In the realm of orphaned and obsolete cartridges, few stories are as sad as the tale of Winchester’s magnum .264. Introduced in 1958 along with the .338 Winchester Magnum in the rifleman’s rifle, the .264 was touted as being the perfect western hunter’s cartridge for everything between varmints and elk. Chambered in the Model 70 Westerner, featuring a 26-inch barrel and loaded with either the 100- or 140-grain factory ammunition, the .264 appeared to be all that and a bag of chips, as the saying goes.
Gun writers of the day didn’t exactly throw any ticker tape parades. One notable said that it would accomplish nothing that his .270 couldn’t do just as well with its shorter barrel, and using less powder to boot. Others decried the comparatively poor selection of bullets. The 6.5 bullets of the day had relatively thin jackets as they were designed to be fired at more pedestrian 6.5x55mm Swedish Mauser velocities.
“Overbore” is a term used to describe a cartridge that, due to having too large of a combustion chamber in proportion to the diameter of the bullet, chamber pressure constraints are exceeded disproportionately quicker than increases in bullet velocity. It’s for this reason we don’t see cartridges like a .22-.30-06 or a .25-.375 H&H, they are simply too obtuse of cases for such smaller diameter bullets. The .264 is one that suffers from overbore, and some of the side effects of high pressure are poor barrel life and unpleasant recoil. However, properly crafting one’s handloads and allowing the barrel proper cool down time between strings at the range are small concessions to make for using such a fine cartridge. Alas, others had too similar of ideas.
The 1962 introduction of Remington’s instant classic 7mm Magnum seemed to be a significant nail in the .264’s popularity coffin. It’s greater range of bullet weights and styles combined with its larger diameter of bullet made much more sense to the average gun-buying deer hunter. Today, with contemporary contenders like the 6.5 PRC and Weatherby’s 6.5 RPM and 6.5-300 Magnum, it’s unlikely that we will see any Bethanian resurrection in the case of the .264. Still if you have one, don’t dismay. With modern powders and bullets the original 6.5 short magnum will run with the big dogs both up close and far away. Brass and ammo are still in circulation, and if you handload, 7mm Rem Mag brass can be easily converted in a pinch.
While the .264 might be considered an also-ran by some, it’s a capable cartridge deserved of respect. Accurate, fast moving and definitely unique, it’s a safe bet that you’ll be the only one in camp that has one. If you’re looking for something that gets it done, but you’re antithetic to commonplace cartridges, the .264 deserves a look.
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