A Classic That Just Won’t Die
By: Mike Price
It was so cold that day in the swamp about 30 minutes south of Baton Rouge. The temperature plunged to 19 degrees during the early morning hours, and the humidity was 80%, making the experience much worse than it actually was. The cold went right through our clothing and felt like it set up camp in our bones. A lot of the area we were hunting was standing in water. Gerald (Jerry) Boudreaux and I actually broke ice traveling to our stands. I remember many times in the past being cold when deer hunting, but that had to be one of the coldest days I ever spent sitting in a deer stand. That swamp has a beauty all its own, but the main reason I like hunting there, is Jerry’s company. I have enjoyed hunting with Jerry more than most others I have hunted with. Jerry is a great friend and outstanding shot. I can’t keep up with him when we shoot long range. He has a gift for shooting and is a true master when it comes to developing loads. He is even more anal retentive when developing loads than I am.
We hunted for a few days and the weather began to warm up some, making it much easier to stay in our stands. We moved around, hunting in different spots, hoping to get a shot. After about three days of hunting and not seeing any deer worth taking, we decided to move to the opposite side of that area to try our luck. The place I decided to hunt only presented at most a 200 yard shot. I chose to use my Ruger Hawkeye in 358 Winchester, topped with a Leupold VX-III 1.5-5x20mm. What is so amazing about the 358 Winchester is its accuracy and especially how well this classic cartridge dispatches game. Most of the time when I shoot game with the 358 Winchester, they just collapse in their tracks. It has become one of my favorite cartridges to use in the field.
The .358 Winchester cartridge is very accurate and is an efficient design, that has a style and an appeal all its own. Winchester introduced it back in 1955. The 358 Winchester has been chambered at different times by more than one company – though some have now discontinued it. The 358 Winchester has an interesting up and down history, when it comes to the market place. It is hard to get a lot of North American hunters to try the 35 caliber cartridges outside of the 35 Remington. I truly have been impressed not only with the cartridge but with my Ruger M77 Hawkeye. I am saddened that Ruger has not only discontinued the Blued/Wood chambering of the 358Win. in the Hawkeye, but has now dropped the stainless version as well, and no longer offers it in any of their rifles. The Hawkeye has a generous magazine that allows the hand-loader the option of using the 225gr AccuBond, which is not possible in the Browning BLR, due to a shorter magazine length.
It is a straight-forward design being a .308 case necked up to .35 caliber and of course it fits in short actions, which reduces weight and enhances its accuracy potential. The .358 Winchester is a good hunter’s cartridge. Now what do I mean by the statement that the .358 Winchester is a good hunter’s cartridge? Let me give the following examples.
The .358 Winchester is a 0-300 yard rifle, when I use the 225gr AccuBond and TAC powder moving at 2556fps – the distance where most hunters draw the line on taking longer shots. On top of that, it is a big-time thumper with the 225 grain and 250 grain bullets especially with the Partitions. The 358Win. throws 225 grain bullets down range with velocities that provide enough energy and momentum to drop any hog, deer, elk, black bear, moose and yes, even brown bear. You will not do any long range shooting with this cartridge, but whatever you hit within 300 yards, usually falls right where it is hit, or soon after.
Most shots in North America, even when elk hunting out west, occur between 30 and 100 yards. Often, it is a short shot that most hunters are presented with. If the animal is not dropped immediately, the 358 Winchester will leave an impressive wound channel and exit hole – providing a good blood trail for tracking. It becomes really important to knock down your game quickly when you are hunting in an area where lots of other hunters are present, and the 358 Winchester will accomplish that most of the time. It provides a lot of thump when up close shots are necessary in black timber or thick woods. In some areas of North America and Canada, you could encounter large game unexpectedly and the extra margin of power the 358 Winchester gives in a short package, that is easy to manage during a hunt – is appreciated by hunters who use the 358Win.
To put it simply, the 358 Winchester offers some positive possibilities when using TAC or H4895, behind a 225gr AccuBond or Partition. The velocities of the 358Win are just perfect for the 225gr AccuBond, or Partition – and these bullets perform in spectacular ways on game. It seems in the past that recoil was an issue with the 358Win and was used as an excuse to avoid it, but nothing could be further from the truth. Look at the following free recoil data examples of the 358Win with a 225gr bullet compared to a 165gr bullet in the 300Win. Mag. and the 30-06. I think you will see how the facts dispel the myth concerning the recoil of the 358Win.
Here is recoil of my 165gr HPBT deer load in my 300Win Mag.
Muzzle velocity (ft/sec): 3161
Bullet Wt (gr): 165
Charge Weight (gr): 74
Barrel Length (in): 24
Firearm Weight (lb): 7.50
Free recoil energy is 31.1 ft-lb. (42.2 Joule)
Here is the 30-06 with a 165gr bullet:
Muzzle velocity (ft/sec): 2950
Bullet Wt (gr): 165
Charge Weight (gr): 59
Barrel Length (in): 22
Firearm Weight (lb): 7.50
Free recoil energy is 23.9 ft-lb. (32.4 Joule)
Here is the recoil of my .358 Win 225gr AccuBond deer load.
Muzzle velocity (ft/sec): 2556fps
Bullet Wt (gr): 225
Charge Weight (gr): 47
Barrel Length (in): 22
Firearm Weight (lb): 7.50
Free recoil energy is 24.7 ft-lb. (32.1 Joule)
The cartridge is highly accurate as demonstrated with my out of the box Ruger Hawkeye, with no extra work of any kind done to the rifle. I am inclined to believe, that the parent .308 case that is expanded to .35 caliber, is one of the main reasons the 358 Winchester is so accurate and efficient.
The .358 Winchester is just too good of a cartridge and very useful in so many ways, to be forgotten or neglected. It features lighter recoil compared to other cartridges in the .35 caliber class, considering you are throwing down range bullets that can weigh from 180 to 250 grains. The impact it has down range on game is impressive. It’s easy to load for and very forgiving when it comes to finding accuracy with many powders like, IMR3031, IMR4198, RL-7, H4895, IMR4895, IMR4064, IMR4320, Varget, W-748, Tac, AA2495BR and BL-C2, just to name a few. Its recoil is not like the 35 Whelen, and certainly not like a 300Win. Mag., 338Win. Mag., or Norma 358 Mag., but more like a .30-06 that uses a much lighter bullet. In fact, if you can shoot a .30-06 with a 165 grain bullet, you can shoot a 358Win accurately.
When Jerry dropped me off that day, not far from my stand, I had the feeling something good was going to happen. When hunting in this area, we are required to make sure any buck we take is at least eight points or better, or four on one side. My gut feeling about that morning was right on! All of sudden this nice buck stepped out some 120 yards from my stand, but stood facing away from me, and I was not able to see if he was a legal buck. I figured he was an eight point, but was not sure, so I let him take off after a big doe that ran across the gas line in front of him into the thicket on the opposite side. The chase was on and just as he entered the thicket I could see that he was an eight point, but I didn’t have time for good shot placement.
I waited for another thirty minutes or so, and then to my surprise I saw him working his way back through the thicket. He came walking out into the open again as if he were taking a Sunday morning stroll. Just a few minutes before this buck stepped out into the open, I heard Jerry shoot. I knew he hit something by the sound of his rifle’s report , and if Jerry hit it – it was dead! All of a sudden, that buck stopped about 105 yards from me, and looked straight up at my stand. I froze with my rifle shouldered, watching him through my scope. I was trying to slow my breathing down and control my excitement, so I could place my shot correctly. He then turned his head just slightly and I pulled the trigger, and sent that big slow moving freight train of a bullet down range – hitting that deer just behind the shoulder, about 3 inches below the spine, as I watched him fold up like an accordion and hit the ground.
I call my 358 Winchester “A LITTLE BIG THUMPER,” and what a thumper it is while also being a joy to carry it in the field. In this day and age of speed and more speed, (and I am a magnum man) one just needs to handle a classic like the 358 Winchester, to appreciate the experience of a well designed and accurate cartridge, that really gets the job done – without leaving a contrail on the way to the target. You only have to take the 358 Winchester to the range and in the field, to see what is so cool about this classic from 1955. You won’t be disappointed in the least, I promise. In fact you will be surprised at how it handles and shoots. If anything ever happens to my Ruger Hawkeye in 358 Winchester, I will have a custom rifle built for me, unless Ruger chambers it again.