Is the heyday of the belted magnum case over? Don't expect them to disappear overnight, but given some inherent design flaws don't expect any new renditions in the future.
What Are The Pros And Cons Of Belted Magnums:
- Generally speaking, they offer more case capacity, thus higher velocities than standard cartridges.
- The belt allowed for proper headspacing, while smooth feeding from a box magazine.
- Several cartridges can achieve magnum velocity, feeding and headspacing without the belt.
- The belt is also credited for shorter case life.
Magnum. When I was a young man, that term — at least among the rifle cartridges — was equated with the Holland & Holland belted case, first seeing the light of day in 1912 in both the .375 H&H Magnum and the lesser-known .275 H&H Magnum. The .300 Holland & Holland (also known as Holland’s Super .30) came along in 1925, giving a velocity boost over the immensely popular .30-06 Springfield. For many years, the .300 Magnum — the .300 Weatherby Magnum was still a niche cartridge — was the basis for a wave of magnum cartridges throughout the 1950s and ‘60s.
The “magnum” name, in the context of a metallic cartridge, indicates a higher level of performance. And while most of the belted cases were actual magnums, not all magnums wore that belt. The .416 Rigby and its older brother, the .350 Rigby Magnum, certainly offer magnum velocities — yet neither wore a belt, and the .416 Rigby didn’t get the magnum name.
Ironically, for almost all of the cartridges that were based on the Holland & Holland case, the belt served absolutely no purpose. It was originally used on the .375 H&H case to provide the positive headspacing of a rimmed case yet feed smoothly from the box magazine of a bolt-action rifle. The gently sloping 15-degree shoulder could, in theory, support the cartridge enough to give good headspacing (the .404 Jeffery uses an 8½-degree shoulder and poses no issues with headspace), but the belt keeps things rather uniform.
Why The Belt?
After the end of WWII, when the world settled down a bit and sportsmen began to travel abroad once again, a wave of new commercially developed magnums hit the shooting world. Ironically, the first would be one of the few belted cartridges that would truly need the belt. The .458 Winchester Magnum is a shortened, straight-walled cartridge based on the .375 H&H, opened up to hold .458-inch-diameter bullets and designed to replicate the ballistics of the .450 Nitro Express.
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Since it has no shoulder, the .458 Win. Mag. does rely on the belt for proper headspacing, but the two following cases — the .338 Winchester Magnum and the .264 Winchester Magnum — would not; both had an ample shoulder and would use that for headspacing. And they were just the beginning, with the .308 Norma Magnum following in 1960, the 7mm Remington Magnum (eerily similar to the 1912 .275 H&H design) in 1962, and the .300 Winchester Magnum arriving in 1963.
The Weatherby series of cartridges, of both 2.500- and 2.850-inch lengths, all used the H&H belt, though they had the signature radiused shoulder. And Remington took things even further in the mid ‘60s with the short-action 6.5mm Remington Magnum and .350 Remington Magnum, both based on the belted case. And for a while, life was good.
The late 20th century and early 21st century saw a new wave of cartridges — magnums, in fact — based primarily on the .404 Jeffery case. The Winchester Short Magnum family, the Remington Ultra Magnum family (and the subsequent Winchester Super Short Magnum and Remington Short Action Ultra Magnum), the Dakota cartridges and others showed the world that you could most definitely have magnum performance without that belt of brass. And, they pointed out one characteristic of the H&H belted case that’s very important to reloading: The belted cases show a tendency to stretch and eventually separate just ahead of the belt, diminishing case life in comparison to their non-belted counterparts.
I’ve seen this phenomenon after as few as five loadings, though that’s the exception and generally not the rule. I will say that I agree that a belted case has a shorter case life than a non-belted case, and that when they fail — they fail hard. If you shoot often, you’ll see that your cases will tend to either split at the neck or crack and/or separate just above the belt, and you should keep a very close eye on it.
Shortcomings Of The Belt
Why does it happen? Brass was chosen as the medium for our cartridges because it’s hard enough to hold its shape under the rigors of handling and cycling though a firearm, and yet malleable enough to be easily formed and reused. Brass, unlike steel, becomes softer when heated — hence the annealing process — but it becomes brittle when overworked. It also tends to “flow,” and in the case of our cartridge cases, it will flow forward toward the muzzle with each firing.
So, imagine this process in the belted magnum: You fire the rifle, the case expands and some small amount of brass flows forward. You then resize the case, moving the shoulder rearward a bit, and you will eventually need to trim the case back to the proper length because some of the brass has flowed forward. The belt will stay in the same position, but the stretching/resizing/trimming process will cause the case body to become thinner, and that happens just in front of the belt.
First, a careful visual examination of your fired cases is very important. Remember, these are magnum cases that generally run at a higher pressure. Any cracked cases should be crushed with pliers and discarded. You can also check the inside of the case with a “feeler” made from a paper clip, bent at a right angle and used to feel the area just ahead of the belt; if you feel a dip or depression in the case wall, that indicates the case is stretching. Discard that case immediately.
Belted magnum cases are also a perfect candidate for the Redding Instant Indicator, which will quickly show you how much the shoulder is moving with each firing. Minimizing the shoulder bump will also minimize the brass flow and help extend the life of your brass. Using the Competition Shellholders will allow the body diameter to be resized without moving the shoulder unnecessarily.
Time To Toss The Belt?
Is the heyday of the belted magnum case over? Well, I can say that you probably won’t see a huge number of new cartridges wearing the belt of brass, nor will you see the .375 Holland & Holland, .300 Winchester Magnum or 7mm Remington Magnum fade away anytime soon. I do enjoy hunting with them, and while I do a fair amount of practicing with my rifles, I don’t shoot the magnums enough that the shortened brass life has become an issue.
If you have a belted magnum cartridge, I don’t think you need to panic and retire the rifle. However, knowledge is power, and if you understand the pitfalls of the design, you can reload your ammunition safely.
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the April 2019 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.
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