Reading online forums isn't helpful because every possible answer to these questions comes forth. I've even read comments from participants who suggest the Whelen kicks as hard as the 9.3 x 62; but of course upon questioning them, one finds out that these individuals haven't ever owned a Whelen.
I'll share with you my experience with 35 Whelen recoil and compare it to cartridges and rifles I am familiar with. This is not a scientific comparison by any means; just a comparison based on that good'ol fashion thing called experience.
My current Whelen is a Remington 700 Classic in the original wood stock. The recoil pad is original, and in my opinion more than ample. The barrel is 22" in length with a 1:16 twist. I have free floated the barrel and epoxy bedded the action.
In order to make my comments a bit more relevant and accurate I will only consider factory ammunition in my comparisons. I will be comparing the Whelen shooting 225 grain Nosler Accubond factory ammunition and Remington 250 grain PSP Ammunition.
The rifles which I'm going to compare the 35 Whelen to are firearms I have owned and fired a lot. These include a Weatherby Mark V in 300 Win Mag (wood stock); a Browning A Bolt 7mm Rem Mag (synthetic stock); a Browning A Bolt II in 7mm Rem Mag (wooden stock); a Remington 700 BDL in 30-06; and a Sako Hunter in 338 Win Mag with KDF muzzle break. All of these rifles had decent recoil pads, including the 700 BDL onto which I had attached a Packmayr Decelorator.
- Weatherby Mark V in 300 Win Mag (Wood Stock) using factory 180 grain ammunition definitely recoils sharper than the Whelen. This, despite the fact that the Weatherby Mark V has a Monte Carlo stock and more weight. Even the Remington 250 grain Whelen loads kick less than the Weatherby.
- Browning A Bolt and Browning A Bolt II in 7mm Rem Mag using 150 grain ammuniton both recoiled more sharply than my 35 Whelen. In fact, both rifles compared very closely to the Weatherby Mark V. The synthetic stock A Bolt recoiled harder than the Weatherby Mark V. The Whelen delivered less recoil ... hands down.
- Remington 700 BDL in 30-06 using 180 grain ammunition delivered very similar recoil to my 35 Whelen. I found that 180 grain Remington Core Lokt ammunition kicked more sharply, but with less "push" than the Whelen. Whelen 250 grain Remington Core Lokt ammunition delivered more "push" but with less sharpness. It was almost as if recoil was delivered over a fraction of a second longer ... if that makes sense.
- Sako Hunter in 338 Win Mag shooting 225 grain ammunition gave the greatest recoil, hands down, even with the muzzle break. None of the above rifles kicked as hard, in either sharpness or overall push.
It is when reloading that the 35 Whelen comes into it's own. It can be pushed close to 338 Win Mag stopping power out to 300 yards. If your Whelen likes 250 Grain Nosler Partition bullets or 250 Grain Speer Hot-Cor, you'll have a 300 yard moose and elk killer similar to the 338 Win Mag, with comparable trajectory and power.
BUT, in my personal experience with the Remington 700 classic wood stock, the Whelen develops considerable recoil when the jump is made to 250 grain bullets pushed to near maximum pressures. I don't know what recoil using 250s is like in other rifle stocks, but in mine, the recoil is significantly more than, say, a 30-06 using 180 bullets in a similar wood stock.
I have shot at least 60 rounds of Remington 250 grain pointed soft-point factory ammunition, and the recoil was very tolerable; but, when reloading my own ammunition and pushing 250 grain bullets to or over 2500 fps, recoil increases significantly and (at least for me) is not comfortable.
For those who may be concerned about 35 Whelen recoil, let me make it simple. If you handle 30-06 recoil well, you will handle 35 Whelen recoil well in bullets weighing less than 250 grains. It's when you push 250s to their maximums that the Whelen can develop what for many would be too much recoil. For those who want to use 250 grain or greater bullets and push them hard, consider a good recoil absorbing stock, heavier rifle, or even a muzzle brake.