For that reason, picking the “best” cartridge for deer hunting is sure to evoke strong feelings. Many gallons of ink, and maybe even a little blood as well, have been spilled on this exact topic.
Add to the mix the fact that deer vary significantly in size across their range and are found in a number of different habitats — both often necessitating the use of a different cartridge for optimum performance — and you’ve got a tricky situation on your hands.
However, there are still a few different cartridges that always seem to rise to the top in the debate. Here are my picks for the seven best deer-hunting cartridges.
Before I get started, please understand that the purpose of this article is not to bash anyone’s “pet” cartridge. Just because it does not appear on this list does not mean that I think a particular cartridge is “garbage.” Indeed, there are dozens of outstanding cartridges out there, but not all of them can make the list of the best deer hunting cartridges.
Developed by necking a .308 Winchester cartridge down to 6.2mm, the .243 Winchester is considered an entry-level deer-hunting cartridge in most states. With bullets available in a variety of weights ranging from 55 to 105 grains, the .243 Winchester is well suited to a number of applications, especially deer hunting.
This little cartridge has developed a reputation for being extremely effective on deer, not to mention being accurate, flat-shooting and having a mild recoil. These attributes make the .243 Winchester one of the best deer-hunting cartridges around for small-framed hunters, such as women or children.
7mm Remington Magnum
The 7mm Remington Magnum is one of the best deer-hunting cartridges for hunters needing to take longer-range shots. Most 7mm Magnum loads feature bullets with high ballistic coefficients fired at high velocities, giving the cartridge a flat trajectory.
While this sort of performance is not needed by the average deer hunter, it gives hunters the ability to take shots with confidence at ranges out past 250 yards. Even with all of that power, the 7mm Remington Magnum has a manageable amount of recoil, which also helps explain its popularity.
Developed in the 1890s for the Winchester Model 94 rifle, the venerable .30-30 Winchester was one of the first cartridges designed specifically for smokeless powder in the United States. Though the cartridge is pretty anemic on paper by modern standards, the .30-30 Winchester has been cleanly taking deer for more than a century, so it is clearly an excellent deer-hunting cartridge.
At ranges of 150 yards or less, the .30-30 Winchester is one of the best in the business. Combine this with the fact that most rifles chambered in .30-30 are handy, quick-pointing lever-action rifles, and you can see why the .30-30 is so popular among hunters in the southern and eastern United States.
It’s really tough to determine which cartridge has killed more deer in the United States over the last century: the .30-06 Springfield or the .30-30 Winchester. Regardless of which one is No. 1, it’s pretty clear that the .30-06 Springfield is one of the best deer-hunting cartridges in existence.
It is flat-shooting and powerful with a manageable amount of recoil, and there are dozens of great rifles chambered in this outstanding cartridge. If you had to choose one cartridge to hunt with for the rest of your life, you could do a whole lot worse than the .30-06 Springfield.
In a nod to all of the hunters out there who prefer to hunt deer with a pistol, I had to include a good pistol cartridge on this list. It’s hard to think of another pistol cartridge that has accounted for more dead deer in the last half-century than the .44 Magnum.
At one time it was the most powerful handgun cartridge in the world. Even though that is no longer true, it is still one of the best deer-hunting cartridges around for hunters who use pistols or carbines.
The .44 Magnum’s big, slow and heavy bullets deliver bone-crushing power and have plenty of power to ethically take even the biggest deer out to 150 yards or so.
A personal favorite of mine, the .45-70 Government is one of the best deer-hunting cartridges for hunters who need a good “brush gun.” While some would criticize the .45-70 Government for being a little on the big side for deer, there really is no such thing as using “too much gun” on any animal.
This is especially true with the .45-70 because not only does it deliver bone crushing power, but it also does so while using a heavy bullet at a moderate velocity. Because of this, the .45-70 does not produce large amounts of ruined, blood-shot meat, like other cartridges (including the 7mm Magnum or sometimes .30-06).
Like the .30-30, the .45-70 Government is most often available in handy lever-action rifles, making it a great choice for close-quarters shooting. Additionally, the .45-70 also has a manageable amount of recoil. At close range, there are few other cartridges that can compare with the .45-70, especially if the owner also wants to hunt larger species such as bear, elk and moose.
Unfortunately, not everyone in the United States is allowed to hunt using centerfire rifle cartridges. Instead, some states restrict hunters to using shotguns during their modern firearm seasons. That is the reason it is on this list.
Using a rifled slug barrel and topped with a scope, a 12-gauge shotgun is quite the deer slayer out to about 150 yards or so. A 1-ounce (437.5 grains) lead slug is absolutely deadly on a whitetail deer.
Additionally, using buckshot (the name is no accident), a hunter carrying a 12-gauge shotgun is ideally armed for a close range encounter with a deer. Though it is only effective out to about 30-35 yards, buckshot is a great choice for shooting a moving deer (like when using hounds) or when hunting in areas with thick vegetation.
One of the most daunting things when I first started looking for a gun was…what size bullet to get?
Things got even crazier when I started to look at rifles…
But don’t worry…we’ll be covering some of the most popular handgun, rifle, and shotgun calibers out there.
As well as the benefits and weaknesses of each.
Then we’ll follow up with some bullet terminology and the different types of bullet tips (hollow point, etc), how shotgun shell sizes work, and a breakdown of the components of a round.
By the end, you’ll be a bullet pro!
Table of Contents
Bullet Size & Caliber
For guns, “caliber” means the diameter of the barrel and thus the diameter of the bullet that is going through it. Usually in inches or mm.
Also for terminology’s sake, “bullet” just means the metal projectile, while the entire thing is called a cartridge.
Here are some common 9mm bullets.
If you want to jump ahead, check out our suggestion for the Best Places to Buy Ammo Online.
Now what you’ve been waiting for…
Rimfire vs. Centerfire
The first differentiator is between rimfire and centerfire cartridges.
The rimfire’s primer is built into the rim while the centerfire cartridge has the primer in the center. Pro tip…if you can see a circle in the middle…it’s a centerfire cartridge.
Rimfires are extremely cheap (a few cents each) and the .22 LR is the most popular rimfire caliber.
This animation shows how the firing pin hits the primer in a cartridge.
Here are some expended casings from a rimfire vs centerfire.
Common Bullet Calibers
To make things a little more confusing, there’s a mixture of measurements in inches and millimeters.
There’s also a unit of weight called a “grain” which is used to denote the weight of bullets and gunpowder. A “grain” is really small since 7,000 grains make up one pound.
Now let’s go through some!
The “twenty-two” long-rifle is the most common caliber in terms of units sold.
It has a bullet weight of around 30 to 40 grains and is extremely mild shooting in both pistols and rifles.
The recoil is almost non-existent which makes it a great starter round for someone who has never shot a gun or is uncomfortable with the noise.
The low price of the bullets is also great for learning sight pictures.
It is traditionally the starting caliber for shooters. These things are only a few steps up from a pellet gun round…especially in a rifle (Ruger 10/22) shown below.
They can kill, don’t get me wrong, but they’re mostly for killing rats, snakes, and birds. They’ll kill an attacker for sure but it might take a shot or six.
For more info:
Now we’re getting into slightly beefier sizes.
Personally, I would never use a gun with anything smaller than a .380 as my primary carry weapon.
Sometimes called a “9mm Short”, it has seen a major boost in popularity recently thanks to the various “pocket pistols” that have come on the market.
This bullet has relatively low recoil and, at close range, good penetration.
Gun author Massad Ayoob once said of the .380, “Some experts will say it’s barely adequate, and others will say it’s barely inadequate.” This is a low power round.
Because of the nature of the bullet and the guns that shoot it, it’s going to be relatively useless beyond close-ish range.
For more info:
This pistol round is officially known as the “9x19mm Parabellum” or “9mm Luger” to distinguish it from other 9mm rounds. But you will be fine just saying “nine millimeter” or “nine mil” for those in the know.
9mm is my personal favorite and if there was a “Goldilocks” round, this would be it.
The very first gun I bought was a 9mm.
They’re fun at the range. They’re good for defense.
Believe it or not…or actually believe it because it’s true…the 9mm bullet is the same diameter as the bullet used in the .380 and the .38 Special.
The difference between the three is the amount of gunpowder behind it and possibly bullet weight.
It is the standard round for NATO countries and the majority of police forces around the world.
It is mild shooting, can vary in weight from 115 to 147 grains, and has varying stopping power based on the type of bullet (hint, go with hollow points).
Many, many guns use this size as well. A compact 9mm gun can be used for concealed carry. Most of the guns that use this size can hold on average 15 to 17 rounds in the magazine.
And now…there’s been a huge rise in popularity of Pistol Caliber Carbines (or PCC). Get the nice ergonomics of a rifle but with the price and hollowpoints of the 9mm.
For more info:
Remember how I said the 9mm was the “Goldilocks Round?” If that’s the case then the .40 is her big, angry, whiskey-drinking sister.
Originally designed for the FBI as a reduced 10mm cartridge and popular with other law enforcement agencies ever since. More kick when compared to the other popular handgun cartridge, the 9mm. Weights of the bullet can vary from 155 to 165 and 180 gr.
Note that the FBI recently decided to move back to the 9mm since agents are able to shoot more quickly and more accurately with 9mm compared to the .40 S&W.
For more info:
Designed in 1904 by Mr. John Browning himself for the famous 1911 pistol, this round has one heck of a history.
This thing is a big bullet with stopping power to spare.
The choice of many police officers and military personnel for years, the .45 caliber round has proven itself time and time again. I could probably do an entire article on just this bullet.
It has a large bullet of around 230 grains and has moderate recoil.
I can tell you from personal experience that this is not a round to hand to someone who’s never fired a gun before. Its stopping power is renowned and has a nostalgic following.
For more info:
.38 Special & .357 Magnum
The “thirty-eight special” is most commonly found in revolvers.
It has manageable recoil but is still quite a handful when in a very light/small revolver. It has a longer cartridge and more powder in said cartridge but it is a slower, heavier bullet than the 9mm.
The FBI used this cartridge as its standard issue for a very long time.
The .357 Magnum is identical to the round except for being slightly longer.
You can safely fire a .38 Special in a .357 Magnum gun, but don’t try the other way around due to size and pressure constraints.
Bullet weights vary from 110 to 132 to 158 grains.
For more info:
This is the Soviet round used in the AK-47 line of rifles.
It has moderate recoil, great knockdown power, and a bullet weight of usually 123 grains.
There is a high availability of military surplus ammo which makes the round very affordable. Plus check out its bullet size vs the 5.56 coming up next…
For more info:
.223 / 5.56x45mm
The “two-two-three” (inch) Remington has almost the exact dimensions as the “five-five-six” (mm) NATO cartridge.
The 5.56 has higher pressures than the .223, so .223 rounds can be fired in a 5.56 rifle, while 5.56 rounds should not be fired in a .223 rifle.
Bullets are around 55 grains and the cartridge has light recoil.
It is the ammunition used in the M16/M4/AR-15 line of rifles and there’s still endless debate on its effectiveness in combat.
For more info:
.308 / 7.62x51mm
The “three-oh-eight” (inch) Winchester is almost the same dimensions as the “seven-six-two” (mm) NATO round.
There are special considerations when mixing the rounds but unless you know what you are doing, stick with the round intended for your rifle.
It is a popular hunting round with moderate recoil, high stopping power, and a wide range of bullets available from 150 to 208 grains.
Plus…one of the most popular heavier caliber machine gun and sniper rounds for many militaries around the world.
For more info:
Not really common for civilians, but I just had to have it in here.
It’s huge and has huge recoil with awesome range (confirmed kills at 2,000m+), and you definitely don’t want to be on the receiving end of the bullet. 660-grains of pure stopping power.
This Barrett was OK because I was standing and it had a suppressor!
Still with me?
Common Bullet Types & Terminology
Full Metal Jacket (FMJ)
This is the most common type of bullet and consists of a soft metal core, such as lead fully encapsulated by a harder metal, such as copper.
They are usually pointy, round, or even flat. Wound channels are typically small and go through a target.
Great for the range but not preferred for defensive rounds.
Hollow Point (HP)
Hollow points are made to expand once they hit something. They are the go-to round for police officers, concealed weapon carriers, and home defense guns because of their stopping power.
Open Tip (OTM)
Open-tip bullets look like hollow points since they have an opening at the top, but this is more because of their manufacturing process. The openings are too small to expand effectively.
Regular FMJ’s are created from small copper cups where the bottom of the cup becomes the tip of the bullet. Open-tip bullets are the opposite, with the bottom of the cup becoming the bottom of the bullet.
Open-tip bullets are sometimes also known as Open Tip Match (OTM) since they are preferred by long-distance shooters. The manufacturing process for open tip bullets creates a more consistent round than FMJ. Important when you’re shooting hundreds of yards!
This is what you get when you combine the aerodynamics of an FMJ with the stopping power of a hollow point. This is a hollow point covered with (usually red) plastic to mimic the profile of an FMJ.
They are mostly used in hunting or precision shooting.
Below you’ll see that the bottoms of the bullets are more streamlined. This design is called “boat tail” and produces less drag as the bullet flies through the air. HPBT is short for “hollow point boat tail.”
This is an earlier attempt to get the ballistic advantages of an FMJ with better expansion.
In soft point bullets, part of the lead is exposed at the tip. The softer lead is designed to flatten better when the bullet hits a target. But for the most part, ballistic tips have surpassed the performance of soft points.
The most popular sized shotgun round is the 12 gauge.
Recoil can vary from moderate to high based on round.
Shotgun ammunition is the most versatile with three main types of loads.
Birdshot consists of the top row and is pretty small pellets numbering in the dozens in each shell.
Great for hunting birds and blasting clay pigeons, but not the best for home defense.
The overall best home defense round is buckshot. 00 (“double-aught”) is the go-to load.
It’s nine solid lead balls the same diameter as the 9mm handgun bullet.
Much more recoil usually…but you can also find reduced-recoil buckshot rounds too.
Slugs are single projectiles that are around 1 ounce of solid metal that really bring the hurt.
However, they don’t have the spread of birdshot or buckshot. But, in the hands of a solid shooter, they can be accurate up to 100-yards.
For more info:
Components of Common Cartridges
What makes up a cartridge?
Here are just a couple of breakdowns of super popular calibers. You can see the difference in powders & bullets for each type.
There you have it…now you’re a bullet pro!
And if an expertly created beginner handgun course is what you’re looking for…check out Gun Noob to Gun Slinger.
Across North America, our game species are rather diverse, and the applications for a centerfire rifle can range from prairie dogs and woodchucks to elk, moose and the great bears of the north. Add in the multitude of African species—both plains game and the true heavyweights—as well as what’s available throughout Europe and Australia, and you can imagine that the “one rifle” concept is virtually impossible. Quite obviously, the ultimate deer rifle isn’t well-suited for the serious coyote hunter, and a proper Cape buffalo/elephant stopping rifle isn’t the ideal choice for carrying up a sheep mountain. However, depending upon your level of expected hunting, you can choose three good rifles to cover the spectrum.
I’m going to remove the .22 LR from this discussion, as I feel every hunter should own one, even if just for a practice tool. So, let’s look at three choices to cover the world, with perhaps a bit of overlap. If you’re certain that the truly big-game is off the menu for you, the choices will change, and conversely, if they’re on your bucket list, you’ll need a specialized rifle to hunt them. If you’re serious about predators and varmints, a light caliber rifle with a high-magnification optic certainly makes sense, but if the odd coyote hunt in the winter or the dispatching of a rogue woodchuck is the extent of your pursuits of this class of game, your deer rifle may suffice. Let’s break it down and take a look at the possible choices.
This type of hunting is usually best served by a high velocity small-bore cartridge. Classic choices are the .223 Remington, .22-250 Remington and .220 Swift, though there are many more to choose from. If you enjoy the AR platform, that rifle can easily be put into use as a varmint/predator rifle, but the majority of die-hard hunters will enjoy the accuracy benefits of the bolt-action guns. Some hunters prefer the lighter calibers, like the .204 Ruger, .222 Remington or .17 Remington, while some of the serious fur hunters appreciate the heavier bullets of the 6mm cartridges, perfect for windier conditions at longer distances. Surely the new .224 Valkyrie will become a friend to the varmint hunter who hunts the open prairies of the West, or those who call coyotes across the hay lots and power lines.
Should you wish to have a rifle that will do double-duty on big game, the various .25-caliber cartridges, the 6.5mms and the .270 Winchester can be loaded with lighter bullets that will minimize the damage to the furbearers. My own personal choice is a well-worn Ruger Model 77 in .22-250 Remington, topped with a Leupold Vari-X III 6.5-20x40AO; that rifle has accounted for all sorts of woodchucks, foxes, coyotes, skunks and other small game. It’s accurate, light and suits me perfectly.
2. Deer, Sheep, Elk and Other Big Game
This will be your most-used rifle if deer hunting is your passion. There are as many good choices as there are ways to hunt deer, so take a long, hard look at what you think you’ll end up hunting. If you’re the type of hunter that enjoys the high mountain hunts in addition to the back forty, the rifle’s weight will certainly be a consideration. If you’re looking for one rig to cover many different scenarios, a trim, polymer or fiberglass stocked rifle with a weatherproof finish will certainly make a lot of sense. Not that I don’t appreciate a handsome walnut stock, but in terrible weather, the synthetic stocks certainly show their value.
Were I to pick one action style to cover these bases, it would most definitely be the bolt-action rifle, probably followed by a trim single-shot rifle, for the simplicity, durability and the cartridges they can be chambered for. There’s a good reason the 7mms and .30s are so popular: they handle a wide range of game effectively. Any of the popular designs in these calibers can make a great all-around choice, from the 7x57mm Mauser, 7mm-08 Remington and .308 Remington, through the classic .30-06 Springfield and into the 7mm Remington Magnum and .300 Winchester Magnum. The faster magnums certainly have a place, but they’re tough on meat when the shots are close, and the recoil can be a factor for some shooters. A good .270 can handle the larger species like moose and elk with good bullets, and the larger .338s can be loaded with lighter bullets for smaller game, but for my money, a good 7mm or .30 makes one of the most sensible all-around choices, and will pair well with the lighter and heavier rifles.
3. Large Dangerous Game
This will be the least-used category, but one that may be required to save your life. Dangerous game is, well, dangerous, and trying to get cute with too light a caliber can be catastrophic. The sensible African all-around cartridge—the .375 Holland & Holland Magnum—has been a sound choice for over a century, and will continue to be so, due to its ease on the shoulder, bullet weight and striking power. The beauty of the three-seven-five is its flexibility; with 300- and 350-grain bullets, it can handle even the largest species, yet with lighter 235- and 250-grain bullets, can be a flat-shooting affair, perfect for larger ungulates like moose and elk. Yet, there are a multitude of dangerous game cartridges that will suit the largest game animals.
The .404 Jeffery, .416 Rigby and .416 Remington Magnum, .458 Winchester Magnum and .458 Lott; all make sound choices for the bolt guns, while the .45-70 Government and .450 Marlin can be effective lever gun choices, especially for Alaska. Among the double rifles, you find the .450/400 3″ NE, .450 NE and .470 NE are all popular choices if you’re inclined to own a double. The larger calibers certainly offer lots of stopping power, but give up a bit in trajectory. Among the most versatile are the .375 H&H, .404 Jeffery, and the .416s; in my opinion they have a bullet weight range and velocity that gives a bit more range.
For years, my own three-gun battery consisted of that .22-250, a Ruger 77 in .308 and a Winchester 70 in .375 H&H. Of course, I picked up other rifles along the way, and to my mind, the .300 Winchester Magnum made a sensible replacement to the .308 as an all-around choice, and then I discovered the virtues of the .416 Remington Magnum, especially for large game like Cape buffalo. Then a .404 Jeffery entered my world, along with a .470 NE double rifle, and then a sweet .275 Rigby; while I am intrigued by cartridge performance, a combination of any of these classics would suffice, including my original .22-250/.308/.375 combo.
If you plan on staying on North American soil, the .35 Whelen, 9.3x62mm Mauser or .338 Winchester Magnum could easily be substituted for the heavier cartridges, and would still pair well with a 7mm or .30, or perhaps the middle rifle could drop down to a 6.5mm. Like I said, there’s a ton of overlap in our cartridge choices, but with a little bit of planning, you can cover an awful lot of ground with a trio of rifles.
All percentages in this essay are in terms of the total charge weight.
In almost any reference or official document, propellant weight is given as a fixed number. In reality, as each batch or lot of propellant will be slightly different in its energetic power from any other lot, the weight of an individual charge will depend upon just how “powerful” was the lot of propellant from which it was made. In order to ensure consistency in muzzle velocity from shot to shot, a “Charge Assessment” is made for each lot to determine the proper weight for individual charges. This means that the actual weight of a charge from a particular batch of propellant may be different than a charge made from a different batch of propellant. This is especially the case for large-caliber guns which use a very heavy charge. So, when you see a charge weight given for any particular weapon, understand that this is really the nominal weight of the propellant charges and may not the the actual weight of all charges for that weapon.
In 1892, the Austro-Hungarian Imperial Navy started using a single-based “smokeless powder” designated as M.92 consisting of 100% nitrocellulose (12.3% nitrogen). There appears to have been three variations of M.92 manufactured, with slight differences between the different types. Like other pure nitrocellulose propellants of this time, the M.92 types were unstable and in 1893 the Navy switched to a double-based nitrocellulose/nitroglycerin propellant designated as M.93. This had no stabilizer elements and again proved unstable.
In 1897 the Navy introduced a new double-based propellant designated as M.97 that included barium nitrate as an oxidizer and vaseline as a stabilizer. This proved more stable than the earlier propellants and became the basis for all subsequent propellants in use until the end of World War I and the dissolution of the Austo-Hungarian Empire. Over the next two decades, the percentages of ingredients of this propellant were changed several times but all were known as M.97 with a letter suffix indicating the change.
The table below shows the composition of these propellants – percentages given in official documents do not always add up to 100%.
|Designation||Nitrocellulose % (Nitrogen %)||Nitroglycerin %||Barium Nitrate %||Vaseline %|
|M.92||100.0 (12.0 to 12.1)||-0.0-||-0.0-||-0.0-|
|M.92b||100.0 (12.2 to 12.35)||-0.0-||-0.0-||-0.0-|
|M.97||52.0 (12.0 to 13.3)||37.0||8.25||2.0|
|M.97a||52.0 (12.0 to 13.3)||33.0||8.5||4.0 – 5.0|
M.93, M.97d, M.97e and M.97h were produced prior to 1914 but we have been unable to find details on their composition.
The chemical composition of the M/97a propellant manufactured in Blumau differed slightly from the one made by the Dynamit Nobel Pozsony (Bratislava). The nitroglycerin content of the Blumau powder was a little higher than that of the Pozsony powder.
The use of barium nitrate in the M.97 series gave their muzzle flashes a greenish tint.
Almost all propellants were manufactured in the form of hollow tubes (Rohrenpulver). Rohrenpulver was used in most guns 12 cm and larger but at least in the early 1900s 15 cm guns used propellants in strip form (Bandpulver).
Cordite was widely used by the British with Mark I being the first version produced, with manufacturing starting in 1889. This propellant was much more powerful and thermally efficient than gunpowder or brown powder, as shown by tests with early British 6 inch (15.2 cm) QF guns. These guns replaced their 55 lbs. (25 kg) charge of brown prismatic powder with only 13 lbs. (6 kg) of the new Mark I cordite propellant. Mark I cordite consisted of 37% nitrocellulose (13.1% Nitrogen), 58% ntroglycerin and 5% petroleum jelly. This last ingredient had originally been used as a lubricant during the manufacturing process, but it was found that it also acted as a stabilizer as its unsaturated hydrocarbons counteracted the byproducts of the decomposition process.
As can be easily guessed by the name, Cordite was primarily manufactured in thin cylindrical or cord form, with the different sizes denoted by a number representing the hole diameter of the extrusion die. For Mark I cordite, these numbers were in 0.010 inch (0.254 mm) increments. For example, Cordite 30 meant Cordite Mark I extruded through a die having holes 0.300 inches (7.62 mm) in diameter. It should be noted that using propellant in cord form means that the burning surface decreases as the propellant burns and that with hindsight it would have been better to adopt a tubular form, as was done in Germany. Tubular forms have a constant burning surface and thus produce more gas to fill the expanding volume as the projectile travels up the barrel.
Cordite Mark I was first issued for 3-pdr, 6-pdr, 4.7-inch and 6-inch guns in 1893 and for 12-inch guns in May 1895. Generally, the larger the gun, the larger the cord sized used. For example, the 12″ (30.5 cm) Mark VIII and IX guns used Cordite 50, the 6″ (15.2 cm) guns used Cordite 30 and the Hotchkiss 3-pdr guns used Cordite 5.
Mark I cordite did burn very hotly and this was found to be detrimental to gun barrel life, as the high temperatures caused rapid wear. For this reason, the proportions of ntroglycerin and nitrocellulose were revised in order to increase the barrel life. This new propellant was designated MD (for Modified) and it came into service in 1901. MD cordite consisted of 65% nitrocellulose (13.1% N), 30% ntroglycerin and 5% petroleum jelly. MD charges were about 25% heavier than Mark I for the same ballistic result but doubled the life of the guns. MD did have a high shrinkage rate during the drying process, with cords that were extruded at 0.45 inches (1.14 cm) in diameter shrinking down to as little as 0.34 inches (0.86 cm) after they dried. A tube form was made for at least the 4-inch (10.2 cm) QF Mark III, but most guns still used the cord form. Like Mark I cordite, the different sizes of MD were denoted by a number representing the hole diameter of the extrusion die and the numbers were in 0.010 inch (0.254 mm) increments. The most common sizes were MD4.5, which was used for 3-pdr guns, MD8, MD11, MD19, MD26, MD37, which was used for 9.2-inch (23.4 cm) guns and MD45 which was used for the 12-inch (30.5 cm) and larger guns. A larger diameter MD55 cord was tried as this would have been advantageous for the larger caliber guns, but it was found to be impossible to remove all of the volatile solvent.
Both Mark I and MD were in use during World War I, and both had poor storage characteristics with their stability degrading over time. A study performed after World War I found that MD tended to form highly unstable micro-sized dust particles consisting of nitrocellulose and iron pyrites. These unfortunate traits led to several ships suffering magazine explosions during World War I, both in action and in harbor.
By April 1917 considerable improvements had been made in the manufacture of cordite by changing to the use of clean carded sliver cotton, substituting cracked mineral jelly for petroleum jelly, using guncotton which had been nitrated for a minimum of 2.5 hours and in using inspectors for quality control at all stages of the process. This improved propellant was known as MC (for Modified Cracked) and the substitution of cracked mineral jelly in place of petroleum jelly was in a bid to improve stability. With this exception, MC cordite was chemically similar to MD cordite. Plans were put in place during the spring of 1917 to replace some 6,000 tons (6,100 mt) of old cordite with MC cordite as soon as production permitted. However, after the battleship Vanguard exploded in harbor in July 1917, this program was expedited and the exchange was completed in ships of the Grand Fleet by March 1918 and in all ships by September 1918. MC cordite was a fairly satisfactory propellant if properly and carefully made and it was still in use during World War II, primarily as an alternative propellant for certain guns.
In 1927, following a study of the German RP C/12 solventless propellant (see below) used during World War I, British chemists developed a more stable version of cordite called SC (solventless cordite, also known as solventless carbamite). This was used to replace the older propellants as rapidly as possible and remained in service until well after World War II. SC was primarily manufactured in cords (strings) but some was also made in tubular form. The nomenclature was changed such that the cord die hole diameter was now given in 0.001 inch (0.0254 mm) increments. SC consisted of 49.5% nitrocellulose (12.2% N), 41.5% ntroglycerin and 9% centralite (also known as “carbamite”), which was used as a stabilizer. Centralite not only improved the stabilization of SC cordite, it did not have to be removed during the manufacturing process, which gave it better dimensional stability as well. This also permitted the use of larger diameter cords, with the largest being SC500 which was used for the 14-inch Mark VII guns at Dover for cross-channel firings. However, SC was a stiff material to extrude and needed much higher pressures than did the Cordite MD type.
A hotter burning propellant known as HSC (for Hot Solventless Carbamite) or HSCT (for Hot Solventless Carbamite Tubular) for 6-pdr, 3-pdr and 2-pdr guns was also produced. This was composed of 49.5% nitrocellulose, 47% ntroglycerin and 3.5% centralite.
SC was used extensively during World War II and had a better safety record than the previous cordites, although the loss of HMS Hood may be partially attributed to it.
Nitrocellulose propellant imported from USA sources in flake or tube form was standard for Oerlikon 20 mm guns during World War II. In addition, the USA DuPont chemical company NH and FNHP propellants of nitrocellulose dinitrotoluene type in multi-tube form were extensively used for guns between 4 inch (10.2 cm) and 5.25 inch (13.3 cm). The short multi-tube grains of these propellants were particularly well-suited for bottle-neck cases such as those used for the 4.5 inch (11.4 cm) guns. NH was composed of 86% nitrocellulose (13.15% N), 10% dinitrotoluene, 3% dibutylphthalate, 1% diphenylamine while FNHP differed in having 2% less nitrocellulose and 2% more dibutyl phthalate with 0.8% potassium sulfate. FNHP was commonly used for Bofors 40 mm cartridges.
Due to the presence of calcium in the small amount of chalk used to counteract traces of residual acids, SC cordite had a very bright “flash,” a characteristic which led to the development of flashless propellants. British flashless propellants in use during World War II were produced in primarily in slotted tubular form. The most used was NF, originally known as NFQ, and this was composed of 55% picrite (nitroguanidine), 16.5% nitrocellulose (12.1% N), 21% ntroglycerin, 7.5% centralite and 0.3% cryolite. NF was not easy to make and the basic initial material required for picrite was calcium carbide, which required large amounts of electricity during the manufacturing process. For this reason, the only plant making this propellant was located at Welland near Niagara Falls in Canada. Canada also produced Cordite N during World War II which was widely used as a propellant for aircraft gun ammunition. Cordite N is another triple-base propellant that was very cool burning and produced little smoke and almost no flash. The composition was 55.0% nitroguanidine, 19.0% nitrocellulose, 18.5% nitroglycerin and 7.5% ethyl centralite. Cordite N does not appear to have been used as a naval gun propellant in the Royal Navy, but a variation of it was used by the USN (see below).
Flashless propellant was in great demand during the war, however, for guns larger than 5.25″ (13.3 cm), full flashless charges became too bulky for existing turret arrangements and so the only larger weapon issued these was the 6″ (15.2 cm) Mark XXIII. These were actually “reduced flash” or “non-blinding” charges and were designated as NQFP. This propellant was issued in cord form and differed from NF by having 4.5% more nitrocellulose, 4.5% less centralite and 2% potassium sulfate.
The 114 mm (4.5″) Mark 8 naval gun uses a triple-base (Nitroguanidine, Nitroglycerin and Nitrocellulose) flashless propellant known as MNLF/2P/M08. This is manufactured in tube form.
Notable among British double-base propellants was CSP2 (for Chilworth Special Powder No. 2) made by the Chilworth Gunpowder Company prior to World War I. This propellant was widely used by the armament firm of Elswick for many of their export weapons as an alternative to cordite. CSP2 consisted of 70.5% nitrocellulose, 23.5% ntroglycerin, 5% petroleum jelly and 1% sodium bicarbonate. After 1910, this propellant was also manufactured by the Nobel Dynamite Company of Avigliana, Italy.
As noted above, British cordite propellants were designated by the type and a number representing the hole diameter of the extrusion die. For Mark I, MD and MC formulations, these numbers were in 0.010 inch (0.254 mm) increments and for SC cordite they were in 0.001 inch (0.0254 mm) increments. For example, MD45 meant MD-type cordite manufactured with dies having 0.450 inch (11.4 mm) diameter holes while SC350 meant SC-type cordite manufactured with dies having 0.350 inch (8.89 mm) diameter holes.
Propellant grains made in the form of tubes were designated by the type of propellant followed by two numbers, with the first number indicating the external diameter and the second the internal diameter, both in 0.001 inch (0.0254 mm) increments. SC in tubular form was designated in the form of SC T 100-40. HSC and HSCT designations were in the form of HSCT/K 134-055 with the K indicating that potassium cryolite was used as a moderator. NF designations were of the form NF 164-048.
The first “smokeless powder” propellant was invented by the French chemist Paul Vielle in 1884 and adopted by the Navy around 1890. Known as Poudre B (for poudre Blanche, meaning “white powder” and also known as poudre Boulanger marine after the Minister of War, General Georges-Ernest Boulanger), this was a single-base propellant composed primarily of nitrocellulose. This early French nitrocellulose was susceptible to spontaneous ignition, and is believed have caused the loss of the battleships Liberté and Iéna, but this propellant was improved by the addition of diphenylamine as a stabilizer and by more careful attention to the pulping and cleaning process to remove residual traces of acid. The French continued to use single-base nitrocellulose in a strip form for most of their weapons up to World War II. These propellants were designated as BM (for Blanche Modifié? – Modified White?) followed by a number which indicated thickness, such as BM15. This number was somewhat arbitrary, but a larger number did indicate a thicker strip. During the war, BM was produced in a reduced flash version using potassium chloride for some 138.6 mm guns.
French “solventless” propellant designated as SD was produced during the 1930s for a few guns including the 380 mm and 330 mm. Like British SC, French SD appears to have been developed from a study of German RP C/12, as it was in the form of a single tube grain and the composition was similar in its proportions of nitrocellulose, nitroglycerin and centralite. The actual composition of SD was 64-65% nitrocellulose, 25% nitroglycerin and 8-9% centralite. Like BM, the SD designation was followed by an arbitrary number with a larger number indicating a larger grain size. SD19 was issued for 330 mm guns while SD21 was issued for 380 mm guns. The grain for SD19 was 14 mm (0.55 in) outside diameter and 4 mm (0.157 in) internal diameter. The grain for SD21 was a larger tube, but the dimensions are unavailable at this time.
German propellants for the first half of the twentieth century were manufactured in the form of hollow tubes and designated as RP for Rohr-Pulver or “Tube powder.” The propellants were classified by model year and by the external and internal diameters of the tubes in millimeters. For example, RP C/38 (14/4.9) meant a tube powder first introduced in 1938 that had an external diameter of 14 mm (0.551 in) and an internal diameter of 4.9 mm (0.193 in).
Prior to 1912, the Germans used solvents in their manufacturing process, including for RP C/06, the standard propellant in use prior to World War I. There were several compositions used between 1912 and 1945, all of a solventless double-based nature using centralite (symmetrical Diethyl Diphenyl Urea) as a non-volatile solvent. Centralite was not removed from the finished propellant and acted as an excellent stabilizer. Leaving this solvent in also greatly reduced shrinkage during the drying process.
The first of these solventless propellants, RP C/12, was the primary propellant used during World War I. This and RP C/32 used nitroglycerin while formulations starting with RP C/38 used diethylene glycol dinitrate (DGN), which was cooler-burning and less bore erosive.
All of these formulations were resistant to exploding even when exposed to a hot fire. For instance, when the small battleship Gneisenau was bombed at Kiel in 1942, over 23 tons (24 mt) of RP C/32 propellant was ignited in a forward magazine. There was no explosion even though the 750 mt (738 ton) turret “Anton” was lifted at least 50 cm (20 inches) from its mounting by the gas pressure generated by the deflagration. As noted above, both the British and the French did extensive studies of RP C/12 after World War I and developed their own “solventless” propellants based upon the results.
|Nitrocellulose||ntroglycerin||DGN||Petroleum jelly||Sodium bicarbonate||Centralite||Akardite||Methyl centralite||Magnesium oxide||Graphite|
|RP C/06||70.5% (about 12% N)||23.5%||–||5%||1%||–||–||–||–||–|
|RP C/12||64.13% (11.9% N)||29.77%||–||–||–||5.75%||–||–||0.25%||0.10%|
|RP C/32||66.6% (11.5% N)||25.9%||–||–||–||7.25%||–||–||0.15%||0.10%|
|RP C/38||69.45% (12.2% N)||–||25.3%||–||–||5.0%||–||–||0.15%||0.10%|
|RP C/38N||68.72% (12.2% N)||–||25.03%||–||–||1.5%||–||4.5%||0.15%||0.10%|
|RP C/40||67.55% (11.45% N)||–||24.6%||–||–||7.5%||–||–||0.25%||0.10%|
|RP C/40N||64.87% (12.2% N)||–||23.63%||–||–||–||0.5%||7.0%||0.15%||0.10%|
Many references have conflicting information on propellant weights for the World War II period. As can be seen above, part of this confusion lies in that the Germans used several different formulations during this time and also used different grain sizes in making up charges for the same gun. German official documents for these guns in describing the propellant charges often used the term “zu etwa – “to about” – to indicate that the actual charge weight stenciled on a cartridge might not match the weight given in the document.
Italian propellants before World War II were designated as C and were typically a mixture of 68.5% nitrocellulose, 25.5% ntroglycerin, 5% petroleum jelly and 1% sodium bicarbonate. This propellant was apparently derived from Elswick CSP2 and was chemically similar to the German RP C/06. In 1936 solventless propellants were introduced with NAC from Dinamite Nobel and FC4 from Bombrini-Delfino. NAC contained 66% nitroacetylcellulose (this was nitrocellulose mixed with a small amount of acetyl cellulose), 27% ntroglycerin and 7% centralite. FC4 was 64% nitrocellulose, 28% ntroglycerin, 4% phthalit, 3% centralite and 1% petroleum jelly. Grains were usually of single tube design, although the charges for the 381 mm/50 (15 inch) guns also had a disk propellant at the igniter end, possibly to speed up the charge ignition. Reduced flash propellants were introduced during the war by the addition of potassium chloride with charges being produced for gun calibers between 12 cm (4.7 inches) and 20.3 cm (8 inches).
Postwar, the Italians have adopted a singe-based propellant similar to the USN’s NACO (see below). These are designated with M numbers, such as M8 or M10.
Before 1893 the Japanese Navy used brown prismatic powder which was purchased from Britain, Holland or Belgium. In 1888, the Japanese Army, which was responsible for procuring propellants both for itself and for the Japanese Navy, tested the French Poudre B propellant. The tests results were acceptable, and the Japanese purchased a production plant in 1893.
British Mark I Cordite was introduced to Japan the same year when the British-built cruiser Yoshino entered service. On 19 March 1903, Cordite Mark I, which the Japanese designated as C and called Jinjô Chûjô (“common cord like powder”), was adopted for all QF-type guns then in service with the Navy.
Until after the Russo-Japanese War, all naval propellants were imported but in 1907 the Japanese let a contract to the Sir William Armstrong Co. to build a factory at Hiratsuka City, Kanagawa Prefecture, for the manufacture of British MD cordite. The plant was completed in December 1908 and produced both MDC cords and MDT tubular propellant. In 1919, the Japanese Navy purchased this factory outright and renamed it the Kaigun Kayakukô (Naval Powder Plant).
In 1912, the Japanese developed and produced their first naval propellant, known as C2 for Type 2 Cordite. Officially adopted on 12 September 1917, this consisted of 65% nitrocellulose, 30% ntroglycerin, 3% mineral jelly and 2% jara jara (beta naphthol methyl ether). This propellant was also made in a tubular form (tubite) and in this form was known as T2. In 1920, centralite was introduced as a gelatinizer, a technique used by the Germans in their RP C/12. By 1924, this had become the standard naval service propellant and was known as DC (for Doku = Deutsch or German Cordite).
Fairly satisfactory flashless propellant containing potassium sulfate and hydrocellulose was introduced about 1938. Known as FD, this was said to reliably eliminate flash for guns up to 14 cm (5.5 inch) but not for larger guns.
The nominal diameter of the Japanese cords was given in units of 0.1 mm (0.004″). For example, the Japanese propellant 80DC was cordite with cords of 8.0 mm (0.315″) diameter.
By 1896 the USN had begun small-scale production of a single-base nitrocellulose propellant at Newport, Rhode Island. Major manufacturing of this “smokeless powder” SP at the Naval Ordnance Station (later known as the Naval Powder Factory), at Indian Head, Maryland was begun in 1900 and continued there for decades.
Smokeless powder will deteriorate over time as it contains nitrocellulose and two volatile substances, ether and alcohol. Its length of usefulness depends largely on the conditions under which it is stowed. Moisture or heat speeds its deterioration and the combination of the two is extremely damaging to the propellant. In 1905, George Patterson, the key civilian researcher at Indian Head, was experimenting with the addition of rosaniline dye to the propellant, designating these lots as SPR. This dye did nothing to stabilize the deterioration of the propellant, but instead showed the status of the deterioration by changing color as it combined with the forming acids.
Patterson recommended the abandonment of rosaniline dye in 1908 in favor of adding diphenylamine as a stabilizer. Known as SPD, this new propellant was first produced in 1908 and adopted as the standard propellant formulation by 1912. SPD was found to have good stability characteristics when properly stored, with some lots manufactured prior to World War I staying in storage for as long as twelve years without loss of stability. During World War II, the primary USN propellant was SPD in a multi-tube form made up of 99.5% nitrocellulose (12.6% N), 0.5% diphenylamine. The USN used a flat, short cylindrical grain design that usually had seven perforations with the websize varying from 0.023 in (0.58 mm) for the short 3 in (7.62 cm) gun to about 0.174 in (4.42 mm) for the 16 in (40.64 cm) guns. SPD had a good safety record partly due to the harder-to-ignite and slow burning nature of its single-base nature and partly due to the quality of its manufacturing process.
In the mid-1920’s, both the Naval Powder Factory at Indian Head and the DuPont Co. developed flashless powders. The Powder Factory had also obtained good results by mixing flash-reducing chemicals with the conventional powder charge. Flashlessness, however, was gained only by an increase in the amount of smoke, which was unacceptable to the fleet as it interfered with searchlight illumination and fire control. By 1928, BuOrd had stopped work on flash suppression. With the advent of radar in World War II, smoke became less objectionable and the fleet was willing to accept considerably more smoke in order to obtain a significant reduction in flash. At the time the request for flashless powder was received, BuOrd had already accumulated large inventories of smokeless powder. In order to prevent this material from being discarded, some means of converting it into acceptable flashless charges had to be found.
By the summer of 1942, the Naval Powder Factory had the answer in a chemical tablet made of a mixture of potassium nitrate and potassium sulfate, to which was added a small amount of graphite to facilitate pelleting. After extensive testing by the Naval Proving Ground had worked out the details, production was begun in September 1942. The use of these flashless pellets was limited to guns between 3 to 6 inches (7.62 to 15.2 cm) as larger calibers would have required too many pellets. Even in these calibers performance was not always perfect. A fused mass of clinkers could form in the gun chambers, a result of incomplete combustion of the pellets. At high angles of gun elevation, these clinkers could cause gun casualties such as jammed breech mechanisms. To eliminate the hazard, the Research Division of BuOrd, working with the Naval Powder Factory, developed a flashless grain. Known as SPDF, this new material consisted of 5 to 7 percent potassium sulfate mixed with nitrocellulose, colloided as a normal smokeless powder, and extruded in the form of a powder grain. Satisfactory in both ballistic and flash suppression properties, flashless grains of this type were in production at the Naval Powder Factory when the war ended. Meanwhile, pellets continued to serve the need for a flash suppressor for existing propellants. While not completely satisfactory, these two compositions provided the fleet with an essentially flashless charge long before it was possible to have true flashless powder.
During World War II some Cordite N (see above) flashless propellant was imported from Canada and this was used for full charges for at least 6 inch (15.2 cm) and 8 inch (20.3 cm) guns and in reduced charges for 16 inch (40.6 cm) guns during the war and for other guns afterwards. Known as SPCG in USN service, the composition of this propellant differed from British NF and consisted of 19.0% nitrocellulose (13.1% N), 18.7% ntroglycerin, 55% nitroguanidine and 7.3% centralite. BuOrd was unhappy with this propellant, as Cordite N was brittle and, even worse, it contained ntroglycerin, which the USN considered to be highly undesirable for use in naval propellants. BuOrd instituted a major research program to develop a flashless propellant that did not use ntroglycerin. After testing dozens of possibilities, scientists narrowed the field to two likely candidates – dinitrodiethanol nitramine (DINA) and Fivonite. Experimental firing at Dahlgren showed little difference between the two, but DINA was selected because of its superior physical properties.
Albanite, the name given this new flashless powder because of its white color, appeared to have all the desirable features of Cordite N and few of the objectionable ones. Studies of Albanite by DuPont demonstrated the feasibility of large-scale production, and by V-J Day BuOrd had launched an ambitious procurement program which called for monthly deliveries of 4,000,000 pounds of the new propellant. Albanite was composed of 20.0% nitrocellulose (12.6% N), 19.5% DINA, 55.0% nitroguanidine, 4.0% dibutyl phthalate and 1.5% centralite. To this mixture was added a small amount of potassium sulfate and lead which acted as a decoppering agent. These charges weighed about 10% more than those for nitrocellulose.
In the early 1950s experiments with a solventless propellant known as NOSOL progressed into the current formulations of single-base propellant known as “Navy Cool” or NACO which is composed of 91% nitrocellulose (12.0% N), 1% ethyl centralite, 3% butyl stearate, 1% basic lead carbonate, 1% potassium sulfate and 3% volatiles.
The cancelled ERGM rocket projectile was to use a special mixture known as EX-99 propellant which, according to one open-source document, is composed of 76% RDX (cyclonite, cyclomethylene trinitramine), 12% cellulose acetate butyrate (CAB), 7.6% acetal/formal (A/F), 4% nitrocellulose and 0.4% ethyl centralite. The high percentage of RDX gives this propellant the unusually high “kick” necessary for this relatively heavy projectile and is one of the reasons why the 5″/62 (12.7 cm) gunhouse was greatly strengthened over the earlier 5″/54 (12.7 cm) gunhouse.
The designations below are normally followed by a number that indicates the sequence of manufacture. The combination of the letters and the number is termed the index or the lot of the powder.
SP – Smokeless Powder, the original single-based propellant adopted by the USN around 1896
SPR – Smokeless Powder with Rosaniline dye, in service with the USN for a brief period between 1905 and 1908
SPD – Smokeless Powder with Diphenylamine as a stabilizer, adopted by the USN in 1908
SPDB – A blend of diphenylamine stabilized powders of different lots. The purpose of blending is to provide a uniform index of ample size and desired characteristics from smaller remnant lots.
SPDF – A flashless formulation of SPD
SPDN – SPD with nonvolatile materials added to reduce its hydroscopic tendencies. The N stands for nonhygroscopic.
SPDW – Reworked propellant intended for target use. Propellant is ground down, reprocessed and then made into new grains.
SPWF – Reworked propellant to which a flashless element has been added
SPDX – Water-dried SPD
SPC – Smokeless Powder with Carbamite (ethyl centrality) added for stability
SPCF – A flashless formulation of SPC
SPCG – Flashless triple-based propellant stabilized with carbamite. The G is short for NG, the designation for Nitroguanidine.
– Jutland: An Analysis of the Fighting. Conway Maritime Press, Ltd., 1986
– Naval Weapons of World War Two. Conway Maritime Press, Ltd., 1985
– Technical Topics No. 5: Cordite. Article published in Warship Volume II, Conway Maritime Press, Ltd., 1978
Carlisle, Rodney. Powder and Propellants: Energetic Materials at Indian Head, Maryland, 1890-2001 (Second Edition). University of North Texas Press, 2002
Gander, Terry J. and Charles Q. Cutsaw. Jane’s Ammunition Handbook, Ninth Edition 2000-2001. Jane’s Information Group, Inc., 2000
Garzke, William H. Jr. and Robert O. Dulin, Jr. Battleships: United States Battleships, 1935-1992 (Revised and Updated Edition). Naval Institute Press, 1995
Green, Constance McLaughlin, Harry C. Thomson and Peter C. Roots. The Ordnance Department: Planning Munitions for War. Office of the Chief of Military History, Department of the Army, Washington, D.C., 1955
Johnson, Ashley. “Closed Loop Energetics with VOC Emission Reduction (CLEVER).” ESTCP Cost and Performance Report. Environmental Security Technology Certification Program (ESTCP), Department of Defense (DoD), June 2003
Krámli, Mihály – Supplied official documents from the Austrian and Hungarian archives
Lacroix, Eric and Linton Wells III. Japanese Cruisers of the Pacific War. Naval Institute Press, 1997
Mosher, Paul. US Patent No. 4082583, “Solventless double base propellants and method for plasticizing MTN nitrocellulose propellants without use of solvents.” U.S. Department of Patents, issued 4 April 1978
Tauzla, Jean-Michel. An Introduction to Energetic Materials. SNPE Matériaux Energétiques, 2005
US Navy, Bureau of Ordnance (BuOrd). O.P. 1664 Volume 1 – U.S. Explosive Ordnance, 28 May 1947
US Navy. “Report O-10-2: Japanese Propellants – Article 2, Rocket and Gun Propellants – General.” Reports of the U.S. Naval Technical Mission to Japan, 29 November 1945
16 February 2008 – Benchmark
10 January 2009 – Additional information on British cordite propellants
28 February 2018 – Updated to HTML 5 format
02 October 2020 – Added Austria-Hungary propellant section
01 April 2021 – Added details to French section
26 March 2022 – Added explanation for “zu etwa” for German propellants, minor changes to ERGM propellant not
Earlier this week, SIG introduced their new Cross rifle to much acclaim. They mentioned that it’s chambered for .308 Winchester, 6.5 Creedmoor, and .277 SIG Fury.
Well, the speculation about this mysterious .277 SIG Fury has practically broken the internet. GunsAmerica spoke directly with an authoritative representative from SIG to get the scoop and figure out exactly what’s going on with this cartridge.
NOTE: Our Editor, True Pearce, took the Cross rifle and the new Fury ammo on an elk hunt this Fall and we used some of his leftover ammo for these photos. Please note that these are pre-production cases and they don’t even bear a headstamp.
Is the .277 SIG Fury a Magnum?
The short answer is no. It fits into a short action rifle and has the same head diameter as a .308.
Why .277 or 6.8?
As many of you know, traditionally the best bullets are not found in .277 caliber. While a few good ones exist, most of the favorite bullets on the market are .260 caliber (6.5), .284 caliber (7mm) or .308 caliber. So why did SIG choose .277 (6.8mm)?
The answer is they didn’t. The U.S. military wants a new belt-fed machine gun and put out a contract for one. SIG entered a belt-fed machine gun hoping to win the contract. The military specified the caliber of 6.8 or .277. Of course, the military wants the cartridge lighter and more powerful so SIG began developing the .277 Fury for that contract. SIG has been selected as one of the three finalists for the contract and will be going into full production with the .277 SIG Fury for the military. The commercial market gets to reap the benefits of over two years of R&D with the cartridge for the military.
The other two finalists for the belt-fed contract are General Dynamics and Textron.
To summarize the .277 SIG Fury was designed for the military. Specifically for SIG’s belt-fed machine gun entry.
140 Grains, 3,000 FPS, 16″ Barrel
There have been all kinds of numbers circulating, but the facts are that a 140-grain bullet will attain a velocity of more than 3,000 FPS from a 16″ barrel. Exact chronographed velocity won’t be finalized until it’s checked in SIG Cross production rifles but at least 3,000 FPS is certain. Obviously, longer barrels are going to mean even faster speeds.
This is significant because this kind of speed is usually only possible from longer barrels and magnum rifles. While some claim handloaded speeds with 6.5 Creedmoors of over 2900 fps with 140 grain bullets, the truth is that they are shooting 28-30 inch barrels or are not following actual published load data and are far exceeding safe pressures (We might know some guys).
SIG’s launch of the Cross rifle is targeted squarely at hunters and long-range shooters. They even offer it from the factory with FirstLite’s popular Cipher pattern. That gun with a 16″ barrel and chambered for .277 SIG Fury weighs just 6.2 lbs, and that’s very attractive when you consider that velocity.
What’s Different About This Case?
The .277 SIG Fury is a three-piece cartridge. The brass part of the case encompasses the body, shoulder, and neck. The base or head of the case is stainless steel and is where most of the pressure happens. The third piece mechanically bonds the stainless base and brass body together inside the case. SIG says, “We see this as the technology of the future.”
Putting a steel head on a brass case is not a new idea, but it has never been mass-produced. “We’ve been targeting a better way to manufacture it,” SIG’s representative says.
Steel is much stronger than brass so this case can withstand higher pressures without being as thick as brass would require. It’s much lighter, making this case weigh significantly less than brass casings of similar loads. Soldiers who pack this stuff around by the ammo can-full will appreciate that.
The case head is the same diameter as .308 and 6.5mm Creedmoor cases. The case has a similar OAL to a .308.
All these comparison photos should give you a good idea about the case. Once the SAAMI registration is published we’ll have exact dimensions.
A standard cartridge, like a .308, is producing (on the high side) around 60,000 PSI. A magnum cartridge, like .300 Remington Ultra Magnum, can produce as much as 66,000 PSI.
SIG’s Fury is working at more than 80,000 PSI. They have created and tested proprietary blends of faster burning powder that help safely push those pressures and velocities while maintaining good accuracy.
80,000 PSI is the key to getting high speeds from a short barrel. It’s not using standard powders, either. These are new proprietary powder blends SIG has developed while developing this ammo for the military.
Sweet, I’ll Have Ol’ Reliable Rechambered in .277 Fury…
Can you have your gunsmith rechamber your favorite rifle in SIG Fury? Technically, yes. SIG has even tested several actions from other manufacturers. A Remington 700 can certainly handle it, but SIG doesn’t recommend it, and for good reason.
That much pressure can be handled by existing actions, but they are not designed for it and it’s going to wear on them. “We Built the Cross rifle like a tank,” SIG says. Everything about this new action is engineered for longevity under the high pressure produced by this cartridge.
SIG will have the .277 ammo available commercially in 2020. This is SIG’s first proprietary rifle cartridge. But they already have other calibers in the works. They confirmed that a 6.5mm case is on the way and that we may see long action calibers follow.
SIG emphasized that any forthcoming products won’t be existing chamberings. “Future cases using this technology will be a SIG Fury caliber. All of those cartridges will be proprietary SIG.” There won’t be a 6.5mm Creedmoor with this casing because they want to ensure that nobody loads this high-pressure ammo in actions that aren’t designed for it.
It does feed perfectly from existing AICS magazines.
The .277 SIG Fury was filed with SAAMI in summer 2019 and the registration is expected to be completed early in the first quarter of 2020. Since it’s not finalized with SAAMI, we don’t have the exact specs and tolerances, yet.
SAAMI, the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturing Institute, is “tasked with creating and publishing industry standards for safety, interchangeability, reliability and quality, coordinating technical data and promoting safe and responsible firearms use.” All cartridges you buy commercially meet SAAMI specs and you can reference their specs for your own reloading.
What Does SIG Proprietary Mean?
This is a SIG designed cartridge that doesn’t fit any other chambering. Some speculation was that this would fit in a regular 6.8. It won’t. Sig has registered this cartridge with SAAMI and fully expects other manufacturers to produce ammunition and rifles chambered in their proprietary chambering. No royalties will be required. Everyone will benefit from the commercialization of this cartridge.
With high pressures and special powders, the barrels have got to be wearing out like crazy, right?
Testing is still being conducted on barrel life, and most of the focus has been on the full-auto belt-fed machine gun barrels SIG is pitching to the military. They have done lots of testing on the bolt guns, too, but SIG isn’t ready to release numbers quite yet.
They told us the preliminary numbers, though, and we had to ask again to clarify because it didn’t sound possible. We can say that with specific barrel coatings the barrel life with the .277 SIG Fury is better than the speculation in the forums and better than you’re imagining.
Way better than you’re imagining. Can’t wait for SIG to finish testing and release the final numbers.
SIG will have reloading supplies for Fury ammo in the future. Their priority right now is in winning the government contract and launching the ammo commercially.
What Happens to the SIG Fury if SIG Doesn’t Win the Military Contract?
SIG assured us that they are “all in” on this cartridge and concept and that regardless of what the military does that they will be producing and creating other calibers.
Their first goal is to finalize a manufacturing process that allows them to build cases in huge quantities and for as low of a price as possible.
As part of their audition with the military, SIG has to produce millions of rounds of ammunition this year for testing. Their priority is supplying the military, of course, but they are making it available commercially no matter the military’s choice.
“We’ve already invested in this, in the machinery,” SIG told GunsAmerica. “We are going forward with this no matter what happens with the military.”
What’s It Going to Cost?
SIG doesn’t know yet but they know that to succeed commercially that it can’t be way more expensive than other hunting ammunition on the market. Currently, they’re machining the case heads but have several other technologies that they’re investing in that could make the cases much less expensive.
And if the military adopts it, then it should become relatively inexpensive due to the quantities that will be manufactured.
What Ammo Will Be Available?
We do know that there is going to be 135-grain match ammo and 140-grain ammo right off the bat. These photos are all the 140-grain hunting round. SIG expects a plethora of bullet options to follow as well as other ammo manufacture’s to load for the round.
How Does It Shoot?
Preliminary tests are excellent. Our Editor, True Pearce who has hunted with and shot the rifle and ammo says that “it exceeded his expectations in a hunting rifle.” Currently all of the Cross rifles chambered in .277 SIG Fury are prototypes but you can expect GunsAmerica to do some accuracy testing and report on it as soon as production guns are available. It doesn’t do anyone any good to report on a non-production prototype rifle’s accuracy that will be different than the finished product.
The Cross Rifle
The Cross rifle — which is a crossover between tactical and hunting — is currently the only rifle available for the .277 SIG Fury ammo. It is the only rifle that can shoot it, and SIG developed the rifle from the ground up for this revolutionary cartridge.
Development started four or five years ago on the rifle and it has been extensive. Everything in the rifle was designed and manufactured by SIG. The action and trigger (parts you can’t see from the pictures) are different from a design perspective than anything else available on the market. Obviously there are similarities between any rifle. They all have a stock, a bolt and a barrel but the way it works is unlike anything else out there.
Unfortunately, rumor has it that the production version won’t have the dust cover.
MSRP for the Cross rifle is $1,779, but you’ll find it at stores for the minimum advertised price of $1,599.
U.S.A. –-(AmmoLand.com)- For a brief time, .40S&W was quite possibly the most popular service caliber in the United States. Legions of law enforcement agencies chose it for their duty guns, and the civilian market followed suit. Even today, certain demographics still fawn over the forty.
However, times are changing. In the early 2010’s the FBI began returning to the 9mm they’d abandoned less than two decades prior, with many others in law enforcement and the citizen world following suit. With this in mind, are there reasons why someone would choose a handgun chambered for .40S&W as their primary pistol in 2022? Let’s find out.
Shortcomings of 40S&W
Slightly More Expensive
The price difference between 9mm and .40S&W has typically been minor over the past several years. However, there has consistently been a difference, with 9mm usually being on the less expensive end of the spectrum. As of the time of this writing, .40S&W retails online for roughly $0.03-0.06 more per round than comparable practice loads of 9mm for cases of 1,000 rounds. This results in roughly $30-60 more per case when shooting .40S&W. Duty ammunition, seems to be roughly equivalent in price between the two, though 9mm enjoys far more availability and a wider variety of options than its bigger brother.
These differences in price are fairly minimal but can add up over time. I don’t think a few extra pennies here and there will break most people’s banks, but as belts continue to tighten, the extra expense could prove detrimental for many shooters.
More Difficult to Shoot
One of the biggest issues people have with .40S&W is increased recoil compared to 9mm. As a young shooter with a Glock 23, I had a hell of a time getting used to the sharp snap from the plastic fantastic compared to the mild puff from the Beretta M9 I’d traded away. One of the primary reasons cited by the FBI in their shift away from .40S&W is due to the relatively harsh recoil, contributing to reduced accuracy among their agents. Wanting to quantify this difference, I headed to the range to see how they compared for myself.
To get as equal comparison as possible with the equipment available to me, I opted to shoot a Glock 34 in 9mm and a Glock 22 in .40S&W. While the G34 does have a longer sight radius, the difference is fairly negligible in my experience. Both guns were 4th generation Glocks outfitted with factory iron sights, with no modifications.
As expected, my performance was better with the 9mm pistol. However, the differences were far less substantial than I imagined I would see. I fired several drills with both pistols, giving each three repetitions per drill to get an average of performance. To ensure .40S&W had a fair chance, I shot the drills cold to avoid any differences in my shooting.
To top things off, the G22 was significantly more pleasant to shoot than I prepared myself for. This was honestly a shock for me, as my prior experiences with most .40S&W pistols has been very negative in terms of shootability. This of course can be impacted by ammunition selection, and is highly subjective in the first place. That being said, numbers don’t lie. While the differences are fairly minor, there is a distinct degradation of performance when moving from 9mm to .40S&W. Even with this degradation, I wouldn’t feel significantly disadvantaged with of forty in my waistband.
Increased Parts Wear
This is something that the vast majority of shooters will never have to worry about. That being said, it is something to consider for even mildly serious shooters, those buying used firearms, or people looking to adopt firearms for their agency/organization/whatever. Thanks to the increased pressures associated with .40S&W, users will see increased parts wear compared to 9mm and .45ACP service pistols. But don’t take my word for it.
Recently Greg Ellifritz, of Active Response Training, spoke to common parts breakage on Glock handguns and how to properly maintain them. With experience maintaining the pistols for his agency, and as a national level trainer, Greg has a lot of insight into the subject. Due to this, I asked for his input regarding the differences in parts life between 9mm and .40S&W pistols. Here’s what he had to say:
“My department issued 9mm, .40, and .45 Glocks. I worked on all of them. The .40s would have parts break at 2-3x the rate of 9s and .45s. I think the overall service life is probably pretty equal but you are going to have to do more work to keep the .40s going.”
To add to this, I spoke with Reid Henrichs of Valor Ridge. Reid was the first national-level instructor I trained with back in the fall of 2017. During the course of training, he spoke to the shorter service life of .40S&W handguns compared to their 9mm counterparts. Recently I reached out to Reid for his updated take on the subject. Here’s what he had to say:
“I have seen about 6 pistols blow up on the range, all of them .40 S&W. Some were using reloads but some were not. I have never seen a 9mm blow up. In terms of service life of a pistol, the 9mm Glocks have about a 4-5X longer life than the .40. You will get about 30-50k rounds from a G22/23 and easily 100k+from a G17/19.
The parts that break are the slide and frame. Small cracks become big ones. In terms of maintenance, they are equal as you need to replace the recoil springs every 5k rounds. Other springs should be replaced annually. My range gun, a gen 3 G19 has 120K through it right now and is still going strong.”
No Additional Stopping Power
“Stopping power” is difficult to quantify. We can use ballistics gelatin tests to measure expansion, penetration, and more, but those aren’t a 1:1 comparison of performance against a living threat. We can spend days cherry-picking examples of X round performing perfectly or Y round underperforming. This goes for caliber debates, preferred defensive loads, and even different bullet weights within the same caliber and brand. What truly matters here is good shot placement with a quality round.
We’re not here to focus on anatomy today, so we’ll instead discuss what advantages, if any, .40S&W holds of 9mm in the realm of “stopping power”. Turns out the differences between most service calibers are negligible. Whether you’re shooting a 9, 40, or 45, penetration and even expansion are often comparable with quality defensive ammunition.
Several studies have been conducted on this, such as those from Doctor Gary Roberts, Greg Ellifritz, and others. If that’s not enough, the FBI speaks in detail about the myth of stopping power, or any perceived benefits of larger calibers in their whitepaper explaining their switch back to 9mm for service pistols. With several leading experts in the industry all coming to the same independent conclusions, this may be a clue.
Of course this means that .40S&W is perfectly adequate for personal protection. Nobody is arguing that point. But is the juice worth the squeeze when the results are the same at the cost of the other issues mentioned above? Is seems like most people are saying no.
Benefits of 40S&W
If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably thinking that I hate .40S&W. If you asked me a few months ago, the answer would’ve been yes. That being said, I’m not as opposed to it now as I was in the past. There certainly are some benefits to the round. What are they?
Some competitive shooting bodies offer different divisions for different calibers, typically based off of Power Factor. In simple terms, Power Factor is bullet weight multiplied by velocity measured in feet per second. Theoretically, a higher power factor means higher recoil. Baselines are established for different power factors, ensuring that shooters don’t load severely underpowered ammunition for an unfair advantage.
USPSA has two Power Factors, Major and Minor, with Major offering more points for hits outside the A-Zone of the target. This leads many shooters to choose Major, allowing for a little more grace for thrown shots. An easy way to make Major Power Factor is to use heavier bullets, which is often thought to produce lower recoil than choosing higher velocity rounds. A bigger bullet is easier to make heavier. As such, we see .40S&W dominate Limited division in USPSA, allowing for Major, while also providing improved capacity over something like a .45ACP.
Some guns allow you to swap a few parts and convert them into other calibers. My Glock 31, for example, can be easily converted to shoot .40S&W, and 9×19 while still using the same holsters. Often times people tout this as a selling point for guns chambered in .40S&W, as most are readily convertible to 9mm.
However, this is far less common in reality than in theory, and the costs quickly rise. Replacement barrels, sometimes replacement recoil springs, extractors and more, plus the time to swap everything. Zeroing your sights for your new ammunition, ensuring you’re not confusing magazines and ammunition. All of these factors add up to time and money that could potentially be better served elsewhere.
However, I don’t think this is a lost cause. Caliber conversions are helpful in places where the number of guns you can own are limited. It can also be helpful if you use calibers that require fewer parts to be swapped, such as .357SIG to .40S&W. Guns milled for optics can also benefit from caliber conversion, saving the user time and money, not having to send another slide off for weeks to months to get custom milled.
The Used Market
As more law enforcement agencies and private citizens dump their .40S&W guns, the market gets more favorable for those looking to gobble up these trade-ins. One department near me actually switched from 9mm to .40S&W within the past few years, buying guns and ammunition for pennies on the dollar. It was savings like this which led my family to jumping on the .40S&W bandwagon back in 2012. This is one of the more valid reasons I see for going the forty route in 2022, though it is temporary at best.
Unfortunately, a lot of these were bought up during the initial panic of 2020, when thousands of people decided it was time to buy a gun. That being said, you’ll still occasionally come across new trade-ins from time to time. Most people don’t shoot their guns that much, so snagging a gently used .40S&W will likely serve you well for a long time.
Final Thoughts on 40S&W
With modern bullet technology there is not much reason to choose .40S&W over a modern 9mm load. While it certainly performs admirably, and is widely available, it’s just not ideal in 2022. Maybe one day we’ll see a renaissance in bullet technology like we’ve seen with 9mm in the past few years, rocketing .40S&W back to the top of the game. Think about the pros and cons listed above, and decide what is right for you.
Author’s Note: Thanks to Greg Ellifritz and Reid Henrichs for their insight and support with this piece. Give them some love and support.
About Dan Reedy
Dan is an Air Force veteran, avid shooter, and dog dad. With a passion for teaching, he holds instructor certifications from Rangemaster, Agile Training & Consulting, and the NRA. He has trained with Darryl Bolke, Mike Pannone, Craig Douglas, among several other instructors, amassing over 400 hours of professional instruction thus far. In his spare time you’ll find him teaching handgun, shotgun, and less lethal classes.