The Best That Never Was: .284 Winchester
The .284 Winchester cartridge, unless some sort of revival happens, is likely to go down in history as having potential as monumental as its failure. This cartridge should have been the Once And Future King of rifle cartridges, but instead has been consigned to ignominy, doomed to gather dust and be forgotten.
It’s too bad, because it could have been the ultimate “do it all” round for the modern rifle shooter.
.284 Winchester: Like The 7mm-08, Just Better
The .284 Winchester looks a heck of a lot like an Ackley Improved cartridge, and you could be forgiven for thinking it was basically a 7mm-08 Ackley Improved.
To explain that if you don’t know what I’m talking about:
P.O. Ackley was a gun writer, gunsmith and tinkerer from the glory days of “wildcat” cartridges, where people would try all manner of crazy stuff to create new and better rifle cartridges.
Most, but not all, of his improved cartridges went like this: you take the cartridge you want to improve and blow out the shoulder. The extra headroom gives you a bit more space for powder. The chamber throat has to be changed for the new headspacing and you have to fireform new brass for reloading, but that’s about it.
Minimal mucking about, and you get an extra 200 to 250 fps of velocity out of the deal.
The .284 Winchester actually uses a unique case, in that it’s longer and wider than .308 Winchester, but the gist here is that it’s a short-action cartridge that’s optimized so it can hold the most amount of powder possible without the hideousness of the super-short magnums. More oomph from a small(er) case.
.284 Winchester Ballistics
Because of the larger case capacity, the .284 Winchester gains about 200 fps on the 7mm08 and about an extra 300 ft-lbs of energy, putting it in the same class as .270 Winchester and .280 Remington in terms of power, but in a short-action round.
Those two cartridges are renowned as world-class game getters, but aren’t generally offered in lightweight, compact mountain rifles nor for modern sporting rifles as the AR platform is not compatible with long-action cartridges, at least not without extensive modification.
What that means in practical terms is that .284 Winchester ballistics occupy the ultimate sweet spot. It’s powerful enough to take game on all continents, short of the great bears of North America and large African or Asian game. With the appropriate ammunition (high-BC/low-drag bullets) it’s also perfectly capable of 1,000 yard shots in long-range shooting competitions, and in fact a number of F-Class shooters use .284 Winchester for that reason.
If you wanted to do the “one gun hunter” thing, it’ll do it, and – again – the short-action case means it works just as well in a bolt-action rifle as it does in an AR-10-pattern rifle. Again, you could do literally anything with it.
That would be pretty impressive! Why the heck didn’t this round take off? Well, this is a case where the on-paper benefits are outweighed by the practical ones.
What Killed .284 Winchester?
There were a few things that doomed the .284 Winchester.
First was the rifles it was initially offered in. In 1963, Winchester wasn’t making short-action versions of the Model 70 rifle, so they only offered it in the Model 88 (lever-action) and Model 100 (semi-automatic) rifles.
At the time, lever-action and semi-automatic hunting rifles were falling out of favor, even as shorter-range brush guns, as bolt-action rifles were more accurate and more reliable. After all, why bother with a Remington 740 or Winchester 100 that shot 4-inch groups at 100 yards and jammed, when you could get a Model 70 or Remington 700 that shot a 2-inch group (or less, if you were lucky) and never did?
Then there was the issue of brass.
For a cartridge to become commercially successful, a lot of things have to happen. Something that helps is if it’s developed using another already-successful cartridge, especially if you use a popular bullet size and a popular case size. If it does, that means that gun makers and ammo companies don’t have to do too much to make ammunition for it.
While .284 DOES use a popular bullet weight, it has a unique case.
Nobody really thought of it as a long-range hunting or target cartridge, because it wasn’t marketed as one; it was a woods cartridge or so you would have thought at the time given the rifles it was offered in. If you hunted more open country, .270 Winchester and .30-06 (and plenty more besides) ruled the roost. Furthermore, Western hunters had just been presented with the 7mm Remington Magnum and .300 Winchester Magnum, which are still dominant calibers for Western game hunting. The .284 just didn’t have the same “oomph,” and – with the ammunition of the era – it was needed at longer range.
So, it was made for unpopular rifles, wasn’t a solution for a problem that really existed, and was a pain to make.
But this also begs the following question:
Okay, it has some great properties. So what?
The truth is that it’s the halfway point between 7mm-08 and .308 Winchester in terms of power, meaning any advantage is marginal at best. Deer won’t notice, and frankly neither would anything else. A 7mm-08 with 140- or 150-grain bullets is a darn effective getter of game in the hands of a competent shooter. Loaded with proper high-BC/low-drag bullets, it’s also great for punching long-range silhouette targets. That also applies to .308, which only produces about 2 ft-lbs of recoil more.
Also…you can just go buy a .280 Remington or a .270 Winchester and not worry about finding ammunition in a bolt gun. If you have to have a modern sporting rifle, 6.5mm Creedmoor does everything .284 does at long range on targets and .308 does likewise on game.
So yeah, it’s a tragedy that more wasn’t done with the round…but it’s also not like we’re really missing anything.
About The Author
Born in southeastern Washington State, Sam Hoober graduated in 2011 from Eastern Washington University. He resides in the great Inland Northwest, with his wife and child. His varied interests and hobbies include camping, fishing, hunting, and spending time at the gun range as often as possible.