauser but in a slightly shorter cartridge of .308 Win length. With three shots he took a representative stag and two hinds for meat at between 100-180 yards. Those deer wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference between a 7mm08 and any of the 7mm ultra mags. A one-shot kill is exactly that and success has far more to do with hunting ability and shot placement than excessive power.

More recently I was introduced to the .280 Remington by another hunting mate, Terry.  This was developed from the .30-06 Springfield case and has a slight ballistic advantage over the 7mm08 and .270 with heavier bullets of 150gr and upwards. In a stainless synthetic Remington shooting 140gr Nosler Accubond handloads, it was Terry’s go-to rifle for pigs and deer, doing the business without fuss. With manageable recoil and ample power, the .280 Remington remains a very useful medium game cartridge.

At this point I’ll throw in a couple of less well-known versions for consideration. Many years ago, my mate Steve acquired a lovely Weatherby Mark V in .270 Weatherby Magnum with a batch of their factory ammo. Probably the fastest of all .277 calibre factory cartridges, the .270 Weatherby Mag can be tough on barrels but, if used as Steve does occasionally for pig or deer, that barrel will last a lifetime. With 130gr factory bullets travelling at more than 3300fps and the 150gr load about 3200fps, they shoot flat and hit hard and, being of ample rifle weight with the Mark V stock, recoil isn’t a problem.

On my last trip to Namibia, my professional hunter Harold had just bought a new Winchester rifle in .270 Win Short Mag. With ballistics a smidgen faster than the standard .270 Winchester, he used that rifle to cull springbok on his family’s Kalahari property, taking more than 600 animals in a two-week period just to keep the numbers in check. It shot flat and hit hard without excessive recoil, as witnessed by those 600 shots in 14 days!

A neighbour owns a 7mm Weatherby Mark V Magnum he favours for most of his trophy hunting. John uses it with 150gr handloads on everything from pigs, fallow deer and goats to red deer and while potentially sore on barrels, it too does the business without fuss or excessive recoil.

It’s a foregone conclusion that as you increase the power factor of any calibre/cartridge, all things being equal you’ll also increase recoil. Although I own and shoot some big kickers including a CZ in .416 Rigby, Kimber Montana in .338 Win Mag and my son’s .300 Win Mag, I don’t like being hit hard by any rifle I hunt with. I tolerate recoil but don’t enjoy it and most hunters will do their best work with a rifle of ample power which doesn’t kill at both ends.

Most rifles in 7mm I’ve dealt with over the years, from 7×57 through to 7mm Rem Mag and I’ll include the 7mm Weatherby Magnum in this, are all tolerable to shoot as far as recoil is concerned. In hunting rifles of normal weight, recoil is usually lower than those of similar size cased for .30 calibre cartridges, bearing in mind any super-light rifle will always kick harder than one of normal weight. A case in point is my very light Kimber .338 Win Mag which is great to hunt with but no fun at all to sight in.

There are other cartridges in the .270 7mm class but I think I’ve covered most of the more popular ones. The point is that with minimum fuss in reasonable weight rifles and the right load/ammo for the job, they’ll adequately take every medium game animal in Australia. Again, if shots are kept to responsible ranges (below 300 yards), all calibres mentioned will give a good account of themselves.

If you think you need a rifle with more power to take shots beyond 300 yards, chances are the possibility of missing or wounding an animal will rise dramatically. Long-range sniping of game animals can be a legitimate pastime, though it requires a specialist skill-set with the right equipment and some serious training, combined with a unique understanding of all environmental factors. Simply slapping an overly-large target scope on a regular hunting rifle will not achieve the objective regardless of calibre.

For the medium game-hunter who requires a rifle of suitable power (legally and morally) in a calibre that won’t belt him or her into next week in a rifle that’s not too heavy to carry, it’s hard to look past the 7mm. Any of those mentioned above will do a credible job if you can play your part so long live the 7mm and enjoy the hunt.

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