Yep, this year is the centennial of Col. Whelen’s creation! And it’s better today than ever… at least as good as a .338 Winchester Magnum when equivalent loads are used in each. That’s the consensus of those who have experience with each in hunting identical game or those similar.
From strictly a modern handloader’s perspective, ballistics are too similar with equal-length barrels and pressures to tell if there’s any meaningful advantage of one over the other.
Because the .338 Win Mag was a creation by Winchester in 1958 as one of a series of three, starting with the formidable .458 Winchester Magnum in 1956, and legitimised by SAAMI, it gained status immediately and acceptance by hunters in filling a niche for large and dangerous North American game – Alaskan in particular. It didn’t happen overnight, but steadily for many hunters it replaced their .30-06s for moose and big bears. Also, with time and more loads available from factories and a greater variety of bullets from their various sources, it’s popularity spread worldwide to include particular African fauna, including lion.
Much more could be said and written, but that already has been well documented. The fact that several more .338 magnums have since appeared on the scene is really a complement to Winchester’s creation. And there are dozens of excellent premium bullets now available for the handloader, and in factory products, that serve well for anything from WT deer to the largest Alaskan moose within hunting ranges – and any other legal wildlife worldwide that fit within those general parameters.
The two main criticisms against the .338 Win Mag, and its peers, is too much recoil and lesser cartridges will do the same things. This essay isn’t to debunk those perceived negatives by a minority, but simply to point out that the .338 Win Mag has grown far too much in popularity and usefulness over the ensuing sixty-four years to simply lay down and die because of a few critics. I’ve owned a couple, and a son another, for which I did extensive handloads in each for hunting purposes. .338 magnums filled a niche that ultimately culminated in a .340 Weatherby Magnum for myself. I’ve no regrets and have no criticisms. I took a mature bull moose with the Weatherby – the moose travelled four feet in reverse and four feet forward before it fell in its own tracks after two shots to the lungs from two 250gr Partitions. Range was 165 yards,
Then within the past few weeks, Weatherby has announced the .338 RPM, based on the 6.5 RPM, but production will not start on rifles or ammo until they catch up on a backlog of demand for ammo production for their traditional cartridges. The new .338 RPM has been approved by SAAMI at 65,000 PSI. A 225gr makes 2800 fps/65K pressure. It has sparked a lot of interest for a few. It’s not quite a .338 Win Mag in ballistics, but will come in a VERY light rifle of less than 6 lbs, short magazine and relatively short barrel. As one forum member put it, “It will be a beast in recoil”, without a brake! Or even with one! Recoil has been mapped at 60 ft/lbs from the proposed rifle without a brake!
I’ll stick with the .35 Whelen that will do the same things with far less recoil, as will my 9.3 x 62, either of which can use .30-06 brass, necked-up in a pinch, but the .35 Whelen case is much preferred in reforming for the 9.3 x 62.
The history of the .35 Whelen is somewhat different: It started life in about 1922 as a wildcat and continued as such until Remington legitimised it in 1988 at SAAMI. The specs were .30-06 with the neck enlarged to .358-caliber. No other changes were made as none were deemed necessary from Col. Whelen’s (and friends) creation, as after trying several different calibers based on the .30-06 cartridge case, .358″ seemed the most practical for the intended use of a cartridge more powerful than the .30-06 itself, and nearly that of the .375 H&H. It was often termed “The poor man’s .375 H&H”!
At that time, no “premium” bullets were available, as they are in abundance today, so heavier bullets with relatively thick copper jackets were employed for large and tough game. 250gr RN and spitzers were considered best for the intended game at about 2500 fps MV from suitable powders of the era. Large bear and moose were easily taken with that combination of bullet weight, velocity and sectional density (SD). Not much had changed over the ensuing years. A few bullet companies provided some 250s for large game and 200s for lighter game like WT deer. Barnes made its reputation by producing bullets with thick copper jackets and pure lead cores, and usually one true “heavy weight”, a 300gr for the Whelen with a .050″ jacket. I still have some of those.
Though languishing as a “wildcat”, there was a loyal following of this cartridge, usually in bolt-action repeaters. Since it’s been adopted by Remington, the company has produced several of its rifles chambered for this cartridge, including: M700s, 7600s, 7400s, 750s, plus a Classic and some CDLs in the M700 bolt-action. Interest in mass-produced rifles has grown steadily as a few other manufacturers have included the .35 Whelen in their inventory. Ruger has in their limited No.1s. Some others have also made them in single-shots like CVA, NEF and Traditions. And it has always been a favorite for reboring a barrel to .358″ from a worn-out .30-06 barrel, or simply replacing the worn-out one with a new, chambered in .35 Whelen.
Though a Rem 750, it’s identical externally to my first .35 Whelen in a Remington 7400
There’s little doubt that “fads” happen in rifle/cartridge buying as in many other consumer products. I well recall when the 9.3 x 62 Mauser was “discovered” in North America about fifteen years ago. It soon became one of the main topics on “the forums”. Well… today, if not a “fad”, certainly the .35 Whelen is being “rediscovered”, and revived discussions on forums have revealed lively interest by both owners and those keen on a fresh experience with medium-bore rifles. Especially is this so since new powders seemingly have “transformed” it into a cartridge worthy of some notice! If I must add anything to this discussion, it’s that I’ve recognised it’s potential from the first time I came to know anything about it! And that was not in recent years, but at least three decades ago when I purchased my first in a handsome Rem 7400. Then, after some handloading experience, I recommended a .35 Whelen to a friend who had decided to build his first rifle on a ’98 Mauser action ( http://www.35cal.com ).
First of all, it’s a true medium bore (4000 ft-lbs KE at the muzzle), which I’ve adopted as a “go to” rifle cartridge. The reason for that is quite simple: Power in reserve for anything legal and within reach – that translated means: not lacking due to surroundings or posture of the animal. And with today’s premium bullets in anything from 180gr to 310gr, there’s little to worry about in reaching vitals if the right bullet is chosen for the task.
< My second .35 Whelen in a New England Firearms single-shot. It had a heavy barrel. In external appearance identical to one I’d owned in .45-70 that was superbly accurate and very powerful with handloads.
For example, I’ve selected the 225gr AccuBond as my go-to projectile for the .35 Whelen. From research, I’ve discovered that bullet will punch through a tough bull moose from stern to stem while breaking big bone (back bone) in the process while remaining intact with a nice mushroom under the hide between the shoulders. The range wasn’t given, but it was a going-away shot where the bull would have gotten into a nasty place. MV was 2850 fps from a .358 Norma and the bull dropped at the shot.
Among those who’ve adopted it as their main firearm for large, and sometimes dangerous game, the simple 250gr Speer SP HotCor has proven effective on large moose and grizzly. It’s still a favorite of several Whelen hunters at around 2500 fps. Yet, there are now several proven premiums available from 200gr to 280gr, and one 310gr from Woodleigh.
Depending on barrel length and PSI, potential velocities from the best of today’s propellants and 22 – 24″ barrels are:
200gr @ up to 3000 fps/3996 ft-lbs
225gr @ up to 2850 fps/4057 ft-lbs
250gr @ up to 2700 fps/4046 ft-lbs
280gr @ up to 2500 fps/3885 ft-lbs
310gr @ up to 2400 fps/3964 ft-lbs
Those results basically correspond to .338 Win Mag results from a 24″ barrel. And the .338 Win uses 15% more powder on average, at higher PSI (64,000 vs 62,000 for the Whelen), and therefore more recoil in a same weight rifle. Or, we can have a lighter weight rifle at the same recoil of a “normal” .338 Win Mag.
The efficiency of the .35 Whelen is due to a larger cross-sectional area of a bullet by 12.6% over .338-caliber. More or less, the same deal as for the 9.3 (.366″) which has a cross-sectional area of 17% greater than a .338-caliber, making both the .35 Whelen and 9.3 x 62 more efficient in the use of gun powder than any .338 magnum. It’s called “Expansion Ratio”, meaning that the column of gas created and it’s PSI has a 12.6% larger area at the base of the bullet to push on than a .338 caliber. Also, a faster burning-rate powder works best as caliber increases: Again, meaning less powder can be used to produce similar effects. Example: Rl-19 is one of the very best for a .338 Winchester Magnum, whereas it’s too slow in burn-rate for best ballistics in the .35 Whelen. A powder slightly slower in burn rate than RL-15 is best in the Whelen for heavier bullets. Also, new ball powders made for the .223 Remington are excelling in the Whelen. Traditionally, powders made specifically for small bores, as in .223, work really well in .45-70s and the .458 Winchester Magnum for heavy bullets as well. H335 being a prime example of that.
Therefore, the .35 Whelen is favored over the .338-06 for the reason that it has the same bore size of the larger cased .338 Win Mag. There was a time when the .338-06 was the darling of some gun smiths and a few “experts” – because of its efficiency. But that was before PSI was measured. Like many “wildcats”, specious claims were made, making it the near equal of the .338 Win Mag. But 2400 fps was real enough from a 250gr in a 24″ barrel. When Remington quoted 2400 fps for their initial 250gr ammo for the .35 Whelen, that was at least 100 fps slower than Col. Whelen’s experience from the powders of the day. I was getting 2600 fps from my 22″ Rem 7400 using 60 grains of RL-15, just as did Finn AAgaard! That was the accepted max load at the time in the early ’90s. That load has been greatly reduced since then, but I saw no evidence of “over pressure” in its use. That was from the Hornady 250gr SP. From my short-lived NEF single-shot, 56 grains gave an instrumental 2565 fps, again with no signs of being too hot! Today’s max is listed at 54 grains under a 250gr by Speer… Has that powder been changed, who knows the whole truth?
But there’s no doubt that a .35 Whelen’s potential can play ball where the .338 Win Mag plays. There are excellent bullets made in .358 caliber these days (If you can find them!). And, like all others, they are very costly! The prices of the .358-cal bullets I purchased thirty years ago are still attached to some of those boxes: $38.95 for a box of 100, 250gr SP Interlocks from Hornady in .358 caliber. Today, the same box of 100 runs about $100. Anything “premium” is at least 2x that!
When I view costs of factory ammo, here at our local Canadian Tire store, a box of 20 cartridges loaded with Partitions, or any premium bullet, for most common cartridges will run from $75 to $100, plus taxes (In Ontario, which also charges the Federal tax = 13%). So a 20 count box of premium .308 Winchester 150gr will cost about $80 plus 13% =$90.40 out the door! Little wonder that new hunters are becoming scarcer than the proverbial “hen’s teeth”!
So, in a sense, I’m preaching to the choir!
But because of it’s efficiency, handloaders can now make the 1922 creation of Col. Whelen (and cohorts) better than ever! And it’s the equal of more modern “magnum” creations that burn more powder, need longer barrels and create more recoil while accomplishing nothing more than Col. Whelen’s really simple work of expanding the .30-06’s neck from .308 to .358 with no other changes, except SAAMI upping the PSI to 62,000.
It has lived a long and productive life of a century, at 100 years! Long may it continue to live!
If we can’t find some fresh .35 Whelen brass, then just find some new or used .30-06 cases and cause magic to happen!
Potential ballistics from a 22″ barrel of a .35 Whelen (Propellants would be either CFE-223 or PP2000MR)
Bullet: 225gr AccuBond
SD = .251
BC = .430 (From Nosler’s website, not the book. And it’s variable depending on the rifle, climate and elevation).
Average physical conditions for my hunting areas in May and September: Elev. @ 1150 ft; Temps @ 65*F/18C; RH @ 56%.
MV= 2800 fps/3916 ft-lbs/ -1.75″
50 = 2699 fps/3699 ft-lbs/ +1.19″
100=2601 fps/3378 ft-lbs/ +2.92″
150=2504 fps/3132 ft-lbs/ +3.37″
200=2410 fps/2901 ft-lbs/ +2.43″
250=2318 fps/2683 ft-lbs/ 0.00″
300=2227 fps/2478 ft-lbs/ -4.06″
350=2139 fps/2285 ft-lbs/ -9.87″
400=2052 fps/2104 ft-lbs/ -17.6″ (With proper placement, should be adequate for a mature bull moose of this area/ 1000 to 1200 lbs).
Actual from yesterday’s trial (Saturday, April 29/22). I estimated 2742 fps for seven shots. Corrected to MV = 2738 fps for the seven. With a new scope that had to be sighted in and three fired offhand at 50 yards (not over the Chrony), the remaining five went into 2″. Good enough for hunting bear, but I’m working on loads to reduce that to three at MOA. Let’s keep in mind that 5 at 100 in 2″ might be 5 at 50 in 1″.
Load data: 67 grains of CFE-223, WLRM primers, Rem cases, 4x firing, 3.45″ COL, Chrony @ 15′. Ambient conditions: 6*C/43*F, 900′ elevation, RH about 50%.
There are few cartridges that can efficiently and effectively be used on all game, from small to large and dangerous on this Continent, and the .35 Whelen is among them! That makes it special in my view.
<My most recent edition… a single-shot from Traditions.
Til the next…