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.35 Caliber Rifles -- Still Appreciated

March 2012 -- Banacek

Those of you who have read another article here called "Choosing Your First Pistol" know I think a .38 Special or .357 Magnum revolver should be your second choice, after a .22 long rifle target pistol. Reasons include a simply huge variety of commercial bullets, as well as moulds for casting your own; the actual reloading is economical and relatively easy compared to the centerfire autoloaders' commercial fodder and fiddly case requirements.

So why not have a rifle cartridge using the same bore dimensions? Certainly a rifle bullet in the same .35 caliber (meaning a bullet diameter close to .357 or .358 inches) needs to be of much more rugged construction for hunting large game than used in the above mentioned pistols. And the .35 caliber rifles certainly do have those more rugged bullets.

But unlike many rifle calibers, the .35's ability to use those readily available and cheap pistol bullets in reduced loads for pleasant target shooting or plinking or small game is a huge advantage to the pocket book.

Yes you can get moulds to cast bullets in most any other rifle caliber, but the .35 has incredible variety and availability in its favour.

Smaller rifle calibers in reduced loads, without the high velocity that gives them their effectiveness on game, are simply less adequate than the .35 caliber. At low velocity their hollow point rifle bullets will not expand. The .35's hollow point pistol bullet, coming out of the rifle in a reduced load, is still at pistol velocities so it will expand reliably and effectively. At reduced velocity, the .35's cast bullet still punches a bigger hole than cast bullets launched from other popular but smaller rifle calibers.

"Okay," you say, "but new .35 caliber rifles, other than lever carbines still chambered today for .38 Specials or .357 Magnums, are kinda rare to none?"

Yes, good point. And there is nothing to stop you from getting one of those cute and very fun carbines. But there are an awful lot of big game rifles out there in .35 caliber on the used gun market that need a new home. And they will easily give you the advantages mentioned when downloaded to .38 Special performance.

Hmmm... I am beginning to suspect that the advantages of older calibers in general (not just .35) are under-appreciated by the current generation of new shooters. Unless the rifle and caliber are both brand new and in the latest whiz-bang concoction from Remchesterby, and splashed all over the glossy gun mags with fawning articles praising their advertisers' newest wares, our new shooter cannot see it. Blinders on.

If we go back in time and pick an arbitrary date, be it 1920 or 1950 or 1970 or whatever, we can easily prove that the rifle cartridges on the market at that time were fully capable of dealing with every game animal on the planet. And each generation gets a new bunch of cartridges that come into fashion, and go out of fashion. Not necessarily better in performance or usefulness, but each is hyped into a sales frenzy, and is often just as quickly forgotten. It does sell new rifles though ;-)

A .35 caliber centerfire cartridge to be considered for big game must be effective in that task too, not just chosen for its advantages with reduced loads. What do we have out there? We'll proceed in order of increasing power with the main commercial .35 cartridges.

Consider the .35 Remington from 1913. It came out in Remington's Model 14 Gamemaster pump action rifle designed to compete with the popular lever guns from Winchester and Marlin. (The Model 14 had an additional advantage; its tubular magazine has a spiral function that offsets the bullet point from the primer in the cartridge ahead of it, and thus can use ballistically superior pointed bullets.) The .30 and .32 Remington rimless cartridges matched the performance (and hunting weaknesses) of the .30-30 and .32 Winchester Special. But the .35 Remington rimless cartridge was significantly more effective on big game with its heavier bullet and larger caliber. Later on, Marlin smartly added this superior cartridge to its lever guns, and many are easily found today in very good to near new condition.

The .358 Winchester from 1955. Here is a cartridge based on a .308 Winchester case necked up to take a .358 inch diameter bullet. It was factory and custom chambered in medium length actions (bolt, lever, and other), making a potent but very portable package that with heavy bullets is very effective on game up to moose. I am sure that the .35 Whelen mentioned later here was the inspiration for Winchester to do a comparable transformation of the .308 Winchester into the .358 Winchester.

Note: there are basically four popular bolt action lengths, listed here with a sample cartridge: short for cases like .223 Remington, medium for the .308 Winchester, long for .30-06 and so-called short-magnum cartidges, and magnum length for .375 H&H. Some bolt action manufacturers may have fewer options that result in a cartridge being chambered into a longer action than really needed, which makes the rifle longer and heavier and with a longer bolt, but cuts manufacturing costs.

And then there's the .35 Whelen developed in 1922 by Col. Townsend Whelen. This cartridge is simply a necked up .30-06 and became popular for a number of reasons. A big advantage was the large number of surplus or new rifles available in .30-06 that could easily be rebarrelled to .35 Whelen, with no change to the magazine or bolt or extractor or action length. Much more power than the .30-06 in a fairly compact package, and capable of hunting anything in North America. Ammunition is easily formed from plentiful .30-06 cases.

.350 Remington Magnum from 1965. This one is a bit odd. You will like it or hate it depending on your taste in rifles. Remington introduced this belted very short magnum case in a heavier stocked version of their new medium 600 action. It was meant to match the performance of the .35 Whelen but in a shorter length that would fit a rifle with a medium length bolt action. The belted case was in fashion at the time but reduces magazine capacity compared to a beltless case. But the rifle was compact and succeeded in achieving its ballistics goal.

.358 Norma Magnum from 1959. This is the stomper in the family, that will easily surpass other puny .300 and .338 magnums. Big and bad at both ends, and very effective with the ability to nearly match the .375 H&H. While you could download it to use a readily available pistol bullet on the outdoor range, the heavy rifle would not be my choice for a leisurely rabbit hunt, but you might want to. This cartridge was only available for a short time and not many were sold; so you will have to make a real effort to find one. Alternatively, it would be a good choice for a custom rifle, ordered after the kids have finally left home and stopped draining your bank account [you hope].

Me, I've found a neat rifle. Happy as a clam. Maybe I'll write a review for it some day and tell you what it is.

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