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King of the Timber Cartridges

King of the Timber Cartridges

No other round beats the .35 Remington for taking outsize game in thickets.

By Sam Fadala

Long ago in the smoke of a wilderness campfire, the fable of the brush bucking cartridge arose. The myth is not hard to debunk. Place a target behind a healthy bush in your favorite whitetail thicket, and blast away. Even bullets fired from a .458 Winchester will deflect in the tangle.

True, some loads perform better than others in the thickets, but none will punch through brush with freight-train-like resolve. While the ideal cartridge for hunting big game in thick brush doesn’t exist, one does come close — the century-old .35 Remington.

Gun writers have ignored, even impugned this round for most of its hundred years, some wishing it dead. But it just won’t go away. It is the most successful short- to mid-range cartridge ever devised, doing its thing without hunters making much fuss about it.

We err in ranking cartridges. We say “better” when we really mean “bigger.” The .358 Winchester is bigger than the .35 Rem, but not better. The .35 Whelen is bigger than .358 Winchester, but not better.
Is the .358 Norma Magnum better than the .35 Whelen? No, just bigger.

I’d rather set my hair on fire than carry a mule-kicking .358 Shooting Times Alaskan into the creek bottoms where I hunt. The same goes for the rest of the .35-caliber clan bigger than the .35 Rem. There’s one possible exception: the overlooked, underrated, under appreciated and underworked .358 Winchester.

King of the Timber CartridgesIn thick creek and river bottoms, the .35 Rem is hard to beat. A few million other hunters have felt the same way about it since its introduction in 1908. It’ll be a long time before any cartridge catches up to the .30-30 in numbers of game brought to the table. But the .35 Rem has accounted for countless deer, boar, black bears and much larger game.

I came upon the .35 Rem in my 18th year. A Model 141 slide-action rifle loaned by Beyrl Wilson Sr., was thus chambered.  Mr. Wilson hunted a variety of big game, but his passion was wapiti. He believed in his .35 Rem for elk. Rightfully so. The rifle/cartridge combination dropped multiple bulls for him every season over a lot of years. Only two of the elk he took required follow-up shots.

Mr. Wilson relied on factory ammo, with what he called Remington’s “umbrella tip” 200-grain bullet. He was a still-hunter with a compass in his brain. In a Wyoming, Montana, Colorado or Arizona forest, he could trek miles into black timber, finding his way back to camp shortly after dark, usually with a bull elk marked down.

I’ve read that the .35 Rem was designed, as so many rounds have been, on the .30-06 case. This is not true. The .35 Rem carries its own unique dimensions. Head size is 0.473 inch for the .30-06. The .35 Rem’s is 0.457 inch (sometimes noted as 0.460 inch). Nor does this .35 belong to the little family of .25 Remington, .30 Remington and .32 Remington.

Over time, many rifle chambers have been cut to .35 Rem. The Remington 181 followed the 81. Remington’s 14 preceded the 141 prior to the company’s modern pump-action Model 760. Remington offered the .35 in its Model 600 and 720 bolt-action rifles. The Winchester Model 70 came in .35 Rem. Savage and Stevens built .35 Rem rifles. Add Standard Arms Models G and M and many more, including Remington’s compact Model Seven FS. The famous Griffin & Howe firm offered lightweight sporters in .35 Rem based on the short Mauser 98 K action. Marlin has shown continued faith in the old round from 1952 into the 21st century. The 336C is still offered in .35 Rem.

The cartridge is not a stopper. It is best as a moose/elk round where shots are close. And anyone who thinks the .35 Rem is hanging on the ropes for a knockout punch hasn’t seen the list of currently available ammo.

King of the Timber CartridgesWinchester has a beauty in its Super-X 200-grain Power-Point. Remington has the 200-grain Core-Lokt round-nose soft point. Federal’s Power-Shok in .35 Rem has a 200-grain round-nose bullet.

Buffalo Bullet Co.’s .35 Rem load brings out the cartridge’s full potential in modern arms. “It is fully capable of taking elk and moose with a 220-grain jacketed flat-point bullet that won’t over-mushroom,” says Tim Sundles of BBC. “I’ve never seen a Marlin 336 that didn’t shoot it well.” 

The 220-grain bullet attains 2,150 to 2,200 fps from a 20-inch barrel for up to 2,365 foot-pounds of muzzle energy.

Also noteworthy is Hornady’s inclusion of .35 Rem in its LEVERevolution ammo. Those cartridges are aptly named, for nothing like them has ever come from any ammo factory. Clear and present warnings abound concerning using pointed bullets in tubular magazines. Never do it.

Hornady’s Flex-Tip bullet is pointed, but it won’t set off the round in front of it. Its sleek shape increases the ballistic coefficient, ensuring flatter trajectory and higher retained downrange energy. A Flex-Tip 200-grain bullet, sometimes noted as Ultra Soft Ballistic Flex-Tip, takes off at 2,200 feet per second from a 20-inch barrel.

The real story of the new Hornady ammo is not velocity. It is the increased BC rating. A 200-grain round-nose bullet earns a BC of .190, while Hornady’s LEVERevolution 200-grain bullet has a BC of .278. This means that the Flex-Tip can be sighted-in at 175 yards instead of the usual 150.

I hunt a particular patch of deep forest for deer and elk. A pink elephant at 50 yards could go unseen in this place. But there are cienegas — Spanish for meadows — that suddenly show up in the midst of heavy cover. Flatter trajectory and more energy come into play when bucks or bulls are spotted feeding in one of these open places.

On the other hand, any of the excellent 200- to 220-grain .35 Rem bullets can be sighted dead-on at 150 yards. A high-chest sight picture drops the bullet into the dispatch zone on a buck deer at 200.

I latched onto a supply of the Hornady loads, not to replace those deadly blunter bullets, but to add to the versatility of this fine cartridge. But my Marlin 336 carbine also loves standard factory fodder, plus the powerful Buffalo Bullet 220-grain load.

Subscribe Today!Power-wise, the .35 Rem shows light on paper. Velocity, or a lack of it, is the reason. A 200- to 220-grain bullet in the 2,000-fps muzzle-velocity zone does not set the world of kinetic energy on fire. And handloading doesn’t do a lot for bullet speed.

I cannot suggest a special powder for the .35 Rem because the short case works with a long list of faster-burning propellants. The goal is a 200- to 220-grain bullet at 2,100 to 2,200 fps.

If you handload the .35 Rem, go with the manuals, never exceeding maximum ratings, even though the cartridge functions at modest pressures.

Dark timber/thicket big game habitat is the right place to ply the special trade of the .35 Rem. I admire the modern shooting world with its great new cartridges and guns. I appreciate the high-tech toys of the hour as well as the latest guns and ammo. There is no magnet drawing me back to the days when I hunted without the benefit of GPS allowing me to penetrate jungles almost as confidently as hunters with much better built-in “find-your-way-back radar” than I have. I am happy that my .30-06 is now a magnum when I want it to be one. But I cannot overlook the good things from the past just because they are old.

The .35 Rem cartridge is one of those gems from yesteryear. It goes on doing what it was designed to do, cleanly taking big game in close terrain. It does its  thing with manageable recoil, more than sufficient accuracy, far enough reach, and deep bullet penetration with considerable tissue displacement, yet undue meat damage. I wish the cartridge continued success, but it doesn’t need my help. It’s been doing fine far longer than any current gun writer has been writing, or for that matter, living.

Reprinted from the July 2007 issue of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine. Subscribe today to have GunHunter delivered to your home.

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