We think so, if a matchup between .375 H&H; Magnums from Remington and Winchester are any indication.
Jumbo big-game and dangerous-game hunters have more choices than ever if they’re picking a rifle for hunting moose, brown bears, or African dangerous game. Increasingly, many of us are gravitating to synthetic stocks, shorter stainless-steel barrels, and lighter overall weight in such rifles. However, we have wondered if these fashionable characteristics are truly advantages in rifles chambered for cartridges such as the .375 H&H; Magnum.
On the surface, modern materials such as synthetic stocks offer immediate pluses for hunting North America’s biggest game. The species that require .375s and like calibers often inhabit nasty, wet, or otherwise hostile areas. Synthetic material is impervious to moisture and temperature changes and will remain dimensionally pure. Wood won’t. Many an Alaskan hunter has been horrified at the bullet-impact changes his wooden stock causes after only a few days of rain. Stainless steel also resists poor weather and primitive conditions better than blued steel.
However, these are but two performance-related questions a hunter must answer in choosing one rifle style over another. To look at the full range of buying decisions the big-game aficionado must consider, we recently tested two .375 H&H; rifles, one a traditionally configured rifle and the other a modern, synthetic-stocked, short-barrel design. Our traditional gun was the Winchester Model 70. It was the first American rifle chambered for the .375 H&H; Magnum, and the push-feed gun (discontinued in 1995, but a claw-extraction Classic model is still available) continues to be very popular today on the used-gun market, selling for between $500 and $750, depending on its condition. Our second gun was a Remington Model 700 KS Safari custom-shop gun, the prices for which start at around $1,200.
Our goal in this head-to-head test was to evaluate these guns as representatives of a class of firearms. We wanted to determine if the combination of higher-tech materials and lightweight design included in the 700 KS was a worthy successor to the time- and field-proven assets of the Winchester Model 70. Here’s what we found:
Perhaps no other rifle is more identified with the .375 H&H; cartridge than the Winchester Model 70. Our test gun was a Model 70 Super Express with the push-feed bolt design. It was equipped with a Burris 1.5- to 6-power Signature Series scope with the Posi-Lock feature. Without ammo, the set-up weighed 101/4 pounds. The 24-inch barrel is a moderately heavy configuration and has a ramped front bead sight with a hood and a fold-down open-style rear sight, also on a ramp.
The walnut stock is reinforced with two cross-bolts. It has checkering on the grip and the forend and has a solid 1-inch-thick recoil pad. There is a cheekpiece that rolls up to a high comb and a grip cap, but no forend tip. The rear sling swivel is recessed into the wood and is held in place with two screws. The front swivel is mounted forward of the stock and is welded on the barrel. This is the typical location for this hardware on a hard-recoiling rifle. The arrangement keeps the forward hand well behind the sling swivel and out of harm’s way when firing.
The magazine holds three shells and features a drop plate on the bottom. The trigger pull is 51/2 pounds. However, because the Model 70 trigger is adjustable, this can be improved. The receiver is matte blue, while the barrel is polished blue. The bolt is jeweled with the other parts polished blue. The safety is the standard three-position Model 70 style, mounted on the bolt. All aspects of the gun’s fit and finish were excellent for a factory rifle, we thought.
The Remington Model 700 KS custom-shop gun also incorporates a push-feed bolt. It was equipped with a Bausch & Lomb 1.5- to 6-power Balvar scope. Without ammo, the set-up weighs 91/2 pounds.
It has a 22-inch barrel in a heavy varmint profile, which accounts for a lot of the gun’s weight. This also creates a weight-forward feel that takes a little getting used to. However, all shooters who have tried the rifle agree that after a few minutes, it become easy to handle. The forward balance allows easy holding, and it points well when shooting off hand.
The barrel on the test gun has a ramped front bead sight and an open style rear sight, also on a ramp. The Kevlar stock is slimmer in all dimensions than the Winchester’s and has a small cheekpiece. It has molded checkering on the grip and the forend and features a solid 1-inch recoil pad.
The rear sling swivel is the standard post style seen on most rifles today. The front swivel is mounted forward of the stock as a band on the barrel. The blind magazine holds three shells. Many experienced dangerous-game hunters prefer a blind magazine because it can’t open and drop needed shells on the ground. The trigger pull is a stiff 61/4 pounds, but like all Model 700s, it is easily adjustable.
The bolt, while good, is not as smooth as the Winchester’s, in our opinion. The two-position safety is common to Remingtons manufactured in the past decade. It does not lock the bolt down when it’s in the On position. Remington can change this to the old-style safety that will lock the bolt, but you must return the rifle to the factory for this change, and there is a small charge.
As you might expect of a custom-shop rifle, the fit and finish were excellent.
Before starting the test each rifle was cleaned, then one fouling shot was fired. Testing was completed in the same sequence for each rifle without any further cleaning.
All testing was conducted from a benchrest using an Uncle Bud’s bench bag. The rear of the gun was supported by a Bench Wizard bag from Ultra Light Arms. This features two 5-pound sandbags connected by a webbing that fits around the rear of the gun. It effectively adds the weight of the bags to the gun. Another 10- pound sandbag was placed against the rear of this bag, and an athletic elbow pad was used between the gun and the shooter’s shoulder. This effectively controls recoil, allowing a long testing session with these hard-recoiling rifles. All groups were shot at 100 yards and measured center to center of the widest holes.
Using four different loads, we fired strings of three groups of three shots each. Velocity was recorded on a Oehler 35-P Chronograph placed 15 feet from the muzzle. Accuracy was recorded, but it may be skewed in the Remington. The first series was fired with Winchester’s brand new 270-grain Fail-Safe load. While the first three went into less than an inch group, they left a lot of copper fouling in the bore. This had a definite effect on the remaining shots, we think. Other groups we shot ranged up to 2 inches in size. The Winchester shot groups that averaged less than 11/2 inches at 100 yards.
Certainly, both rifles displayed the accuracy potential of this cartridge. Even discounting the Remington’s fouling problem, its accuracy was excellent. The .375 H&H; is more than just a close-range caliber.
A bigger concern was in terminal performance. We expected some velocity loss in the shorter 22-inch barrel; instead, we found little speed or energy fall-offs. The overall average difference between loads shot in both guns was only 67 fps. Both 270-grain loads showed a 59-fps loss, while the 300-grain solid load showed a 70 fps differential. Even the load with the greatest difference, the Federal Premium 300-grain Nosler Partition bullet, only had an 82-fps difference.
What does that mean in the real world? Using the Federal load and sighting for a 200-yard zero, at 250 yards the bullet fired from a 22-inch barrel has dropped .4 inch more than the one fired from a 24-inch tube. At 300 yards, gravitational acceleration (32 fps) has this number up to a whole inch difference. The energy difference at 200 yards is 192 foot pounds. At 300 yards the difference is 163 foot pounds. This represents about a 7 percent loss.
And in our view, this loss is more than offset by the Remington’s lighter weight and better handling characteristics. The three-quarter pound difference between the 700 KS and the Model 70 would make an immediate impact on the brown bear or moose hunter in Alaska or Canada. Fluted versions of the thick-profile Remington barrel would increase the weight gap even more.
This discussion brings up the problem of recoil, but again, we think technology provides a performance edge the traditional rifle style lacks. A 10-pound gun shooting the powerful .375 H&H; generates 33.1 foot-pounds of recoil when firing a 300-grain bullet. An 8-pound rifle with the same load generates 41.4 foot-pounds of recoil—a substantial difference. However, when by adding a recoil compensator, such as those offered by Mag-na-Port and others, to the barrel the felt recoil is lessened considerably. Also, factoring in synthetic stocks, which alleviate perceived recoil better than wood, it would be relatively simple to make the felt recoil of an 8-pound rifle less than that of yesteryear’s 10-pound gun. With today’s technology, most hunters could shoot an 8-pound .375 H&H; as a viable elk rifle.
Tradition is a good thing, and there is nothing wrong with wanting a heavy, long-barreled, wood-stocked .375 H&H; Magnum, if following tradition is your motivation. But from a practical hunting standpoint, there is no compelling reason to use a gun like that for most hunting chores, including high-altitude elk hunting or plains game in Africa. A short, lightweight rifle that takes advantage of modern technology is a far better hunting tool, our comparison of the Remington 700 KS and Winchester Model 70 Super Express shows. There is no real trade-off in performance—other than increased noise from the muzzle brake—but there is a very real gain in dependability and user friendliness. This will be well appreciated when you are slogging across the muskeg of Alaska or climbing a steep ridge in Wyoming’s Thorofare drainage.
For hunting the largest North American big game or the most volatile Dark Continent animals, the new style .375 H&H; may well be defining the “tradition” of the next generation of hunters.