Wildcatting: Double Duty
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- Last updated: 17/03/2017
I have been shooting a 35 Whelen AK (Ackley Improved) for some years now and as a ‘non magnum’ it sure acts like one. With a 225-grain Sierra Game King bullet at 2800 fps, it has all the power you need for any British deer species, boar, African plains game and Moose. But in reality a 308 is all you need for deer here in Britain, so the Whelen gets limited use, until now.
I love my subsonics and reduced velocity reloads, as these allow an otherwise unsuitable rifle of larger calibre to be used for smaller game or informal target/plinking use. Obviously a .22, 17 HMR or small calibre centrefire is best but its fun working up loads and letting you use a deer rifle for double duty.
It also allows you to use bullet weights that would not be suitable in standard Whelen loads. However, you do have to be very careful with over penetration and ricochets that are common with a lot of reduced or subsonic loads, where a bullet designed to expand at a higher velocity fails to open up at these lower levels.
The rifle was a custom item from Norman Clark gunsmiths, built on a Tikka M 690 model with deluxe walnut stock that Norman had synthetically bedded and pillared. It wore a 24” chrome moly Shilen barrel of slim sporter trim, sharply tapering to 0.667” diameter at the muzzle end and un- threaded.
Rifling twist was pretty typical at a rate of 1-16”, but when I slugged the barrel it turned out to be 1 in 14, even better with its 5-land rifling design. It proved ideal for heavy, stubby bullets and also because the light ones too. Norman had fitted a Sako Safari recoil lug between barrel and action to give a larger bedding surface in the stock. It came with Redding dies and a small amount of brass. He later fully bedded it again, this time into a McMillan Sako varmint synthetic stock with Blaser recoil arrestor fitted into the butt.
Handily, the Whelen uses a .358” bore diameter and so can use bullets suitable for pistols of .357 and .38 calibre. These smaller and lighter projectiles are perfect for small game use, as a lot on offer are hollow points and designed, hopefully, to expand at slower velocities. However, lead and soft nose bullets are still viable, as are heavier bullets loaded with a reduced charge of powder.
Either way, you need to fire form in the AK chamber to get that characteristic 40° shoulder angle and improved straighter sidewalls for larger case capacity. From virgin to AK brass you get 7mls more water space, so a 10 % increase in capacity from 70 to 77-grains.
Powder choice is easy; as it’s quite a big bore size, so faster or medium burners works well, such as RL10X for the lighter bullets and RL 15 or Varget for the heavier stuff. I love the old SR4759 for reduced loads but it is no longer in production, which is a real pain as its bulky, fast burn nature (similar to H4227) was perfect for lighter bullets, as it filled up more of the case and avoided the dreaded secondary explosive effect caused by to small a charge of medium or slow powder.
Not to worry, the newer Trail-Boss and Vit Tin Star is very good too and so I used this for some really good reduced loads. I have split up the reloads into lighter, pistol-class bullets and then reduced rifle class bullets.
You have to note that some .35 bullets have different diameters to suit rifle and pistol bores, so I measured them up to ascertain the correct diameter.
The Speer JHP 110-grain and S&B 124-grain JSP had identical 0.3565” diameters. The Nosler JHP 158-grainwas 0.3555” and Sierra 225-grain Game King had the traditional rifle diameter of 0.3575” or 0.358”. With the slightly smaller diameter of the pistol-type bullets, as expected, these still worked well in the Shilen barrel and eased their passage with the reduced powder charge.
All loads used Federal large rifle primers, non magnum.
Again, Quickload and Quick Target ballistics program proved invaluable to set a start point and to judge which powders and bullets would best suit the big .35 without wasting valuable components. I fitted a new Delta HD Titanium 2.5-15x 56mm from The Optical Warehouse to the Tikka, which I have to say is one hell of a scope with crystal clear images and low light capabilities, a thorough test later me thinks.
The light bullets at super or sub-sonic speeds are both well worth the effort but for short range vermin the subs are great fun.
The lightest were the Speer 110-grainers but I did try some 70-grain 000 buck shotgun buckshot but more of that later.
The jacketed hollow point Speers really liked the Vit Tin Star powder. Being bulky for its weight it filled the case better than would a similar speed powder of standard burn rate. 25-grains of Tin Star gave 2369 fps/1371 ft/lbs energy, small deer legal and accurate with 0.75” groups.
For squirrels, then the 12.0-grains of Tin Star gave 0.85” groups and a sedate 1625 fps/645 ft/lbs non-expansion but no recoil and low noise. It you want to cane it with these bullets, then 63-grains of RL 10X powder gives 3652 fps/ 3258 ft/lbs energy! Accuracy was poor though, at about 1.5”!
The S&B 124-grain soft points proved accurate too, with the best load being 0.75” with 28-grains of Tin Star again for 2401 fps/1581 ft/lbs energy. A nice light load on this bullet would be with 14-grains of Tin Star, with 0.95” and 1682 fps/776 ft/lbs.
I did try the heavier bullets, more suited to Whelen AK velocities but they were not really what I wanted. Heavy, slow sub-sonics are fine for low velocity bullets with a better ballistic coefficient (BC) such as the .300 or .338 Whisper. But with a flat-nosed pistol bullet it’s not that efficient. I did try the 158-grain lead truncated cone bullets with wax lube that gave 2219 fps/1727 ft/lbs energy with 28.5- grains of Tin Star.
However the 225-grain Sierra Game Kings worked well, with 20-grains of Tin Star giving at 1603 fps/1284 ft/lbs. No expansion at all, which was hardly surprising but good accuracy at 1” for three shots. I did try a pipsqueak load with a 000 Buckshot pellet 0.350” in diameter and heavily crimped but it was iffy, so I have not included here but still it gives me an idea for later. The heavier bullets grouped well but like many of my subsonic reloads, they are too strongly built to expand at these slower speeds and act like a full metal jacket and so ricochets are more prone.
First question you are probably asking is, why? Well, why not! It’s fun to use your heavier calibre rifles for more than just a few shots at big game a year and it makes them more viable to use and anyway I like messing around, so there! Tin Star proved an excellent choice for the reduced loads and as the SR 4759 powder is no longer available is your best bet! Although Trail boss would be equally good if I had not run out of it. These loads take the .35 Whelen AK from a Moose gun to a mouse-sized gun, with just a differing recipe and as such makes for a great afternoon’s plinking at steel silhouettes too.
Norman Clark 01788 579651 Reloading supplies custom gunsmithing
Edgar Brothers 01625 613177 Bullets, cases powder
JMS Arms 07771 962121 Quickload, www.quickload.co.uk
Hannam’s Reloading 01977 681639 Cases, Vit Powder,
Henry Krank 0113 256 9163 Bullets, powder cases
Optical Warehouse 01803 611895 Delta Titanium scope
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