June 16, 2022
By Steve Gash
The early 1900s were an important period for cartridge development. Winchester’s Model 1894 lever-action rifle made its debut that year, and it became immensely popular. The early models were chambered in a suite of cartridges that covered the American hunter’s needs. The .32-40 and .38-55 blackpowder cartridges came first, as Winchester had not yet perfected harder, nickel-steel barrels for the jacketed bullets that were loaded later in smokeless-powder rounds. The smallest cartridge was the .25-35 Winchester, which preceded the .30-30 Winchester by a few months, both of which were introduced in 1895. Next was the .32 Winchester Special in 1902. In those days, Winchester had the edge on the market with the popular Model 1984 and its fleet of cartridges.
Remington noted Winchester’s commercial advantage and took steps to siphon market share away from “Big Red.” Remington didn’t have a lever action, but by 1906 it had the Model 8 semiautomatic rifle. It was chambered for cartridges that were designed to be direct competitors of the M94’s cartridges. The Model 8 was offered in the .25, .30, .32, and .35 Remingtons. The first three were rimless versions of the Winchester cartridges, with slight dimensional changes, and had 0.421-inch rims. The .35 Remington’s rim was slightly larger, at 0.460 inch, and the case was a little shorter, 1.92 inches versus 2.03 inches for the other Remington rounds.
The .35 Rem. went on to be chambered in Remington Model 14 and 141 pump actions, the Model 81 semiautomatic, and the Model 30 bolt action. And it was even chambered in the Winchester Model 70 bolt action, the Marlin Model 336 lever action, the Mossberg Model 479, the Savage Model 170 pump gun, and the Traditions Performance Firearms Outfitter G2 break-action single shot.
Today, the .35 Rem. is the only one of those four Remington rounds still in production, although few rifles have been chambered for it of late. It may seem odd that a cartridge shooting fat, heavy bullets at moderate velocities would still be popular 116 years after its introduction. Well, the reasons are simple. It is a reliable slayer of white-tailed deer and black bear at the moderate ranges at which these species are taken, it has plenty of power for the job, and it is adequately accurate for these hunting chores.
There are many .35 Rem. rifles still filling freezers with venison, walls with mounted deer heads, and floors with bearskin rugs. As a result—and as a testament to the .35 Rem.’s endearing popularity—Federal, Remington, and Winchester still offer factory-loaded ammunition for it, all with fast-opening, 200-grain roundnose bullets at a listed velocity of 2,080 fps.
Great for Handloading
The .35 Rem. is readily suitable for shooters to load their own ammunition, and dies, other tools, and accoutrements are available, as are bullets especially designed for the round. (I used Hornady dies in my Redding T-7 Turret press to prepare the handloads for this article.)
A few precautions must be heeded when loading rounds like the .35 Rem. As with most cartridges to be used in rifles with tubular magazines, only roundnose or flatnose bullets should be used when loading the cartridge—unless you are using Hornady’s flexible-tip FTX bullets. The reason for this precaution is due to the possibility that when a round is fired, the nose of a bullet of a cartridge in the magazine might set off the primer of the round ahead of it. (Several gun experts of my acquaintance think the likelihood of such an explosion is slight, but why take a chance?)
Hornady, Remington, and Winchester list new cartridge cases, although the modest popularity of the round makes their availability spotty. Then there are always the cases from fired factory loads. Since the .35 Rem. is rimless, it headspaces on its relatively small shoulder. This means the reloader must exercise care when resizing cases. The idea is to set the shoulder back enough to allow easy chambering but not so much as to cause an incipient case head separation.
There’s another point that’s important when reloading the .35 Rem. I have weighed four brands of cases and found considerable variation (10.4 percent) from the lightest (Hornady, at 145.0 grains) and the heaviest (Winchester, at 160.1 grains). Remington and Federal cases were intermediate (at 148.4 and 151.3 grains respectively). Reloaders should be careful not to mix or switch case brands with a chosen load.
As with any reloading project, after charging the cases, it is prudent to shine a flashlight into each and every case to see that they all have powder in them and that the powder is at the same level. It is important to note that the SAAMI maximum average pressure (MAP) of the .35 Rem. is rather low, at 33,500 psi, so the case is rather lightly constructed. Thus, the judicious reloader should not try to “soup up” handloads.
Standard Large Rifle primers are perfectly adequate for the .35 Rem., as most powder charges are in the 40- to 45-grains range.
The cartridge overall length (COL) is also important for proper feeding from the magazine. The maximum COL is 2.525 inches, but I have found that sticking to an even 2.5 inches seems to work best. Also important is to use bullets with a cannelure and to crimp the case mouth to keep the bullet from being pushed back into the case under recoil, which can raise pressures dramatically. The Lee Factory Crimp Die (#90828 for the .35 Rem.) is recommended for this task.
Uniform case lengths aid this process. And the recommended trim length is 1.910 inches.
However, some Marlin Model 336s have been observed with very short throats that may contact the bullet when a cartridge is chambered. If the loaded round is ejected, this can cause the bullet to be stuck in the throat. If the case is pulled off the stuck bullet, the powder charge will be spilled into the action. Not good. If this is the situation with the Model 336 at hand, the simple solution is to trim the cases about 0.010 inch shorter than the “trim length” noted earlier.
Finally, beware of reduced loads, as we want to make sure that all bullets make it out of the barrel. Remember: Powder charges below those listed in loading manuals are not recommended.
The list of bullets suitable for the .35 Rem. is short but more than adequate for the cartridge’s purposes. Roundnose bullets that mimic factory loads are available from Hornady and Sierra. In addition, as I mentioned earlier, Hornady makes the innovative 200-grain FTX bullet. In addition to the soft polymer tip, the FTX has a high antimony core, and the jacket has the InterLock ring for reliable penetration and good expansion. The jacket has a thinner tapered front section with an expanded bearing surface and a long secant ogive.
All this gives the FTX a higher ballistic coefficient of .300 versus .195 for a roundnose bullet of the same weight. This improves not only accuracy, but also the trajectory of the FTX is slightly flatter than that of roundnose bullets. Sighted-in about 2 inches high at 100 yards, the FTX load hits only 1 inch low at 200 yards. A more important metric, however, is downrange energy. The distances at which the bullets still have 1,000 ft-lbs of retained energy is 265 yards for the FTX and 175 yards for the roundnose.
For my money, the best all-round bullets for the .35 Rem. are the Speer 180- and 220-grain softpoint flatnose (SPFN). The lighter bullet can be boosted by 46.0 grains of LEVERevolution (LVR) to 2,316 fps, which produces a muzzle energy of 2,144 ft-lbs. For smaller deer it should be literally a bomb. The 220-grain version is a great choice for heavier game—at modest ranges, of course. A dose of 43.0 grains of LVR gives it a muzzle energy of 2,219 ft-lbs. I once shot a nice 8-point whitetail buck at about 40 yards with the 220-grain SPFN, and it was a dramatic deer-drop. Both bullets are plenty accurate for big-game hunting.
After firing many rounds through a Marlin Model 336, I have to say that LVR is far and away the best powder for this cartridge, but there are several other propellants that also work well. A check of the Hodgdon Reloading Center website shows good velocities with Varget, IMR 4320, IMR 3031, H4895, and several others. Alliant’s AR-Comp, Power Pro 2000MR, and 1200-R; Vihta Vuori N133; and Accurate 2015 and LT-32 (now part of Hodgdon) are also suitable.
Speaking of the guns I used, I was fortunate to have on hand two fine guns chambered for the .35 Rem. One is the Marlin Model 336 lever action (made in 1975). It has a 20-inch barrel with Marlin’s Micro-Groove rifling and a 1:16-inch twist, and it wears a Cabela’s Pine Ridge 3-9X 40mm scope. The second rifle is a Traditions Outfitter single shot. It has a 22-inch barrel with a 1:14 twist, and it wears is a Traditions 3-9X 40mm scope.
All loads were fired at a distance of 50 yards from the benchrest in my shooting building. I fired 21 handloads in the Model 336 and 10 loads in the Outfitter. The overall average for the Model 336 was 0.92 inch; it was 1.07 inches for the Outfitter. I’d say that is darn good accuracy for a cartridge invented in 1906. Groups were nice round clusters, not “two here” and “three there.” Ballistic uniformity was just fine, with the coefficient of variation (C.O.V.) less than 1 percent with most loads.
As for propellants, the hands-down choice with all bullets is LVR from Hodgdon, so let’s look at the LVR loads.
With the Hornady 200-grain RN, a charge of 44.0 grains gave a velocity of 2,145 fps, with a muzzle energy of 2,044 ft-lbs. The 200-grain FTX load with 46.0 grains of LVR averaged 2,163 fps with a 0.83-inch group average. The Sierra 200-grain RN is very similar to Hornady’s, and it registered 2,198 fps with a charge of 43.0 grains of LVR; it grouped into an inch or less.
Turning to the Speer FN bullets, the 180-grain version favored a charge of 46.0 grains at 2,316 fps. The 220-grain bullet clocked 2,131 fps over 43.0 grains of LVR.
I fired a couple of loads with the Barnes 180-grain TTSX in the Outfitter single shot, but I must emphasize that these pointed bullets are suited only for single-shot rifles or pump guns or autoloaders and should not be used in guns with tubular magazines. Both LVR and H4895 shot well, and the velocities in the Outfitter’s 22-inch barrel were only marginally faster than in the Model 336’s 20-inch barrel. Accuracy for a charge of 44.0 grains of LVR was excellent at 0.90 inch.
Just because LVR was the “best” powder doesn’t mean there weren’t other good performers. A standard for the .35 Rem. and similar-sized cases is good ol’ H4895. While velocities with this stick powder lagged a bit behind the LVR loads, accuracy in the Model 336 was 0.67 inch with the Speer 180-grain SPFN and 0.83 inch with the Hornady 200-grain FTX.
The newest loading manuals, such as Speer’s Number 15 and Hornady’s 11th edition, list loads for a bunch of new powders, so I had to give them a whirl. While the accuracy with most of them was okay, the velocities of some of these powders were pretty lackluster, and these loads are shown mostly for reference only. Power Pro 2000MR, IMR 4064, VV N135, TAC, and X-Terminator showed promise with good groups and low C.O.V.s. Plus, these fine-grained powders metered well.
All in all, the fine old .35 Remington continues to hold its own in the midst of new competitors. So if you find yourself in possession of a nice vintage rifle chambered for the .35 Rem., do not despair. Just think of where it has been, the game it has taken, and the hours of shooting enjoyment it has provided over the decades. Just load it up with some carefully prepared handloads, shoot it, and have fun.