August 11, 2020
By Richard Mann
It’s funny how metallic cartridges rise in popularity, remain admired for a while and then fall from grace. Sometimes it’s a rapid decline, but most often it’s slowly and oh so quietly.
For instance, when was the last time you read an article praising the .270 Winchester? It was once the long-range big-game hunter’s dream cartridge. Granted, during its prime, 300 and 400 yards were considered long range. But still, the .270 can run head-to-head with the 6.5 Creedmoor and will kill critters just as well today as it would 50 years ago.
My first centerfire rifle was a Remington 700 ADL in .270 Winchester. That rifle and I did great things together. We had many successful hunts, won an offhand silhouette shooting match and shot some groups so small I fear mentioning their size for worry of being called a charlatan. This all happened before I turned 18 years old, but during my time with the .270, there was another cartridge that fascinated me.
While trying to keep up with the latest new thing in the 6.5mm craze, the fascination with the .270 had been forgotten. But with the help of a gift from a friend, it was rekindled. Outdoor writer Dave Petzal graciously sent me his collection of Gun Digest Annuals dating back to 1952. Inside the cover of the ninth edition — a hardback edition — was the signature of the original owner. His name was Warren Page, and, well, that got me to thinking and remembering.
I was 13 years old when I saw my first 7mm Remington Magnum. Johnny Walker, my best friend who was four years older than me, had saved up some money and purchased a Remington 700. We took it out to a 100-yard range we’d built on his farm, and I’ll never forget the sound of that thing going off. It was like space and time had separated. We looked at each other in amazement, grinned and then shot up the rest of our ammunition.
The 7mm Rem. Mag. was introduced by Remington at the same time they brought out the Model 700, which was an improved version of their Model 721. The cartridge case is a direct descendant of the .375 H&H Magnum cartridge.
Interestingly, in 1911, Holland & Holland introduced the .275 H&H Magnum, which from a cartridge dimension standpoint was almost a twin to Remington’s Seven-Mag. Ballistically, the H&H cartridge was about 350 feet per second (fps) slower and never gained a following.
Credit for the development of the 7mm Rem. Mag. is typically given to Page, who was the gun editor at Field & Stream magazine for 24 years. Hence my remembrance of my enchantment with the 7mm Rem. Mag.
Page was fond of the 7mm Mashburn Magnum, which was a wildcat cartridge that had similar ballistics to the cartridge Remington ultimately introduced. As approved by the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Institute (SAAMI), the 7mm Rem. Mag. should be loaded to a maximum average pressure (MAP) of 61,000 pounds per square inch (psi) and be featured in barrels with a right-hand rifling twist of 1:9.5 inches.
Back to my friend’s Seven-Mag. He used that rifle for deer, groundhogs and crow hunting for many years. Yes, he was obscenely over gunned for all those critters, but the elation gained from the destruction of a connection was worth the poundings he and I endured behind that rifle. It was with that rifle I witnessed my first Weatherby ring. In case you do not know what that is, it’s the semicircular cut from the bridge of the nose to the eyebrow that one acquires when they get their head too close to the scope on a hard-kicking rifle.
My friend had thrown his big seven across a fence post to shoot a ground hog. He smacked it into next week, and when I turned to congratulate him on his shot, I saw a steady stream of blood running down his face.
Our enthrallment with this fire-breathing cartridge occurred about 40 years ago, and while Remington’s 7mm Magnum has remained popular, its attractiveness has faded in recent years. This decline in admiration for what is one of the hottest and flattest shooting cartridges a fellow can buy is directly a result of the newfound popularity of 6.5mm cartridges.
Over the last several years, I’ve worked extensively with the 6.5 Creedmoor and PRC. I’ll admit that rifles so chambered are comfortable to shoot, and those long, slender 6.5mm bullets fly amazingly flat. However, the memory that resurfaced with the help of Page’s signature inside that old Gun Digest Annual was weighing on me.
Do the Math
I wondered what might be done with a 7mm Remington Magnum rifle built with a faster twist rate and modern .284-caliber bullets with a high ballistic coefficient (BC). Math is where you find the answers for questions like these. So, on to crunching some numbers.
Berger offers a 195-grain Extreme Outer Limits Elite Hunter bullet with a shockingly high BC of .755 (G1) and .387 (G7.) Geoff Esterline, director of marketing in the Capstone Precision Group, which Berger Bullets is part of, told me this bullet would stabilize wonderfully well with a 1:8-inch twist. Load data suggested that out of a 26-inch barrel, it could be pushed beyond 2,800 fps. If so, it would arrive at the 1,000-yard mark in only 1.35 seconds. By comparison, one of the best factory 6.5 Creedmoor hunting loads takes 1.51 seconds to reach that mark, and it takes the 6.5 PRC 1.37 seconds to get there.
This brings up several points. For starters, when comparing cartridges, it seems everyone wants to look at trajectory. Trajectory matters when it’s time to hit something, but the easiest way to evaluate a cartridge’s long-range ability is to look at time of flight.
Trajectory and wind drift are contingent upon time of flight. The longer it takes a bullet to get to a target, the longer gravity and wind have to work on it. If you want to know which cartridge will shoot the flattest at a certain distance, look at time of flight.
Secondly, this was not about finding the best long-range cartridge. If that was the case, there are numerous 6.5mms, 7mms and even .30-caliber cartridges with larger case capacities and higher velocities to choose from. My primary interest here was to see exactly what kind of performance I could obtain from a cartridge that had made such an impression on me in my youth. I wanted to see what I could do with a 7mm Remington Magnum that was built the right way.
Finally, I was not building a rifle to use to shoot at big-game animals beyond 500 yards. That’s not a game I play. I’m not saying you should not play it or that it is anyway unethical. I know some folks who can shoot better at distances beyond 500 yards than I can at 300 yards. I’m only saying that when I hunt, I hunt to get close and rely on my feet as opposed to feet per second. At the same time, I enjoy shooting steel at distance. I also like the idea of being able to take a shot at distance should a wounded animal or some other factor of the hunt dictate its necessity. I’m not a long-range hunter, but I like long-range shooting.
If I was going to build the dream rifle of my youth, I needed some custom assistance. So I reached out to Carlos Martinez with the Remington Custom Shop. I told him of my desires, and it just so happened the Custom Shop was working on a multi-rifle project involving a rifle nearly identical to what I wanted to spec out. We went over the details a bit, and Martinez suggested I come to the FTW Ranch in Barksdale, Texas, for a shooting event when these rifles would be unveiled.
The rifles the Custom Shop built for more than a dozen writers in attendance to test were all blueprinted stainless steel Remington Model 700 actions fitted with 26-inch premium button-rifled barrels from Shilen Rifles. The barreled actions were then meticulously bedded to McMillan Game Hunter stocks.
The barrels and bolts both sport skip-fluting, and all the metal surfaces are finished in a matte-black Cerakote. The bolt was modified to include redundant plunger ejectors and an M16-style extractor, and a Timney Calvin Elite trigger was fitted to the action.
Other niceties included a bolt release that had been relocated to the left side of the action, a threaded muzzle, dual sling-swivel studs on the forend and a Badger bolt handle. Each rifle came with a fitted SKB case and a contoured six-port muzzlebrake, which I immediately unscrewed and tossed aside. The stock had a tri-color camouflaged Cerakote finish, and the hinged floorplate even had my signature etched on it. It is an attractive rifle with a serious business-like air about it.
In addition to the rifle, the Remington Custom Shop had worked with Barnes Bullets to develop loads for these rifles out of Barnes’ newly established Custom Shop. But they did not just develop one load for all of the rifles, using Barnes 168-grain LRX BT bullets; they developed an individual load for each rifle made.
The load for my rifle used IMR 7828 in an overall cartridge length (OAL) of 3.30 inches. With a muzzle velocity of 2,778 fps and a standard deviation (SD) of only 8.2 fps, it had a 1,000-yard flight time of 1.58 seconds. At 100 yards, five-shot groups averaged .63 inch.
When I got the rifle home, I kept the Talley rings but replaced the Swarovski riflescope Remington had installed with a Crimson Trace 3-Series 4-20x50mm with an illuminated reticle and 1/10th mil adjustments. Once the riflescope was zeroed, I tested the rifle with the Hornady Precision Hunter 162-grain ELD-X load.
Five-shot groups averaged .86 inch with a muzzle velocity of 2,929 fps and a 1,000-yard flight time of 1.37 seconds. Satisfied I had a factory load that would perform, I began handloading for the Berger EOL Elite Hunter 195-grain bullet.
Working up a handload can sometimes be a tiresome affair. In this case, it was not. I started with the once-fired brass from the ammo loaded by the Barnes Bullets’ Custom Shop, neck-sized it and began developing the perfect cartridge.
I worked up a half-grain at a time until I cracked 2,800 fps. I then loaded five rounds and fired a five-shot group. Average velocity was 2,838 fps with a SD of 9.6 fps, resulting in the first group measuring .53 inch. This load has a 1,000-yard flight time of 1.34 seconds, so I called the job done.
This is not my idea of an everyday walking-around hunting rifle. This is a serious reach-out-there — way out there — rifle.
Geoffrey Wayland of Fort Richmond Safaris near Belmont, South Africa, has been after me to come over and help him work on his terrible warthog problem. Wayland runs a working cattle farm on thousands of acres, and the warthogs are wreaking havoc on his grasslands. He said we could get up high and poke at them from distance. That sounds like a lot of fun. He also said there are several free-range springbok on his place that won’t let a human within 600 yards of them. I think I have just the rifle for that adventure.
In 1980, when I was in awe of the 7mm Remington Magnum, I never dreamed I’d have one this nice. I sure never imagined I’d be carrying it to Africa to help deal with marauding warthog hoards. I did, however, dream about one. With apologies to Jack O’Connor and the .270 Winchester, sometimes dreams do come true thanks to Johnny Walker, Dave Petzal, Warren Page and the Remington Custom Shop.
Remington Model 700 X
- Type: Bolt-action repeater
- Cartridge: 7mm Rem. Mag.
- Barrel: 26-in., 1:8-in. twist
- Overall Length: 45.75 in.
- Weight: 8 lbs., 12 oz.
- Stock: McMillan Game Hunter
- Trigger: Timney Calvin Elite
- Accessories: SKB Case
- MSRP: $2,750
- Manufacturer: Remington Custom Shop; remington.com/custom-shop
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