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264 Winchester Magnum

Unpopular Yes- Forgotten NO

November 23, 2011
By David Rearick , Ohio Valley Outdoors

My falling into a 264 Winchester Magnum was strictly by chance. I had seen and heard about the caliber, but here in PA, the 30-06 was the leading contender for everyone hunting deer. When I received a gift from my future father in-law in the way of a classic Remington 700 ADL in 264 Winchester Magnum previously owned by his father, I put in the safe and almost forgot about its existence. That all changed when I decided to go antelope hunting six years ago. As I looked through the safe for the flattest shooting rifle I owned, my fingers grasped the stock of an unfamiliar gun. Remembering what I had heard about the cartridge it was chambered, I pulled the gun out of hiding and begin fitting it for the trip. After researching the caliber and deciding on a few loads, test time at the range and in the field proved that while the 264 may not be a first choice for many, it is a classic cartridge that can handle all of North American's big game with ease.

Released to the public in 1959, Winchester debuted the 264 and 338 Winchester Magnums at nearly the same time. Built on a Holland & Holland belted magnum case, the 264 is one of the smallest factory calibers built with a magnum designation. Marketed as an extremely fast and flat shooting rifle, ammunition was available in both 140 and 100 grain configurations boasting speeds of 3200 and 3700 fps respectively. It was certainly fast, but it also quickly wore out the chrome-moly steel barrels fitted on rifles of the period. With this heavy drawback and lack of need for an ultra fast small-game rifle, it was quickly overshadowed by the release of 7mm Remington Magnum in 1962.

While resurrection of the caliber has never truly transpired, for custom gun builders and hand loaders, the 264 has a lot to offer and has gained some moderate popularity. I have personally taken everything from a 450 yard antelope to a 400 lb black bear utilizing a range of bullets from 129 to 140 grain with excellent results. The intriguing part of the caliber comes from the bullets ballistic coefficient, which peaks at nearly .5. Being only a 6.5 diameter, a 140 grain projectile is very streamlined, making it cut through the air with very little drag when compared to a bullet of larger diameter and similar weight. The ballistic coefficient of any bullet influences long range trajectory, wind drift, and ultimately velocity and energy, and the 264's high coefficient makes it a great long range caliber suited for hunts across the US.

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Winchester Magnum

While factory ammunition has been slowed to take into account many of the older guns built with outdated steel barrels, hand loaders can easily take advantage of the 264's high ballistic coefficient and speed capabilities. Modern cryogenically treated stainless steel barrels are more than up to the task of handling the calibers potentially potent speed and its belted magnum case can handle a heavy dose of powder. One very intriguing fact about the 264 is its ability to adapt to different sizes of game. With bullet weights ranging from 100 to 140 grain, it shatters the competition and allows a hunter to use one rifle for game of all sizes from predators to elk and moose.

While the 264 may never be a must-have caliber, if one is looking to build a new rifle or buy a true classic, I would highly recommend the 264. Recoil for a magnum caliber is tolerable and its ability to adapt for different game is incredible. Even for those that don't hand load, the factory ammunition available allows the user to take advantage of the bullets ballistic coefficient while creating a long range rifle capable of delivering 140 grains bullet with a muzzle velocity of roughly 3000 fps out of the box.



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