Firmly In The Middle
Ruger’s New .338 Compact Magnum.
Of the many big-game cartridges introduced in the last couple of decades, my favorite is .300 RCM. Not because there is anything particularly dramatic about it. It’s a short cartridge with a bit more capacity than the .30-06. My fired RCM cases hold about 75 grains of water; a lot closer in capacity to the .30-06 (69 grains) than to the .300 Win Mag (90 grains)
No, the magic of the cartridge lies in the strong .30-06 ballistics in the outstanding Ruger 77 Compact Magnum rifle. This little rifle is just a gem, being less than 40″ long with a 20″ barrel and a field-ready weight just over 8 pounds. It is perfectly balanced, handles beautifully, provides the power and trajectory I want, and does so with moderate recoil.
I like the combination so much I decided to have a look at the similar .338 RCM. Calibers in the middle ground between .30 and .375 have a steady, if not particularly large, following with North American hunters.
Such cartridges have a long and honored history. In classic hunting literature of the 20th century there are plenty of references to cartridges such as the .318 Westley Richards, .333 Jeffery, .35 Whelen, and 9.3×62. Very seldom will you find a critical opinion. It seems these and similar cartridges produced velocities well matched to bullet technology of their era. With heavy-for-caliber bullets they gave good penetration, adequate expansion, adequate trajectory and tolerable recoil.
The .318 is a particularly intriguing cartridge. Despite its British bore-diameter name, it fires .330″ bullets. Case capacity and dimensions are very similar to the .30-06 case (which in fact can be used to form .318 cases). It earned its reputation with a 250-grain bullet at a nominal 2,400 fps.
There was also a 180-grain load at a claimed 2,700 fps. With bullet design of the era it apparently couldn’t handle the velocity, with very rapid expansion and fragmentation, making it unsuitable for all but the smaller-plains-game species.
By Dave Anderson
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