The mouth of the Mississippi River is a long way from where Bassmaster Classic anglers will launch, but those who make the run should find winning stringers waiting for them.
About four years ago, with the millennium fast approaching, gun writers were asked by various magazines to write about guns of the past century, and what could be expected in the gun world in the new century rapidly approaching.
Jim Carmichel, considered the dean of American gun writers, the shooting sports editor for Outdoor Life, and the man who accepted the mantle of that title from Jack O’Connor, chose to write about the then new short magnums.
Carmichel stated the most innovative movement in the last hundred years had basically occurred in the last decade of the 20th century — with the experiments of hundreds of wildcatters across the United States cutting down the old British African bush round, the .404 Jeffrey, thus making short, fat .30-caliber cartridges that gave .300 Winchester Magnum and 7MM Remington Magnum velocities out of non-belted cases approximately the length of .308 Winchester rounds.
Carmichel stated there was such a strong wildcatting movement in developing these rounds, and they were so efficient and so accurate, it was only a matter of time before a major cartridge manufacturer standardized the round, and someone started making rifles for it.
That someone turned out to be Winchester Arms and Browning, with the development of the .300 Winchester Short Magnum. Winchester developed the cartridge — off the .404 Jeffrey — and Browning, in a joint agreement, began producing the caliber in their bolt-action rifles.
The cartridge was an immediate success. With velocities and ballistic properties rivaling the .300 Win Mag, but in shorter, lighter rifles, the new short, fat cartridges spawned a whole family of related rifles and cartridges.
Remington, who had committed to the release of other cartridges based on their Ultra-Mag design, did not follow suit until the following year, when they released their versions of “short-fat” with 7MM and .30 calibers based on chopped-down versions of their monstrous Ultra-Mag cartridges, basically achieving the same ballistic properties with a different base design for their family of calibers.
Perhaps a bit of history is relevant here. Several decades ago, Dr. Lew Palmisano and a shooting partner collaborated on the development of what they called the 6MM PPC. This stood for 6 MM Pindell/Palmisano Cartridge, which was based on the short, stubby .220 Russian cartridge.
They necked it out to .24 caliber to gain long-range accuracy and wind-bucking abilities, and began cleaning up the bench rest matches. Cleaning up so much, in fact, that it wasn’t too long before everyone was using the cartridge in bench rest competition, where one-hole groups are the norm, rather than the aim.
Since gun folks are inveterate tinkerers, always trying to improve upon the status quo, more and more large caliber shooters started experimenting with cartridges that could carry more powder than cartridges of similar length.
By increasing the diameter of the round, they gained powder capacity. This gained velocity, and improved trajectories, gaining “flatter” shooting rounds. What they discovered while conducting these experiments was that these new short, fat rounds were also incredibly accurate.
You can almost hear Palmisano going, “Golly, gee whiz, imagine that…”
There were those in the Army artillery field who chimed in with the observations that if the riflemen really wanted to know, they need only have asked. It appears artillerymen have known since there has been such a field of arms that a short, fat powder column exposes more powder to the ignition source (the primer), thus making a quicker, more efficient burn of the propellant, thus gaining more effective use of the energy within the propellant, and concurrently effecting a more accurate push of the projectile.
The devil is in the details, they say. And obviously these small details work — the new short magnums reach unheard of velocities, while shooting groups out of the box that normally are seen only after custom loads are worked up for an individual rifle.
An added bonus is lesser recoil due to the fact of less powder being expended. In short, these new loads work, and work well. So well in fact, that they have given rise to another whole family of cartridges based on the “short, fat” theory.
The next year, after introducing the .30 WSM, Winchester came out with the next step. I was at the SHOT show in New Orleans in 2000 when the new cartridge and rifles were introduced by Browning and Winchester, and the representatives of the company were asking the retail folks and members of the gun press what the next cartridge should be. There was little doubt in my mind; I told them it was obvious — the next step should be in 7mm/.284.
They told me mine was the overwhelming opinion, and where their engineers had been leaning; they were glad to see the shooting public agreed with their ideas and plans.
About a year later, Winchester and Browning announced not one, but two new cartridges — the .270 WSM, and the 7MM WSM. Since there is little difference in ballistics between the two bullets (one is .270 caliber and one is .284 caliber), there was a fair amount of head-scratching in the gun press over the release of two similar cartridges.
After all, Remington committed a sort of faux pas years ago when they tried to release a round to compete with the venerable .270 Winchester. Tagging onto the incredible success of their 7MM Remington Magnum, they came out with a round they called a “mini magnum,” and titled it the 7MM Express.
It didn’t work. Designed to compete with the .270, the round just didn’t sell, probably because shooters who wanted magnum velocities didn’t want to buy a stepped-down version of the 7MM Magnum.
Remington later renamed, and re-released the same cartridge as the .280 Remington, and it took off. While it has never approached the .270 Winchester in sales volume, it has remained a strong seller because of a large fraternity of supporters who swear (along with a lot of members of the gun press) on the inherent accuracy of the round, and the bonus fact that it allows a much larger choice of bullet weights and designs than the .270 Winchester.
Winchester’s apparent reason for releasing two cartridges so similar was to be all things to all supporters. Now, according to retailers and Winchester and Browning representatives, the .270 WSM is the more popular of the two calibers in sales, probably because of the cachet and marketing strength of the .270 Winchester name.
Calibers introduced in WSM family
Waylan Owens, manufacturers’ representative for CVA, Winchester and Browning firearms, Nikon optics and Winchester ammo hosted a regional “breakout” for area retailers and the firearms press recently.
Acting as host along with the able folks at Hunters Run Gun Club in Port Allen, Waylan and his associate, Clay Cotter, who reps the Browning line in the Houston area, had all the new guns and ammo laid out ready for testing.
While we were shooting the various Winchester Model 70 and Browning A-Bolts in all the Winchester Short Magnum calibers, outfitted with Nikon variable scopes, Waylan shoved a compact pair of Nikon binoculars in my hands.
“Here, try these,” he said, indicating I should check the downrange groups of another shooter.
The late afternoon June sun was causing long shadows across the range, but the binoculars dialed in crisp and bright, particularly so for a compact set. These were handy, small and sharp in definition.
“That’s the new Premier LX series in 8 and 10×32 magnification. All the optic magazines are raving about them, calling them the Best of the Best. In fact, Gray’s Sporting Journal rated some, and said they had edge-to-edge clarity second to none,” he said. “We think they’re going to be the hottest sellers around for sportsmen’s optics in the mid-size range of binoculars. They’re just like our scopes; they compare to German optics in clarity.”
I found these new field glasses properly sized for field use, and as crisp, clear and defined as any binoculars I have used lately. I was easily picking out the groups on the targets at 50 and 100 yards in the evening light. Waylan showed me a clever trick in carrying binocs for field use.
“I’m right-handed. I drape them over my head and left shoulder. They hang at my left side sort of like a shoulder holster, with the large end just above my belt line. They’re stable and out of the way, and you can bring them instantly into play by lifting them to your eyes without ever taking them off your shoulder. This way they’re not constantly dangling, getting in the way, and swinging around all the time.”
I had already fired the .300 and .270 WSM cartridges in the past, and I never cease to be impressed with the noticeable difference in recoil between these cartridges and their full-size counterparts.
The .300 WSM, for instance, has an apparent felt recoil that is much less than the .300 Winchester Magnum. The .270 and 7MM WSM cartridges do not seem to have the felt recoil of a 7MM Remington Magnum in the same rifle design. Of course, that would make sense, since in all cases the amount of propellant is considerably less than the full-size comparable calibers.
But the stars of the show, and the ones Waylan was most anxious we try, were the two newest members of the short magnum family, the .223 and .243 Winchester Super Short Magnums, known as the .223 and .243 WSSM.
Of course, the benefits of the new cartridge design are magnum velocities and performance out of shorter rounds, thus allowing shorter chambers and shorter, easier-handled rifles. Now, Winchester has turned its attention to the varmint calibers.
I fired the two new rounds out of Brown Medallion A-Bolts, beautiful wood-stocked rifles with modified Monte Carlo cheek rests. Slim and attractive, these rifles instantly appeal to the traditionalist in every rifleman.
The .223 had a Nikon Monarch Gold Variable in 1.75×6 magnification and a 30-mm tube, and retails for $499. The .243 WSSM carried a Nikon Monarch in 5.5×16.5 magnification and a 44-mm tube. This scope carries a suggested retail of $449.
I was impressed with the suggested retail prices, and I was impressed with the optical clarity. Both offer 95 percent total light transmission through the tubes, and were absolutely impeccable scopes with edge-to-edge definition that is as good as I have seen in scopes twice the price, and more.
Besides outstanding accuracy, the hyper velocities produced a stunning lack of recoil.
In the case of the .223 WSSM, a 55-grain Ballistic Silvertip produced a factory rated muzzle velocity of 3850 feet per second. A dead-on point of aim at 200 yards produces a drop of only 4.4 inches at 300 yards, according to factory tables. The recoil from this round could best be described as practically non-existent.
If you want a light, hard-hitting rifle with a short chamber and reasonable overall length for a youth or lady, this is your bet. The velocities and ballistic performance resemble the venerable .22-250, which was an early “short-fat” cartridge before anyone ever realized what a good idea this really was.
Taking the popular .250 Savage, a long-time popular semi-rimmed, dual-purpose cartridge used both for deer and varmints since its introduction by Savage in 1915, and necking it down to take .224 bullets, the 22-250 became the most popular pure varmint cartridge of all time.
With muzzle velocities approaching those of the incredible .220 Swift, the cartridge was a heck of a lot easier on barrels than the Swift, which, with its 4,000 feet-per-second plus velocities, was notoriously hard on barrels. The .22-250 offered muzzle velocities 400 to 500 feet per second less than the Swift, equal accuracy, explosive power past 300 yards on varmints, and far better barrel life. This new .223 WSSM matches the ballistics of this old-timer better than anything else currently offered as a factory round.
Actually, in comparable bullet weights, the new .223 WSSM round actually outdoes the .22-250 by a couple of hundred feet-per-second or so, thus filling the void between the .22-250 and the .220 Swift very nicely. It should be a real charmer on prairie dogs and woodchuck, and down here in the damp South, on crows, coyotes, armadillos, turtles and that newest bureaucratically blessed target-of-opportunity, the nutria, our latest addition to the list of outlaw quadrupeds.
The new .243 Winchester Super Short Magnum offers several different bullet weights, starting with a 55-grain Ballistic Silvertip. I fired the new 100-grain Power Point, which Winchester rates for deer, open and plains shooting. This cartridge produces slightly over 3,100 feet per second at the muzzle, 1,200 pounds of energy at 300 yards, and drops only 6.6 inches at 300 yards when sighted dead point of aim at 200 yards.
Again, the recoil, while slightly more noticeable than the .223 WSSM, was practically laughable in its lack thereof. If you’re looking for a great all-around deer and varmint cartridge, accurate as hell, this is the way to go — and not just for the kids and ladies, either. A lot of guys are going to be giving up their big calibers and big recoils once these little Super Short Magnums start wending their way down into the swamps, and out into the beanfields here in Louisiana.
In short, the Super Short Magnums work, and do it without pounding your shoulder to raw meat. I’m waiting for Waylan to come up with a Texas prairie dog hunt, where we can really put these cartridges through the wringers, without wringing out our shoulders. Both of them should be absolutely explosive on the pestiferous little critters.
Or better yet, and closer to home, he’s suggested a marsh hunt for nutria from a friend’s air boat. We’ll do our bit for saving the marsh from those ferocious, marsh-eating beasts. Hell, there’s even a bounty on ’em. And we get to try out the new Super Short Magnums. Sounds like a plan. We’ll tell you all about it in a future column if it comes to pass.
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