Compared: .325 WSM and
By Chuck Hawks
The .350 Remington Magnum was the first short magnum cartridge, designed for rifles with .308 Winchester length actions. It is a true medium bore cartridge, throwing a .358" bullet, and is suitable for hunting large and heavy game around the world.
The .325 is the latest (at this writing) short magnum, also designed for rifles with .308 Winchester length actions. Oddly, Winchester has chosen to market the .325 as a medium bore cartridge, which by definition it is not. (The medium bores traditionally start at .33 caliber.) Never the less, it is a very powerful hunting cartridge that might reasonably be used on all CXP3 game.
Because both the .350 and .325 are short magnums intended primarily for hunting CXP3 game, comparison is probably inevitable. No doubt "Remington fans" will line up behind the .350, while "Winchester fans" will support the .325. The real purpose of this review is not to pick a "winner," but to point out the similarities and differences between the two cartridges.
The .325 WSM
The .325 Winchester Short Magnum (WSM) was introduced in 2005. It is based on the .300 WSM short magnum case and is available in Browning and Kimber brand rifles. The ".325" nomenclature of the new cartridge is a bit inaccurate as the .325 actually uses standard 8mm bullets.
Despite being promoted as a medium bore cartridge and sometimes compared to the .338 Magnum (see "Compared: .325 WSM and .338 Win. Mag." on the Rifle Cartridge Page), the .325 WSM is actually very similar both physically and ballistically to the .300 WSM from which it was derived. Basically, what one can do the other can do. Ballistically, the .325 WSM is also nearly identical to the European 8x68S. (See my article "Compared: .325 WSM, 8x68S, and 8mm Rem. Mag." on the Rifle Cartridge Page for more on that subject.)
Dimensionally the .325 WSM is identical to the .300 WSM, rebated rim and all, and it is based on the same, very fat, .404 Jeffery elephant rifle case shortened to a length of 2.10". The cartridge overall length remains 2.860". The .325 case is simply necked-up to accept .323" diameter bullets.
Compared to the .350 Rem. Mag, this case has the advantage of greater powder capacity due to its girth. But it suffers from the considerable disadvantage of a rebated rim and an unfortunate shape, which negatively impacts its functional reliability in typical bolt action rifles such as the Browning A-Bolt II. More on this later.
Winchester is offering three factory loads for the .325 WSM. These include a 180 grain Ballistic Silvertip bullet at an advertised MV of 3060 fps, a 200 grain AccuBond at a very high (claimed) MV for that bullet weight of 2950 fps, and a 220 grain Power Point bullet at a MV of 2840 fps. All of these Winchester catalog velocity figures are averages taken from a 24" test barrel. Whether considered a small bore or a medium bore, with ballistics like that the .325 WSM is a very powerful cartridge!
Reloaders in the U.S. have a satisfactory but somewhat limited selection of 8mm bullets. Available bullet weights suitable for hunting the various species of CXP2 and CXP3 big game include 150, 170-175, 180-185, 200 and 220-225 grains, but most manufacturers only offer a choice of two or three of those weights. 150, 170-180, and 200 grain bullets are probably the most popular, since 8mm rifles are traditionally seen as an alternative to .30 caliber rifles.
Like any 8mm Magnum cartridge, the .325 WSM kicks pretty hard. The cartridge's inherently heavy recoil is amplified by the fact that the Browning and Kimber rifles offered in .325 are about a pound lighter than traditional 8mm Magnum rifles.
.350 Remington Magnum
The .350 Remington Magnum was introduced in 1964 in the Remington Model 600M bolt action carbine. It is based on a shortened version of the standard 7mm Remington belted magnum case. Case length is 2.17" and the maximum cartridge overall length is 2.8". The original Remington factory loads included a 200 grain bullet at a muzzle velocity (MV) of 2710 fps and a 250 grain bullet at a MV of 2410 fps in a 20" test barrel.
The short (18.5" barrel), light (6.5 pound) Model 600 carbine proved to be an unfortunate choice for such a powerful cartridge. It quickly gained a reputation as a hard kicking combination, which is true of all short magnum cartridges in light weight rifles. Both the rifle and its cartridge were about 35 years ahead of their time and sales were slow. Rifles in .350 were discontinued after a few years, and Remington dropped the .350 Mag. cartridge from its loading list in 1997.
In 2003 Remington, goaded by the success of the WSM series of cartridges and the resulting favorable press about short magnum cartridges in general, reintroduced the .350 Magnum in a new and much improved Model 673 "Guide Rifle" that bears a superficial resemblance to the old Model 600M.
The 673 weighs a reasonable 7.5 pounds (without a scope, ammo, or sling) and sports a 22" rifle barrel. Its carefully designed laminated stock has a large butt surface and an efficient recoil pad to minimize the effect of recoil. Sturm Ruger has adapted the .350 to their existing Model 77 Standard (blue/walnut) and Sporter (stainless/laminate) rifles of similar size and weight to the Model 673.
The single Remington .350 Mag. factory load introduced in 2003 advertises a 200 grain PSP Core-Lokt bullet at a muzzle velocity (MV) of 2775 fps in a 22" test barrel. Remington has indicated that they intend to release a factory load using a heavier premium bullet (probably 225 grains) in the future, and smaller (specialty) ammo makers have already done so. Stars and Stripes Custom Ammunition, for example, offers 225 grain Nosler and 250 grain Nosler Partition bullets in .350 Rem. Mag. factory loads.
Reloaders have access to bullet weights of 150, 180, 200, 220-225, and 250 grains, and virtually all reloading manuals include the .350 Mag. Bullets around 200 grains have traditionally been the most popular in .35 caliber cartridges as they seem to have adequate killing power and kick less than the heavier bullets.
In order to evaluate these two powerful cartridges we will compare them in terms of velocity, energy, trajectory, bullet sectional density, bullet frontal area, killing power, recoil, and the availability of both arms and ammunition. And we will look at the suitability of these calibers for their intended purpose of hunting large and dangerous game.
Since we are comparing these two calibers primarily as cartridges for use on heavy game, we will compare ammunition using bullets of 200 grains or more. The representative loads for the .325 WSM will be the Winchester Supreme using a 200 grain AccuBond CT bullet (BC .471) and the Winchester Super-X using a 220 grain Power Point bullet (BC .383). The representative loads for the .350 Rem. Mag. will be the Remington Express with the 200 grain Core-Lokt bullet (BC .293) and the Stars and Stripes Custom loads (or maximum reloads) with 225 and 250 grain Nosler Partition bullets (BC .430, BC .446).
Be advised that, based on independently chronographed results, .325 WSM factory load data is inflated. From the 23" barrels of a Browning A-bolt rifle the Winchester Supreme 200 grain AccuBond load typically delivered around 100 fps less velocity than claimed. I have used the Winchester factory figures for this comparison, but also included data for the 200 grain AccuBond load based on chronographed results from the 23" barrel of a Browning A-Bolt-II rifle where applicable.
Velocity matters because velocity is the most important factor in calculating kinetic energy, and it also contributes to a flatter trajectory. Here are the chronographed velocity figures (in feet per second) for our selected factory loads:
Clearly, the .325 WSM is the higher velocity cartridge. Even given the 100 fps velocity loss typical in an A-Bolt-II production rifle, the 200 grain bullet has a MV of 2850 fps, 75 fps faster than the same weight bullet from a .350 Magnum. This advantage in velocity is understandable considering the .325s greater powder capacity.
Here are the kinetic energy figures (in foot pounds) for our selected loads:
In the case of a hunting rifle bullet, kinetic energy powers penetration and bullet expansion, very important factors in killing power. Velocity is the most important factor in calculating kinetic energy (bullet weight is the less important factor), and the .325's velocity advantage naturally translates to an energy advantage.
Note that the disparity in energy decreases as the range increases. This is because velocity is bleeding off while the weight of the bullet remains the same. As a practical matter, both cartridges hit very hard.
Here are the trajectory figures in inches for our selected loads at 100, 200, 250, and 300 yards. For comparison purposes, all are assumed to be fired from scoped rifles zeroed at 200 yards, the basic parameters used by Winchester and Remington in developing their ballistics tables.
Not surprisingly, as it is the higher velocity cartridge, the .325 WSM shoots flatter than the .350 Mag. Comparing the 200 grain bullets, the difference amounts to .9" at 250 yards (and that is at catalog velocities), which is unlikely to be critical considering the size of the vital heart/lung area of big game animals.
Another way to compare trajectories is by maximum point blank range (MPBR). The maximum point blank range is the distance over which the bullet neither rises or falls more than 3" above or below the line of sight. Here are the figures for the MPBR (+/- 3") of our representative loads:
The MPBR is the maximum range, based on trajectory, at which a shot should be taken with any given cartridge/load.
The sectional density (SD) of bullets is calculated by dividing a bullet's weight (in pounds) by the square of its diameter (in inches). Sectional density is important because, given bullets of identical design at identical velocity, the bullet with the greatest SD will penetrate the deepest. The deeper the wound channel (of any given diameter) in a game animal the more tissue is destroyed and the greater the killing power. Here are the SD numbers for various 8mm (.323") and .35 caliber (.358") bullets:
Because the .350 bullets are fatter, their SD is lower for any given bullet weight. The 200 grain .323" bullet is almost equal in SD to the 250 grain .358" bullet, and the 180 grain .323" bullet is almost equal to the 225 grain .358" bullet in SD.
As a practical matter, bullets with a SD around .270 or better have proven adequate for even the largest North American game and all thin-skinned dangerous game, including the great bears and big cats.
Bullet cross-sectional area
Bullet cross-sectional area is important because the wider the wound cavity (of any given depth), the more tissue is destroyed and the greater the killing power. The actual diameter of a .325 WSM bullet is .323" and the actual diameter of a .350 Mag. bullet is .358". Here are the bullet cross-sectional areas for our two calibers:
That is a substantial difference in frontal area. Clearly, a .350 Mag. bullet will, other things (such as bullet expansion) being equal, always punch a larger diameter hole than a .325 WSM bullet. The .350's advantage in cross-sectional area is a constant, regardless of velocity, energy, SD, or bullet weight.
Killing power is very hard to quantify due to the mass of variables, not the least of which are the game animal's state of mind when shot and the effect of bullet expansion on the wound channel. Those facts notwithstanding, many authorities have tried to devise formulas to estimate the killing power of rifle bullets.
In my opinion, two of the best attempts are the "Optimum Game Weight Formula" devised by Edward A. Matunas and the "Rifle Cartridge Killing Power Formula" devised by yours truly. These at least attempt to take into consideration the various quantifiable factors affecting killing power and are not intended to prove some special theory. Most of all, they seem to have a positive correlation with actual results in the field.
The results of Optimum Game Weight (OGW) are expressed in terms of the range and live animal weight for which a given cartridge is optimum. (There is an extensive OGW table on the Tables, Charts and Lists Page of Guns and Shooting Online.) Here are some OGW results (in yards) for our cartridges against 600 pound (elk size) and 1000 pound (moose size) animals:
We know from experience that both of these calibers, with bullets of proper construction, are adequate for hunting elk, moose and similar size big game. Keep in mind that outsize 1000 pound or dangerous animals are seldom shot at ranges exceeding 150 yards.
This is reflected in the results of the Rifle Cartridge Killing Power Formula when it is applied to these two cartridges. The Rifle Cartridge Killing Power Formula is intended to suggest the relative killing power of various big game hunting cartridges and loads at 100 yards (or meters, if you prefer) when those cartridges are used appropriately. I found that if I took energy at 100 yards and multiplied it by bullet sectional density (a fractional number) and bullet cross-sectional area (also a fractional number), the result was a manageable two or three digit number, which I then rounded off to one decimal place. Here are the results for our selected loads:
The .335 WSM's advantages in velocity and kinetic energy are purchased at a price, and that price is plain old fashioned kick. Neither cartridge is a soft shooter, but the .325 is the worse offender in rifles of equal weight. This is because the .325 burns more powder and drives its bullets at higher velocity, factors that contribute significantly to recoil.
Any magnum rifle should weigh no less than 8.5 pounds including a scope, which is about what the Remington and Ruger .350 Mag. rifles actually weigh. For calculating .350 Mag. recoil we will use a rifle weight of 8.5 pounds.
Unfortunately, most .325 WSM rifles are too light, which contributes to unpleasant recoil. Kimber 8400 and Browning A-Bolt II rifles in .325 weigh about 6.5 pounds bare. That means an average weight, with scope, of about 7.5 pounds. For calculating .325 WSM recoil we will use a figures of 7.5 pounds.
The reality is than anyone can shoot more accurately with a rifle that kicks less--and bullet placement remains, by far, the most important factor in killing power. Those are important facts to keep in mind when choosing a powerful rifle.
Here are some recoil energy figures, taken from the "Expanded Rifle Recoil Table" on the Tables, Charts and Lists Page (7mm Rem. Mag. included for comparison):
What this table shows is that the .350 Rem. Mag. kicks hard compared to a typical small bore all-around rifle. The recoil of a 7mm Rem. Mag. rifle is enough to get the attention of most shooters. The majority of shooters are happier with a rifle that kicks with less than 15 ft. lbs. of energy, and 20 ft. lbs. is about the maximum tolerable recoil.
The .350 Mag. shooting a 250 grain bullet is way over the average shooter's comfort level, and the .325 WSM is substantially worse. I believe that this explains the popularity of the 200 grain .350 load; it is simply more manageable than the others.
Few shooters can do their best work when they have to endure so much recoil. At 37.5 ft. lbs. the recoil of the 220 grain .325 load can only be described as punishing. The .350 is a better balance of power, rifle weight, and recoil.
The availability of arms and ammunition
Medium bore cartridges have never been very popular in North America for the excellent reasons that most hunters simply don't seek game that requires that much killing power and such cartridges kick too hard for comfort. Thus, neither rifles nor cartridges are particularly well distributed for either of our calibers. "Big box" stores are unlikely to support either caliber.
Most large, full service gun shops will usually carry at least a couple boxes of factory loaded ammo, usually with the 200 grain bullets, in both calibers. Ammo with heavier bullets will probably have to be special ordered or purchased online. (Visit the Stars and Stripes web site at: www.starsandstripesammo.com)
Rifles in either caliber will probably have to be special ordered through your favorite gun dealer. Production .325 WSM rifles are available from Browning and Kimber. .350 Rem. Mag. rifles are available from Remington and Ruger.
Suitability for hunting large and dangerous game
This is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. We've had a lot of fun with numbers to this point, but just how good are these two cartridges at killing (or stopping, if necessary) large and/or dangerous animals?
Taking large but non-dangerous game first, both cartridges should be excellent as long as the hunter can arrange to get the bullet into a vital spot. The .325's advantage in sectional density is largely negated by the .350's advantage in bullet frontal area. With proper bullets, both will shoot clear through the chest of a bull elk from side to side.
The .325 WSM has the advantage in energy and MPBR and is the logical choice if the shooter can stand the very substantial recoil. The .350's advantage is that it kicks substantially less with a 200 grain bullet than the .325 and yet offers similar killing power to the top .325 load, if needed, merely by switching to a heavier bullet.
Remember that correct bullet placement is the key to quick, humane kills. The .350 would be a better choice for anyone who has misgivings about the recoil of the .325. In reality, the choice may well be decided by whether the buyer prefers a Browning, Kimber, Remington, or Ruger rifle.
Expand the likely quarry to include dangerous game, such as the big cats or great bears and the situation becomes clouded. The fact is that the design of the .350 Remington Magnum cartridge is inherently somewhat superior to the .325 WSM from the standpoint of reliability. It is easier to feed and extract in a repeating rifle and its full diameter rim is easier for the ejector of a single shot rifle to get a bite on. If a rifle absolutely, positively has to work properly 100% of the time, the .350 Magnum is probably the better choice. Needless to say, it is very desirable that a dangerous game rifle work 100% of the time! I would not recommend any of the WSM cartridges for use on potentially dangerous game.
In terms of stopping power the .350 bullet, having greater cross-sectional area, tends to deliver more energy faster, simply because it is displacing and destroying more tissue from the moment it impacts flesh. However, it may ultimately pay for this faster energy transfer with less total penetration if its bullet lacks sufficient energy and sectional density to make it all the way through the animal. Generally speaking, a CXP3 game animal cannot live on the difference between these two cartridges.
Copyright 2005, 2012 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.