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.264 Winchester Magnum

History


With the popularity of the 6.5 caliber in Europe it is no wonder that the first 6.5 caliber magnum was developed in Germany. The 6.5x68 Schuler was designed in 1938, based on the successful 8x68 case.  RWS adopted the cartridge, released it in 1939 and it has remained in use ever since. RWS list two loads for this very old magnum, a 93 grain KS (cone point) at 3950fps and a 127 grain KS at 3450fps. With a slow 1:11" twist, 140 grain bullets do not stabilize well in factory (Mannlicher) rifles. 

The .264 Winchester Magnum was the first U.S magnum to be based on the 6.5 caliber. Released in 1958, the .264 was designed to compete against the popular Weatherby rifles and cartridges, at nearly half the price. Introduced in the Model 70 Westerner rifle with a 26” barrel, the .264 quickly gained a solid following. Unfortunately, its popularity ended almost overnight when Remington released their 7mm Remington Magnum. The 7mm provided more versatility because of a greater bullet weight selection, especially heavier bullets suitable for larger animals.

Since that time, the .264 has become somewhat of an oddity, highly regarded by 6.5mm fans but otherwise ignored in mainstream hunting circles. Winchester produced two variations of rifle chambered in .264, the 26” barreled Westerner and 24” barreled Featherweight. The Featherweight version was created due to customer demand but mostly rejected by those who wanted it because of its loss in velocity, high recoil and muzzle blast. The final nail in the .264’s coffin occurred as hunters began to complain about excessive throat erosion due to the high chamber temperatures induced by the over bore cartridge. Winchester discontinued production of rifles chambered in .264 several decades ago however many rifles in good order are still in circulation along with custom rifles appearing from time to time.
 

Performance


The .264 Winchester Magnum is a powerful, fast killing, highly effective medium game cartridge and does so out to long ranges. Countless Elk have been taken with the .264 and game of this size should be considered the common sense upper limit when working to the .264’s strengths.
 
Much has changed in the world of hunting since the introduction of the .264 and this cartridge is really only coming into its own today thanks to both long range competition and long range hunting. The 6.5 caliber is now heavily supported by a plethora of long range, high BC, highly frangible at low velocity projectiles which optimize the performance and versatility of this cartridge considerably.  Furthermore, with 140 grains being the heaviest bullet in general use, the recoil of the .264 is “capped” within moderate levels.
 
Killing performance with controlled expanding projectiles generally falls off at ranges of between 325 yards (140 grain bullets) and 400 yards (130 grain bullets). Beyond these ranges, the hunter must use either extremely careful shot placement or utilize a soft match bullet, specifically, either the 130 grain Berger VLD, the 140 grain A-max or the 140 grain Berger VLD.
 
In recent years, wildcatters have necked down the 7mm WSM to form a wildcat 6.5WSM. Velocities produced by the WSM duplicate those produced by the .264, the major difference being that the WSM is able to use a short action rather than the long action used by the .264. The WSM is a beltless design which has the potential to produce smoother feeding than the belted .264.
 

Factory Ammunition


Initial factory loads for the .264 produced by Winchester featured a 140 grain bullet at an advertised 3200fps from a 26” test barrel however sporting rifle velocities fell far short of these figures. Today, both Winchester and Remington advertise 140 grain soft point loads (24” test barrels) at a mild 3030fps. Of these modern loadings, only Winchester achieves its stated velocity with the 140 grain PowerPoint in 24” sporting barrels. In 26” sporters, this load gives approximately 3100fps.

The PowerPoint is an explosive medium game bullet at close to moderate ranges. That said, this bullet has an extremely poor BC of .384 which handicaps the potential of the .264 considerably. Performance is certainly not consistent, on the one hand, this load is explosive with adequate but shallow penetration at close range while at 300 yards, wounds are narrow but penetration is deep. Remington also list a 140 grain Core-Lokt load at the same velocity but again with a relatively poor BC. Nevertheless, this projectile is somewhat more consistent in performance, less prone to bullet blow up and though penetration is not exceptionally deep, the Core-Lokt will always produce a free bleeding exit wound on lighter medium game.
 

Hand Loading


Brass is readily available for the .264 Winchester Magnum. In earlier years, 4831 was the slowest burning rate available but today, H1000 can be used to squeeze the last few fps out of the .264 - providing a 26” barrel is used. From a 26” barrel, IMR/H 4831 powders produce 3300fps with 120 grain bullets, 3200fps with 130 grain bullets, 3100fps with the standard 140 grain bullet and 2900fps with 160 grain bullets. Using slower H1000, these velocities can sometimes be increased by70fps.
 
As many readers will guess, the 120 grain bullet weight is a little too light for best all around performance in the .264 Winchester Magnum. Furthermore, light bullets and high powder charges tend to cause unnecessary throat wear. The one exception, as far as optimum utilization goes, is the 120 grain Barnes TSX driven at 3300fps. This bullet is dynamite on a huge variety of game and body weights up to the size of Elk. Wide, disproportionate to caliber wounding can be expected out to 300 yards.
Hornady produce three projectiles which produce extremely good results in the .264 including the 130 grain InterBond, the 140 grain SST and 140 grain A-Max.

The 130 grain InterBond produces hydrostatic shock at impact velocities above 2600fps or 300 yards from a muzzle velocity of 3200fps. Wounds at this range tend to be wide. As velocity approaches 2400fps (410 yards) wounding performance begins to deteriorate, showing a noticeable reduction in fast bleeding for fast killing. At 2200fps or 540 yards, wounds are narrow. Due to the high muzzle velocity and high BC of .485, the InterBond is quite an effective all round bullet, ideal for a wide range of game weights up to 150kg (330lb) and adequate for deer species weighing up to 320kg (700lb) out to 400 yards. The InterBond can be used in conjunction with the 129 grain SST which has the capacity to render wide wounding at extended ranges. That said, the 130 grain SST is not quite as reliable as its 140 grain counterpart when used on large bodied game. But even this statement holds contradictions as at 2400fps, the 6.5mm caliber has inherent limitations.  

The 140 grain SST really is a spectacular killer. The .264 Win gives this bullet the velocity it needs to show its strengths. Widely diffused wounding can be expected out to ranges of around 400 yards (2400fps). Fast kills and wide exit wounds are the hallmarks of the 140 grain SST when used on light to medium weight deer species. Beyond 400 yards the 6.5 bore simply does not have the capacity to render wide wounds, using controlled expanding bullets. The SST will produce several clean fast kills followed by the occasional and unexpected immensely slow kill - a fault of the bore diameter, not the SST.

Hornady’s 140 grain A-Max achieves wide wounding at velocities below 2400fps due to mechanical wounding. The A-Max tears into large fragments, creating a deep, broad, fast killing wound. Unfortunately, the 140 grain A-max is not an optimal performer at close ranges on stout bodied game due to occasional surface bullet blow up, limiting vital wounding, although wounding through vitals will still occur. This bullet comes into its own at 2600fps (290 yards), producing excellent performance out to 700 yards (2000fps) and further (down to 1800fps), especially if bone is struck to initiate expansion. If the A-Max is to be used as an all-round bullet, the hunter must develop the mindset of neck/ head shooting stout bodied game at ranges inside 150 yards. Between 150 and 300 yards, performance on cross body shots on game weighing less than 80kg (180lb) is acceptable. The A-max is not well suited to game weighing above 80kg (180lb) due to its limited weight and bore diameter.

Nosler are truly the saving grace of the small bores when used on stout bodied game. The results in the field are obvious, measurable and repeatable. Nosler produce three useful bullets, the 125 grain Partition, the 130 grain Accubond and 140 grain Partition. 

The 125 grain Partition has a BC of .449. Driven at 3250fps, fast kills on light bodied deer species can be expected out as far as 400 yards, clean but slightly delayed killing out as far as 630 yards (2000fps). The 130 grain Accubond is much the same as the 129 grain InterBond. This bullet is not quite as spectacular in performance as the Partition and the BC of .488 is not much higher than the original design however meat damage is minimal.

The 140 grain Nosler Partition is an excellent bullet for the .264 Win. One of the major factors that contribute to its performance, is that the 140 grain Partition combines full expansion with full and rapid exit wounding. At close ranges, exit wounds on medium game can be up to and above 3” in diameter. At longer ranges, exit wounds tend to be much smaller however, the results are emphatic. As is suggested in the 6.5x55 text, regardless of the extra power generated by the .264, the hunter can bring the 6.5mm bore to full potential by simply driving the Partition into major bones of the forwards chest cavity on medium game. One method for all ranges past 100 yards, one result.

The140 grain Partition reaches its limits when used on Elk sized game. This projectile can suffer bullet blow up at close ranges when impacting heavy bone and is better suited to medium game weighing up to 180kg (400lb). 

For large, densely muscled, heavy boned deer, nothing comes close to either 120,130 or 140 grain Barnes bullets. On heavy animals, readers must understand that the 6.5 caliber is somewhat limited in its ability to produce wounding, regardless of penetration. The 120 grain Barnes is a very flexible bullet, ideal for light through to large bodied medium game producing very wide, deep wounds. Inside 300 yards, wounding is very similar to the .300 Win Mag loaded with conventional 180 grain bullets. The performance of this particular bullet is unique and cannot be generalized. The 130 grain Barnes is better suited to game weighing between 90 and 320kg (200-700lb) while the 140 grain bullet, as can be expected, is better suited to game weighing between 180 and 320kg (400-700lb).

The 140 grain Barnes has the ability, when driven at 3100fps, to completely penetrate a 600kg (1300lb) animal. That said, the wound channel is narrow on game of this size which translates into slow bleeding and therefore slow killing with ordinary chest shots. 

Berger produce two long range hunting projectiles, the 130 grain VLD and 140 grain VLD. Of the two, the heavier 140 grain bullet has the potential to produce more fragments than the 130 grain bullet, although the differences are small. The only trouble with the VLD is that after impact and fragmentation, the fragments are small. In a heavier caliber firing heavy bullets, this performance is excellent but from a 140 grain bullet, penetration on large bodied medium game is limited, producing best results at impact velocities between 2200fps and 2000. Nevertheless, on lean bodied deer species, the 140 grain VLD with its high BC of .612 is effective out to 800 yards (2000fps) and further if bone is struck. Were the .264 Win Mag more popular, it would most likely be feasible for Berger to create a 160 grain VLD with a BC of around .850. Muzzle velocities would be high due to the fact that over bore cartridges do not really lose a lot of velocity past a certain point in bullet weight, especially with the low bearing surface design of the VLD. From a MV of 3000fps, such a bullet would render large wounds on a wide range of deer species out to a range of around 970 yards.
 

Closing Comments


The 6.5mm bore diameter has really gained a great deal of attention in recent years due to long range competition and long range hunting. The .264 is vastly superior to the smaller 6.5’s when used for open country hunting, even at 300 yards which is considered short range today. Furthermore, the .264 is just as useful at close ranges as it is comfortable in open country.
 
Suggested loads: .264 Winchester Magnum Barrel length: 26”
No ID   Sectional Density Ballistic Coefficient Observed  MV Fps ME
Ft-lb’s
1 FL 140gr Winchester PP .287 .385 3100 2987
2 HL 120gr Nosler Bal Tip .246 .458 3300 2901
3 HL 129gr InterBond .264 .485 3200 2933
4 HL 140gr Partition .287 .490 3100 2987
5 HL 140gr Amax/ SST .287 .550 3100 2987
6 HL 140gr VLD .287 .640 3100 2987
 
 
Suggested sight settings and bullet paths           
1 Yards 100 150 278 319 350 375 400 425
  Bt. path +3 3.7 0 -3 -6.1 -9 -12.25 -16
2 Yards 100 175 310 352 375 400 425 450
  Bt. path +3 +4 0 -3 -5 -7.5 -10.4 -13.6
3 Yards 100 175 299 342 375 400 425 450
  Bt. path +3 +3.9 0 -3 -6.1 -8.8 -11.8 -15.2
4 Yards 100 150 287 328 350 375 400 425
  Bt. path +3 +3.8 0 -3 -4.9 -7.5 -10.4 -13.7
5 Yards 100 150 290 332 350 375 400 425
  Bt. path +3 +3.8 0 -3 -4.5 -7 -9.8 -13
6 Yards 100 150 294 332 350 375 400 425
  Bt. path +3 +3.8 0 -3 -4.1 -6.4 -9.1 -12.1
 
 
No At yards 10mphXwind Velocity Ft-lb’s
1 300 6.8 2421 1821
2 300 5.1 2698 1939
3 300 5 2641 1998
4 300 5.2 2559 2035
5 300 4.6 2615 2125
6 300 3.9 2680 2232
6 850 35.6 2002 1246

 264 winchester magnum final.jpg
 
  Imperial Metric 
A .532 13.51
B .513 13.03
C 25deg  
D .490 12.45
E .298 7.57
F 2.040 57.82
G .254 6.45
H 2.500 63.50
Max Case 2.500 63.50
Trim length    

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