.376 Steyr: 300-grain Dangerous Game Loads?
By Eric S. H. Ching
African Hunter (Zimbabwe), Vol.7, No. 5, 2002
The venerable .375 H&H is still considered by many sport and professional hunters to be the best cartridge for one-gun, world-wide hunting, and as a safe minimum for dangerous game. It made its reputation with the classic loading for the cartridge: a 300-grain bullet at 2500 feet per second, typically from a 24” barrel.
By comparison, the new .376 Steyr cartridge’s heaviest factory loading by Hornady is a 270-grain bullet at just over 2500 feet per second from my Steyr Scout’s 19” barrel. In addition, there is no factory loading with a solid bullet, which is desirable for follow-up shots on wounded dangerous game when shots often have to be taken at less than optimal angles.
Thinking ahead to my upcoming African hunt, which will feature my first foray after Cape buffalo, I began to wonder whether an adequate matched set of soft-point and solid 300-grain dangerous game loads for the .376 Steyr cartridge were a possibility.
Zimbabwe PH Kevin Robertson authored the definitive book on hunting buffalo, Nyati: A Guide to Hunting Zimbabwe’s Most Dangerous Game, The Southern Buffalo (Mag-Set Publications, Harare, Zimbabwe, 1996), and the excellent reference book, The Perfect Shot: Shot Placement for African Big Game (Safari Press, Long Beach, CA, 1999)
I was fortunate to be able to meet Mr. Robertson at the Safari Club International Hunters Convention in early 2000, and introduced him to the .376 Steyr cartridge. When I told him about my thoughts regarding a 300-grain load, he said that: 1) bullets for dangerous game should have sectional densities of 0.300 or more for reliable penetration from all angles; and 2) he downloads his .375 H&H to 2400 feet per second with 300-grain bullets to prevent bullet over-expansion, fragmentation, and inadequate penetration.
The Hornady 270-grain bullet’s sectional density (.274) falls short of Robertson’s minimum, whereas its 300-grain round nose soft point and solid bullets have S.D.s of 0.305. Additionally, the fifth edition of Hornady’s reloading manual shows 2500 fps loads for the 300-grain bullets with two powders, IMR 4895 and Hodgdon BL-C2, albeit out of a 25.5” test barrel. Nevertheless, they offer the potential of reaching an adequate velocity in the Scout’s 19” barrel.
Robertson stated in a subsequent e-mail to me that if I could get 2300 fps at the muzzle with good 300-grain bullets, it would be “absolutely adequate” for use on buffalo. Emboldened by his encouragement, I proceeded with load development.
First Test Loads
My first attempts with reloading once-fired factory brass resulted in case head separations on every case. I e-mailed Hornady for technical assistance and got back a forwarded reply from Steve Hornady. He said that early runs of .376 Steyr ammo had excessive headspace, causing the separations. He also said that new unprimed cases would be available in the spring or summer of 2001, so I postponed further testing until I could get new brass.
When they were finally available in late spring of 2001, I made up 60, 62, and 64-grain loads of BL-C2 (maximum indicated load was 64.1 grains), and 57, 59, and 61-grain loads of 4895 (64.5 grains was the maximum load shown). The rounds were loaded to 3.085” COL, as specified in the Hornady manual, and ignited by Federal No. 210 large rifle primers.
At the Range
I went to the range on a near-windless and sunny day with temperatures in the high 70s. Besides wearing a PAST shield, I placed a sandbag between my shoulder and the Scout’s butt pad to minimize any tendency to flinch. The rifle was solidly rested on sandbags fore and aft, and aimed through the sky screens of a CED Millennium chronograph about 15 feet downrange. I inserted the rounds singly through the ejection port nose first, seated them into the magazine, and fed them into the chamber from the magazine with no problems.
Recoil was stout, as expected, but muzzle jump was surprisingly unremarkable compared to what I reported in an earlier article with factory 270-grain ammo. (Maybe I’m just not surprised by it anymore.) I had no extraction problems, and pressure signs were normal, with flattened primers but no smearing at the edges or cratering around the firing pin.
About one minute separated the shots in the seven-round string for each powder, and about ten minutes elapsed between the two strings.
Round One Results
.376 Steyr Scout, 300-grain Hornady RNSP
|Powder||Hodgdon BL-C2||IMR 4895|
|Average Velocity (ft/sec)||2110||2156||2278||2068||2204||2288|
|Group size (inches @ 50 yds)||—||—||1.25”||—||—||.813”|
The top BL-C2 load was already within one-tenth grain of maximum and only reached an average of 2278 fps. The powder also didn’t group as well as IMR 4895 so I decided not to test it further.
At 61 grains of IMR 4895 I was one-half grain below maximum and reached an average velocity of 2288 fps; one round had even sneaked over the goal line at 2301 fps. In addition, that load produced a promising .813” group. With a half-grain more powder to play with I thought there was a good chance of reliably achieving 2300 fps with 4895.
Round Two Results
For the second round I tested loads of 61.2, 61.4, and 61.5 grains of IMR 4895. As before, all were made up in brand new unfired brass using the same components and overall cartridge length.
.376 Steyr Scout, 300-gr Hornady RNSP
|Average Velocity (ft/sec)||2267||2304||2330|
|Group size (inches @ 50 yds)||.875”||.250”||1.75”|
As it turned out, 61.4 grains was the magic number, averaging 2304 fps and producing a spectacular 0.25” three-round cloverleaf one inch above point of aim. The higher and lower loads exhibited vertical stringing and much larger group sizes.
Final Round Results
Finally, I also tested the Hornady 300-grain Encapsulated Solid RN bullet with the same powder charge, and extended the range with both bullets to 100 yards for final group measurements.
.376 Steyr Scout, 61.4 grains IMR 4895
|Bullet (Hornady)||300-gr RNSP
B.C. = .250
|300-gr RN Solid
B.C. = .275
|Average Velocity (ft/sec)||2325||2302|
|Group size (inches @ 100 yds)||1.375”||1.375”|
|Vertical POI from POA (inches)||High 1.375”||0”|
|Horizontal POI from POA (inches)||Right 0.5”||0”|
At the ranges I’d expect to use these loads (close!) the points of impact for the two bullets are sufficiently close for field work. Better yet, they shoot close enough to the Hornady factory 270-grain loads (a 1.25” group 2.5” above point of aim at 100 yards) with the same scope setting to make adjustments unnecessary when switching among them.
The terminal ballistics of these 300-grain loads should be somewhere between the 9.3×62 and the .375 H&H, both of which have a long-standing reputation for effectiveness on dangerous game. They are probably comparable to the 9.3x74R and .375 Flanged Magnum rimmed cartridges, also proven performers in the field. The moderate velocities of these loads should also mean that theHornady soft point and solid bullets, even though not “premium” fare, will hold together and penetrate well.
The .376 Steyr cartridge offers the added advantage of making this performance available to handloaders in the short, relatively light, and very handy Steyr Scout (unfortunately discontinued by Steyr, but a few are still available through GSI, Inc.) The cartridge is currently available only in the more traditional Steyr SBS Pro-Hunter, which is a bit longer and heavier but with similar ergonomics.
If I ever hunt Alaskan brown bears, the Steyr Scout with these loads should be an easy-toting and adequately powerful combination for that purpose. I may or may not decide to try them myself on buffalo next year; a lot will depend on whether my PH supports the experiment and is comfortable backing me up. I will definitely, however, see how they do on eland, the largest of African antelopes, which can weigh up to 2000 pounds.
For those with a .376 Scout or Pro-Hunter looking for a step up from the factory 270-grain load, these 300-grain loads should deliver an additional and welcome measure of terminal performance. The ability to use an expanding soft point for the first shot and have deep-penetrating solids for follow-up shots is also a decided plus when hunting dangerous game.
[NOTE: These loads appeared to be safe in my rifle. As with all handloads, start at least 10% below the minimum loads shown and work up carefully in your own rifle!]