“Well, it’s that time of year again.”, declares a true outdoors man with hunting blood in his veins. “What time is that?” retorts a buddy on his c-phone, knowing the answer before asking.
It’s that time of year where not only serious thoughts about taking that fantasized bruin is making cabin fever intolerable, but serious plans are well in the making.
It’s March and hope springs eternal as cases, powder and bullets are brought from drawers and cabinets to the loading bench. “This year it will be a .35 Whelen that will exercise its muscle on a hoped-for trophy black bear!”, continues the guy with hunting blood now pounding through his veins at the thought of taking that big bruin briefly sighted at one of his baits last year. ” Today, I’m loading those 250 Nosler Partitions at an MV of about 2600 fps… that should anchor that monster blackie I told you about last year… I’m hopin’ he shows up again this year at the same bait!”
Typical exchanges of that nature are just now taking place in various towns and rural areas of North America: in Alaska, various western provinces and states, Northern Canada, Northeast USA and Eastern Canada.
Before they took away our spring hunt in Ontario in 1999, I’d spend many hours in March planning for April 15th. But to be honest about it, when April 15 came around, I was ready but very often the woods was not, neither were the bears. Usually, there was still significant snow and ice in bogs, swamps, ravines and thick woodlots. So it became my practice to start my hunts about the first or second week of May.
I well recall my first hunt for black bear here in Ontario. Some features of that experience from another angle were recently related in a series of articles entitled: “Understanding and Managing Ballistics”. This time, I’m relating conditions over which none of us has control — the weather.
The weather… yes, for a full week in the middle of May, temperatures were hovering around the 80*F mark! On average, that’s about 20*F warmer than hunting in September for bear, which is now our start month. Actually, this year (2014) the Premier of Ontario has authorized a Spring hunt for many Northwest regions of our province! But that doesn’t include my area in Central Ontario. That’s a political story that I’ll not go into at this time .
Getting back to where I was before that diversion… In the spring of 1989, I was somewhere outside Algonquin Park on the south-east corner. Leaves were popping out everywhere, and I was under siege from black flies! Now, if you’ve never experienced that, I’d definitely NOT recommend it! Some Americans who’ve never undergone black fly therapy just can’t handle it and have been known to leave for home abandoning some of their gear behind, like treestands!
So if your plans for a bear hunt includes any of the Provinces of Canada in late April to middle-May, bring more than 250gr Noslers for your .35 Whelen.
(This was my no.1 bait site for many years after I began baiting on my own. It’s early May.)
Now, let’s talk bullets for a .35 Whelen for bruins of color phase or the coal black ones… they are the same species, though some have referred to color phase black bears as “brown bears”. Brown bears are “Kodiak bears” of course, or oversize grizzlies. They are not the same species of bruins as color phase blacks. Brown bears roam certain parts of Alaska and Russia. Grizzlies are the same species but smaller, and are found in several Northwestern States, British Columbia, Alaska and the Yukon. Brown bears may reach 1500 lbs where a large grizzly is about 700 – 800 lbs. Big black bears, including those of color phase in yellow, brown, red, tan or blond, may reach 600 – 700 lbs.
A few days ago I was looking at a photo of a black bear taken in Manitoba that was 7 and 1/2 feet from snout to tail! That’s a BIG blackie! Hanging beside it was a color phase (blond) black bear that was about 5 and 1/2 feet from snout to tail. Each would be considered a trophy.
(This 7-foot black bear was taken by one of the hunters at Algonguin Lodge where I was hunting one year in mid May.)
Spring bears usually have nice fur before it’s rubbed. That is, before they start to rub against trees or large boulders to remove their winter coats and allow new coats to appear. That happens during the month of June. By September their new coats are fully mature and their ravenous hunger stage has begun. Ranging far and wide in search of food is their main preoccupation… they’ll eat nearly anything that’s edible, and some things that are not, like these soup cans that had some bacon fat in them!
Conditions for hunting any bear species may vary considerably, but in Canada most situations are quite similar: untamed wilderness or semi-wilderness areas. That involves lakes, second growth forested areas and woodlots. Also, a lot of scrub brush, agricultural land, rough terrain with swamps, ravines and high ridges. In other words, typical northern regions of the U.S. and Canada, as well as the Northwest, Eastern and Northeast regions of North America. Then there are western and south-western areas of the U.S. that harbor good numbers of bruins of the black kind in California, Arizona and New Mexico. These are typically spot-n-stalk hunts.
But wherever and whatever the conditions, a .35 Whelen should suffice with the appropriate load. Yes, I agree, that in more wide-open areas of the West, a .300 or .338 Magnum might be a better choice but I’ll stick with a choice of a .35 Whelen for the Northeast and most of Canada as slightly “more” favorable than a .30-06, a .300 magnum or even a .338 magnum.
Here are the reasons why:
I don’t believe there’s any legitimate argument that a .30-06 is equal to a .35 Whelen, though they are the same basic case. When push comes to shove, the .35 Whelen can produce 3750 ft-lbs from a 250gr in a 22″ barrel at 2600 fps. That’s normal ballistics. From a 225gr, 2750 fps is “normal” making about the same kinetic smash. The 225 shoots a bit “flatter” while the 250 holds it velocity better and hits “harder”, making a 250gr Nosler Partition the best choice from my perspective. At normal ranges for black bear or grizzly — 50 yards to 150 yards — that’s plenty, and a .30-06 can’t begin to match it in horsepower. That’s not intended to imply that the .30-06 is feeble or inadequate, but just to state facts… it’s behind the .35 Whelen by at least 500 ft-lbs.
Then, there’s the matter of bullet momentum and frontal area to be considered. At 100 yards the 250 Nosler is still making 2406 fps/3213 ft-lbs/86 ft-sec momentum. The .30-06 numbers from a 200gr Nosler Partition at 2600 fps MV are 2420 fps/2600 ft-lbs/69 ft-sec. momentum. At 100 yards it perhaps doesn’t matter as each makes more than enough under “normal” conditions. However, there’s no denying the fact that the .35 Whelen has a significant advantage under conditions that are less than “normal”.
(A friend and I were moose hunting this area. A big bull had been travelling over this very high ridge a few times… and so was a big black bear. On the far side, to the right, there is a sheer cliff hidden by thick brush that drops off about 100 feet. I nearly stepped off of it unknowingly on my very first climb up there. The photo really doesn’t show the steep angle of ascent.)
Based on my formula the .35 Whelen has a TE (Terminal Effect) of 90.5, whereas the .30-06 has a TE of 57.9 at 100 yards.
The above numbers are then multiplied by 12.5 to give approximate animal weight of dangerous game (I consider black bear to be as potentially dangerous as any bear of the same weight) under IDEAL conditions. For the .30-06 load that’s 725 lbs and for the .35 Whelen it amounts to 1130 lbs.
It’s used as a guideline to give me an IDEA of how I should use a rifle load for a particular species under NORMAL conditions. But, what if conditions are NOT normal?
What do I mean?
Well, some examples were given a few weeks ago in consideration of conditions that may create unintended consequences, for example: a much longer shot than was anticipated.
Many years ago when I was black bear hunting with my friend and outfitter Norm Easto, I traveled around with him to many of his baits east and southeast of Algonquin Park (He had 85 such bait locations). He could have said: “Bob, this bait is where you will be for a couple of evenings”. Or, on the other hand, I could have requested to hunt over such and such a bait unless some other hunter was already stationed there. One such bait location was on the edge of a clear-cut. From ground blind to bait was 150 yards. The thought crossed my mind that I’d like to hunt that location, but someone was already committed to it.
But let’s say that Norm requested that I hunt there. I don’t recall exactly what rifle I was toting for the hunt, but often I had a backup depending on the exact situation. It may have been my 7mm Weatherby Magnum. The bear load for that rifle was a 175gr Nosler Partition at an MV of exactly 3000 fps.
In any case, it would have been ideal for that situation provided that: I made the shot; the bear didn’t move at the shot; the bear didn’t travel more that 100 yards after the shot; there wasn’t a deep ravine that the bear got into after, or bog, or swamp, or thick brush, etc.
At that range with a perfect hit, that load was good for a 700 lb bear — again calculations based on my TE formula. Without a perfect hit, a 7-foot black bear could have gotten into any of the messy situations mentioned above! A 7mm bullet from a 24-inch barrel and long M700 action might NOT be the best for a follow-up into that mess!
(That’s the 7mm Weatherby Magnum, and with the above load I took that nice blackie — at 60 yards.)
What about a .300 magnum? Which one? Well, to be mod let’s go with the most popular Short-Fat, the .300 WSM shooting a 180 Nosler Partition at 3000 fps, since that’s the likely choice of most WSM lovers: at 150 yards = 2705 fps/2924 ft-lbs/69.6 ft-sec. momentum = 58.6 TE = 730 lbs under IDEAL conditions, when everything goes as planned.
Now, how does a 250gr Nosler Partition load at 2600 fps from our .35 Whelen compare: at 150 yards = 2313 fps/2970 ft-lbs/82.6 ft-sec momentum = TE = 83.7 X 12.5 = 1046 lbs.
That’s 43% “better” than the .300 WSM, 48% improvement over the 7mm Weatherby. And the .30-06, 200gr at 2335 fps at 150 yards/2421 ft-lbs/66.7 ft-sec. momentum = 54 TE X 12.5 = 675 lbs (less than the 7mm Weatherby or .300 WSM). It’s a step ahead of the .30-06 by 55%!
Am I implying that a .35 Whelen will kill a big bear or moose 55% more dead than a .30-06 with the above loads and conditions? That’s ridiculous, of course. But what it SUGGESTS to me is that while the .30-06, with the above load and conditions, is adequate for a 700 lb bear (black or grizzly)at 100 yards, so the .35 Whelen is adequate for an 1100 lb bear at the same range under the same terms as outlined above. And, we are talking bears, not moose! As a self-imposed limit, I use 12.5 for bears and 18 for moose under “normal” conditions. For a perfect “hit” through the spine, I use 25. But, that is mostly an “accident” at anything beyond 100 yards under field conditions, even for those who consider themselves “expert” marksmen.
(The formula that I use is homogenous of several others, and these are it’s basic components: TE = Kinetic Energy at Impact X Sectional Density X Cross-section Area of bullet before expansion X 12.5 or 18 or 25 depending on game animal and conditions. So: TE = KEI X SD X CSA X 12.5/18/25. It is used as a guideline previous to the hunt. For a brain shot, I’d use 50, but since I never attempt such a shot it’s never used.)
Of course, anyone can believe what they want, but it yet remains to be proven to me that such a view is unsound!
Ergo, that’s why I’d choose a .35 Whelen, in consideration of the mentioned potential conditions, over ANY .30-06, 7mm magnum or .300 magnum for a “fantasized” 7-foot black bear — of course, I might end up shooting a 6-footer as I did last September. And, I was using my 9.3 X 62 with a 286 Nos. Partition, which is even “better than” a .35 Whelen, but in a similar class, because sometimes the fantasy becomes reality!
Next time, more of the same…