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Straight Walled Hunting Cartridges

More and more states are allowing the use of straight walled cartridges during their shotgun or muzzleloader deer seasons. The centerfire rifles are more consistent in accuracy and don’t suffer from the unexplained fliers that are often seen with shotgun slugs.

Some of these cartridges offer improved trajectory and down range energy over shotgun slugs or muzzleloaders and have an added 50 to 100 yards of ethical shooting distance. They offer fast follow up shots (in states that allow repeaters) and are much easier to clean than a muzzleloader.

There are several gun makers offering rifles chambered for straight walled cartridges. Many of these cartridges were traditionally offered in lever action rifles. In states allowing repeaters, lever actions from Henry or Marlin are popular. More recently we’ve seen a trend of chambering a straight wall cartridge, usually the .450 Bushmaster, in a bolt action rifle. Ruger, Mossberg, Savage and others currently offer bolt guns in .450 Bushmaster. And, of course, AR-15 rifles are seeing use with the .450 Bushmaster cartridge.

Here is a look at what straight-walled cartridges are available on the market. Laws vary state to state, so make sure the cartridge and rifle you pick are legal in your state.

Pistol Cartridges

Several handgun cartridges are chambered in rifles and may be appropriate for hunting deer. Listed below are the most popular.

.357 Magnum.

This cartridges is a bit on the light side for deer hunting, even from a longer rifle barrel. The up side it that it has very low recoil. Marlin makes some nice lever action rifles. My pick for ammo is Hornady’s 158-grain XTP. Keep your shots under 100 yards to insure enough energy at the target.

.41 Magnum

Henry, and perhaps others, offers this cartridge in a lever action rifle. With proper bullets it will work for close range, 100 yards or less. The .41 magnum has lived in the shadow of the .44 Magnum for its entire life and as a result ammo options are a bit limited. My pick would be Barnes Vor-Tx ammo with a 180 grain XPB bullet.

.44 Remington Magnum

The .44 Magnum has been used in carbines for decades and in my never humble opinion it is one of the best of the pistol cartridges for hunting deer, when you consider all aspects including price. There was a time where my hunting buddy and I used lever action .44 Magnum rifles almost exclusively for deer hunting in Maine and Vermont. We shot a pile of venison and never had a problem.

In an accurate lever action like the Marlin Model 1894, it is great for deer out to 100 yards or perhaps a little further. The twist rate of rifling in most guns is 1:38 which limits the bullet weight to 270 grains or lighter, because heavier bullets may not stabilize with that twist rate. No problem, as this cartridge shines with 240-250 grain bullets. I like Federal’s Fusion 240 grain ammo on deer.

If you have a 1:20 twist in your rifle as some newer guns do, also consider the Hornady ammo with the 300 grain XTP bullet.

.454 Casull

My favorite handgun hunting cartridge is even better in a rifle. I have lost count of the deer, hogs and bears I have shot with this cartridge and a Freedom Arms revolver, but it never fails to impress. After shooting a bear some years back, my guide walked up to it and exclaimed, “That’s the deadest %%^#@** bear I have ever seen!

Big Horn Armory makes rifles chambered for this formidable cartridge. The Federal load with a 300-grain A-Frame bullet is an excellent ammo choice for deer.

.460 S&W

Another excellent choice and capable of 200 yard shots. Again, Big Horn Armory makes the rifles for this big bore round. The concept when this cartridge was designed was a long range hunting cartridge for handguns, and it works even better in a rifle with the longer barrel giving the round increased velocity. Hornady makes a 200 grain FTX load that is a good choice.

.500 S&W

The 500 S&W cartridge is a 50-caliber semi-rimmed handgun round developed by Cor-Bon in partnership with the S&W “X-Gun” engineering team, which was creating the S&W Model 500 X-frame revolver. Both the new X-frame and the round were introduced at SHOT Show 2003 as a hunting handgun cartridge capable of taking all North American game species.

This boomer really shines in a rifle. Again, Big Horn Armory makes the guns. Lots of companies make ammo now and most of it is very good. I recommend you check out the Federal load with a 325 grain Swift A-Frame bullet. From a rifle, the velocity will be around 2,000 ft/s. Big Horn also makes an AR-pattern rifle chambered for a rimless semi-auto version of the S&W 500, known as the 500 AutoMax.

Rifle Cartridges

.444 Marlin

When it was introduced in 1964 the .444 Marlin was the most powerful lever action cartridge on the planet. It pushed a 240-grain bullet to a muzzle velocity of 2,350 ft/s. (Some of today’s loads push a 265 grain bullet even faster.) Designed as a stretched out .44 Magnum to use in a Marlin lever action rifle, this old workhorse had a loyal following for several years.

That faded as lever actions lost their market place to bolt actions and the .444 Marlin was all but retired after Marlin stopped making guns.

But that was before these new straight walled cartridge laws were implemented. It’s making a comeback today, aided with better bullets and propellants than were available during its early life. The .444 Marlin has proven to be one of the best straight walled cartridge choices for deer hunting. CVA and TC have single shot rifles and Marlin has just reintroduced the 444 lever action, which will no doubt breathe new life into this cartridge.

Hornady’s Superformance load uses a 265 grain bullet with a muzzle velocity of 2,400 ft/s. I witnessed it used on deer recently and it performed flawlessly even at relatively long range.

.45-70 Government

This cartridge was introduced as a black powder round back in 1873 and it had a great run. It even saw some use in buffalo hunting.

Still, it had just about died out by mid-20th century as hunter’s interests moved on to bottle-necked smokeless powder cartridges. Then in 1972 Marlin introduced the lever action Model 1895 in .45-70. Some nostalgic hunters bought them for a chance to use the “old” cartridge from their great grandfather’s time. They soon discovered that the .45-70 is a great hunting cartridge in any century.

What followed was a comeback for the .45-70. Several companies in addition to Marlin and Henry offer .45-70 rifles in single shot or lever actions. In a strong rifle like the Ruger Number One single shot, the .45-70 can be handloaded to very impressive ballistics.

Still, it was Marlin that rescued the cartridge and I would guess that there are more 1895 Marlin rifles in in .45-70 than all the others combined. I bought my first Marlin .45-70 in 1990 and have never been without one since. I have used the .45-70 on a black bear, hogs, moose, bison and a lot of deer.

The Marlin 1895 in .45-70 was my choice for a recent hunt in Iowa during their shotgun season. I used Barnes Vor-Tx ammo with 300 grain TSX FN bullet. It exits my Marlin at an honest 1,925 ft/s, shoots extremely well and simply bludgeons whitetails.

.450 Bushmaster

This cartridge was designed to be used in an AR-15 rifle and where legal that’s a good way to go. Ruger, Mossberg, Savage and others are chambering it in a bolt action rifle now. Neal Emery from Hornady told me they have seen a boom in ammo sales recently due to the popularity of the .450 Bushmaster for deer hunting.

The Hornady 250 grain FTX load exits a 20 inch barrel at 2,200 fps and is well suited for deer out to 200 yards.

I came to respect this cartridge a few years ago when I used some prototype Remington Hog Hammer ammo with a Barnes 275 grain bullet to shoot a bunch of hogs and a water buffalo. This ammo was a death ray from my short barreled AR-15. Sadly though, the ammo never was introduced to the market. The good news is my friends at Barnes tell me it will soon be launched in the Barnes Vor-Tx line of factory ammo.

Newcomer: Winchester 350 Legend

Winchester has introduced a new straight walled hunting cartridge, the .350 Legend. It’s basically a .223 case straightened out, which means it will work in an AR-15 rifle as well as in bolt action rifles.

This ammo comes in several different factory loads: 150-grain Deer Season XP at 2350 fps; 180-grain Power-Point at 2100 fps; 160-grain Power Max Bonded at 2225 fps; 145-grain FMJ in the USA ammo line at 2350 fps, and Super Suppressed 265-grain load at 1060 fps.

The bullet is .357-inch, the same as the .357 magnum handgun. Winchester claims this is the fastest straight walled cartridge on the market, somehow ignoring the .444 Marlin at 2,400 fps. Still, it does drive a light for caliber bullet to relatively high velocity given the class of cartridge.

Time will tell if this cartridge will be successful, but the introduction is significant because it illustrates how the straight wall cartridge market is growing. 

Source: Range 365

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