January 04, 2011
The .35 HCR drives a 250-grain Swift A-Frame at 2,850 fps. It's great brown bear and plains-game medicine.
If you polled some of my colleagues, they would probably vote me the gun writer least likely to invent a new cartridge. It's not that I don't see potential in other cartridges or have some oddball ideas of my own from time to time. But the fact is we have more than enough cartridges on the market to fill just about every imaginable niche many times over. So why would I bother coming up with a new hunting cartridge when, odds are, any number of commercially available cartridges can get the job done?
Another reason you won't catch me tossing my hat into the vanity cartridge arena is that I am too busy actually taking game with those factory-loaded cartridges to devote time to reinventing the wheel. But I'm no dummy, and I can recognize a good idea when I see it. One wildcat that caught my eye is a magnum .35 the guys at Hill Country Rifles have been using the last few years with great results.
Based on the .338 Winchester Magnum case, the .35-.338 Win. Mag. isn't new. In fact, reloading dies are available from Redding. But the wildcat .35 has never been very popular. After working with this fine cartridge for the last few months, I can only attribute it to the fact that no .35 has ever done well in this country. That's too bad, because the cartridge I've taken to calling the .35 HCR is a darn good one.
The .35 HCR (left) outperforms the .375 H&H (right) out to 400 yards and beyond. Though the author wouldn't use it on Cape buffalo, he thinks it's ideal for game up to brown bears and eland.
The .35 HCR pushes a 250-grain Swift A-Frame at an impressive 2,850 fps with no pressure signs. Recoil is very moderate considering the size of the bullet and the velocities generated by this cartridge. So loaded, the .35 HCR generates approximately the same muzzle energy as the .375 H&H with a 300-grain bullet (4,510 ft-lbs for the .35 HCR versus 4,504 ft-lbs for the .375) and carries an energy advantage of approximately 100 ft-lbs all the way out to 400 yards and beyond.
The .35 HCR also carries a slight trajectory advantage over the .375 H&H. With a 200-yard zero, it drops more than 2 inches less at 300 yards and nearly 7 inches less at 400 yards (23.74 inches for the .35 HCR versus 30.5 inches for the .375 H&H). That's pretty amazing performance considering that it generates less recoil than the .375 H&H.
Savvy shooters will note that the performance of the .35 HCR is very similar to the .358 Norma Magnum. But the .35 HCR has two distinct advantages. First, it isn't the least bit fickle. In looking over Hill Country Rifles' Dave Fuqua's notes, he achieved respectable accuracy and velocities with a wide variety of powders. The fact that you load it in easy-to-find .338 Win. Mag. cases is for me the final deciding factor in favor of the .35 HCR over the .358 Norma and some other .35 wildcats.
In The Field With The .35 HCR
I haven't had time to do a ton of load development work with the .35 HCR, but I've gotten excellent results with IMR-4320 and H4895. I've been able to get velocities in the 2,800 to 2,850 range with both powders and sub-MOA accuracy with Swift's 250-grain A-Frame and Hornady's 200-grain SP. I had no trouble driving a 225-grain A-Frame at over 2,900 fps with no pressure signs and excellent accuracy with IMR-4320.
The author took this outstanding East Cape kudu with the .35 HCR at over 300 yards. The 250-grain Swift A-Frame drove all the way through the kudu despite a steep quartering angle.
I'd shot the .35 HCR quite a bit before I ever got a chance to hunt with it, but I'd hunted with Fuqua enough to know the magnum .35 was a hammer. In fact, I'd seen him fold tough, big-bodied game like kudu, gemsbok, blue wildebeest, and nilgai bulls in most dramatic fashion with the Model 70 he chambered for the .35 HCR.
My chance to hunt with the .35 HCR finally came last year in South Africa's Eastern Cape. I was in pursuit of a particular oversized kudu bull with professional hunter Francois Rudman of Blaauwkrantz Safaris. It was the second-to-last day of the hunt, and Fuqua had taken everything he'd come for, so he graciously offered to loan me his rifle. That afternoon, I got a chance to use it when the tall, massive kudu bull stood still just long enough for me to drive a chunky A-Frame through its near shoulder at a distance of just over 300 yards.
At the shot, the bull folded, but the tenacious kudu quickly regained its feet and headed for the brush at warp speed. Fortunately, the magnum .35 proved too much for the stricken bull, and he piled up just inside the brush. A postmortem revealed that the shot had entered on the point of the near shoulder, passed completely through the big bull's chest cavity, exited, and then reentered the stomach and raked back into and through the off ham. I don't care what you compare it to, that is incredible performance.
The .35 HCR is ideal for moose, the great bears, and elk. It's got the range to get the job done on long shots and the power to drop a gut-shot grizzly in its tracks. That makes it ideal for mixed-bag hunts or for hunting deer, elk, and moose in grizzly or brown bear country where a little more insurance is desirable.
In Africa, the .35 HCR is ideal for the big-bodied plains-game species like kudu and eland. Its velocities are reasonable enough that bullets won't come apart on heavy shoulders at close range in brush-choked areas like Zimbabwe's lowveld. In more sparsely covered areas in Namibia and South Africa, the ranging capabilities of the magnum .35 could prove most useful.
Any wildcat cartridge has limited appeal. One that drives a 250-grain, .35-caliber bullet at 2,850 fps appeals to an even smaller market. But if you have a need for a flat-shooting, bone-crushing medium-bore that won't rattle your fillings every time you squeeze the trigger, you would do well to consider the .35 HCR.