.35 Whelen: The Poor Man’s Magnum

Born in the early 1920s, the .35 Whelen is one of the most successful wildcat cartridges descended from the .30-06 Springfield.

Colonel Townsend Whelen was one of America’s foremost gun writers and had a hand in designing a number of different rifle cartridges in the early 20th century. Of these, the .35 Whelen is probably the most famous and most widely used. Interestingly enough, his role in designing the cartridge is disputed with many historians believing that James Howe (later of Griffin & Howe fame) designed the .35 Whelen and simply named it after Townsend Whelen. Regardless of who designed it, the cartridge quickly caught on with American hunters and still remains very popular in some circles to this day.

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.35 Whelen History

The .35 Whelen has a relatively simple design: it’s a .30-06 Springfield case necked up to use .358″ instead of .308″ bullets (the exact opposite of the .270 Winchester in other words).

Common loads fire a 200-grain bullet at 2,800 fps (about 3,480 foot pounds of energy), a 225-grain bullet at around 2,600fps (3,380 foot pounds of energy), or a 250-grain bullet at approximately 2,500fps (3,470 foot pounds of energy).

It’s considerably more powerful than the .30-06 Springfield, but still fits in a standard length action with the same size bolt face as the .30-06. It also filled a gap that existed at the time between the .30-06 originally developed for the Army and the relatively expensive and difficult to obtain (back then) magnum cartridges like the .375 H&H.

This is how the cartridge got the nickname “The Poor Man’s Magnum.”

Hunters particularly appreciated the effectiveness of the cartridge on large animals like moose and brown bear. While cartridges like the .45-70 Government were (and still are) valued for their effectiveness on these same animals, the .35 Whelen had several attributes that helped set it apart from other “big hitters” of the day.

First, the .35 Whelen has a relatively flat trajectory almost on par with the .30-06. Next, the cartridge also has very good terminal performance out to several hundred yards. Finally, it also has a surprisingly mild recoil.

That being said, limited sources of ammunition and rifles resulting from the “wildcat” roots of the .35 Whelen restricted the appeal of the cartridge to a narrow segment of the population. For many years, factory loaded ammunition was essentially nonexistent. At the same time, rebarreled Mausers or Springfields made up the vast majority of .35 Whelen rifles until the 1980s when Remington started producing factory ammunition as well as rifles chambered in the cartridge.

These factors, along with the “neither fish nor fowl” nature of .35 caliber cartridges in general, help explain why the cartridge never made it into more widespread use in the United States.

.35 Whelen Ammo

Thanks to legitimacy that Remington gave the cartridge in the 1980s, many of the major gun manufacturers now produce factory loaded .35 Whelen ammunition and most gun stores keep some in stock. For instance, Barnes, Federal, Hornady, Nosler, and Remington all manufacture at least one load for the cartridge.

200gr bullets are probably the most popular and easy to find and you can choose between the Federal Fusion, Hornady Superformance, and Remington Core Lokt line-ups in this bullet weight.

At the same time, Barnes produces a 180gr load in their VOR-TX line-up, Federal Premium offers a load featuring their 225gr Trophy Bonded Bear Claw, Nosler makes a load with their 225gr AccuBond, and Remington also produces a 250gr Core Lokt load.

Some modern factory-loaded .35 Whelen ammo has slightly improved ballistics compared to the original loads from the 1920s. For instance, Hornady advertises a velocity of 2,910fps for their 200gr Superformance load.

Before .35 Whelen factory loads were widely available, handloaders were the primary source of .35 Whelen ammo. For this reason, there are still lots of quality .358 bullets in production like the 200gr Barnes TTSX, 225gr Barnes TSX, the 200gr Hornady FTX, 200gr Sierra Pro Hunter, and the 225gr Sierra Game King.

.30-06 Springfield vs .35 Whelen vs 9.3x62mm Mauser

So how does it stack up to other cartridges? Well, the .30-06 Springfield and the 9.3x62mm Mauser are the two cartridges most often compared to the .35 Whelen.

The differences between the three cartridges are most apparent in the table below comparing Federal Premium’s Vital Shok 165gr Nosler Partition and 225gr Trophy Bonded Bear Claw loads for the .30-06 and .35 Whelen to Federal’s 286gr Cape Shok load for the 9.3x62mm Mauser.

As you can see, though the .30-06 is no slouch, the .35 Whelen is significantly more powerful, particularly at close range. On the other hand, the .30-06 has a flatter trajectory. The .35 Whelen and 9.3x62mm Mauser have very similar ballistics with the 9.3×62 having a slight edge in power and with the Whelen having a slightly flatter trajectory.30-06 vs 35 whelen vs 9.3x62mm mauser

35 whelen featured
The .35 Whelen (R) compared to its parent cartridge

.35 Whelen Rifles

Due to its wildcat roots, few American gun manufacturers made rifles chambered in .35 Whelen until the 1980s. The cartridge still remains almost unheard of outside the United States. Prior to Remington opening the door for large scale production of .35 Whelen rifles, virtually every rifle in existence chambered for the cartridge was some sort of custom conversion (primarily 1898 Mausers and 1903 Springfields).

However, .35 Whelen rifles are a lot easier to find now than they used to be. Remington has produced bolt-action Model 700, semi-automatic Model 750, and pump-action Model 7600 rifles chambered in the cartridge off and on over the years. Additionally, among others, it’s also possible to find Ruger No 1, CVA Scout, and Nosler M48 rifles chambered in the cartridge. Thompson/Center also offers .35 Whelen barrels for their Encore rifles.

Hunting With The .35 Whelen

One of the reasons the .35 Whelen first became popular among American hunters was because it was so effective on really big species of North American game. That hasn’t changed and it remains a wonderful choice for grizzly/brown bear and moose hunting. If anything, the cartridge is even more effective on those animals now because of advances in bullet design. The .35 Whelen is also something of an underrated cartridge for elk hunting.

Additionally, it’s also a great cartridge for hunting medium sized game like whitetail deer, feral hogs, and black bear.

35 whelen deer

The same goes for most species of African plains game (like impala, kudu, wildebeest, waterbuck, zebra, and even eland) as well as animals that you’ll encounter on a New Zealand hunting safari like fallow deer, rusa deer, sika deer, sambar deer, or red stag.

The cartridge packs a heck of a punch and has a flat enough trajectory that it’s suitable for hunting most species of big game out to several hundred yards without too much trouble. Honestly, the only critters I don’t recommend using it on are extremely large species of African game like cape buffalo, elephant, and hippopotamus.

Though the .35 Whelen cartridge topped out well short of the top echelon of the most popular hunting cartridges like the .30-30 Winchester or the .30-06, it’s still great medium bore cartridge and is arguably one of the best .35 caliber cartridges ever made. Say what you will about the .35 Whelen, but that cartridge has been a solid performer for nearly a century now with no end in sight.

The Lyman 50th Edition (p314-315) and Hornady 10th Edition (p692-694) reloading manuals were used as references for this article.

If you’d like to read a more detailed discussion on a cartridge that’s often compared to the .35 Whelen in the .358 Winchester, read this article:

338 Federal vs 308 Winchester vs 358 Winchester: What You Need To Know

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9 thoughts on “.35 Whelen: The Poor Man’s Magnum”

  1. I have a 98 Mauser my dad built in the early sixties, Douglas barrel stamped .35/06 imp! Rounds I have now were loaded in 63! Are there dies for this cartridge! Different shoulders than factory! Moose next yr with Pa’s rifle!

    Reply
  2. I have been hunting in Alaska with .35 whelen’s for over 25 years. I chrono right at 2600 fps with 250 gr. nosler partitions & 2700 fps with nosler 225 gr partitions. out of both my 21″ whelens using RL15. Both rifles shoot MOA. Moose and caribou mostly drop on the spot when smacked by the .35’s. I use many calibers including .338 win and .375 H&H, but my favorite is the whelen with short barrels. Effects on game duplicates my .358 Norma Mag. I can easily obtain 2450 fps with 275 gr Kodiak bonded bullets as well, even with short barrels using RL15 exclusively. Can’t ask for more from any rifle caliber for NA game.

    Reply
      • Just checked and found your reply. I prefer the 250 grain version, just because all of the areas that I hunt in Alaska are brown bear/grizzly country. Makes me feel a little more warm and fuzzy, and the trajectories are so similar. A 300 yard caribou shot is no problem with the bigger bullet, so why not carry the extra insurance. In my 45 years of big game hunting up here, I have only shot one animal (caribou) at a greater distance(400+ yds.) and mostly use a 4X Leupold light scope or a 2X7 Leupy set on 5X. Furthermore, recoil to me is negligible with either bullet. Shot my 2017 bull moose (56.5″) at 200 yds., one shot with a 250 grainer, and 2 caribou in 2018. Can’t complain at all!

        Reply
        • Hi Ed! I hope you wander by again and notice this message…

          I have to say I’d love to have easier access to the kind of hunting y’all do in Alaska. I’ll make it there one day soon, but it’s a long way from SC!

          I’m excited about the Whelen with modern higher power loads – a 200 gr TTSX at 2900+ FPS (24 inch barrel) is also a comfort in bear territory, I’d use it with confidence on any NA game. It shoots flatter than a 180 gr 30-06 bullet to 400 yards.

          Nothing wrong with the old school heavy bullets either of course! Good luck with your hunting this year!

          Reply
  3. I have an opportunity to pick one up custom build 35 whelen built on Mauser 98 action and has an ER Shaw 24 inch barrel. Has thumb hole stock appears to be in great condition. Any idea on value ?

    Reply
    • Most of the time that I see a .35 whelen for sale up here, it advertises for over $700. One recently was being offered for sale on Alaskaslist.com for I believe $1200,that is with a Leupold scope. One of mine a BRNO Mauser, 21″ custom barrel. B&C stock cost me just $250 a while back. My best shooting rifle BTW.

      Reply
      • Mine is also a BRNO, I’d have to measure the barrel. Only rifle Dad ever had custom built, the trigger is superb.. He sold it in 1989, and I re-acquired it in 2017. Pulling that to the shoulder… the memories came flooding. from fire forming cartridges to the .35 AI brass he reloaded, to him going with me on my hunts for deer and bear. Dad thought it was the perfect North American continent rifle, could be uploaded to handle Moose/Grizzly, or downloaded for a Whitetail, etc.

        Reply
  4. Last spring a acquired a project rifle from a online gun auction site for $600. The barrel was Adams & Bennet 24 inch air gauged 35 Whelen AI which didn’t seem to have had any rounds through it, the action was an old NAZI proofed 98 and from what I can find out was made in 1942. The bolt came from some other military 98, as the serial numbers did not match, the stock was walnut with a monty carlo cheek piece which had seen some time in the field and it had a aluminum buttplate. The trigger was really rough and I replaced it with a Timiny , added a one piece Leupold base, and a Trijicon 3-9 X 40 scope. Then I began to work up loads using the 250gr partition. I’m still playing with the loads but I have had luck with the RL-15. Last August here in Montana, went with my son and his friend to scout some areas for the upcoming season. We had our hunting gear with us as there was a early shoulder season under way on private land. Saw a herd, asked permission, stalked to with in 350 yards, held 6″ high as the rifle was sighted in at 100 yards, shot. The cow dropped immediately. The work really began in earnest to dress out and cool as the outside temps were in the 70’s. Got a freezer full now!

    Reply

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