The Speer 220 grain Flatnose Softpoint
When Buffalo Bore introduced their loading of the 220 Speer in the .35 Remington at a claimed 2200 fps from an 18.5 inch barrel, I am sure they greatly increased interest in the old woods cartridge for possible use on tougher critters. I understand, but do not know for sure, that they load it to “the upper end of SAAMI specifications”. I have also heard that they claim it is okay to shoot in older rifles, but don’t quote me, please email Buffalo Bore and find out for yourself.
To attempt to duplicate this performance, but also to play it a bit conservative, I decided to load the 220 Speer to 2120 fps and test its performance. I also later duplicated the tests at 2200 fps velocity. My decision to do so was after loading the bullet to around 1900 fps as suggested in several loading manuals and then testing expansion results. I can say that I greatly prefer the additional bullet performance of the higher velocity loads, and my opinion is that if you want to shoot the 220 at 1900 fps you’d be better off using something else. The higher velocities are within the acceptable velocity range of the .35. I came to that firm conclusion after input from one of the ballisticians working for a major powder supplier. This fellow has a sliderule for a brain and is willing to discuss safe loading practices for the .35 that are comparable to .30-30 pressure levels.
The 220 Speer penetrates considerably more than the 200 RN’s, but despite its higher sectional density than the 180 Speer it does not penetrate all that much deeper than the lighter bullet. I would put the penetration at 18-24 inches, depending upon range, with more penetration as the range is increased. At 2120 fps, expansion still was present at 200 yards, with expansion characteristics very similar to the 180 Speer. The jacket folds close to the shank of the bullet, with a small frontal diameter. Most of the long shank length is still present in the recovered bullets. I could not hurt the 220 Speer at 2200 fps on 6 foot close range impacts, and like the 180 Speer the core did not separate from the jacket. However, it exhibited the same tumbling as the 180 Speer when it encountered voids in the books.
I have used the 220 Speer on deer with good success, with a decent wound channel and excellent penetration, but this was also at the closer ranges. I expect that it would be difficult to recover a bullet from a deer unless maybe it was a lengthwise shot, and I am not sure even that would stop it unless it encountered a full stomach or a lot of bone along the way. Actually, it is probably completely unnecessary as a deer bullet, and likely the 200’s would do a better job there. I also cannot see using it for longer range shooting on light resistance, like a rib shot on a 200 yard whitetail deer. However, it can be applied to better effect on tougher animals, and am I glad the .35 user has the option of its availability should he need it. Certainly, it is the most accurate bullet available in my 336’s, and I attribute this to the long bearing surface of the bullet and the low extreme spreads and standard deviations of handloaded rounds, which have high loading density due to the deeper seating of the 220 grain bullet. This bullet has more shank below the cannelure than any other, but when loaded looks identical to rounds loaded with the 180 Speer as they share the exact same nose profile. Don’t mistake one for the other when hunting, as the 180’s and 220’s hit nowhere near each other with the same sight setting. Marlin 336’s in .35 need to be rezeroed each time bullet weight changes or when a significant velocity increase or decrease occurs with the same bullet weight.
The RCBS 200 Flatnose Gascheck cast from Wheelweights
This has proven to be a very accurate bullet in my 336’s, and quite unfussy. Most any reasonable load produces very good accuracy as long as it is not driven too fast. When cast of wheelweights, I generally have best accuracy at 2050 fps and below, but I find usable accuracy to be present up to 2200 fps, which is as fast as I have pushed it. A small amount of tin helps mould fill out, and the BHN of bullets as cast measure around 12, with a weight of 214 grains with gascheck and lubricant. It has been rather gratifying to discover that so loaded, the RCBS makes a good whitetail deer load with expansion characteristics most similar to the 200 RN’s save at the very closest ranges. At ranges of 6 feet to 25 yards, the bullets nearly turn inside out and expand to a wide diameter, but lose very little weight with no fracturing when launched at from 2050 to 2200 fps. Penetration is around 10-11 inches. Curiously, at fifty yards the same loads expand to a smaller diameter and lose some weight to fracturing around the periphery of the mushroomed bullet, with 12 inch penetration. At 100 yards on out, the recovered bullet shows expansion characteristics and penetration similar to the 200 RN’s, with slightly (1-1.5 inches) less penetration than the 200 Remington Core-Lokt. At 200 yards, expansion occurs as long as muzzle velocity is higher than about 1950 fps, and the bullets have expansion, penetration and frontal areas that are very similar to the better 200 RN’s.
Despite what some may think, I have never encountered evidence of skidding when unhardened wheelweight alloy is used in Microgroove Marlin 336’s. Rifling grip is very adequate. The occasional RCBS bullet may show minor gascutting. Obturation of the bullet is helpful and occurs with wheelweight alloys in the Marlin using deer appropriate loads. Generally, as long as bullets obturate sufficiently but not excessively, accuracy is better than if they do not (more about this later). I tried hardening the RCBS bullet to 33 BHN, the best I can do in my oven, and tried to make a close range penetrator load for my .35. I had visions of the super hard lead alloy bullet holding its original shape to provide great penetration, and I figured that the low antimony content might eliminate fracturing. So sorry, didn’t happen. I fired these bullets at 2160-2200 fps using Varget, and obtained dismal accuracy and penetration of around 21-24 inches, or around the same amount as the 220 Speer. The bullets, fired into the books at 25 yards, lost part of their nose from fracturing but did not expand appreciably. It was clear that 2200 fps was too much speed for even these tough bullets to hold together in the books (a hard cast pistol bullet fired at 1600 fps penetrated nearly twice as much). Accuracy problems were apparent due to clues provided by the recovered bullets, which clearly showed skidding, uneven rifling engagement, and gascutting of the hard alloy. One bullet was recovered that clearly showed that the bullet has entered the barrel so unevenly that it stripped the gascheck partly off the base, produced severe gascutting on that side, and stayed partway on the bullet as it continued up the barrel! No wonder accuracy was poor. These bullets measured about .3595” as cast. My Marlin rifles are .358 to .3585” bore diameter, depending upon which rifle we are talking about. Certainly Microgroove rifles were produced with oversize bore diameters, but even when bore sizes are within specifications like on my rifles some obturation is necessary if the chambers are on the large side, the rifle has minimal to no throat and your mould does not cast a sufficiently large enough bullet. This is the standard dilemma for many rifles and moulds, and even in the “supposedly” superior lead handling Ballard rifled Marlins. If bullets are cast hard, Marlin rifles of ANY bore diameter or rifling type may require oversize bullets, often much larger than the “standard” sizes. Proper alignment in the throat is critical. If the rifle has little to no throat (like most Marlins) the chamber neck becomes the throat, and an oversize bullet helps guidance into the barrel. If any of this is unclear, consult the guys at Beartooth for their suggested sizing diameters for the various Marlin rifles. Hardcast is particularly diameter critical if obturation is not occurring, and remember that obturation can be overdone, spoiling accuracy if bullets are driven by too much pressure.
As for game use with unhardened wheelweight bullets at standard .35 Remington speeds, I have included a photo of an RCBS.35 bullet that was recovered from a whitetail deer. I shot it at a range of 40 yards, and the impact velocity of the bullet was around 2000 fps. I hit higher on the deer than I had intended, as I have problems with losing the gold colored brass bead in dim light (solved it with a Firesight). Anyway, the bullet entered the deer about six inches below the chin, smashed the neck vertebrae, and penetrated downward to lodge inside the left front shoulder without breaking it. The guy who carves up my deer felt it land on the floor of the locker after he boned out the shoulder. He kept an eye out because we knew it had lodged in the deer and asked him to look for it.
Despite smashing the bone, the bullet was in one piece but had opened up to a fan-blade like shape. The neck is one of the larger bones on a deer, and the RCBS bullet had done a good job of disposing of it. I have used the RCBS/wheelweight bullet with good success on deer, but might hesitate a bit to use it on larger game at closer ranges unless it was cast harder, say BHN 16 or thereabout. If all jacketed bullets were discontinued in .35 caliber, the deer hunter could get by just fine with cast wheelweight bullets for the .35 Remington with little sacrifice in range or penetration.
The 180 grain Hornady Single Shot Pistol Bullet
Apparently this bullet is a good seller at Hornady, as they produce around a half million per year. There are a lot of lower velocity 35’s and pistol length barrels that require an easy opening bullet for reduced velocities. The SSP 180 meets that need. My questions were few; how would it hold up at close range and what were the expansion characteristics at longer ranges? To answer this question, I fired it at 2380 fps into the books, range twenty feet, and also at 2300 fps out of my Bullberry barreled Contender pistol in .35 Remington at the 100 and 200 yard books.
At close range, velocity 2380 feet, (call me Elmer Keith) the bullets expanded to wide diameter and penetrated around 8 inches, less than any other bullet save the 125 pistol bullets discussed later. Bullets held together, no doubt due to the Interlock feature, but the lead remaining in the jackets looked almost melted. They also blew the crap out of the phone books. Two shots, one in the top half and the other in the bottom, were all the first few books could take. These look adequate for most lung shots on deer but I’d hesitate to use them against tough resistance at close range at these velocities. At 100 and 200 yards it was apparent that the scoring in the nose of the bullet was not shallow, but deep, as the nose of the bullet peeled back into clearly defined segments. The bullet expanded to wide diameter at 200 yards and showed around 11 inches of penetration. This appears to be a deer bullet, and if any doubt about the expansion qualities of the .35 Remington at long range are present this bullet should answer all questions. There are more suitable cartridges than the .35 Remington for the longer ranges, but if this bullet is placed properly in the chest it looks to be able to cause sufficient damage way out there. A 2300+ fps launch velocity should be sufficient to at least 200 yards as regards trajectory, and these bullets can be used in tubular magazines if the soft nose is clipped and filed off flush with the jacket. The resulting meplat is considerably larger than the 150 Remington PSP factory load and similar to the 180 Speer. Little loss of ballistic performance should occur, as the bullet still has most of its tapering ogive. It is also possible to load the levergun as a two shot with pointed bullets, one in the chamber, the other in the tube.
The 225 Nosler Ballistic Tip
I don’t expect that this bullet will be of interest to most levergun shooters, as it is completely inappropriate for a 336, being too pointed for tube magazines and too long in overall length to feed through the action when seated to a proper depth to ensure case grip on the bullet. Still, though, 2000 fps is possible in the Contender pistol with no problems, and it is at this velocity that I tested it. To be truthful, using this bullet wasn’t my idea, it was my friend Dave’s (7-30) when he sprung it on me during a phone conversation. I wasn’t going to buy any, but on our next range shoot he dumped a box of 50 on my bench. “Swap for the 7 millimeter gaschecks” he declared. Hah! I thought. What use were these damn things? I doubted I could get them to expand at any distance in the .35 Remington pistol, since I’d be shooting them quite a bit slower than the intended velocity range of the manufacturer.
Well, that turned out to be wrong. They did expand at a full 200 yards, much to my surprise. However, at the longer distance, an undesirable characteristic was showing up: every bullet shed the core from the jacket. When this happened, penetration totaled about nine inches, with the core found about two or three inches deeper than the jacket, recovered in a bent “U” shape. At 100 yards, three out of four bullets retained their cores, and at fifty yards all bullets stayed together. I did not try them at any closer distance. When the bullets held together penetration went from fourteen to eighteen inches, with a rather tubular wound channel. That is to say, it did not start out large in the first few books and taper; it was a more moderate size throughout the books. The fifty yard bullets penetrated somewhat further than the 100 yard bullets because the jacket folded more closely along the shank, and also because more of the jacket tore off. The 200 yard bullets shed their cores because the velocity was sufficient to fold the jacket at around a ninety degree angle to the bullet; this braked the jacket, and the core separated.
I cannot help but think these bullets would be much better if they had some mechanism to keep the core in the jacket, perhaps something like Hornady’s Interlock feature. The jacket is very heavy and actually weighs more than the lead core. These bullets were very accurate from my Contender pistol, which has a 1-14 twist. I understand some well known writers like this bullet for larger game, but at Contender pistol velocities they may leave something to be desired. I am sure they would do for whitetail deer, but there are probably better choices. The bullets are big and very streamlined, and the .35 Remington kinda looks like an oversized version of J.D. Jones’ .300 Whisper cartridge, with the big bullet sticking way out of the .35 Remington case. They may be the deadliest looking of my .35 Remington handloads, but they are not the most effective.
The Hornady 125 grain XTP
This is a pistol bullet, intended for the .357 magnum and .38 Special calibers, but they work in the .35 Remington as a super varmint scatterer. My guns really prefer the 158 grain bullets over the 125’s in terms of accuracy, but I didn’t have any on hand and decided to just shoot what was on my shelf. I wound these up to 2600 fps and let fly at the fifty yard books, which made quite an explosion. Two shots. one in the top and the other in the bottom, would completely annihilate a phone book, leaving a hole you could darn near stick a fist into. Soggy wads of paper were blown everywhere. These bullets at close range are about as explosive, if not more so, than the plastic tipped varmint bullets, since pistol bullets will expand at a lower speed than the more pointed plastic tip rifle bullets. These were launched about 600-700 fps slower than your typical .223 prairie dog load, however. There was an intact bullet at the bottom of these large holes, which penetrated six inches, destroying the first two books and were found in the very front of the third book. They had expanded nearly flat and had a fair amount of lead still attached. If your rifle will shoot these with decent enough accuracy I guarantee no woodchuck would survive a hit with one of the 125’s, and placement doesn’t have to be that precise to ensure an instant kill. The critter will be torn in half, if not pureed. If your gun will not shoot the 125’s, the 158’s will probably do much better, and the explosive effect is still there. Certainly there are much better varmint guns, but sometimes it is fun to put the old deer rifle to other uses.
Some Closing Comments
I have a few loose ends to tie up, but not many. I’ll post those results as I get them over the summer. The shooting results were interesting and informative, and indicate there are variations in the performance of the bullets available for handloading. There were a few surprises. Combined with the hunting experience I have, I think this information will help me select the best bullet for the application in which it will be used. If in doubt, shoot the handloaded Remington 200 Core-Lokt for most game, perhaps the Speers if you think you need more penetration for some reason. Keep the velocity high when using the Speer bullets, or use them on larger animals where their slower expansion would be no handicap. If you intend to duplicate factory velocities the Remington bullet would be preferable. I think the Remington would never be a mistake at any safe velocity. Often good things don’t last forever, so I hope the financial interests at Remington are not tempted to cheapen the bullet or change its design. Roundnose and flatnose bullets are not the most popular offerings these days, and I am thankful .35 Remington handloaders have as many bullet choices as they do.
I would appreciate hearing from other .35 Remington users about their results using these bullets on game.
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