Smokey Merkley

Smokey Merkley

I just returned after visiting my daughter and her family in Montgomery, Texas, for a few days. My son-in-law is an avid hunter and hunts deer and elk in Wyoming whenever he can sneak away from his family road and bridge building and repair business.

It should come as no surprise that we talked a lot about hunting in the Rocky Mountain Northwest and what calibers are best for certain game and conditions.

My son-in-law likes to have his rifles built for him by a gunsmith in the Houston area. As we were talking, he showed me the most recent rifle that he had ordered from his gunsmith: the .280 Ackley Improved.

This is the rifle he plans to hunt deer, pronghorn and elk in Wyoming. He put a lot of thought into what caliber to have his gunsmith chamber his custom firearm.

Other than being a little heavier than I like to carry, I think he made a good decision. Besides, he is a lot taller and younger than I am, and probably won’t have any trouble carrying a 9 1/2 pound rifle all day.

P.O. Ackley, who designed the .280 Ackley Improved, was well-known for improving standard factory cartridges by simply opening up a typical SAAMI spec chamber to have less body taper and a much steeper shoulder. This created a larger, more efficient propellant chamber.

Interestingly, he was able to do this in a manner that allowed the parent cartridge to be safely used in the improved chamber. The key element was that Ackley’s chamber maintained the original dimension from the head of the cartridge to the juncture of the neck and shoulder so that the parent cartridge would headspace properly.

Although the .280 Ackley Improved started out as a wildcat cartridge, owners could still buy the .280 Remington cartridge at their local gun store and it worked fine and gave good accuracy when used in the improved chamber. Now, Nosler is providing factory cartridges for the .280 Ackley Improved, so it is no longer a wildcat cartridge.

The .280 Ackley Improved should appeal to hand-loaders who will have a variety of bullets and powders to choose from. Just a few bullets and loads I found on the internet are 3,177 feet-per-second muzzle velocity with a Rem. case, Rem. 9 1/2, Primer, 63 grains of Reloader 22 pushing a 140-grain AccuTip bullet, or 3,046 feet-per-second muzzle velocity, with a Fed. case, Fed. 210 primer, 60 grains of Reloader 19 pushing a 150-grain Scirroco ll.

If you prefer heavier bullets, 3,038 feet-per-second muzzle velocity can be obtained with a Rem. case, Fed. 210 primer, 160-grain AccuBond bullet being pushed along by 60 grains of IMR-7828, and 3,061 feet-per-second, with a Nosler case, Fed.210GM, 59 grains of reloader 19, pushing a 150 grain TTSX bullet.

This is probably the place for a disclaimer. Although the above loads seem consistent with the reloading manuals I have, never hand-load ammunition that you read about in articles or my columns. Always work up your loads carefully referring to reloading manuals.

A lot of top ballistics experts have contributed their expertise and research into the published reloading manuals available. Get two or three of those manuals and use them when hand loading ammunition. You will save yourself and your rifles a lot of wear and tear.

The .280 Ackley Improved looks like a winner as a deer, pronghorn, elk and moose hunting cartridge. Nosler, Dakota Arms and most custom rifle makers are making rifles for the cartridge. It rivals the ballistics of a 7mm Magnum with less muzzle blast, less recoil and more rounds in the box magazine. It is also highly accurate, mild-mannered and deadly in the field.

It will be interesting to watch and see how popular the .280 Ackley becomes as more people start using it. It already has an excellent reputation for taking down deer, pronghorn, elk and moose by those who have been using it for their big game hunting trips.

Smokey Merkley was raised in Idaho and has been hunting since he was 10 years old. He was a member of the faculty of Texas A&M University for 25 years. There he taught orienteering, marksmanship, self-defense, fencing, scuba diving and boxing. He was among the first DPS-certified Texas Concealed Handgun Instructors. He can be contacted at