The .375 Holland & Holland Magnum was once one of the best all-around big game hunting cartridges in the world, but should you still be hunting with the .375 H&H?
Even if they’re not intimately familiar with the history and capabilities of the cartridge, I think most North American hunters have at least heard of the .375 Holland & Holland Magnum cartridge. However, misunderstandings and misconceptions abound regarding the performance of the .375 H&H in the hunting community at large.
On one hand, many hunters try to pigeonhole the .375 H&H as a dangerous game cartridge. While it’s is certainly an excellent choice for use on game like cape buffalo, the .375 Holland & Holland is far more versatile than many people think.
On the other hand, some hunters look down their noses at the old cartridge and its relatively sedate ballistics on paper in favor of more modern calibers like the .378 Weatherby Magnum or .375 Remington Ultra Magnum that seem to offer superior performance.
So what’s the deal with the .375 H&H? Why is it still so popular among hunters all over the world over a century after it first hit shelves? What else is it good for hunting besides thick-skinned dangerous game in Africa?
In this article, I’m going to do a detailed analysis of the .375 H&H Magnum, explain why it became such a popular rifle cartridge for hunting big game all over the world, and help you decide whether or not you should consider hunting with it.
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.375 H&H History
The introduction of the 9.3x62mm Mauser cartridge in 1905 caught the major British gun makers flat-footed. The 9.3x62mm Mauser was designed for use in the revolutionary Mauser bolt-action rifle, which was cheaper, more reliable, had a larger magazine, and was easier to manufacture than previous magazine rifles or double rifles of the day.
Additionally, the cartridge used smokeless powder, which could propel bullets at a significantly higher velocity than black powder. Not surprisingly, the Mauser cartridge quickly took the hunting community by storm and hunters in Europe and Africa quickly armed themselves with the new cartridge.
Fearful of losing their market share to a German cartridge, British gun makers scrambled to develop cartridges that took advantage of the same advances in firearm technology and could compete with the 9.3x62mm Mauser.
It was against this backdrop that gun makers at Holland & Holland introduced the .375 Belted Rimless Nitro Express cartridge (better known as the .375 Holland & Holland Magnum or the .375 H&H) in 1912.
However, those people likely had no idea that they had just designed what would eventually become one of the most successful big game hunting cartridges of all-time. Indeed, though many other outstanding big game hunting cartridges have been developed over the century that has elapsed since the .375 H&H first entered the hunting scene, none have a track record of success quite as impressive as the .375 H&H.
Like the 9.3x62mm Mauser, the .375 H&H cartridge originally used a smokeless propellent (cordite to be specific), used a rimless case, and was built for use in bolt action rifles. Since cordite was much more efficient than black powder, the cartridge could push bullets at significantly higher velocities than was previously possible.
This in turn allowed hunters to use bullets with smaller diameters and higher sectional densities that penetrated much better than the bullets used in the previous generation of the old big bore rifles. Additionally, hunter equipped with a good quality bolt-action rifle could fire 3-5 shots before emptying the magazine (compared to only one or two with earlier rifles).
Obviously, these capabilities were a significant improvement in performance over the other popular hunting cartridges of the day and explains the rapid explosion in popularity of these new cartridges.
The gun makers at Holland & Holland also specifically designed the cartridge with optimum reliability under hot conditions in mind. Cordite is very temperature sensitive and higher ambient temperatures will produce higher pressures with a given load.
At the time, the British had extensive colonial interests in Africa and India where hot weather was very common. For this reason, the designers at Holland & Holland used a relatively low pressure load and built the cartridge with a gently tapering case to aid in chambering and extraction under a variety of environmental conditions.
The designers of the .375 H&H were very successful in their goal of building a reliable cartridge ideal for use in hot conditions.
As a matter of fact, even though modern smokeless propellants are much more temperature stable than cordite, the gently tapering case of the .375 H&H still is still very useful today and the cartridge has a stellar reputation for reliable feeding and extracting in the field. When the chips are down and you NEED that next cartridge to smoothly chamber in order to stop a charging buffalo, it’s really nice to have gently tapered case that effortlessly slithers into the chamber.
However, since the cartridge lacked both a sharp shoulder and a rim, the designers of the .375 H&H incorporated a revolutionary belt near the base of the cartridge to ensure correct headspace.
Unfortunately, the downside is that a gently tapering case is also relatively inefficient in terms of powder capacity. For this reason, the .375 H&H Magnum has a relatively long, 72.39mm case. This is over 10mm longer than the 9.3x62mm Mauser case and nearly 7mm longer than the .375 Ruger case.
For that reason, the .375 Ruger and the 9.3x62mm Mauser both fit in a standard length rifle action while the longer .375 H&H Magnum is restricted to use in rifles with a longer magnum length action.
Rifles with magnum length actions are typically larger, heavier, and more expensive than rifles with standard length actions, but that did not dramatically impact the popularity of the cartridge after it was introduced.
The 9.3x62mm Mauser remained popular among hunters for many years, but eventually faded after World War II. The German armaments industry suffered incredible damage during the war, which obviously made 9.3x62mm ammunition difficult to obtain.
The .375 H&H Magnum did not suffer from this problem and hunters in Africa started to replace their Mausers with the .375. The popularity of the cartridge got a further boost when Winchester started building a version of the legendary Model 70 rifle chambered in .375 H&H.
As American hunters armed with the Model 70 flocked to the Dark Continent during the post-war period, the already common .375 H&H surged in popularity to become one of the most popular big game hunting cartridges in Africa and never looked back.
.375 H&H Ballistics
The original .375 H&H loads introduced by Holland & Holland in 1912 used cordite as a propellent and used three primary bullet weights: a 235gr bullet at about 2,800 fps, a 270gr bullet at about 2,650 fps, and a 300 gr bullet at 2,500fps (about 4,100-4,200 foot pounds of energy).
Those loads featuring a 300 grain bullet are incredibly effective for use on dangerous game and offer an excellent balance of reliable deep penetration and plenty of authority on one hand, but a manageable amount of recoil on the other.
Why is this the case?
For one thing, it’s because the .375 H&H can use bullets with a relatively high sectional density.
A 300 grain .375″ bullet has a sectional density of .305, which is above the generally accepted medium acceptable sectional density of .300 for thick skinned dangerous game.
Sectional density (SD) is a measure of the ratio of the diameter of a projectile to its mass. All other things equal, a heavier projectile of a given caliber will be longer and therefore have a higher sectional density and consequently penetrate deeper than projectiles with a lower mass and sectional density.
Since bullet penetration is so important when hunting thick-skinned dangerous game, that advantage in sectional density is one factor that has very likely contributed to the reputation the cartridge has for being effective on cape buffalo.
Furthermore, since most loadings produce over 4,100 foot pounds of energy at the muzzle, the .375 H&H meets the minimum legal requirements to hunt members of the African Big 5 in every country in Africa and it’s one of the most popular cartridges for hunting dangerous game like lion, Cape Buffalo, and hippopotamus.
At the same time, though it wouldn’t be my first choice as a deer hunting cartridge, the lighter 235gr, 250gr, and 260gr bullets are great for taking longer range shots on game like pronghorn, whitetail deer, mule deer, red stag, feral hogs, and caribou.
The heavier 270gr and 300gr bullets are well suited for black bear, kudu, eland, elk, grizzly/brown bear, Cape Buffalo, and moose hunting.
Super heavy 350 grain bullets by Woodleigh are known for especially impressive penetration and are good choices for backing or raking shots on really large game like buffalo or elephant.
The .375 H&H has a relatively flat trajectory, making it suitable for shots out to 400 yards or so (perhaps further) in the right hands. Additionally, while it does kick a bit harder than the 9.3x62mm Mauser, most .375 H&H loads only have a moderate amount of recoil.
Especially when shot from a standing position in a rifle that fits the shooter well, the .375 H&H Magnum actually kicks much less than you’d think a cartridge that powerful would. Indeed, most hunters can handle the recoil of the .375 H&H without too much trouble.
Since it’s so versatile, many hunters choose the .375 H&H when they want a “one gun safari.” By simply changing the bullets used, a hunter can use the cartridge for just about any species of game in the world regardless of whether that person is pursuing cape buffalo in Africa or on a New Zealand hunting safari for red stag.
For instance, the hunter in the video below made a great shot on a Cape Buffalo with a 300gr .375 H&H bullet that hit the heart and both lungs. The buffalo was dead on his feet at that point and ran around 100 yards before expiring. All things considered, you can’t expect much better performance than that when dealing with incredibly tough animals like buffalo. There’s a reason why the .375 H&H is such a popular cartridge for hunting Cape Buffalo.
Some hunters prefer to use bullets in the 235-260gr range for hunting small to medium sized game like deer and the various species of African antelope (impala, blesbok, springbok, gazelle, etc.). That will certainly work, but those lighter bullets are often designed for more rapid expansion, especially when fired at the higher velocities typical for those loadings.
Those loads can be extremely effective on many species of plains game and are especially highly regarded for their performance on leopard and lion. The downside is that, in some cases, those bullets can cause massive damage to the hide and meat of the animal.
For this reason, other hunters prefer to take a different approach.
While it may seem counterintuitive, the 270gr or 300gr controlled expansion bullets that are designed for buffalo are actually great choices for thin-skinned, small to medium sized game. Since they are much tougher bullets fired at lower velocities, they won’t do anywhere near the damage to the meat and hide that lighter, high velocity bullets will.
At the same time, the 300gr non-expanding solids that are so effective for follow-up shots on buffalo are also extremely effective on the REALLY small species of game like klipspringer, steenbok, and duiker and will cause surprisingly little meat or hide damage on those diminutive creatures.
For example, I was hunting eland in South Africa several years ago when we came across a herd of impala with a nice ram in it. I was carrying a CZ-550 chambered in .375 H&H and loaded with 300gr controlled expansion bullets well suited for hunting for large species of game like buffalo and eland. As you can see, it did a number on that impala without ruining an excessive amount of meat or destroying the hide.
.375 H&H Ammo
Modern .375 H&H ammo produces similar ballistics to the original .375 H&H loads, but hunters these days have access to extremely high quality bullets that are well suited to hunting a variety of creatures.
For instance, Hornady loads their 300gr DGX/DGS bullets to an advertised velocity of 2,530fps, which is a great combination for hunting cape buffalo.
Federal’s load of 250gr Trophy Bonded Bear Claws at 2,670fps is a flat-shooting and hard hitting load for plains game, moose, or the biggest Alaskan bear.
Due to the incredible popularity of the cartridge, just about every major manufacturer produces factory loaded .375 H&H Magnum ammunition. For instance, Armscor, Barnes, Buffalo Bore, Corbon, Federal, Hornady, Norma, Nosler, Prvi Partizan, Remington and Swift all make at least one .375 H&H load.
Though 270gr and 300gr bullets are the most popular, it’s also possible to find 235gr, 250gr, 260gr, and 350gr bullets for the cartridge.
For a more detailed discussion on .375 H&H hunting ammunition, read this article:
Handloaders also have a ton of choices and, with the notable exception of the Barnes Banded Solid, just about every premium bullet currently on the market (like the Barnes Triple Shock, Nosler Partition, and the Hornady DGS/DGX) is available in .375 caliber.
.375 H&H Rifles
Just like with ammo, there are plenty of options for hunters who want a rifle in .375 H&H these days.
There are some very high quality bolt action rifles chambered in the cartridge that are designed for use under demanding conditions on an African or Alaskan hunting adventure. Among others, Browning, CZ, the Montana Rifle Company, Sako, Weatherby, and Winchester all produce good .375 H&H rifles.
.375 H&H Final Thoughts
While the .375 H&H Magnum is a great cartridge, it’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a little on the light side for hunting elephant or for use as a buffalo “stopping” cartridge, but it will do in a pinch for either task.
It also has a whole lot more recoil than cartridges like the 6.5 Creedmoor or .30-06 Springfield. All things considered though, the .375 is still a really solid performing cartridge for a wide range of tasks.
Few other cartridges have a resume as impressive as the .375 H&H Magnum. If you’re looking for a good quality cartridge capable of taking the widest possible variety of game with a moderate amount of recoil, you could do a whole lot worse than the .375 H&H.
There is a reason why the cartridge is so popular among hunters and outfitters in Africa: because it works.
Do you have a rifle chambered in .375 H&H that you want to take on a hunt?
Book a great black bear hunt here.
Book an incredible Africa hunting safari here.
Book an outstanding Cape Buffalo hunting safari here.
To learn more about the 7mm Remington Magnum, the .300 Winchester Magnum, and the .338 Winchester Magnum all of which use a modified .375 H&H case, read the articles below:
The Lyman 50th Edition (p323-324) and Hornady 10th Edition (p710-712) reloading manuals as well as Africa’s Most Dangerous by Kevin Robertson (2nd Edition, p 100-105) and Why the .375 H&H Magnum Is the King of Cartridges by Phil Massaro in Gun Digest were used as references for this article.