You’ve heard how some things appear “ahead of their time?” The .264 Winchester Magnum was one of those.
These days 6.5mm cartridges are all the rage, and that’s the metric dimension of the .264-caliber. The 26-caliber bore diameter is just below the .270 and just above the 25-caliber. It’s the perfect size for whitetails, mule deer, pronghorns, black bears, mountain goats and sheep, yet not too big for long-range coyotes and not too small for elk, moose and even interior grizzlies.
With about 57 grains of slow burning powder fueling it, the .264 Win Mag spits a 140-grain bullet 3030 fps and shoots impressively flat.
Winchester introduced the original clear back in 1958 when Elvis was dancing to the Jailhouse Rock and Explorer 1, the first U.S. earth-orbit satellite, was circling the globe. In those “bigger is better” days, belted magnum cartridges (based on the .375 H&H Magnum case) were coming into vogue. Winchester’s first was the .458 Winchester Magnum in 1956. The .264 and .338 versions came in 1958, but the .300 Winchester Magnum — today’s best known and most popular — didn’t hit the streets until 1963. When it did, the .264 Win. Mag. quickly faded. The added versatility of the .300 was too much for most hunters to pass up.
Winchester engineers created the .264 Win. Mag. by slightly shortening the belted .300 H&H Magnum cartridge so it would fit standard length (.30-06) rifle magazines. Then they necked it down from .308 to .264 and chambered it in a version of the M70 bolt-action rifle they called the Westerner. With its 26-inch barrel, the Westerner was initially advertised to deliver 3,200 fps with a 140-grain bullet. Today’s loads hit 3,100 fps in most 26-inch barrels and an advertised 3,030 fps in 24-inch barrels.
With the high pressures generated by the smokeless powders available in 1958, the original .264 Win Mag. developed a reputation as a barrel burner. Modern powders loaded to slightly lower pressures have alleviated this.
Over the years a few manufacturers besides Winchester Repeating Arms have chambered for the .264 Win. Mag., so used models in good shape can often be found. Winchester is again offering the M70 in .264 Win. Mag. Given today’s rising interest in 6.5mm cartridges, this may finally be the .264 Winchester Magnums time to shine.