If you want to start a fire storm, announce that the venerable 375 H&H Magnum is overrated.
Okay, I will. The overrated 375 H&H Magnum is just that: overrated. Maybe. Here are possible reasons why:
- Too many game animals have escaped after solid hits.
- Whitetail-sized antelope hit squarely in the chest were not knocked down.
- Modern, controlled expansion bullets don’t appear to perform any better than older designs in the 375 H&H Magnum.
Puzzled by “What the Heck Just Happened” with 375 H&H Magnum
Before you call me names you don’t want your mother to read, hear me out. In all honestly I have no bias against the 375 H&H. It’s just a cartridge, and I’m interested in most aspects of most cartridges, particularly ones as old and storied as this. But… I’ve seen enough “what the heck just happened?” incidents involving the 375 H&H that I’m beginning to wonder… so let’s consider this together and then you can weigh in. Because I am truly puzzled by some of this.
Before I dig this hole deeper, let me confess I’ve not hunted with the 375 H&H nearly as much as cartridges like 338 Win. Mag.; 300 Win. Mag., 300 WSM, 300 SAUM, and 300 Wby. Mag.; 7mm Rem. Mag. and 280 AI, etc. etc. Heck, take that list clear down to 7mm-08 because I’ve used it to engage many of the same critters that have shrugged off the 375 H&H.
I’ll additionally confess to paying scant attention to the bullets I was flinging with various borrowed 375s, and the bullet is the most important component after placement. So take into account the possibility of both poor bullet placement and performance, though with 250- to 300-grain .375 bullets, it’s hard to imagine complete bullet failure. It’s not as if the bullet makers don’t understand what those big slugs are being asked to do. Even with early- through mid-20th century bullets the 375 H&H Magnum was considered a knockout performer. And, even if bullets don’t open properly or fully, they’re already significantly wider than any .284 or .308, suggesting more tissue damage and increased hemorrhaging. Bigger is always better, right?
With those caveats in place, let’s review a few 375 H&H altercations at which I was present:
Examples of Overrated 375 H&H Magnum Success
First, a few success stories: My wife sends a single 300-grain Barnes TSX through a cape buffalo’s shoulders from about 125 yards out. It punctures the scapula, slips between two ribs, laces the lungs, grazes an opposite rib, rips through the other scapula, and lodges against the offside hide. Breaks no support bones in the legs, doesn’t touch any vertebra. Bull goes down and can’t get up. A shot to the heart through the brisket finishes it. Exemplary performance. Thank you 375 H&H.
Same wife, same Blaser R8 rifle, same Zeiss scope, same TSX bullet, big warthog. One neck shot. Done. Nary a twitch. But of course. What else would you expect? Later, however, everything is the same except the quarry is a tasty little reedbuck about the size of a typical Virginia whitetail. It soaks up 3,800 foot-pounds of kinetic energy from the 300-grain poison pill tight behind the shoulder and runs off as if evading a cheetah. The ram covers nearly 100 yards before tipping over. What? (But this is supposed to be the success story section, so ignore that for now.)
Next up, Dean Capuano, aiming with a Z6 Swarovski scope, fires his H-S Precision 375 H&H at a blue wildebeest in Namibia. Roughly 150 yards. High shoulder shot clips spine. One and done. He was using Winchester Safari factory loads pushing 300-grain Nosler Partitions.
Several years later I’m back in Namibia centering my Leupold reticle over an eland bull’s neck. I engage the Blaser R8 trigger, sending a 300-grain Norma Oryx bonded bullet into one of the world’s largest antelope. It is dead before it hits the ground, vertebrae shattered. One would expect nothing less.
Fly to the opposite hemisphere and a few years back in time and we see an 8-foot, 3-inch brown bear loping through the Russian snow. Your intrepid reporter swings a Swarovski-sighted Dakota M97 and launches a 300-grain Swift A-Frame. Bear rolls and, much like the above buffalo, can’t get up. An insurance heart shot through the brisket finishes it. The 375 H&H wins again.
Those anecdotes (barring the reedbuck) suggest the 375 H&H Magnum truly is the fine, do-it-all cartridge it’s generally considered but…
Inexplicable Under-Performance from 375 H&H Magnum
An Asian water buffalo is ambling through scrub brush on the Argentine pampas no more than 100 yards from the muzzle of my H-S Precision 375 H&H. When my Swarovski scope reticle covers its shoulder, the rifle barks, and the 300-grain Partition strikes. The bull bounces on its nose, rises, and disappears, never to be seen again. Stunned with a high shoulder hit that missed spine? Most likely, but I wouldn’t have called the shot high at the time. Low, if anything.
This next oops it’s a blue wildebeest bull at 285 yards. I’m using the same scope, rifle, and ammo Dean had used for his blue wildebeest. I hold high on the shoulder. Bullet impacts mid-shoulder and kicks up dust out the backside. The bull never stumbles, never wobbles. Just dashes off to join the herd. I think I have missed high. We watch him run with the herd across a wide valley, then amble into the brush, a red bloom on the center of his shoulder. We sneak in to the bedded herd at mid-day and glass it carefully, never finding the bull. An all day search by several professional trackers turns up nothing.
A friend hits a waterbuck with a 250-grain Barnes TTSX directed with his Winchester M70 375 H&H Magnum under a Nightforce scope. He, PH Werner von Seydlitz, a skilled tracker, and two Jack Russel terriers work out the slight blood trail for nearly a half mile before coming up on the beast and finishing it. Later this same hunter uses the same 375 and hits and loses a nice oryx bull. Finally, he parks a bullet center chest, right on the shoulder of a kudu bull that leaps into thick brush and stays on its feet for 78 seconds as the hunter tries to find an opening for a follow up shot. These performances were all the more puzzling in light of the other hunters in camp who had terminated these same species quickly with plain Jane 30-06s and 7mm Rem. Mags, at least one of them using Barnes TTSX bullets.
Something’s Not Adding Up
So what’s going on? I realize these are a handful of anecdotal evidence, but eventually enough anecdotes add up to raise questions. I’m not the type who ascribes magical abilities to cartridges. They are just combinations of brass, primer, powder, and bullet. It is the bullet that does the work. Combine diameter, mass, material and construction, B.C. (drag resistance,) and muzzle velocity and you get potential lethality. The shape and name of the cartridge hardly matter.
If energy is supposed to be a big component of terminal performance, as so many hunters claim, why did a whitetail-sized reedbuck run as if smacked by a 22 Long Rifle? Why did a center-chest kudu leap into the brush and stand for more than a minute, a chest-shot wildebeest dash off as if untouched? Why didn’t these 250- to 300-grain 375s through the old “boiler room” (as we called the vital heart/lung zone back in the 1960s) finish these animals sooner — or at all? I’ve seen too many single chest hits from 300 Win. Mags., 7mm Rem. Mags., 30-06 Springfields, 308 Winchesters, and 7mm-08 Remingtons quickly finish bulls of these same species to think they are somehow immune to a 300-grain .375 bullet carrying roughly 4,000 f-p kinetic energy on impact.
Blame 375 H&H Magnum Bullets or Shooters?
My first reaction is to blame the bullet, but I’ve seen smaller caliber versions of the same bullets in the aforementioned smaller cartridges yield much better results. In most cases these were premium, controlled-expansion bullets perfected over decades to maximize terminal performance. If they weren’t working at least as well as the old cup-and-core bullets on which the 375 H&H Magnum first earned its reputation, why would they be selling as well as they do? (Here’s an article detailing cup-and-core bullets you might want to read.)
Blame shot placement? Like pilot error in aviation disasters, that’s most likely. But careful examination of the evidence doesn’t support this in most cases. The reedbuck, kudu, wildebeest — all center-shoulder impacts. So there it sits. Are these just an unlucky cluster of otherwise rare instances of 375 H&H bullet malfunction? Is this really nothing more than bad luck-of-the-draw, the infamous anecdotal evidence that skews the data unrealistically?
I honestly don’t know. But it’s reaching the point where I’m hesitant to trust a 375 H&H Magnum when there’s a puny old 30-06 as an option. And that’s saying a lot.
With this report I realize I’m setting myself up for abuse, but so be it. I’ve tried to be brutally honest and self-condemnatory in contemplating these incidents, but too much just doesn’t add up. Readers are free to wave this off as poor shooting, but on-site observations don’t support that. What do you think? Have my friends and I just suffered bad luck or is the 375 H&H Magnum overrated?
A veteran of hunts on six continents (if Australia counts,) the author is old and experienced enough to examine not just his rifles and ammo, but his own performance when assessing results.