This segment covers the good and bad of the popular short magnums. We take the extra step and put extra-high-velocity cartridges to the test! Check out this in-depth look at the 7mm Winchester Short Magnum. If you missed Part 1, be sure to check it out!
THE 7MM WSM EXPERIENCE
But even with my own perceived notions and hesitancies about the benefits associated with this new short magnum craze, I couldn’t resist the idea of trying something new…so when I spotted a Winchester Model 70 Classic Featherweight chambered for 7mm WSM on the used gun rack I quickly snatched it up. In the years following I sent many hundreds of bullets down that rifle’s barrel. It wound up accompanying me on hunts on 3 continents. My load of choice was handloaded Barnes TSX and TTSX bullets, which I used to bring down a pile of mule deer at ranges varying from about 200 yards to over 400 yards.
It also became my choice for a light rifle on an African safari where I used it to take a variety of plains game…and it even traveled with me to the Northern Territory of Australia on a culling operation. On that Down-Under outing it received a real workout, killing the equivalent of several pickup loads of feral donkeys, hogs, one water buffalo, and virtually every other feral critter that the local Aborigines wanted me to eliminate.
Overall, the accuracy of the 7mm WSM chambered Winchester Model 70 was excellent, consistently producing groups of 1 MOA or less. The rifle and caliber wasn’t finicky by any standard and liked just about whatever load I seemed to be firing at the time.
PITFALLS, PROBLEMS, AND VALID CONCERNS
After purchasing the 7mm WSM I was anxious to get started shooting the rifle. But checking a little into the price and availability of the factory-loaded cartridges gave me a little pause for thought. Perusing one of my mainstream mail order catalogs, I found that the cheapest box of 20 Winchester brand 7mm WSM shells was running close to $35.00, as compared to the cheapest box of 7mm Rem. Mag. running a full $10.00 less. I had planned on primarily handloading for the rifle, so I put the difference in factory ammo prices aside for the time being, and turned my attention to working up an acceptable handload. But aside from the cost of the factory ammo, there is another factor worthy of consideration: the availability of the cartridge cases.
Simply put, no one should expect the brass for any of the short or super short magnums to be as readily available as the more traditional cartridges…and certainly the uncertain future of these cartridges is worthy of consideration.
The availability of reloading dies and shell holders could pose a problem. It did in my case. I thought I had just about every shell holder size imaginable in my inventory, but I was mistaken. Due to the WSM’s robust cartridge base size I didn’t have one to match and none of my local stores had one either. My only alternative was to wait for a mail order purchase to arrive. A little over a week later I thought I was all set to do a little reloading, but again I was mistaken. After seating the first primer I found that none of my many cartridge-loading blocks could accommodate the huge WSM bases. Begrudgingly, I lined the primed brass up on the top of my reloading bench, hoping that when the powder charges were added that I wouldn’t accidentally tip one over.
After measuring out the first of the powder charges I placed the powder funnel on top of the brass and dumped the powder in, just as I had done hundreds of thousands of time before. But, rather than the entire charge smoothly trickling down into the case, a sizable amount of powder overflowed and dumped in my lap. Huh? I thought.
I must not have had the funnel seated all the way down on the shoulder of the case. A second attempt followed, but it too produced the same irritating result. On closer examination I found that the huge shoulder of the WSM was prohibiting my somewhat aging RCBS funnel from seating down tightly against the shoulder and mouth of the case. I did find, however, that by trimming about 1/4 inch off the bottom of the funnel it worked acceptably, at least until a new funnel could be purchased.
After seating the first bullet I took a moment to admire my first, shiny, new 7mm WSM before going to the shelf for a plastic ammo box to store the new cartridges in. But, my problems were not ready to let up yet. The larger diameter of the WSM prohibited the cartridges from fitting in any of the boxes I had, so I resorted to a rubber band to hold the cartridges together. The good news is that companies like (my favorite) MTM Case-Gard are now offering a wide variety of products that will accommodate the short magnums, which includes cartridge boxes, funnels, and loading blocks.
But as irritating as I found these things to be, a more crucial potential problem might have to do with barrel replacement. I have shot out my share of barrels over the years, particularly those chambered for the faster cartridges like these new short mags. Being that I am always up for a change, when I experience a barrel going south on me I frequently look at it as an opportunity and replace the existing barrel with one chambered for a different cartridge. In most cases this is a fairly easy job for a gunsmith as long as you stay within the same general type of cartridge. For example, most belted magnum barrels are easily interchangeable as long as the action length is adequate to handle the new cartridge. The same generally applies to the standard non-belted cartridges.
Whatever cartridge change you make, though, the bolt face must match that of the new cartridge…and that could be a problem for these short magnums. Once committed to this fat cartridge concept you will have to stay in that same arena for future calibers. Changing out the barrel to another short magnum could likely be accomplished, but there is no way that the face of the bolt will allow you to move outside of that cartridge arena.
Stay tuned to hear Thomas Tabor’s final thoughts on Short Magnums!
Story & Photos by Thomas C. Tabor