The calibre hunter

Sometimes cartridges are ahead of their time. That was certainly true with the .244 H&H, remarks Byron Pace.

Historically, cartridge development has gone through phases, which inevitably return again decades later, whether that be smaller and faster or bigger and better, as with the Weatherby ethos. But there will always be a backbone of moderate calibres that carry on through the years.

Anyone who calls themselves a hunter will have heard for the .375 H&H, but far fewer will be familiar with the .244 H&H launched in 1950s. Interestingly for my Scottish companions, it was designed with highland stalking in mind, and in particular the steep slopes of Glen Cassley in Sutherland. Created by deer stalker and gunmaker David Lloyd, he had wanted to design a calibre that offered super-flat trajectory out to 300 yards, and negated much of the range estimation and compensation required for a killing shot.

For this he took Holland & Holland’s most famous cartridge, the .375 H&H, necking it down to .244 after blowing out the case to reduce the body taper. This was loaded with a 100gn bullet, which as you can imagine with such a large case capacity, exited the muzzle at considerable speed.

Originally offering an MV of 3500fps, handloaders produced much hotter rounds – to the considerable detriment of barrel life. Due to the impressive 74gn of powder behind it (standard .243 Win at 2900fps is more like 43gn), best performance was achieved with barrels in excess of 24in, which made them a little bit ungainly.

After the initial introduction, the story goes that Lloyd was either unable to bring the cartridge to commercial production, or never attempted to, and as a result sold the design to Holland & Holland. By 1954 the calibre had been fully adopted in the H&H range of rifles, and their prestigious name adorned the head stamp of the new calibre offering.

By all accounts the cartridge saw an impressive uptake for both H&H and Lloyd himself, who continued to chamber his rifles in it. At the time ammunition was only available from Kynoch, which to this day offers it in its list of loaded ammo. So the question that must be asked is why did it die a death, and what modern calibres can be pitted alongside this 60-year-old design?

In terms of drawbacks, barrel life was obviously a large consideration, but today there are plenty of rifles chambered in cartridges that are limited in this way. On the other hand, loaded ammunition was very expensive owing to the large case and powder charge required, and for most hunters, the capabilities offered were simply not required. As a result the cartridge never found its way to the more mass-market rifle manufactures.

The only modern cartridge that can really be compared with the .244 H&H is the .240 Weatherby, but even in the original loading the Weatherby was some 100fps slower. Arguably, modern powders would increase this gap further. This gave a 100gn projectile a muzzle energy of about 2720ft/lb in the .244 H&H. By comparison a .243 Win is about 2000ft/lb.

In terms of accuracy, I managed to dig out an extensive list of testing across bullet weights and powder charges, which varied from 0.541in at its best to just over 2in at the worst, with an average on the 1in mark for 100 yards.

As we have seen with the new .260 Nosler, bigger and faster is on the minds of manufacturers and shooters alike. It seems strange, then, that in terms of 6mm-based cartridges, we have actually not improved, but instead taken a step back in development as far as ballistic capabilities are concerned.

There may be good reason for this, as it could be argued that even the .240 Weatherby is really overkill for such a small projectile. Irrespective of that, I do wonder if the enticement of one-upmanship from ammo makers will see the .244 H&H bettered, or at the very least equalled in a more modern platform. Time will tell.

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