History of Wildcat Ammunition

HWildcat cartridges have been around since ammunition was first produced so it’s nearly impossible to determine who made the first official wildcat. Some experts trace it back to the 1870s in Germany, but they all agree that wildcatting really took hold in the late 1800s. Modern wildcats are most prevalent in the U.S., but there are few accurate statistics to back up the claim.

What is a Wildcat?

Wildcat ammo, AKA “wildcats,” are custom-made cartridges created by individuals. Therefore, the cartridges are individually produced instead of being mass produced by a traditional manufacturer. The purpose of creating wildcat cartridges is to alter or add an attribute to an existing round to improve its performance, velocity, accuracy, etc. Since wildcats aren’t mass produced, there is often a lack of precision and uniformity. As a result, wildcats are not embraced by law enforcement or military divisions. Wildcats are preferred by many firearms enthusiasts, handloaders, and perhaps a few mad scientists. Gunsmiths might produce a variety of wildcats, usually to fit into their custom weapons. Wildcat rounds are often used for game hunting, autopistol hunting, competition shooting, and metallic silhouette shooting.

History

The British are credited with introducing the term “wildcat.” It originally defined “a savage, ill-tempered, or spiteful person.” It evolved to “any untamed or unreliable person, or someone who undertakes a risky or unsafe project.” The term became popular in the U.S. in the 1860s when unauthorized banks began to pop up around the country issuing money and notes. Eventually “wildcat: embraced other professions that operated outside the norm from railroads to theatre troupes and moonshiners. It became most popular in the late 19th century with the birth of wildcat strikes – strikes by union workers that were not authorized by the union. The nature of the risky and unsafe project was soon linked to the creation of custom ammunition.

The first documented cases of wildcatting were around the time of the American Civil War. Shooters were restricted to using a few rounds since it was believed it was all a hunter – or soldier – would ever need. American innovators disagreed.

Charles Newton

Charles Newton, an attorney, is perhaps the first person on record to make wildcat cartridges. Newton eventually left his career to make wildcats full-time. It’s uncertain when Newton began but his first cartridge was introduced in 1913. The .256 Newton was based on a .30-06 Springfield military round. Developed with the Western Cartridge Company, it was loaded with a 123-grain bullet, had a muzzle velocity of 3,103 FPS (946 m/s), and 2,632 ft-lbs (3,569 J) of energy.

The .30 Newton, a high-velocity, rimless centerfire cartridge, was also introduced in 1913. Based on the 11.2×72 Schuler, it was loaded with a 150-grain (10 g) bullet, had a muzzle velocity of 3,208 FPS (978 m/s), and 3,445 ft-lbs (4,671 J) of energy.

Newton, often referred to as the “Father of High Velocity,” officially registered the Newton Arms Company in 1914. In 1915, he introduced the .35 Newton, a rimless centerfire cartridge. The round was based the .30 Newton case and necked up to .358 caliber. It was loaded with a 250-grain hollow point bullet and had a muzzle velocity of about 2,800 FPS.

Newton also adapted the .30-06 into the .25 Special and the 7mm using the raw materials that created the 25-06 and .280 Remington.

Newton’s true calling was building rifles, but he was unsuccessful. The company went bankrupt in 1918.

Newton may have been one of the first to make wildcats, but he certainly wasn’t the last. Legendary wildcatters include J.E. Gebby, Harvey Donaldson, John Sweaney, Grosvenor Wotkyns, Parker “P.O.” Ackley, and J.B. Smith.  Perhaps the most famous of this group was Roy Weatherby.

Roy Weatherby

Roy Weatherby was born in Kansas in 1910. He eventually moved to California and began working for a utility company before moving onto the Automobile Club of Southern California in San Diego. When the Auto Club closed Weatherby devoted himself to making rifles and wildcatting full-time.

Weatherby had the idea to start making wildcat cartridges during a hunting trip to Utah in 1942. “I wounded a buck with the .30-06, and after following the blood trail until dark, I finally had to give up. I had a sad feeling for that animal… That’s when I started thinking about getting a bullet to travel fast enough so it would disintegrate inside the animal’s body, and the shock would cause instant death, even though

[the hit]

was not in a particularly vital area.”

Weatherby got down to work. In 1945 he founded  his company and released three new cartridges: .257 Weatherby Magnum (his personal favorite), .270 Weatherby Magnum, and the .300 Weatherby Magnum.

Modern Wildcats

Wildcatting has come a long way since Newton. Experts state that there are more wildcat rounds on the market than commercial ones. Many commercial rounds started out as wildcats but their popularity intrigued manufacturers and were soon adopted for the commercial market.

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