Choosing a deer cartridge and rifle is an endeavor often filled with much debate. Sentiment can play a significant role in the final decision. There is a propensity to follow aging hunters we have known and elect the same combination they used. Or perhaps we started our hunting with a specific rig; therefore, it is the one we most regularly employ. The rifle could be a lever, single shot, pump action, semi-auto or bolt. All effective.
Cartridge preference also has its own peculiar form of logic. Old standards such as .30-30, .308 or .30-06 find favor with a long list of hunters. Then there are those who gravitate toward the new. These individuals want all the whizz bang they can get, and the market is ripe with rounds that meet that criteria. So, where do we begin? No easy answers to that one.
First, let’s establish a given, and by so doing maybe the outcries of objection will be held to a minimum. The given just mentioned is that virtually any viable cartridge fired from any action type will perform admirably on whitetails. No, the .30-30 Winchester won’t shoot flat like the .280 Remington; the .45-70 Government won’t push its round to the velocities of a .300 WSM. Still, each of these, and countless others omitted above work just fine. Collected game testifies to that fact.
But I waver from the topic. This discourse it not to determine which round or action type is best or to attempt coercion toward my way of thinking. Rather, it is to highlight a specific round and rifle that holds potential for a great many uses in game fields. The rifle is a Remington 700 Limited Edition Classic, while the cartridge is .35 Whelen. The two have been combined for 2016 production.
The .35 Whelen has a storied past. Some sources say it was developed by James Howe and named for the well-known firearms authority and writer, Colonel Townsend Whelen. Others say it was Whelen himself who generated the wildcat and brought it to Howe’s attention. Most likely both had some input into the round’s genesis. Regardless, it emerged somewhere around the first quarter of the 20th century and garnered a respectable following. The Whelen is nothing more than a .30-06 case necked up to receive .358 bullets. There are definite similarities between the two, but there are pronounced differences.
One such difference is diameter. The .30-06 uses a bullet of .308. This has become one of the most-used bullet sizes in North America and has a broad range of weight offerings. The .30-30 Winchester, .308 Winchester and .30-06 Springfield use the .308, as do that wide array of .300 magnums. This is truly a successful and efficient size and will likely remain popular for generations to come.
Conversely, the .358 has never caught a tight grip on American hunters. There have been several cartridges in .358 diameter introduced over the years, but they languished into semi oblivion. So, too, with the Whelen, but it continues to resurface and enjoy the occasional revival. Remington legitimized the caliber and chambered a pump action and 700 bolt rig to it for a while, but the chambering was dropped. I was fortunate to get one of the 700 BDLs when they were available and took it to British Columbia on a moose hunt in 1991 — if memory is correct. A 250-grain Remington Cor-Lokt put the big bull down in convincing fashion. I abandoned good judgement and let the 700 go back after the consignment period, a move much regretted.
Another difference in .308 and .358 is bullet weight. Factory loads, as well as bullets for reloading in .358 are available in such varieties as 180, 200, 225 and 250. A 200 can be loaded to the same velocity in the .35 Whelen as the 180 in a .30-06. Such velocity and weight, not to mention diameter, put a Whelen in the league of 300-yard elk doings. Better at shorter ranges rather than cross-canyon shots, but effective just the same. And loaded with 200- or 225-grain pills such as the Barnes, the Whelen handles bears and moose very well.
Do you actually need it for whitetails? No. For the first 20 years of my big-game hunting, I was open minded and given to experimentation. But after an additional 20, I have become a curmudgeon. I now take no issue with authoritative persuasion, believing there is no such thing as “too much gun.” So, yes, the .35 Whelen is a grand whitetail selection. It is definitely a classic.
The Remington rifle to which the Whelen is being chambered in 2016 is also a classic, but not only in name. The new Limited Edition Classic has the lines of a rifle from days past and handles in like manner. When I first took it from the box, my spirit soared. Sleek, pleasing to the eye — it fairly jumped into position on my shoulder. Being a leftie, I made no use of the cheek piece, but everything else was artistic functionality. I acclimated myself to right-hand bolts four decades back, so that gave no cause for concern. The Classic was and is, simply put, elegant.
As quickly as I could, I mounted a Swarovski 1.5-10X42 scope set in Talley bases and rings. The rifle then was even more elegant. At the range I stuffed Barnes 200-grain Tipped TSX BT rounds into the magazine and began bench work. After some settling, the rifle was putting bullets into MOA at 100 yards, so I adjusted it 1.5-inches high. Time to go hunting!
That hunt took place near Ruleville, Mississippi, not far from the location where President Theodore Roosevelt inadvertently gave rise to that famous toy bearing a derivation of his name. That was in 1902. A bulk of the big timber is now gone from the Delta, but careful management has helped assure a healthy whitetail herd throughout the region. And be advised that everything grows bigger and faster in that rich, flat farm land.
The buck crossed a CRP field just after daylight. However, nothing was right for a shot — range, tall grass, wind. I opted to wait. The morning aged and I went back to camp for lunch. With the memory of that buck still fully fresh, I eased back into a box blind at 1 p.m. Nothing happened during that protracted afternoon vigil until the sun cast long Delta shadows. Then a buck emerged from the tangle along a grown-up farm ditch. That is the last spot I had seen him that morning. Light was fading.
The deer continued to move diagonally toward my station, and it became apparent that a shot was in the making. With the scope settled and steady, I watched the buck stop at about 60 yards out. He threw his head up and offered a regal pose reserved for such creatures. The rifle rumbled and the buck was down. No fuss. Just down in that productive soil that had nourished him. I removed my hat and said a prayer of thanksgiving.
I had initially thought the buck an 8 point, but he had a pronounced kicker close near the burr on his right antler. Back at the shed he pulled a scale to 225 pounds. It then occurred to me that not only did I have a fine buck but I had also taken the first animal ever with a soon-to-be-released rifle and a soon-to-be-released load. It was a classic hunt with a classic rifle in a classic cartridge.
That evening was most pleasant.