The 35 Whelen – A Manly, All Business Rifle Cartridge

By Major Van Harl USAF Ret

98 Mauser bolt action rife chambered in 35 Whelen
98 Mauser bolt action rife chambered in 35 Whelen
AmmoLand Gun News
AmmoLand Gun News

Wisconsin --(Ammoland.com)-  Frank Ehrenford, the lever action rifle designer of exceptional natural firearms ability and aptitude, has cost me a lot of money over the past forty years with his advice on what gun, in what caliber he thought I really needed to own.

My model 98 Mauser bolt action rife chambered in 35 Whelen is one of those remembered expenses taken on at the suggestion of Frank.

In 1922 then Col. Townsend Whelen took the official US military rifle cartridge 30-06 which is a .30 caliber diameter bullet and expanded the case out to .35 caliber. He named this new cartridge 35 Whelen and it has been used to hunt almost every type of game large and small around the world. The problem was none of the ammunition manufacturing companies made factory produced ammo in 35 Whelen or made store-bought rifles in this efficient and impressive cartridge. A 35 Whelen rifle owner had to make all their own ammo by hand.

I was in the process of building my 35 Whelen rifle just as I was getting married and planning to take my new bride to Alaska for our honeymoon in 1978. I got the rifle put together in time to drive out of Colorado and head to Alaska, but I had no ammo to shoot should I run into something large and brown in the woods of the 49th state. So I did what any new young husband would do, I took my ammunition reloading equipment with me on my honeymoon drive to Anchorage.

After setting up our two-person, very small tent that my new bride and I spent our first days of marriage in, I broke out the powder, primers and bullets to make 35 Whelen ammo. We were in Dawson Creek, British Columbia, our last stop before we headed north on the Alaska Highway. I was at the picnic table making ammo as fellow campers would walk by and ask me what I was doing. The local RCMP Mountie who made a regular pass through the campgrounds in the evening in Dawson Creek stopped to see what I was doing. We talked guns, big game, the dangers of driving the Alaska Highway and unknown (at the time) to the Constable, about the 35 Whelen cartridge.

Ten years later I was back in Alaska stationed there with the Air Force. I made that winter drive from lower 48, to Anchorage with my 35 Whelen sitting next to me in my truck. You go nowhere in Alaska without a firearm. When I built my 35 Whelen rifle I kept it under seven pounds and I did not put a big bulky scope on it to just get in the way.

How was I to know I was ahead of the times with what became known as a “Scout Rifle”?

Now rifle manufacturing companies make these handy long guns for thousands of dollars. In 1987 the ammo industry started making 35 Whelen ammunition ( http://tinyurl.com/obpra56 ) . For five years where ever I went in Alaska my 98 Mauser/35 Whelen was with me to include some the thickest alders you could imagine. I was in places that if my rifle and ammo failed me I was not going to get out alive.

Buffalo Bore Ammunition (buffalobore.com) has an excellent 35 Whelen cartridge in production (42B/20). They use a 225 grain TSX, Barnes bullet that is moving out at 2800 FPS. It is recognized as one of the most dependable and deadliest bullets you can load in a 35 Whelen. It will stop anything in North America.

There is a lot of what I call new “designer cartridges” out there in the gun manufacturing world. No doubt some of the alleged ballistics will make that “new” round and the rifle you would need to buy to shoot it in, quickly pass through your credit card and into your hands shaking with naive excitement.

The 35 Whelen was an effectively used big bore rifle cartridge for 65 years before there was even any factory ammo to shoot. You had to really understand the capabilities and be willing to expend the effort that goes into personally making and test shooting your own ammo to hunt with a 35 Whelen. Buffalo Bore has taken the work out of the process and has produced some outstanding ammo.

In today’s world where youth and newness is wanted, I desire the antique. I choose an 1898 designed rifle, with a 1903/06 rifle cartridge case and a new and improved 1922, 35 caliber round of ammunition, owned and fired by an old man (me) who wants to dispatch anything with one shot. I don’t think my smart phone has a 35 Whelen app, but then again I will never be able to stop a grizzly or a “walker” by texting to my down range target.

35 Whelen, Frank Ehrenford and Buffalo Bore, they are all strictly business.

Major Van Harl UASF Ret / vanharl@aol.com

About Major Van Harl USAF Ret.:Major Van E. Harl USAF Ret., a career Police Officer in the U.S. Air Force was born in Burlington, Iowa, USA, in 1955. He was the Deputy Chief of police at two Air Force Bases and the Commander of Law Enforcement Operations at another. He is a graduate of the U.S. Army Infantry School.  A retired Colorado Ranger and currently is an Auxiliary Police Officer with the Cudahy PD in Milwaukee County, WI.  His efforts now are directed at church campus safely and security training.  He believes “evil hates organization.”  vanharl@aol.com

  • 6 thoughts on “The 35 Whelen – A Manly, All Business Rifle Cartridge

    1. Great article that mirrors my own belief. My RIFLE is an old 1903A3 that has been sporterized but left in 30-06 because in my heart I know if has and will do anything I ask of it. I can find ammo anywhere and most of all I trust it. Thanks for letting us know about your 35 Whelen. I sure read about them when I was a kid.

    2. I finally got my 7.62 x 39mm American (.308 bore) built and now for my, probably, last custom Mauser I’m working on a 35 Whelen. Thanks for a great story!

    3. I bought one of the new single shot CVA Apex guns in 35 Whelen last year. It is legal to hunt Primitive here with such a gun. When you drop the hammer on one of these, you know immediately that you have just fired a big gun.

    4. ‘I was in places that if my rifle and ammo failed me I was not going to get out alive.’

      What a load of nonsense. Makes for exciting reading, I guess, but spare us the melodrama.

    5. Yep. Get between mama bear and her cubs in an Alder thicket and find out
      what pre-senility incontinence is like. Quick reaction, steady nerves and reliable
      firepower of your own creation will bring you home.

      Keep it coming Major Van Hart.

    6. 15 years ago put together a Douglas barrel ,composite stock,2.5x8x36 Ruger 77 in 35 Whelen. I shoot the 200 gr for Deer out to about 250 yards and hand load 225 gr for every thing else. 4 to 5 animals every year. One shot each every time. It is absolutely the last word and crushes what ever it hits. The goal is to kill quickly. The 35 Whelen does a dam fine job at that…

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