William W (Bill) Gabbard
Out with the old and in with the new. It seems that there is a never-ending supply of new calibers coming from the rifle and ammo industry. Someone is always trying to reinvent the wheel and create the next 30-06 or the next 270. But if you check your grandpa’s closet, you might find some old rifles that in their day were as popular as the 6.5 Creedmoor is now!
One of my old favorites, the 280 Remington is hanging on, but over the years, it has had a rocky existence. Nestled between the old standby 30-06 and the ever popular 270 Winchester the 280 was 30-plus years behind the 270. The 280 has always struggled for the greatness it deserved. It was initially underloaded to work safely in semi-auto rifles of the day, and once that shortfall was corrected, it never managed to catch up with the 270. Handloaders have always loved it because of the wider range of bullets available. A newer version of the 280 AI is growing in popularity, but the old 280 is struggling. Winchester and Browning still produce rifles in 280, but as of now, it doesn’t appear that even Remington is producing a 280.
The 257 Roberts, based on the 7MM Mauser case, was wildly popular in its day, but always lived in the shadow of the 25-06. The 257 Roberts has a reputation for excellent accuracy along with low recoil. I have loaded for and shot only one 257 Roberts rifle. It was both extremely accurate and had very light recoil. A quick review of several gunmakers did not turn up a current model in 257 Roberts.
The 6MM Remington, once called the 244 Remington, was based on a necked down version of the 257 Roberts. The early Remington rifles featured slow twist barrels which produced excellent accuracy in lighter weight bullets designed for varmints. The drawback to this was that with heavier bullets needed for deer-sized game, accuracy was lacking and the 243 Winchester greatly outsold it. The 6mm is still popular with handloaders and custom gun builders. Remington arms still lists it as available in the Model 7.
The 264 Winchester Magnum was introduced by Winchester in 1959 when Magnum Fever was raging through American gun buyers. The 264 never achieved the popularity of many of the other magnums, partially because of a reputation of burning out barrels. With proper use and maintenance, it probably wasn’t any worse than many others. While the renewed interest in all things 6.5 may have helped the 264 Win Mag hang on it is still struggling. Both Winchester and Remington currently catalog rifles in 264 Win Mag.
The 45-70 Government is an old military round that still survives. A few states that used to allow only Shotguns or Muzzleloading rifles for deer hunting have recently changed their regulations to allow center-fire rifles chambered in straight-walled cartridges resulting in a slight resurgence for the old caliber. Upgraded ammo is helping keep this resurgence going. Marlin, Henry, Winchester and Thompson Center all catalog rifles in 45-70 Govt.
The 7MM Weatherby Magnum was the “first with the most” among the 7MM magnum calibers. It was introduced in the 40s but really didn’t capture the eye of the hunting public till mid-50s. When Remington introduced the 7MM Remington Magnum in the early 60s, the Weatherby began a lifetime of struggling. The Remington version was available in a much more affordable platform with more affordable ammunition. Several other gunmakers picked up the 7MM Remington as well as ammo manufacturers. A few years later the 7MM STW and the 7MM Remington Ultra Mag were introduced so the Weatherby was no longer the fastest. Remington chambered their Model 700 in 7MM Weatherby for about 4 years. I am pretty sure it was from 1991 through 1994 but dates given on the internet vary.
I ran across a fellow getting rid of one of these because of the high price of ammo nearly 20 years ago. With a proper diet of IMR 4350 powder and a 154 gr Hornady SST bullet, it will shoot well under half inch groups at 100 yards and has accounted for several Whitetail Deer and one cow Elk during my ownership. As far as I know, Weatherby is the only company that chambers rifles in this caliber now, and factory ammo is hard to find and expensive.
Hunting with one of the “Classic Calibers,” and I have only touched on a few here, brings its own set of challenges. You won’t be able to stop at the nearest big box or discount store and find ammo. You may need to start handloading to ensure that you have a reasonable supply of ammo. You most likely won’t be able to borrow ammo from a buddy at deer camp. You will though most likely be the only guy at camp or at the range shooting a classic. No matter how great the newest, hottest, fastest, most talked about new caliber may be, I promise you that these old calibers will still get the job done!
For more on the caliber discussion, check out episode 59 of the Gamekeeper Podcast. The guys discuss their thoughts on the best caliber and bullet choice for whitetails. Two guests join us, Pat Mundy of Nosler and Carsie Young, who just so happens to have been the third employee ever hired at Mossy Oak, and who also knows a whole lot about rifles.