338 RCM: Big Power – Small Package
Generally, when someone refers to some “New” cartridge, it is just that – New. On occasion, a new cartridge is something more. The 338 Ruger Compact Magnum (or RCM for short), housed in Ruger’s handy Hawkeye rifle is a true leap forward in hunting technology. The 338 RCM offers magnum performance in a small fast-handling rifle. It delivers the ballistics that we are used to seeing from full sized magnum rifles from a short length action and, best of all, a 20 inch barrel.
The hard hitting power of the 338 RCM, which compares favorably to the venerable 338 Winchester Magnum, in a rifle with an overall length of 39.5” and a weight of 6.75 lbs is an undeniably excellent big game setup.
Like many of today’s new developments, this one came from the partnership between Hornady and Ruger. Hornady currently loads a 180gr GMX, a 200gr SST and a 225gr SST. I would also like to see the use of a stiffer bullet than the SST in the heavier weights. This would enhance to usability of the cartridge on the biggest thin skinned game – we will have to watch and see if one starts rolling off of the assembly line.
Since the introduction of the 300 WSM in 2000, many “short magnums” have come along, including many wildcats and custom producers have been introduced. While these designs have allowed for shorter actions, they have left a major question unanswered.
What good is a short action attached to a magnum length barrel? The biggest leap forward that the 338 RCM makes is that, by using the hyper-efficient propellant combinations that fostered Hornady’s Superformance line of loads, they were able to develop a round that allows is highly efficient in a short barrel. The 338 RCM 225gr SST leaves the muzzle of a 20” barrel at 2710 fps and still carries 2206 fps at 300 yards. This compares favorably to a standard 338 Winchester Magnum shooting a 225 gr load from a 24” barrel which will leave the muzzle at 2780 fps and still be moving at 2184 at 300 yards.
Ruger’s M77 Ruger Compact Magnum comes from the Hawkeye line of rifles (Shown at left below the Author’s favorite 338 win mag). Like all M77s, this one has the full-length claw extractor, controlled round feed, a three position safety and the action is milled to accept scope rings without bases. Thankfully, the RCM rifles are fitted with sights. Maybe I am just a traditionalist, but I do prefer a rifle so equipped.
What sets this particular rifle apart is it’s fast handling and terrific balance. From the stock design to the mauser-type action to the short barrel and exceptional balance, this rifle is a joy to carry and shoot. This instinctive handling makes for faster and better shots afield.
On a recent safari in Tanzania, I carried a M77 Hawke in 338 RCM topped with the Swarovski Z6i in 1.7-10×42 as my medium bore rifle. The package was a joy to carry and shoot and it dispatched this Hartebeest with aplomb. I look forward to getting this rifle afield again soon.
The Parting Shot:
I don’t get caught up in every new fad that comes along, but this one has real merit. The 338 RCM truly delivers big power from its small package. It is too early to tell whether or not the RCM s will be a commercial success or not, but they should be. Any big game hunter who goes afield with this rig will be kitted for success and can rest assured that if he does his job, his rifle will do its as well.