NEW PRODUCTS: THE GOOD, BAD AND UGLY -- jim matthews outdoor column -- 10jan07

SHOT Shows new cartridge introductions are a bit perplexing

By JIM MATTHEWS, Outdoor News Service

This year's new cartridge introductions are mostly baffling.

The Shooting, Hunting, and Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show is ongoing this week in Orlando, Fla. This is the annual event where all of the new 2007 hunting and shooting products are officially announced to the public, even though most of the new products have been unveiled at industry buying shows and events over the past three months. SHOT is a huge party with all the new toys in one place.

Normally, I look for the bright spots from this show -- the innovative new products from little makers or the trends and advancements that make the hunters and shooters more effective or allow them to have more fun in the field. And there are some of those, I think, but I'm not so sure.

This year there are two new permutations of the .308 Winchester -- the .300 TC and the .308 Marlin Express. The case configurations are not exactly the same as the Winchester round, but the two new cartridges are both pretty darn close and the ballistics are within a whisper of each other. I'm sure the lawyers were involved with the engineers to make sure that if you were able to stuff one or the other in the wrong chamber and actually shoot the round, there would be no harm in it.

So what's the point? Well, for the .308 Marlin Express, the point is to have a peppier cartridge -- say like a .308 Winchester -- that could function in a Marlin lever rifle platform. The problem with just using a .308 Winchesters chamber is that this round is mostly loaded with pointed bullets -- and Marlin rifles have a tubular magazine. Using the Winchester round would put pointed bullets against primers, one after the other. Under an unlucky set of circumstances, one could go off, setting off the next one, and so on, resulting in a nasty chain explosion rending the gun into scrap metal hurled in all directions. This would ruin the day of anyone holding or standing near the rifle when that happened.

Since pointed bullets are more aerodynamic than round-nosed or flat-pointed ones that can function through tubular magazine without the explosive dangers, lever rifle hunters apparently have yearned for pointed bullets. Hornady came up with an ingenious way around this problem a couple of years ago in a line of ammunition called LeverEvolution that feature pointed bullets with the pointy part made from a substance that was firm but soft enough not to fire a primer. Loaded in standard lever rifle cartridges -- like .30-30s and .45-70s -- the aerodynamic bullets added 75 to 100 yards to the effective range of those venerable old rounds. This undoubtedly caused wild dances of celebration in deer camps throughout the country.

But apparently, that wasn't enough. Lever rifle hunters desperately needed their guns to be 350 yards rifles. So Marlin engineers huddled with Hornady and redesigned the .308 Winchester, loaded it with those spongy-nosed bullets for use in lever rifles, probably toned down chamber pressures a snick under what the Winchester round generates so as to not tweak lever actions, and came up with a new version of an old round.

The .300 TC, for Thompson/Center, has even less justification for existence than the .308 Marlin Express. It is basically a .308 Winchester given a steroid pill, so it's bullet speeds out the end of the barrel 100 fps or so faster. It's really nothing more than guys can already get from special Light Magnum .308 Winchester loads from Hornady, but T/C has this very nice new bolt action rifle called the Icon. Apparently, it just seemed like a good idea to tweak the .308 Winchester a little bit so we could have yet another new 30 caliber cartridge in yet another new bolt rifle.

Neither of these cartridges make sense to me. First, if you want an honest 300-yard rifle, get a bolt-gun that can shoot accurately enough to make field shots at that distance. Why shoot a lever gun that probably won't shoot groups small enough to give you confidence for 300 yard shots? If you want a new round with your name on it, why design something that looks, smells, tastes, and sizzles just like something already on the market? Come up with something different. Fill an empty niche.

These developments remind me of the era when every rifle company had to chamber a cartridge that was slightly different than its competitors cosmetically, but the same ballistically. We seem to be doing this again. At the close of the 1800s and early into the last century, there were usually two versions of everything -- Winchester and Remington, and frequently more. Since I just bought a lovely used Model 1899 Savage lever rifle in .303 Savage, I'll use that example. Most people know the .30-30 Winchester, but the.303 Savage and .30 Remington were competitors with the Winchester round. Eventually, only one survived. Today, .303 Savage brass -- just brass, not loaded ammo -- is $35 for a box of 20 rounds. While there were wonderful and heated debates in 1930 deer camps about which was better, the three are essentially ballistic triplets.

You will hear the same, hair-splitting debates about how the two new .308 Winchester imitators are different and/or better, but the two new rounds are destined to be niche market flashes and eventual failures. Guys like me will buy them because we like the weird stuff, but that doesn't mean they make good marketing sense. They are gimmicks and not very good ones at that. Collectors will covet them just 20 years from now because there are only a few genuine nut cases like me out there.

The dust settles quickly today on bad ideas (or good ideas poorly marketed), and when the short magnum craze began with the .300 Winchester Short Magnum (WSM), it was quickly followed by the .300 Remington Short Action Ultra Magnum (SAUM) and then 7mm versions from both companies, a .270 WSM, and a .325 WSM. Winchester even went even stubbier with super short cartridges -- the .223 WSSM, .243 WSSM and .25 WSSM. So where are we today? The Remington rounds are essentially dead, and the only Winchester round selling with much enthusiasm is the original .300 WSM, with sales of the .270 WSM a not-too-close second. The two 7mm versions couldn't displace the ever-popular 7mm Remington Magnum. I bought a 7mm WSM because it will be a collectors item in a decade. The super shorts were never given a chance to succeed because Browning-Winchester never really made or marketed a rifle that catered to the little rounds' and ultra-short action's strength -- ultra light hunting rifles -- but there is still time to revive them.

When the .17 Hornady Magnum Rimfire (HMR) first came out, many of us said it would become a major seller in spite of how the 5mm Remington rimfire bombed decades before. Times had changed. The .17 HMR has been one of the biggest success stories in modern firearms history. In fact, it has just about killed .22 Winchester Magnum sales and has taken a nice bite out of standard .22 rimfire sales for now. But the .17 Mach II, introduced a year after the .17 HMR, is largely a dismal failure even though every manufacturer is chambering for it. Why is it failing? It's simple. If you are going to buy a new rimfire, why would you choose the wimpy .17 over the .17 HMR. If you are buying a new gun for a kid, you're not going to get a .17 Mach II over a standard .22 rimfire simply because of ammunition costs. Companies are spending a lot of money promoting the .17 Mach II, but it won't be long before it's as dead as the .22 magnum.

Of the two other new rounds introduced at SHOT this week, the whomping .375 Hornady, a new big bore round with slightly better ballistics than the aged .375 H&H, and the zippy little .17 Fireball from Remington, one makes sense. The .375 Hornady fills a long overdue need for a powerful big bore round that could be fired from a standard length action. While this is a niche market, this new round fills a very real need. But the .17 Fireball is another baffler. Based on the .221 Fireball case necked down to shoot a 20-grain bullet at 4,000 fps, this is a junior version of the .17 Remington Magnum, which has all but died. So why would Remington bring out a smaller, slower version of a dying cartridge? The .204 Ruger put a huge dent in the sales of .223s and .22-250s and probably was the nail in the .17 Remington Magnums coffin. So where does the .17 Fireball fit? Well, it doesnt and wont.

The gun industry continues to prove that it cant think through a new cartridge design or doesnt have the brain power to understand how to market a great new round to the hunting and shooting audience. Frequently, it apparently cant tell the difference.

Fortunately, the good percentage of us in the hunting and shooting public have the savvy to see through the hype, or lack of it, and sort out what new products have value to us. Im still waiting for Remington to recognize that the stupidly-named 6.8 Remington SPC cartridge (I stubbornly call it the .270 Whitetail) would be an ideal deer round in a lightweight rifle. Im not holding my breath -- the 6.8 SPC isnt listed as a chambering in a single Remington rifle in its 2007 catalog.


Well-known member
Well, he kinda beat me to the draw concerning the 308 Marlin and 30 TC (what he's referring to as the 300 TC).

What he hasn't mentioned, and this is mostly semi-educated speculation on my part (which can be real dangerous), is that these oddball calibers are at least partially the result of the litigation issues surrounding the WSM calibers. I don't recall the details or current status of this case, in fact, I only barely remember when it came up, but it's shaking the industry a little bit. I spoke to gunmakers who are dropping the WSM from their lines or simply not building to it (e.g. Ruger introduced that Frontier carbine last year in .325WSM, but the new catalog doesn't include that caliber anymore).

Instead, what it looks like to me, they're simply building their own short magnums and calling them something else. For example, that 30TC, according to the marketing guys at the show is little more than a 30-06 short. Matthews compares it more closely to the .308 and that's probably more accurate. I tend to avoid detailed discussion of FPS and such, so I'm willing to go with his assessment.

Oh, and if you want a lever gun to shoot 300 yards, Browning has the BLR (hardly a new rifle) in pretty much every caliber on the market, including stuff like the .270, 325wsm, and .338 Federal. This year, they're making it in a take-down model.


Well-known member
<div class='quotetop'>QUOTE </div>
The gun industry continues to prove that it can't think through a new cartridge design or doesn't have the brain power to understand how to market a great new round to the hunting and shooting audience. Frequently, it apparently can't tell the difference.[/b]
I see it a bit differently... I think what the firearm and ammo industry is doing is trying to increase long term profits by casting a wide net. In other words, they are lazy, but also crazy like a fox. If they bring 20 hair-brained ideas to the market every few years, and if only one or two of them take off (e.g., the .40 S&W, .17 HMR, and .204 Ruger), that alone can make a huge difference in overall corporate profitability.

What about the rounds that die? So what... it's the cost of doing business in a highly competative market. In a perfect world, the engineers would only design and bring to market "perfect" rounds... calibers that the public wants and that perform beyond anybody's expectations. Obviously, that would be the most profitable way for the companies to perform R&D... only bring out new cartridges that they know will suceed. But we all know it's impossible to hit a home run every time to the plate. So instead the firearm and ammo industry's R&D and marketing programs is more like a "recon by fire"... dump a ton of new products out every year and see what the public likes.


Well-known member
Underclocked, check out Randy Wakeman's review in the Inline Muzzleloaders forum (couple down from this one). I don't know if he took pix or not.

I can get the press kit photos, but you'll be seeing this thing all over TV pretty soon anyway (if you're not already).


Well-known member
The 17 Remington and .22WMR are all but dead?!!?!!

You gotta be kidding me! I'm wondering where Jim Mathews comes up with these "pearls of wisdom"?

Some of them seem to fit, but others are waayyy off base...

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