New cartridges keep gunwriters going! Apparently, they keep manufacturers going, too. Too many times I’ve said that we have plenty of cartridge, but they keep coming. New cartridges create buzz, which creates demand, which creates sales…and so forth.
During nearly two years of Dread Virus, demand hasn’t been an issue! Demand for firearms and ammunition, has been unprecedented, with many manufacturers are struggling to keep up. Lengthy back-orders prevent focus on new products. A small side effect to the long pandemic: In 40 years I have never seen a two-year period with such a slow trickle of new stuff! I haven’t even seen some of the new cartridges, but some have caught my eye!
For decades the AR15 action was chambered almost exclusively to the 5.56x45mm (.223 Remington). During the past 20 years, the platform became amazingly popular among civilian shooters, with new cartridges developed to wring just a bit more performance. The problem: The action is sharply limited in cartridge length, Cases fatter than the .223 can be chambered to ARs, but either a larger bolt face must be used…or the rim must be rebated (smaller diameter than the base). Both solutions are commonly used with new AR cartridges. In many cases, cartridge-specific magazines must be used.
Heavier 5.56mm bullets with better long-range performance offer a partial solution. Our military started with a 55-grain bullet, switching to 62 grains in 1980. Today, we often use 5.56mm bullets up to 80 grains and more. Federal’s .224 Valkyrie offers better performance than the 5.56 with heavier bullets, and the .22 Nosler (with more case capacity) is faster. I haven’t warmed up to either, simply because the .223 still does most of what I need an AR to do, but both are probably “better” cartridges.
I was at the Remington seminar in 2002 when the 6.8 SPC was introduced. The 6.8 SPC (.277-inch diameter) is definitely a better deer/hog cartridge than the .223, but that’s another bandwagon I never jumped on. The .300 AAC Blackout, standardized by SAAMI in 2011, has become surprisingly popular, in part because of its performance suppressed, (with subsonic loads). Based on the 5.56mm case shortened and necked up to .30-caliber, it has been adopted by some of our special operations forces. I find it marginal for deer, and not enough gun for hogs. To me, a far better solution is the 6.5mm Grendel, which takes advantage of longer, more aerodynamic 6.5mm bullets. Designed by Bill Alexander back in 2003, the Grendel isn’t new, but it’s a great little cartridge.
At the other end of the spectrum, the .450 Bushmaster (straight case with rebated rim) packs about all the power one can wring out of an AR platform…at least at close range. It meets all requirements in the states that allow a “straight wall” centerfire cartridge (in lieu of shotguns). It’s one of the best choices to hunt black bear with an AR, and thus plenty powerful enough for deer and hogs. The only real drawback: Performance is similar to the .45-70, thus generating more recoil than many hunters are comfortable with.
Which leads us to two new “AR cartridges” of the pandemic era. Hornady’s 6mm ARC (Advanced Rifle Cartridge) case is similar to the 6.5mm Grendel, but technically based on the .220 Russian. At first glance, I had little interest in the ARC, but changed my tune when I had a chance to use it on a prairie dog shoot last July. With its short, fat case, it’s efficient and allows use of new heavy 6mm bullets. The 6mm ARC propels a 108-grain bullet at 2750 fps. Grendel magazines and bolt face are compatible, and the ARC outperforms the Grendel at long range. I was shooting it in a bolt-action, and was impressed by the ARC’s accuracy and performance, no problem smacking prairie dogs out to 400 yards.
Most “AR cartridges” have been designed for potential military use. Winchester’s .350 Legend, introduced in 2019, is an exception intended specifically to meet the “straight wall cartridge” criteria in traditional shotgun states. Propelling .35-caliber bullets of 160 to 180 grains at 2100 to 2200 fps, the Legend is ballistically similar the great old .35 Remington. However, the Legend is legal for deer under “straight wall” rules, and the bottleneck .35 Remington is not.
The Legend’s .357 diameter is a bit odd: Undersize for traditional .358-inch rifle bullets; and oversized for 9mm pistol bullets (usually .355-inch). Oversized bullets, even a thousandth, are not a good idea. Slightly undersize bullets aren’t like to group the best, but cause no pressure issues. 9mm pistol bullets are being loaded in .350 Legend for inexpensive practice ammo. Accuracy isn’t great in my rifle, but I’ve seen no evidence of keyholing.
I bought a Mossberg Patriot bolt-action in .350 Legend. I haven’t used it for deer (yet), but I’ve found it effective on hogs. It is NOT a long-range cartridge! I think of it as a 200-yard deer cartridge, with mild recoil. Performance is in spirit with the straight-wall-cartridge concept, and accuracy beats what most slug guns can deliver!
HUNTING AND TARGET CARTRIDGES
There haven’t been many of these, either! The 6.5mm PRC (Precision Rifle Cartridge) was slightly pre-pandemic. I almost missed this one because I have a good .264 Winchester Magnum I’m not willing to part with.
Ballistics are similar to the old .264, 140-grain bullet at about 3000 fps. However, the PRC uses a modern, unbelted case, based on the .375 Ruger case shortened. The short case allows it to be used in short actions with today’s longer, heavier, super-aerodynamic 6.5mm bullets. I haven’t abandoned my .264, but I’ve been using the 6.5mm PRC it in a Springfield Waypoint. Awesome rifle, with marvelous out-of-the-box accuracy.
More recent is its big brother, the .300 PRC. I’m kind of in the same boat there: I have good, accurate rifles in several fast .30s and don’t need another. The .300 PRC was built for long-range accuracy with today’s long, heavy bullets and faster-twist barrels. It uses the full-length .375 Ruger case (2.5 inches). This allows it to be used in s.30-06-length actions with the most modern bullets.
Now and then I go to Georgia to hunt at friend Zack Aultman’s place, with a great range right outside his door. Being a long-gone rifle nut, he’s always got something new! We had a Waypoint in 6.5mm PRC, and both an Alterra and a Bergara in .300 PRC.
This was my first exposure to the .300 PRC! Neither rifle was more accurate than my fast .30s. However, the twist is faster, and both produced tight groups with 212, 225, and 230-grain bullets. A fast .30 with extra-heavy bullets isn’t needed for Southern whitetails…but it worked just fine. As with my .264, I’m not prepared to replace my magnum .30s…but if I were starting out from scratch, I’d give serious thought to a .300 PRC.
Not exactly new, but slow to catch on has been the 6mm Creedmoor, a simple necking down of the popular 6.5mm Creedmoor. With the short Creedmoor case, it is able to handle 6mm bullets up to at least 108 grains in a short action (with faster twist barrel). Because of accuracy and light recoil, it has become popular in long-range competition. Ballistically similar to the .243, I have described the 6mm Creedmoor as the “best” 6mm cartridge.
The Nosler family of proprietary cartridges has grown! The 26, 27, 28, 30, and 33 Nosler are all based on the Remington Ultra Mag (RUM) case shortened to 2.590 inches, allowing use in standard-length actions. Across the board, cartridge overall length (COAL) is specified at 3.340 inches, with shoulders moved as needed to preclude a larger caliber from being chambered in a smaller caliber chamber. I haven’t tried them all but, depending on your preferences in bullet diameter, plenty of choices! So far, I think the 28 Nosler has been the most popular. However, the 27 Nosler is the fastest cartridge using the .277-inch bullet. With faster-twist barrels, it is able to take advantage of the heaviest “low drag” .277-inch bullets just now becoming available.
Winchester’s 6.8 Western is unabashedly all about such bullets! I’m a longtime .270 Winchester fan, and have had numerous flings with the .270 WSM and Weatherby. Great cartridges all, but traditional bullet weight has been limited to 150 grains, behind the times with today’s super-aerodynamic long-range bullets. Standard .270 rifling twists have always been 1:10, maxing out at about 150 grains. The 6.8 Western came out of the starting gate with bullets from 160 to 175 grains, rifles barreled with 1:8 twists.
The case is nothing new, the .270 WSM case shortened enough so the new long bullets can be used in a short bolt-action. The 6.8 Western is still so new that I haven’t yet seen a rifle. Hell, in order to get a cartridge to photograph I had to buy a box of ammo! I don’t have a .270 Winchester I’m willing re-barrel in order to use the new bullets. So, I’m having a 6.8 Western built. I’ll let you know how I like it!