Seeing as next year marks my favourite big game cartridge’s birthday, I figured it was finally time to write about my experiences, perceptions, and further considerations on the ever popular .375 H&H. The .375 H&H has a very well founded claim to the title of “Most Versatile Sporting Cartridge”, and as I aim to illustrate in this article through my own experiences and actual numbers, I believe this to be absolutely correct. Like most things viewed as niche, the .375 H&H suffers from much misinformation, especially with regards to perceptions of recoil, trajectory, and suitability for game. I had been meaning to muse on the .375 H&H for some time, and I thankfully finally have a snowy Northern day suited to the cause.
We view the .375 H&H as ‘big’ in Canada, but it truly isn’t. I have friends who grew up hunting in southern Africa and it is very common to start hunting with a .375 H&H; it is Africa’s .30-06. With regards to the recoil, it’s seen on the Dark Continent more or less as the .30-06 is here, which makes sense as like the -06 the recoil is completely manageable and as with the -06 here, the .375 is ready to take on anything on the continent. The .375 strikes a balance of five or more factors; bullet weight, sectional density, velocity, ballistic coefficient, and the aforementioned recoil. You can load a .375 with bullets as light as 200 grains, however it is likely at its best with the 300 grain loading. A 300 grain .375 bullet has a sectional density above .300, a characteristic shared by the 175gr 7×57, a favourite of W.D.M. “Karamojo” Bell, the 286gr 9.3×62 and x74R, the 400gr .416 Rigby and .404 Jeff, 450 and 500gr .458 Win and Lott, 500gr .470 Nitro, 570gr .500 Nitro, and 750gr .577 Nitro. Quite simply, this only means with a century of proof, it bloody well penetrates, and reliably.
In North America, Weatherby et al have espoused the virtues of speed and light bullets- lighter recoil, flatter trajectories, and supposedly “shocking” terminal ballistics. You know what? All that’s true. It’s also not necessarily a good thing, when speed goes up penetration as a general rule, drops. Bullet weight generally shows the inverse of this relationship, where as weight in a given bullet diameter increases, so generally does penetration. Picturing each factor as a curve on a single graph, what the .375 H&H has done is embody the meeting point of the velocity curve as relating to trajectory and the bullet weight curve relative to penetration. You could also argue it is the meeting point of what most can tolerate for recoil and still shoot accurately, and overall power. Some might argue the light and fast group is more effective at putting an animal down from shock, right there. I would ask them to find anyone who sees a .375 with the same shot placement in the vitals as lacking in any way in lethality and “dead right there” capability.
As the World’s Medium Bore, it is also the World’s Happy Medium as a hunting cartridge. Very, very few cartridge designs are so balanced, and this is a reason for its enormous Worldwide popularity far and beyond its likely expected life. It is an antiquated design, formed in shape for cordite, a long defunct propellant, and the .375 is the beholder of only the second cartridge belt formed onto a case head. However these design factors have also subtly aided the .375 H&H through life, as even a minute budge of the bolt on opening frees the case fully from the chamber walls thanks to its strong taper. The belt assures reliable headspace in the many different chambers made over the last century one can encounter, and it also backs up the extremely gentle and slick feeding minimalist case shoulder. Feeding reliability and slickness is a well earned reputation the .375 enjoys, and every bit of it is true. It truly “funnels” home to the bore, and being slender holds more cartridges in the magazine than fatter competitors.
With regards to trajectory, it surprises there as well. All of the following uses the top Hodgdon load in the cartridge and bullet weight combination for both the .375 and the comparison cartridge. First off, the .375 H&H loaded with 235 grain has the same trajectory as a 140 grain .270 Winchester inside 300 yards (it’s close even further, as well) however it delivers one-ton more muzzle energy. At 300 yards, the .270 is only just a hair over an inch flatter than the .375- 1.3” for those that like numbers. Next, the .375 can deliver a 300 grain bullet with an SD of .305 to 300 yards with the exact same trajectory as a .308 Winchester shooting 180 grain, and it doesn’t go subsonic until past 1000 yards (Hornady 300gr SPBT). If you want to take down the biggest and nastiest game on earth, you can go up to 350 grains or 380 grains (although even just the 300 grain has likely done it more than any other cartridge!), with the .375 H&H delivering the 350 grain 6” flatter than a 9.3×62 can deliver a 286 grain to 300 yards, and the better part of a foot flatter than the top Marlin-level load of the same bullet weight in .45-70. As a side note, the .375 also arrives at 300 yards with double the .45-70’s energy, and bringing us to our next consideration, with less recoil than the Marlin oddly enough as well.
Many shooters cringe at the thought of shooting a .375 H&H, but would step in to shoot a Marlin Guide Gun loaded with top shelf 350’s without the same apprehension. I shot exactly the load we’re discussing, Marlin level 350 grain loads in a Guide Gun, long before I ever picked up a .375 H&H and I certainly wasn’t expecting less recoil from the .375, but that’s what I found. Granted, the .375 is as a general rule a much heavier rifle than the 7lb guide gun, and this factors in significantly. The point I’m making however is simply that many of us are likely familiar with .375 level recoil despite viewing it as something else altogether and something to be wary of. There is also the much talked about shove versus smack, and if ever a cartridge embodied the principle in the shove end of that spectrum, it is the .375 H&H. I will not call it a giant, as truly it’s not, but if it were it would be a gentle one. I would compare it to a 3” 12 gauge with a longer, less sharp recoil impulse, for those looking for a benchmark. Enough numbers and related arguments now to what it does in the hands, my hands.
I have a somewhat storied .375 now, despite it being young, a Ruger .375 H&H RSM. I bought it just several years ago, from the now defunct Russell Sports for less than $2,000. Like many guns, I explained to my wife this one would do many jobs. For once, I spoke genuine truth and more than I knew. The first experience I had shooting that .375 began like this, I was headed north to Fort Nelson for a new job, and at the time I had no ammunition as I hadn’t ordered any from Russells, I didn’t yet understand I hadn’t bought another .30-06 or even .338 Mag. I also didn’t understand how popular this chambering was, and how far spread ammunition for it could be found. I was visiting family on the West coast before I departed, and stopped in the first town I passed through figuring it was worth a shot, Hope, BC. Finding a tackle and hunting shop that was open, I asked if he had any .375 H&H, and was surprised after a pause to hear “270 or 300 grain?”, I bought a box of 270 grain Federals and was on the road minutes later. That box of 270’s will come up later, a round from that box went a long ways and did some interesting things years later, and I have just one round of that box left to this day.
I’ve since found the ammunition to be available at the end of that trip in Fort Nelson where I ultimately moved, in Frankfurt Germany, in South Africa, and Zimbabwe. It is doubtless spread all over the world in between those points, as well. Remember I said it is Africa’s .30-06? I think it’s actually the .30-06 of global hunting. If you want one rifle that can do it all, the .375 H&H is it, and its reputation is gained purely on performance not marketing unlike many other more modern chamberings. Holland & Holland hasn’t exactly taken out a magazine spread on the cartridge or hired Craig Boddington to push it in quite some time. So, everything its known for, it comes by honestly. It is probably one of the least hype laden popular chamberings going- no commercial hyperbole, no proprietor pushing it and the wares chambering it, no cheap rifle as a vehicle to its popularity, it’s not a big bore with the associated lore there, it’s not dazzlingly fast and no acquaintance to the Weatherby end of the spectrum… it is, in a word, sensible. Boring, really. It’s also not a niche or boutique chambering, you can find ammunition in small Northern towns or dusty enclaves in the Dark Continent, and it fits the absolute middle ground of ballistics to a T. Perhaps this is why it has become so respected and popular… why am I saying perhaps, I know it is, and ahead is what I’d like to say is a fairly interesting tale of how I found out. It will likely be more personal than what I’m used to sharing as well.
Following that trip to my new job in Fort Nelson, I had zero free time, and did very, very little shooting. My rifles were stored, and the only rifle I’d been using was the newest one, like many of us are apt to. That was the .375 H&H of course, and I hadn’t yet mounted the planned Leupold 1-4x20mm, shooting it over irons only. The irons suited me fine, I grew up firing literally tens of thousands of rounds on the farm over irons and am more familiar with them than scopes. Like often happens, you gravitate to careers that suit your abilities, and one item in my plus column (the sheet’s balance leans heavily to the negative, I assure you) is 20/10 vision. So I tend to shoot and fly well, and have spent much of my life so far doing one of those two things. For the shooting part of that, probably 95% of the time has been looking over irons- which fatefully all good .375’s come equipped with. Positive #1. I received a call around this time, actually when back on the coast in BC in an interlude before moving my wife up to Fort Nelson, that had me and the .375 that was travelling with me in the truck and en route to the foothills of Alberta that evening.
My mother was on the farm, and had suffered a heart attack, a bizarre thing seeing as she was in fantastic shape, when her dog was attacked by what we thought was a very large Coyote literally right in front of her. My mother was a typical farm gal, and when her dog was attacked she went after the attacker raving mad screaming to save her good friend, Porter. Porter is a Beagle-sized dog and my mother and him were off to the barns in the early morning, still near-dark out. Suddenly, something large grabbed hold of Porter and started dragging him into the dark. My mother loved animals more than people (just ask my brother and I what happened when we herded cattle with a BB gun), and went after Porter to the point of having a heart attack and passing out in the snow. She was incredibly lucky, it seems she scared the attacker’s grip from Porter and the dog took off for the house, bleeding profusely. My mother didn’t follow (apparently she was a better friend to Porter than him to her!), and woke up in extreme pain much later, barely making it to the house. We were shocked to get the call, hearing my mother laughing about it all in the hospital, and two things were on my mind; we needed to get out there and see my mother and I needed to kill that Coyote.
We spent time with my mother at the hospital, learned she was going to be alright though they were concerned why she would have a heart attack, a former All-American collegiate swimmer who kept her shape. I set out to hunting him the next morning, having made a blind the night before above one of our stock pens out of spruce boughs where we’d lost goats recently. We have a mercury vapour lamp on a post there, and I set up a platform maybe four feet up a feeder behind the lamp and I put up a feed sack on the post on my side of the lamp, keeping me in the dark behind the boughs and dimly lighting the pasture in front of me. I went out well before dawn in the morning with my.375, and started calling, standard wounded Jack. Very quickly, I had movement a couple hundred yards out, and it was gone. I waited, then started up calling dramatically, and stopped, giving the odd moan. The movement returned, and I gave another dramatic burst, I knew I’d have to get him close. This was nearly four years ago now and I remember every bit, likely one of my most intense hunting moments though to my knowledge at the time, I was about to shoot just another Coyote, the situation was however rather unique giving the precursors to the hunt.
I didn’t even know how I’d get the same animal that had attacked Porter brazenly, you can call a Coyote any day you want on the farm. All I knew was he was supposed to be big, but aren’t all things that are attacking your dog right in front of you? As the movement changed from a blob to a rather large and light coloured four legged animal, moving quicker and quicker my way I continued calling and picked up the call’s pace, attempting to fool whatever was coming my way into thinking their pray was getting nervous. I had to get him close, really close, as there was a good chance I was about to shoot a moving target, in the twilight except for the dim LED-like light of a mercury vapour lamp, over iron sights offhand perched on a plank. I wasn’t about to miss, I’m not afraid to admit I had some typical hunter’s pride on the line, in nailing the ‘beast’ the very next morning, no drama. As I was feeling better and better about the situation and my coming achievement, the prey took an unexpected turn; he turned along the fence at the edge of the paddock and followed it instead of coming under it as I expected, I had hoped to shoot him in the middle of the dimly lit paddock backed by white snow; easy.
Instead, he tracked down the fence, which meant he was circling to the side of my blind. Between the dim light and the fence I was losing him as he was coming up on my side, maybe 60-70 yards out. I was also getting into a very awkward spot on the plank that made my platform, as with the house at my back I anticipated shooting only out into the pasture. I was also concerned with shooting towards the farm house if he circled much further. He went until he was slightly behind my blind, and came right in at me fast from about fifty yards, I’d stopped calling at this point and was trying to swivel for a shot and decide if I could shoot safely from that angle. I decided I could, given I was elevated four feet or so, and shooting into the ground at a shallow angle, and he also hadn’t put me with the house right behind him yet thankfully. At ten to twenty yards, I shot as I was startled how fast this thing was arriving and with no let up. He was just over-confident and dead set on his Jack, I’d had Coyotes in this close before, and he wouldn’t have ever caught on I wasn’t his Jack either had I not shot high.
I spined him, just behind the shoulders, and he was pissed. I’m still not sure if this means he was turning when I shot, as I honestly can’t remember anything from the split second just before I pulled the trigger. BOOM is the first memory than registers following him cutting and running in, it was instinctive at that point not contemplated. I think he was just close enough the angle gave me spine as he faced me from my small platform, I believe it exited rear low. The next clear mental image of him I have was him murderously mad, scruffed up, and flashing teeth snarling when I jumped down with the .375 before he decided to beat back for the field with his front two legs. Catching up to him and following him briefly at a few yards, I shot him a couple more times as he motored back for the field dragging his back end. Finally, he died, fire in his eyes, and suddenly everything was very quiet. Phew.
It didn’t seem so dark then, I imagine my pupils were dilated as wide as they could go at that point and the inklings of daylight were coming when I stood over him, dead. He was bigger than I expected too, here’s a photo of him below taken when I returned to the field to get him after coffee, breakfast, and a phone call. I’ll be dead honest, and I say it with shame, this was the only pelt I haven’t recovered. I threw him in a frozen ravine and left, I’ve often speculated at his size and weight, but this too is foggy as I spent extremely little time with him, long enough for the picture for my mother in the hospital and to load him, drive to the ravine, and drop him over. He was heavy, too heavy to throw, and had to be dropped over the edge. I later went to look for the skull in summer, not a trace was left.
What I found in shooting him, was though he was larger than I anticipated, he still wasn’t a large animal, and the .375 made no mess of him. In fact, my .375 acted very “mildly” on him, with virtually no pelt damage or large exits, the exits were actually hard to see. He was too light to allow any large expansion, I have since used TSXs on more small game and have found they actually open up more than the soft points generally. Not what most would expect. The next time my .375 would draw blood, was to be on another continent. I pulled some terribly cheesy and terribly entertaining books out of the Fort St. John library. One of them, Peter Capstick, A Return to the Long Grass to be exact, in particular started a fever in me. I had not initially contemplated Africa when I bought my .375, though I always knew I would go, what I probably should say is I had not bought the rifle FOR Africa. Well, it wasn’t long and that .375 was overseas the first of a couple times in the last few years.
After the long trip, unpacking her in African heat inside the canvas walls of my accommodations at camp was a very good feeling. I was building memories with her my son would read in my hunting journal while holding this rifle one day. For this trip, I had loaded and packed a large assortment of ammunition, starting with reduced 270gr TSX loads for culling, a handful of the original 270gr Federals from Hope, BC, and 300gr TSX Nyati loads. It was here in the Long Grass, to pay homage to my inspirational though perhaps inflammatory motivator, Mr. Capstick, I came to really appreciate my .375’s versatility. I also knew I had shown up with the right rifle, as my friend and PH was the first of several I would meet and be asked by “What are you shooting?” to which I always reply “.375.”; this always garners a content smile or strong head nod of pleased expression in the PH.
My first animal in Africa was an Impala ram, the details are fuzzy a couple years later, maybe just around a hundred yards with a 300gr TSX- bang, whomp. I had taken him from a small knoll, nicely shrouded to act as a blind, after a brief stalk. I centered the Express sights just on his shoulder as most African game are shot in contrast to North American placement, and it was all over. I saw him drop, one thing I love about iron sights and a straight comb stock, you’re still in the hunt unlike the “video game” of a scope where you lose sight of the situation as soon as the trigger’s pulled. Impala are a roughly small deer sized antelope, maybe 80-140lbs, and unbelievably tough for their size, I’ve shot a lot of different species and pound for pound an alert Impala makes my top three for toughest game despite my rather uneventful encounter with the species there. Later in this trip, I would engage in culling Impala, and this is where I saw their spirit. When one of a pair of rams that were fighting was shot, the not selected ram hung around long enough to give the old boy who’d just dropped to a .375 shot forty or so yards away a “what for” goring with his horns! Balls. They have them.
Following a bunch of Impala the next animal I would shoot with the .375 was the Black Death; Nyati, Inyati, Mbogo… Cape Buffalo… Many names, one image, this one (I took this in 2010):
My Bull came on the last day of my time in Dark Continent. Getting concerned, I had been onto Buffalo too many times to count, but we were hunting in April, a very lush and green time in that part of Africa, and it was impossible to see fifteen yards half the time. I was also management hunting, meaning I was gunning for an over-mature, still dominant, but no longer a good breeder ancient bull they wanted out to let the young guns of the buffalo world in. If you ever want to have fun, “bump” Cape Buffalo at a handful of yards from downwind in thick thornbush and jess following their tracks to where they’ve held up. There were times, glassing from atop a Gomo we had climbed, a rock outcrop jutting high out of the savannah below, I had watched vast herds in relative open, but no old bulls were among them. I’d watched for ten minutes as buffalo passed, thinking this must, truly must, be my time… but only soft-bossed bulls.
By the time I knelt with my rifle on the sticks and a huge bodied, old bull in my sights just shy of watermelon seed spitting distance I was almost weary, expecting the break any second. It started to sink in this was it when I was weaving the irons looking for a hole through the thick bush to somewhere important on the behemoth right in front that this was it. I could tell I should be excited, as my PH looked as excited as I was, his custom .458 Lott Winchester Model 70 firmly in his grasp. Frankly at that moment I felt fairly detached, we had snuck up on our bellies, pushing the .375 through thorns and rusty soil, to get close enough to shoot in this thorn packed hell. I say hell lightly, as I love the place- a handful of acres can seem like infinity, get you spun around a half dozen times, and this same stuff can hide Cape Buffalo, Hyenas, or Black Mambas right in front of your face. Wonder is everywhere. Fortunately I grew up on a farm full of similar mangrove like growth and learned to navigate it well, but our farm didn’t hide many things that would kill you.
By the time I was there, kneeling and sighting for my bull, the 35 plus degree heat and belly shuffling were catching up, in all honesty I was almost glad it may be over there, success at last and a break after cleaning up the bull. If I dropped him well that is, not necessarily easy to do on Nyati I was told; a follow up in here would be hell. I found his Achilles heel, sighted on it, squeezed as I exhaled and the jess came harshly and vividly to life with the thunder of the .375 in the thorns, the solid connection of a 300 grain bullet at close range finding an animal finally big and heavy enough to stop it dead, no exit, and the body of a nearly one-ton symbol of everything powerful crashing against the tree to his side. He was down, not out by any means, and I put two more 300gr Barnes into him for insurance. An unknown amount of time later, as time lost meaning there, he death bellowed twice; a deep, foreboding, guttural rumbling sound. I felt very lucky to hear it, and my weariness was gone. Our attention went to the other, unseen buffalo- they often hang around a dropped member of the herd. They were gone.
The photo makes him appear huge, yes he is a big animal, but the camera helps him out here a good deal. None the less I like the picture.
My Bull had captured and kept two out of three of my 300gr TSXs, one through his neck if I remember correctly had exited. In retrospect, next buffalo I shoot will be with 350gr TSXs. The 300’s were spectacular, but more penetration wouldn’t have hurt. In the same light, I’ve found the 300gr TSX to be marvelously effective, and to make no mess of the smaller animals such as Impala. Take another look at the Impala photo included above- clean. Less mess even than my .243 could make. Frankly, on the smaller species, I don’t believe the .375 to be any more effective than even just a .243. The differences a hunter is however likely to note are less meat damage for what I’ve found to be slightly better lethality, and the ability to be lethal from any angle. There is not a single angle deer sized game can present that a .375 with its standard loading cannot take advantage of to be immediately lethal. I also believe the same stands true for the most part on up to Elk-class game, though the Texas Heart shot is never a shot to make first, but one possibly necessary if following up. Please don’t take my comments to mean I shoot from any angle, or endorse it, but rather I feel the ability to do so is incredibly important.
I’m a young man, though in just my hunting alone I’ve seen and learned enough to know hunting is never, ever a sure thing. It would be terribly boring if it was. I’ve seen the very best wound, as I have myself as well and had to follow up. I’ve also discussed the reality of hunting with a popular hunting TV show’s cast over dinner in Africa and how they have to selectively edit to make the appearance of all immediate, clean kills. Follow ups are reality, especially on tougher game such as Elk, Grizzly, and Bison for North America and a slew of creatures in Africa. If you can do without, fantastic and take warm hearty self-congratulations, I did with the Buffalo pictured above. When you can’t take that hearty self-congratulations, I hope you’re carrying a .375 or better. Second installment to follow, with following up a wounded Wildebeest and the .375 doing what a .300 Weatherby barking beside it couldn’t, the effect of marginal hits on Elk+ sized big game with the .375, and more general ramblings.
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