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January 14, 2008

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A Brief History of Wildcatting

Brass is wonderful, malleable stuff, and about 30 seconds after the first brass cartridge saw the light of day, someone undoubtedly beheld that case and thought that if they could modify it to get a little more powder in it, they could really get the sumbitch cooking. Thus was wildcatting born, and The Great Wildcatting Boom lasted roughly from the end of World War I until the mid-1960s. During that time, factory loads were necked up, necked down, given different shoulder shapes, less body taper, and endowed with fanciful names. Many wondrous claims were made for them, and the shooting public lapped it up.

The most popular approach was to "improve" a cartridge. It involved firing a factory case in an improved chamber, which caused the case to re-form itself with a sharper shoulder, less body taper, and somewhat greater powder capacity. The wildcatter would then stuff it full of powder, shoot it, listen to the ear-splitting crack it made, and claim whatever velocity he felt was appropriate.

Until the 1970s chronographs were rare indeed, and these claims went unchallenged. But as time went on, chronographs became simple and handy, and they took most of the steam out of the wildcatters. Almost simultaneously, ammo makers snapped out of their lethargy and began producing new cases at a far faster rate than anyone could use them. This is still going on today.

If you want more velocity than you already have, you must look for at least 200 fps more. Anything less is ballistic onanism. And the only way to get that kind of an increase is by burning a lot more powder. To do this, you need a bigger case. So, if you have a .270 and need more speed, you do not torture it into a slightly different shape. You buy a .270 Weatherby or a .270 WSM.

Wildcatting was not altogether futile. Roy Weatherby's line of cartridges were once wildcats, as was the .22/250, .35 Whelen, the .25/06, the .243 and 6mm, the .257 Roberts, and on, and on. Wild claims or no, they were good, useful cartridges and they've lasted. Most of it, though, was just a lot of hot air--but people had fun, and that's what matters. This is, after all, a hobby.


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People seem to remain futile regardless of the time period. I'm sure some of the things we are doing now will one day be laughed at by the shooting public.


If nothing else, it gave bored shooters something to do and like you said, some of the wildcat cartridges are still around.


Scott in Ohio


Not much ranting/raving in this post.

So, I'll comment on an issue you discussed in the Nov 1981 issue of F&S when you were Assoc. Shooting Editor. The article was "Two barrels do it all for me." In it you mention owning an old Browning Superposed with 26-inch barrels, an Ithaca SKB M-280, and two SxSs from Charles Daly made by Miroku. In the intervening 26 years, have there been any other SxS field-grade guns (under $1,000 used) that you’ve owned and care to recommend?

Dave Petzal

To Scott in Ohio: You get the non-sequitur award for the week. Not much has changed. Any of the Mirokus or SKBs are good, to which add Beretta


I suppose wildcatters of today are using new and improved powders plus higher pressures. Check out the pressures of the Ultras or short and fats compared to the older "standard" magnums, even the ones we considered hot thirty years ago like the .264 Win. mag. Usually pushing about 10,000 more in the newer cases.
If any of you have a chance look at www.gunwerks.com and examine their 7 mm Rem. mag claims. Must be a super duper brand new powder as my old 7 mm's can't do what this guy says his will. They load Berger bullets, don't know what brand brass or primers. I am tempted to buy a box of his ammo and fire it through my chrony.
By the way my beloved small frame 28 gauge SKB O/U with the South American pixx elm sap wood stock that drops upland birds like it thinks it is a 12 gauge costed lots less than a grand. However that was back in the late seventies. Regardless SKB has always been a good choice even on the trap range firing thousands of shells.

John B. Holdstock

Dave: I learned my new word for today: onanism. I had to look it up. The definition cracked me up.

Function: noun
Etymology: probably from New Latin onanismus, from Onan, son of Judah (Genesis 38:9)
Date: circa 1741

1 : masturbation
2 : coitus interruptus
3 : self-gratification

Thanks for the chuckle.


I must admit the “Wildcat Era” produced bunches of claims of “improved” cartridges whether the word was incorporated into the name or not. I have played around with a number of “wildcats” prior to factory production. The velocity claims, not withstanding, I always thought the pressures generated by some of these concoctions was [is] almost of much interest. I think it incredible there weren’t causalities during the experimentation.
On the other shoe, I find it incredible factory loadings are basically conservative [i.e. 257 Roberts, 35 Whelen, 338-06] when the wildcat loading data has been around for decades and lacking drama.

I also believe many factory production of “new or improved” cartridges is a marketing ploy to generated 100,000 rifle sales on something of doubtful value.


Mark-1 without a doubt you are correct insofar as creating new markets by the introduction of the newer cartridges. Odd that almost all of them can be found in old wildcat versions, some many years ago. In essence it seems that everyone that wants a .270 (or whatever) has one and the gunmakers need something else to sell to the masses. We all could get by with a .22 rimfire, an '06, and say a .416 or .458 for anything and everything. But don't confuse needs with wants.
I am still amazed that most shotgunners are happy with the limited number of gauges that are routinely encountered. The oddball sizes fell to the wayside never to be revised (even 16, 28, and .410 barely exist off the range). Maybe selection of shot size and case length makes up for this to some degree. The pistoleers and riflemen continue to seek and accept, at least for a while, new frontiers. I am a member of all three groups and still fail to understand the reality of it. In the end if we can afford it, enjoy it, and it does not hurt anyone else why not?
Off subject but yesterday I found it interesting that my kid said that he enjoys mastering his two Ruger Bisleys with what he calls "cowboy sights" more than he likes to shoot his Ruger, Walther, or High Standard with adjustable sights. I always felt more comfortable with the sight picture afforded by the Novaks or S&W adjustables.

Dr. Ralph

"It is, after all, a hobby." Truer words were never spoken... examine, inspect, sniff, smell, fondle and relish in the ingenuity and individuality of every aspect of our sport. Then remember that is also the a duty thrust upon us by the founding fathers.

Steve C

Wildcatters remind me of Mexican restaurants. Same 10 basic ingredients. But they are due credit for pushing manufacturers off their complacent butts.

Brass cases, jacketed bullets, and smokeless powder have been around for over a century. Wonder when the next real change will come to cartridges?


Ralph ,.. thank you
just regaining control of myself here,..

Herr Petzal uses onanism (a yid term in my old neighborhood for
doin yersef) usd in ballistic context down right genius.
( done spelled that one right I thank)
and your up to the duty bestowed upon us by the founding fathers fondle & sniff.
Damn ,.. not sure I can handle this,..

Today fellas ,.. is a good day Won't bore you with detais but finished somwething had been working on for many months,.
( yes Ralph cpaityalist pig endevors but on behalf of another)

Therefore, thusly, and accordingly,.. while sampling a little scotch in minor, and I might add respectfull celebration ( its 5 somwhere) ,.. decided to check in on you fellas,..

Between the two,..
Balistic onanism and our founding fathers fondle and sniff,..
nearly blew scoth up my nose,..
then laughed till I was purple,..

WHOOOOWEE,.. you guys are great !!
Thanks for the YUK

You need to get into town more or I need to find another blog to


Steve c

Already here ,.. air guns,.. but I dont like em,. not enough noise ,.. sounds like the end resut of someone sucking a ping pong ball through 50 ft of garden hose POING GA!!

Steve C


Airguns go back to Columbus' time (as in Christopher). Lewis and Clark carried one on their expedition. The most modern airguns go back to at least the 1920s. Nothing new there.


Glad I'm not the only one around here that butchers spelling.

Excuse me. I don't mis-spell, I mis type. :-)


Yes Steve c I know ,..
But phasers are illegal,..
Least ways last I heard,.. and them thar lectric ignition guns went the way of the 100 mpg carburator,.. Thank meby winchester baught it up and sold to the military in Fundaleon.

Info I get recently (albiet second had) meaning a friend / associate ,.. has a frind who he claims recently shot a buffalo ( American Bison) with modern air gun,..which apparently did the job rather handily

Now,.. not to start an argument but did Louise and Clark have that kind of power with an air gun,..or any gun?.
What I read was the rifles they had of any kind were just barly enogh to stop grizz after multiple rounds.

I like powder smokeless ball IMR and black,.. like the way it sound and smells.
But also like what the Europenas have been doing for long time,.. silencers,..on big game rifles,..
Better not to let the anti's know where we are,..

John B

"Now,.. not to start an argument but did Louise and Clark have that kind of power with an air gun,..or any gun?."

Damn, I didn't know they had a cross dresser on that trek!


Back in the Fall of '93, Gary Sitton wrote 3 articles for a Peterson Publishing seasonal magazine (under the Guns & Ammo banner) titled "Rifles & Cartridges for Big Game". The best of which was "The Improved Cartridges"; a treatise on the P.O.Ackley Improved versions - which were, and were not, worthwhile and why. Worth doing: .22-250 AI, .257 Roberts AI, 7x57 AI, .280 AI, .338-06 AI, .35 Whelan AI and even the .30-30 AI. Alas, my beloved .25-06 didn't make the cut. Excellent article, and boy, do I miss his writing. DEP had it partly right - wildcats are fun, but mostly it's because they're a little bit different than what everyone else has. And a little more of it. Mr. Sitton has cost me a lot of money over the years, and I thank him for it. Try it, you'll love it.


I smell a set up. Dave will announce the POP line of cartridges at the upcoming SHOT show. The POPs will be the latest in wildcat development; probably a caseless 23 and 39 caliber. Where can I place an order?

Trae B.

probably the next advancement for hunting is going to be heat/heart seeking bullets with scopes that can adjust over the curvature of the earth because thats how long range they will be.And the scope will see through trees and hills and mountains and the bullet will just dodge them with out losing speed.And more than likley high impact explosives in the tip of the bullet.

"Onanism" that is a good one Dave.
I always liked the "wildcatter" stories of the past;It's part of being a gun nut, I suppose?
Isn't the 30/06 a wildcat of sorts starting life as the 8mm Mauser?

Ralph the Rifleman

"Onanism" that is a good one Dave.
I always liked the "wildcatter" stories of the past;It's part of being a gun nut, I suppose?
Isn't the 30/06 a wildcat of sorts starting life as the 8mm Mauser?

Bernie Kuntz

Dave, your final paragraph sums up my sentiments exactly--most wildcats were "a lot of hot air", but the ones you listed there have been genuine improvements that have survived for decades and deserved to!

Black Rifle Addict

I find the saying "beware of the one rifle man" quite interesting when discussing the wildcat cartridge making history.
It seems most of this experimenting was going on when practicallty was the buzz word people did not have disposable income and had to make due with their one gun battery.



Don't be so awe struck by the 7mm Remington 'gunwerks' stuff. Ol' Dick Lee has 72 grains of H1000 sending a 168 gr bullet at 3015 fps in his 1996 book 'Modern Reloading'? I don't own a 7mm so I can't chron a load ... but the 'gunwerks' stuff sounds like a very expensive 'load' a crap to me?



Then, Dave, there were the wilder wildcats, the original wildcats that were then further 'catted, like P. O. Ackley's "improved" 6mm and .257 Roberts, and Weatherby's .30/.378. The evolution of some modern rounds has progressed from factory cartridge to wildcat to factory to further wildcat. You need a DNA analysis to understand the ancestry of some modern rounds.

History shows that 'wildcatting' is a continuing process of improvement, especially as the components like powders and primers themselves evolve.

And then there are the throwbacks, the short fat 'magnums', which do nothing but decrease magazine capacity for a slight gain in shortening action length. Just like natural selection, there are some dead ends in the process.

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