Reloading the .280 Remington
May 22, 2012
The .280 Remington debuted in 1957, but unfortunately it came along a few decades too late to become a monster hit because the .30-06 and .270 Winchester had running head starts. To complicate matters, the velocities and trajectories of the 125-, 150- and 165-grain bullets offered in .280 factory loads were strikingly similar to 130- and 150-grain bullets of the .270.
Then there were the name changes that caused an identity crisis of epic proportions. The .280 is ballistically similar to the European 7x64 Brenneke and dimensionally close to the wildcat 7mm-06. In 1979 Remington — in the first of a series of puzzling PR moves — changed the name to 7mm-06 Remington. This caused understandable confusion with the wildcat 7mm-06, which will not chamber a .280 round.
So a few months later it became the 7mm Remington Express. This, in turn, was confused with the well-established 7mm Remington Magnum. Again, gun buyers were bewildered.
Finally, in a random act of marketing sanity, Remington quietly changed the name back to .280 a few years later, which, by all reports, it is still known today. The .280 is actually a 7mm and uses highly efficient .284 bullets. In essence, the .280 represents the best of both worlds in a .30-06-sized case, as the .280 is essentially a necked-up .270, but the .280's shoulder was moved forward about .050 inch to prevent the possibility of a minimum-spec .280 cartridge chambering in a maximum-spec .270 chamber. Case length for the .280 is 2.540 inches (same as the .270) and a bit longer than the .30-06 (2.494 inches).
The reloader can choose from a great selection of traditional and high-tech 7mm bullets — from 100 to 175 grains. Highly accurate cup-and-core, polymer-tipped and Partition bullets cover most bases, and new bonded bullets and several lead-free projectiles add to the .280's versatility.
As a testament to its utility, many manufacturers have chambered it, if somewhat sporadically, in numerous action types.
Our test rifle this month is an example of one of the more recent entries — a Ruger Hawkeye that I bought new in 2009. It features stainless steel metal and a synthetic stock. Its 22-inch barrel is cut with a steep 1:9½ twist that'll handle just about any 7mm bullet available. I mounted a Nitrex 3-9x40 scope on it for testing.
Loading the .280 is straightforward. For bolt actions, just follow the usual precautions for minimal sizing to prolong case life and you're set. Cases to be used in pumps and semiautos are best full-length sized; just keep an eye out for developing head separations indicated by the telltale ring at the base of the case.
Our test rounds were loaded on a Redding Ultra Mag press with a set of Hornady New Dimension dies. All powder charges were weighed, although after a load is selected, the use of a powder measure would be quite acceptable. Powder charges in the .280's midsize case are easily ignited with standard primers, but I must confess I frequently got lower SDs and better accuracy with Federal 215 Magnum caps in several loads, so they're worth considering.
Medium-burning-rate powders work best in pumps and autoloaders. Just keep powder charges a couple of grains below maximum for such actions. They don't have the camming power to remove a sticky case. Most loading manuals make mention of this. Reduce the loads shown here by about 6 percent for such rifles. The SAAMI Maximum Allowable Pressure for the .280 is 60,000 psi.
The .280 really comes into its own with the slower powders in a bolt action. While 100-, 110-, 115- and even 120-grain bullets can be pushed to obscene speeds for varmints, the .280 is really a big-game round and is at its best with 140- to 175-grain bullets. The exception is with the monolithic Barnes TS-X, Hornady GMX and Nosler's E-Tip. You can drop down a notch or two in bullet weight for a given species and still get good expansion and deep penetration with these tough bullets.
Now, the truth is, the Hawkeye's accuracy when I got it wasn't great. I rebedded the action and first three inches of the barrel with Acraglas Gel and installed a Timney trigger, both from Brownells. After that, it was very accurate. The average group size of the loads shown was a scant .96 inch — pretty darn good for a lightweight hunting rifle. There were no real surprises, as the .280 digests a variety of combinations efficiently. Powders like 4350 and 4831 from Hodgdon and IMR, Reloder 19 and Vihtavuori N-160 and N-165 performed very well.
A few individual loads bear mention. Speed champ was the 120-grain Barnes TS-X at 3,139 fps, and the smallest group average was .75 inch with the Sierra 140-grain Spitzer Boat Tail. The 145-grain Speer Grand Slam was close behind at .76 inch.
Sierra's 150-grain Spitzer Boat Tail is a good all-around bullet, and the Hawkeye really took to it, regularly punching small groups; Hybrid 100V and IMR 4831 were the standouts here. Accuracy and velocity were also excellent when Alliant's new Power Pro 400-MR was paired with Speer's new 160-grain DeepCurl bullet.
Despite a perplexing taxonomy, the .280 Remington commands a loyal following based soundly on its merits. A perennial shooter's question is, "Should I buy a .270 or .30-06?" With its excellent ballistics, modest recoil and versatile bullet selection, the .280 Remington is the obvious answer. American shooters know a good thing when they see it. Even if they didn't always know what to call it.