The .358 Winchester

By Chuck Hawks

The .358 Winchester was introduced in 1955 as a modern, short action replacement for the aging .348 Winchester, which was available only in the Model 71 lever action rifle. Although its case is smaller, ballistically the .358 Win. is nearly identical to the larger .348. This miracle is achieved through higher pressure, up to 52,000 cup in the case of the .358 Win.

The .358 case is simply a .308 Winchester case necked-up to accept standard .358" diameter bullets, and otherwise unchanged. The maximum overall cartridge length is 2.780" and it will function though all standard short action rifles.

The .358 Win. first appeared in the Winchester Model 88 lever action rifle and then (briefly) in the Model 70 bolt action rifle. Savage chambered the Model 99 lever gun for the .358, and Browning and Ruger built a few .358 bolt action rifles. Today only the Browning BLR '81 lever action and the Ultra Light Arms Model 20 bolt action rifles are chambered for .358 Winchester, plus a few custom rifles built for discerning individuals.

The .358 is a fine woods cartridge, about as much as anyone could ask for short of a magnum, and it is compact enough to work through deadly lever action, pump, and short bolt action rifles. Given all of this, it has been a surprising sales flop. Evidently its paper ballistics were not impressive enough at a time when the North American hunter was pretty well sold on the virtue of high velocity. In reality, the .358 falls neatly between the .35 Remington deer cartridge, and the .350 Remington Magnum cartridge. It is recommended for all North American big game out to about 200 yards, except the great bears, and I certainly would not feel helpless with a .358 in my hands if suddenly confronted by an Alaskan grizzly.

The 2002 Federal, Hornady, Remington, and CCI/Speer ammunition catalogs do not show any factory loads for the .358 Win. This is a shame, as the .358 is too good a cartridge to be allowed to become obsolete. Winchester offers a single factory load with a 200 grain Silvertip bullet. To the best of my knowledge this is the sole remaining factory load for the .358 Winchester. At one time Norma of Sweden offered factory loads for the .358. The factory offerings used to include 200 and 250 grain bullets.

The current Winchester factory load propells a 200 grain Silvertip bullet at a muzzle velocity (MV) of 2,530 fps and muzzle energy (ME) of 2,840 ft. lbs. The figures at 100 yards are 2,210 fps and 2,160 ft. lbs. Midrange trajectory for the 200 grain bullet is 3.6 inches over 200 yards, which makes the .358 Winchester about a 200 yard big game cartridge.

The discontinued 250 grain Silvertip bullet exited the muzzle at a velocity of 2,250 fps with ME of 2,810 ft. lbs. The 100 yard figures for that bullet were 2,010 fps and 2,230 ft. lbs. Midrange trajectory for the 250 grain bullet was 4.4 inches over 200 yards. As I said, the .358 Win. is about a 200 yard big game cartridge.

The reloader can approximately duplicate both of those loads, and cases can be easily formed from .308 brass if necessary. Hornady, Remington, Speer, and Winchester offer 200 grain pointed bullets, and practically everybody offers 200 and/or 250 grain round nose bullets. Many 250 grain spitzer bullets designed for the .35 Whelen and the .358 Norma Magnum are too long to work through the magazines of repeating rifles when seated normally in the shorter .358 Winchester case. Exceptions to this are the Speer 250 grain Hot-Cor and Grand Slam bullets. The latter is a very good choice for the largest and toughest game. Maximum loads can drive both of these bullets to over 2300 fps with over 2940 ft. lbs. of muzzle energy.

In addition, the reloader can experiment with the Speer 180 and 220 grain .358 Flat-Soft Point bullets. Speer recommends the 180 grain Hot-Cor bullet for all deer hunting and the 220 grain Hot-Cor bullet for black bear, elk, and moose.

The Speer Reloading Manual Number 13 shows that their 180 grain Flat-SP bullet can be driven to a MV of 2511 fps with 48.0 grains of H335 powder, and 2,732 fps with ME of over 2915 ft. lbs. by 52.0 grains of H335. At 2700 fps the tajectory of that bullet looks like this: +2.5" at 100 yards, 0 at 200 yards, and -11.3" at 300 yards. With this load the .358 becomes a 250 yard deer cartridge.

The Speer 220 grain Flat-SP bullet can be driven to 2328 fps by 48.0 grains of W748 powder, and 2481 fps by 52.0 grains of W748. The trajectory of that bullet at a MV of 2450 fps looks about like this: +2.9" at 100 yards, 0 at 200 yards, -4.6" at 250 yards, and -12" at 300 yards. This is the type of bullet in the velocity range that Jack O'Connor recommended as an ideal load for a woods and brush rifle.

In the Speer Reloading Manual the authors write that, "The .358 Winchester is one of the best woods cartridges ever designed." I can only second that nomination.

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Copyright 2001, 2012 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.