A Hundred Years With The .375


Wayne killed this old eland bull at 250 yards with a .375 H&H from Montana Rifle Company
Wayne killed this old eland bull at 250 yards with a .375 H&H from Montana Rifle Company

Is this the best all-around cartridge, period?

It was a pre-war rifle with blonde, figure-less wood. It had a wrist repair–a pin and glue that didn’t look too bad after I’d finished with them. Soon after climbing into elk country with it that November morning, I heard the clack of antlers. I crept through the pines, downwind on quiet grass. A cow saw me, however. She didn’t know what I was, but when she stopped foraging, the woods went silent. Behind her trailed a spike, the only bull I could see. He stopped in an opening. The gold bead settled low in his ribs and at the explosion, the bullet landed there. But instead of turning upside down as I’d expected, this elk ran.  I found the animal dead a few yards off. Even the .375 H&H won’t “knock down” an elk.

While many hunters expect a cartridge this size to flatten big game, some consider the .375 on the light side for dangerous African beasts. Big-bore enthusiasts dismiss it as inadequate–though mostly in private, as a rant against the .375 carries the same risk as denigrating the Pope, private gun ownership and Toyota Land Cruisers. It’s no accident that .375 is widely specified as minimum legal bore for shooting buffalo and elephants. It’s equally predictable that the .375 H&H remains one of the most popular rounds for shooting them. Years after trailing that spike elk, I dropped a cow elephant instantly with a .375 solid.

A century ago this year, the English gun-making firm of Holland and Holland introduced the .375 Belted Rimless Nitro Express. It migrated to the U.S. in 1925 when Western Cartridge Company began loading it. Known Stateside as the .375 H&H Magnum, it fathered a necked-down version, the .300 H&H Magnum. About 1926, up-scale New York gun-builder Griffin & Howe began barreling Magnum Mauser rifles to .375 (as had Holland and Holland). In 1937 it made the charter list of chamberings for the Model 70 Winchester. Beginning in the 1940s, Weatherby took an occasional order for a .375 H&H rifle, albeit Roy Weatherby’s high-velocity line included a blown-out version of the cartridge. Remington offered the .375 H&H in its 725 Kodiak, less than 100 of which were built, all in 1961.

vanZwollwithriflehnt4evr111813Rifles bored for the .375 must have a long action, as the case measures 2.85 inches, base to mouth. Loaded length: 3.60 inches. The .30-06, in contrast, mikes 2.49 and 3.34 inches, respectively. A rimmed form of the .375, the .375 Flanged Magnum Nitro Express, appeared in 1912 for double rifles. The belted round works fine in hinged-breech mechanisms, though, so has outlived its rimmed kin. (There’s a .375 Flanged Nitro Express, too. Dating to 1899, it has a 2 1/2-inch case–and much less punch than the magnums).

Leggy, front-heavy and steeply tapered, with shoulder angles of less than 13 degrees, a shiny pair of belted .375s nosing into a smoking breech let you focus on the sweeping black horns quickly gobbling your panoramic view of Africa. “Close it up, Bwana! We’re in!” You can almost hear them shout, if you take the time. Dawdle, and instead you’ll hear hoof beats on your brisket.

Anyone with any experience in the bush will give the .375 kudos as a killer of plains game. But a stopping round? Opinions differ. On an elephant cull in 1985, I interviewed rangers who accounted for 52 pachyderms that day. Four used .458s. The one who favored a .375 told me his bullets drove “as deep as any from a four-five-eight. Maybe deeper.” I’d watched him shoot an elephant quartering away. The 300-grain solid struck the animal in the neck and exited the forehead. If brain damage is a measure of killing power, the .375 equals more brutish rounds that spin you around and bloody your nose on recoil. I suspect that many hunters dismissive of the .375 are thinking of animals poorly shot. Heavier bullets with more energy do have an edge when you hit on the edges. A stunned beast may take longer to recover its senses–and sense of direction–when struck with a 530-grain solid from a .500 Jeffery or .505 Gibbs, but it is no more dead if your bullet enters the brain.

“If that’s not stopping power… .”

Ammunition options The original light-bullet load for the .375 H&H, a 235-grain softnose at 2,800 fps, is long dead. Modern 260-grain bullets beat it ballistically with better terminal performance. A 260-grain Nosler AccuBond delivers more punch at 200 yards than a 180-grain .30-06 bullet musters at the muzzle, and flies just as flat. It may well supplant traditional 270-grain softpoints in the .375. Most development recently has focused on heavy bullets; the field of 300-grain loads is rich indeed. Few 300-grain bullets for tough game are sleek in profile, but they have great sectional density, and trajectories flat enough for a 200-yard zero. Here are two fine factory loads that bracket the practical bullet weight range for the .375. 260-grain Nosler AccuBond (Federal) Muzzle		100 yds.	200 yds. 	300 yds. 	400 yds. Velocity (fps)	2700		2510		2330		2160		1990 Energy (ft-lbs)	4210		3640		3130		2685		2285 Arc (inches)	-1.5		+2.0		0		-8.5		-24.5 300-grain Hornady FMJ (Hornady Superformance) Muzzle		100 yds.	200 yds. 	300 yds. 	400 yds. Velocity (fps)	2705		2386		2089		1817		1568 Energy (ft-lbs)	4873		3792		2908		2198		1637 Arc (inches)	-1.5		+2.3		0		-10.1		-31.3 Handloading the .375 is easy, and the cartridge seems forgiving--most loads stoked to hunting speeds shoot accurately. Not long ago I unearthed a box of mild 300-grain loads I’d assembled 28 years ago. Before hunting, I shoved a handful in the magazine of my Montana rifle. The first two holes at 100 yards touched. Prairie dog accuracy from a dangerous-game rifle! You needn’t handload for top performance, though. The .375 is blessed with factory loads for every task. Remington offers 300-grain Swift A-Frames and, with Barnes now in the Freedom Group, should add TSX bullets. Winchester lists 300-grain Nosler Partitions and Solids; Hornady catalogs five .375 loads, with 270-grain softpoints, 300-grain softs and solids. Hornady’s Superformance ammunition tops the velocity charts, giving the .375 nearly 5,000 ft-lbs of energy on exit.  Federal trumps competitors with the widest selection of 300-grain loads listing Barnes, Swift and Trophy Bonded expanding bullets and two excellent solids. Norma offers a 270-grain TSX load, plus 300-grain Oryx and Swift A-Frame options. In addition, Norma’s African PH line carries 350-grain softs and solids from Woodleigh. I can’t think of better bullets for the .375 than those five. If you want custom-loaded ammo, you can supply the recipe to Superior Ammunition--or ask Larry for his considered opinion. Safari Arms also loads custom cartridges. Like Superior, it makes a beautiful product. A typical first package has four loads of five rounds each, so you can test and compare economically, then get more of the top load
Ammunition options
The original light-bullet load for the .375 H&H, a 235-grain softnose at 2,800 fps, is long dead. Modern 260-grain bullets beat it ballistically with better terminal performance. A 260-grain Nosler AccuBond delivers more punch at 200 yards than a 180-grain .30-06 bullet musters at the muzzle, and flies just as flat. It may well supplant traditional 270-grain softpoints in the .375. Most development recently has focused on heavy bullets; the field of 300-grain loads is rich indeed. Few 300-grain bullets for tough game are sleek in profile, but they have great sectional density, and trajectories flat enough for a 200-yard zero.

In his well-known book, “African Rifles and Cartridges,” John Taylor says this about the .375 H&H: “Undoubtedly one of the deadliest [cartridges]… . I’ve had five of these rifles–two doubles and three magazines–and have fired more than 5,000 rounds of .375 Magnum ammunition at game… . One [rifle] accounted for more than 100 elephant and some 411 buffalo, besides rhino, lions… . Although my formula gives this rifle a Knock-Out value of 40 points, I must regretfully admit that does not really do full justice to it… . When a bullet of reasonable diameter and weight possesses a sufficiently high striking velocity it appears to develop a peculiar property of “shock”… . But if the effect is to be obtained…the bullet must hold together.”

Taylor illustrated that last point by recalling a buffalo he’d shot with a 300-grain solid from his .375 double. “The bull dropped to the shot but in an instant was up again and coming… . I gave him the left barrel fairly in the center of his great chest. Well, the effect of that shot was exactly as tho there had been a steel hawser stretched across his path just the right height above the ground to whip the forelegs from under him. He crashed on his nose [and] keeled over–stone dead. If that’s not stopping power, I should very much like to know what you would call it.”

On another hunt, Taylor shot a waterbuck bull at 40 yards with a 235-grain .375 bullet clocking 2,850 fps. To his surprise, the animal ran. Taylor trailed the animal and shot it again. “The copper-pointed bullet with its tremendously high striking velocity had literally disintegrated against the spine…making [only] an appalling surface wound… .” Taylor considered the 300-grain .375 solid to give “deeper penetration than any other bullet I have ever used.” But he warned against solids not hard enough to prevent bending or riveting. A tall order, given strikes on big bones at current speeds!

John Hunter, whose books have become classics on African hunting, relied on “a .500 double-barrel hammerless ejector fitted with 24-inch barrels and weighing 10 pounds 5 ounces made by Holland & Holland.” He wrote that “it is extremely unwise for any man to hunt elephant, buffalo, or rhino with a gun of less than .450 caliber.” While such a position begs argument, John Hunter killed so many of East Africa’s biggest animals–for market and on control missions–that his opinion has value.

Last July, I was in Australia’s Northern Territories hunting buffalo. I could have carried a Brno rifle in .375 but was seduced by a Webley & Scott double in .500 Nitro Express. The bulls that fell were not perfectly shot and required multiple hits. I’d have had better luck with the bolt rifle, partly because it wore a scope, partly because it did not kick so hard, and partly because bolt rifles by their design put fine accuracy over fast shooting. A big Australian buffalo has inch-thick skin on its forequarters, and support bones the size of trolley rails. Both arrest big softpoints–so does muscle as dense as stacked phone books. Solids guarantee penetration, but the great lung volume

Wayne followed a .375 softnose with a solid to take this buffalo. The first shot was really enough
Wayne followed a .375 softnose with a solid to take this buffalo. The first shot was really enough

of these beasts can overcome perforation.

In Africa, I’d downed buffalo of similar size with bolt-action .375s. Trophy Bonded bullets had destroyed bones and vitals. I’ve seen lethal work from Barnes TSXs and Woodleigh softpoints. Swift’s A-Frame rates equal billing. Loaded in a .375 to generate 4,500 foot-pounds, those bullets dump two tons of energy at 50 yards. Still, the .375 can be chambered in a rifle as lively as a .30-06. Most hunters can point such a rifle more deftly than they can a heavier, if shorter, double. They can trigger it without cracking a molar, bruising their zygomatic arch, or developing a flinch.

I’m convinced part of the reason the .375 is so popular for dangerous game is that people of average build and modest shooting experience can fire it accurately. A bolt rifle in .375 works well for lesser game, too, because it needn’t be a heavy rifle, and its bullets fly quite flat. Versatility boosts trigger time, and familiarity breeds accuracy. Hunting in southern Africa, I usually carry a .375 by the Montana Rifle Company. A Model 70 clone fitted with a 1.5-5x Leupold, it has a nose for animals I want to shoot. Its enviable record on game is, I think, a result of excellent rifle design and workmanship, combined with the time this .375 spends with me in the field, and the many rounds I’ve fired from it. That bond made my Model 70 .375 an effective rifle, too. And in the past weeks, I’ve fallen hard for Sako’s Model 85 Kodiak.

No room for rivals?

A rifle that becomes an extension of hand and eye is one to be treasured. When on the trail of a leopard a few years ago, I kept abreast of trackers as they bent to the sand and wound in a great helix into cover that got increasingly thick. Dense grass and low-growing bush obscured the spoor, so the going was slow. Then, suddenly, a scream! I dashed through thorn, shouldered the rifle and swung where the boys pointed, mere feet away. The brush hid all but a black spot on sun-brightened hide. By great good luck, the leopard moved just then, and I fired even before the crosswire stilled. The bullet broke both shoulders. The cat vaulted into the air with a screech, came down hard and died.

A week later, with the same rifle, I knelt to aim at an eland bull quartering off after a failed stalk. The range was 250 yards–farther than I like to fire–but the Montana rifle and Federal .375 load urged the shot. Both 300-grain Trophy Bonded bullets landed well. The great animal spun, staggered and fell.

Perhaps no plains animal more thoroughly tests bullet performance–or bullet placement–than a giraffe. A big bull can weigh more than two tons, twice as much as a Cape buffalo, and the vitals are not where you think. The lungs lie very high and between, not behind, the shoulders. Shoot in the crease aft of the foreleg, and you’ll cripple the animal. Long legs, and a view that nixes any attempt to sneak up for a finisher makes a tracking job and a second shot most difficult.

“I’ve no desire to shoot a giraffe,” I said to my PH when he suggested it. Then he explained that he needed a dark cape from an old bull. “And we’ve a surplus of old bulls. No one wants to shoot them. They live long, with no natural predators. They reach the forage that could go to lesser animals, and they eat a lot. Biologically, shooting a giraffe can be a good deed.” We soon found, though, that bulls with no seeming concern for human traffic quickly figure out when they were the quarry! When, after hours afoot, the giraffe out-walking us turned and gave me a shot alley at 70 steps, I quickly aimed and fired offhand. The great animal turned and lunged away in that deceptive, slow-motion giraffe-lope. Thick bush nixed a follow-up, then came the crash. The bull had covered only a few yards before collapsing, dead. My .375 bullet had not exited but, as I’d forced myself to hold high on the shoulder, had torn through both lungs.

The .375 H&H is so good that for decades no rivals dared surface. In the 1940s Roy Weatherby came up with his own .375 Magnum on the same case, but blown out, with a

This gemsbok dropped instantly to a shot through both shoulders from a Blaser R93, .375 H&H
This gemsbok dropped instantly to a shot through both shoulders from a Blaser R93, .375 H&H

radiused shoulder. It hurled bullets about 200 fps faster than the Holland round, but it didn’t last long. (Recently, it has returned to the Weatherby stable, as a chambering and in ammunition, with a 300-grain bullet loaded by Norma to 2,800 fps). Hornady may have surprised everyone with the .375 Ruger, now just a few years afield. Developed to work in .30-06-length actions, the .375 Ruger has roughly 10 percent more capacity than the .375 H&H Magnum, thanks to a wider body with little taper. It can push bullets 5 percent faster from a hull .27 inch shorter. Its .532 head diameter is the same as that of the .375 H&H; but the Ruger cartridge is of beltless design. Both cartridges are designed to operate at a maximum average pressure of 62,000 psi. They reach that limit with pretty much the same charges, claims Hornady. The Ruger round makes more efficient use of most powders, and outperforms the .375 H&H in short barrels. “That, really, was our goal,” explains project leader Mitch Mittelstaedt. “We wanted the .375 Ruger to deliver from a 20-inch barrel what the Holland round could manage in a 24-inch.”

As good as it is, the .375 Ruger is unlikely to unseat the .375 H&H Magnum. Few cartridges have survived 100 years; fewer still have sustained their popularity as long, or can boast a proliferation of new loads on their centennial. More to the point, the .375 has a place in history that can’t be matched. It’s still, too, a versatile round. It feeds silkily in bolt rifles, “thunks” with a note of authority into the double-gun’s breech. It defines the most fetching rifles–those with muscular cores but slender stocks, barrels just long enough to appear svelte, and just thick enough to carry quarter ribs and iron sights with grace. You’ll see more head-turning rifles in .375, I suspect, than in any other chambering. Even workhorses can become thoroughbreds in .375–the Winchester 70, surely, but also the Remington 700, Ruger’s 77 and No. 1, the Whitworth and Sako, the Dakota, the Montana, the Kimber.

Maybe it’s time you bought one. Or a second, or third. No need to wait another hundred years.–Wayne van Zwoll

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6 thoughts on “A Hundred Years With The .375”

  1. Well back in 2008, I was blessed with the opportunity to go to Africa with a couple of close friends and hunt with Ivan Carter and Wayne Williamson in Zimbabwe. I didn’t own a big bore rifle, the minimum needed for Buffalo and began my research in 2007. One of my friends offered to sell me his 378 Weatherby Magnum, I of course read a couple of articles that described its insane recoil and thought about the importance of being focused on the shot rather than fearing the sudden hammering on my shoulder. I am not slight of build 6’4” and weigh over 250 lbs., but when one author described the recoil as if a 300 pound man ran at you and punched you in the shoulder with all his might, I thought getting something a bit more tame would do. I decided to get the 375 H&H and searched for the most comfortable rifle to carry the cartridge. I chose the Sauer 202 and equipped it also with the 1.5×5 Leupold you mentioned. I took it to Kansas in the fall of 2007 and shot a monster whitetail and didn’t even notice the recoil. I then felt ready to tackle the challenges in Africa. I had a great trip, killed trophy Kudu, Waterbuck, Warthog, Bush Pig, two Zebra, a Wildebeest that was 31 inches wide, a Dugga Boy that went 43 inches wide, (an SCI Silver Medal), with one shot behind the ear, and finally my Leopard, which ranks 37th all time SCI, one shot through the heart. I contribute much of my success on that trip to the power and versatility of the 375 and the comfort it allowed for the shooter to focus. Also and incredible PH, Wayne understood my goals, was patient and direct. I contribute much of that success to his keen eye and careful instruction as well. The 375 H&H is now my choice rifle when hunting deer or elk, the tracking is much easier when they are lying where they were hit!

    1. My wife and I both had great success with a 375H&H in a SAUER 202. When sighting it in our PH physically grabbed the rifle to check as he couldn’t believe my wife was shooting it so easily. We ended up using it much more than our 300 Win Mag (also in SAUER 202) as we used solids on a lot of the smaller animals like diker as it just put a hole straight through them with little damage to the hide. Wife took down a old black giraffe with it the first day and dropped within 2 yards (head/neck shot as our PH recommended it much more than heart lung and after sinning it and seeing the hide in the heart lung area being almost 2″ thick I can see why). I got a zebra at 250 yards and only allowed for 2″ drop and it hit that perfect zebra stripe triangle and dropped where it stood. Would never consider going back to Africa without the 375 H&H in SAUER 202.

      1. My only .375 is a custom Ruger #1 in the classic H&H. It is a one shot and down rifle regardless of the weight of Barnes TSX I put down its 26″barrel. The compact action more than compensates for the extra 2″ of barrel. Adequately heavy for its caliber, it puts bullets from 235 gr to 350 gr in the same hole. While I’ve not experienced Dangerous 7 hunting, Cape Buffalo is on my list. I’ll have 300 gr TSXs & 300 gr, pre-ban, Banded Solids in my kit. In my limited African hunting with some 9 licensed PH, to a man, have stated the .375 H&H is the caliber for Africa.
        Other calibers will work, I’ve successfully used .243, 7×57, & .338 Win Mag, but .375 is the way to go. Life is too short to hunt with ugly guns that are hard to carry and don’t shoot well.

  2. My 2012 hunt in the RSA was with a .375H&H
    I took blesbuck, zebra, impala, bushbuck, warthog.
    I believe it is the all around cartridge. Capable of taking anything.
    I will be in Alaska in 2014 for kodak bear.
    It will do the job.

  3. I’ve hammered browns and black bears leopards and lions . The 375 shines always with 300 gr TBBC OR TSX. SWIFTS are good too. Partitions are also good all animals went down quick with excellent terminal performance

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