By Greg Rodriguez
Each year, manufacturers roll out their latest super-magnum offerings. Some, particularly the .270 WSM and .300 WSM, are great. But the majority of them can’t do anything that any number of long-established cartridges have been doing since before I was born. In fact, one of my favorite deer cartridges, the .260 Remington, has been around in one form or another for over 30 years.
It began as the 6.5-08 short-action wildcat and was soon adopted by savvy hunters and long-range competitors. When Remington legitimized it as the .260 Rem in 1997, silhouette shooters flocked to it, too. I am not an active silhouette competitor, but all of the factors that drew silhouette shooters to it, like low recoil, efficiency, excellent downrange performance and reduced wind drift, drew me to the diminutive cartridge as well. It might not look like much on paper, but thanks to the high sectional density afforded it by those long, heavy-for-caliber bullets, the .260 far outperforms its paper ballistics.
The .260 Rem did not sweep me off my feet right away. Factory loads were limited to light bullets, and the first .260 rifles I tested were inaccurate. Those problems vanished when Remington changed its factory barrels to a 1-in-9 rate of twist, and 140-grain bullets from Remington and Federal became available.
Still, the initial impression of the .260 stuck with me for years. It wasn’t until I began looking for a hunting rifle for my kids that I decided to give the .260 another try. I was considering a custom gun in .243 Win, but Hill Country Rifles’ general manager Matt Bettersworth talked me out of it.
Matt is a former Texas hunting guide whose clients frequently showed up with .243s. Inadequate penetration, no blood trails and lost animals were sometimes the results. My own experience with the .243 is limited to the 20 or so big game animals I’ve taken with it. While I have faith that a well-placed .243 bullet will drop any Texas whitetail, I intended this rifle for my children. I had to concede that, given less than perfect shot placement, the .243 is not the best tool for the job.
Matt made a pretty persuasive argument for the .260, but I asked him to hold off building the rifle until I delved into the numbers a bit more.
Recoil was a top consideration. Full-power 140-grain .260 loads generate 13.91 foot-pounds of recoil. That figure is almost square in the middle between the 9.79 foot-pounds of the 95-grain .243 and the 18.18 foot-pounds of the 165-grain .308. That’s pretty mild recoil considering that with good bullets, the .260 is perfectly capable of cleanly taking game as large as elk.
While factory .260 loads offer plenty of power, the main reason I chose the .260 is because it performs so well when “loaded down” for reduced recoil. For example, my reduced-recoil load propels a 130-grain bullet at 2,490 fps, yet produces only 10 foot-pounds of recoil — almost identical to that of a .243 factory load. Further, the reduced-recoil load launches a bullet that’s a third heavier and has greater sectional density than the 95-grain .243, so it ought to perform well on game. So after running the numbers, I was swooning over the .260 Rem. I called Matt the next day and ordered a .260 built to the same specifications as the .243 we discussed.
My new rifle arrived a few months later. The test target’s tiny, one-hole groups left no doubt that my new rifle was plenty accurate. I was anxious to see how it would perform on deer.
The first test of the .260 was on an axis deer in the Texas Hill Country. A 140-grain Federal Trophy Bonded Bear Claw passed through both shoulders, leaving large a wound channel and plenty of tissue damage. Shot at 80 yards, the animal fell right over. Another axis taken on the same trip only ran 20 yards before gravity claimed it. I was pleased with the .260’s performance.
Over the next year, I did all my Texas hunting with that .260, shooting everything from whitetails to 250-pound hogs with great success. In that time, I also saw Matt Bettersworth drop a 400-pound hog with his .260, and I guided him to several whitetails and exotic deer with it as well. The .260 was everything I’d hoped it would be, but one more task remained: developing a load that my 5-year-old daughter, Chloe, could shoot.
I had some good data for it, but due to my travel schedule, I never found the time to load and test it before our hunt. With time running short, I asked Larry Barnett at Superior Ammunition to help. Larry agreed that the load I had in mind — a 130-grain Barnes Triple Shock at 2,500 fps — would be mild enough for Chloe but stout enough to drop deer.
Soon, Chloe and I were peering out of a blind at Apache Creek Ranch. The first two days of the hunt were marked by bad luck, but when her chance finally came at sundown on the last day of the hunt, she dropped a buck at 112 yards with the handload. The Triple Shock bullet expanded well and penetrated both shoulders.
That’s the performance I envisioned and the outcome I prayed for when my daughter convinced me she was ready to start hunting.
I was pretty impressed with the reduced recoil-load’s performance, but I wanted to test it further before letting my kids shoot more game with it. My first chance came on a hog hunt near my home. I had to choose between a 180-pound boar with big cutters and a 90-pound “eating” hog. My stomach overruled the gun writer in me, and I took the smaller hog. It was not much of a bullet test, but the pig sure did taste good. My reduced recoil-load penetrated both shoulders and dropped the hog where it stood.
A few weeks later, I took the .260 out for a freezer-filling expedition to the legendary YO Ranch near Mountain Home, Texas. I shot three does on that trip. The first one took a center chest shot dropped instantly. The bullet passed through the animal lengthwise and exited the left ham — incredible penetration for a cartridge with .243-like recoil. A shoulder shot dropped another doe in its tracks.
Unfortunately, the third deer was not so impressed with my new load. I shot it through the near shoulder at only 40 yards. The deer looked dead on its feet as it made a frantic dash into the brush. But when Tuffy, my tracking dog, and I got close, the deer jumped up and ran. We finally caught up to it again about two hours later after an amazing effort by Tuffy to find it.
Why the perfectly placed shot was not fatal puzzled me. Because of the angle, only one lung was hit before the bullet exited. The wound channel was nothing more than a .260-inch hole. There was no evidence of shock or a temporary stretch cavity — a clear indication the bullet did not expand.
I’m not sure if this was a fluke or, but I have since gone to a softer bullet for my children’s loads. I still use the 130-grain Triple Shocks, but only at higher velocities. That one instance, which was clearly a case of bullet failure, is the only problem I have ever had with my .260.
I still hunt with my .260 as often as I can. Whether I’m chasing whitetails, hogs or pronghorns, I never feel undergunned. The .260 may not flip elk on their backs at 1,000 yards, but it is lethal on whitetails and easy on my ears and shoulder. Efficiency and low recoil may not be in style at the moment, but for those of us who admire those traits or are looking for a great round for a new shooter, the .260 Remington just may be the best deer cartridge in existence.
Reprinted from the September 2005 issue of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine. Subscribe today to have GunHunter delivered to your home.