The .348 Winchester

By Chuck Hawks

The .348 Winchester was introduced in 1936 in the Winchester Model 71 lever action rifle. The .348 cartridge was a modernized replacement for the old .33 Winchester and .35 Winchester cartridges, and the Model 71 was essentially an improved Model 1886 rifle. The Model 71 was the final culmination of the traditional large frame Winchester lever action rifles, all of which were chambered for powerful cartridges. Most experts regard it as the best of them all.

The Model 71 was a strong, reliable rifle, very fast and smooth in operation. It was also a high quality firearm; all parts were machined out of steel and it was stocked in walnut. Its main drawbacks were its size (it was, after all, a large frame rifle with a 24" barrel), and its traditional top ejection. The latter meant that an offset side mount was required to mount a telescopic sight. But the biggest strike against the Model 71 was its relative complexity and the extensive machining required to make all those steel parts, which made it expensive to manufacture. It was a labor-intensive rifle to build. By the 1950's it had become too expensive to manufacture at a profit.

In 1955 Winchester introduced the modern, short action, Model 88 lever gun chambered for the .358 Winchester cartridge. Three years later, in 1958, the M-71 was finally discontinued, bringing the era of large frame Winchester lever action rifles to a close. A total of 47,254 Model 71 rifles were produced. The .348 Winchester was the only cartridge for which the M-71 was ever chambered.

As a historical note, the .358/Model 88 combination, never very popular, would eventually be succeeded by the .356/Model 94 Big Bore before the era of powerful medium bore Winchester lever action rifles and cartridges was finally over. You can read more about this in my article Winchester Lever Rifles & Medium Bore Smokeless Cartridges.

To many the Model 71 rifle and .348 Winchester cartridge epitomize the best of the breed. The .348 is a fat, rimmed, bottleneck cartridge with a .610" rim diameter and a case 2.185" long. The case has a pronounced body taper and a shoulder angle of slightly over 19 degrees; it will hold 77.54 grains of water. A loaded .348 cartridge is approximately 2.8" in overall length.

At one time both Remington and Winchester offered .348 Win. factory loads with bullet weights of 150, 200, and 250 grains. As I write this (in 2002) only Winchester still offers a factory load for the .348. When it is finally discontinued, no doubt without any fanfare, the last link to the powerful, large frame Winchesters will be gone.

The current Winchester .348 factory load uses a 200 grain Silvertip bullet (SD .236) at a muzzle velocity (MV) of 2520 fps from a 24" barrel. The muzzle energy (ME) of this load is 2820 ft. lbs. The figures at 200 yards are 1931 fps and 1656 ft. lbs. The trajectory of the Winchester factory load looks like this: +1.4" at 100 yards, 0 at 150 yards, -3.4" at 200 yards, and -9.2" at 250 yards. Winchester recommends this load for medium to large and heavy game.

The reloader is handicapped by the small selection of .348" bullets. To the best of my knowledge no other cartridge uses bullets of this diameter, so .348 bullets are not big sellers for the independent bullet makers. However, there are a few available. Hornady offers a 200 grain Flat Point in .348 caliber, for which they claim exceptionally reliable expansion and sure killing power. And Barnes offers two .348" bullets, a 220 grain Original, and a 250 grain Original.

The Hornady 200 grain bullet (SD .236) can be used to essentially duplicate the Winchester factory load. The third edition of the Hornady Handbook shows that maximum loads of several powders, such as 54.1 grains of IMR 4320, will give that bullet a MV of 2500 fps. If one wants to stretch the trajectory of the .348 to its practical maximum, zero this bullet at a MV of 2500 fps at 200 yards. Then the path of the bullet will look like this: +3.1" at 100 yards, +2.6" at 150 yards, 0 at 200 yards, -5.2" at 250 yards, and -13.5" at 300 yards. Hornady recommends this bullet for medium and medium-heavy big game.

According to the Barnes Bullets Reloading Manual Number One the 220 grain jacketed flat point Original bullet (SD .260) can be driven to a MV of 2302 fps by 54.0 grains of IMR 4350 powder, and 2473 fps by 58.0 grains of IMR 4350. At a MV of 2400 fps the 220 grain Barnes Original bullet has a ME of 2813 ft. lbs. Zeroed at 150 yards, this bullet strikes 1.53" high at 100 yards, 3.53" low at 200 yards, and 17.62" low at 300 yards. Barnes recommends this bullet for antelope and deer.

The Barnes Bullets Reloading Manual Number One lists loads for their 250 grain Original bullet (SD .295) in front of 51.0 grains of IMR 4350 at a MV of 2132 fps; in front of 55.0 grains of IMR 4350 the MV is 2299 fps. The ME at this latter velocity is 2936 ft. lbs. Zero this load at 150 yards and the bullet will strike 1.82" high at 100 yards, and 4.7" low at 200 yards. Barnes recommends this bullet for elk and moose.

In 1980 the editors of the Hornady Handbook of Cartridge Reloading, Third Edition wrote this about the .348 Winchester: "It is a good big game hunting cartridge for moderate ranges and brushy conditions and one still quite popular in Alaska." I guess that pretty well sums it up.

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Copyright 2002, 2012 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.