.35 Whelen

Old but capable, the .35 Whelen hangs on and may be the perfect cartridge for certain applications.

During the very early 1920s, Leslie Simpson, who reputedly had more experience at hunting African game than any other American at the time, casually mentioned to Col. Townsend Whelen that the ideal cartridge for hunting most of the hoofed game on the Dark Continent would push a .35 caliber bullet weighing at least 250 grains to a muzzle velocity of 2,500 fps or perhaps a bit faster.


At the time, Whelen was commanding officer at Frankford Arsenal, and James V. Howe was foreman of the machine shop there. Whelen relayed Simpson's message to Howe, and Howe eventually came up with two new cartridges: the .35 Whelen--which Howe named for the colonel while the latter was on a hunting trip--for standard-size actions and the belted .350 Griffin & Howe Magnum for magnum-length Mauser actions.


The .350 Magnum was loaded by the Western Cartridge Company, but the .35 Whelen remained a wildcat until it was domesticated by Remington in 1987.

Whelen's favorite rifle in this caliber--and one he owned until his death in 1961--was a custom job built on the 1903 Springfield action by Howe in 1922. Among other nice things it had a trapdoor steel buttplate and a Howe-Whelen aperture sight on the bolt sleeve. The sight housing also contained a safety.


The rifle was originally in .400 Whelen (see sidebar) and later rebarreled to .35 Whelen. The colonel's favorite loads for that rifle were 61.0 grains of IMR-4350 behind the Hornady 275-grain bullet and 60.0 grains of the same powder with the Barnes 300-grain bullet (neither bullet is now in production). Respective velocities were 2,375 and 2,350 fps.

As other cartridges of the same caliber go, the .35 Remington is 400 to 500 fps slower than the .35 Whelen, and the .358 Norma Magnum is 400 fps faster.

Remington continues to load the .35 Whelen with two bullets, a 200-grain pointed Core-Lokt at a velocity rating of 2,675 fps and a 250-grain pointed Core-Lokt at 2,400 fps. Federal offers a single option with the 225-grain Trophy Bonded Bear Claw at 2,600 fps.

Nosler offers three choices in its Custom lineup: the 225-grain Partition and Ballistic Tip at 2,775 fps and a 250-grain Partition at 2,550 fps.

Remington sells unprimed cases, and the .30-06 case can be necked up to .35 caliber. I prefer to size up cases in two steps using a .35 Whelen full-length resizing die--first with an expander button sized for the .338-06 installed in the die and then another trip over a .35 caliber button. Tapered expander buttons are available from Redding, Lyman and RCBS.

A number of powders are suitable for use in the .35 Whelen, and most work quite well. If I had to choose one for all bullet weights, I would look at IMR-4895, IMR-4064 and IMR-4320.

Bullets weighing 200 to 225 grains are more comfortable to shoot due to less recoil, and relatively soft bullets such as the 225-grain Sierra and Nosler Ballistic Tip are great choices for deer. When either of those bullets exits the muzzle in the neighborhood of 2,600 fps, and is zeroed three inches high at 100 yards, it will be about two inches above line of sight at 200 yards and around eight inches low at 300.

For larger game such as elk and moose, I believe the Swift 225-grain A-Frame and the Nosler Partition of the same weight are tough to beat. Due to their higher velocity they shoot flatter and retain more weight for deep penetration than softer bullets weighing 250 grains.

I have no plans to hunt brown bear with a rifle in .35 Whelen, but if ever I change my mind either the Swift 250-grain A-Frame or the 250-grain Nosler Partition will be my choice in bullet.

Like many cartridges over .30 caliber, the .35 Whelen has never enjoyed great popularity among big game hunters. It's a bit much for deer, and hunters who go after larger game with a medium-bore cartridge often choose flatter-shooting and more powerful cartridges such as the .338 Winchester Magnum.

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A FEW GOOD .35 WHELEN LOADS

BulletBullet Weight (gr.)Poweder TypePoweder Charge(gr.)Muzzle Velocity (fps)
Barnes XFB180H33559.02,794
Hornady PSP200IMR-432058.02,617
Nosler Ballistic Tip225Varget51.02,552
Nosler Partition225V-N14056.02,581
Sierra SBT225IMR-406457.02,510
Swift A-Frame225RL-1558.02,566
Nosler Partition250IMR-432053.02,429
Swift A-Frame250H489553.02,374
Speer PSP250H333552.02,430
Barnes PSP*275H38057.02,336
Barnes PSP*300BL-C(2)53.02,228
Remington Core-Lokt200factory -- 2,511
Federal TBBC 225factory -- 2,529
Remington Core-Lokt250factory -- 2,348
* These bullets are no longer available.
Notes: Powder charges are maximum and should be reduced by 10 percent for starting loads. Remington cases and No.9 1/2 primers were used in all loads. Velocities represent an average of five or more rounds clocked at 12 feet from the muzzle of a 22-inch Apex barrel. Abbreviations: XFB, X flat base; PSP, pointed soft-point; SBT, spitzer boattail; TBBC, Trophy Bonded Bear Claw
Warning: The loads here are safe only in the guns for which they were developed. Neither the author nor Intermedia Outdoors assumes any liability for accidents or injury resulting from the use or misuse of this data. Shooting reloads may void and warranty on your firearm.

Remington is down to one rifle in this caliber (the 700 CDL) and no longer offers it in the Model 7600 pump gun. However, when Remington offered the Limited Edition Model 700 Classic in .35 Whelen in 1988, it was a success--eclipsing sales of all but the .300 Weatherby Magnum in this 25-rifle series.

Perhaps the best testimony of the effectiveness of the .35 Whelen on big game was written years ago, by a hunter who used it to take an Alaska brown bear. He wrote: "At the impact of my 275-grain bullet the bear spun partly away from me. Immediately I fed him another bullet right between the shoulders, and he turned back toward me. Then, as he lurched forward, I shot him through both shoulders. The grizzly fell dead at my feet."

The year was 1937, and the grizzly in the story ended up second in the Boone & Crockett record book. The .35 Whelen rifle the hunter used was built by Griffin & Howe, on a 1903 Springfield action. His handload consisted of the 275-grain Western Tool & Copper Co. bullet pushed to maximum velocity by IMR-4064. That hunter was none other than Elmer Keith.

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