By Bruce Potts
Friday, 15 October 2010
.35 Remington cartridge review: Modern ballistics have found solutions to many problems, but Bruce Potts finds a century-old cartridge able to stand its ground in close-range stalking.
.35 Remington cartridge review.
I am always interested to explore new cartridges and ballistic possibilities for sporting use, but sometimes I am drawn back to the cartridges of yesteryear that are still valid in today’s sporting scene.
The .35 Remington is one such cartridge, designed more than 100 years ago. In 1906, the Remington Arms Company developed a series of rimless cartridges primarily for use in its Model 8 semi-automatic rifle.
These included the .25, .30, .32 and .35 versions, which were meant to rival Winchester’s range of similar rimmed cartridges in its lever-action Model 94 rifle.
The .35 Remington was principally developed for use in woodland, in carbine-length rifles, to deliver a .358in diameter bullet for deer and even black bears.
Its accuracy, coupled with mild recoil yet effective striking energy, made it great for short-range stalking in the back country.
That’s all well and good in the US, but how can a 100-year-old cartridge fit in today’s deerstalking scene in the UK?
I had to source an old rifle because few newer models are able to chamber the round.
You can have a custom chambering fitted for a donor rifle or, as I did, you can purchase a barrel for a Contender carbine that has exchangeable barrels, so that testing odd calibres is simply a matter of changing the barrel.
The cartridge length is 1.92in with a trim length of 1.91in and has a shoulder angle of 25°:25’.
This shoulder is shallow, so it is critical to have the correct headspace when resizing cases for reloading.
It also operates at a low overall chamber pressure of 35,000psi to 39,000psi, rather than the usual 50,000psi of a standard .308 round, for instance.
The Remington cases that I used had a measured case capacity of 50.7 grains of water, so you can see that the .35 Remington is not a high-velocity round; it is more a substantial short-range cartridge that is capable of delivering a heavy bullet with good sectional density.
This provides effective penetration yet with solid knock-down power, which will cause little venison damage from over-excessive hydrostatic shock.
BULLET CHOICE AND FACTORY LOADS
The bullet diameter of 0.358in is common to rifles chambered in the .35 calibre, but the .35 Remington can also shoot smaller and lighter 0.357in pistol bullets.
However, this compromises the initial premise of the round to shoot heavy bullets.
The smallest rifle-diameter bullet that I used was the 150-grain found in the factory Remington loads, though 180-grain to 250-grain bullet weights are more common.
I used a single-shot Contender carbine with a 23in barrel for the tests, which is ideal for woodland stalking, where the first shot is of critical importance.
I managed to obtain some factory ammunition for the tests.
This included Remington’s 150-grain Core- Lokt pointed soft-point load, the lightest tested, which gave an average of 2,216fps and 1,636ft/lb of energy.
However, this amount of energy is not deer legal in England, where 1,700ft/lb is the minimum required, so you could only shoot muntjac or Chinese water deer with that load.
Accuracy at 100 yards, which is long for its intended use, was good, putting three shots into 1.5in.
The Remington 200-grain Core-Lokt soft-point gave a healthy 2,118fps for such a big bullet, generating 1,993ft/lb energy.
This is great for deer in England, but is not legal in Scotland due to the slow velocity - below the 2,450fps limit - which is a shame, as it would make a good woodland-stag round.
The final factory loads were both Federal 200-grain. One was from an old batch and the other from a newer lot number.
Both were soft-point bullets, but the old ammunition yielded 2,075fps velocity and 1,913ft/lb, while the newer lot gave 2,211fps and 2,172ft/lb energy.
Accuracy was better than the Remington, with both loads averaging three-shot groups of 100 yards at 1.25in.
The factory ammunition was good and gave more than enough accuracy and power for woodland use, but I have to tweak it a bit to get the perfect load for me.
Bullet weights and choice can be rather limited in the .358 range and I had difficulty sourcing bullets.
However, Norman Clark Gunsmiths came up trumps, as usual, and was able to provide six different bullets to test.
The first bullets I tried were the 150-grain Remingtons. I had to pull the bullets from the factory loads and reload them, but this was not a problem.
I started with a load of 34 grains of N133 powder as the big bore of the .35 calibre works well with faster propellants. This gave a sedate 2,054fps and 1,403ft/lb, which would make a nice muntjac load.
Upping this to 38 grains gave 2,361fps and 1,856ft/lb, but accuracy was poor at 2in.
A better load was 36.5 grains of Reloder RL7 powder, which gave 1in groups at 2,429fps and 1,965ft/lb energy.
The 0.357 pistol bullets of 158 grains with 36 grains of RL7 gave 2,389fps and 2,003ft/lb.
The 180-grain is a better bullet and I used the excellent Hornady soft-point Interlock point that has a flat base and a pointed meplat (bullet tip).
A load of 35 grains of Hodgdon Benchmark powder gave a healthy 2,114fps and 1,787ft/lb, with some sub-1in groups at 100 yards.
Another powder that I tried was Varget, which I used to bulk out the case capacity. Forty grains gave 2,143fps and 1,836ft/lb energy, which is a nice load for deer. It provides good accuracy, too.
Hefting up the bullet to 200 grains gives a load with plenty of knock-down power.
My best load was 38 grains of Hodgdon H4895. This yielded 2,112fps and 1,981ft/lb with a Remington 200-grain round-nose. Accuracy was also good, hovering around the 1in mark.
My favourite load, and the most accurate, was the 225-grain Sierra Spitzer: it clustered three large bullets into 0.75in at 100 yards, at a velocity of 2,135fps with 32 grains of Reloder RL10X powder for 2,277ft/lb energy.
The heaviest of the bullet weights was the 250 grain, which really is too heavy for a sedate cartridge such as the .35 Remington, which is best suited to a 180 to 225-grain bullet weight.
However, the cartridge still managed to propel a Speer Spitzer soft-point at 2,081fps and gave a whopping 2,403ft/lb energy.
A FEW PROBLEMS
When reloading the .35 Remington, there are several important steps that you need to pay special attention to. Because the shoulder on the case is shallow, it is easy to push it back too far when resizing the brass and this will cause a headspace issue.
The case is slack in the chamber and when the hammer hits the firing pin it moves the whole cartridge forward a fraction and loses energy, giving a light strike.
I had this a lot, even on the factory loads.
The answer is to neck size the brass only after the initial firing and not to touch the shoulder.
Or you can, as I did, neck up the case to 0.375in diameter with an expander mandrel and then resize, using a full-length resizing die, back down to .358 calibre. Leave a small 0.375in shoulder for the case to provide a correct fit for the chamber.
THE FIELD TEST AND CONCLUSION
Ironically, though designed for big American whitetail deer and black bears, the vagaries of British law mean that the .35 Remington is unsuitable even for roe with some of the factory-loaded lighter bullets, and it does not meet the Scottish velocity minimum of 2,450fps.
I wanted to use the .35 Remington with larger bullet weights, 180 grains, 200 grains and 225 grains, for close-range roe or muntjac stalking, where a quick shot delivers a slow, heavy bullet to develop kinetic shock but not necessarily fast expanding energy release.
The .35 Remington 180-grain Interlock and the Sierra soft-point produced similar results on the roebuck and muntjac that I shot.
They put a large-calibre hole through the beasts and knocked them to the ground.
However, while I was gralloching and preparing the carcases, I saw that there was no unnecessary bruising to the meat.
I have used a .338 BR (bench-rest) with 250-grain soft-points travelling at 1,800fps with 1,799ft/lb of energy to good effect before on roe and muntjac, and the .35 Remington, if anything, proved to be better than these.
I would not initially turn to a .35 Remington as the main cartridge for stalking, primarily due to the lack of rifle choice.
However, cartridges developed more than a century ago can still cut the mustard today and do a good job if you are willing to experiment a little and put the time into reloading with specific loads.
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