In the early 1960s Winchester was in trouble. The company had several very popular firearms, but profit margins were too low. Then, as now, corporations put pressure on the marketing guys to do something to increase sales. While today the solution often comes by slapping a new camo pattern and SKU on an existing product, 50-plus years ago there remained a tendency to introduce something new and innovative to the market.
Winchester had some success with what were the first “short magnum” cartridges. I’m not referring to the current WSM series—good though they may be—rather I am talking about the initial efforts to shorten the .375 H&H Magnum case so that it would fit in a standard .30-06-length receiver. I have always wondered why Winchester did this since its Model 70 rifle was plenty long enough for the .375 H&H cartridge.
Anyway, the first of the short magnums was the .458 Winchester Magnum, introduced in 1956. It took the .375 H&H case, shortened it a little more than a third of an inch, blew it out to a minimal taper and opened up the neck to accept .45-caliber bullets. Two years later came the .264 and .338 Winchester Magnums, with similar treatments to the case. The plan all along was to offer a .30-caliber in this family, though it wasn’t until 1963 when it was introduced.
When you are the 800-pound gorilla, you have a lot of juice, and Winchester’s rather large corner of the sporting rifle market ensured the success of the .300 Winchester Magnum. It soon muscled out the .308 Norma, .30-.338 and .300 H&H magnum cartridges. However, it did not do that by market presence alone. The .300 Winchester Magnum is a proven performer, and, if anything, it is more popular today than it ever was.
The .300 Winchester Magnum offers 12 to 15 percent more velocity than a .30-06 with the same bullet—even more when the new high-nitroglycerin-content powders are used. That translates into adding another 25 to 40 yards in maximum point blank range, as well as significantly more energy into the target.
While some recliner ballisticians have poo-pooed the cartridge for having a short neck and/or having too much recoil, the popularity of the .300 Winnie cannot be denied. It is at home on the target range as it is in the game fields. Even our military snipers have embraced the cartridge over the standard 7.62 NATO for its flat trajectory and ability to make hits at longer ranges. I’ll confess that at one time I sort of bought into the nonsense of the excessive recoil and difficult-to-handload dogma. Actually, it was more a case of a difference in priorities. I was so consumed with hunting, I just picked up what I had and went. There just wasn’t enough time to explore every chambering available. Once I took some time to really evaluate the cartridge, I began to like it more and more.
Nowadays my Kimber 8400 SuperAmerica in .300 Winchester Magnum is one of my favorite hunting rifles. I really do hate those debates and bloviating about which one gun would I settle for, but Winchester’s big .300 has wormed its way deep into my heart. If I had to name one…oh never mind that stuff. It’s a great cartridge for anything in the western hemisphere.