WINCHESTERíS SLEEPER by
The Mystery of the .358 Winchester By Rick Ryals
The .358 Winchester
This criminally neglected thirty-fiver may be the best use of the .308 case ever.
By Steve Gash
About 30 minutes after Winchester launched the 7.62x51mm NATO on the shooting world as the .308 Winchester, cartridge creators were busily necking the case up and down to other calibers. Some of the rounds thus created, such as the .243 Winchester, are ever popular with steady sales to this day. Some, such as the .358 Winchester, are not.
The .358 was hatched in 1955 and was housed in the equally new Model 88 lever action. The rifle/cartridge combo was intended to replace the .348 Winchester and the soon-to-be-cashiered Model 71 lever gun. While the ballistics of the .358 accomplished its goal, the cartridge sold like ice-cream in the Arctic and soon tottered into obscurity. This is too bad, because the .358 is a perfectly wonderful load. With modern propellants and the high-tech bullets of today, it will hold its own on deer and elk at reasonable ranges.
The .358 debuted with two factory loads, a 200-grainer listed at 2,520 fps and a 250-grain heavyweight at 2,250 fps. Today Winchester lists one load, a 200-grain Silvertip at 2,490 fps, but good luck finding any. And until recently, .358 rifles were scarce, too.
There is good news on that score as well. Browning now offers two versions of its slick BLR lever gun in .358, both with 20-inch barrels. Bolt-action fans of the .358 can dote on Ruger's new M-77 Hawkeye, also in two models. The standard walnut-stocked, blued version has a 22-inch barrel, and the Frontier Stainless FRTG version has a laminated stock and a 16 1/2-inch barrel. All this cannot but help a fine old cartridge.
My test gun is a 1975-vintage Ruger Model 77R with a 22-inch barrel (from a limited run of about 500 rifles made in 1975). While Ruger collectors may cringe, it was made to be shot, so shoot it I did, and it delivered respectable ballistics and accuracy. Groups ran in the 1 1?4- to 1 1/2-inch range. A 4X Leupold scope provided the sighting arrangement.
Reloading the .358 presents no particular problem, after, that is, you have rounded up some empty cases. Winchester lists these, too, but as "seasonal components." This basically means that Big Red makes them only about once a year (if then), so if you find 'em and need 'em, buy 'em. Absent the factory product, one can easily neck up .308 Winchester brass into perfectly usable cases. The tapered expander plug in the RCBS dies I used did this in one easy pass. (I was lucky enough to find a fresh supply of new cases for these G&A tests.)
I used standard primers with complete success in all loads except one. Remington 9.5 M magnum primers reduced the standard deviations (SD) considerably with Accurate-2520 spherical powder. Ballistic uniformity is an important (but not the only important) component in accuracy. The loads shown in the accuracy table had SDs of 21 or less, and many were in the single digits. Medium-burning-rate powders are best suited for the .358's small case, and many of the most useful ones were developed for the benchrest crowd.
The .358 Winchester
The spate of new .35-caliber bullets increases the utility of the .358 substantially. In addition to the tried-and-true cup-and-core missiles, there are Nosler Partitions, A-Frames from Swift and no-lead Triple Shock-X bullets from Barnes.
With the proper bullet, the .358 can handle a variety of hunting situations. Deer are in real jeopardy when a .358-toting hunter is in the woods. The 180-grain Speer flatpoint was originally designed for the .35 Remington, but propelled to 2,620 fps by 46 grains of Accurate Arms' XMR-2015, it is a deer bomb.
The 200-grain Hornady roundnose can be boosted along at 2,550 fps by 48 grains of Hodgdon's Benchmark powder. I have taken deer with Speer's 220-grain FP, and it is also a terrific deer bullet. My favorite load for it is 46 grains of Benchmark. Note that these three loads use benchrest powders.
Two new, sleek 225-grain bullets expand the range of the .358. Sierra's SBT over 46 grains of Benchmark produces 2,380 fps. Nosler offers a 225-grain Ballistic Tip Hunting bullet, which was designed for the .35 Whelen but is also suitable for the .358. For deep penetration, look to the Nosler Partition over 46 grains of Benchmark for 2,470 fps. All of these middleweights have velocity, retained energy and trajectories flat enough for (at least) 250-yard shooting and are suitable for big game up to and including elk.
But dedicated bullet mavens will want to poke holes in large critters with the heavyweight of the .35-caliber clan. Here four tough 250-grain stalwarts take center stage: the tried-and-true Speer Hot-Cor SP, the Partition, the Barnes TS-X and the Swift A-Frame.
(Swift also offers a 280-grain A-Frame, but it's a bit too heavy for the .358's limited case capacity.) With the Speer SP, a charge of 44 grains of H-322 is about perfect at 2,330 fps. Also quite good is 44 grains of XMR-2495, good for 2,310 fps. The reasonably flat trajectory and bone-crunching power of any of these loads will ruin an elk's afternoon.
With new .358 Winchester rifles now available, it would be nice if the ammo companies would pony up some high-tech .358 fodder. Until then, we reloaders will simply have to take up the slack for this fine old cartridge.
WARNING: The loads shown here are safe only in the guns for which they were developed. Neither the author nor InterMedia Outdoors Inc. assumes any liability for accidents or injury resulting from the use or misuse of this data.
Seven years after I returned to the U.S. from 2 plus years in Africa the itch for the all around rifle I had over there got really bad. It was an old military Mauser converted from 9.3X57mm to a 62mm case. Basically like our 35 Whelen.
In 1968 reamers for the 9.3 were none existent, dies, bullets and such expensive, and the 35 Whelen reamers were hard to find and expensive to buy...at least for me at the time. But the gunsmith that was going to build my first custom rifle assured me the 358 Winchester would do it all. I figured it would be much like the original chambering in my African all around rifle, the 9.3X57...I had that opened to the 62 mm case only because where I was 30-06 brass was plentiful and the 57mm brass was not.
Using a commercial Mauser action, I had a 23 inch .358 barrel with a 1 in 10 twist mounted with a medium weight and taper....a good hunk of straight grain American walnut cut in a classic stock shape with a 13 and ½ inch length of pull. And it stayed a .358 Win until I ran into a BSA 24 inch rifle a few years later in .358 so I rechambered the custom rifle to 35 Whelen.
It might sound like at this point I had too much of the same thing a 358 Win and a 35 Whelen...but not really. The least I can say about 35 Whelen is that it is actually one of the finest all around cartridges to be developed. Itís basically in the class of medium heavy calibers like 338/06 and the 375/06. And the three of those are in a class, when compared to the African calibers in Taylorís classic book...AFRICAN RIFLES AND CARTRIDGES, that will take 95% of African game and 99% of everything in the North and South Americas.
Taylor talks of the 350 Rigby Magnum...which is a 60 grain cartridge case...like the Whelen...(pgs 148/150) and states on pg 150 that in the open the 350 Rigby mag will take the dangerous game of Africa. The 350 Rigby Mag and the Whelen are performance twins. With todayís powders and bullets the Whelen in 358...or338 and 375...is far above the African calibers of Taylorís time.....
It is easy to say that the .358 Win on the 308 case, is 15% below the Whelen...in power potential. But that doesnít really describe the assets of this neat cartridge. If you want to build a very powerful and compact rifle the .358 should be considered. The Browning leveraction .358 proves this....those that have one know. If I didnít have a number of 35 caliber rifles...and had the itch to build one it would run along these lines....a short bolt action, a straight taper stiff medium 20 inch barrel and a synthetic stock with a 50mm 6 power scope. Outside of game like the Big Bears of the North, elephant, cape buff, and such, I could hunt the world with it.
I know that just about every animal on earth, has fallen to the big bore handguns of today...so a rifle of the power potential of the 358 Win should easily take anything...and thatís true to a point. But the big bore handguns or even the 358 Winchester heavy loaded are not what I want if a cape buff decides he thinks I would make a good component of a mud hole. Or a angry brown bear thinks eliminating me will cure his pain in life. Iím not saying the 358 Win wonít take such game I just want to put it into real perspective.
Now saying all that, here is where I get into trouble. The Speer number 13 reloading manual shows the 180 grain bullet from a 30-06 at 2756 fps as the top load and the 358 Winchester 180 grain bullet at 2732 fps as the top load. Both easily give 3000 pounds of muzzle energy with many loads. But the 358 will do it with less powder, shorter actions, shorter brass, and shorter barrels than the 30-06. Is the 358 better than the 30-06? Are apples better than oranges? Thatís a matter of personal taste, not science....but I think so. Remember of course, I am sold out to the 35 caliber...and that colors my thinking.
In my 358 notes I show a load of 54.5 grains of H335 under the Speer 180 grain 35-Flat SP gives over 2850 fps! That is a top load...and it gives nearly 3250 pounds of punch. Using 54 grains of 748...and a 220 grain round soft nose bullet gives 2510 fps and over 3000 lbs of muzzle energy... suddenly gives you have a moose and big bear load that is exceptionally effective. Pushing the 250 grain Speer Grand Slam at 2400 fps with 44 grains of AA2015 gives a killing potential that is awesome on large game in the multi thousand pound class. And Barnes makes a .358/250 grain solid for those biggies that have very hard heads. And yes these are 358 Winchester loads...not the Whelen or the 35 Remington Magnum loads. All from my 23 inch barrel.
Lymanís 3589, is the original mold number...not sure what it is today, probably something like 358009. But it is a round nose at around 280 grains in weight. I cast these bullets from magnum shotgun shot with 5% tin added...cast hot and dropped directly into water.
The ones Iím going to use for hunting I size and lube...then place them standing in water up to just above the shoulder and run the butane torch over the noses ...doesnít take much...at the first sign of color change take the flame off...Let them cool slowly and the temper in the noses is gone for good expansion ...yet the body is hard and will take high pressure and velocity without fouling....pushing these from the 358 Winchester cartridge at 2400 fps is a snap with H335, AA 2015, or 3031...accuracy is very fine. Muzzle energy is almost 3600 lbs....a 30-06 has to work very hard to get even close to that kind of power.
One of the great loads from the 358 is to take the Remington 150 grain spire point bullet...over 52 grains of ReL#15 and 3100 fps...(my..my we are in 270 Win country)...WHY do they call this a woods caliber???? With my 3+ inch zero at 100 yards ...by actually shooting it is still 2.4 inches high at 200 yards...1.5 inches down at 300 yards and a little over a foot at 400 yards.....woods round my butt! At the muzzle this bullet carries 3000 lbs of energy and at 400 yards it still has almost a 1300 lbs of punch and at 500 yards still near 1000 lbs. As I said it is versatile, powerful, and can be a light rifle for 95% of the game of the world.....what else could we ask for. Jim Taylor and I once stood on a very high foothill shooting over to the next very high foothill with my 356 Winchester 94 Big Bore leveraction...loaded with my special 358 loads.....Jim was amazed that he was able to hit smallish rocks with ease...well past 500 yards. Why is this round such a sleeper?????
And the great 358 Winchester cartridge and chambering is a real sleeper. It was written up in all the gunzines from 1955 thru the 1960s...but it was constantly referred to as a Ďbush caliberí or a Ďwoods caliberí...stating the effective range was around 200 yards on the outside. Who writes this crapola?
The same thing happened to the 307 and 356 Winchester cartridges and chamberings, in the 94 Big Bore Levergun...one of the strongest mind sets in the gunzine writing business seems to be...leveractions = brush guns!!!! Leverguns are of limited power and range...leverguns can kill really big game like moose and the big bears only at very limited distance.....!!!!
One of the great African hunters was John ĎPondoroí Taylor. In his book AFRICAN RIFLES AND CARTRIDGES in a chart section after pg.196 John rates the velocities and muzzle energy/and energy of bullets out to 300 yards...on each of the African calibers from the 256 thru the 600. In the chart he rates the 235 grain 375 H&H bullet at 2800 fps and itís 270 grain bullet 2650 fps. These are velocities for the most part of British ammo loaded with cordite and it was temperature sensitive, so it was loaded down for African hunting by the British ammo makers....but these are the loads from 1913 to the 1950s that dropped elephants and such by the thousands.
John Taylor calls the 375 the greatest all around rifle cartridge for African hunting of game, up to the size of elephant, rhino, hippo, cape buffalo and many other very large, and hard to stop animals. And great it is.....and on pg.146 thru 150 in his book, he talks about the very well known cartridge in Africa but not well known in the U.S. The 350 Rigby Magnum. Is this some belted banger on the H&H case? No it was basically a 35 Whelen of the times. Pushing a 225 grain bullet at 2600 fps.... John states very clearly that the 350 Rigby magnum will do what the 375 H&H will do on big game. Itís just that John wanted the solid 270 grain bullet weight of the 375 in the thick brush when he was after elephant. And he wished that Rigby would come out with a heavier bullet for 350 R/Mag. (Donít confuse this mag labeled round with the smaller 350 Rigby..nonMag) Whatís all this got to do with the 358 Winchester round?
We can with modern powder and bullets get to within 15% of the British loaded 375 H&H...and get right beside the 350 Rigby Mag with todayís 358 reloaded Winchester cartridge. I have pushed the 220 grain 358 Speer bullets over 2500 fps(50 grs A2520 @ 54,000C) and the Barnes 250 grain solid over 2400 fps (49 grs A2520 @ 55,500C). Would I shoot an elephant with a suitably loaded 358 bolt action? I would rather use a 35 Whelen with the Barnes 250 grain solid at near 2700 fps....but if the .358 Win was all I had, and the shot was decent..not only would I...but I have. With handloads in the 9.3 x 62mm when I was in Africa in the 1950s. Loads that put the 9.3 in the same killing levels as the old 35 Whelen, 350 Rigby Magnum, and the British loaded (cordite) 375 H&H.
Lets see ............ the gun writers tell us the 358 is a brush cartridge. Well, when it is loaded with commercial ammo at warm 35 Remington level velocities....it might be. So now, I know some will go to their reloading manuals and say Ďwait Pacoí...the best loads I can find with the 250 grain Barnes bullet from the Barnes book out of the 350 Remington magnum is only 2500+ fps!!!...how can the smaller 358 Win do 2400+ fps?
Itís a lesson in pressure again...most reloading manuals keep the 358 at about 47,000 to 50,000 CUP on the very top end...but usually below even that. The pressure in the 375 H&H and other belted mags can run as high as 57,000 to 60,000 psi. Do you think the actions on the belted magnum bolt rifles like Winchester Mod.70 or Remingtonís 700 or Rugerís 77, are any less strong than their non belted bolt actions? All made from the same steel, same manufacturing processes, etc.....
Do you think the brass of the 358 Winchester case is less strong than the brass of a 7mm Remington mag for example. The belted mag cartridges may be thicker in some places like the base...but it is the same kind of brass and since science tells us when all else is equal, the smaller cylinder is the stronger cylinder...the 358 case makes up for the added thickness of the larger belted mags. I have 358 Winchester brass that has gone thru 40+ loadings and is still going strong...and my favorite load with the Speer 180 grain FlatSP...pushes 55,000 psi and sends that fine bullet over 2800 fps. The Speer manual #13 gives a load of 52 grs of H335 and a load of 45 grs of ReL#7 that pushes it well over 2700 fps. Somebody want to check the velocities for the 30-06/180 gr bullet? Has that ever been called short range?
My Lyman mold 3589 drops a 290+ grain cast bullet with a gas check...with ApacheBlu lube and ReL#7 or A2520 I push that over 2350 fps, giving more than 3550 ft.lbs of muzzle energy. The 250 grain solid at 2400+ fps gives 3200 ft.lbs of energy....all light for elephant in the thick stuff...but they are not brush loads..nor is the 358 Winchester a brush/woods cartridge. Now these are heavy loads. I donít use them on deer or black bear or sumsuch...but the power and potential is there if needed.
I wrote in my first book on leverguns that using a Remington 150 grain spire point .358 bullet (developed for the 350 Remington Mag round) in the 356 case from the 356 Winchester Big Bore I could get an 8 to 10 inch actual drop at 400 yards. The Winchester rep at the time, nearly called me a liar...but looking at my face...I guess he thought better of it....saying something else like ..."Iíd really have to see that..." Something to smooth out his near faux pa.
But pushing that 150 grainer at over 3000 fps and setting the scope at five inches high at 100 yards will do it (five inches @100 set on the bottom post of my duplex scope site). I set my guns usually at 2½ to three inches high at 100...Even at 3 inches @100 yrds...the drop is around 15 inches at 400 yards....actual firing not computer generated. But just to show the 356 was not a hyper Ďbrush guní as the gunzines were spouting...I ran those tests at five inches @100yrds. Didnít do much good, the round still died and so has the 358 Win.
I donít see much difference between the 358 and the 356 WinBB rounds when handloaded to 55,000psi or so. The expansion ratio for a 35 caliber makes the 20 inch Winchester 94BB barrel very effective and with minimal fps loss in comparison to the 308 barrel bore.....I get the same jazz about my velocities in the 356/358 when folks compare to the listed loads for the 350 Rem mag.
Thatís the short mag round they developed for the 18 inch barreled rifle Remington produced, called the mod.600...then later the model 660 with a plastic rib. Those 350 Rem/Mag loads were also kept at the 47,000 to 50,000 cup levels because the rifle was very small. But you chamber a 350 Rem Mag in a modern bolt action like the fine Ruger mod.77 (Ruger made a limited run of these) and load it to itís full potential....and you can within 3 to 5% of todayís fine 375 H&H ballistics with ease. Thatís a 375 H&H 235 grain bullet at 2950 fps from a 24 inch barrel, using 85 grains of 380...or 2950 fps with 80 grains of ReL#15....But the well chambered 350 Rem/Mag from a 24 inch barrel will push the 220 grain 358 slugs over 2900 fps. My 35 Whelen Imp...will also do about the same.....so we realize the 358 isnít the only under loaded round.
Because of itís small size, the 358 Winchester makes for one fine cast bullet cartridge....13.5 grains of Red Dot, Green Dot, PB, Unique, and SR 7625 will give from 1350 to 1450fps with a 200 grain bullet. I like the 358430 Lyman round nose at 195+ grains for any small eating animal that I donít want to tear up...this is basically a medium 357 magnum handgun level load. Lyman makes a tapered 200 grain plus bullet, numbered 358315 that I never could get good accuracy with at any decent velocity....it looks like a rifle bullet, but doesnít act like one for me.
The all time great cast .358 bullet for me in rifles is the 3589 Lyman (itís now numbered 358009) it is a listed 280 grain very blunt roundnose. It drops at 290+ grains from my mold and at 2350fps gives well over 3500 ft.lbs. of muzzle energy (51 grs A2520). Someone asked if I would use cast bullets on large thick skinned game animals. Been there, as so many others have. I used cast bullets in the 9.3 Mauser much more than jacketed, in Africa. Todayís handgun hunters have taken just about everything Africa has to offer, with cast bullets. Cast bullets were used first on everything...man, animals, in wars, hunting, everything....jacketed bullet use didnít become common until we were well into the 20 century.
Heavy cast bullets can be pushed as fast, or nearly as fast as heavy jacketed bullets. If they are cast fairly hard and the noses after sizing and lubing are de- tempered they make exceptionally good hunting bullets. The 358 caliber has a plethora of bullet weights and shapes to choose from. And of course the commercial casters offer a large selection of types and weights and designs to make the most picky shooter happy.
The latest Lyman chart shows 13 different 358 designs from 115 grs to 280 grains....RCBS shows 9 from 148 grs to 200 grs....CBE shows 40 in their product book from 80 grs to 300+grs. CBE made a special 358 bullet up for me that was in the Keith short nose design at 335 grs. The mold is gorgeous, made from pure brass...two cavity...drops perfect bullets. This company is a real find...they are in New South Wales, but donít let that bother you their turn around order time is shorter than some American companies. (CBE P.O.BOX 269 MENAI CENTRAL N.S.W. 2234 tellíem Paco sent you). You should at least send for their catalog if you are a caster......And of course NEI has as many as CBE....
If you canít find your perfect bullet weight and design...NEI will still cut a cherry and produce a mold to your own design...I have a few of those. The heaviest 35 caliber mold I have is a custom Hock 350 grainer of my design from back in the 1980s. Built especially for my 35 Whelen, rarely does this bullet stay inside any animal harvested with it. It and the CBE 335 grainer are really too long for the 358 Winchester....taking up too much powder space inside the cartridge case. But even at 1600 to 1800 fps and 2500 ft.lbs from the 358 Winchester round they are still fairly powerful and fun to shoot.
I cast them medium soft in the body for this velocity, and completely soft in the noses...they will roll a coyote every time. They will make steaks and chops and roasts out of big deer, black bear and elk...and they will punch completely thru a 1000+ lb feral bull with a side shot thru the ribs. And because they are so long in body, their trajectory isnít as bad at these low velocities, as I first thought they would be.
But the 358 Winchester cries for the 250 gr to 300 grs bullets in jacketed or cast for heavy game and 180 to 220 grs for the medium game...the 150 to 165 grs for small stuff. And with proper reloading it is a far better and much more powerful and longer range cartridge than it has been given credit for.....try it, I think you will like it.
By Rick Ryals
I have read several articles about the .358 Winchester, including Chuck Hawks' article on the Rifle Cartridge Page of Guns and Shooting Online. Based on what I have read, everyone who has used the cartridge has had nothing but high praise for it. From all accounts its killing power is outstanding, far in excess of what would be expected from its modest case size or its paper ballistics. Its recoil is modest for the level of power it provides. The expansion ratio for .35 caliber cartridges is ideal for shorter barreled rifles. This means that the .358 can realize its full potential in a 20 to 22 inch barrel rather than the 26 inch barrel needed for most magnum cartridges. The huge mystery about the .358 Winchester is its incredible lack of popularity.
I have considered the various reasons given for its unpopularity, and for each reason offered I can name other cartridges for which the same could be said, but yet these cartridges enjoy great popularity. I would like to look at each of the reasons I have read for its failure in the market place, and discuss their merit.
Heavy recoil has long been cited for the failure of such cartridges as the .358 Winchester and the .350 Remington Magnum. However, there are other cartridges that recoil just as much or more and which sell extremely well. The various .300 magnums are prime examples. Heavy recoil is sometimes cited as a disadvantage in discussions of the .300's, but it certainly has not hindered their popularity.
The .300 Winchester Magnum with a 180 grain bullet at 2960 fps delivers 25.9 foot-pounds of recoil from an 8.5 pound rifle. As a comparison, the .358 Winchester with a 250 grain bullet at 2300 fps delivers 25.4 foot-pounds of recoil from a 7.5 pound rifle. So we see that even with a one pound lighter rifle, the .358 recoils slightly less than a .300 magnum.
Let's also compare the .358 with the other end of the spectrum. The .45-70 is another very popular cartridge. A 300 grain bullet launched at 1800 fps from an 8 pound rifle generates 22.5 foot-pounds of recoil. The 405 grain bullet at 1330 fps generates around 22.8 foot-pounds. These are the standard low pressure loads. With hotter loads for modern high strength rifles, the .45-70 will push a 350 grain bullet at 2100 fps, providing 36.4 foot-pounds of recoil from an 8 pound rifle. Even the light .45-70 loads are in the vicinity of the .358 recoil, while the heavy loads far exceed it.
So we see that there are many very popular cartridges that generate recoil equal to or exceeding that of the .358 Winchester. Recoil alone does not keep a cartridge from becoming popular.
This is another criticism of the .358 Winchester. Let's see how it compares here with other popular cartridges. With maximum powder charges the .358 can provide the following velocities from various bullet weights:
.358 Winchester, 180 grain bullet at 2700 - 2800 fps
These velocities are typical for the bullet weights shown, and are shown in several reloading manuals with a variety of powders. The .358 Winchester Super-X factory load drives a 200 grain Silvertip bullet at a MV of 2490 fps. How does this compare with the velocities of other cartridges?
.308 Winchester, 150 grain bullet at 2820 fps
The .358 runs anywhere from 100 to 300 fps behind the velocities of the .308 Winchester, approximately 600 fps behind the .300 Winchester Magnum, and 250 to 350 fps behind the .338 Winchester Magnum. And it is around 900 fps faster than the low pressure .45-70 loads, and about 200 fps faster that the high pressure 350 grain load.
These comparisons are for bullets of comparable sectional density or intended usage. While the .358 comes in second place to the high intensity smaller bores and magnums, it clearly outdistances the increasingly popular .45-70 big bore in the velocity race.
Whenever I have considered the .358's unpopularity I have long believed it due to its moderate velocity. But then I took notice of the .45-70 and its increasing popularity in recent years. How do we explain this, considering that the velocity of that old cartridge is anemic compared to the .358? It is a mystery to me.
Since velocity affects both trajectory and energy, let's look at them next.
Short range trajectory is another reason proposed for the .358's unpopularity. Let's compare its trajectory with other popular cartridges to see if this criticism is valid. To simplify things, we will compare the maximum point blank range of various cartridges to see how the .358 stacks up.
.308 Winchester, 150 grain at 2820 fps - MPBR 264 yards
With bullet weights for deer-sized game, the .358 doesn't do nearly as bad as its reputation would lead you to believe. Using 180 grain bullets, a number of reloading manuals show loads that meet or exceed 2700 fps. This will provide a MPBR of around 255 yards, which is comparable to the .308 with a 150 or 165 grain bullet. The .308 is not usually considered a short range cartridge. Note also that this is only 30 yards shy of the MPBR of the .300 Winchester Magnum with 180 grain bullets.
Next up are bullet weights suitable for a combination of game. For the .358 this includes 200 to 225 grain bullets. A 200 grain bullet can be loaded in excess of 2500 fps, for a MPBR of 237 yards. This is about 23 yards behind the .308 with 165 grain bullets and 47 yards behind the .300 Winchester Magnum with 180 grain bullets.
Finally, let's look at bullet weights for the largest North American game. The .358 will push 250 grain bullets around 2300 fps for a MPBR of 227 yards. The .338 Winchester Magnum pushes a 250 grain bullet at 2660 fps for a MPBR of 265 yards. We see that the .338 has a 38 yard advantage.
The magnum fan will say, "See, my magnum has a much flatter trajectory." So what does this buy us? In other words, what advantage do we gain from the extra weight, barrel length, recoil, and muzzle blast of a magnum over our little .358? About 50 yards advantage in maximum point blank range with the .300 magnum. With a .338 magnum the advantage drops to about 40 yards.
What does this mean in the real world? Since the vast majority of game is harvested at 200 yards or less, it means very little. If you really plan on hunting at ranges exceeding 200 to 250 yards you should have a range finder. You should also shoot your rifle at these longer ranges to determine where it actually hits at various ranges. If you do this you can accurately determine the distance to the target (or animal), and you will know where to hold for a first shot hit. Since this method can be used whether you use a .358 or a .300 magnum, the supposed 40 to 50 yard advantage virtually disappears. If you are not willing to do this, you have no business shooting at live animals past 200 - 250 yards anyway.
I would also like to look at the trajectory issue from another perspective. The .358 has a much flatter trajectory than the venerable .45-70, but that cartridge enjoys great popularity. In fact, the .358 has close to a 100 yard advantage in MPBR over the old big bore. But apparently the .358 does not have the historical romance of the old big bore. It is truly one of the unsung blue-collar workers in the world of cartridges. It simply does the job and does it very well with a minimum of fuss. Meanwhile, everyone is oohing and aahing over the sexy magnums or playing Old West Buffalo Hunter with big bores.
Here is a comparison of the energy figures for various cartridges:
.308 Winchester, 150 grain at 2820 fps - 2648 foot pounds
The .358 has a 200 - 300 ft. lb. advantage over the .308. It has a 600 - 700 ft. lb. deficit to the .300 magnum and 900 -1000 ft. lb. deficit to the .338 magnum. It has a 600 - 1300 ft. lb. advantage over the low pressure .45-70 loads, and a 500 ft. lb. deficit to the high pressure .45-70 load.
The .358's energy level falls amazingly close to the middle of the pack compared to these other cartridges. All of these are fine hunting cartridges, each capable of providing a quick and humane kill within their range limitations. Compare the .358's energy and velocity to the 405 grain 45-70 load. Yet this 405 grain load was used to kill bison by the thousands by 19th Century hunters.
In fact, the .358's energy level is very close to the 30-06, while it throws medium bore slugs at moderate velocities. 2400 fps has long been advocated as an ideal velocity for penetration with medium to large bore African cartridges. So while the energy produced by the .358 falls below that of the large cased magnums, its bore size and velocity with the heavier bullets gives it killing power far in excess of its paper ballistics.
Keep in mind that the energy advantage of the small bore magnums is due to their high velocity. While there are a few high velocity cartridges intended for dangerous game, the great majority of these cartridges fall into the medium velocity, heavy bullet category. The fact that the .358 also combines these desirable traits should make us stop and think.
This criticism of the .358, unfortunately, is true. At the time of this writing, only the Browning BLR lever action and the Ruger M77 Hawkeye and Frontier bolt action rifles are chambered for the .358. If you like lever actions the BLR is an excellent choice. It is a strong, well designed action. It is also light and compact, which capitalizes on one of the major virtues of the cartridge. It has been available for several years with blued metal and walnut stock, and Browning has recently introduced a stainless steel version with a grey laminate stock. This gives you the choice of traditional beauty or greater weather resistance. Jon Wolfe has written an excellent review of this rifle that can be found on the Product Review Page of Guns and Shooting Online.
If you want a bolt action, the new Ruger Hawkeye would seem to be the way to go, as it is a more practical general purpose hunting rifle than the "scout" style Frontier. (The latter would be a good choice as a "guide rifle" type arm carried for protection, though.) The Ruger M77 action is an excellent one, offering push feed and the usual commercial Mauser 98 features that have made that type of action so well regarded.
If you don't like the BLR or the Ruger M77 you will either need to find your .358 on the used market, order a semi-custom rifle from a company like New Ultra Light Arms, or order a barreled action from a company like the Montana Rifle Company and put it in a stock. Or, you could choose to have an existing rifle rebarreled to .358 Win.
It turns out that .358 Winchester is a rare caliber in
virtually all of the rifles that were once chambered for it (Win. M70,
Win. M88, Savage M99). Because of this, in addition to the difficulty of
finding a used .358 rifle, they demand premium prices that typically exceed
$1000. A semi-custom rifle, such as New Ultra Light Arms builds, is going
to set you back more than two grand.
If you have an existing short action rifle that you can spare, a rebarrel job is a possible alternative. A barrel manufacturer like E.R. Shaw can install a new barrel on your rifle for less than $300. With this option you will likely have to re-inlet the barrel channel of your stock to fit the new barrel.
This seems to be one of those self-perpetuating problems. Due to the .358's unpopularity it is unlikely that most gun makers will chamber it in their rifles. However, its lack of availability in a variety of rifles in turn contributes to its unpopularity. We can only hope that the BLR and the Ruger bolt actions will sell well enough in .358 for other manufacturers to take notice.
This is related to the rifle availability problem. This has been a negative factor for the .358 from the beginning. As far as I am aware, Winchester has been the only major ammunition factory to load .358 cartridges. The availability of a variety of loadings from smaller companies like Stars and Stripes is a positive sign. However, such companies are not widely known to the average shooter. Until I read about Stars and Stripes on Guns and Shooting Online, I was unaware of their existence.
Because of the limited selection of factory ammunition, the .358 has long been a handloaders' cartridge. The handloader has a wide selection of bullets available from 180 to 250 grains. With this range of bullet weights one can load for anything from pronghorn to elk and moose.
180 grain bullets can be loaded to 2700 fps with a wide variety of powders, and there are a few powders shown to provide 2800 fps. This would be a relatively flat shooting load for pronghorn or deer out to 300 yards.
220 or 225 grain bullets can be loaded to between 2400 and 2500 fps with several powders. These bullets would be suitable for deer sized game on up through elk and moose.
With a 250 grain bullet loaded to 2300 fps, you could even take on the big bears of the north. The new super bullets like the Barnes TSX provide another alternative. The Barnes 225 grain TSX loaded to 2400 - 2500 fps might make the ultimate all-around large game load for North American hunting with the .358.
I believe this perception has done more to damage the .358's potential popularity than anything else. Many writers have tried to bury it with the epitaph, "It's a fine little woods cartridge." While it can certainly be used as a woods cartridge, the .358 is clearly, by any measure, more than a woods cartridge. The .338 or .375 magnums could also be used as woods cartridges, but no one would try to limit their use to such.
This is not to suggest that the .358 is in the same class as these cartridges. However, calling it a "woods cartridge" suggests that it is in the class of the .32 Special or the .35 Remington. While these are both excellent deer cartridges, attempting to include the .358 Winchester in their class does it a great injustice. The .358 is clearly a much more powerful cartridge, capable of taking a much wider variety of game, especially larger game, at longer ranges. It is within 100 fps of the .35 Whelen with all bullet weights, and I have never seen that referred to as a "woods cartridge."
Gun writers have the power of life and death over rifle cartridges. They have often wielded this power to cripple enormously useful cartridges, and the .358 Winchester has been one of their victims. It has been depicted over and over, both in magazines and reloading manuals, as a short range woods cartridge. This perception, more than anything else, may explain the mystery of the .358's unpopularity.
The large-case magnums typically have the advantages of faster velocity, flatter trajectory, and higher energy than standard cartridges. The magnums have been used by many folk to take a variety of game. It would be irrational to argue against their effectiveness.
Their downside is that they require longer barreled, heavier rifles and generate enormous recoil and muzzle blast. Since many install muzzle brakes to tame their heavy recoil, the muzzle blast can become literally deafening. Many hunters do not mind carrying long, heavy rifles, and can endure heavy recoil and muzzle blast. For them the magnums may be a great choice. However, for many of us a shorter, lighter rifle is a welcome thing.
The .358 can be built as a short, handy rifle, unlike the .300 and .338 magnums. Yet the cartridge is powerful enough for the largest animals on this continent, while not being too much for deer. In fact, the .358 fits neatly between the standard .30 calibers and the grand .45-70, and offers the best of both worlds. It provides killing power similar to the classic big bore and at the same time has a trajectory that is close to the .308 and .30-06. It will provide a maximum point blank range of 230 to 260 yards, which would be a long shot for me (and the great majority of hunters) under field conditions.
I believe it is an outstanding blend of bore size, killing power, reasonable trajectory, and moderate recoil that can be had in a compact all-around rifle for North American hunting. To quote a famous Alaskan guide, Hal Waugh, the .358 Winchester is one of the "finest little big guns" ever to come along. The great mystery to me is why so few seem to agree.