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Past Wildcats Revisited

Dec 28, 2016
A few months ago, I committed a faux pas. Writing about the 6.5 Creedmoor, a cartridge I admire very much, I was imprudent enough to compare it to an ancient wildcat, the 6.5-.250 Savage Improved.

This is the .250-3000 (a.k.a., .250 Savage,) blown out and necked up to .264, and if you haven’t heard of it, you’re not alone. Very few people have, though it’s been around since the days of A.O. Niedner. Like the vast majority of wildcats, it had its 15 minutes of fame and faded.

The 6.5 Creedmoor, which everyone is hailing as the latest and greatest, is ballistically almost identical to that old cartridge, and, in appearance, a virtual twin. This observation prompted a vitriolic letter denying that the Creedmoor could have any connection to an “obsolete wildcat,” and insisting there are clear dimensional differences, and that the Creedmoor is a genuine breakthrough in cartridge technology.

This letter came from a Creedmoor lover in the wilds of Kansas who thought I was denigrating his baby by comparing it to something “old.” He considered that an insult, whereas I actually thought I was paying the cartridge, and its designers at Hornady, a compliment.

There is nothing earth-shattering left to be discovered in the field of rifle cartridges, as we know them, that has not already been done by some wildcatter somewhere in this great land. Advances in smokeless powder may allow some ballistic gains here and there, but they will be increments, not breakthroughs. Gaining another hundred feet per second from a .270 Winchester is not going to set the world on its ear.

What we can do now — and again, the Creedmoor is a good example — is (re)introduce an old concept, but give it a supporting cast that allows it to really reach its potential.

The original .250-3000 is a cartridge that was very good, but could have been much better (and would probably still be with us today) had it not been confined to the short action of the Savage 99, which limited overall cartridge length. It was also given a slow rifling twist that ruled out good accuracy with bullets heavier than 90 grains.

Imagine an ammunition company today introducing a cartridge that fits into a compact action, shoots a 100-grain bullet at 3,000 fps, and delivers pin-point accuracy out to 300 yards. In the right rifle, I suspect it would be a big hit, much like the 6.5 Creedmoor is. Even in a light rifle, recoil would be minimal, and you’d have a dynamite whitetail cartridge. In case you haven’t followed the career of the .250-3000, it fell short of those figures. About the best you can get with a 100-grain bullet is 2,800 fps, and that is insufficient to stabilize the bullet in 1-14 rifling.

Well, you might say, one could take that cartridge, blow it out to give more powder capacity, chamber it in a longer action with a faster twist, and you’ve solved all those problems. Indeed you have, and the cartridge you end up with is very, very close to the old 6.5-250 Savage Improved, or today’s 6.5 Creedmoor.

There are many good reasons for not simply legitimizing a wildcat, one being that you head off the use of modern ammunition in old rifles of dubious quality. A new cartridge starts with no baggage, and ammunition makers don’t have to allow for misjudgments of others in the past.

And it’s a smart cartridge designer who studies what has gone before, sees why it should have succeeded but didn’t, and puts that knowledge to use in a “new” design.

We all owe the old-time wildcatters a great deal. They did the experiments, broke the ground, and goaded the big companies into upgrading their products and coming out with newer and better cartridges. The least we can do is give them credit where credit is due, and doing so is no insult to anyone or any cartridge.--Terry Wieland


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