Compared: the .35 Calibers (.35 Rem., .356 Win., .358 Win., .35 Whelen, .350 Rem. Mag., .358 Norma Mag.)
By Chuck Hawks
This comparison will depart somewhat from our usual format, as these cartridges clearly represent definite progressive steps in power and performance. The .35 Remington is the least powerful of the contemporary .35 caliber cartridges, and the .358 Norma Mag. is the most powerful, with the .356 Winchester, .358 Winchester, .35 Whelen, and .350 Remington Magnum spaced in-between.
The intent here will be to compare and contrast these cartridges in terms of their purpose and application as hunting cartridges. For they are all pure hunting calibers, with no pretense to military or target shooting applications.
None of these cartridges are very popular, and some are barely holding on. To the best of my knowledge, the .356 Win. and .358 Norma Mag. are not offered in any production rifles today. The others are offered in only one or two models.
Yet the .35 calibers persevere, and have been a fixture in the North American hunting scene for over 100 years. They hang on because those who use them discover that they kill well. That fat .358" diameter bullet, if it can be driven fast enough to expand aggressively, punches big holes in game animals and puts them down with authority.
The .35 Remington is the smallest of our .35 cartridges, with an overall length similar to the .30-30 Winchester. It was introduced to the public in 1908 in Remington pump and autoloading rifles. It was one of the Remington rimless line of cartridges that included the .25, .30, and .32 Remington, but it was not based on the same rimless .30-30 case as its running mates. The .35 Rem. is based on a unique case similar to a shortened .30-06, but with a smaller rim and head diameter.
Over the years the .35 Remington has been offered in a variety of autoloading, pump, bolt, and lever action rifles, but its enduring home has been the Marlin 336C lever action carbine. Today that is the only rifle chambered for the caliber. Remington offers factory loads with 150 and 200 grain bullets, and both Federal and Winchester offer factory loads with 200 grain bullets. Reloaders with .35 Remington rifles would do well to try the 180 grain Speer flat point bullet, which appears to be about optimum for hunting deer and black bear. By modern standards the .35 Rem. is a marginal elk cartridge at best.
The .35 Rem. is seen primarily as a moderate range deer and black bear cartridge on the order of the .30-30. It is regarded as superior to the .30-30 if a Marlin lever gun is to be pressed into service as an elk rifle. While not the mildest kicker in a Marlin 336 rifle, the .35 Remington definitely kicks less that the other .35s included in this article. If you are recoil sensitive but would like to play around with a medium bore woods rifle, consider a Marlin 336C in .35 Remington.
This cartridge was introduced by Winchester to offer near .358 Win. performance in the discontinued Big Bore Model 94 rifle. It is based on a rimmed version of the .308 Winchester case with thicker body walls to increase strength. This slightly reduces its powder capacity compared to the .358 and explains why .356 ballistics do not quite equal .358 ballistics.
The .356's performance falls further behind the .358 as the range increases due to the flat point bullets required by the Model 94 rifle's tubular magazine. (The .358 is normally loaded with spitzer bullets.) Never the less, the .356 is a useful medium range deer and elk cartridge for those lucky enough to own a rifle in the caliber. Winchester still offers a single factory load for the .356 with a 200 grain bullet, and specialty ammo maker Stars & Stripes offers a factory load using a 250 grain Hornady round nose bullet. Reloaders will find the Speer 220 grain FP bullet, which can be driven at a muzzle velocity (MV) of around 2300 fps, an excellent choice for large game in the .356 Win.
The .358 Winchester is based on a necked-up .308 case. It was introduced in 1955 in the Winchester Model 70 bolt action rifle, and soon thereafter in the Model 88 lever action. Savage offered the Model 99 Lever action in .358. All of those .358 rifles were discontinued years ago, but Browning picked up the cartridge for their BLR lever action and it seems to have found a home there, as well as a new lease on life. For 2007 Ruger is offering the .358 Win. in their Model 77 bolt action rifle.
Practically everyone who knows about such things considers the .358 Winchester a nearly ideal medium range cartridge for practically all North American big game. Why it has not become more popular is something of a mystery. The BLR in .358 is about as deadly a woods rifle as one can imagine.
Winchester is the only major ammo manufacturer offering a .358 factory load. The current Super-X load uses a 200 grain bullet, although in the past a 250 grain bullet was also offered. Stars & Stripes offers .358 factory loads with 200 and 250 grain bullets.
This old wildcat dates back to the 1920's and is based on the .30-06 case necked-up to accept standard .358" bullets. Remington legitimized the .35 Whelen in 1987 after the introduction of their .350 Rem. Mag., which should have put the final stake through the heart of the .35 Whelen. Instead, the .350 revived interest in the earlier cartridge. A bizarre turn of fate, indeed.
The .35 Whelen was originally intended to fill the gap between the .30-06 and .375 H&H, which it does. Unlike the long .375 H&H, the .35 Whelen is a .30-06 length cartridge and works in standard length rifle actions. That is its main claim to fame and the reason it has held on for so long.
The .35 Whelen is an excellent medium range cartridge for all North American big game and has an excellent reputation on elk and moose. Its primary drawback is its substantial recoil, always a problem with powerful medium bore cartridges.
Remington offers .35 Whelen factory loads with 200 and 250 grain bullets, and Federal offers a 225 grain load. Stars & Stripes offers production factory loads with 200, 225, and 250 grain bullets.
.350 Remington Magnum
The .350 Mag. was the first true short magnum cartridge. It is based on a standard belted magnum case shortened to work through .308 length actions. Remington brought it out in the mid-1960's in the Remington Model 600M bolt action carbine with an 18.5" barrel.
It was too powerful a cartridge for that short, lightweight rifle and quickly gained a reputation as a fearsome killer, at both ends! Actually, in standard weight rifles the .350 Mag. kicks no harder than the .35 Whelen, and considerably less than the .338 Win. Mag., .358 Norma Mag., or .375 H&H Mag.
The .350's reputation as a hard kicker practically insured its commercial failure, and in a few years Remington discontinued their Models 600 and 660 .350 Mag. carbines. The .350 lingered on in the Model 700 for a few more years and was then quietly dropped. But, in 2003, Remington surprised the boys by bringing the .350 Mag. back in the new Model 673 bolt action rifle. As I write these words the .350 is offered in the Remington Model Seven Magnum and the Ruger Model 77 rifles.
Needless to say, loaded with proper bullets the .350 Rem. Mag. is powerful enough for all North American game. Remington's sole factory load drives a 200 grain Core-Lokt pointed soft point bullet at a MV of 2775 fps, and this is a fine deer, wild boar, bear and elk load.
Stars and Stripes offers .350 factory loads in their Production ammunition line with 180 grain Barnes-X and 225 grain Nosler partition bullets. The 250 grain Nosler partition bullet is available from Stars & Stripes in their Custom ammo line. I use the Stars & Stripes 225 grain Partition factory load in my .350 Mag. Ruger Model 77R rifle, and Guns and Shooting Online technical advisor Jack Seeling shoots Stars & Stripes Custom ammo with 250 grain Nosler Partition bullets in his Remington Model 673 rifle.
.358 Norma Magnum
The .358 Norma is the most powerful of the commercial .35 caliber cartridges. This cartridge is based on the .338 Win. Mag. case necked-up to accept .358" bullets. In power it exceeds the .350 Rem. Mag. and treads close on the heels of the .375 H&H Magnum. It is direct competition for the .338 Winchester Magnum and like that cartridge is designed to work in standard (.30-06) length actions. Those who prefer a .338" bullet will choose the Winchester Magnum, and those who insist on a .35 caliber bullet have the .358 Norma.
The well known Swedish ammunition manufacturer introduced their .358 Norma Magnum cartridge in 1959. Sweden has the largest moose population in the world, so perhaps that explains why Norma developed the .358 Magnum. In the past it has been offered in bolt action rifles by Schultz & Larsen (Denmark) and Husqvarna (Sweden), but to the best of my knowledge no regularly produced rifles are now available in .358 Norma Mag. Norma offers three factory loads for the .358 Mag., all with 250 grain bullets. A-Square offers factory loads using their trio of awesome 275 grain bullets.
Shape (round nose or pointed) has no affect on sectional density (SD), just the bullet's mass and diameter. The heavier a bullet of a given caliber is, the higher its SD, and the higher a bullet's SD, other things being equal, the deeper it will penetrate into a big game animal. Penetration determines the length of the wound channel, and the amount of tissue disrupted. Obviously, a bullet must reach, and disrupt, the functioning of vital organs in order to cause a quick kill. Here are the SD numbers for various .35 caliber (.358" diameter) bullets.
For shooting large animals such as elk with any .35 caliber rifle I prefer a SD of at least .223, and the higher the SD the better.
Factory load ballistics
Let's take a look at the basic ballistics of our .35 caliber cartridges. Here are their catalog velocity and energy figures from the muzzle to 300 yards with typical OEM factory loads.
As can be seen, there is a considerable variation in the power of our .35 caliber cartridges, with 100 yard energy figures ranging from 1280 ft. lbs. to 3451 ft. lbs.
Bullets and ballistics for reloaders
Because factory loaded cartridges for the .35's are relatively expensive and not particularly thick on the ground, it makes sense to reload. Reloaders have an adequate number of .35 caliber bullets from which to choose. The available bullet weights include 150-158, 180, 200, 220-225, 250, 275-280, and 310 grains. Among these, the heavy 275-310 grain bullets are intended for the largest African game (hippo, Cape Buffalo, rhino, and elephant).
For the North American big game hunter, this selection can reasonably be narrowed to bullets weighing from 180 to 250 grains. The 180 grain bullets are fine for deer and black bear, the 200-225 grain bullets are the general purpose deer and elk hunting bullets, and the 225-250 grain projectiles are suitable for the largest North American big game.
Naturally, case capacity influences bullet selection. The relatively small .35 Remington case is a natural for 180 grain bullets and can handle bullets as heavy as the Speer 220 grain FP. The .308 based .356 and .358 Winchester cartridges can handle bullets as heavy as 250 grains, but are probably most efficient with 200-225 grain bullets. The larger capacity .35 Whelen and .350 Rem. Mag. cases are ideal for bullets weighing 220-225 grains and work well with bullets up to 250 grains. The .358 Norma Magnum is about optimum with 250 grain bullets and can accommodate the very long 275 grain A-Square, 280 grain Swift, and 310 grain Woodleigh bullets.
Here are the ballistics of some typical maximum or near maximum power reloads for our .35 caliber cartridges.
As can be seen, the performance of all of these cartridges except the .358 Norma can benefit considerably from being reloaded if bullets are chosen judiciously.
Muzzle velocity and the ballistic coefficient of the bullet are the primary factors determining the trajectory of any rifle bullet. Sighting-in a rifle with a scope mounted 1.5" over the bore so that the bullet does not deviate more than 3" above or below the line of sight gives us its maximum point blank range (MPBR). Thus the MPBR is the distance at which the bullet falls 3" below the line of sight. Here is the MPBR (+/- 3") of our selected handloads.
A flatter trajectory makes accurate bullet placement easier as ranges increase. It should come as no surprise that the magnum calibers shooting spitzer bullets offer the flattest trajectories.
Killing power is a matter of complex variables that are nearly impossible to calculate, not the least of which are the game animal's physical condition when hit and the effect of bullet expansion on the length and diameter of the wound channel. The most important factor, by far, in killing power is bullet placement. However, a method of approximating killing power for comparison can be a useful tool in cartridge and load selection.
In my opinion, one of the best attempts to estimate killing power on game animals is the "Optimum Game Weight Formula" devised by Edward A. Matunas. It at least attempts to consider more than one factor and relates the result to the live weight of the animal and the distance at which it is shot. Most of all, OGW seems to have a positive correlation with results in the field. (There is an extensive OGW table on the Tables, Charts and Lists Page of Guns and Shooting Online.) Here are the Optimum Game Weight figures for our maximum reloads at the muzzle, 100, 200, and 300 yards.
Since the average bull elk weighs around 500 pounds on the hoof, you might conclude that the .35 Rem. is an adequate elk cartridge only at very short range, even though these numbers are not absolute and can be "stretched" a bit. The .356 Winchester is a much more realistic elk cartridge, extending the optimum elk killing range to around 150 yards.
If you believe as I do that shots should not be taken beyond the MPBR of the cartridge, the .358 Win. is perhaps the best balanced of our .35 caliber elk cartridges. Its OGW for elk size animals and its MPBR are both somewhat in excess of 200 yards.
The .35 Whelen, .350 Rem. Mag. and .358 Norma Mag. will cleanly harvest elk farther away than you should be shooting at them given the maximum point blank ranges of these cartridges. In other words, the OGW killing power on 500 pound game of these three substantially exceeds their MPBR. These are perhaps better classified as moose and grizzly/brown bear cartridges.
The bugaboo of all medium bore cartridges is recoil. If you launch a .35 caliber bullet of reasonable sectional density at reasonable velocity from a hunting rifle, it is going to kick. Compare cartridges launching .30 and .35 caliber bullets of similar SD at identical MV's in rifles of the same weight and the .35 will always kick harder.
The catalog weight of the Marlin 336C in .35 Rem. is 7 pounds. The catalog weight of a Winchester Model 94 Big Bore in .356 Win. was 6.5 pounds. The catalog weight of the Browning BLR Lightweight in .358 Win is also 6.5 pounds. The catalog weight of a Remington Model 700 CDL in .35 Whelen is 7.5 pounds. The catalog weight of the Ruger M77R in .350 Rem. Mag. is 7.5 pounds. And the approximate weight of a Husqvarna bolt action in .358 Norma Mag. is 8 pounds. To compare recoil we will use the catalog weight of these rifles, plus one pound to allow for a scope and mount.
Here are some recoil energy (in foot pounds) and velocity (in feet per second) figures for our various .35 caliber cartridges in scoped hunting rifles of typical weight.
The .35 Remington is the only mild cartridge in our comparison. All of the other calibers are above the 20 ft. lbs. of recoil regarded as the maximum that most shooters and hunters can tolerate. That, in a nutshell, explains why the .35's have never attained great popularity.
One clear message is that rifles should be of sufficient weight for the cartridge. The 7.5 pound (scoped) Browning BLR Lightweight kicks harder in .358 Win. than the 8.5 pound (scoped) Remington Model 700 CDL does in the more powerful .35 Whelen caliber. If the .358 BLR weighed a more reasonable 8 pounds, that situation would be rectified.
Summary and Conclusion
Basically, the .35 Remington is a medium range deer and black bear cartridge that performs best with the lighter 180-200 grain .35 caliber bullets. At the other end of the power scale is the .358 Norma Magnum, a top performer with heavy 250-280 grain bullets that it is actually too much cartridge for most North American hunting. It is best reserved for shooting bison, giant Alaskan moose, polar bear and Kodiak bear.
The other cartridges lie between these two extremes. With 200-225 grain bullets the .356 and .358 Winchesters are excellent medium range cartridges for deer, black bear and elk, and they can be used to tackle grizzly bear and moose at short range. As mentioned earlier, the .358 Win. is probably the best balanced of all the .35 caliber elk cartridges.
The .35 Whelen and .350 Rem. Magnum, although not as powerful as the .358 Norma, are still adequate for all North American big game. For most purposes these powerful .35's are probably at their best with 220-225 grain bullets. To flatten trajectory for longer shots a 200 grain spitzer bullet can be chosen, and for the very heaviest animals a 250 grain bullet may be appropriate.
A moose and grizzly bear hunter would be hard pressed to find a better cartridge than the .350 Remington Magnum. It is appropriate that Remington named their Model 673 the "Guide Rifle," as Alaskan guides and outfitters found much favor with its predecessor, the .350 Magnum Model 600 carbine.
Copyright 2007, 2012 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.