This Article/Blog was published in RifleShooter Magazine (July/Aug 2020) and on RifleShooter Online (Sept 2020) Due to contract obligations, I am not allowed to post this on my website for one-year. The published article can be found here:
Every cartridge had a beginning. The all-time favorite .22 LR was first released in 1871. The famous 30-06 was unveiled to the public in 1906. The multifunctional .270 was available in 1925. The ever-popular .243 in 1955. A strong argument could be made that those four calibers are the most popular cartridges of all time. On the other end of the spectrum are the wildcats. The lesser known, yet still impressive calibers. One of those wildcats, the 26 Macho, came to fruition in 2015. This is its’ story.
Deciding on Reamer Dimensions
The first brain wave of activity for the 26 Macho happened in late May of 2014. Steve Grosvenor (SD) and I were at a Benchrest Match in Webster City, Iowa. After the shooting had concluded on Saturday, many of the competitors were sitting around a table having a few drinks. Steve started throwing the idea out about building a custom cartridge. I thought the idea was very interesting so, together, we started planning.
There were two goals that we wanted to accomplish; to develop an accurate hunting cartridge that would be devastating on deer sized game. To accomplish these, we decided to explore the 26 caliber (6.5 mm) family. The 6.5 family is widely known for its’ inherit accuracy and healthy bullet selection. Steve did a lot of research and decided on the 260 Remington as the parent case. The 260 has shown that it will digest a lot of different powders, has decent velocity, all with low recoil.
Next, we had to decide on a bullet to design the reamer around. Most 26 caliber bullets are long, slender, boattails. I wanted a shorter, flat based, bullet that would not have to be seated deep in the case shoulder/body. We also wanted a bullet heavy enough for deer sized game yet light enough that we could get some decent velocity out of it. After several days of research, we settled on the Sierra 120 gr Pro Hunter bullet.
Of all the planning stages, this next stage was the most frustrating and time-consuming. We each had a few “must haves" in our reamer design. Some of these required adjustments to the 260 Rem. parent case. First, we did not want to turn our case necks. Doing some basic math, we decided on a .297 neck. This dimension would give our loaded case necks slightly over .002 clearance over the heal of the bullet. Second, we wanted the proven accuracy, and reliable feeding of a 30 degree shoulder angle. Third, we wanted more case capacity than a 260 AI. We ultimately decided upon pushing the shoulder forward roughly .080”.
After several months of planning, countless phone calls and emails, we finally had the reamer dimensions. In November of 2014, Steve sent in the dimensions to Dave Kiff at Pacific Tool and Gauge. Mr. Kiff, suggested us a few changes and the final 26 Macho print was settled upon. Dave Kiff sent us the finished chamber reamer in early February of 2015.
Rifle Component Selection
While designing the reamer print, we were also thinking of what components we wanted to build our own rifles with. The stock, action, and barrel can sometimes take six months or longer to obtain. We needed to order those components when we began working on the reamer print. This way, the reamer and all components would arrive at roughly the same time.
Steve mainly hunts in South Dakota, where several mile hikes are the norm. To fulfill his rifle needs, Steve chose a Remington 700 Left Hand Action with a Holland Recoil lug. This action was tuned by legendary gunsmith Stan Ware from SGR Rifles in Minnesota. Steve added a Boyd LH thumbhole stock which Steve custom fit for himself. A Bartlain #3 contour 1/8 twist barrel was the chosen tube. Steve also picked out a Jewell Hunting trigger set at two pounds. Resting on top of this rig is a Sightron SIII 3.5x10 30 mm scope. Steve’s complete rifle tips the scale at 8.8 lbs.
Virtually all of my deer hunting happens on my small 40 acre property. My hunting consists of a quarter-mile walk and fifteen foot climb into a shooting house where I sit and wait. I wanted a stock with a flat forend and more of the target style buttstock. A Bell and Carlson tactical stock is the riding platform for the Stiller TAC action. I picked out a 1/8 twist #16 contour Krieger barrel. I have a Timney trigger set at a crisp two pounds. Sitting on top of this set up is a Sightron SII 4-20X. Mike Bigelow from Bigelow’s Custom in Iowa did all the gunsmithing work on my rifle. In April of 2015, I had my complete 10.7 lb. rifle.
The first step in load development was to fire form the brass to match the custom chamber. To fire form the brass, I took an “out of the box” Lapua 260 Remington case, loaded it with a stout load of H4350, used plenty of neck tension and seated the bullet long to engage in the rifling. The first firing did a pretty good job of forming the brass to the new chamber, but it took two firings to really sharpen things up. A regular 260 Remington has roughly 52.8 gr of water capacity. Our 26 Macho ended up with 56.4 gr of water capacity. This is a significant increase in case capacity.
(Left: 260 Remington. Right 26 Macho)
Before I could get started on the actual load development, I had to solve another issue; there was no way for me to resize the cases. Being a wildcat, there are no commercially made rounds for this chamber, let alone reloading dies. I had to send three fired cases and a copy of the reamer print to Hornady’s Custom Shop. A few emails, a few weeks, and a few hundred bucks later, two perfectly made dies arrived in the mail.
Load work up for the Macho was pretty straight forward. I started with H4350 because it is a proven powder in both the 260 Rem and 260 Ackley. I found the sweet spot for H4350 in this barrel by doing a load ladder at 200 yards. I knew I would be safe by starting with a low powder charge of 41 gr. and gradually worked my way up looking for any pressure signs along the way. The sweet spot ended up being around 48.5 gr of H4350. I started shooting groups with powder charges in that range. The proven winner with H4350 was 48.7 gr. I was able to shoot multiple groups at 100 yards under half an inch. Steve and I can check off the first part of our goal; to develop an accurate hunting cartridge.
I now had my baseline, a load on which I was very comfortable with. I then experimented with different powders, neck bushings, and seating depths to see if I could find a load better than the 48.7 gr. of H4350. Powders that I tried were; H4350, R-15, R-16, R-17, and H4831 SC. An interesting note, all powders shot well (sub one inch groups at 100 yds). This shows that the Macho is a good eater just like its parent case the 260 Rem.
My current load is 120 gr Sierra Pro Hunter bullet being held in place by a .293 bushing pushed by 48.7 gr of H4350 all fired off with a CCI BR2 primer. This load pushes the pill just shy of 3,200 ft/sec. To show the advantage of the increase in case capacity, a regular 260 Rem. would redline around 2,900 ft/sec with this weight of bullet.
It was time to find out if we accomplished the second part of our goal: to develop a hunting cartridge that would be devastating on deer sized game. The Macho was ready to go hunting by the 2016 deer season. That season came and went with no shooter bucks presenting themselves. I would have to wait a whole year to see if we met our second goal.
In 2017, the opportunity arose to shoot at this wide monster.
(2017 buck = First deer ever shot with the Macho.)
The typical standing still, broadside, shot was not to be. The only shot window I had was a severely quartering away angle at a little over 100 yds. The plan was for the bullet to enter just ahead of the hip, travel through the stomach area and enter the chest cavity from the rear. This was not the shot I wanted, but the Macho was (theoretically) designed to handle this kind of density. Just as I was squeezing the trigger, the buck stepped and turned. This caused my bullet to enter the back hip area.
The resulting wound path was complete carnage. The buck’s left hip was destroyed as well as all major organs inside the body cavity. No tracking was necessary. When I field dressed this deer, it was not the typical pull the organs out. It was hold the buck up and let the organs run out. Don Goracke, at Wild Country Taxidermy, summed it up best; “What the heck did you shoot this thing with?.. A tank?”
Next year, during the 2018 season, a more typical broadside shot presented itself on this nice buck.
The bullet entered the left side through a rib, took out the top half of the heart and bottom of both lungs, then exited through another rib on the right side. The heart apparently had enough muscle left to pump the blood, but nowhere for that blood to go. The resulting wound channel produced one of the easiest tracking paths I have ever followed. There was a thick spray of red blood, then nothing for five yards, then another spray. This pattern repeated itself until I found the deer roughly thirty yards from the initial hit.
The 2019 season produced a very similar shot on this dandy fellow.
(2019: 3rd buck shot with the Macho)
This time the bullet entered the buck’s left side just grazing a rib bone and exited missing the ribs on the opposite side. As far as I could tell, the hide and heart were the only things that caused the bullet to expand the way it did. This buck made it about twenty yards before expiring.
After three successful seasons on three different bucks, it is rewarding to report that Steve and I met our goals. The 26 Macho can accurately propel the 120 gr Sierra bullet to speeds great enough to allow the bullet to create a devastating wound channel on deer sized game.
Many friends have asked me if I would do this again? On one hand, the Macho project was a lot of time, effort, and money with the end result being the same as if I would have just bought a 30-06. In other words, you can only kill something so dead.
On the other hand, this rifle cartridge did not exist before Steve and I designed it. I created a load for this rifle that has a high degree of precision and built a rifle that is highly accurate. There was no data out there on how to do that, I created my own data. There are no preloaded cartridges to buy, I have to make my own. When I am in the field, I am only one of two people in the world, who are hunting with this cartridge. All of that is pretty cool.
The final question; is the cool factor worth the time, effort, and money? Damn straight it is. Until next time, enjoy the experience.