Compared: .35 Whelen and .350 Rem. Mag.
By Chuck Hawks
I've lost count of the number of times I've heard the .350 Remington Magnum rifle cartridge dismissed as "just another" .35 Whelen. But is it? That's what this article will explore.
Certainly the performance of the two cartridges is similar (but not identical). I will grant that a big game animal hit squarely with either could not live on the difference between them. But are they really the same? Might there not be differences worth considering? It seems to me that because their performance is similar a full comparison is definitely in order.
The .350 Rem. Mag., introduced in 1965, was not only the world's first short magnum cartridge, it actually preceded the factory introduction (and SAAMI standardization) of the .35 Whelen by 22 years. Remington did not announce the .35 Whelen until 1987, when it was standardized at a maximum average pressure (MAP) of 52,000 cup. That's the top MAP for a cartridge based on a standard case. (The .30-06 parent cartridge is standardized at 50,000 cup.)
To be sure, the .35 Whelen had been around as a wildcat since the 1920's. It was originated by James Howe, who apparently collaborated with the famous gun writer Townsend Whelen on the design of the cartridge. The .35 Whelen is the same thing as a .35-06, a .30-06 case necked-up to accept .358" diameter bullets.
That is certainly the easiest way to create a wildcat; just neck an existing case up or down without changing anything else, particularly the shoulder angle. Unfortunately, in the case of the .30-06 case, the shoulder area remaining after the case is necked all the way up to accept .358" bullets is not great. And the rather gentle 17.5 degree shoulder angle of the .30-06 is not as abrupt as might be desired for so small a shoulder area.
The bottom line is that, very occasionally, a .35 Whelen rifle can have a headspace problem if the blow of the firing pin drives a case forward in the chamber. Sometimes that small, sloping shoulder on which the .35 Whelen headspaces just may not suffice. (Other .35 caliber cartridges based on standard cases, such as the .35 Remington and .358 Winchester, have been known to have the same problem.) Be very careful when reloading .35 Whelen cases not to alter or set back the shoulder during the resizing operation.
The .350 Remington Magnum makes use of a standard belted magnum case shortened to about the length of a .308 case and necked-up to accept .358" bullets. Because its case is bigger around than the .30-06/.35 Whelen case (magnum rim diameter is .532" while the .30-06 rim diameter is .473"), the .350 Rem. Mag. case holds as much (actually slightly more) powder than the longer .35 Whelen case.
The use of the stronger, fatter, magnum case also means that the .350 has more shoulder area. And that bigger shoulder is set at a sharper 25 degree angle. And, it doesn't matter anyway, since the cartridge headspaces on the belt, not the shoulder. Being a magnum with an extra strong case head, the SAAMI MAP for the .350 Rem. Mag. was set at 53,000 cup. Slightly greater powder capacity, slightly higher pressure limit, it works in shorter (and more plentiful) .308 length actions, no potential headspacing problems, what's not to like?
Actually, I've never heard an intelligent criticism of the .350 Magnum. But it has never found much favor with gun writers or gotten the favorable press it deserves. Most gun writers have simply ignored its existence, or dismissed it as a short action version of the .35 Whelen, which it definitely is not.
The sporting press killed the .350 Magnum with faint praise and silence despite its sterling virtues, and it was quietly discontinued in the mid-1990s. But the much ballyhooed introduction of the WSM series of short magnum cartridges rekindled interest in the short magnum concept and Remington surprised the boys by reintroducing the .350 in 2003.
.350 Mag. rifles are now available from Remington (Model Seven CDL) and Ruger (Model 77R and Model 77RFP). Remington offers their Model 700CDL and Model 750 autoloader in .35 Whelen, and H&R offers it in their single shot rifle. (That ought to be exciting to shoot!) Neither caliber is widely represented in factory built rifles because medium bore cartridges generally are not very popular in North America. Frankly, outside of Alaska and the remoter parts of Canada, we don't have much need for them, and they kick too hard for most hunters to enjoy shooting. There is no point in enduring the recoil of a powerful medium bore rifle unless its power is actually required.
The ammunition situation is not much better. Remington offers a single factory load in .350 Magnum (a 200 grain bullet) and two in .35 Whelen (200 and 250 grain bullets). Federal used to offer a factory load in .35 Whelen, but it is no longer catalogued. As far as I know, Winchester and Hornady have never loaded for either cartridge. But some of the specialty ammunition companies, such as Stars and Stripes, offer an assortment of factory loads for both calibers. That is the best source for premium ammunition.
The practical bullet weight range for big game hunting with either caliber is 180-250 grains. A reasonable number of .35 caliber bullets are available from most of the well known bullet makers, so reloaders are in good shape. 180 grains is a fine choice for deer, caribou and CXP2 class game in general. 200 grains is the most popular bullet weight in both calibers and seems to work well for everything up to and including elk; it is the "all-around" bullet weight. Specifically for elk and moose 220-225 grain bullets are often recommended. For the great bears, bison, or equivalent game world wide, a 250 grain controlled expansion bullet would be a reasonable choice.
We will compare the .35 Whelen and the .350 Remington Magnum in velocity, energy, trajectory, killing power and recoil. Because both are .35 caliber cartridges that shoot the same bullets they are automatically equal in sectional density (SD), ballistic coefficient (BC), and bullet cross-sectional area, so those factors need not be considered. We will use both factory loads and reloads in our comparison.
The most obvious comparison in factory loads are the Remington loads for each cartridge using a 200 grain Pointed Soft Point (PSP) bullet. In addition, maximum reloads using the popular 225 grain and 250 grain Nosler Partition Spitzer (NPS) premium bullets will also be compared.
The Remington .35 Whelen factory load launches a 200 grain PSP bullet at a MV of 2675 fps, and the Remington .350 Mag. factory load launches a 200 grain PSP bullet at a MV of 2775 fps.
The reloads are taken from the fifth edition of the Nosler Reloading Guide, which used a 24" test barrel in .35 Whelen and a 22" test barrel in .350 Rem. Mag. If you feel the need, add 40 fps to the muzzle velocities of the .350 Mag. to approximate the same loads fired in a 24" barrel. Remington used a 24" test barrel for both calibers.
The sectional density (SD) of the 200 grain PSP bullet is .223 and the ballistic coefficient (BC) is .293. The 225 grain Nosler Partition has a SD of .251 and a BC of .430. The 250 grain Nosler Partition bullet has a SD of .279 and a BC of .446. The cross-sectional area of all .358" bullets is .1007 square inches.
Velocity matters because velocity is the most important factor in calculating kinetic energy, and it also contributes to a flatter trajectory. Here are the velocities in feet per second of our various loads from the muzzle (MV) to 300 yards.
As you can see, the .350 Mag. has an across the board advantage in velocity whether factory loaded or handloaded.
Kinetic energy powers penetration and bullet expansion, which are crucial to creating a wide, deep wound channel and are therefore very important factors in killing power. Velocity and bullet weight are the key factors in calculating kinetic energy. Here are the energy figures (in foot pounds) from the muzzle to 300 yards for our selected loads.
All of these loads develop over 3000 ft. lbs. of energy at the muzzle, which means that they hit hard! The .350 Mag., however, develops significantly higher energy with all bullet weights. In fact, out to 100 yards the 200 grain bullet from the .350 Magnum equals the energy of the 225 grain bullet fired from the .35 Whelen, and the .350/225 is superior to the .35 Whelen/250 at all ranges.
These figures illustrate why many .350 Mag. reloaders like 220-225 grain bullets. They shoot flatter and kick less than the 250 grain bullets, and hit almost as hard.
The flatter the trajectory, the easier it is to hit the target as the range increases. Here are the comparative trajectory figures in inches for our selected loads at 100, 200, and 300 yards. All are assumed to be fired from rifles with a scope mounted 1.5" over the bore and zeroed at 200 yards.
Once again the .350 Magnum wins the comparison with every bullet weight, and once again it is the .350/225 grain bullet that provides the top performance among our various loads. This is actually the flattest shooting bullet in both calibers, but the differences in trajectory between the various bullet weights in each caliber are not great.
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. No killing power formula should therefore be construed as gospel.
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 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 actual 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 results for our various loads at 100, 200, and 300 yards.
If you are looking for an elk cartridge, and the average bull elk is assumed to weigh around 500 pounds, even with 200 grain bullets both of these cartridges are optimum beyond 200 yards. With the heavier bullets they are optimum beyond 300 yards. For Alaskan moose and brown bear these are reasonable 200 yard cartridges with 250 grain bullets.
Once again, the .350 Rem. Mag. is superior with every bullet weight by about 100 pounds in live animal weight at 100 yards. The exception is with the 225 grain bullets, where the .350 shows a 200 pound advantage in optimum game weight. In both calibers, the 250 grain bullet is the best choice for the very largest animals. But notice that the 225 grain bullet in .350 Mag. equals the killing power (at least in OGW terms) of the 250 grain bullet fired from the .35 Whelen.
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 hunting rifle.
Unfortunately, neither the .35 Whelen nor the .350 Mag. are light kicking calibers. I am convinced that it is their considerable recoil, more than any other single factor, that has limited their popularity. Where these cartridges shine, compared to small bore calibers of similar capacity such as the .270 Winchester, .280 Remington and .30-06, is for taking large or dangerous game. Unless you really need the power, and most hunters don't, why pay the price in recoil? But if you do, having a heavy .35 caliber bullet on your side is very reassuring.
Here are some recoil energy (in foot pounds) and recoil velocity (in feet per second) figures for our reloads fired in 8 pound rifles. For recoil figures on a great number of loads in these and other calibers, see the "Expanded Rifle Recoil Table" on the Tables, Charts and Lists Page).
For comparison, an 8 pound .30-06 rifle shooting a 180 grain bullet at a MV of 2700 fps generates about 20.3 ft. lbs. of recoil energy and a recoil velocity of 12.8 fps. That is about the stiffest load with which the great majority of shooters are comfortable, and you can see from the recoil velocity figures above that the claim the larger calibers recoil with a "long, slow push" is bogus. The truth is that they come back harder and faster. And, of our two .35's, the .350 Mag. comes back harder and faster with maximum loads.
It is, of course, very easy for reloaders to load the .350 Mag. down to .35 Whelen levels of performance and recoil. Not being much of a fan of maximum loads, in my 8.5 pound .350 Mag. rifles I like to load a 200 grain bullet at a MV of 2700 fps and a 225 grain bullet at a MV of 2550 fps. Those loads deliver performance just slightly above that of the .35 Whelen and recoil energies of about 25.2 ft. lbs. and 26.7 ft. lbs. respectively.
It is clear that, with factory loads or maximum reloads, the .350 Remington Magnum has a performance advantage over the .35 Whelen across the board. The difference is not great, but it is real, regardless of what you may have read elsewhere.
Naturally, the .350 also kicks more, in direct proportion to its additional power. However, loaded to the same levels of performance in the same rifle, the difference in recoil will become unnoticeable.
Neither cartridge is particularly popular, and rifles and factory loaded ammunition are thin on the ground for both. Realistically, anyone who wishes to get the maximum versatility from either caliber should be a reloader.
A reloader with either a .35 Whelen or .350 Magnum rifle can easily create what Jack O'Connor, the Dean of American gun writers, considered an ideal brush and woods deer rifle load. That would be a 200 grain, round nose bullet at a MV of 2400 fps. Such a load has a maximum point blank range of 213 yards, and adequate killing power even for elk at 100 yards. The recoil of that load in an 8 pound rifle is about 21 ft. lbs., or just under 20 ft. lbs. in an 8.5 pound rifle. It feels about like shooting a .30-06, and it is better at getting through brush and twigs.
Both the .35 Whelen and the .350 Rem. Mag. are good medium bore cartridges that provide a useful step up in killing power on large game over the standard .270, 7mm, and .30 calibers. And they are much easier to shoot than the even more powerful medium bore calibers such as the .338 Win. Mag., .358 Norma Mag. or .375 H&H Mag.
Perhaps the .350 Remington Magnum's most important advantage over the .35 Whelen is its belted magnum case. That completely eliminates any lingering headspace and reliability concerns. Added to the potential performance advantage of the .350 Mag., it emerges as the winner of this comparison.
Copyright 2006, 2012 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.