Ahead of its time: Byron Pace drags the .280 Ross back from obscurity

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As I write this I am toiling with a very hard decision. It’s an affliction most hunters suffer with, where every so often the unexplainable desire to own a new calibre begins to burn. Intending it to be a second barrel on my M03, it’s a toss-up between the .300 Win Mag and the 7×64. While crunching the numbers and sifting through the available info I came across another 7mm-based cartridge of impressive pedigree, but unavailable as a standard chambering today.

Although a relative unknown, the .280 Ross deserves to be remembered, as the possibly the first commercial load to break the 3,000fps MV barrier, back in 1908. Of Canadian origin, it was designed by the wealthy Sir Charles Ross with assistance from Eley. Around the same time he had also succeeded in convincing the esteemed London gunmaker Charles Lancaster to manufacture his design of straight-pull rifles. The original concept for the cartridge spawned from the .30-06 in 1906, when Ross experimented with necking down the cartridge to take a 7mm bullet and created the ultimate long-range military and target rifle round. He was, however, unsatisfied with his initial results and two years later designed a whole new cartridge.

The process was not without complications in achieving his desired high velocity, with powders of the day providing insufficient propulsion. With this he took it upon himself to convince DuPont powders to produce a modified version of the #20 powder, increasing the size of the granules to allow for slower burning and safer resulting pressures. This was known as DuPont #10 and, I believe, is the basis of today’s H4831.

The .280 Ross was born with a long 2.6in case, offering a distinct taper along the body. This had been deliberately designed for use in his straight-pull rifles to ease the force required for extraction in the face of the high pressures being applied. As a side benefit, it also made feeding from a magazine as slick as possible.

Before the First World War, Sir Charles secured a commission from the Canadian government to supply his rifle and cartridge. This was, however, short lived, with many of his rifles suffering major jamming issues as a result of sub-standard ammunition. Delivery failures to the front line followed, and by 1917 his company had all but collapsed.

Despite this shaky start, the cartridge did find its way into public use, trickling across America, into Europe and Africa. Here it built an excellent reputation on medium-sized game, but presented a number of failures when it came to larger stuff. This was really a result of the cartridge being ahead of its time, with bullet design lagging behind. They simply were not strong enough to offer adequate terminal performance at high velocities when it came to tougher game like moose and the larger African antelope.

Looking at the design of the standard hunting load offered in .280 Ross, it’s easy to see the copper jacketed bullet and solid copper tip was not too dissimilar to the modern Nosler Ballistic Tip. A design not really suitable for large game, but another example of how nothing new is really new.

Sir Charles’s innovation didn’t end there however, with his desire to optimise the performance of his cartridge for long-range target shooting. He was arguably the first to design a heavy calibre bullet for extreme long-range shooting. His high BC 180-grain bullet (which incidentally was actually .288 and not the .284 we use for 7mm cartridges today) was a true 1,000-yard load.

After limping along for almost three decades, the cartridge was picked up by Remington and Winchester but dropped again by 1935. This came a little late for the Ross, with the true killer of the cartridge being the introduction of the .270 Win. Still in production today, this has stood the test of time, while the .280 Ross is no longer. This almost seems a shame, but its legacy lives on in the 7×64.

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One comment on “Ahead of its time: Byron Pace drags the .280 Ross back from obscurity
  1. Michael Hardison says:

    Byron, I have a Ross M-1910 .280 that has been in the family since the 30’s and 5 of the last 30 Kynoch factory loads available in 1961. I also have 70 Kynoch sized, deprimed brass cartridges that need a new home along with 500 Berdan #59 primers. I don’t use my rifle much and would like to sell the brass and primers. Do you know of anyone that might be interested? Thanks.

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