This is a big question around the whitetail woods: how well can the AR-15 serve as a viable hunting rifle when chambered for this round? Here’s one answer… Read on!
SOURCE: NRA Publications, American Hunter by Philip Massaro
The AR-15 platform has been modified and fiddled with for quite a while, and has its own series of cartridges designed specifically to function within the parameters of the rifle. The 6.8 SPC, the .458 SOCOM, the .50 Beowulf — all were built to give the AR-15 a different level of performance than the standard 5.56 NATO/.223 Rem.
There is also no doubt that .30-caliber cartridges are, have been, and probably will remain America’s favorite. So many cartridges have been modified to hold .30-caliber bullets that I have almost lost count. The .300 AAC Blackout is the cartridge built to function in the AR-15 platform, and with its design comes a different mindset, as the cartridge is called upon to fill a special role.
As a hunting cartridge, the .300 BLK certainly doesn’t look like one of the usual suspects: it is a stubby little guy, definitely lacking the look of a long-range cartridge. That’s fine, because the Blackout was never designed to fulfill that role. Perhaps a bit of history is warranted:
The Blackout’s roots are spread in the soil of the U.S. Military, which was looking for a round that would give better sub-sonic capabilities than their suppressed 9mm carbines, especially for close-in work. With some modification of a wildcat cartridge — namely the .300 Whisper — the .300 Blackout was delivered by Advanced Armament Corporation. The case itself can trace its roots all way back to the .222 Rem., through the .221 Fireball case also formed from that platform. It was designed to fit in a standard 5.56mm AR-15 magazine in double-stack configuration, yet use the long 220-grain .308 caliber bullets for subsonic performance. The Blackout did just that — pushing those 220-grain slugs at 1010 fps — but also did very well with the lighter bullets. That short case will push 125- and 130-grain bullets to a muzzle velocity of around 2200 fps — certainly no speed demon, but enough to get the job done on military targets. It functions perfectly through the AR platform, with one caveat: any ammunition that uses the sleeker-ogive bullets will actually chamber in the .223/5.56mm rifles, and that can pose one helluva problem should the ammo be confused. Please keep them separated!
In the the deer woods, the .300 AAC is an acceptable choice. If ranges are kept around 100 yards — much like the .30/30 WCF — things should go right for you. Were I using a Blackout on a deer hunt, I’d most definitely choose a premium hunting bullet in the 125- to 135-grain range, as they’ll produce the proper terminal ballistics. Those heavy 220-grain slugs are simply moving too slowly to give reliable expansion, and will more than likely whistle on through like a solid, resulting in a wounded or lost animal. No one wants that.
Ammunition choices are pretty broad now. As said, you’ll want to keep your hunting distances within reason, and choose a bullet that will expand reliably at the furthest distance you expect to take an animal with the Blackout — the range where that bullet will slow down. I’m not one of those who gets hung up on energy figures — where the commonly accepted figure of 1,000 ft.-lbs. to kill a deer came from, I don’t know — but you definitely need reliable expansion in order to kill effectively. Looking at just a few, Hornady loads the 135-grain FTX bullet at a muzzle velocity of 2,085 fps, and this will make a great hunting round. They also load their 110-grain GMX — an all-copper, polymer-tipped bullet — that will also get the job done well, again, providing you use it within reasonable ranges. Barnes builds their VOR-TX Blackout ammo around the 120-grain monometal TAC-TX bullet; Barnes worked very hard to deliver a bullet that is plenty accurate and yet gives good expansion and penetration.
The whitetail deer has suffered from guinea-pig status; I know hunters who seriously use calibers ranging from .17 Rem. all the way up to the .450 No.2 Nitro Express to make their venison, with varying levels of success. The whitetail is so prolific that, like feral hogs, sportsman tend to experiment with varying calibers and bullet weights. A good bullet, like that GMX or TAC-TX, at the lighter .30-caliber weights, will get the job done, and that’s been pretty well proven. Considering the Blackout’s trajectory, you’ll want to limit the range to 100 or 125 yards. To obtain a 200-yard zero with the Hornady FTX load, you’ll need to be 5 inches high at 100, which is a bit drastic. Perhaps a 100-yard zero, or 1 inch high at 100, where you’d be in vitals at 125 yards, makes more sense.
So, is the Blackout the perfect deer cartridge? It’s no .308 Win., but I that within 100 yards it’s a better choice than any .22-caliber centerfire. The choice is up to you, but if I were handed an accurate Blackout for a hunt in the northeast woods, I wouldn’t hesitate to use it, provided it was loaded with a good, sensible bullet.
By Todd Woodard, Editor, Cartridges of the World 15th Edition
The 15th Edition of Cartridges of the World will be out this fall, and in the process of researching and assembling this edition, I came across a handful of new or newish rounds I’ve become interested in personally. Because of their heritage, practicality, and design, here are five cartridges I believe will be trending upward in popularity the next few years:
6.5-300 Weatherby Magnum
For the first time in decades, Weatherby unleashed a new cartridge in 2016, this one based on a necked-down .300 Weatherby Magnum: the 6.5-300 Weatherby Magnum. This cartridge isn’t exactly new, even though Weatherby is billing it that way. Roy Weatherby built a 6.5-300 in the early 1950s, as evidenced by an old Mauser-action rifle in the company’s collection. Also, in the early 1970s, a group of benchrest wildcatters built rifles chambered for the 6.5-300 WWH (Weatherby Wright Hoyer), a 6.5mm cartridge using the .300 Weatherby as the parent case.
“This is now the fastest production 6.5mm cartridge in the world,” said Adam Weatherby, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Weatherby Inc. “The speed and energy of this cartridge is unprecedented and worthy of carrying the Weatherby name, all while exhibiting very manageable recoil.”
The fastest factory load shoots a 127-grain Barnes LRX at 3,531 fps. Factory-supplied ballistics show that with a 300-yard zero, the 127-grain Barnes drops 7.12 inches at 400 yards and 18.99 inches at 500 yards. Flat.
In 2015, Nosler created its new 28 Nosler by necking up the 26 Nosler case, itself a derivative of the 7mm RUM case, which descended from the .404 Jeffery. Nosler supports this new cartridge with Nosler brass, Trophy Grade ammunition and M48 rifles in 26-inch barrel configurations.
The fat case creates powder space, with a water capacity of 93.8 grains when loaded with a 150-grain AccuBond Long Range Spitzer, according to Nosler specs. The rebated-rim centerfire rifle cartridge shares the same overall cartridge length (3.340) as the 26 Nosler, which allows it to be chambered in standard-length actions. Likewise, the .284-caliber (7mm) centerfire .28 Nosler has the same 3.340-inch maximum cartridge overall length as the .30-06, but the case length is 2.590 inches with a 35-degree shoulder. Accordingly, the 28 Nosler cartridge case can be formed by necking-up a 26 Nosler case to 7mm (.284 inch) diameter.
Slower-burning powders and high load densities generally yield the best loads. Some of the best are with Norma 217 and RL 33.
7.62×40 WT (Wilson Tactical)
Kurt Buchert originated this round as the 7.62×40 USA. Introduced commercially in 2011 by Wilson Combat, the 7.62×40mm Wilson Tactical is a centerfire rifle cartridge that’s an accurate, low-recoil .30-caliber round that can be used in AR-15/M4 rifles with minimal changes beyond swapping the barrel.
All other standard AR-platform 5.56-caliber components are compatible. The 7.62×40 WT is based on the 5.56×45 NATO cartridge case, which is shortened to 1.560 inches and then re-sized (single operation) in a standard 7.62×40 WT sizing die. Result: A formed 7.62×40 WT case with a finished overall case length of 1.565 inches.
From a 16-inch barrel, the 7.62×40 WT fires a factory 110-grain bullet at 2534 fps muzzle velocity.
The 416 B&M (Bruton & McCourry) is designed for the Winchester M70 Winchester Short Magnum control-feed action with 18- and 20-inch barrels, but 20-inch barrels are optimum. In 20 inches of barrel, it runs most 350-grain bullets faster than 2450 fps and in 18 inches of barrel, 2400 fps and more. It makes an awfully good Alaskan rifle that is only 38 inches long and weighs 6.5 pounds.
To make 416 B&M brass, cut the .300 RUM case close to 2.240 inches, then trim, lube and run through the 416 sizing die. Firing a 300-grain ESP Raptor over 75 grains of AA 2520 will generate 2,627 fps/4,596 foot-pounds at the muzzle, according to a B&M load data sheet.
12 Gauge From Hell (GFH)
Okay, so this one is just interesting — I don’t expect too many reloaders to try this project. Cartridge researcher and collector Zachary Weighman has documented several shotshell-based cartridges designed by Ed Hubel of Lake, Michigan, one of which is the 12 Gauge From Hell, aka 12 GFH. Hubel has been building wildcat rounds since the early 1990s, and they range in caliber from .458 to .700.
Hubel says Rod Garnick and John McMorrow are co-designers of the 12 GFH dating back to 2004, and, in fact, the original concept was Garnick’s idea. The 12 GFH was made from a necked-up .50 BMG case, 3.85 inches overall, made to fire in a falling-block Borchardt action. Top loads tested have been 600-grain bullets at 3400 fps, but more shootable current loads run out at 1,650 to 1,700 fps.
Todd Woodard also edited Cartridges of the World 14th Edition and has been editor of Gun Tests magazine for 17 years. He loves shooting suppressed 22 LR firearms and is buying “cans” for his rifles and handguns as fast as his budget allows.