Here’s my latest column published in Ontario Out of Doors magazine. Title and post was the submitted article, not the edited version published.
I didn’t hunt with my Winchester .300 WSM this fall as I had no moose tag and didn’t head out west, where the long-distance shooting for big-bodied deer is ideal for a magnum. Instead, I hunted with my Winchester Model 70 in .280 Remington. One shot was all I took.
Magnum cartridges are simply big cartridges with more powder than ‘normal’. Bullets are often the same as used with regular brass. Hunters like magnums for their extra ‘knock-down, killing’ power. Short magnums have similar power to their standard magnum counterpart, but in a larger diameter, shorter cartridge.
Short magnum rifle rounds are fired in short action rifles specific to the caliber. A short-action rifle has a shorter receiver and about a half-inch less of bolt travel compared to its long-action sibling.
As far as I can tell, the first commercial short magnum was introduced in 1965; the .350 Remington Magnum. It was based on a 2.5 inch, 7mm belted Remington Magnum case, shortened to 2.171 inches and necked up to .358 caliber. In 1966 Remington introduced the 6.5mm Remington Magnum. Both were designed to work through the .308 Winchester action. Neither saw much success.
Most credit the current crop of short magnums to benchrest competition shooters in the 1970’s. Benchrest shooters tend to be experimenters, are often gunsmiths, typically use custom-made rifles and handload their ammunition. They discovered that if you necked down a M43 Russian military case to either .224 or 6mm, gave the shoulder a sharp 300 of angle, outstanding accuracy, with little loss of velocity, could be achieved.
They found a short, fat case – shortfat – gave improved accuracy because powder burnt more uniformly, which improved charge consistency.
Even so, new short, fat, magnum cartridges, did not show up until 1997, when the 7.82 Lazzeroni Patriot was introduced by the Lazzeroni Arms Company – known for their long range hunting rifles and high speed cartridges. Winchester (the U.S. Repeating Arms Co.) followed suit, producing the WSM (Winchester Short Magnum) line, starting with the .300 WSM. Remington trailed with their version, the ‘Short Action Ultra Mag’ (SAUM).
A few years later, Winchester came up with a family of small cartridges called the super-short magnums (WSSM).
All WSMs, WSSMs and SAUMs are non-belted cartridges.
Pros and Cons of Short Mags
The weight-saving of a short mag rifle compared to the long mag version is a definite plus for many hunters, myself included. A short mag rifle can weigh at least a quarter-pound less, which is a significant and tangible benefit when hunting in rugged terrain, or whenever you need to walk and tote guns and gear long distances.
Some claim rifles with a short action are faster to reload – on a bolt-action, one might save a couple of tenths of a second to eject a shot shell and reload a fresh round, which doesn’t sound like much and really isn’t. Still, in a hunting situation, every second – or tenth of a second – counts.
The time-saving may not be as critical as the overall shorter action. The longer the bolt throw, the greater the chance of catching clothing or debris, or simply not drawing the bolt back far enough to eject the spent shell before trying to seat another. In other words, a short action rifle should see a lesser chance of jamming.
However, short mags can and do jam. Many attribute short mag jamming problems to having a case diameter larger than the rim, which means the face of the bolt has only a small amount of overlap with the rim of the case, so grip isn’t as good as it could be. When coupled with the sharp shoulder and a rush to reload, jams can occur.
But no firearm is immune to jamming.
Short mags ballistics are equal, or slightly better, than their regular magnum counterparts. But there are fewer choices in terms of bullets and cartridges and overall, less availability. Most short mag ammunition seems to be premium quality, which is good, but expensive. Expect to pay top dollar for short mag ammo.
Short mags use about 10% less powder than a regular mag. Coupled with the powder burning characteristics the end result is less – some say more pleasant – recoil. However, being magnums, recoil is still substantial.
Are short mags, like their predecessor the shortfats, noted for great accuracy? Indeed, they are inherently accurate; but today, all premium store bought ammunition, regardless of caliber, can provide outstanding, precision shooting.
I don’t reload but friends and acquaintances who do say there are no issues with short magnums. I’ve shot their short mag reloads without incident.
My hunting partner Deryk calls my .300 WSM the ‘fattie’ because of the shell shape. In some rifles this means less magazine carrying capacity. Along with the theoretical increased probability of a jam in a panicky situation, short magnum rifles are generally not recommended when hunting dangerous game. They are well-suited for deer, moose, elk and black bear as well as African plains game.
The ‘knock-down, killing power’ of a magnum may not always be an advantage. In some typical Ontario hunting situations, magnums, including short mags, can actually be disadvantageous.
When hunting is done at close quarters, high velocity loads (a magnum!) can whistle through an animal without expanding, especially if large muscle mass or bone isn’t hit. I’ve had this happen twice with whitetails I’ve shot with my .300 WSM. One ran more than 300 m before bleeding out. That’s a lot of unnecessary and extra dragging to do.
No firearm or cartridge can do everything. But for many, a short magnum is a very fine firearm to have and use. I like mine, a lot.
The deer I harvested this year. Not with a magnum!