Guns & Loads
The tidal wave of AR and tactical rifles sweeping the country has many whitetail hunters, who are quite content with their bolts and levers, wondering what all the fuss is doing for them. Well, in the headlong rush to develop muscle cartridges that will function in the AR-15 action, which is designed for a .223-length case, some pretty efficient and very accurate options have emerged. Bear, deer and elk hunters from the dark woods to the open plains have some interesting new numbers to choose from.
One of the keys to making a cartridge work in an AR action is that the overall cartridge length must be near that of the .223, about 2½ inches long. Pressure matters, of course, but caliber diameter is wide open. A case in point is the new wave of 2½-inch .410 shotshell uppers popping up, and a host of .45-caliber choices. These short .45-calibers are proving to be efficient, very accurate and deadly on deer and bear.
A rimless case that started life as the .284 Winchester cut down to 1.7 inches, then opened up to accept a .452 bullet.
This is a rimless case that started life as the .284 Winchester cut down to 1.7 inches, then opened up to accept a .452 bullet. The cartridge was designed by LeMag Firearms and then licensed to Bushmaster. Knowing that the success of any new cartridge hinges on readily available ammunition, Bushmaster went to Hornady for factory-loaded ammo.
At that time, Hornady was having great luck with its 240-grain .452 SST Flextip bullet in muzzleloaders, and thought that bullet would be a great match for the Bushmaster cartridge. That was the primary load in the .450 Bushmaster for years, and it stayed that way until Remington and Bushmaster became sister companies. Now, the .450 Bushmaster loaded with the Remington 250-grain CoreLokt SP or the radical 260-grain AccuTip will drive an expanding bullet at about 2,200 fps from a 20-inch barrel. Sighted-in to hit about two inches high at 100 yards, this round is only six inches low at 200 yards. For the deep-woods or open-country hunter, this round does anything the .45-70 does, in a lot shorter rifle.
.30 Remington AR
A case whose bolt face and overall length worked well in the AR, and delivered plenty of muscle. What was needed was a .30-caliber that would function in the short action.
Along with the new sister in the Cerberus group, Bushmaster, Remington also inherited the .450 Bushmaster cartridge, a case whose bolt face and overall length worked well in the AR, and delivered plenty of muscle. What was needed was a .30-caliber that would function in the short action.
The logical move? Neck the .450 down to .30-caliber. The result? The .30 Remington AR — a .30-caliber that would drive a 125-grain bullet at 2,800 fps and a 150-grain to almost 2,600 fps. That's 100 to 150 fps faster than the .30-30, long the standard by which whitetail cartridges are judged. I'm sure the .450 as well as the .30 Remington AR cartridges will soon find their way into levers and bolts, but for now, you can have either in a short, fast, semi-auto. Both bullet weights are currently loaded by Remington.
Another muscle load that has recently appeared that is delivering head-turning performance is the .458 SOCOM. The .458 SOCOM (.458 Special Operations Command) was reportedly given birth over a barbeque and some cold brew. It was at an informal gathering of special-ops personnel, specifically Task Force Ranger, when the subject of stopping power came up. It seems it took multiple hits to permanently take the opposition "out of the game" in Mogadishu, Somalia. The consensus was a one-shot stop would sure be nice. Marty ter Weeme, founder of a company called Teppo Jutsu, L.L.C., went to work, and in 2000, a sledgehammer cartridge that would launch .45-caliber bullets from 250 to 600 grains from a standard-size AR-15 with a proper barrel and chamber was born — enter the .458 SOCOM.
Briefly, the result was a short, fat case (1.575-inch) with a very small rebated rim (.473-inch), minimal taper and a slight shoulder. The case headspaces on that minimal shoulder. It's an odd set of dimensions, but effective. The real cleverness in the design of the .458 SOCOM is that if you own an AR in .223, then nothing needs to be changed but the upper — same magazine as the .223, same buffer spring in the buttstock, same everything. Just get a .458 upper available from Rock River Arms, Teppo Justsu or other custom builders, get loaded ammo from SBR Ammunition, Corbon or Reeds, and go.
6.8 Remington SPC
The 6.8 Remington could just as easily have been called the .270 Remington Short, because that's what it is — a case that fires 115-grain .277 bullets at about 2,600 fps. It was created at the request of Special Forces personnel who wanted their targets to fall down fast and stay down at longer range, meaning they wanted a cartridge with more punch than they were getting from the standard-issue .223. The bottom line — it had to work on the existing AR action and use the standard lower.
Once again, case and cartridge length were the must-have parameters, so Remington went to an oldie, the discontinued .30 Remington, shortened it, blew it out, changed the shoulder and created a dandy military cartridge that could be easily adapted to the AR. In the process, they gave deer hunters a great new choice that is accurate, extremely light on recoil, and flat shooting enough for most whitetail hunters.
We have long appreciated cartridges like the .243, .260 Remington, 7-30 Waters, etc., for their low recoil, inherent accuracy and excellent performance on deer. The 6.8 will fit exactly those parameters with a guarantee of available factory-loaded ammunition.
How will these AR offshoots fare in the civilian market? Very well, I suspect. The .450 Bushmaster and .458 SOCOM are excellent candidates for single-shot, lever- and bolt-action chamberings. The excellent performance obtained in the short 18-inch AR uppers will only be improved in 20- and 22-inch lengths. Expect velocity increases of 200 fps from both. The .458 SOCOM, with its pronounced shoulder to headspace on, will be especially well-suited to the bolt action, where its inherent accuracy can only be improved.
As to the 6.8 and .30 Remington AR, I envision almost immediate chamberings in the T/C Encore barrels, and, if pressures allow, we might see them available in the smaller Contender. Given our preference for the various .308 and .277 calibers, I expect both to become standard rifle chamberings in both bolt-actions and single-shots.
Shooters have just gone through a flood of introductions to mega-muscle magnums — Ultras, Shorts and Super Shorts. So, these offshoots of the AR phenomenon are a pleasant and welcome change for those of us who just want to anchor big bucks without big kicks.