Wayne van Zwoll
2610 Highland Drive
Bridgeport WA 98813
File name: NORwby13
The Weatherby Connection
If you’ve shot a Weatherby rifle, you’ve almost surely fired Norma ammo. Roy would accept no less!
In 1937 the .300 Holland & Holland Magnum appeared as a charter chambering in Winchester’s Model 70. That year Roy Weatherby – then 27 – and wife Camille left their native Kansas for California. The Golden State was on a fast track to prosperity. Dust Bowl refugees, with legions of the unemployed from just about everywhere, came chasing better times on Route 66.
The son of a share-cropper, Roy had worked hard to put himself on more solid financial footing, taking night classes at the University of Wichita while employed at Southwestern Bell. Los Angeles held promise for men with Weatherby’s ambition, business training and natural charm. He soon made a good income selling insurance. But Roy also tinkered in his basement gun-shop. With a lathe and a drill press from Sears, he chambered rifles for wildcat rounds of his own design. The fast-stepping .220 Rocket, an improved .220 Swift, drew little interest and was never commercially loaded. But then Roy designed the .270 Weatherby Magnum. He removed much of the taper from the belted .300 H&H case and trimmed it to the same length as Winchester’s popular .270. The .257 and 7mm Weatherby Magnums, on the same hull, followed.
While the subsequent success of Weatherby rifles resulted mainly from Roy’s hard work and brilliant salesmanship, his early magnums probably owe a great deal to fellow Californian and wildcatter R.W. Miller. In 1940 Miller was loading the .300 Hoffman, dropped from Western Cartridge Company’s line seven years earlier. Western claimed the steep Hoffman shoulder hiked pressures, and that, loaded to acceptable limits, it wouldn’t exceed the velocity of the parent .300 Holland.
Miller figured if he replaced the angular neck junctures with rounded, or radiused ones, powder gas would flow more smoothly, directing more energy at the bullet base. This done, he lengthened the throat to reduce pressures as the bullet accelerated. After he wrote letters to The American Rifleman about his work, the magazine sent authority E. Baden Powell out to take a look. Powell advised Miller to straighten the case body, reducing bolt thrust and preventing premature escape of powder gas. The new cartridge was called the PMVF: Powell Miller Venturi Freebore. In 1944 the two men went into business under the shingle of Vard, Inc. But short of money, they sold in 1945 to Hollywood Tool and Die, which renamed the cartridge CCC: Controlled Combustion Chamberage.
About this time Roy Weatherby carried a .270 PMVF on a deer hunt and liked it. Weatherby asked Miller to help put the radiused shoulder on his rounds. Miller demurred. Roy went next to George Fuller, a machinist friend who had fashioned the reamer for Weatherby’s .220 Rocket. Fuller countered that a radius at the base of the shoulder would be hard to tool for – but he capitulated. Weatherby followed with a marketing package that would bring his venture lasting success.
Roy’s first store opened in 1945, on Long Beach Boulevard in Los Angeles. In 1946 he pledged “everything I owned” to get a $5,000 business loan from the Bank of America. Bankruptcy would remain a threat during those early years. One day in his retail shop, Roy saw Gary Cooper walk through the door. It was a pivotal moment. Post-war prosperity had put film stars in headlines. Weatherby used celebrities to promote his wares. He appeared in photos with actors like Roy Rogers and John Wayne, world-traveled hunters like Elgin Gates. He shared the lens with Elmer Keith and Jack O’Connor, with Jimmy Doolittle and Joe Foss. Roy’s magazine article, “Overgunned and Undergunned,” reached Sheldon Coleman, who became a customer. Phil Sharpe puffed Weatherby in his “Complete Guide To Handloading.”
In May, 1949, Weatherby’s (later, Weatherby) Inc. was formed. Phil Sharpe and Herb Klein, an oil tycoon who’d bought his first Weatherby rifle in 1946, became first vice-presidents. By the following year, the firm had set roots in Southgate, on Firestone Blvd. It would become Weatherby’s base for the next four decades, a place that refined the company image. Roy looked hard for an ammunition firm to produce his quick-stepping Magnum cartridges. He struck pay-dirt with Norma, of Sweden. Sixty years later, it still loads Weatherby’s ammo.
Roy built his first rifles on a variety of bolt actions. Early commercial Weatherbys were restocked and rebarreled FN Mausers. Roy began importing them in 1949. He fitted Jaeger triggers, bought safeties and scope mounts from his pal Maynard Buehler. Roy contoured and deep-hole-drilled his own barrels, bedded walnut stocks by hand.
In 1957, with help from his engineer Fred Jennie, Roy developed the Mark V rifle action. Its full-diameter bolt locked with nine interrupted-thread lugs. Testing it with a .300 Weatherby Magnum barrel, the crew increased charges to a compressed load of IMR 4350 powder under a 180-grain bullet. The rifle shrugged it off. Then the lads inserted a bullet in the rifle’s throat and fired a factory load behind it! While the bolt needed a tap from a mallet, the extractor pulled the hull free! And it was intact – a tribute not just to the rifle but to Norma’s brass! Ordinary .300 ammunition churns up 60,000 psi, so this double-bullet trial surely pegged the needle! Seventeen such proof firings left that action “with no damage whatsoever.”
The capacious, 36-ounce Mark V replaced the Danish Shultz & Larsen action Roy had used for the .378 Magnum cartridge he’d developed in 1953. At 2.91 inches, the .378 case was not only .06 longer than the .300 H&H’s; it was .07 larger in diameter. The .460 and .416 Weatherby Magnums, introduced in 1958 and 1989, share the .378’s hull. So do the .30-378 and .338-378.
The .30-378 arrived in 1996, the result of a request from Alabama’s Redstone Arsenal for a round that would kick a bullet at over 6,000 fps. That proposal actually came in 1959. Weatherby clocked a very light bullet at over 5,000; however, no hunter would find such a load useful. Factory loaded by Norma for long shooting at big game, the .30-378 drives 165-grain bullets at 3,500 fps, 180s at 3,400. Zeroed at 300 yards, they drop only about 7 ½ inches at 400, where they still pack 2,600 ft-lbs of energy! These figures have helped make the AccuMark rifle in .30-378 a perennial top-seller for Weatherby.
The .338-378, announced in 1998, makes more efficient use of the huge hull. A 200-grain bullet from the .338-378 comes within 40 fps of matching the speed of the .30-378’s 180. Ballistically superior 250-grain bullets from the big .33 clock 3,060 fps (as fast as a .270 spits 130s) and bring 2,500 ft-lbs to 500 yards! Recoil from this round is fearsome. So Weatherby lists its Accubrake as a standard feature on AccuMark rifles barreled to .30-378 and .338-378.
While the most powerful Weatherby cartridges have always snared their share of headlines, less violent cartridges almost surely account for more game. The .270 and 7mm Weatherby Magnums deliver chalk-line trajectories and launch speeds nearly 300 fps higher than those of the .270 and .280. Recoil is about like that of a 7mm Remington Magnum – or a .30-06 with a heavy-bullet load. The .300 Weatherby was, until the 1990s, the most powerful .30-bore cartridge commercially available, and many .300 H&H barrels were rechambered for it before the Mark V rifle appeared. The .340 Weatherby Magnum (on the .300 case) joined the line in 1962. It hurls 225-grain bullets at 3,000 fps, landing 2,300 ft-lbs at 400 steps.
The .340 was followed a year later by the .224 Weatherby Magnum. Ballistically, it bridges the narrow gap between the .225 Winchester and .22-250. Norma-loaded 55-grain softpoints leave the muzzle at 3,650 fps. The belted case is much smaller than that on earlier Weatherby magnums, albeit the radiused shoulders show its lineage. In 1968 Weatherby announced the .240 on a belted case roughly the size of a .30-06’s. This hot 6mm kicks 100-grain bullets at 3,400 fps, outpacing the .25-06. Easy on shooters, the .240 has been offered in Weatherby’s popular Vanguard rifle line (on Howa actions), along with the .257 and .300 Weatherby Magnums.
One Weatherby cartridge that’s been revived after falling out of production is the .375 Magnum. Essentially a .300 Weatherby necked up, it appeared about the same time, and was loaded by Norma with 270- and 300-grain bullets. Just a few years ago, the cartridge again popped up in Weatherby’s catalog, capped with a 300-grain Nosler Partition at 2,800 fps. You might call it a “super” .375 H&H, pleasant to fire compared with the .378 Weatherby Magnum.
Through more than six decades, Norma has provided Weatherby with flawless ammunition that looks as good as it shoots. Bullets from Barnes, Hornady and Nosler give shooters a broad choice of type and weight. The big game collected by hunters using Norma-loaded Weatherby Magnums bulges records books. Handloaders have found these factory loads hard to match, as regards both accuracy and velocity. When Roy Weatherby sealed a deal with Norma, he could not have known it would last this long. But an uncompromising focus on quality marks both companies. The union isn’t likely to dissolve anytime soon!
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Questions / Comments? Let us know your thoughts on this Cartridge of the Month:
- Written by Wayne van Zwoll