LJ Bonham is a semi-subsistence hunter, hunting magazine editor, and firearms enthusiast who lives in the Rocky Mountains.
Famous comedian, Rodney Dangerfield, always complained he “didn’t get no respect.” If ever a rifle cartridge could say the same thing, the .280 Remington is it. By design, the .280 competes with the .270 Winchester, yet hunters pass it by for the .270, the .30-06 Springfield, or the .280’s big brother, the 7mm Remington Magnum. However, the forlorn .280 is, in many ways, superior to all three, and owes the disrespect not to its own attributes, but to unfortunate events and poor decisions by Remington.
The first unfortunate event in the .280’s life occurred decades before its birth. The fabled .270 Winchester appeared on the scene in 1925. In the years which followed, it rose from obscurity to big game cartridge legend, propelled in no small measure by Outdoor Life writer, Jack O’Connor. Make no mistake, the .270 is a gem. It generates less recoil than a .30-06, shoots flatter than the Kansas prairie, and can topple all but the largest, meanest North American game. It deserves its reputation.
For reasons we may never understand, Winchester’s primary competitor, Remington Arms, didn't challenge the .270’s dominance for decades. By the late 1950s, they had had enough and decided to go all in against Mr. O’Connor’s pet.
Enter the (Timid) Dragon
Remington wanted a unique cartridge to draw customers to their 700 Series auto-loading, pump-action, and bolt-action rifles. With some marketing savvy (and perhaps a little luck), they hoped to devise the ultimate deer round for hunting wide open prairies and windswept mountain valleys in the western United States.
Remington’s engineers had many choices when it came to caliber, and they settled on 7mm (.284-inch). Seven millimeter bullets are more aerodynamically efficient than .30 caliber, but hit harder than 6.5mm projectiles, a useful compromise. It didn’t hurt they were also numerically larger than Winchester’s .270. Big numbers sell things—to men, in particular, Remington’s target market.
Since the rifles which would fire this new cartridge all had standard length actions and the engineers didn’t want to retool the guns, it made sense to base the new round on the .30-06’s case. A 7mm round made from a necked-down ’06 case created the potential for some dim-witted person to chamber it in a .270, with disastrous results. To avoid such liability, Remington turned to the .30-06’s father, the .30-03, which is a smidge longer. Then they altered the case’s shoulder—just to make sure.
The original concept for the .280 envisioned greater velocity than the .270. Enter unfortunate event number two. Remington's auto-loaders and pump-actions couldn’t handle the chamber pressure necessary to meet the velocity target. Remington reduced the .280’s working pressures by a large amount and the round debuted with much less performance than planned. .270 shooters just smirked and went about their business.
One Reason the .280 Remington Failed: The 740 and 760 Remington Rifles
When the .280 appeared in 1957, American shooters had already caught magnum fever. This affliction began when Winchester introduced their .458 magnum in 1955. By the early 1960s, Remington realized magnum fever would not fade away and they decided to enter this newest arms race. In 1963, they unveiled the 7mm Remington Magnum which sent .284 caliber projectiles down range at much higher speed than the .280 in its watered down form. Shooters’ interest in the .280 cratered almost overnight.
Just when .280 fans thought things couldn’t get any worse, Remington’s marketing gurus changed the round’s name several times during the 1970s. By 1981, the marketing mavens realized they hadn’t fooled anyone and went back to the .280 Remington moniker.
Resurrection (The Modern .280 Takes on the Big Three)
So much for this star crossed cartridge’s past. Today, the .280 has seen a resurgence in the marketplace—mild, but on the upswing, none the less. Reloaders are the primary force behind the .280’s rebirth. Most factory .280 ammo is still loaded well below the round’s full potential.
Hand loaders can push the .280 much faster. Per the Nosler reloading manual, a 140 grain bullet can achieve over 3100 fps and a 150 grain, almost 3000. Also, while the heaviest bullet offered in factory ammo is 160 grains, hand loaders can select 7mm bullets up to 175 grains. This means with careful work, shooters can have a round which approaches 7mm Rem. Mag. territory but without the extra powder and recoil.
How does Remington’s red-headed step child compare to its most common rivals, the .270 Winchester, .30-06, and 7mm Rem. Mag.? Through free online ballistic calculators, such as shooterscalculator.com, we can answer this question. To get an accurate picture, I put the .280 up against the others in three loose categories: a deer load, an elk load, and a long-range load. To make things fair, all loads are based on Nosler’s Accubond, unless otherwise noted. Velocities are the highest listed for each bullet weight in Nosler’s Reloading Guide No. 7.
Many see this category as the .280’s prime niche, and the traditional .280 deer load is a 140 grain pill. A 130 grain bullet is considered the best deer medicine by .270 aficionados. Meanwhile, .30-06 shooters prefer the ubiquitous 150 grain load, and the 7mm Rem. Mag. crowd likes a 140.
For this comparison, trajectory is defined as Maximum Point Blank Range (MPBR), uncorrected for accuracy (MOA). MPBR is the distance over which a bullet rises three inches above sight line and then drops three inches below to hit within a six-inch kill-box. Imagine a bullet arcing through a six-inch diameter pipe for a certain distance.
Wind drift is measured in inches deviation from sight line at 400 yards in a 10 mph cross-wind. Maximum effective range is defined as the range at which a load makes the minimum energy for a humane kill on medium game (1200 ft-lbs). Expansion range is the point velocity drops to 1800 fps, the minimum claimed by Nosler for reliable expansion. Recoil is based on an 8.0 pound rifle weight and expressed in ft-lbsf (free). All calculations were corrected to standard temperature and pressure at sea level.
Each bullet’s G1 ballistic coefficient (BC), a bullet’s relative aerodynamic efficiency, and sectional density (SD), a measure for penetration capability, is listed for each load. The table shows the results.
Deer Load Results
|Cartridge/Bullet/BC/SD||Velocity (fps)||MPBR (Yds)||Drift (in.)||Eff. Range (Yds)||Exp.. Range (yds)||Recoil (ft-lbsf)|
.270 Win. 130 gr AB (.435/.242)
.280 Rem. 140 gr AB (.485/.248)
.30-06 150 gr AB (.435/.226)
7mm RM 140 gr AB (.485/.248)
Deer Load Analysis
In real world terms, these four cartridges’ performance is quite similar. All have MPBRs around 300 yards, and reasonable wind drift. They will all kill a deer beyond 500 yards, produce more than adequate bullet expansion at said distance, and generate tolerable recoil.
The .280, however, is the real gem here. It recoils much less than the 7mm Rem. Mag., but will reach way beyond where most hunters can shoot accurately, so much so, the extra 85 yards the Rem. Mag. gives is irrelevant. It is effective farther and has less wind drift than either the .270 or .30-06 with similar recoil.
Elk are large (500 – 800 pounds), tough animals which can take tremendous punishment. In all honesty, they are bullet sponges. I’ve seen bulls take solid hits from large caliber magnums and walk off as though nothing had happened. When you set out to bring a wapiti down, you’d best use the heaviest bullet you can find. Heavy for caliber bullets have high SDs, and sectional density means penetration through heavy bone and thick muscle. The Prince of Stags demands nothing less.
I selected the heaviest bullet in each caliber available from Nosler for this elk load comparison. Except for the .270. The 150 grain Partition has a much better BC than the 160, so I substituted it to give the .270 a reasonable chance. A 180 grain bullet is the classic .30-06 elk medicine.
While many hunters will tell you the 160 grain bullets in 7mm are the way to go for elk, and Nosler makes a fine AccuBond in this weight, I like the 175 grain Partition better. This Partition is rather unique. It has a BC almost as good as the 160 AccuBond, but its .310 SD is far superior compared to the lighter slug. This is what makes 7mm bullets so good; deep penetration due to excellent sectional densities. The Partition still sets the standard for terminal performance by which all other hunting bullets are judged. It causes massive trauma with rapid expansion, drives deep, and breaks heavy bones with little or no deflection.
Elk are such big critters, I open up the kill box diameter to eight inches when computing MPBR compared to the six-inch box used for deer.
Elk Load Results
|Cartridge/Bullet/BC/SD||Velocity (fps)||MPBR (yds)||Drift (in.)||Eff. Range (yds)||Exp. Range (yds)||Recoil (ft-lbsf)|
.270 150 gr Part. (.455/.279)
.280 175 gr Part. (.519/.310)
.30-09 180 gr AB (.507/.271)
7mm RM 175 gr Part. (.519/.310)
Elk Load Analysis
Once again, the balanced .280 looks darn good. It has the same recoil as the .270 but out ranges it by 70 yards with less drift. While the .30-06 and the 7mm Rem. Mag. have longer legs, they beat up the shooter. In the Big Seven’s case a lot more. The other question is, how useful is the magnum’s extra reach anyway?
The .280 will slay an elk at 500 yards. Given most game (even elk) is shot inside 200 yards, 500 is more than enough for the average hunter. All the Chris Kyle wannbes out there are giggling at the .280’s 500 yard figure, but I’ll wager they wound or miss far more animals than they kill. I’ve known many hunters, but I only trust two—just two—to kill game past 500 yards, and one is a genuine sniper instructor.
While the .30-06 runs almost neck and neck with the .280, those high-SD 7mm bullets will drive far deeper into a wapiti. Something to consider when the only shot on closing day is a bull at 300 yards with a big shoulder quartered toward you.
Like it or not, the long-range hunting cult is here to stay. I don’t have a problem with it if a hunter can do it right, but most can’t. Never the less, the newest low-drag bullets have stretched the distances a trained, skilled shooter can engage game with reliable success.
Nosler’s AccuBond Long Range (ABLR) bullet is designed for such work. I plugged an appropriate ABLR into each caliber to see how the .280 would fare. For this comparo, I dialed the MPBR kill-box back to six inches again. It is the appropriate diameter for medium game and anything which hits within it will do the job on larger beasties, too.
Here’s what things looked like once the dust settled.
Long-Range Load Results
|Cartridge/Bullet/BC (G7)/SD||Velocity (fps)||MPBR (yds)||Drift (in.)||Med. Game (yds)||Lrg. Game (yds)||Recoil (ft-lbsf)|
.270 150 gr ABLR (.298/.279)
.280 175 gr ABLR (.326/.310)
.30-06 190 gr ABLR (.301/.286)
7mm RM 175 gr ABLR (.326/.310)
Long-Range Load Analysis
All four cartridges received a big boost in effective range with the slippery bullets. The .280 pulled away from the .30-06 in this case. Yes, .30 caliber ABLRs heavier than 190 grains are available, but the .30-06 doesn’t have the powder capacity to sling them at worthwhile velocities.
The ABLR gives the .280 more reach than the Big Seven had with a standard AccuBond, which, as I pointed out earlier, is more than most hunters will ever need, and it still does it with the same recoil as the .270.
The Bottom Line
The .280 Remington deserves more respect. It’s a great cartridge saddled with an unfortunate legacy. Let’s face it, a hunter who owns a .270, .30-06, or 7mm Rem. Mag., doesn’t need a .280, but if you are looking for a cartridge with accuracy, reach, power, and manners, there are few better choices than the .280 Remington.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Question: What powders did you use for your data? Did you figure these velocities with a 22-inch barrel, or longer? I have hunted with a .280 since 1980 and have taken deer, caribou, and elk with it.
Answer: As I stated in the article, I selected the highest velocity published in the Nosler reloading guide, Issue No. 7. The powders vary with each caliber and bullet weight, but you can obtain a copy of the manual from Nosler to get the specifics. Nosler states the .280 loads were developed with a 26-inch, Lilja test barrel.
© 2018 LJ Bonham
Gary Jennings on December 19, 2018:
I traded my .30-06 years ago for a Ruger M77 .280 Rem. A careful study of ballistics of both the .270 and .30-06 shows the .280 (7mm) as being superior to both. The added advantage of less recoil than the 7mm Remington Magnum is icing on the cake, and it will easily take any North American game, given proper shot placement and load.