How well-designed rifle cartridges have met with undeserved deaths
By JIM MATTHEWS
There was a time when I wanted Winchester to come out with a .270 Winchester Super Short Magnum (WSSM) as new cartridge housed in a big game rifle that could be fairly easily made up into an ultra-lightweight hunting rifle. I’m getting old and carry too many extra pounds, so the idea of a five- to five-and-a-half pound rifle was really starting to appeal to me.
But when I saw what Winchester and Browning did with the .223, .243 and .25 WSSM rifles I realized there must be a dark conspiracy within gun and ammunition companies to screw up good ideas with baffling final product development and rotten marketing.
The stubby and fat WSSM rounds – I have to assume – were envisioned and produced because they could be shot from rifle actions there were shorter and lighter than actions that housed longer cartridges. (Please, someone tell they weren’t designed just to coattail sales on their wildly well-designed and successful WSM line.) With that criteria inherent in their design, you’d have though Winchester and Browning would have brought them out in a new, extra-short action, ultra-lightweight sporter rifle for hunting. Instead, they were made up on regular weight rifles -- or worse -- heavy barreled varmint-style rifles. So why get a WSSM over a .243 or .25-06, cartridges Winchester said the WSSMs duplicated but in shorter, fatter cases?
They never made one up in an ultralight mountain rifle where the shorter action alone would have shaved off a pound in weight of the final gun. Instead, they built rifles in these new cartridges that had identical ballistics, weight, size, etc., as other cartridges that were long established and popular. There was no advantage, no hook to promote sales.
It was like there was no communication between the cartridge designers and the manufacturing team. The marketing branch had an impossible task trying to promote the final product line. There was no one who could come up with a single reason for the WSSM cartridges in the rifles’ final form, no hook for new sales.
Do I need to tell you all three WSSM cartridges sadly died quick deaths? And my dream of a .270 WSSM ultra-light rifle never materialized. No one is making rifles for the WSSM rounds and ammunition is difficult to find if you had bought one.
But it’s not like this is new to the firearms industry. Remington botched its introduction of the .244 Remington, brought out to compete with the .243 Winchester, both in 1955. Remington’s thinking flaw was being convinced the .244 was going to be only a varmint hunting cartridge. The rifles were built with slower twist barrels that would not stabilize heavier, longer deer-hunting bullets. (Without getting too technical, that means the long bullets would wobble a little – if not actually tumble end over end – if not spun fast enough to stabilize. Think tight spiral on a football versus a poorly-thrown one tumbling along. In short, they would shoot inaccurately.) Winchester knew better, and the .243 has a faster twist. Remington then confused things even more. They renamed the cartridge to the 6mm Remington and reintroduced it with a faster twist for heavy bullets for deer hunting. Gun loons swear the 244/6mm Remington is actually a better cartridge than the .243, but by then millions of .243s had been sold and Remington had to battle waves of negative publicity and confusion.
Remington didn’t learn. A few years later the company brought out the 8mm Remington Magnum, a bad idea from conception. A lot of pretty avid hunters and shooters have never heard of the round or vaguely remember it. Let it be said that American shooters (at least until recently) were lukewarm to any cartridge with a metric designation, with the exception of the 7mm Remington Magnum, which has become an American standard against all odds. Forgetting the disaster with the 6mm, Remington thought the 8mm would be a big success like the 7mm round. Oh, it was a hotshot of a cartridge with dazzling ballistics, but it didn’t do anything more or better than existing -- non-metric-named -- rounds already established in the market, namely the .300 Winchester Magnum and the .338 Winchester Magnum. Plus it required an even longer action than the standard magnum rounds. Death was quick for this bad idea.
Remington also killed off two perfectly good cartridges, the 6.5 and .350 Remington Magnums (perhaps giving Winchester an example to follow with the WSSM cartridges) by putting them in ugly, nonsensical rifles -- the Model 600 and later Model 660 bolt-action carbines. These two cartridges were really the first of the short, fat cartridges brought out by a major company. If housed in normal short-action rifles with normal-length barrels that allowed them achieve their ballistic potential, they probably would still be around and at least modestly popular today -- perhaps even rousing successes. Instead they were put in really light, short-barreled rifles that were loud, kicked like heck, and ruined the two cartridges’ ballistics. The 6.5 magnum in a 22 or 24-inch barrel was basically a .270 Winchester in a short-action rifle -- a great idea. But when you cut the barrel to 18-inches, it was little more than a .257 Roberts-equal with a lot more recoil and noise. The .350 was a .35 Whelan equivalent, but also in a short action. That is also a great idea. But when you put it in a six-pound gun with an 18-inch barrel, it became painful to shoot and the ballistics barely duplicated the .358 Winchester round. Plus the gun had a funky laminated stock and the barrel had a goofy plastic ventilated rib (that was obviously pilfered from the shotgun production line), and a front sight that looked like a shark fin. Many considered this the ugliest rifle ever created by the world’s gunmakers. Even at that the .350s had a modest following with bear guides who needed a quick, light, handy, and powerful gun in dangerous settings. That’s not a huge market. Those guns and -- unfortunately, the cartridges with them -- are distant bad memories.
[Jim Matthews is a syndicated Southern California-based outdoor reporter and columnist. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 909-887-3444.]