Thirty-Something Rifle Cartridges IV: The 375s
As we approach the top-end of the Thirty-Something rifle cartridges, we get a real mixed bag. In this caliber range you can find some great short-to-medium range woods rounds along with some major-league heavy hitters; a few real old-timers, one near-immortal and a few new entries into the market.
So, without further ado, let’s have a look at the .375s.
At the End of the Black-Powder Era…
In 1884, along with the .32-40 we examined previously, the Ballard folks brought their single-shot Perfection #4 rifle in an improved version of their old .38-50 Everlasting. The new round was the .38-55 Ballard, using 55 grains of black powder to launch a 255-grain .377 slug at the modest velocity of about 1,400 fps. This wasn’t an overwhelming stopper even by the standards of the time, when the .45-70, .45-90, .45-120 and .50-90 were around in single-shot rifles. But in 1894, the folks at Winchester noticed that the Ballard round would work nicely in their new repeater, and so the relabeled .38-55 Winchester became the second round besides the .32-40 to be released in the new Model 1894.
While the subsequent release of the .30WCF largely eclipsed the older black-powder rounds, the .38-55 continued to be offered in the Model 94, the Savage Model 99 and the Model 93 Marlin, along with several single-shot rifles besides the Ballard. But the round slowly faded out despite being adapted to the new smokeless powders, and after 1940 no commercial rifles were sold in this caliber.
The good old .38-55 has seen something of a renaissance in recent years, though, in part because of the Cowboy Action shooting craze in the late Nineties. It’s still a fine round for deer and black bear at medium ranges, and in addition to older guns, the round may now be had in some newer versions of the Model 94, along with the H&R Handi-Rifle, the Henry lever guns and a few others.
But only a few short years after the advent of the great Model 94, some folks in London were to bring out a new .375-caliber round for the new smokeless powders that would end up being damn near immortal.
Two years before the start of the Great War, the London gunmakers of Holland & Holland designed a new kind of cartridge. Created for the new cordite powders, the new .375-caliber cartridge had a long, tapered case and a rounded neck, to ensure that the cartridges would feed and extract reliably from a bolt-action magazine rifle. The Holland & Holland designers were concerned that headspace may be an issue with the tapered case and minimal neck, so they borrowed a trick they had first tried in 1905 on the .400/375 Belted Nitro Express, a cartridge that didn’t quite catch on. But it did have a feature that H&H though might solve their headspace concerns, and so they added a belt to the base of the case for the round to headspace on, making the new .375 Holland & Holland Magnum the first commercially successful belted magnum. The new round launched a big 270-grain slug at about 2,600 fps. Now this series is mostly focused on American cartridges, but the impact of the Holland & Holland round on the shooting world is too significant to be excluded, regardless of its London origins.
The .375 H&H was aimed squarely at the then-booming African safari market and is indeed a tad overpowered for anything in North America except perhaps the largest Alaskan grizzlies, polar bears and the big Alaska-Yukon moose. But the H&H round packs a comforting amount of wallop for anyone after toothy, dangerous critters, and it quickly caught on with guides and professional hunters, not excluding professional Alaskan and northern Canadian guides.
A few variations quickly emerged. There was the .375 Flanged Magnum, which took the basic .375 H&H case, removed the belt and added a rim to ease its use in single-shot and double rifles. Wildcatter P.O. Ackley produced the .375 Ackley Improved, using a blown-out version of the H&H case to fire the 270-grain slug at 2,800 fps. In 1944, Roy Weatherby duplicated Ackley’s work with his characteristic double-radius shoulder on the case, yielding very similar ballistics to the Ackley round with his .375 Weatherby Magnum.
But the real legacy of the .375 Holland & Holland Magnum lay in its descendants, including a great number of American-made offspring. The H&H round became the basis for an entire catalog of magnum cartridges.
The list of cartridges based on the full length .375 H&H Magnum case includes:
- .244 H&H Magnum – based directly on the .375 H&H case
- 7mm Shooting Times Westerner – Via the 8mm Remington Magnum
- .30 Super A modified variant of the .300 H&H Magnum produced by Winchester
- .300 H&H Magnum – based directly on the .375 H&H case.
- .300 Weatherby Magnum – via the full length .30 Super improved
- 8mm Remington Magnum – necked down improved .375 H&H case
- .340 Weatherby Magnum – via the full length .30 Super improved
- .350 Griffin & Howe Magnum – based directly on the .375 H&H case
- .358 Shooting Times Alaskan – Via the 8mm Remington Magnum
- .375 Weatherby Magnum – via the .30 Super improved
- .40 BSA Magnum
- .400 H&H Magnum – based directly on the .375 H&H case
- .416 Remington Magnum – via the 8mm Remington Magnum
- .458 Lott – based directly on the .375 H&H case
- .470 Capstick – based directly on the .375 H&H case
And then there are the standard-length cartridges based on the .375 H&H Magnum case:
- .257 Weatherby Magnum – via the .30 Super
- .26 BSA Magnum
- .264 Winchester Magnum – based directly on the .375 H&H case
- .270 Weatherby Magnum – via the .30 Super
- .275 H&H Magnum – developed along with the .375 in 1912
- 7×61mm S&H – via the .275 H&H Magnum
- 7mm Remington Magnum – based on the .375 H&H case via the .264 Winchester Magnum case
- 7mm Weatherby Magnum – via the .30 Super
- .300 Winchester Magnum – based directly on the .375 H&H case
- .308 Norma Magnum – used standard length Weatherby cases
- .33 BSA Magnum
- .338 Winchester Magnum – based directly on the .375 H&H case
- .358 Norma Magnum – used standard length Weatherby cases
- .458 Winchester Magnum – based directly on the .375 H&H case
And finally, several short action cartridges were based on the .375 H&H Magnum case:
- 5mm Remington Magnum – via the .350 Remington Magnum
- .350 Remington Magnum – via the 7mm Remington Magnum
- .450 Marlin – via the .458 Winchester Magnum
In addition to fathering this wild variety of rounds, the .375 H&H remained pretty much the gold standard of .375-caliber rounds. But while Holland & Holland was riding tall in the .375-caliber saddle, over in the States, Roy Weatherby wasn’t sitting on his hands.
The .375 Weatherby Magnum hadn’t blown up too many skirts, so in 1953, Weatherby went all out. In that year he took the .416 Rigby case, added a belt, necked the case down with the characteristic double radius shoulder and brought forth the .378 Weatherby Magnum. This was a real gob-smacker, sending forth the 270-grain slug at 3,100 fps for almost three tons of muzzle energy.
But, as with other proprietary rounds, there were some shortcomings with the proposition. First, the round was only chambered in Weatherby rifles, and second, initially the ammo was only available from Weatherby. At this time American manufacturers were producing .375 H&H ammo and the H&H round was chambered in American-made rifles, including the very fine Model 70 Winchester. The big Weatherby case didn’t fit in standard Mauser-type actions, either.
Still, the Weatherby round found some fans among African hunters and guides, and the folks who just must have the biggest and toughest of anything.
There was one more major development in .375-caliber rounds in the twentieth century. This development, however, was not another Eargesplitten Loudenboomer; instead, twenty-five years after Roy Weatherby brought out his .378 shoulder-pounder, Winchester went back to the past and brought out a modernized take on an old favorite.
In 1978, the re-organized and re-organizing Winchester had developed their Model 94 Big Bore rifle and with it, the rimmed .375 Winchester cartridge. This round was a sort of modernized .38-55, based as it was on the slightly shortened .38-55 case made with thicker brass to take stouter loads. The .375 Winchester in the Model 94 (Ruger quickly made it available in their falling-block #3 single shot as well) sent forth a 200-grain soft-point at 2,200 fps, making for a great woods round for deer and black bear.
Consider the differences in the design philosophies of these two cartridges. Weatherby rifles and cartridges were, at that time, top-end, carriage trade items, costly, fine quality and top-end on the power range. Winchester, on the other hand, meant to and did appeal to a more common type: The American hunter and outdoorsman, who is generally more concerned with knocking over a corn-fed farm-country whitetail than stopping a charging buffalo. This was ever Winchester’s market, and that continues to this day.
That’s where stood with the American picture of .375s until recently.
In 1999, the folks at Steyr were working on their interpretation of Col. Jeff Cooper’s Scout Rifle concept. The arm they came up with was a bizarre-looking concoction with an integral bipod and a clunky, awkward synthetic stock; when it comes to the Scout concept, personally I prefer Ruger’s take on it. But Steyr did release a .375 round to go with the new Steyr Scout’s short action, that being the .376 Steyr. The Steyr round was based on the 9.3x64mm Brenneke case, shortened and necked up to take the .375 slug, and sent a 270-grain slug on its way at about 2,600 fps. This yielded some stout recoil in the lightweight rifle, and while Steyr also introduced the round in its more traditionally styled Pro Hunter rifle, sales were never what one would call brisk.
Also, in 1999, Remington had taken the .404 Jeffries case, reduced the taper of the case and necked it down to .30 caliber. The inspiration for this was work done with that .404 case by Canadian wildcatters Aubrey White and Noburo Uno in British Columbia in the 1980s, but Remington commercialized the idea (it’s unclear whether White and Uno received any credit) and called the new round the .300 Remington Ultra Magnum. In 2000, Big Green upped the ante by necking that reworked case back up to .375, resulting in the .375 Remington Ultra Magnum. This round required a magnum-sized action but fell short of the ballistics of the .378 Weatherby, releasing a 270-grain slug at a mere 2,940 fps.
Finally, in 2007, Ruger and Hornady conspired to bring out something unusual in the shooting world – an entirely new cartridge, designed more or less from the ground up. This was the standard-length .375 Ruger, using the same case head diameter as the .375 H&H belted case but forgoing the belt for a full-diameter case. This round could be chambered in standard-length rifles and was introduced in the M77, giving American hunters an affordable rifle that punched out the 270-grain .375 bullet at a tidy 2,800 fps. This was significant for a couple of reasons: It gave .375 H&H performance in a standard-length action, and its introduction in the M77 gave hunters big-league horsepower in an affordable rifle.
The .375s are something of a dichotomy. There are the woods rifles and the major hitters, but there doesn’t seem to be much of anything in between; at least, not in factory rounds. Today, the .375 Winchester remains popular in its niche, along with its revived grandpappy the .38-55. But in the major leagues, the king of the .375 calibers remains, after over a hundred years, the grand old .375 Holland & Holland Magnum. For some years now I’ve been holding open a space in the gun rack for a nice old pre-64 Model 70 Winchester in the .375 H&H, but examples of such command a tidy few shekels, so that may not happen for a while.
Next: In the final segment, we’ll look at the leftovers; a few wildcats, some long-obsolete rounds, a few oddball calibers, and some other assorted sports and misfits. Stay tuned.