by John Haviland - Friday, August 27, 2010
The little 7 mm-08 Rem. suffered from magnum envy after it was introduced in 1980. As the seasons passed, though, big-game hunters discovered the cartridge’s niche was in lightweight rifles, and its appeal grew until it became one of the most popular short-action hunting cartridges used today.
The 7 mm-08 Rem. offers nothing special to write home about in the way of bullet speed. It’s on par with the 7x57 mm Mauser and .280 Rem., but its bullet velocity falls some 300 fps short compared to various 7 mm magnum cartridges. That additional bullet velocity in the magnums, however, results from burning 20 percent more propellant through a much longer barrel.
But correct shot placement, not extreme velocity, kills big game. The mild recoil of the 7 mm-08 Rem. allows hunters to practice with their rifles so they can put bullets in the right spot.
The 7 mm-08 Rem. shoots well with the entire range of 0.284-inch big-game bullets from 120 to 175 grains. When shooting 120-grain bullets, the 7 mm-08 Rem. is like a not-so-little .270 Win. shooting 130-grain projectiles. Both cartridges produce practically the same trajectory out to 400 yards. A controlled-expansion bullet, like the Barnes 120-grain Triple-Shock X-Bullet, ensures the bullet retains its weight to penetrate when it reaches its destination. The big mule deer buck I shot with a 120-grain Triple-Shock X-Bullet from my 7 mm-08 Rem. last fall dropped dead so quickly its hooves were still in its prints where it had stood in the snow.
On the heavy end, 175-grain bullets reach a velocity of about 2,250 fps from an 18 1/2-inch barrel of a Remington Model Seven and 2,400 fps at the muzzle of a 22-inch-barreled Winchester Model 70 Featherweight. The 160-grain bullets max out at 2,600 fps from the 22-inch barrel and about 2,450 fps from the 18 1/2-inch barrel. These heavy bullets, especially the 175s, noticeably drop off at distances farther than 300 yards compared to lighter bullets. They might penetrate deeper than lighter bullets in large game, but how much penetration is enough?
My youngest son used his Model Seven 7 mm-08 Rem. to shoot a black bear one spring as it faced him dead on at about 100 yards. At the shot the bear rolled down the hill 20 yards and landed on its back, presenting itself for field dressing. When we skinned the bear we found the 140-grain Trophy Bonded Bear Claw bullet in the bear’s tail. The bullet had expanded perfectly and had penetrated more than four feet of bear.
Various 140-grain bullets provide the best balance of velocity and weight in the 7 mm-08 Rem. These bullets have a muzzle velocity of 2,700 to 2775 fps from 18 1/2- and 20-inch barrels. The top bullet speed is a touch more than 2,880 fps from a 22-inch barrel. No deer, black bear or elk ever lived to tell the difference between those slight differences in velocity.
Like its parent cartridge, the .308 Win., the 7 mm-08 Rem. performs well with a variety of propellants. Big Game, H4895 and Varget provide good bullet speed and accuracy with 120-grain bullets. With 49.0 grains of Big Game, Barnes’ 120-grain Triple-Shock X-Bullets clock 3,037 fps from the 22-inch barrel of my Model 70 Featherweight. IMR4064 may lag a bit in velocity with Sierra 130-grain bullets, but the propellant is certainly the most accurate with that projectile in the Featherweight. I’ve shot the IMR4064/Speer bullet combination five times so far at targets with my Model 70 and three-shot groups have ranged between 0.55 inches and 0.75 inches at 100 yards.
Big Game, H4895, IMR4350, Varget and Winchester 760 (W760) deliver top velocity and accuracy paired with the broad range of 140-grain bullets. After loading nearly every brand and style of 140-grain bullets in six 7 mm-08 Rem. rifles, I keep returning to W760.
Velocities produced by this spherical propellant supposedly vary widely with changes in temperature. But I’ve seen lots of 7 mm bullets sent on their way with W760 at minus 30 to 80 degrees F and none of the deer, antelope or elk killed ever noticed the difference.
To determine the exact velocity differences, I shot W760 in the summer heat and winter cold. Nosler’s 150-grain Partition bullets had an average muzzle velocity of 2,756 fps with 47.0 grains of W760 when I sighted in the Model 70 Featherweight during a 91-degree F day in August for my wife’s upcoming moose hunt. The same box of cartridges had an average velocity of 2,725 fps at 33 degrees F, about the temperature in late November when my wife sent one of the Partitions through the neck of a bull moose.
With heavier 160-grain bullets W760 is still a good choice, along with IMR4350 and Reloder 19. A few maximum loadings of relatively slow-burning extruded powders, like IMR4350, fill cases to right below the mouth so the powder is compressed when a bullet is seated.
The recoil of the 7 mm-08 Rem. hunting loads is comparatively mild. Yet its 18 ft.-lbs. of recoil do add up after shooting a box or so of shells while practicing, especially for young hunters shooting lightweight rifles. Hodgdon 4895 is a good propellant for making reduced-recoil loads that are easy on the shoulder for practice and hunting. With 35.6 grains of H4895, the Speer 120-grain spitzer bullet has a velocity of 2,518 fps and a pat on the back recoil of 9.5 ft.-lbs. from a 7-pound rifle. With 35.2 grains of H4895, the Sierra 130-grain bullet has a muzzle speed of 2,503 fps and easily tolerated recoil of 9.8 ft.-lbs.
Everyone knows the .30-30 Win. is a great deer cartridge with mild recoil. To approximate its performance—a 150-grain bullet at 2,350 fps—I loaded Speer 145-grain bullets ahead of 36.0 grains of H4895 for a muzzle velocity of 2,477 fps. Both loads have nearly identical gentle recoil. The 7 mm bullet, though, carries the same bullet energy at 200 yards as the .30-30 bullet at 100 yards.
Shooting these loads during the off-season can help all hunters improve their marksmanship. Come fall they can switch to more potent hunting loads, and before long they’ll be writing home about their success with the little 7 mm-08 Rem.
All technical data in this website, especially for handloading, reflect the limited experience of individuals using specific tools, products, equipment and components under specific conditions and circumstances not necessarily reported in the article and over which the National Rifle Association (NRA) has no control. The data have not otherwise been tested or verified by the NRA. The NRA, its agents, officers and employees accept no responsibility for the results obtained by persons using such data and disclaim all liability for any consequential injuries or damages.
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