IN TEXAS WE CONSIDER anything larger than a .22 caliber to be a big bore, and the .30 calibers are pretty much at the top of the list for deer.
If this is true, then the step up from .308 caliber to .338 is a really big step. It takes the cartridge up into the realm of hard-hitting numbers that are suitable for almost anything in the world except maybe elephant, rhino, hippo, and Cape buffalo.
A .338 Winchester Magnum with a tough 250-grain bullet will shoot completely through the chest of a grizzly bear or moose, and provide more knockdown power than the biggest, fastest .30 caliber. On the downside, the .338 Winchester Magnum, and especially its big brother, the .340 Weatherby, kicks very hard and takes a lot of practice to shoot well.
A .340 with 250-grain bullets is really too much gun for the average shooter to handle. On the upside, with a 250-grain bullet at 2,900 fps, it will carry significant energy to as much as 500 yards. Craig Boddington is a big fan of the .340 Weatherby Magnum, but even he says it, “kicks like a fiend.”
Also popular is the quasi-wildcat .338-06, simply the .30-06 necked up to .338 caliber. This one is in the same class as the .35 Whelen, but with bullets that have slightly greater sectional density and ballistic coefficient with equal bullet weights.
Its advantage over the big magnums is that it obviously kicks much less. This is a very fine cartridge for elk and moose at moderate ranges, but does not have the velocity to make shots beyond about 300 yards.
The newest .338 cartridge on the market is the .338 Federal, with which I have no experience. However, it is simply a .308 necked up to .338 and should perform best with bullets of not more than 225-grains. I have been hearing many good things said about this cartridge when paired with the 210-grain Nosler AccuBond.
Okay, I admit that I am a .35 caliber fan. When I had my first custom rifle built I had it made in .35 Whelen and am still glad I did. I have used the Whelen on white-tailed deer, axis deer, and hogs. Only one time did I have an animal run after being shot, and that was my fault, not the Whelen’s. Almost every animal I have ever shot with the .35 Whelen has been an instantaneous one-shot kill. This is something I have never accomplished with any other caliber.
In the .35 Whelen I generally use 225-grain bullets loaded to a chronographed 2,720 feet per second (This load is listed in the newest Nosler manual at 2,800). This is the same velocity I get with my best .30-06 loads with 180-grain bullets, and with much heavier bullets of greater frontal area. Even the one big hog I gut shot at long range didn’t get far, and it left a blood trail that a six-year-old girl could follow.
Although it will handle bullets up to 275 grains, if I ever take the .35 Whelen for elk (and I intend to), I will probably load it with handloads using the 225-grain AccuBond or the 225-grain North Fork, and limit my shots to not more than 300 yards.
People who have used the .35 Whelen on such game as moose and bears swear that with 250-grain bullets at 2,500 to 2,600 fps, it is just as effective as a .338 Winchester Magnum and kicks considerably less. I agree.
I really enjoy shooting my Whelen, something I cannot say about shooting a .338 Win. Mag.
There are several other .35s on the American market, including the .358 Winchester, and .35 Remington.
The .35 Remington is a very short-range brush cartridge. It has been chambered in bolt-actions, pumps, and lever-actions. It is now popular in the Remington XP-100 and the T/C Contender handguns. With its ability to use 180- and 200-grain spitzer bullets in the handguns, it is everything it is in the tubular magazine lever-actions, maybe more.
The .358 Winchester is nothing more than a .308 necked up to .358 caliber, along the same lines as the .338 Federal. It is a fine little cartridge that should be more popular than it is.
Sadly, it appears to be headed for the trash heap. If you should run across one, however, it is a fine short to mid-range round for hogs, deer, elk, black bear, and moose.
The only current .35 caliber magnum that I am aware of is the .358 Norma Magnum and it cannot be called popular. The .358 Norma is just the .308 Norma/.338 Winchester necked up to .35 caliber and is a real powerhouse.
It will push a 250-grain bullet to 2,800 feet per second. With good, tough bullets, it should make a fine choice even for the biggest bears. Ballistically it is almost identical to the .338 Win. Mag.
If I had to be honest, I would say the .338 Winchester Magnum is the best of the group. It has both range and power. It kicks, hard, but nothing like the .340 Weatherby. It is a true elk round without the range limitations of the .338-06 or .35 Whelen.
Still, my favorite is the old .35 Whelen. It kicks less, hits just as hard, but has a bit less range. I guess it’s up to you to decide what you need and what you can handle. I made my decision a long time ago.
Email Steve LaMascus at [email protected]