35 WHELEN...


written by Paco Kelly
- this article unzipped from archives in sixgunner.com

The 35 Whelen has been a very good cartridge for me. But it didnít start with the happy chance of getting a rifle in that chambering...my first Whelen was built in 1968 in Virginia...but it all started for me, in Africa ten years before that.

I had purchased in North Africa, a Mauser 9.3X57mm built in the 1930s, but getting ammo even in 1958 was difficult. And when I could find it, it was expensive. So I had the rifle rechambered to 9.3 X 62mm which was popular, but again ammo was expensive and limited. But my madness wasnít completely in full swing...trading one hard to find cartridge for another...I planned to use 30-06 cases and reload....

The arab gunsmith that rechambered the rifle made me a mold that had cavities on each end...it was round and had two independent sprue plates...one cavity was 280 grains with a rounded flat nose...the other was 200 grains with a flat nose. Also he made a small die that opened the 30-06 necks just tight enough to seat the cast bullets...a seating die and a sizing die also. I hardly used the sizing die, because I used military ammo. I would pull the military ball, remove the powder...(looked like IMR 4198 in those days) open the neck, pour the powder back in and seat the cast bullet..usually the 280 grainer. I hunted all over Africa with this rifle and load......I harvested little 40 lb Tommies to one very large Hippo...and everything in between. I figure my velocity was around 2300+ fps.

I even killed a nasty female elephant that was making mud holes out of natives, I used a solid 280 grain bullet over the same load. The bullet was steel jacketed with a rounded blunt nose.....I shot her at 10 yards low between the eyes. She stood long enough after being hit, to where I was about to shoot her again when she just slumped down on her belly and died.....the village she had been raiding had a week long feeding party on her....

I always wondered about that shot. She didnít move, hit right where I aimed...saw the dust come off her head...thought she would fold or charge..but she just stood there...then down. Interesting, considering she had been such an aggressive bitch to start with. I have shot elephants with a 375 H&H, ammo loaded for Africa, with the same weight bullet...probably around 2400 to 2500 fps and got very different reactions...certainly the difference in .366 caliber and .375 caliber made little difference in killing power...and a few hundred fps more sure didnít make much either. I guess I was just lucky the day I brained her....

I was also fortunate to be on two culling operations in two years in Africa. They were designed to not only get a meat supply for a number of native villages but to also stop the herds from eating the villages crops. I averaged more than 30 animals a day on the first operation...and that much, or a little more on the second...that kind of sustained shooting with one rifle builds confidence.....

Jumping to Virginia 10 years later...I bought a commercial Mauser action and wanted to build a 35 Whelen on it. The rifle smith didnít have a 35 Whelen reamer so we chambered it to 358 Winchester to begin with. I certainly learned to respect that cartridge. In a bolt action rifle the 358 is a fine round. But my heart wanted a 35 Whelen...mainly because it is so close to the 9.3X62 I had in Africa...

Finally I bought a Whelen reamer and opened the chamber...I have never been sorry. I used it in that chambering for almost 30 years...then last year I ran a Brown-Whelen Improved reamer into my chamber....and started working with that. The whole idea was to test all the articles Iíve read about the Imp chambers not giving that much better velocities than the standard chambers...well I get up to 300 fps more with some loads...and when you start pushing Lymanís fine 280/290 grain cast round nose over 2600 fps...thatís belted magnum country. Take a look at your reloading books and see how many cartridges give over 4300 ft.lbs of muzzle energy....you will find it interesting...

Certainly the history of this fine round developed in the early 1930s and named in honor of the late great rifleman Townsend Whelen...has been document before very well. Ken Waterís in his article on the round did an excellent job and it can be found in his Pet Loads articles collected into book form and sold by Wolfe Publications (Handloader and Rifle magazines).

Close friend John Taffin is having a Winchester 1895 leveraction refitted with a 35 Whelen barrel....and that should be an outstanding combination. Especially since the box magazine of the 95 can take spitzer shaped bullets...back in the 1930s and 40s a number of the older 95s in 30-03 and 30-06 were rebored and rechambered to the Whelen round....and they turned out to be thumpers of large game to the first order. Though I found in shooting a friendís Ď95 Whelen conversion in 1978, it Ďkicked someí, to be british about it....he didnít change the steel butt plate. And it does need a good recoil pad.

In the stock of my Whelen bolt gun I have two decelerators installed, and a good thick recoil pad. Itís now a pussy cat in recoil with the heaviest of loads. I have no need to prove my manhood or some such taking a lot of recoil...so I tame all heavy rifles as much as possible. And believe me when you start pushing a 280/290 grain bullet at over 2600 fps...it recoils!

My barrel is 23 inches long, it tapers from a good inch down to .70 at the muzzle. The wood in the stock is dense walnut with very straight grain, the action has been glass bedded...and it has both iron sights and scope blocks. Right now it has a Tasco variable that goes to 9 power....

I like having iron sights on my rifles if at all possible. You never know when on a hunting trip your scope goes south...so the irons will keep you in the game. And since I have killed antelope with the iron sights...at fairly long ranges...Iím confident in using them. I have found that for my eyes express sights work exceptionally well. Many find just the opposite..I even like them on handguns.

Iím sure I saw very few telescopes on a rifle in Africa in the late 1950s...but again that was 40 years ago. I had a small sniper scope that came with my 9.3 Mauser. It was around three power and German military all the way. Out of the second World War Iím sure. It had a course post and a number of cross lines marked in single digits that Iím also sure meant 1 for 100 meters, 2 for 200 meters and so on out 600 meters. I used it only on rare occasions....

A good 30-06 will push a 180 grain jacketed hunting bullet to 2800 fps. And that is a fine load...you could hunt the world with it. 61.5 grains of A2520 and a 180 grain .358 caliber bullet from my Whelen will easily break 3050 fps...I can push the Remington 150 grain spire point made for the 350 Rem/Mag to well over 3200 fps. This is not slamming the 30-06...it is and most likely will always be one of the top premier cartridges of the 20th century. Itís just showing that the Whelen is in a much different ballistic class, made for much heavier game, even though it uses the same cartridge case.

Elmer Keith for example long before the powders we have today that up the velocities of the Whelen substantially, recommended the cartridge for the heaviest of Americaís game....he even spoke of guiding folks that took brown and big grizzles with it...as well as moose. He also said he and his father used it on elk for many years...

I have a precious few Nosler 275 grain jacketed round nose bullets left. I save them for big game....moose and up. When I bought them 20 plus years ago at 13 dollars a box for fifty I thought the price outrageous...Now!!!! I wish I had bought ten boxes....oh well. My load for them is simple at 52 grains of the wonderful H335 and 2450 + fps. Too bad I canít find a few solids of that weight or near it...they would do everything the vaulted 375 H&H can do...

Midway put out for sale a run of R-P nickel plated (electroless Iím sure) 35 Whelen cases. I bought 100 and have been trying to wear them out since I got them back around three years ago...still working on them...and now some are formed to the improved version and still going strong....I have used old military match 30-06 ammo cases since I have had the rifle...they seem to last forever....and the match cases donít have the crimped primers the standard military cases have. Of course finding them today is getting difficult because of the 308's eclipse of the 06. But if you run into some at a gun show or some where, donít be afraid to buy them.

I load my Whelenís hunting loads to 50,000 to 55,000 psi...naturally I have many reduced and medium loads. But if I am going for the big ones or the long shots I load to itís potential. So if you have a 35 Whelen or are building one be sure the action is strong enough for the full loads I mention here. Many die manufacturers make an expanding die that will open 30-06 brass with one pass...then load and fire. Itís worth the few dollars extra when ordering Whelen reloading dies....sometimes itís just and insert that goes in the sizing/decapping die...what ever you get it pays for itself in the long run.

The old IMR powders on the slow side like 4350 and 4831 with the heavy slugs from 275 up thru 300 plus grains were good yesteryear...and are still good today...but the whole field of ball powders has changed all that. Today velocities can be reached that were attainable only with over pressure loads just a decade or so ago....

The best all around powder I have found in the Whelen...and really in the 358 Winchester as well as the 356 Win/levergun round is H335. It doesnít always give the highest velocities but it sure gives some of the highest with excellent accuracy with just about any bullet weight with high end loads.....one of the velocity champs with bullets up to 200 grains is A2520...pushing a 180 grain bullet at the velocities near 3000 fps. And it will push the 200 grain bullet very close behind it. And with 57 grains in the standard case under the jacketed 250 grain bullets we are talking 2500 fps plus. And 53 grains under my 275 grainer will push them as I said 2450 fps +.

Remingtonís 150 grain spire point is just the berries for the Whelen. In actual tests with this bullet loaded to 3200 fps and a 3 inch high at 100 yards...it is down 14 inches at 350 yards....66 grains of the old time 3031 is still hard to beat in the standard case....just as 57 grains of ReLoader #7 under the 150 spire point is today. The 3031 load will go close to 3200 fps and the Reloader will cut 3250 fps and thatís in a 23 inch barrel. And this bullet is a large game bullet made for the old 350 Rem/Magnum so itís not some explosive varmint slug that will ruin a lot of meat. I have taken many deer with it...it is a lightning strike on animals up to 200 lbs.

My old notes from 1971 show that I had a gonga load with IMR 4198..45 grains under a 250 grain hard cast Lyman round nose gave 2800 fps! I have a very special built Hoch mold. It was built 20 years ago to my design and drops a 325 grain hard cast bullet...340 in soft lead. With 57 grains of WW760 it gets very near 2200 fps...and I have never had one stay inside an animal all the way up to very large feral cattle well over a ton in weight. Itís a flat tipped round nose, bore riding and gas checked....It just fits my box magazine when loaded correctly, it is the heaviest bullet I have ever used from a 35 caliber rifle.

The afore mentioned Lyman 3589 280/290 grain bullet is my favorite. I can cast it soft...but water tempered...gas checked and Apache Blu lubed, at 1500 fps it is fun yet deadly on small game. Also loaded to around 1000 fps with 8 grains of Bullseye and a small wisp of Dacron holding the powder to the primer...I have take things like Javelina, large eating birds like turkey, and all kinds of varmints at close range.

I was brush hunting Javelina in 1979 when I spotted a mule deer about fifty yards from me. This is a quiet load...about like a kids cap gun. I shot him in the heart. He leaped up, kicked into his chest, and ran in a dead run for about 100 plus yards and fell down in a cloud of dust. Dead when I got to him. The Lyman soft cast bullet was against a low rib on the opposite side..it had mushed the heart...not the ideal deer load...but in a pinch with a dead on shot, it does the business.

When I had this rifle built I made sure it had deep and wide rifling for cast bullets. It shoots all manner of 357 bullets...cast and jacketed. I once had a 173 grain cast Keith bullet loaded to way over 2000 fps. Shot a little rabbit in the head at about 25 yards. It seemed like a long instant after the shot...there was a plopping sound. It was the top of the rabbitís head, forehead up and the two ears hitting the ground after it had gone straight up....thatís all that was left except for tufts of fur blowing helter skelter....

I have taken deer and black bear...antelope and elk...I donít know how many coyotes out to long range and back...feral dogs, crows, wild cats, one cougar treed by dogs, and all kinds of vermin. In the wilds of Virginia on power line cuts I have shot deer grazing at very long range....I have shot heavy feral cattle at ranges to 150 yards. And with rocks and such...if you can see the target you can walk shots into it...this is one of those calibers that pushes up dust when things are hit....

And then came the 35 Imp/Whelen. Let me say that Iím not sorry that I improved my rifleís chamber. But it will not do anymore than the standard chambering would on the lower 48 states game...save yourself the extra cost of reamers and special dies. But if you want 93% of the power of the great 375 H&H Magnum...if you want brass that doesnít stretch, necks that rarely need trimming, and one of the nicest looking loaded rounds you can find then mayhaps the Improved version Whelen is what you are looking for.

And as for the critics saying that it doesnít up velocities enough to make it worth it. I can get near heavy 375 H&H Magnum velocities with 15 to 18 grains less powder! I think it is worth it, if you are going to take it to Africa...going to take it to Canada or Alaska...it will bring down the largest of the thin skinned game. And I donít know why anyone would...except a situation like I faced in 1958...but with the right bullet it will even take down elephant! Many gun writers I respect have said that the all around rifle/caliber for the world can be the 375 H&H. Well 375s take extra long actions...expensive actions and with the 300 grain Barnes bullets for the Whelen...the 375 doesnít even have that edge any more..you can hunt small game with a 375 H&H but itís not really adaptable to handgun velocities up to medium deer loads...the Whelen especially the Improved version can do it all...itís the poor manís magnum rifle round.....

In the photo....the first cartridge case is an unfired R-P Whelen nickel...the next three are military standard: # 1.173 Keith cast bullet...#2. WW 250 grain jacketed soft nose..#3. 280 gr Lyman 3589 and #4. Is the Brown/Whelen Imp and the 280 gr...the two cast bullets are Lymanís fine Keith designs in 173 and 215 grains....


60/4320 IMR

220 JRN/Speer



62.5 WW760

280 Lyman cast


heavy game

45/4198 IMR

250 Lyman/cast


most powerful


250gr WW JSN

2530fps/3554 ft.lbs

heavy game


275 JRN

2455 fps/3681

thick skin game


180 JSN

3059 fps/3740ft.lbs

best all around jacket/load


250 gr WW/JSN

2525 fps/3540ft.lbs

heavy game

57/ReL #7

150gr Rem Jacketed

3248 fps/3514 ft.lbs

medium game


325 Hoch

2210 fps/3525ft.lbs

for large game


280 Lyman

1001 fps/640 ft.lbs

pest/sm game load