Future Rifle Cartridge Development Predictions
August 24, 2018
The last couple of decades have seen many new cartridges come onto the scene, some revolutionary, and some nothing more than a fizzle. We've seen a number of cases released based on some variation of the classic .404 Jeffery, whether at full length and blown out, in the instance of Remington Ultra Magnum series, or drastically shortened, in the case of Winchester Short Magnum (WSM), Winchester Super Short Magnums (WSSM), and the Remington Short Action Ultra Magnums (SAUM). We've also witnessed Nosler develop a similar idea for their line of proprietary cartridges, giving velocities in the magnum class from cartridges that fit in a standard, long-action rifle.
We've seen a few more attempts at perfecting the method of launching a .30-caliber bullet at 2,950 feet per second (fps) - which in my opinion has been pretty well nailed shut - and have heard the world utter the phrase "six-five" (6.5) more times than ever before. We've seen cartridges shrink in both size and horsepower, relying instead on the shape and length of the bullet to maintain the best downrange ballistics. These are part of a shift to low-recoiling cartridges that allow the shooter to extend his or her time at the range, without punishing both rifle and shooter. In many ways, things have come full-circle, and mostly as a result of the great improvement in optics.
Firstly, I personally feel the short, fat trend has seen its day. The WSM and associated cartridges have had ample time to establish themselves, though currently it seems that the .300 WSM is the only one of the lot that shows the potential to survive. The .270 Winchester and 7mm Remington Magnum are holding steady, knocking the WSM variants in these calibers off the stage. The WSSMs seem to have been abandoned, with ammunition becoming rarer than hen's teeth. The rigidity of the short action - and the purported improvement in accuracy - didn't have the effect that many thought it would, and I feel that the magnum-level short action cartridges are just about done. Not that they don't work - feeding issues aside - but the cartridges they were supposed to replace remain strong in the field. Unfortunately for those who enjoy their rifles chambered for these (with the exception of .300 WSM), I feel ammunition is going to become increasingly rare.
Secondly, I feel the seriously fast cartridges are also on the wane. The Remington Ultra Magnum series has seen a decline of late, with ammunition becoming difficult to obtain. Perhaps the hunting community has followed the target shooters in realizing that the long range equation is better solved with less velocity and a bullet with a better Ballistic Coefficient than the reverse. While the RUM series, and the Nosler series as well, certainly work, they are hard on the shoulder, ears and the bullet itself. They can make an unholy mess at short range, where the impact velocity is high, and when using them I definitely prefer a premium bullet. At any rate, I think the biggest, fastest cartridges are losing popularity. Will they fade away? Probably not; there are always those shooters who enjoy the speediest cartridge, though these cartridges will see less and less exposure.
The development of the .260 Remington and 6.5 Creedmoor certainly brought the wonders of the 6.5mm bullets into the modern era, but I also firmly believe the 6.5x55 Swede was the answer to a question that wouldn't be asked for a century. It's a simple matter of twist rate, combined with low recoil. The 6.5mm bullets - due to the fast twist rate - can be longer for caliber than many others, hence the use of 160-grain bullets in the Swede and the 6,5x54 Mannlicher-Schoenauer since the early 1900s. It was a no-brainer for any modern cartridge to deliver a 140-grain 6.5mm bullet of very high Ballistic Coefficient which would give unprecedented downrange performance; had we been able to produce reliable optics in 1900, the long-range game most certainly would've been afoot.
The 6.5 Creedmoor led to John Snow's development of the 6mm Creedmoor, and I'm certain the pair inspired both the .22 Nosler and Federal's .224 Valkyrie; all of them rely upon the B.C. of the bullet, combined with an appropriate twist rate, to give the downrange performance we're after. The fact that they're all designed around the limiting dimensions of the AR magazine is a moot point, the formula works. Low-recoil, combined with the retained energy and wind deflection values of these high B.C. bullets, makes for a combination that just plain works.
I think these cartridges will not only stay with us for quite some time, but will be the cornerstone for cartridge development. Looking at twist rate, those cartridges which are traditionally produced with a 'slow' twist rate will see a loss of attention. I love my .22-250 Remington, but with a 1:12-inch twist rate, it doesn't hold a long-range candle to the .224 Valkyrie, in spite of the larger case capacity. The lighter, lower B.C. bullets simply can't compete at long distances. Should the rifle manufacturers take this into consideration, and give the .22-250 a fast twist rate, you've got some serious medicine. Same can be said for the .270 Winchester; it should be able to handle bullets as heavy as 170 grains, but the common twist rate precludes this.
As a result of the Creedmoor and the cartridges similarly designed, we may very well see a series of cartridges that come with a twist rate that may be a game changer for each particular bore diameter. We may (and I feel strongly about this one) see a resurgence of those calibers that offer mild report and recoil, yet have the potential of performing well at longer ranges. Perhaps a +P designation for the 7x57 and 8x57 Mauser is warranted, to give new life to a design that was way ahead of its time. Invariably, access to good, affordable ammunition will be a requirement for the success of any upcoming cartridges, as will the ability to drive a bullet of exceptional Ballistic Coefficient; the long range shooting that has been introduced cannot simply be un-introduced. Keep an eye on those bore diameters that offer a fast twist rate; they will be the focus of attention for the future.