Thursday, June 18, 2009

300 Weatherby Magnum


In the 1970s a famous movie cop said, “The .44 Magnum: the most powerful handgun in the world.” It probably wasn’t “the most powerful” then, and isn’t now, but Roy Weatherby’s claim that the .300 Weatherby Magnum was the most powerful .30 caliber factory cartridge was true then, and is now only overshadowed by the .300 Remington Ultra Mag—if the .300 RUM is handloaded.

If an elk hunter measures the power of a .300 Weatherby loaded with a 200-grain spitzer, boat-tail bullet at 3000 feet per second, it has the minimum energy for elk-sized game beyond 1000 yards, adequate energy beyond 600 yards, and preferred energy beyond 300 yards. This uses Ackley’s recommendations. (more info here)

Zeroing that load at 400 yards, an elk hunter can hold dead-on at wapiti-sized targets out to 500 yards. That bullet won’t travel more than 9 inches above line-of-sight throughout its trajectory.

The measure of .30 caliber cartridges, the 30-06 Springfield, can’t meet that performance. A 180-grain spitzer, boat-tail at 2800 fps equals the .300 Weatherby’s energy out to 600 yards. Holding dead-on only reaches about 400 yards when the rifle is zeroed at 300 yards.

Photo of 30-06 Springfield and .300 Winchester Magnum. The .300 Winchester is just slightly less powerful than the .300 Weatherby.

One caveat to the performance of the Weatherby is that you need to use a 26-inch barrel to get it. A barrel of that length isn’t the handiest to use in the mountains or holstered on a horse.

If the .300 Weatherby is loaded in a Weatherby rifle, you will probably have a durable Weatherby scope, a strong Weatherby action, and (usually) a beautiful piece of wood.

That all amounts to a rifle that is not only more than sufficient for Montana Elk, but for all North American game animals and many African.

  1. The power of the Weatherby has two down sides:
  2. In the parlance of elk guides and outfitters the .300 Weatherby is a “Meat Waster.”

In my experience it has wounded more game than any other rifle I know of, with the exception of the 7mm Remington Magnum.

The Meat Waster

When I posted my article on Knives for Elk Hunters, my wife said that photos were too bloody and gory. I hope they didn’t offend anyone. There was meat, bone, tendon and in one photo a large pool of blood. I’ve never taken pictures of meat that was wasted with a .300 Weatherby Magnum. That is bloody and gory.

If a hunter was shooting a good elk gun--.270 Winchester and above—and he was sighting on a good trophy, I always told them to “shoot directly through the shoulder.” It anchors them and depending on the angle, gets heart and/or lungs at once. If a hunter was shooting a .300 Weatherby, I always advised a shot through the back half of the shoulder blade. That is found just in front of the groove between shoulder and chest.

A .300 Weatherby directly through any large bone will usually destroy much of that quarter. That is bad anywhere, but it has larger problems in the wilderness. Elk that are packed on mules have to be quartered. The opposing front quarters, or hind quarters, need to be within about 5 pounds of one another to balance on the mule. If one quarter is bloodshot, that meat should be left in the field, but to balance it needs to be packed out. The processor will charge you for the weight of the animal as it enters their shop. Meaning you will pay for 50 pounds of meat used for alley dogs.

Hind quarters are lashed on mules differently, using a barrel hitch. A shattered femur makes a normally long, stiff quarter into a jello-ey, flexible mess that sags and doesn’t ride well. Sure, those are problems for the guide and mule packer, but you can score points, and not waste meat, by placing your shots correctly—no matter what elk blaster you are using.

Wounded Game

You might ask, “How can a powerful cartridge like the .300 Weatherby wound so much game?”

One element was mentioned on the 7mm Remington Magnum.

I believe that in the case of the .300 Weatherby and the 7mm Remington there is a psychological component. Call it human efficiency, or human laziness. People that gravitate to those calibers have read everything they can about The Elk Hunter’s Rifle. I believe that those two, plus the .338 Winchester Magnum get most of the press for elk rifles. They have more than enough power to kill an elk. They all shoot flatter, for a longer distance than most hunters can successfully engage an elk sized target. That is the rub.

Too much emphasis is placed on power, flat-shooting, killing ability, exit wound size, hydrostatic shock and the like, while hunters spend little time shooting any rifle. Most modern hunters have jobs, families and lives that don’t revolve around being the best hunter they can be—meaning better shooters. If hunters don’t dry fire, shoot air rifle and/or rimfire, and varmint rifles, their shooting skills won’t improve. If they shoot the big blaster—only—their shooting won’t improve, and they will develop flinching and jerking. That is not an opinion.

If you want the most powerful .30 caliber factory elk rifle, use a .300 Weatherby.

In personal finance there is a principle called “pay yourself first.” To be a good elk hunter, with any rifle, pay yourself first and practice a skill that can’t be learned without practice. (I hope people see the redundancy)


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hodgeman said...

Interesting comments on the .300 Weatherby.

The .300 magnums are some of my favorite open country cartridges but I think as long as shots are close they are significantly overpowered. I've never hit an animal under 100 yds with a magnum and I don't really want to. Performance on tundra where shots tend to go very long is usually better after the bullet has slowed down quite a bit. I don't know how the newer class of bonded/monometal bullets will perform yet but reportedly the meat damage is less up close- but I don't see how.

The .300 Weatherby made its reputation with bullets that were way to soft for its velocity and game often went down as if struck by a bomb with lots of meat damage or it ran off with horrible but not immediately fatal wounds.

Interesting seeing this from a guide's perspective... most of the glowing reports of the .300 Wea. come from starstruck enthusiasts.

Anonymous said...

I understand the author's concern with improper shot placement and every hunter should know their limitations. I myself have been hunting with a .300 Wea Mag for 6 years and I love the round for the right game and circumstances. I use my Weatherby when the terrain is open and/or the animal is large game.

I served on the Purdue Army ROTC rifle team and have shot competitively for 20 years. If the target is not moving, I would not hesitate to drop the Elk at a range of 400 or even 500 yards. Beyond that even I will let the animal walk away.

While being honest with the author, I shoot a 7mm-08 as my most common rifle of choice unless I expect exceptionally long range shooting.

I handload Barnes TSX bullets and have not found more appreciable meat damage with my Weatherby vs. the 7mm-08. Tim D.

Anonymous said...

The 300 Weatherby is fine for those who can shoot it well. Maybe5% of the shooting public. Otherwise just stick to the .30/06 or .270 Win.