The 7mm Magnum Evolution

Hornady's 7mm Remington Magnum
Hornady’s 7mm Remington Magnum

Most of us measure the longevity of the various 7mm magnums from 1962, the year Remington unveiled both its Model 700 rifle and the 7mm Remington Magnum. There had been other big sevens before, but none ever made an impact like this.

The very first magnum 7mm, however, is more than twice as old: The .280 Ross was introduced in 1908, and was the first commercial cartridge to break the 3,000 feet per second barrier – seven years earlier than Savage’s .250-3000. The Ross did it with a 145-grain bullet at 3050 fps. Within a year or two, the Ross ruled the long-range target matches on both sides of the Atlantic, and was being used for hunting animals big and small, near and far, dangerous and otherwise.

.280 Ross rifle ca. 1916 Photo courtesy
.280 Ross rifle ca. 1916
Photo courtesy

African hunters remember the Ross as the rifle George Grey was carrying, that day in the Aberdares in 1911, when he was killed by a lion. The rifle has been unjustly blamed for what happened. Grey and his companions were coursing lions on horseback, and their rules were to use nothing larger than 7mm, and go no closer than 200 yards. In the excitement, Grey forgot the latter rule, dismounted far too close, and failed to stop the lion with five shots. Hardly the cartridge’s fault.

Riflemakers, then as now, were fond of marketing their babies with outlandish claims.  Savage boasted of the.250-3000’s prowess on tigers in Asia, and Ross was fond of telling in its catalog of kills on mountain sheep at 500 to 1,000 yards.With open sights, yet.

None of this trimming makes the .280 Ross any less a fine cartridge. It is a true magnum case, as wide at its semi-rimmed base as the belted magnums (.530”) and slightly longer than the later Remington round (2.6” vs. 2.5”). Its distinct taper allowed easier extraction in the straight-pull Ross rifle, but reduced its capacity to about that of the later 7×61 S&H.

As is evident, the .280 Ross of 1908 was not wildly different in any meaningful way than the 7mm Remington Magnum of 1962, and its ballistic performance was within a hundred feet per second with the same weight bullet.  This is all the more remarkable given the limited range of powders available in 1908. According to Phil Sharpe, Sir Charles Ross made his .280 possible by persuading DuPont to make a new powder, #10, with larger kernels and a slower burning rate, just for him.

Although the Ross Rifle Co. died in 1917, a casualty of the Great War, the cartridge lived on. It was chambered by many and loaded by most ammunition companies for the next 20 years. It was the case, with no alteration, for the mythical .280 Halger cartridge – the less of which said, the better – but it shows the high regard in which it was held.

More than that, it inspired the English rifle companies, always anxious to have a proprietary round, to develop the .280 Jeffery, .280 Magnum Rimmed (a Ross with a full rim), .275 H&H (with a belted case), and .280 Lancaster, among others.

280rosscartridgeIn America, there were at least a dozen wildcats, including the 7mm Mashburn (made famous by Warren Page), the 7mm Weatherby, and Phil Sharpe’s own 7×61 S&H.  Of them all, the only one with any real life today is the 7mm Weatherby. The others were killed off by the 7mm Remington Magnum which did so much, so well, for so little money, that none of the others could compete on any meaningful grounds.

It’s intriguing to contemplate what might have been, had the Great War not killed off the Ross rifle and made the .280 an orphan. There is nothing at all wrong with the case as it is, although Parker Ackley undoubtedly would have “improved” it by blowing it out.  In which case, we would have had a thoroughly modern Big Seven – beltless, with straight walls and a sharp shoulder. Improvements in primers, powders, and bullets would have given us a 7mm magnum with more power than the Remington, and all dating from the time when King Edward VII ruled the Empire.–Terry Wieland

3 thoughts on “The 7mm Magnum Evolution”

  1. Thanks for your great history. I would add that the 7mmLRM, necked down from the .375 Ruger will be an interesting long range addition to the ‘big 7’s’.

  2. iI like my 7 mm STW. It shoots faster, flatter, and with tighter groups.. Nosler 150 grain Ballistic Tip, 80 grains of IMR 7828 powder, Four shots in one hole! Bob Hart customized my Remington Model 700 7 MM Mag and selected 24″ Hart barrel with muzzle brake. Bill, Easton, PA

Leave a Reply