The Mysterious, Magical, Disappearing .284 Winchester

Is this efficient short-fat on its way out as more powerful 7mm cartridges enter the market?

Any fair-minded shooter interested in clever cartridge design and efficient performance must respect the rarely seen .284 Winchester. This “short-fat” case pushing high B.C. bullets was decades ahead of its time.

In practical terms, the .284 Winchester is no better nor no worse than the 7x57mm Mauser, .280 Remington, or 7mm-08 Remington, yet in many ways it optimizes the short-action, 7mm platform. Given the incredible success of the 7x57mm Mauser on all species of big game around the world over the past 120 years or so, the .284 Winchester could be held up as one of the best, all-round cartridges ever designed and put into action.

But that doesn’t mean its perfect. Years ago we were backpacking the Alaska Range in search of a Dall’s ram. One jumped from behind a boulder and ran across a basin. This was back in the days of the technologically advanced “It looks like about three football fields” range finding. Turned out it was more like four fields, as indicated by the 140-grain Nosler Partition bullet landing low and behind. The next kicked up dirt at the right level, but still behind the running animal. The next struck, but too far back for an immediate kill. The finishing shot, aimed atop the ram’s horns as it stood broadside, punched through the shoulders. The .284 Winchester had done it again.

Way back in 1988 the author's Ultra Light Arms M20 in .284 Winchester anchored this mountain goat with two 139-grain Hornady InterLock handloads at 2,968 fps.
Way back in 1988 the author’s Ultra Light Arms M20 in .284 Winchester anchored this mountain goat with two 139-grain Hornady InterLock handloads at 2,968 fps.

Winchester concocted its .284 way back in 1963. That pre-dates the rise of the Beatles and Muhammad Ali. Engineered for Winchester’s then-new M100 autoloader and M88 lever action, the .284 Win. was created to match .270 Win. and .280 Rem. performance in quick-handling, short-action rifles, the kind that carry easily through woods and brush, yet deliver all the precision and punch needed to tackle deer, black bears and elk.

Both new Winchesters used vertical stack magazines. This meant they could be stuffed with sharply pointed bullets, the kind that slip through the wind rather than waste energy shoving it out of the way. This leads to vastly superior downrange performance. Flatter trajectory, less wind deflection, more remaining energy.

Despite all this, the .284 Winchester languished because of those rifles. By 1963 American hunters were drifting away from lever actions and autos toward the increasingly reliable and deadly bolt actions like the M70, “The Rifleman’s Rifle.” Had the .284 been chambered in the M70, who knows . . .

Of course, there was no short-action version of the M70 back then, so no advantage to the .284 Win. over the .270 Win. or .280 Rem., which had been unleashed in 1957.

It wasn’t until the mid-1980s that an innovative West Virginia gunmaker, Melvin Forbes, recognized the potential of the .284 case while designing his short-action, 4¾-pound Ultra Light Arms M20. This was the first high-tech, ultralight, durable, yet deadly accurate mountain rifle. In it the .284 Winchester reached its potential.

I hunted extensively with Forbes’ prototype M20 in 1988. I fired at game 11 times to distances as far as 418 yards and collected ten animals. I needed the 11th shot to anchor a lung-shot mountain goat so it wouldn’t fall off a cliff. Not surprisingly, I was sold on both the Ultra Light Arms M20 and the .284 Winchester. Both have gone on to cleanly and efficiently take sheep, whitetails, coyotes, mule deer, and elk.

There is nothing mysterious nor magical about the .284. Like all cartridges, it is merely a convenient reservoir for storing powder and primer behind a ready-to-shoot projectile. It shoots the same .284-inch diameter bullets as every other 7mm from the 7mm-08 Rem. through the 28 Nosler. Despite the .284 Winchester’s case length of 2.170 inches compared to the .280 Rem.’s length of 2.54 inches (necked down .30-06 case,) both have the same volume, i.e. 66 grains of water.

Here are some of the world's 7mm centerfires. Far left is the original 7x57mm Mauser. Third from L. is 7mm-08 Rem., then .284 Win. followed by the long, skinny 7x64 Brenneke and .280 Remington (red tip.) The .280 Ackley Improved (white tip) is beside the other two fading short-action 7mms, the SAUM and WSM. Then comes the 7mm Wby. Mag., Rem. Mag. STW and RUM. "Little stubby" on the left is a 7mm BR.
Here are some of the world’s 7mm centerfires. Far left is the original 7x57mm Mauser. Third from left is the 7mm-08 Rem., then .284 Win. followed by the long, skinny 7×64 Brenneke and .280 Remington (red tip.) The .280 Ackley Improved (white tip) is beside the other two fading short-action 7mms, the SAUM and WSM. Then comes the 7mm Wby. Mag., Rem. Mag. STW and RUM. “Little stubby” on the left is a 7mm BR.

The .284 Win. gets this by utilizing a fatter body, .500 inches compared to the .280’s .470 inches. The .284 still functions on standard, .30-06 diameter bolt faces because it has a rebated rim; rim diameter at .473 inches (same as the .280 Rem.) is smaller than the .500-inch head.

The .284 Win. case additionally maximizes power space  with minimum taper plus a 35 degree shoulder, much flatter than the 17 degree, 30 minute shoulder of the .280 Rem. You may need a nerdy interest in cartridge design and ballistics to appreciate these subtleties, but these are what matter in cartridge design and performance.

The upshot is the .284 Win. has the potential to perform like a .280 Rem. in a short-action rifle. I say potential because few short-action rifles are chambered for the .284 Win., and even fewer manufacturers load ammo for it. Winchester currently offers a 150-grain Power Point load rated 2,860 fps. And that’s about it!

The .284 is a handloader’s cartridge. And even then it’s a challenge finding brass. Again, Winchester makes it. The only other option I know is to buy 6.5-284 Norma brass from Norma, Lapua, or Nosler and expand it to .284 inches. It’s a simple process, but why bother when you can buy a 7mm-08 Rem., a variety of factory loads, and come within about 60 fps of .284 Win. velocities?

I’m afraid, despite Forbes’ best efforts and the .284’s inherent qualities, this round is history, especially with Remington’s 7mm SAUM and Winchester’s 7mm WSM, two even more powerful short-action 7s, on the market. And even those are disappearing faster than a May snow in Texas. For whatever reasons, American shooters just don’t seem overly enamored of efficient, effective short-action 7mms. More’s the pity. 

Too bad. A short, light, quick-handling rifle like an Ultra Light Arms M20 that has the accuracy to perform reliably past 500 yards with sleek, efficient, wind-defying, high B.C. bullets could be the perfect tool for hunting North America and most of the world. But so could the 6.5-284 Norma, the .284 Winchester’s most successful offshoot. But that’s a whole ’nother story.

For more from Ron Spomer, check out his website, ronspomeroutdoors.com, and be sure to subscribe to Sporting Classics for his rifles column and features.

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