To take on the epochal .375 H&H Magnum is almost heretical, but if any cartridge has a chance of giving it a good run, it’s this one.
By Jon R. Sundra
No other cartridge has so dominated a caliber as the .375 H&H Magnum. Since its introduction in 1912, the mere utterance of “three-seven-five” has been all that’s needed for any hunter anywhere in the world to know exactly which cartridge you’re referring to. That can’t even be said about the .30-06 Springfield, which is the closest any other round comes to being synonymous with a caliber.
It takes a certain temerity to take on an icon like the .375, yet that’s just what the Ruger folks did when they went to Hornady and asked them to develop a cartridge that would outperform the legendary Holland & Holland round . . . and do it in a standard .30-06-length action. What made it even more speculative was the fact that Ruger had been (and still is) offering the .375 H&H chambering in its Mark II Magnum rifle for over a decade, so it’s not like they weren’t already a player in the game.
Before taking a look at the new .375 Ruger and the guns chambered for it, perhaps a little background on the cartridge that set the standards for the caliber is in order.
The basic belted H&H case is, of course, the parent to virtually every commercial “magnum” cartridge introduced here in the states from the mid-1950s to the late ’80s. Actually, Roy Weatherby’s original line of proprietary magnums introduced in the mid-1940s was based on the belted H&H hull, as was the .308 and .358 Norma Magnums of the early ’50s. But the H&H case did not make its debut here in the form of an “American” cartridge until the .458 Win of 1953. It started a magnum revolution that over the next 35 years saw commercial cartridges of four different lengths introduced. There was the short 6.5 and .350 Rem Mags; the mid-length .264 Win/7mm Rem/.338 Win family; the unique .300 Win Mag; and the full-length .375 case as used for the 7mm STW/8mm and .416 Rem Mags.
There are actually two versions of the .375 H&H, the belted one with which we’re all familiar, and a rimmed or flanged version that was designed for use in double rifles. The rim was necessary because the cartridge’s small, sloping shoulder was not acute enough to provide a definitive datum plane on which to headspace. The problem with a protruding rim, however, is that it does not reliably feed from the staggered-column box magazine of a bolt-action rifle because the cartridges must slide against one another. If the rim of one cartridge is behind the rim of the round below it . . . jamsville. Hardly a desirable situation on a dangerous-game rifle! The belted version, therefore, came about so that the cartridge would function in Mauser bolt-action rifles. The belt diameter is the same as the rim, .532 inch, but is stepped down .020 inch — enough to provide a positive stop for headspacing purposes, but not enough to matter how cartridges are stacked in the magazine or hinder them from sliding against one another. With any bottleneck cartridge having a sharply defined shoulder to headspace against, the belt is an absolutely useless appendage, particularly from a handloading standpoint.
When the Hornady folks set out to design the new Ruger cartridge, they started with a clean sheet of paper. The only dictates were: 1) the cartridge must function through a standard-length action; 2) that it must be of an existing rim (bolt face) diameter; and 3) that it must outperform the vaunted .375 H&H. The solution was both simple and obvious: take the basic H&H case, but instead of stepping down .020 inch to form the needless belt, simply continue the .532-inch diameter forward to form a fatter case body. An added plus was that no alteration to existing magnum receiver feed rails would be required, thus any action capable of handling a .300 Win could handle the .375 Ruger.
By starting with a head diameter .020 inch larger than the belted H&H’s, and maintaining a minimum body taper of .015 inch from head to shoulder, the resultant Ruger case is nearly a half-inch shorter, yet has virtually the same volume as the .375 H&H — about 98 grains of water by weight. How then, if powder capacities are virtually the same, do they achieve such a ballistic edge over the old British round?
The answer is that Hornady applies the same advanced loading techniques and high-energy propellants used in their Light and Heavy Magnum ammo lines that increase traditional muzzle velocities by as much as 200 fps. A perfect example is Hornady’s Light Magnum .30-06 180-grain load. The nominal standard for factory loads, be they Federal’s, Remington’s or Winchester’s, has been 2,700 fps, but with Light Magnum, it’s 2,900 fps! This, then, is how they achieve an additional 150 fps with the 270-grain load and 130 fps with the 300-grainer.
It must be pointed out, however, that Hornady uses these same high-tech loading procedures for its Heavy Magnum .375 H&H loads, and the difference is even more impressive. The 270-grain Heavy Magnum load is listed at a whopping 2,870 fps, and the 300-grain at 2,705. That’s 180 and 150 fps more, respectively, compared to the standard H&H loadings, and 30 and 45 fps faster than the .375 Ruger! That kinda’ flies in the face of the new short-magnum dictum that says squat cases burn powder more efficiently and as such produce slightly higher velocities at the same pressures and with less powder, all other things being equal.
Making the debut of the .375 even more auspicious is that it comes in the form of a revamped Model 77 Mark II bolt-action rifle called the Hawkeye. There are three features that distinguish the model from the previous Mark II: a slimmed-down stock, an all-steel bottom metal unit with an improved floorplate latch, and the incorporation of a new trigger unit called the LC6. In profile, it’s hard to distinguish the new stock from the old one, but the difference in the feel is very noticeable.
Starting at the upper portion of the pistol grip and continuing forward to the fore-end tip, the old stock was just too thick — too meaty, if you will. Though not a lot of wood has been trimmed from these areas in relative terms, it’s enough to make the stock feel much better and more responsive, especially for people like me with average-size hands. In addition to the bottom metal unit now being all-steel and with an improved latch, the floorplate carries a tasteful rendering of the Ruger logo.
I have always liked the Ruger trigger for its sturdiness, simplicity and safety, but it left something to be desired as far as its factory-set pull weight and the fact that it was non-adjustable. The new LC6 is still non-adjustable, but it’s a better trigger. It’s simpler, and the factory trigger-pull settings are a lot easier to live with.
Like I said, the changes to the stock have been subtle, but they were exactly what was needed to transform the new Hawkeye from what has always been a handsome rifle into a classically elegant one. In keeping with the Ruger tradition of classic styling, the standard Hawkeye (77R) is all blued steel and walnut, complete with wrap-around cut checkering on the forearm and a new and highly effective buttpad. The walnut stock is precisely duplicated in an injected-molded synthetic version called the Hawkeye All-Weather (77RFP), which hosts an all-stainless barreled action. Both guns are available in a broad selection of calibers ranging from the .204 Ruger to .358 Win.
You probably noted that the .375 Ruger was not mentioned as being available in the standard Hawkeye. That’s because it’s offered as the only chambering available in the Hawkeye African, a special version. It sports the same classic-style walnut stock as the standard Hawkeye, but with a steel cross bolt reinforcing the recoil lug area. There’s also an excellent set of sturdy iron sights for fast target acquisition.
To get a good representation of the Hawkeye line, we ordered the African and the All-Weather, the latter in .204 Ruger, for test and evaluation. As they came from the boxes, the All-Weather weighed 7 pounds, 11 ounces; the African 8 pounds, 2 ounces. The trigger pull on both guns was 4 pounds on the nose, which is not too bad for a dangerous-game rifle, but definitely too stiff for a varmint rifle (In a previous bench session, the .375’s trigger pull was 4.5 pounds, but smoothed down to 4 pounds with use, which is not unusual). Using Ruger’s own scope rings that are provided with each gun, we stuck a Nikon Monarch 1.5-4.5x on the .375, and on the All-Weather, a Weaver 4-16x42. Range-ready, the African weighed just over 9 pounds, while the .204 was 9 1/4 pounds.
At the time of testing, only two of the three Hornady loads were available: the .270-grain spire point and the .300 grain RN soft point. For the .204, we had just about every commercial loading available — Federal’s Premium 32-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip, Remington’s 32-grain AccuTip, Winchester’s Supreme 32-grain Ballistic Silvertip and 34-grain JHP, and Hornady’s 32- and 40-grain V-Max and 45-grain Spire Point.
To make the .375 a little . . . no, make that a lot more tolerable from the bench, we used MidwayUSA’s Lead Sled with two 25-pound bags of shot aboard. According to my calculations, using Barnes’ ballistic software, the 9-pound test gun generated 46.5 foot-pounds of recoil with the 300-grain load. While that’s not too punishing when shooting from the standing, kneeling or sitting positions, but it’s a bit much off the bench when you’re shooting 40 or more rounds, even with a sissy bag.
As expected, there were no surprises over the course of two bench sessions. The .375 fed effortlessly and without a glitch regardless of how fast or ineptly I worked the action. Despite the somewhat stiff triggers, they were both smooth enough that there was no discernible creep or hitch in the movement. Both guns produced groups ranging from good to excellent. Sub-MOA groups characterized most of the many groups fired with the .204, with four measuring less than 1/2 inch and several under 3/4 inch.
Not surprisingly, the .375 produced the kind of accuracy one expects of a 7mm or .30-caliber sporter-weight rifle. The 270-grain spire point delivered three-shot groups ranging from 7/8 inch to 15/8 inches, with an average of 11/4 inches. The 300-grain round-nose load averaged about 11/2 inches. Considering the modest 4.5x scope magnification (coupled with my imperfect eyesight) probably has a built-in aiming error of 1/4 inch at 100 yards, that’s terrific accuracy. Velocity-wise, a 10-shot string through the chronograph with the 270-grain load averaged 2,755, or 85 fps slower than the nominal velocity of 2,840. The 1-inch-shorter barrel would account for about 20-25 fps velocity loss, but not 85. At 2,610 fps, the 300-grain load was much closer to the nominal 2,660 fps.
It’s hard to find fault with these new Hawkeyes; they’re excellent rifles and fairly priced. About the only criticisms I can come up with is that the African is a bit light for a .375, and its 23-inch barrel, though better than a 24-incher, is still too long for a dangerous-game rifle. I want no more than a 22-inch barrel if I’m going after mean beasties, and 21 inches is better yet. I also think that adding 3/4 to 1 pound would reduce a little of the punch it now delivers. A shorter, thicker-contour barrel could resolve both issues.
Reprinted from the September 2007 issue of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine. Subscribe today to have GunHunter delivered to your home.