Rambling Thoughts on the 280 Remington
by Greg Ritchie
The 280 Remington is the Rodney Dangerfield of rifle cartridges. It gets no respect. But it should be recognized as the best all around cartridge for hunting North American game. It was the right cartridge at the wrong time so it just never caught on.
The 280 Remington traces its heritage to the 30-06 round which hardly needs an introduction although it deserves one. The 30-06 started its life in 1903 as the 30-03 cartridge, also known, using the nomenclature of its day, the 30-45. A cartridge intended to replace the 30-40 Krag, it used the 220 grain 30 caliber bullet of the Krag cartridge, but propelled it with 45 grains of powder. It was fired in the 1903 Springfield rifle.
[M1903 Springfield rifle - Creative Commons License]
The militaries of the day were trending toward lighter bullets with a flatter trajectory and just three short years later in 1906 the same fate came to the 30-03 cartridge. The case was shortened slightly and a 150 grain spritzer bullet replaced the round nosed 220 grain bullet, the rifles had their barrels removed, one thread cut off and reinstalled and the 30-06 was born.
The 30-06 went on to serve its country well through two world wars and several police actions and is still serving as a very fine hunting round today. Sierra Bullets, my favorite bullet maker, has bullets in their lineup suitable for the 30-06 ranging from 110 grains all the way up to 220 grains making it a true all around rifle suitable for hunting varmints and any game in North America short of the big bears.
The 30-06 spawned the 270 Winchester in 1923. It is the 30-06 cartridge necked to hold a .277 bullet. This is a fine cartridge, and is likely the reason that the 280 Remington does not get the respect that it rightfully deserves. This cartridge was a favorite of the late, great, Jack O’Connor who sung its praises of an excellent hunting cartridge of not only North American game, but of game world wide. Sierra lists bullets in .277 caliber starting at 90 grains going up to 150 grains, again making the cartridge suitable for North American game ranging from varmints and large game excluding the big bears.
The 280 Remington came along in 1957. It is the 30-06 case necked to hold a .284 bullet with the shoulder moved forward .050 of an inch to prevent the cartridge from being chambered and fired in a 270 Winchester rifle. The 280 Remington, in my opinion, had four things going against it when it was introduced. First, it came on the scene some 34 years too late. The 270 Winchester had a 34 year head start. Second, it was introduced in semi-automatic rifles and the cartridge was not loaded to its potential due to the weakness of the action it was chambered in. Third, it had the name Remington attached to it. There seems to be a curse to the name. Many cartridges have not received the respect they deserved. And fourth, it did not have the endorsement of Jack O’Connor. More on this later. Sierra lists bullets suitable for the 280 Remington ranging in weight from 100 grains to 197 grains, again making the cartridge useful for anything from varmints to large game up to the great bears.
View attachment 46027
[.280 Remington cartridge By Ryan D. Larson - Own work, Public Domain]
So why isn’t the 280 Remington as popular as its brethren? Let’s take a look at some of the things the cartridge had going against it when it was introduced.
The 30-06 Springfield, this is Americas cartridge. There are more components available to handloaders for this cartridge that any other cartridge that does not use a .308 bullet. And it has proven itself a very capable cartridge. The fact that several generations of shooters cut their teeth on the 30-06 Springfield didn’t hurt anything either. 30-06 Ammunition is available at any country store that caters to hunters.
[30-06 Springfield Cartridge - By Francis Flinchderivative]
The 270 Winchester had over 30 years to prove itself before the 280 Remington came on the scene. And prove itself it did very well. The 270 Winchester gave good accuracy, light recoil, and good terminal performance. Hard to argue against that. The 270 Winchester I think has surpassed the 30-30 as Americas deer rifle, and like the 30-06, ammunition is available at every country store.
The nominal bullet weight for the 30-06 Springfield is 150 grains, and it propels that 150 grain bullet out of the muzzle of the typical hunting rifle at around 2900 feet per second. The nominal bullet weight of the 270 Winchester is 130 grains and that bullet leaves the muzzle at somewhere around 3000 feet per second. The 280 Remington has a nominal bullet weight of 140 grains, but it only pushes that bullet out of the muzzle at around 2800 feet per second. The semi-automatic rifles the 280 was designed around just do not have the strength of a bolt action. A 140 grain bullet can be loaded in the 280 Remington safely at velocities that rival that of the 270 Winchester. Most people who are looking for a hunting round, and may only shoot a few boxes of sight in and practice ammunition a year are not likely to settle for sub par performance. The 280 Remington is likely only interesting to handloaders.
On the plus side, the 280 Remington can give performance that almost equals the 30-06 Springfield and exceeds the 270 Winchester. The bullet selection for .284 is almost as good as the .308. Plus similar weight .284 bullets will have a better ballistic coefficient than .308 making the 280 Remington flatter shooting. The bullet selection for .284 far exceeds available .277 bullets making the 280 Remington a better cartridge for game animals larger than mule deer. And while it may be unlikely that you will find 280 Remington ammunition at the country store it is available. Most big box stores that cater to hunters will have at least a few boxes on the shelf.
So, if you already have an all around rifle in 270 or 30-06 you can stop right there as you already have one of the best, but it you don’t own either and want an all around rifle, then consider the 280 Remington, it will not disappoint.
Oh, and Jack O’Connor on the 280 Remington. It is reported that he once said that if he did not have a big game rifle and he wanted one, he would get the 280 Remington, but he would not trade his 270 for a 280 because there was not enough difference. I can not confirm this, but if he actually did say this it shows an appreciation of the 280 Remington cartridge. I do know that before his death, Jack O’Connor commissioned the great rifle maker Al Biesen to make him a new rifle. It was to be a Ruger M77 action stocked in French walnut and chambered for the 280 Remington. Unfortunately Jack O’Connor died before the rifle could be finished. I wonder where the 280 Remington would be today if he had lived to hunt with that rifle?