There are plenty of excellent cartridges that didn’t catch on. Their lack of overall popularity doesn’t mean discontinued cartridges need to be relegated to the ash heap of history.
“What am I going to do now? Do I try to buy up any and all ammunition, and only rarely use the rifle I like so much? Do I buy something more common?” Handloading is the solution. A competent handloader can revive discontinued cartridges from the brink of extinction. As long as the bullets and brass can still be purchased or made, the rifle will continue to have a long, healthy and happy life. The following are three examples of cartridges that can be easily returned to duty.
The 250/3000 Savage
Developed by renowned ballistician Charles Newton for the Savage Arms Co. in 1915, it was a speed demon for its day, achieving a then unheard of 3,000 fps with the 87-grain bullet. This benchmark influenced the very name of the cartridge, though it is also commonly known as the .250 Savage. It was a readily available chambering for the handy Savage 99 lever action, and was (and is) fully capable of pulling double duty on both varmints and deer-size game.
The handloader can easily bring these discontinued cartridges back around. Great .257-inch-diameter bullets, weighing from 87 grains to 120 grains, are available from almost all manufacturers, and Remington still produces component brass. Loaded with a medium burn rate powder such as IMR4064, Hodgdon’s Varget or Alliant Reloder 15, very good ammunition can be made to feed your .250 and provide a lifetime of hunting and shooting memories. It’s a lot of fun to head into the deer woods with an old Savage 99 just as our forefathers did.
The .264 Winchester Magnum
The late 1950s saw Winchester release a trio of belted magnum cartridges, all based on the .375 Holland & Holland case, but shortened to fit in a .30-06 length receiver. The .458 Winchester Magnum filled the African niche created by the demise of Kynoch ammunition, and the .338 Winchester Magnum was destined to be America’s elk medicine, but the .264 was immediately a bit of a threat. It was irreverent enough to tread upon the hallowed ground ruled by the .270 Winchester.
The long, lean 6.5mm bullets, when pushed through Winchester’s Westerner rifle that sported a 26-inch barrel, produced impressive velocities that could make hitting distant targets easier. The 100-grain bullets could be pushed in excess of 3,500 fps, and the 140-grain slugs hit the 3,200 fps mark.
The bullets bucked the wind very well, but these speeds gave the cartridge a reputation as a barrel burner. Not long after its introduction, Winchester made the decision to shorten the barrels of the .264 rifles, and a correlative velocity reduction was the result. Often, the .264 was at or less than the velocity of the venerable .270 Winchester. By 1962, Remington released the 7mm Remington Magnum and the .264 was doomed. The shooting public loved the 7mm Magnum and turned a blind eye to the .264 Winchester. Factory ammunition is still available, in limited quantities, but few production rifles were chambered for the big 6.5mm.
I like to see a 26-inch barrel on a .264 to maximize the powder capacity of this case, and I like to see it fueled by the slower burning powders available today, like Reloder 22 or 25, H4831SC and IMR4350 or IMR7828. Stick a magnum rifle primer in there and you should have a recipe for success. As far as the barrel burner moniker, if you don’t heat that barrel to the point where you can light your cigar off the muzzle, it should give you a lifetime of service.
Big Discontinued Cartridges: 8mm Remington Magnum
In 1979, Remington went out on a limb and revealed a metric designation as the new big game round in their lineup. We Americans have generally shied away from metric designations; perhaps we like the bastardized decimal portions of an inch measurement. The 8mm Magnum sounded strange, and though the name was perhaps a gamble on the popularity of the 7mm Remington Magnum, it was not very well received. Available in the Model 700 rifle, the 8mm Magnum was a powerhouse, pushing a 220-grain bullet to almost 3,000 fps. This is a big game rifle, but alas, the .338 Winchester had enough time to spread roots, and trying to upset that apple cart would not be easy.
However, those who used the 8mm Remington had great success, and its followers are fervent over this cartridge. I’ve spoken with some very big names in the shooting and hunting world that have come to love this metric oddball. Using a bullet of 180, 200 or 220 grains, this cartridge makes a great choice for elk, moose, bear or bison in North America and really shines on the African game fields. Top it with a premium bonded-core bullet and you’ll avoid premature bullet break up, and get the deep penetration and energy transfer we are all after. It is a bit on the heavy side for deer, but has put its fair share of venison in the freezer.
Like the previously mentioned .264, it comes into its own with slow burning powders and magnum primers. Barnes, Nosler, Swift, Hornady, Remington and Sierra make wonderful projectiles in 8mm, and cases are still produced by Remington and Nosler Custom. In our test rifle, a 220-grain Sierra Game King and a healthy dose of Reloder 25 in a Nosler Custom case gave very accurate results, with three-shot groups hanging around ¾ inch. For those who enjoy the full magnum length receiver, this cartridge, when paired with a .375 H&H or .416 Remington, would make a great set of rifles for the traveling adventurer. Give me an accurate 8mm with a 220-grain Sierra Game King or Swift AFrame, and I’d be comfortable hunting 90 percent of the world’s game.
All three of these discontinued cartridges have a common denominator: rarity. Save your brass for reloading and find an accurate load that works well. With a decent stockpile of projectiles, you can keep that near-obsolete rifle in the field for a lifetime.
This article originally appeared in the August 28, 2014 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.