I like ’em both, and have owned three of each. We know what they’ve done and can do in the hunting world, so there’s little point in argueing a case for one over the other in that regard. So what’s left to consider by way of comparison?
The .35 Whelen predates the .338 Win Mag by thirty-six years so it has a head start. But no rifle or ammo company legitimized it until Remington did so in 1988. By that time the .338 had an advantage of thirty years of commercial support that was lacking for the Whelen. Technical knowledge for the Whelen ultimately rested on the shoulders of wildcatters and experimenters.
Nonetheless, the .35 Whelen not only survived but was praised by some very experienced writers in the sport. It seemed to fill a niche that to that point in time was not met by the big ammo and rifle companies, but was a steady order for custom rifle builders.
It was that good in the view and experience of several influential hunters. Yet there were a number of hurdles to be overcome before general acceptance by the hunting public: 1) A lack of readily available quality bullets in .35-caliber, especially suitable for the potential power of the .35 Whelen, and heavier than 200 grains; 2) A lack of recognition and promotion by the sporting press; 3) The belief that .333 caliber was better due to O’Neil, Keith and Hopkins (OKH) who promoted it, and 4) .333-caliber had slightly better downrange ballistics due to better SDs and BCs per equal bullet weights because of being a smaller caliber (.338-cal was adopted by Winchester for their magnum). And, to add a fifth obstacle: A poor understanding of how to measure PSI as reflected in Remington’s standard of 2400 fps for a 250gr, that only made 2247 fps for ten over my Chrony!
Enter the new era! Since the production of SPEER’s reloading manual #14, there’s been quite a stir over their published results for their 250gr HC at ~2700 fps and their 220gr FP at up to 2828 fps/3908 ft-lbs, using relatively new and untried propellants in the .35 Whelen. Four of the best in relative burn rates were: IMR 8208 XBR, Alliant Pro Varmint, CFE 223 and Alliant 2000-MR. Alliant Pro Varmint recorded the highest MV for the 220gr at 2828 fps, and CFE 223 the second highest at 2786 fps. COL was 3.060″ for the 220gr which meant it was seated to the cannelure. Mention was made of that bullet in a recent blog as perfect for the .356 Winchester for which it was origional created. I’ve loaded it for my son’s .356 at far less MV than what is possible from a .35 Whelen – in fact I’d NEVER load it to +2800 fps for my Whelen, or even close to that as, first of all, it was made for a high of around 2400 fps, and secondly, the 225s made for the Whelen have better-tougher construction and much higher BCs. But from a .356 at 2200 to 2400 fps it’s dynamite! My load for Brent’s rifle took a nice buck last year and a better one this year at 43 yards:
<It was walking towards him and he shot it at 43 yards in the neck. MV was ~2245 and impact was ~ 2124/2203 ft-lbs – plenty for an Alaskan bull moose or grizzly at that range = 50TE
<Four vertebrae demolished
<And only 10 lbs of neck and torso meat saved as deer burger!
<Remains of the Speer 220gr found in torso.
As previously reported in these pages, many .35 Whelen aficionados were already loading their rifles to 2550 – 2600 fps for 250 grainers, pre 1988 when it was legitimized by Remington at Saami. But no one knew at what pressures. It finally came out that 52,000 CUP was 62,000 PSI, and a couple or three NEW powders were making 2700 fps possible for particular 250 grainers from 24″ barrels within specs! So from a 22″, 2650 fps is likely very reasonable from particular barrels and components in bullets and powders. But the only way to measure that is by Col. Whelen’s method – lacking a lab for testing individual rifles and loads – by appearances of how everything worked: The rifle’s action and fired cases! Unless we go to the expense of strain guages and/or QuickLoad, that’s all that’s left! Manuals, you say! Oh yeah, they’re OK, but just another tool that may confound and confuse issues… how many have you used that agree with each other?
I’m still old school when it comes to that… primer pockets, how many case firings, case head expansion, bolt lift, etc. In my view from forty-plus years of making my own from the .22 Hornet to the mighty .458 Win Mag, I’ve not come across readily accessible science better than that! Short of the rifle blowing-up, after firing if spent primers fall out, that’s WAY TOO MUCH pressure! If the bolt handle has to be hit with a mallet to open, that’s WAY TOO MUCH pressure! Etc. You get the picture: I like, for most cartridges, a case life of five firings, minimum, unless it’s evident from former experience that a particular lot of cases is “soft” or “hard”. I’ve had both and adjust expectations accordingly.
Some say they dislike “compressed charges”, without rational thought or research. Many loads in manuals (which “they” follow as “gospel”) have hundreds of “compressed loads”, and at times by nearly 120%!
Right now, in my .35 Whelen, cases that have been fired six times could be used a couple more times at “max”- that I’ve settled on as “max”. There’s absolutely NOTHING in my manuals that is helpful in that regard, except “old school” methodology! I’ve read some helpful “news” online, but even that is significantly variable as to what others are doing in their experiments! I “neck size” my Rem .35 Whelen brass, and I’m sure that has spared over-working of the cases. The point is, we are individual handloaders who have our own somewhat limited thoughts and goals for a rifle, its chambering and expected results. No two individuals will produce or get identical results from two of anything – like cooking recipes, or handloading recipes!
My .35 Whelen cases, after neck sizing, will hold 70 grains of CFE 223 (double-base ball powder) with very mild compression when a 225gr AccuBond is seated to 3.45″ COL. The same case will hold 67 grains of RL-17 (double-base stick powder which is more bulky), with significantly more compression in seating the same bullet to 3.45″ COL. Supposedly, RL-17 is much slower than CFE 223, but pressure “signs” would not suggest that in this combination. On the contrary, CFE 223 “appears” to have a SLOWER burn rate in this combination which means more of it can be useful for a higher MV at less pressure. 57 grains of anything will NOT bring the best from this old girl!
There are a few things I know for certain, and that is that my .35 Whelen is sturdily built, relatively light and handy, very accurate, and powerful enough for my expectations and purposes. But at least for now, I’ll stick with it’s current hunting load: 225gr AccuBond at 2850 fps MV/4059 ft-lbs and sub-MOA. Keeping in mind that’s from a 22″ barrel, then how would that compare with a 22″- .338 Winchester Magnum? (As I type this there are two Tikka T3 Lites in .338 Win Mag for sale at Epps – where I bought an identical rifle in 2011 chambered in 9.3 x 62, but with 22.4″ barrel instead of the 24.4″ on the .338s.)
Nosler gives credit for the 225gr AccuBond in .338″ from a 24″ .338 Win Mag Wiseman test barrel at 2882 fps. They used Winchester cases, Fed 215 primers, 71.5 grains of IMR4350, and a 3.34″ COL. Typically, a test barrel will give higher results than run of the mill factory rifles, but we’ll not discount that. In good faith we’ll give full credit. But, in good faith we must also subtract the potential effect of the barrel loosing a couple of inches to make matters more equitable. And, a 22″ Win Mag would be slightly handier. But a reasonable loss from less 2-inches might well be 25 fps per inch = 2882 – 50 = 2832 fps from the 225gr AccuBond.
That’s pretty close to my .35 Whelen at 2850 fps, which is somewhat variable from several trials at the range which, in any case, is always expected. But a test of 70 grains of CFE 223 upped the MV to 2874 without negatives, so I’ll go with that for my boomer, calling it 2875 (looking neater).
< The 225gr AB on the right at 3.45″ COL with 69 grains of CFE 223. On the left is a former load for my Rem 7400, reloaded with RL-15 at 3.34″ with the old 225gr Nosler BT.
The structures of the two 225gr ABs would be similar, except for the differences in SD and BC, which in those two the .338 has a distinct downrange advantage with an SD of .281 and a .550 BC vs .251 SD and .421 BC for the .358-caliber. In simple terms, the .358-cal is shorter and fatter making it less aerodynamic. BUT! At least one user of the 225/.358 says that the REAL BC of the .35-cal is between .460 – .470 BC in his shooting to 700 yards! And that’s believable to me since Nosler downgraded it due to some insability from their test barrel – it didn’t “go to sleep” until it reached the 100 yard marker. But that’s a problem with the rifling in one barrel! Yet the experience of others, including myself, have had nothing but perfect .358″ holes in targets at 50 yards!
If the BC of their 225 Partition in .358″ is truly .430, then the 225 AB should be much higher due to it’s more aerodynamic shape, as is the case with the two 225gr .338″ at .454 for the Partition and .550 for the AccuBond! That’s a difference of nearly 100 points, why not the same for the 225 AB vs the 225 Partition in .358-caliber? If so, then that would make the 225gr AB with a BC of around .530, which makes more sense. Nonetheless, since the sectional density (SD) of a bullet is a major player in its ballistic coefficient (BC), I’ll base my conclusion of what the real BC for the 225 AB in .358 should be, given the same graphics. The 225 AB in .358-cal has an SD of .251 (regardless of profile), and the 225 AB in .338-cal has an SD of .281, so the .358-cal 225 is 89% in SD of the .338-cal SD in 225gr. So… 89% of the .338’s BC of .550 = .490 BC for the 225gr AB in .358-cal. Voila, I’m going with that!
Regardless, either one in the .338 Win or .35 Whelen is impressive in results at long distances. Yet Nosler’s manual notes that the most accurate load for the 225gr AccuBond in .338 was from 74 grains of RL-19 at 2782 fps with a load density of 105%. I too have exerienced that RL-19 gave best overall results from my .338 Win Mags – and in general for 225s which proved more challenging in that regard.
The .35 Whelen – zero: non specific depending on scope setting and range intended. Ambient conditions: my hunting areas in fall/spring. elevation: 1200 ft, temp 60*, RH = 60%
Bullet: 225 AccuBond
SD = .251
BC = .490
MV = 2875 fps/4129 ft-lbs (Hunting load = 2840 fps from 69 grains CFE 223. Test load of 70 grains CFE 223 = 2875 fps)
100 = 2695 fps/3627 ft-lbs
200 = 2522 fps/3177 ft-lbs
300 = 2355 fps/2771 ft-lbs
400 = 2195 fps/2407 ft-lbs
500 = 2041 fps/2081 ft-lbs
600 = 1894 fps/1791 ft-lbs
700 = 1753 fps/1536 ft-lbs/ 42.2 TE (Adequate for a mature bull elk hit through heart-lungs, assuming bullet expansion.)*
- This was a definite surprise to me. From one poster on 24 hr campfire, I had read this, though at a slower MV and much higher elevation than I’m using, claiming .460 – .470 BC and expansion at a much lower impact velocity than claimed by Nosler. He had killed mature elk at this range using his .35 Whelen AI loaded with the 225gr AccuBond. Of course, he was using a “tricked-out” scope. Today’s bullets, along with some new powders, have changed the game!
The .338 Winchester Magnum – same conditions as for the .35 Whelen.
Bullet: 225gr AccuBond
SD = .281
BC = .550
MV = 2832 fps/4006 ft-lbs
100 = 2673 fps/3568 ft-lbs
200 = 2519 fps/3170 ft-lbs
300 = 2370 fps/2807 ft-lbs
400 = 2227 fps/2477 ft-lbs
500 = 2088 fps/2178 ft-lbs
600 = 1955 fps/1908 ft-lbs:
700 = 1827 fps/1667 ft-lbs
So the .338 Win Mag is the winner of this particular contest, but not by much, and the good news is: There are NO losers!
RECOIL: My .35 Whelen from the 70gr load = 34 ft-lbs with the brake on my 7.5 lb rifle single-shot (w. scope and 1 cartridge loaded).
RECOIL: The .338 Win Mag from 71.5 (as per Nosler) = 38 ft-lbs in an 8.25 lb rifle with scope and ammo.
Overall length of rifles:
39″ for the Traditions single-shot with a 22″ barrel and brake.
42″ for a 22″ barreled .338 Win Mag.
*There are a variety of bullet weights for each: 180gr to 310gr in .358″
-and 160gr to 300gr in .338″
CONCLUSION: It’s a toss up, what one can do, so can the other.
Nit Picking: one might argue that the .338 WM has more component bullets with slightly better SDs and BCs.
-and one could counter with the indisputable fact that the .35 Whelen is more efficient due to its slightly larger bore, therefore a lighter rifle with less recoil can be used (depending on which powders for each).
For most, looking for a new medium bore rifle, choosing between those two would likely come down to which feels more comfortable to carry and shoot. But the unlikelihood of being able to do that, a choice could still be made depending on whether the hunter is a handloader or not, as well as other factors of perceived availability of rifles, ammo and components for handloads.
If you are one of the “lucky ones” and have both… ENJOY THEM!
Looking for some elk to shoot at less than 700 yards? This is less than 5 km from our range!
Till the next…