That these two have often been portrayed as combatants or at least as contenders for an uncertain crown, as to which is the best based on the parent .30-06 case, has been hammered more than a few times by authors and aficionados alike.
So, now it’s my turn.
I recall reading an article by Lane Simpson in the May-June 1986 RIFLE magazine, in which he referred to a piece by Ken Waters who posed one against the other and came to the conclusion that the .338-06 was somewhat better than the .35 Whelen. Simpson took exception to that. I happened to agree with Simpson then, and still do based on personal experience with the .35 Whelen and ballistic logic. And, I’ve used more bullets and powders than was available to Lane.
The logic is simple physics. As to my experience, the .35 Whelen under my ownership and control gave an easy 2600 fps from certain 250s. In fact, the Remington 7400 (semi) attained a high of 2645 fps from the 250gr Hornady SP over a dose of RL-15, ignited by WLRM primers. And, of course, the brass was Remington. That’s 3883 ft-lbs at the muzzle… for the curious. Today, there are verified reports (Speer and certain handloaders) of 250s flying out the muzzle of 24″ barrels at +2700 fps!! That’s .338 Win Mag territory — historically, at least. The .338 WM has also been upgraded by new powders and bullets. Incidentally, I also obtained like results from my last .350 Rem Mag, an M673.
But our topic is the .35 Whelen vs the .338-06, which was the darling of certain authors of a bygone era. “Silence” is perhaps the best descriptive term involving the .338-06 today. That hunting and shooting periodicals, and their writers, adopt certain “new” cartridges and the rifles for which they’re chambered is nothing new. The rage today is the 6.5 Creedmore. Ten years ago, or more, it was a resurgence of interest in old Big Bores, including the introduction of a few new renditions such as the .375 and .416 Rugers. Prior to that it was the .458 Lott. Matters have gone in the opposite direction in recent times — “everyone” loves a small bore!
Still, there’s a significant group of real hunters that appreciate what has worked well in the past, and which have actually improved in efficiency with modern powders and bullets. The .35 Whelen is a great example of a cartridge proving its worth on big game since its introduction in the 1920’s by Col. Townsend Whelen and his associate James Howe. It did what was intended then and does the same just a bit better now. Success on Brown bear and giant Alaskan moose using common cup-and-core heavy bullets amply justified the faith of those who adopted it for the same work Whelen had in mind. Like its parent, the .30-06, it has stood the test of 95 years and counting. It isn’t going away any time soon as long as rifles can still be used in hunting — and hunting itself still exists.
<A .35 Whelen aficionado and his son on one of our moose hunting trips to Northern Ontario. http://www.35cal.com
What are its attributes that so aptly appeal to those who befriend it?
- It just does a good finishing job on any animal — small to large — that it’s pointed at and the trigger squeezed.
- Recoil isn’t significant enough to cause angst in the shooter.
- Plenty of excellent bullets available to compliment the potential of the cartridge.
- Its reputation is such that there’s no need to be embarrassed or fearful of success.
- It doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to own or feed. Cast bullets are known to do their mission exceedingly well.
- In a good rifle, accuracy is excellent.
- Overall handling and weight isn’t a burden — no more than a .30-06 of similar length and weight.
- The best weight bullets for big game are 225s and 250s. 225s at 2700 to 2800 fps and 250s at 2500 to 2700 fps. There are both lighter bullets and heavier – please check reloading manuals.
Nonetheless, as good as the .338-06 might have been in it’s hay day, we’ll take a frank peak at it’s current potential when psi is the same as the .35 Whelen in identical length barrels.
In the early ’90’s, when I was getting serious with the idea of a .35 Whelen, ballistic logic told me that all else equal (barrel length and psi) the .35 Whelen would have a better expansion ratio (ER) than the .338-06 simply because of a 12.6% larger cross-section area bore. Then, it was simply a matter of finding the best powder/bullet combinations to demonstrate that logic.
Actually, I’ve never owned or fired a .338-06 even though my astute gunsmith tried to convince me of its Stirling qualities for anything to be hunted! But I’m an avid researcher! And nothing, so far, in all my reading and research has improved or changed my ballistic logic!
The piece alluded to by Simpson went into bullets for each, which seemed to be the main argument of the .338-06 proponents — many more available in .338″ than .358″. Basically, he debunked that assumption in pointing out that there were enough very good bullets available in .358″ for any potential hunting needs. Since Simpson’s article, there are numerous high-tec. “premiums” available today in .358-caliber, all the way from pistol bullets to 310grs from Woodleigh! Just in checking Barnes, Hornady, Nosler, Speer and Sierra manuals, I count 2 TSX’s from Barnes, 6 Hornady, 3 Noslers, 3 Hot-Cors from Speer, 2 Sierras — a 200 RN and a 225 SBT. Woodleigh lists 11 bullets in .358, the most of any bullet company. Then there are a few others, plus the dozens of pistol bullets.
Surely from all that, any handloader’s dreams or desires could be satisfied.
In .338″ there are indeed more bullets, but how many does a hunter/shooter need to fulfil expectations. In my view and experience, few handloaders, if any, will be able to adequately test every available projectile for most common calibers, or even want to if being able to afford it!
But here are some expected, reasoned, results from a couple of 24″ rifles chambered in .338-06 and .35 Whelen loaded to the same approximate PSI. As a wildcat. the .338-06, like so many other “cats”, was not limited by SAAMI, and early results were likely well beyond 52,000 cup. Since then, A-SQUARE legitimised the cartridge at SAAMI at about 65,000 psi, according to one source. Of course, that’s above and beyond that for the Whelen at 52,000 cup (about 62,000 psi).
The .338-06 A-SQUARE -data from the Nosler #6 Reloading Guide
Bullet: 250gr Nosler Partition
Barrel length = 24″
SD = .313
BC = .473
MV= 2424 fps/3261 ft-lbs/92 MTE
100= 2250 fps/2809 ft-lbs/79 MTE
200= 2082 fps/2407 ft-lbs/68 MTE
300= 1923 fps/2052 ft-lbs/58 MTE
375= 1808 fps/1815 ft-lbs/51 MTE
*Now that’s slightly better than its parent case, the .30-06, but not by a whole lot, and only because of the larger bore and heavier bullet — which was intended by its creators. But in my thinking, it’s NOT deserving of all the HOOPLA created in the press when it was introduced! One of the authors shot a grizzly and it worked! Big deal… the .30-06 can do that! Oh… but it was shot with a 210gr Partition! That matters? Nosler’s manual #6 shows up to 2690 fps from a 24″ barrel for their 210gr Partition/3374 ft-lbs. For the 225gr in .358″, they show a high of 2805 fps/3930 ft-lbs in a 24″, .35 Whelen test barrel. I’ve shut matters down at 375 yards for the .338-06 because past that the 250 Nosler will not likely give any expansion.
Sorry, but the original larger bore works for me.
The .35 Whelen
Bullet: 250gr Nosler Partition
Barrel length = 24″
SD = .279
BC = .446
MV= 2650 fps/3898 ft-lbs/110 MTE
100= 2456 fps/3347 ft-lbs/106 MTE
200= 2270 fps/2860 ft-lbs/ 81 MTE
300= 2092 fps/2429 ft-lbs/ 68 MTE/optimum game weight of 1700 lbs
400= 1923 fps/2052 ft-lbs/ 58 MTE/optimum game weight of 1450 lbs (Alaska-Yukon moose)
475= 1801 fps/1801 ft-lbs/ 51 MTE/ optimum game weight of 1275lbs
My standard for “moose-size game” at impact is at least an MTE of 50/optimum game weight of 1250 lbs.
MTE = Mitchell Terminal Effect — how I judge ballistic effect at impact.
Yes, I know, bullet placement and all that…
Having revealed my thoughts on the .338-06 based on one ballistic profile that could well represent its average, and my experience with a .35 Whelen, I admit a preference for the .35 Whelen, but the .338-06 will surely get the job done within ranges where most soft-skinned medium and big game are actually taken.
Til next time…