As far as deer cartridges go, the .280 Ackley Improved (AI) is not as well known as the time-honored .30-06, but perhaps it should be. It gives the 7mm Remington Magnum a run for its money, yet burns less powder, recoils less, yields theoretically longer barrel and case life and is generally much nicer to shoot.
The .280 Ackley — named after noted gun writer, gunsmith and wildcatter Parker Otto Ackley (1903-1989) — could be described as a mild-mannered deer cartridge with surprisingly hot performance. In the 1996 edition of Gun Digest, author Rob Lucas compared it to one of the hottest 7mm wildcats of the day, the 7mm STW.
“Ask yourself if 3500 fps (sometimes) with a 140-grain bullet in a necked-down 8mm Remington belted case is all that much better than 3300 fps from the ’06-sized 280 Remington Improved,’” he wrote.
Improved Cartridges Explained
Improved cartridges are commonly associated with the wildcat family. They start off as standard numbers — in this case the .280 Remington — and are shot in an improved gun. Pressure fireforms the case to the shape and dimensions of the improved chamber.
P.O. Ackley himself noted that the 280 Remington factory cartridge was a very good round. It was essentially a .30-06 necked down to .284, or 7mm. Based on the 7mm-06 wildcat, some have even argued it to be more versatile than the .270 Winchester.
An improved cartridge gives you a few advantages: You can load the cartridge hotter than its pre-fireformed state for increased velocity.
It minimizes body taper, creating a sharper 40-degree shoulder angle and pushing case capacity closer to its efficient limit.
The increase in case volume allows you to load more propellant for a faster, flatter shooting round, but in some cases with significantly less (5-10%) powder than in a comparable magnum. Thus, there is less recoil.
Ackley did not take kindly to magnums. He viewed them as an exercise in the law of diminishing returns. He understood extra powder in a given bore capacity relative to case capacity negatively impacted case and barrel life. It didn’t really help cartridge efficiency.
By contrast, my .280 Ackley is downright pleasant to shoot. Pushing a 140 gr. Spitzer at around 3100 fps, it sends a projectile as flat as you could want in a 7mm deer rifle.
For whitetails, I feed her with Nosler’s excellent 140 gr. Accubond, one of the few factory-loaded choices out there in .280 Ackley Improved.
I used it to put down my best rifle-killed buck ever at 175 yards — a rather long poke by central Wisconsin woodland standards.