.280 Remington Big Game Loads
Date: Aug 14 2022
The .280 Remington is one of those truly great cartridges that somehow never really caught on with the masses. A big part of this involves poor marketing up front while another part is the fact that it had to compete against the similar, and firmly established .270 Winchester. The .280 Remington is certainly more versatile than the .25-06 Remington, as well as the darling .270 Winchester, due largely to a wider selection of bullet styles and weights. These are cartridges that were also based on the venerable .30-06 Springfield case, though it could be argued the .280 will do everything the parent cartridge will do – while firing same-weight bullets. There are no doubt various versions of the .280 Remington existed well before its 1957 introduction (some as early as the 1920s, such as the 7mm-06, .285 OKH, 7mm Mashburn and 7x64mm Brenneke), but Remington Arms Company introduced the official, Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturing Institute (SAAMI) approved version, including a shoulder moved .05 inch forward to prevent it from chambering in .270 Winchester or .30-06 rifles.
As is largely the case today, the general public remained indifferent to the .280 Remington upon introduction. It didn’t help that the cartridge was introduced in Model 740 autoloading and then Model 760 pump rifles, with ammunition throttled back in diffidence to those weaker actions. Remington tried renaming the cartridge a couple times to regain lost ground, first labeled the 7mm-06 (not to be confused with the wildcat version by the same name) and then the 7mm Remington Express (not to be confused with the 7mm Remington Magnum). There were even reports of Remington Express rounds being fired from Remington Magnum rifles, with predictably disastrous results. This prompted Remington to return to the original .280 Remington moniker in the early 1980s. Simultaneously, newer powders introduced 100 feet per second (fps) velocity gains as the round was also chambered in Model 721 and then Model 700 bolt-action rifles capable of handling higher pressures. Note that maximum loads found in modern published .280 Remington data is likely too hot for introductory autoloading and pump rifles.
Despite these factors, the cartridge retains near cult status with many experienced hunters, with most major ammunition manufacturers offering factory ammunition. At last count, these included Remington, Barnes, Federal, Hornady, Nosler and Norma. Reloading brass can also be had from Remington, Winchester, Norma, Prvi Partizon (PPU), RUAG (Norma), Nosler, Hornady, Petersen’s Cartridge and RCC Brass – and likely others.
Ballistically, the .280 Remington splits the difference between the 7mm-08 (a necked-down .308 Winchester) and 7mm Remington Magnum. Recoil likewise sits in the middle of those rounds. This makes it a well-balanced cartridge offering flat trajectories with manageable recoil and shooting free of magnum muzzle blast. The .280 Remington handles bullets from 120 grains at around 3,100 fps to 175 grains to around 2,700 fps, with 140- to 160-grains the seeming sweet spot. The .280 Remington holds about 68.6 grains of water to the 7mm-08 Remington’s 52.2 grains and the 7mm Remington Magnum’s 87 grains. Its maximum overall loaded length is 3.33 inches, with case trim-to specs of 2.53 inches.
The test rifle was a Ruger M77 with a lightweight, 22-inch barrel with 1:10 rifling twist. This is an early model with Mauser-style, two-lugged bolt with claw extractor, touted at the time of release as a modernized Mauser ’98, but with changes made to the original design. The receiver was made through investment casting, instead of forging, and the Mauser-style blade ejector was dispensed with in favor of a simpler plunger ejector. The two-position tang safety and user-adjustable trigger were also added. The M77 also includes a unique angled action screw, which instead of drawing the receiver directly downward and against the stock, pulls the action down and rearward to tightly bed it against the stock without requiring perfect inletting. The serial number indicated it was manufactured in 1975, the barrel marked 7mm Remington Express. The friend who owns this rifle did not care for the fit of the factory stock, so they ordered a Boyd’s Featherweight Thumbhole stock in a Coyote laminate. A Bushnell AR Optics 4.5-18x 44mm scope was also added.
A large part of the .280s appeal is its use of .284-inch/7mm bullets, which provide some of the highest ballistic coefficients (BC) per weight around, with hunting-weight bullets typically relinquishing BCs in the high .500s to mid .600s. This minimizes long-range drop and wind drift, while also enhancing penetration on game through high sectional densities.
Byron Ellsworth, the rifle’s owner, was most interested in big-game loads for Idaho deer, black bears and elk, so bullets were chosen accordingly. These included Nosler’s 140-grain Ballistic Tip Hunting and Ballistic Silvertip, Berger’s 150-grain Classic Hunter, Federal Premium’s 155-grain Terminal Ascent, Nosler’s 160-grain Partition and Berger’s 168-grain VLD Hunting. The Ballistic Tip Hunting and Ballistic Silvertip include sleek .485 G1 ballistic coefficients via polymer tips and boat-tails, and tapered jackets and solid bases to promote deep penetration. The only real difference is the Silvertip has an added Lubalox coating that is purported to reduce fouling and friction for longer barrel life. Berger’s Classic Hunter includes a .505 G1 BC and a weight ideal for long-range deer, while the Terminal Ascent is tough enough for elk while providing a phenomenal G1 BC for weight of .586. The sharp Slipstream Tip and streamlined boat-tail promise minimal bullet drop and wind drift at extreme ranges. The Partition is an ultra-tough bullet perfect for blacktimber elk, though its .475 G1 BC would hold up well at longer ranges. Finally, the VLD Hunting would be the best bet on deer or elk addressed at extended ranges or in the wind. Its .618 G1 BC is one of the highest in this weight class.
The .280 Remington feeds best on slow-burning powders. For this test that list would include Hodgdon Hybrid 100V, Superformance, H-4831 and H-1000, IMR-4955, IMR-7828ssc and IMR-4350, Alliant Reloder 19, 22, 23 and 26, Shooters World Long Rifle and SW-4350, Western Powders Ramshot Hunter, Accurate 4350, Ramshot Magnum and Vihtavuori N165. Charges were dropped into new Remington cases and Winchester WLR primers provided the spark.
Because it was his rifle and components, my friend did the loading and shooting while I monitored the chronograph. Up front, this rifle provided less-than-impressive accuracy with a majority of loads tested. I then recalled Ruger had some issues during the timeframe this rifle was made with subcontracted barrels – since remedied with in-house manufacturing – and I couldn’t help but wonder if this rifle holds one of those lackluster tubes…? That said, this test relinquished many loads providing perfectly acceptable accuracy for big-game hunting.
The two Noslers generally act much the same, the Silvertip hitting a touch higher at 100 yards due to the Lubalox treatment. The Ballistic Silvertip was paired with Hodgdon Hybrid 100V and Superformance and Alliant Reloder 19. The Ballistic Tip Hunting was matched with Alliant Reloder 23, IMR-4955 and Shooters World Long Rifle. The best Reloder 19 group measured around 1.5 inches at 2,561 fps using 53 grains of powder, while Superformance managed only 1.95 inches at a faster 2,833 fps using 55.5 grains of powder. Hybrid 100V proved the clear accuracy winner with the Silvertip, producing a 1.07-inch group at 2,643 fps with 50.5 grains of powder, and this bullet’s best group with 51.5 grains of powder – a .89-inch group at 2,857 fps. With the Ballistic Tip Hunting, Reloder 23 produced a near-1-MOA group using 56.5 grains of powder at an impressive 2,872 fps. Shooters World Long Rifle grouped less than 1¾ inches with 52 grains of powder at 2,847 fps. IMR-4955 ran away with it, printing a 1.5-inch group with 56.5 grains of powder and a .75-inch group with 57.5 grains at a hard-hitting 2,959 fps.
Berger’s 150-grain Classic Hunter was auditioned with Ramshot Hunter, Alliant Reloder 22 and Hodgdon H-1000. H-1000 groups did best with 53.5 and 54.5 grains of powder, those groups breaking 1½ inches at 2,535 and 2,644 fps, respectively. Hunter provided a stellar showing with 50 grains of powder at a pokey 2,487 fps – that group measuring less than an inch. Reloder 22 proved best with this bullet, 53.5 grains of powder printing .78 inch at 2,627 fps and with a low extreme velocity spread. Adding a grain of powder boosted velocity to 2,719 fps and assembled a sub-1½-MOA group.
Federal Premium’s super-modern 155-grain Terminal Ascent got along well with Alliant Reloder 26, Shooters World SW-4350 and Accurate A-4350. Reloder 26 produced a near 1¼-inch group at 2,627 fps using 53 grains of powder, while the best Shooters World 4350 group measured less than 1¾ inches at a slower 2,664 fps using 50.5 grains of powder. Accurate A-4350 produced the best group with this bullet, .77-inch at 2,676 using a maximum load of 52.5 grains of powder.
Vihtavuori N165, Hodgdon H-4831 and IMR-4350 were paired with Nosler’s 160-grain Partition. N165 produced a sub-1½-inch group at 2,722 fps with 53.9 grains of powder, while H-4831 failed to impress with this bullet. Good old IMR-4350 shot the best group of the test, .49 inch (maximum load of 50.4 grains at 2,815 fps), in addition to a near 1.50-inch group (48.4 grains at 2,720 fps).
Finally, the 168-grain Berger VLD Hunting was tried with Vihtavuori N165, Ramshot Magnum and IMR-7828ssc. I’d feared the rifle would hit a stabilization wall with this bullet, but groups actually averaged better than other bullets tested. N165 printed a near-1-MOA group with 53 grains of powder at 2,524 fps, Ramshot Magnum doing the same with a maximum load of 60 grains at a much faster 2,840 fps. IMR-7828ssc edged those powders out with a .91-inch group at 2,640 fps using 53.5 grains of powder. A 52.5-grain charge nearly broke 1.50 inches at 2,532 fps.