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Steve Comus – GUN TALK

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Wednesday, December 12, 2018
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Friday, January 11, 2019
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Long and short of it
If a person is around the shooting sports industry long enough, all questions about all things will be asked.

I chuckled not long ago when several hunters were huddled around a table, discussing rifle and bullet performance when one blurted out: “I wish there was a rifle and cartridge combination that would be good close-up for the biggest of game, yet shoot flat enough to go long range for animals like elk.”


comus_378weatherby
THE 378 WEATHERBY magnum, left, compares with the .300 Winchester Magnum.


The consensus was that there is no such rig and that what makes for a good short-range rifle precludes it from being an effective long-range rig, and vice versa. Not so fast. I quipped that not only was there such a combination, but that it has been around for decades and that the overall weight doesn’t make it a boat anchor to carry around.


It is the .378 Weatherby Magnum, which is available, not only in Weatherby’s Mark V line of bolt-action rifles, but also some other custom and semi-custom guises. It is a cartridge that has not received as much attention over the years as it probably deserves.


For the big stuff, it offers superb power and penetration, yet for longer ranges, it has the trajectory of the .300 Winchester Magnum – but with a whole lot more punch and a bigger hole at the other end of the shot. For those who doubt, it is not uncommon for rifles chambered in this cartridge to deliver half-inch, three-shot groups at 100 yards (certainly enough accuracy to make the grade on hunts even at twice the size).


To begin, the .378 has more power at 300 yards than the .300 Win. Mag. has at the muzzle. The 270-grain spire point bullet of the .378 leaves the muzzle at 3,180 feet per second (6,062 ft/lbs of energy). The 180-grain pointed soft point bullet of the .300 Win. Mag. leaves the muzzle at 2,960 fps (3,501 ft/lbs).


The picture really takes shape at 300 yards where the 270-grain bullet of the .378 is going 2,445 fps (3,583 ft/lbs), compared to the .300 going 2,262 fps (2,044 ft/lbs). Trajectories are similar. With a 200-yard zero, the .378 bullet drops 6.10 inches at 300 yards, while with the same 200-yard zero, the .300 bullet drops 6.49 inches.


There is no free lunch, however. The .378 Weatherby Magnum makes a lot of noise and kicks like a mule unless it wears an effective muzzle brake. With a good muzzle brake, it doesn’t have the felt recoil of a .300 Win. Mag. without a brake.


With today’s variable scopes that offer 5x or 6x magnification ranges or more, it is easy to have a rig that can be used quickly in close encounters, yet precisely at longer ranges.


But again, there is no free lunch. Ammo for the .378 is much more expensive than ammo for the .300. However, in hunting terms, that is not as big a factor as the price tag might imply. The cost of the ammo compared to the cost of the hunt makes the cost of ammo insignificant.


It may not be intuitive to think big when long is part of the equation, but the truth is that it can work. Yes, there are other big-bore rounds out there that can serve both roles, but the problem is that they are generally not available in rifles light and handy enough to use on a mountain hunt.


There is no single best rifle/cartridge combination for everything, but the .378 comes about as close as anything within reason.


* * *


Steve Comus is a nationally recognized hunting editor with Safari Club International and a WON Guns and Hunting Guns Editor. His column appears every other week in WON and he can be reached at scomus@cox.net.


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