The .35 Caliber Cartridge Family

By Chuck Hawks

.35 caliber rifle cartridges have been around practically forever without ever really becoming popular. This is in sharp contrast to the overwhelming success of the .357/9mm handgun cartridges, whose popularity dates right to the beginning of the self-contained cartridge era. Of course, it took the .338 Winchester Magnum many years to catch on, and it took the .243/6mm cartridges over a half century after the introduction of the 6mm Lee Navy cartridge to gain popular acceptance, so perhaps there is still hope for the .35's.

Today the .35 caliber family, at least in North America, includes the .357 Magnum, .35 Remington, .356 Winchester, .358 Winchester, .35 Whelen, .350 Remington Magnum and .358 Norma Magnum. That list, by the way, is in ascending order of power.

That is quite a few cartridges considering that there is not a single best selling rifle cartridge in the bunch. Far more alternatives, in fact, than exist in several more popular caliber families. So it is fair to say that, over the years, .35 caliber rifles at least have caught the interest of the gun and ammo manufacturers, if not the general shooting public.

While most of the .35 caliber rifle cartridges are powerful medium bore numbers designed for use on large (CXP3) game like elk and moose, the most popular .35 caliber rifle cartridge is the .35 Remington. This is basically a deer and black bear (CXP2 class game) cartridge, although it is reputed to be superior to cartridges in the .30-30 class for game weighing over about 400 pounds.

The recent introduction of a Hornady LeverEvolution factory load for the .35 Remington has usefully improved its ballistics. This load uses a 200 grain Flex-Tip spitzer bullet and delivers a MV of 2225 fps and ME of 2198 ft. lbs. from the 24" barrel of a Marlin 336XLR rifle.

The .357 Magnum revolver cartridge has also gained considerable popularity as a combination rifle/pistol cartridge and lever action rifles for the .357 Magnum sell pretty well. The .357 Magnum is ideal for light game like javelina and will do for the smaller species of deer and antelope at short range. It is a good choice for shooters who are very sensitive to recoil, since its free recoil energy is only about 4.5 ft. lbs. when fired in a 7.5 pound rifle.

I have long been something of a .35 caliber fan, but I have to admit that I believe the reason for the general lack of public acceptance of all but the least powerful .35's is, in a word, recoil. However, that may be changing, or at least the possibility of change may exist. I say that because so many reasonably successful yet hard kicking cartridges have been introduced in the last few years. Cartridges that in many cases cannot match the killing power, at normal hunting ranges, of comparable .35's.

For example, take the most powerful of the factory standardized .35's, the .358 Norma Magnum. This standard (.30-06) length magnum cartridge drives a 250 grain bullet at a muzzle velocity (MV) of 2799 fps with 4350 ft. lbs. of muzzle energy. This is comparable killing power to the long .375 H&H Magnum with a 300 grain bullet (ME 4331 ft. lbs.), but with considerably less recoil. In fact, the recoil of the .358 Norma Magnum, at about 35 ft. lbs. in an 8.5 pound rifle, is comparable to the much more popular but less effective (on CXP3 class game) .300 Weatherby or .300 Remington Ultra Magnums. As a "stopper" for use on dangerous game the .358 Norma is clearly superior to the .300 Magnums. Clearly, for the hunter seeking heavy game and willing to accept this level of recoil, the .358 Norma Magnum deserves far more popularity than it has received.

Compare the Queen of the .35's, the .350 Remington Magnum--the original short (.308 length) magnum cartridge--with the new generation of short action magnums. This is a particularly apt comparison because the re-introduced .350 is available in the Remington Model Seven rifle, which is also offered in .300 short magnum calibers.

The .350 can drive a 250 grain bullet to a MV of 2500 fps. That load has a maximum optimal range on 1000 pound game (like a big Alaskan moose or brown bear) of 151 yards. It will kill farther than that, of course, but that is its optimum range. The .300 Rem. SAUM and .300 WSM, with their 180 grain bullets at a MV of 2960-2970 fps, have an optimum range of about 120 yards on 1000 pound animals.

Food for thought, is it not? Particularly when you consider that every one of those newer short magnum cartridges burns more powder to achieve less killing power than the .350 Rem. Mag. Perhaps, if the word gets out to the shooting public, the born again .350 may finally achieve the commercial success it deserves.

Moving down a notch and comparing the .35 Whelen (250 grain bullet at a MV of 2400 fps) to the .30-06 (220 grains at 2410 fps), which have nearly identical case capacity, we find that the optimum game range (OGW) on 1000 pound animals is 10 yards for the .30-06 and 100 yards for the .35 Whelen. Quite a difference!

Compare the .308 Winchester and the .358 Winchester, which are based on the same case, and the .358 wins hands down. On a 600 pound animal like a big bull elk the optimum game range of the .308 (180 grain bullet at a MV of 2610 fps) is a useful 175 yards. However, the optimum game range of the .358 (250 grain bullet at a MV of 2300 fps) is 240 yards.

Compare practically any small bore cartridge (.32 caliber or less) with a .35 caliber cartridge of similar powder capacity and the result is pretty much the same. The .35's are just plain superior for CXP3 class game.

They will also slap down lighter game like deer, feral hogs and black bear with authority, of course. However, the small bore cartridges from .24 to .32 caliber have proven quite reliable on these smaller animals, so I am not going to argue that anyone needs a .35 to hunt CXP2 class game. If you happen to have a .35 and don't mind the extra recoil, there is no denying that it will flat get the job done. In addition, for stopping the big predators of the world, it's hard to beat a suitable .35 caliber rifle.

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Copyright 2003, 2012 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.