August 04, 2021
Whenever a new rifle cartridge is introduced, many hunters and shooters will claim we don’t need it. They’ll say things like, "It is an answer to a question no one was asking," or, "No thanks, I'll stick to my .30-06."
This is a symptom of neophobia, the fear of anything new. The condition is a lack of exploratory drive systematically observed in aging and is thought to be due, neurophysiologically, to the dysfunction of neural pathways connected to the prefrontal cortex.
It is also known as grouchy old man syndrome.
Back when current grouchy old men were young and not grouchy, the notion of having one rifle a hunter could use for almost everything was popular. However, as the 21st century approached, more rifles started to become specialized.
Hunters didn't want to shoot groundhogs with a .270, or coyotes with a .30-06. They wanted rifles and cartridges tailored to each and every pursuit. That's mostly where we are today.
The fact is that all new cartridges answer a question. Ballistic engineers now work to develop cartridges that address a specific need as opposed to having a general-purpose application, because that's what hunters want.
Here are several of the newest rifle cartridges suitable for hunting, along with the needs they address.
Purpose: Long-range predator hunting
Like most cartridges introduced in the last several years, the .224 Valkyrie was designed by Federal specifically for the AR-15. Developed to rival the .22 Nosler, which was introduced in 2017, the Valkyrie is also based on the 6.8 SPC case.
The .224 Valkyrie retains the 6.8 SPC’s .422-inch rim diameter, and the case is shortened to allow for the use of longer bullets with extremely high ballistic coefficients. (The .22 Nosler has a rebated rim that’s the same diameter as the .223 Rem./5.56 NATO, which makes it easier to convert an AR in .223 Rem. to .22 Nosler.)
By AR-15 standards, the Valkyrie shoots very flat, and it is an excellent predator cartridge at distance. With the right load, like the Federal Fusion 90-grain offering, it is a fully capable cartridge for deer and pronghorn. Although its performance has been overshadowed by the more recent 6 mm ARC, the .224 Valkyrie is still an impressive long-range predator cartridge that can also double for deer and similar-sized critters at more modest ranges.
Purpose: Deer hunting in straight-wall states
The naysayers thought only those folks hunting in states permitting straight-wall rifle cartridges would care for the .350 Legend. To their surprise, it has gained nationwide acceptance. Unlike some cartridges that are designed to answer a specific ballistics question, the .350 Legend’s development was largely influenced by hunting regulations.
By taking the shoulder out of a .223 Rem. case, Winchester created a straight-wall, .35-caliber cartridge that falls within approved deer-hunting cartridge guidelines in several states and also is AR-15 compatible.
Because it can be chambered in an AR or a compact bolt-action carbine, and effectively deal with deer-sized game to 300 yards, the .350 Legend has found favor outside straight-wall cartridge jurisdictions.
The combination of fitting into a handy carbine and producing minimal recoil also makes the .350 Legend ideal for young, new or recoil-shy hunters. As evidence of its popularity, there were several new .350 Legend loads introduced this year; between Winchester, Browning, Federal and Hornady, there are now a dozen to choose from.
6 mm Advanced Rifle Cartridge
Purpose: Improved ballistics in the AR-15
From a technical standpoint, the 6 mm Advanced Rifle Cartridge (ARC) really is not new. It’s just another version of the 6 mm PPC cartridge, which has a stellar reputation in benchrest competition but was never adopted for commercial American manufacture.
Why was the 6 mm ARC introduced? Interest in shooting at long range continues to grow among target shooters and hunters, and the AR-15 is becoming more popular for both. The goal with the 6 mm ARC was to provide the flattest-shooting cartridge compatible with an AR-15.
The cartridge came about through a relationship Hornady has with an unnamed Department of Defense entity. It launches a 103-grain ELD-X bullet at about 2,700 fps, and that bullet remains supersonic past 1,200 yards. There’s currently no better option for the AR-15 when the range extends much past 500 yards. The 6 mm ARC flattens the curve, and as a 2020 introduction, it could be nicknamed the "Corona Cartridge." It should work exceptionally well as a mid-range deer and long-range coyote cartridge.
Purpose: Increased AR-15 versatility
The .300 HAMR is an exception from the modern concept of specialization. Wilson Combat introduced it to elevate the AR-15 platform to a true general-purpose rifle, developing a single AR-compatible cartridge suitable for big-game hunting, self-defense and even tactical applications.
Based on a .223 Rem. case, the .300 HAMR offers performance on par with the venerable .30-30 Win. Just as importantly, an AR-15 in .223 Rem./5.56 NATO can be converted to the .30-caliber .300 HAMR with nothing but a new barrel.
Purpose: Long-range big-game hunting
For almost 100 years, the .270 Win. was the premier long-range hunting cartridge. Based on the .30-06, it was long championed by Jack O’Connor. Other than the .270 Wby. Mag., the .270 Win. was the only commercial .27-caliber cartridge until 2002. In that year, the .270 WSM was introduced. For a variety of reasons, the .270 WSM never gained much of a following, even though it offered substantial ballistic improvement over the .270 Win.
To create the 6.8 Western, Winchester teamed with Browning and reworked the .270 WSM to perform better at long range. Essentially, the 6.8 Western uses a slightly shortened .270 WSM case.
The shorter case permits the use of longer, heavier and more aerodynamic bullets. With their increased weight and higher ballistic coefficients, these bullets allow the 6.8 Western to outperform the .270 WSM, even though the 6.8 case holds less powder. It’s not magic; it’s just ballistics—and a tighter rifling twist rate to stabilize the longer, sleeker bullets. The 6.8 Western is an outstanding cross-canyon big-game cartridge.
Though it might seem like every conceivable cartridge has already been created, as hunting needs and regs change, expect to see more new cartridges adapted to specialized applications. Internal, external and terminal ballistics is an evolving science, and engineers will continue to develop more efficient ways to improve the performance of the metallic cartridge.
You might not want to get rid of your .30-06, but options ideally suited to specific types of hunting are worth considering. If you can’t see value in them, you just might have neophobia.