Cast Bullets Worthy of the Whelen
Date: Jun 01 2011
If there was ever a cartridge that performs well with cast bullets it’s the .35 Whelen. A variety of .35-caliber cast bullet designs and weights work well in the Whelen cartridge, because it is just the right size to impart relatively high velocity to a heavy cast bullet yet still provide good accuracy at reduced speeds. The search for the best speed and accuracy doesn’t take long, either, because a variety of powders work well in the Whelen.
When I bought a Remington Model 700 .35 Whelen in 1988, I quickly tired of its recoil shooting jacketed 250-grain bullets. Recoil was tolerable shooting jacketed158-grain bullets intended for handguns and 200-grain bullets, but their expense added up after awhile.
So I started searching for a bullet mould for the Whelen. A friend mentioned he had an old Lyman358318 two-cavity mould that was originally intended for the old .35 Winchester. Cartridges of the World states the .35 Winchester factory load had a 250-grain bullet at 2,195fps and “A good reputation as a short- to medium-range number for elk, moose and brown bear. It is certainly powerful enough for any North American big game. . . .” I figured the 245-grain bullet cast from the Lyman mould could come pretty close to that velocity from the Whelen and still provide good accuracy, and I nearly tripped over my feet trading my friend out of the mould.
Summer was coming and I wanted a plinking and practice load for the Whelen, so I sized the bullets in the only sizing die I had that was close, a .357 inch. I knew what was going to happen with the bullets sized so thinly, but I went ahead and shot some of them loaded with 14.0 grains of Unique, the universal cast bullet propellant. After 10 shots or so, the first 3 inches of the bore was choked so thickly with lead I could barely push a brush through the barrel. The leading gradually lessened until about halfway up the bore was free of lead streaks. What had happened was the undersized .357-inch bullets had not sealed the bore, allowing powder gas to jet past them to scour or melt their surfaces, which caused terrible leading. The force of the powder gas eventually expanded the bullets enough to obdurate in the bore and that could be seen by the lessening and eventually cessation of leading. Groups, if you could call them that, were ugly.
I took a time out and ordered a Lyman .359-inch sizing die. Running the bullets through that correct diameter die in an RCBS Lube-A-Matic press barely sized the seams of the bullets, seated a gas check and added lubrication. With the same load of Unique the loads grouped in 1.5 to 2.0 inches at 100 yards at 1,416 fps. Recoil was but a gentle nudge.
Higher velocity, though, was required for a hunting load. Bumping up the charge of Unique to 17.0 grains increased velocity to 1,585 fps. That load and speed are nearly the same as what’s listed for the .35 Winchester in the old Lyman Ammunition Reloading Hand Book41st Edition; accuracy, however, was rather poor.
BL-C(2) showed promise; 37.0 grains of the powder came up a bit short on velocity, so I kept increasing the weight a grain or two until velocity reached 1,950 fps. The powder weight could have been increased even more for higher velocity, but I stopped there because groups printed either side of 1.5 inches at 100 yards. More recently I tried Varget, and the 250-grain bullet shot even better with groups under one inch.
Before hunting with the Lyman bullet I shot them in water-soaked and frozen newspaper bundles hard as a headstone. Table I shows how the roundnose bullet performed when fired from my .35 Whelen with a striking velocity of slightly over 1,800 fps at 50 yards.
The plain wheel-weight bullets showed great promise, so I loaded a bunch and went hunting. I was after a whitetail buck but ran into a bull elk. I caught the elk napping away the afternoon in its bed. From 30 yards I shot it in the flank as it looked back over its shoulder at me. The elk started to struggle to its feet. I shot again and the elk rolled over, kicked a few times and died. When I field dressed it, the first bullet had entered the flank with a hole the diameter of a pencil. The bullet had penetrated through the stomach, clipped the liver, cut the left lung in half horizontally, plowed through the rib cage leaving a hole the size of a 25¢ piece, blew a furrow through the edge of the knuckle of the humerus and sailed into the morning air. The wound measured about 28 inches in length. The second bullet had traveled 15 inches through the elk. It entered to the right of the spine just back of the shoulders, drilled down through the top of the right lung and out the brisket leaving another hole the size of a quarter.