Not Just Another Pretty Face
Fetish: An object of irrational
reverence or obsessive devotion.
Most rifle shooters I know have, at one time or another, been guilty of having a cartridge fetish. It’s sort of an occupational hazard. Most are fairly harmless and burn themselves out after a year or two. Kind of like a summer romance.
rt of the ballistic equivalent of a lifelong love affair, occasionally on an Of Human Bondage-type level of intensity.
First off, let’s differentiate between a fetish, which usually revolves around modern cartridges and their perceived performance differences, and a historical obsession involving 19th century black powder loads (perhaps best typified by editor Jeff’s inexplicable passion for the .45-75 WCF). From what I’ve seen, historical obsessions are usually pretty fairly divided between the cartridge itself and the rifle chambered for it—Sharps, Remington rolling block, 1876 Winchester, Martini, whatever.
Of course, the same could be said for modern loads I guess. But it doesn’t fully explain why your shooting buddy may own half a dozen different rifles in .284 Winchester.
What helps makes these all-consuming fetishes socially acceptable is the fact many of the founding fathers in the gunwriting business were usually victims themselves—Warren Page and the 7mm Remington Magnum, or Jack O’Connor and the .270 Winchester are but two examples.
But back when those revered pioneers were nursing their prejudices, things were less complicated somehow, at least in the sense of “legitimate” factory offerings. Today the field of contenders for your affection is packed.
The last 50 years or so has seen an unprecedented number of new rifle cartridges on the market and it seems they’ve come in clusters—not surprising when you stop to consider the competitive nature of the marketplace. These cartridge “families” include the early Magnum Boom (7mm Remington Magnum, .300 Winchester Magnum, .264 Winchester Magnum), the .308-spawned short-action offerings (.243 Winchester, 7mm-08, .358 Winchester, .260 Remington, .338 Federal), the “short mags” (Winchester WSM’s, WSSM’s, Remington Ultras, SAUM’s, Ruger RCM’s), and a whole recent raft of cartridges specifically tailored for AR’s. And let’s not forget the proprietary numbers—Weatherby, Dakota, Lazzeroni, plus the various European metrics.
Talk about sensory overload! The array of caliber choices available to today’s rifle crank is staggering. Of course, knowing what you want from the get-go simplifies things considerably.
All this has led to some fairly arcane conjecture. And that ain’t no new thing. I have actually read meticulously researched 3,000+ word features back in the day addressing the question of whether the .280 Remington is “superior” to the .270 Winchester. Or which of the innumerable .300 magnums out there—full-length or short, belted or not—is the better choice for ridgeline-to-ridgeline shots on elk. It gets bewildering for sure.
More knowledgeable hunters than I have cast a jaundiced eye at ballistic nitpicking. And for the most part, they’re right. Shot placement and bullet selection mean more than anything else. Speaking of bullets, advances in projectile technology have allowed many cartridges, which may have once been considered marginal on certain critters, to punch above their weight. So why burn more powder and put up with more blast and kick for a diminishing margin of effectiveness?
Most of the obsessive cartridge fetishes I saw early in my shooting career revolved around velocity, real or imagined. A lot of the guys I hunted and shot with in my youth were, in the fashion of the day, obsessed with velocity.
As I seem to recall, the magic threshold number back then was 3,000 fps. Anything at it or over it was taken seriously, revered even. Concepts like ballistic coefficients, efficiency, barrel life or the hard-number reality of actual mid-range trajectory differences were either given short shrift or ignored altogether. And so was the price differential involved in ponying up for a box of .308 as opposed to .300 Weatherby.
But if there’s one thing responsible for putting a damper on obsessive cartridge fetishes involving raw speed, I’d have to say it’s the appearance of the affordable, easily portable personal chronograph.
Relative old-timers like the belted .338 Win Mag (right) have been challenged ballistically—and in the marketplace—by shorter, more efficient “hot .33’s” like the .338 RCM (left).
Relatively inexpensive (read: easily replaceable when accidentally shot) units like Competition Electronics’ Pro-Chrono or the Shooting Chrony have done much to cool off fanciful claims involving 28-inch pressure barrels in laboratory conditions. To be fair to the ammo companies, however, these little ballistic “polygraphs” have had a similar effect on overly adamant handloaders. Now what you see printed on a cartridge box is usually pretty close to what you’ll actually see on the screen.
I’ll never forget the crushing feeling of betrayal I experienced many years ago. I’d just found out the 100-grain .243 load I’d assumed to be moving out at around 3,000 fps was—from the 22-inch barrel of my Remington 788—actually having a tough time getting anywhere near 2,800.
Of course, it made absolutely no difference in the field. But it did help cure me of my fixation on that particular cartridge and got me thinking briefly on the .243’s less-successful 6mm competition—the 6mm Remington.
But in the final analysis, most rifle guys would probably get pretty antsy without a fetish or two to spice things up. Once, after I’d made some fairly exasperated observations about the sheer number of cartridges out there to an old timer (who’d been something of a wildcatter in his youth), he looked at me in wonderment, and then, as if explaining something to a child, said “Sure. We could all shoot a .30-06 or .270 and nothing else. Just like a lot of the guys in back in the ’30’s. And, truth be told, we’d all probably do just fine. But, really, what’d be the fun in that?”
By Way Of Introduction
FMG Publications (this means us) recently made a pair of personnel moves, the benefits of which will soon become apparent to our loyal readers (this means you).
Mark Kakkuri brings a wealth of “gun cred” to the FMG table.
Mark Kakkuri, who is now the online editor for GUNS and American Handgunner, has impeccable “gun guy” credentials. Over the past 16 years his work has been published in numerous print and online venues. Most recently, he’s been addressing the growing trend of CCW carry.
“Writing for the firearms industry can hardly be called work, especially when your closest colleagues share the same interests and look out for one another like they do,” Mark says. “So it’s more than an honor and privilege to join FMG as an online editor—it’s like being a part of a big family.”
Visitors to both FMG websites (americanhandgunner.com and gunsmagazine.com.) can look forward to several articles a week from Mark, who invites reader feedback. Like the rest of us, he is sure to get it!
Jade Moldé, our multi-tasking managing editor, with his Lab, Minnie.
Our managing editor, Jade Moldé, is something of a workhorse. Besides GUNS, he’s also been handling American Handgunner, Shooting Industry and the Special Editions for several months now.
“I’ve been with FMG for nearly 2-1/2 years,” says Jade. “And that time has really flown by. But I’ve been having fun along the way.
“I’ve had an interest in guns for as long as I can remember. My dad and I would go out to the desert where I used to spend many a long afternoon plinking with my Ruger Mark II. Since then, I’ve taken on sporting clays and trap.
“If you’ve stopped by your local range lately, you’ve likely noticed there’s a bit of a shift in the shooting sports demographic—there’s a lot of new shooters, and many of them are younger and from urban backgrounds. Welcoming them into our community can go a long way to growing the shooting sports.”
By Payton Miller