Understanding Straight Wall Cartridge States and Why We Have Them

Straight wall rifle cartridges are seeing a resurgence in popularity as more states loosen restrictions on the types of firearms allowed for deer hunting. 

For generations, states with dense populations limited hunters to shotguns and muzzleloaders out of concern for public safety if a stray bullet traveled too far. However, straight wall cartridges offer rifle accuracy and power with less range than high velocity bottleneck cartridges. 

As technology improves performance of straight wall ammo, states are responding by opening more deer seasons to their use.

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What is a Straight Walled Cartridge?

A straight walled rifle cartridge has a case with little to no shoulder – the angled transition between the main body and the narrowed neck that holds the bullet. Instead of an obvious slope, straight wall cases feature sides that run largely parallel from the base to the mouth.

This cylindrical configuration contrasts with the pronounced bottleneck shape of high performance sporting rounds like .308 Winchester and .30-06 Springfield. 

The sloped shoulder serves a purpose by aligning bullet and powder loads with the path of travel through the barrel. However, straight walls have their own advantages.

The lack of a shoulder aids reliability in lever action, single shot, and semi-automatic firearms. Angled transitions can hang up on edges during feeding. The sleek profile of a straight cartridge slides smoothly into place without resistance. 

This makes them well suited for tubular magazines like those underneath classic Winchester and Marlin lever rifles. Their unfussy shape also avoids complications when loading follow-up shots in break action single shots.

Today, “straight wall” commonly refers to any rounds with cases longer than wide without an obvious shoulder. This includes moderately tapering cartridges with straight appearances like .444 Marlin as well as truly parallel-walled cases like .450 Bushmaster. They stand in contrast to unmistakably shouldered rounds like .308 or .223 Remington.

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What States Allow Straight Wall Cartridges for Hunting?

Several states have legalized the use of straight-walled cartridges for deer hunting. This change has been particularly notable in states that were previously restricted to shotgun hunting. 

States like Iowa, Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois have updated their regulations to allow hunting with rifles chambered for straight wall ammunition. 

Additionally, states with large deer populations, such as Wisconsin and Maryland, have also started providing more options for hunting with straight wall cartridges.

Keep in mind though that regulations on straight wall ammo vary significantly state-by-state. 

Approvals depend on case length, bore diameter, and other factors. For example here are some special restrictions of straight walled cartridge states:

  • Iowa allows .375 Winchester, .444 Marlin, and .45-70 Govt. during special youth seasons. Maximum case length is 1.8″.
  • Michigan’s limited firearms zone permits rifles .35 caliber and up with case lengths of 1.16-1.80″.
  • Ohio sets no straight wall rifle caliber restrictions but limits hunters to 3-round capacity.

Always consult your state’s fish and wildlife agency for the latest regulations. As more hunters embrace straight wall cartridges, rules frequently change to keep up with demand.

Best Straight Walled Cartridges

Modern propellants and bullets that retain velocity and energy downrange allow straight wall rounds to rival or exceed classics like the .30-30 Winchester. Top whitetail medicine includes:

.450 Bushmaster – Purpose-built for the AR platform. Hard hitter for hogs, black bear, and deer out to 250 yards. Mild recoil encourages shot placement.

.444 Marlin – Stretched .44 Magnum reaches 2,400 fps from an 18-inch barrel. Proven tack driver in lever actions. The deep ammo companies neglected this gem for too long.

.350 Legend – Winchester designed it for straight wall hunting laws. Similar ballistics to .30-30 in a compact AR-friendly package.

.45-70 Government – Legendary brush gun caliber. Bullets resist deflection for straight shooting in thick timber. Still does it all from deer to grizzly.

Honorable Mentions

.38-55 Winchester – Classic 1892 lever action round experiencing new interest. Lower pressures promote longevity. Great for deer inside 150 yards.

.38 Special/.357 Magnum – Easy to find and affordable. Strong performers when loaded to magnum levels in carbines and single shot rifles.

Straight Wall Cartridge Chart Comparison

Cartridge Case Length Typical Bullet Weight Velocity Energy
.450 Bushmaster 1.7″ 250 gr 2,200 fps 2,689 ft-lbs
.444 Marlin 1.875″ 240 gr 2,400 fps 2,469 ft-lbs
.350 Legend 1.71″ 180 gr 2,350 fps 2,331 ft-lbs
.45-70 Govt 2.1″ 300 gr 1,870 fps 2,334 ft-lbs
.38-55 Win 1.3″ 200 gr 1,800 fps 1,323 ft-lbs

Numbers will vary from rifle to rifle based on barrel length. Heavier bullets typically trade velocity for penetration. Compare different loads to find the balance you want.

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Why Use a Straight Walled Cartridge?

Straight wall rounds have tradeoffs like any firearm choice, but they offer compelling benefits:

Legal for More Hunting Locations – Straight walls meet regulations in a growing number of shotgun-only zones and density-restricted locations. Their statewide approval continues expanding.

Rifle Accuracy & Range – While legal straight walls do not equal hyper-velocity rounds, they deliver much better precision and reach than slug guns and muzzleloaders. Expect reliable kills out to 200 yards.

Proven Stoppers on Deer & Hogs – Hunters have used classic straight walls to fill freezers and bag trophies for generations. Modern loads expand bullets for quick kills.

Mild Recoil – Blunt bullet profiles mean less meat damage. Tuned loads produce effective energy with tolerable recoil, encouraging accurate shot placement even for smaller-framed hunters.

Reliable Feeding – Straight walls improve lever action and semi-auto reliability. Their sleek profile aids feeding from box magazines and tubular feeds.

A Brief History on Straight Walled Cartridges

Early metallic cartridges took a straight wall design out of necessity. Limitations in brass manufacturing made it difficult to draw and form angled necks. 

As smokeless powder and Spitzer bullets enabled higher velocities around 1900, bottleneck cases offered better ballistic efficiency. 

They soon eclipsed straight walls for most sporting uses. However, straight configuration continues to promote reliable feeding in lever actions, single shots and modern semi-automatics.

Final Thoughts

As more states approve straight wall rifle cartridges for deer seasons once restricted to shotguns, hunters have viable options that rival classic rounds like .30-30 Winchester and .35 Remington. 

Lever guns shine with these cartridges thanks to angled magazines that accommodate blunt cartridge profiles. For the AR platform, .450 Bushmaster and .350 Legend deliver authority on medium game. The straight wall revival opens new ground to explore.

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