In the world of hunting cartridges there are some winners and some losers, those cartridges that never quite measured up to the media hype and those that exceeded all expectations. Some of the winners were slow to catch on and some of the losers were slow to die; regardless of false starts, name changes and so forth, Remington had a winner with the .280.
I received a good bit of mail on my column dealing with the .270 Winchester (keep it coming, I love it!), some good and some downright hateful; well, for those of you out there who are die-hard .270 fans, this effort might not be a column you want to read. I’ve always said that if you have confidence in a chambering and can shoot it well in your chosen rifle then there is no argument that is what you should shoot. If your cup of tea is the .270 then by all means, take it to the limit.
What I have found is that for such a small difference in bullet diameter there is a whale of a difference in ballistic performance and performance on big game; the truth is the .280 is a better round any way you slice it.
It is a real shame that we Americans were so late in coming to the .284” bullet diameter. Of course there were many reasons for our selection of the .308” bore, too many to go into in this short column, but when we talk about simple ballistics and basic physics the .284” diameter projectile has a lot going for it.
The .280 is essentially the .30/06 necked down to 7mm with some slight dimensional differences, the most important of these that the shoulder is moved slightly forward so the .280 will not chamber in the .270. The .280 is not a new design (appearing in wildcat form at the end of WWII) but did not become a factory round until 1957.
In its initial form it was somewhat underloaded (it was originally introduced in a semi-auto rifle) but today it is a stout, ballistically sound chambering suitable for nearly any big game. Where it beats the .270 is in bullet weight availability and in sectional density of like bullet weights. For this discussion I’d like to quote the best discussion of this ballistic characteristic I have read, from Wikipedia, the Internet information site.
Sectional Density conveys the ability for an object to overcome resistance. When a projectile is in flight or impacting an object, it is the sectional density of that projectile which will determine how efficiently it can overcome the resistance to air or object. The greater the sectional density is for a projectile the greater its efficiency is and therefore its ability to overcome the resistance of air and object.
The .284” bullet diameter, with like bullet weights, has higher sectional density figures than the .277” bullet diameter.
The most popular bullets in the .270 are the 130- and 150-grain slugs (this from Hornady on sales of bullets) and even though a couple of other weights are available for it, the .280 can be loaded successfully with 100, 110, 115, 120, 130, 139, 140, 145, 150, 154, 160, 165, 168 and 175 weight slugs. For the one-rifle hunter the .280 makes an excellent choice because of this latitude in bullet selection.
For varmints the 100-grain Sierra hollow point can be driven to 3400 fps at very mild pressure with #760 making for a very flat shooting long-range rig. For game up to caribou and big black bears the 140-grain Nosler Partition and Hodgdon 4831 is simply hard to beat, knocking on the 3000 fps door. If you have a mind to shoot a moose or big bull elk with your .280 I could recommend the 160-grain Partition and Hodgdon 1000, a bone-smashing, deep penetrating combination when stoked up between 2700 and 2800 fps.
The Remington .280 has a superior sectional density over the .270.
My favorite load for the .280 serves double duty on unruly groundhogs and coyotes and usually gets the call for our whitetails, Speer’s 115-grain hollow point and 58 grains of Hodgdon 4350 in Remington cases and set off with Remington’s large rifle primer. This is not a “through the shoulder” load; it is so accurate in my .280 I have no problem slipping it between the ribs on a deer or, if the opportunity arises, between the eyes on those big, fat meaty does. All of this accomplished with roughly four fifths the pressure of like-weight loads in the .270.
The .280 had a hard start, being introduced so long after the .270 hit the shelves, and it did not have a mouthpiece like Jack O’Connor trumpeting its virtues in the outdoor magazines. Coupled with this was the introduction of the 7mm Remington Magnum by the parent company in 1962 and the attempt in 1979 to rename the cartridge the “7mm Remington Express”, which thoroughly befuddled the American shooter. Now that all this has died down what serious shooters have found is a wonderful, powerful chambering that truly is an “all-around” big-game cartridge. Several factory rifles are available in the chambering and it is a very popular caliber in custom rifles. A properly scoped sporter in .280 is at home anywhere big game is found.
So, for you .270 fans, keep shooting your favorite and I wish you luck with it. But if given the choice between the two, make mine a .280.
Walt Hampton is a professional gunsmith and writer from Virginia. He and his son operate Buck Mountain Rifle Works, building custom rifles and making replacement gunstocks. Visit his website at www.buckmountainrifleworks.com or write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appeared in the September 28, 2009 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine. Subscribe Now