When I was growing up it seemed like there were new cartridges coming and going every day. I recall with particular fondness the plethora of now-extinct wonder rounds that lived and died in the early years of the AR boom. The short magnum craze happened around the same time.
Today we’re living in the make-believe world of long-range gamer calibers that makes me wish the industry-wide zombie trend never ended. While the cringe will probably never end on that front, we’re going to be looking at three noteworthy rifle calibers to watch in 2019. We’ll see how long they last.
The first isn’t exactly fair because it’s been around a while. I’m of course talking about the 300 Blackout. The reason it’s on this list is because the innovation around it simply never seems to end. While it’s still relatively young compared to centennial rounds like the .30-06 and .45 ACP, the 300 BLK has quickly become a modern classic that’s endeared itself to rifle shooters all over the country.
Why exactly is the 300 BLK so popular? For starters it’s a supremely adaptable cartridge that can fit into almost any role that a rifle is needed for. The ability to fire 240gr subsonics at 800fps and 78gr supersonics at 2,800fps with no modification to the gun is huge. The modern rifleman has a full spectrum of options when it comes to the 300 BLK that aren’t offered by any other rifle round.
SIG SAUER has recently released two fantastic new rounds for the 300 BLK that are sure to impress. Both of these rounds are the result of tremendous research and development on SIG’s part and they exemplify just how good 300 BLK has become.
The first of these is a 120gr all-copper expanding bullet made for short barreled guns. While you’d think that all 300 Blackout loads are made for SBR-length barrels, that isn’t the case. The vast majority of guns chambered for the cartridge are 16” and most ammo is designed to work at somewhat higher speeds than advertised.
The SIG load here will get a full review very soon, but my initial testing in a 7.5” barrel revealed it was probably the most accurate supersonic SBR load I’ve ever used.
The next SIG load is quite a head-turner. The 205gr Tipped Hunting load features a special bullet contour that optimizes feeding in standard 5.56mm AR mags. This round is loaded to subsonic speed and features SIG’s proprietary bullet technology to ensure reliable expansion in game.
I am extremely pleased that this ammunition exists as it fills a niche in the subsonic sector, which has sadly been filled with large FMJ-type loads that lack terminal performance.
The 350 Legend is the new kid on the block in the world of straight-walled hunting cartridges. The round was designed to be the perfect straight-wall legal cartridge for states that have laws requiring their use in deer hunting zones.
The rifle you see in the photo is from Precision Rifle Company in Dorr, MIchigan. It is literally the very first custom build chambered in 350 Legend anywhere in the country. The box of ammo in the photos is full of genuine Winchester proof loads for testing actions and barrels, which was cool to see.
The 350 Legend fits in these areas in the rifles of dedicated deer hunters who are looking for an economical, but practical cartridge for their sport. The round will be offered in a number of bullet types this year from Winchester and there will certainly be more to come down the road. Rounds like the 450 Bushmaster are substantially more expensive and there are no real options for cheap practice ammo out there.
A nice thing about the 350 Legend is that it can be used with regular 9mm suppressors. I have been told that most normal 9mm cans will be just fine with it as the bullet diameter is virtually identical to the 9mm. I don’t have a sample round to measure, but it’s safe to assume that the 350 Legend uses either a .355” or .357” bullet. The ability of a hunter to use a suppressor he already owns for his handgun with his hunting rifle is a big deal.
Another mark in the plus column for the 350 Legend is that is low-recoil and user friendly. The 450 Bushmaster can be too powerful for the small-statured, which, combined with being expensive ammo, can make for a bad day at the range and on the wallet. With an inexpensive round cost and low recoil, the 350 Legend is set to be very popular in the woods this fall.
The biggest round on my watch list is one that has enjoyed a short, but meteoric rise. The 300 PRC from Hornady is a magnum rifle round that recently won a large Dept. of Defense contract to supply ammunition for the newly adopted Barrett MRAD sniper rifle.
The significance of this adoption cannot be overstated. The 300 PRC has only been around for a virtual second in the world of cartridges and the fact that it has already secured a coveted nod from Uncle Sam in that time is a major feat.
So why the 300 PRC and not rounds like the 300 Norma Magnum, 300 Win Mag, 338 Lapua, or 6.5 Creedmoor? (Author’s Note: The 6.5 Creedmoor is simply too powerful, accurate, and flat-shooting to make warfare a challenge, so a primitive .30 caliber had to be selected. Sad, I know, but GLOCK’s MHS submission suffered the same fate of being just too good for general issue, and the gun that actually followed the rules of the MHS contest was selected instead. Life can be so unfair!)
The answer to this is both economical and practical. The 300 PRC is a far more cost-effective round compared to 338 Lapua and 300 Norma Mag.
When compared to the tried-and-true 300 Win Mag the 300 PRC can deliver a heavier projectile at greater speed, but with similar recoil. This enables the shooter to extend their combat range to over a mile while firing a round that is both low recoil and easily suppressed.
I have had the chance to touch off a few rounds of 300 PRC from of a conventional rifle. I am looking forward to testing it in the MRAD. The round has the same recoil characteristics as a 300 Win Mag for the most part. At 900 yards there wasn’t much of a discernable difference on steel, but there was a bit of edge in the 300 PRC’s favor when it came to wind deflection.
While I don’t think that the 300 PRC will be adopted military wide, I do suspect that it will gradually take the place of a number of mixed-bag rounds in limited service.
I see the military continuing to issue 5.56x45mm and 7.62x51mm for standard small arms and 300 PRC and 50 BMG for specialized rifles and machineguns. I have been tipped off that there are military varieties of 300 PRC already in development to include AP and single-direction tracer (that’s a tracer bullet that doesn’t streak like existing rounds, but instead has a bullet base with an illuminated substance on it visible only to the shooter/spotter), but I have not been able to verify this with any manufacturers.
So there you have it. There are certainly other rounds to keep and eye on, but this is my short list and I’m sticking to it. If there are other rounds that you feel should have been included, please let me know and I’ll take a look at them. I don’t shoot 6.5 Creedmoor, so I’m bound to miss some things from time to time.