You put the terms "deer rifle" and "levergun" in the same
sentence and most folks will immediately think of the Winchester 94 in .30-30.
Sure, there will be some Savage fans shouting about their pet Model 99s in .250
or .300 Savage, and with good reason; and there will be some folks ballyhooing
their light, short-action .44 Magnums; and let's not overlook those nostalgic
souls who speak so lovingly of their .348s, but the bottom-line is that most
folks still think of the .30-30 Winchester as America's levergun. Then there's
that "other levergun", the one that folks don't talk much about; an awkward,
almost judgmental, knowing silence, similar to that heard in years gone by when
a young single woman had to leave town because she was "in a family way". You
know, we just don't talk about "that one". Well, there's nothing shameful about
the .35 Remington, and while the popular gun press doesn't generally say much
about the cartridge or the rifle, Marlin has been making, and steadily selling,
them for over half a century now. Let's pull the curtain back and take a closer
look at the "other levergun".
The .35 Remington cartridge was introduced in 1906.
Interestingly, it didn't have a rifle chambered for it for 2 years until the
Remington Model 8 semi-automatic rifle was chambered for the .35 Remington in
1908. This combination quickly established itself as a hard-hitting hunting
team, and was featured in many of the Remington-Peters advertising posters and
tins of the day (these are classic!). Today, a century later, this rifle and
cartridge remains a favorite with hunters who work the heavy timber, like my
good friend Rob Applegate, who absolutely dotes on his .35 Remington's, and has
an impressive pile of antlers in his garage as testimony to his personal history
with the .35. Later, Remington chambered several pump action rifles (e.g. Models
14 and 141) in .35 Remington, and subsequently a number of other manufacturers
made rifles chambered rifles for it as well.
In 1949, Marlin upgraded the Model 36 to include a better bolt,
receiver and extraction system, and renamed the rifle the Model 336. The .35
Remington chambering was added in 1950, and they've been making them ever since.
In the mid-1950s, Marlin went to a new form of rifling, which replaced 6 deeply
cut grooves (in which each groove was individually cut by multiple passes of a
single cutting head) with Micro-Groove rifling, in which 16 (or more, in some
cases) much smaller, and shallower, grooves were cut simultaneously by a single
pass of a more complex cutting tool (Micro-Groove rifling was original
introduced in rimfire rifles in 1953, and then added to the centerfire line of
rifles in 1955-6). The claim was made that these smaller grooves resulted in
less distortion of the bullet, resulting in more stable, hence accurate, flight
(I suspect another reason behind the change was to reduce production time and
costs). The shooting community has always been reluctant to accept new ideas,
and this one was no exception, but the bottom line is that these Micro-Groove
barrels shot well, killed deer and were ultimately accepted as trustworthy
The Marlin 336 - the rest shown in
the picture is one of the best I've ever used, and easy to make, I used
three 12" pieces of 2x6, one cut in half at 45°, and some scrap carpet).
When viewed from the levergun cartridge perspective, the .35
Remington is kind of an anachronism for the cartridges of its time. It isn't
slender, highly tapered, or rimmed. It doesn't have long skinny bullets or a
gently sloping shoulder. It's a rimless case (it was designed for semi-automatic
rifles after all) with a small, abrupt shoulder. It's short, squat and stout;
and it's widely over-looked. But there are certain geographical pockets in which
the .35 Remington enjoys some measure of popularity -- in the deep southeast,
where black bear and hog hunters get into the swamps and thickets deep in the
heart of Dixie. The cold, snowy woods of Maine have some big-bodied whitetails
(not to mention fat black bear and the occasional moose). These are areas where
hard-core hunters work the woods for tough, smart animals, and need a
quick-handling, reliable, medium-bore thumper to anchor them quickly.
.35 Remington factory ammo is good stuff, and is available from
Remington-Peters, Winchester, Federal, etc. Today, this is almost invariably a
200 grain RN bullet, at about 2100 fps (Remington also lists a 150 grain load,
but I haven't seen a box of that stuff on the shelf in years, and don't know if
it's really still available). A 200 grain, .35 caliber, round-nosed bullet at
2100 fps offers a very useful combination of hard-hitting "thump", and deep
penetration, from a fast handling rifle, without abusive levels of recoil.
Factory ammo is accurate, affordable and available in just about every country
store that sells ammunition. The glossy gun rags might not talk about the .35
Remington much, but country boys sure seem to (why else would the country stores
stock all that ammo?).
Today, the .35 Remington is most commonly encountered in Marlin
336 levergun (it's also available in the Remington Model 7 and the Thompson
Center Contender). The Marlin 336 has a Micro-Groove barrel, and while some
people claim that Micro-Groove barrels won't shoot cast bullets very well, my
1964 vintage (i.e. a 40 year old bore) Marlin 336 in .35 Remington hasn't given
me any grief in this regard. It's not that I systematically worked up a
specially tweaked load that finally "clicked", it's just that the various cast
bullet loads I've assembled have shot fine for me, so I didn't bother to figure
out why. My friend (and fellow cast bullet gun-crank) Charles Graff has studied
the cast bullet/Micro-Groove barrel interface in more detail than anybody I
know, and he has deciphered what it takes to make this combination shoot. His
insights have taught me why my loads worked. In addition to having shallow
lands/grooves, it seems that Micro-Groove barrels tend to be a little over-sized
in their groove diameters. Thus, for a cast bullet to get good traction in
Micro-Groove rifling, the bullet needs to be 1) oversized, 2) of sufficient
hardness, and 3) wear a GC. These were things that I was doing out of habit
anyway, and so it turned out that my cast bullet loads shot just fine. With hardcast GC bullets, sized .359" this rifle will put 5 shots into less than 2"
at 50 yards all day long, which is about all that can be asked from the factory
buckhorn sights that this rifle wears (especially with middle-aged eyes). A
scope would probably help, but I'm partial to iron sights on leverguns.
In terms of powder selection for the .35 Remington,
those that seem to work best are the rifle powders in the medium to fast end of
the burning rate spectrum (e.g. 3031, H322, 4895, 2520, etc.). In terms of
primer selection, standard primers have worked just fine for me, when I'm
shooting the .35 Remington from a rifle. When shooting a .35 Remington in the
shorter barrels of the T/C Contender, the best results I've gotten have been
built around the Federal 215 primer and H322 powder.
180 Speer. This bullet has an excellent
reputation for killing deer, expanding well and punching right on through. There
is a handsome Oregon blacktail buck mounted in Rob
Applegate's living room that found his way there courtesy of this bullet over a snootful of 4895. Rob has used this powder/bullet combination to kill several
other deer; all one shot kills. To say that Rob likes this bullet is an
understatement! And it's dandy; I have tried it over 38.5 grains of H4895 and
38.0 grains of H335, both of which delivered right at 2150 fps from the Marlin.
The H335 load was somewhat more accurate in my rifle, but either load was more
than adequate in terms of accuracy.
The 180 Speer FP,
the 200 Sierra RN and the 220 Speer FP.
200 Round Nose.
Sierra and Hornady 200 grain RN bullets are fine hunting bullets, and each has a
small, but fervent following. Just as with factory ammo, these are good
all-round hunting bullets. The Sierra bullet has delivered consistently
excellent accuracy for me (I must confess that I haven't worked with the Hornady
bullet yet, but I would expect fine results from it as well). For folks who want
to duplicate factory ammo, 38.5 grains of IMR 4064 is very accurate and delivers
the 200 grains Sierra at 2087 fps, with very uniform velocities. The Accurate
Arms loading manual reports that 39.0 grains of 2520 underneath this bullet
develops only 27,800 psi peak pressure. This combination is very accurate in my
rifle and delivers an impressive 2205 fps, with remarkably consistent velocities
(+/- 5 fps). Acc. Arms 2520 is an excellent powder for the .35 Remington.
220 Speer FP. The Speer 220
grain flat point is the bullet to choose for those times that a little extra
penetration is needed (black bear, wild boar, elk, etc.). 36.0 grains of H4895
underneath this bullet delivered very good accuracy and 2008 fps. This load
makes me think of big, smelly, wild boar, and smile to myself....
The .35 Remington is well-suited for bullet weighing 180
grains and up. Because of the pressures/velocities that the
cartridge operates at, and because this is a Micro-Groove barrel, a
GC is called for to make sure the bullet gets the best "grip"
possible on those small lands and grooves. The bullets need to be
flat-pointed, or bluntly round-nosed, to function safely in a
tubular magazine. And they need to fall from the mould blocks
slightly oversized so that they can be sized .359". Four were chosen
for use in the .35 Remington levergun; two from LBT (the 180 WFN and 200 LFN), the RCBS 35-200-GCFP and the
Saeco #352 (their 245 grain GCFP). Crimp-on Hornady gas-checks were used
The cast bullets
used in the .35 Remington- the LBT 358-180-WFN, the LBT
358-200-LFN, the RCBS 35-200-FP, and the Saeco #352 (245 grain
The LBT .358 180 WFN was originally designed as a revolver
bullet, and is one of my favorites for the .357 Maximum. Loaded somewhat
unconventionally, I thought it might also be suitable for the .35 Remington.
When crimped in the crimp groove, this bullet will cycle just fine from the
magazine, but will not chamber due to the extended bearing surface that this
bullet has forward of the crimp groove (and the short throat of the Marlin).
Ignoring the location of the crimp groove (and filling it with lube), and
seating the bullet deep enough to crimp the case mouth lightly over the ogive (OAL
= 2.170"), results in a cartridge profile that feeds just fine from the magazine
when single loaded, but if multiple rounds were loaded in the magazine, there
were problems with jamming (OAL was too short). Loaded on top of 40.0 grains of
H335, this bullet delivered respectable accuracy, and a remarkable 2288 fps! But
the feeding problems preclude this from being a useful hunting load in the
Marlin levergun (although it might be a real peach in the Contender).
The LBT .358 200 LFN has much the same problem as the 180 WFN --
crimped in the crimp groove it will cycle, but not chamber. Seated deeper (OAL =
2.325") and crimped over the ogive, it chambers and cycles just fine (both
singly and multiply loaded -- no jamming problems experienced). Seated thusly,
only the crimp-on Hornady GC is below the bottom of the case neck. A caseful of
powder will prevent the bullet from being seated deeper by recoil while waiting
in line in the tubular magazine. 38.0 grains of H335 delivered excellent
accuracy at 2154 fps, and cycled just fine. A more modest load was 41.0 grains
of H414 with this bullet (similarly loaded), which gave 1776 fps and good
The folks at RCBS clearly had the .35 Remington in mind when
they designed their 35-200-FP. When crimped in the crimp groove, the base of the
GC come down even with the base of the neck. The OAL is 2.410" (maximum
allowable OAL for the .35 Remington is 2.525"), and as a result, it cycles
perfectly in the levergun. When loaded over 38.0 grains of H335, this fine
bullet left the Marlin at an impressive 2184 fps and gave excellent accuracy (5
shots into an inch at 50 yards with buckhorn sights). This is an excellent
all-round load for the .35 Remington. This load could easily turn into a
personal favorite for the .35 Remington levergun.
The 1-16" twist of the Marlin should be able to easily handle
bullets heavier than 200 grains. Saeco was also clearly thinking of the .35
Remington when the #352 (their 245 grain GCFP) bullet was on the drawing board.
The OAL of the cartridge when loaded with this bullet is 2.510", meaning that it
just sneaks in under the maximum allowable length of 2.525". As a result, it
cycles and chambers just fine crimped in the crimp groove (which leaves only the
GC exposed below the bottom of the case neck). Bullets drop out of my mould
blocks at about .360", making them an excellent fit for a slightly oversized
bore. The Dupont Handbook lists 31.0 grains of IMR 3031 as being a maximum load
for a 250 grain jacketed bullet when loaded into the .35 Remington, so this was
chosen as my starting point for the Saeco bullet (which weighs 241 grains
checked and lubed when cast with WW alloy). This combination gave fine accuracy
and 1906 fps. Similar excellent performance was turned in by 32.0 grains of Acc.
Arms 2520 (1897 fps). These last loads are also candidates for personal favorite
in the .35 levergun. I know I sure had fun spending a sunny afternoon bustin'
basalt at 100-200 yards with them.
The bottom line is that while many powders work well in the .35
Remington, H335 and Acc. Arms 2520 are worth trying first; they're both winners.
Hunting with the .35 Remington
The break-action single-shot T/C Contender allows the use of
spitzer bullets. Also in the shorter barrels of the Contender, it's hard to beat
H322 sparked with a Fed 215 primer, both in terms of velocity and accuracy, so
these are my "go to" parameters for hunting loads with the T/C. The first deer I
shot with the .35 Remington was a 3-point (western count) mule deer buck over in
the basalt canyons lining the Snake River. I was hunting with the 200 grain
Hornady spire point, loaded over 36.0 grains of H322. I don't recall the exact
velocity, but it was a little over 1900 fps, and would group into about 1 1/2"
at 100 yards. Anyway, I got a broadside shot opportunity at this buck, as he
stood in the stubble of a harvested wheatfield, about 50 yards from my position.
The crosshairs dropped onto his left shoulder and the 200 grain Hornady sped
across the stubble and hammered him. He went down hard, and it was clear that he
was dying, but nonetheless he was struggling to regain his feet. A finisher in
the neck was called for and applied. The 200 grain Hornady had broken both
shoulders, center-punched both lungs, and just clipped the top of his heart. The
damage through the lungs amounted to a .35 caliber hole through them, with a
total of about 1 1/2" of bloodshot tissue. The exit wound in the far shoulder
was almost an inch in diameter. It was pretty clear from examination of the
wound channel that this bullet hadn't expanded much at all until it hit the bone
of the far shoulder, by which point there were no more vital organs for it to
work on. This bullet really was designed for higher velocities and seems to be
just a little too hard for the .35 Remington. A softer bullet was called for.
Just such a bullet was released by Hornady a little
while later, their 180 grain Single-Shot Pistol (SSP) bullet, made specifically
for the .35 Remington Contender. A little load development revealed that this
fine bullet loaded on top of 39.5 grains of H322 (and sparked with a Fed 215
primer) delivered 2100 fps and good accuracy. That next year, I was hunting
those same canyons on the Snake River with this load. As I worked my way through
the rimrock, I spooked a big-bodied 3x3 mulie buck up out of his hiding place,
along with his harem of 4 girlfriends. As they stood up and started to trot away
from me, down the hill towards the protection of a nearby brushy thicket, I
planted the Hornady SSP high into his right side, just behind the last rib,
angling forward and down. He simply hunched up, fell over and slid about 20 feet
downhill. He very feebly kicked twice, and died. Examination of the wound
channel revealed that the Hornady 180 SSP had expanded very nicely indeed. The
liver was absolutely shredded, the left lung
Author with Snake River
mule deer buck taken with the .35 Remington.
raked and bloodshot for most of its
length, and the quarter-sized exit wound was found in the center of the left
shoulder. The liver damage folded this guy up pretty quickly, his blood pressure
went to zero almost instantly. Since that day on the Snake River, I have seen
other mule deer bucks killed with the Hornady 180 SSP bullet and I continue to
be impressed with its performance.
I've heard the .35 denigrated for having a muzzle velocity
of "only 2100 fps" and lots of bullet drop/drift at 300-400 yards. Usually, this
criticism comes from some bright-eyed over-zealous newbie, citing chapter and
verse from the latest ballistic tables, showcasing whatever golly-gee-whizbang
magnum came out that week (eventually these kids usually learn that its more fun
to learn how to hunt than it is to sit around a recite ballistics tables). The
gun shop graybeards, you know, the ones whose hunting knives are worn down from
years of gutting and re-sharpening, tend not to worry over such stuff.
Experience taught them long ago that most hunting opportunities come inside of
150 yards and that success often depends on being able to respond quickly,
accurately and forcefully. At 75-100 yards, wind drift and bullet drop can
pretty much be ignored. What matters is marksmanship, shot selection, and bullet
construction (mass, diameter and expansion behavior). These are things that
don't tend to be found in ballistics tables. While the tabulated numbers tend to
get overshadowed by the latest magnum du jour, the .35 Remington gives the
hunter exactly the tools needed for the job. The rest is up to the hands holding