Friday, January 1, 2016

Why the 35 Whelen

35 Whelen Model 700 Classic
I'm a fan of modern tack-driving rifles, especially the various composite stocks firmed up with bedded actions, pillars, and free floated barrels which deliver shot after shot of accuracy in all manner of conditions. That's why I've surprised myself to have a new favorite rifle which is anything but "modern".

A while back I purchased a Remington 700 Classic in 35 Whelen. The rifle was likely first sold in 1988, the year the classic delivered 35 Whelens to the shooting public. Classics were sold for a number of years chambered in only one caliber for that year. 1988 was the year of the Whelen.

I've read that the 1988 Classic was one of the best sellers; but who knows if that's true. Nevertheless, it was notable in that it was one the few attempts by any major manufacturer to popularize the 35 Whelen. The attempt by Remington had very modest success. It seems that the magnum craze was just getting up to steam, and most hunters who wanted the horsepower of the Whelen opted for brutes like the 338 Win. Mag.

I first heard of the 35 Whelen over a decade ago when a hunting client of mine brought a customized Remington 700 in 35 Whelen to my hunting camp. I found the concept of the cartridge fascinating, and never quite forgot about it. You can find some history on the cartridge here, and here.

At the time I was the owner of a 7mm Remington Magnum, and over the years since I've hunted with a few 7mm Rem. Mags, a 30-06, a 338 Win. Magnum, and 300 Winchester Magnum. I've harvested a good number of big game animals, at a variety of ranges from point blank range to 400 yards, and have found that "any of the above" are adequate for just about any North American big game animal. The trick is recognizing the limits of your rifle; spending money on good bullets, and above all, knowing your own limits.  

A few years ago I remembered that 35 Whelen, and I began to read about the cartridge. The more I read, the more interested I got. That interest culminated in the purchase of the rifle mentioned above. It took a bit of metal polish and a new hinge plate to get the Remington shine back. I topped the rifle with a 2.5 X 10 X 40 Nikon Prostaff 5.

Shooting the Whelen, and hunting with it, started a love affair. The 700 Classic has a 22 inch barrel with 1:16 twist. This combo limits the rifle to bullets 250 grains or less for accuracy reasons, but I'm not heading to Africa anytime soon, so it's all I really need. My first surprise was that the Whelen is accurate, even with the old style stock. Out of a cold barrel groups with just about any ammunition are sub-minute of angle. Typical of any rifle stock in the Classic line, any barrel heating begins to alter shots, so the accuracy of my particular rifle is limited to 3 shot groups; cold. I began with Nosler factory ammo, 225 grain accubonds to be precise. The Nosler rounds gave me a point blank range of 250 yards (2" high @ 100; 2.5" low @ 250) I decided that I'd limit any hunting shots to 350 yards, where a top of the shoulders hold over would put me right in the boiler room, and the 225 Accubonds would still be delivering plenty of punch. I should mention that I consider 350 yard shots on big game long; and that if taking such a shot I'd have to have good conditions as far as rest, wind, animal position, etc.

To my great surprise, despite the light weight of the Remington, the recoil was very mild when compared to my muzzle-breaked Sako 338 Winchester Magnum or my Weatherby 300 Winchester Magnum. (both significantly more expensive rifles) Most interestingly, the Whelen was spitting out 225 Grain Noslers just slightly slower than my Sako was shooting 225 Grain bullets of the same manufacturer. The 22 inch barrel and small light stock made it an incredibly pointable and comfortable rifle to carry.

So, how does the Whelen do in the field? My particular rifle has a nice light feel to it, especially when compared to my 338 Sako or 300 Win. wby in wood Sporter stock. The scope combo makes it particularly handy in the woods, where acquiring a target is instantaneous and the 4 inches of eye clearance keeps the scope miles from my brow. The Whelen has taken an elk and 3 moose; and believe me, no tracking was needed. Because of the manageable recoil all four critters were framed in the scope when they took the impact. I watched all four go down on impact; through the scope.

I'll never forget last year's moose. He was coming to the call and we both spotted each other at the same time. Through the scope I could clearly see his flared nostrils and wide eyes ... it was an "oh crap!" moment on his part. I saw the muzzle flash and impact all at once and saw the swamp donkey drop as if all four legs had suddenly been removed from under him.

So, here I am, an admirer of modern tack drivers, but in love with an old non-floated, non-bedded, walnut stocked wildcat. The moose cutlets we fried up this weekend were pretty good too.

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