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The 35-30 Cartridge is One of the Original Wildcats


Originating around the turn of the century, the 35-30 is one of the oldest wildcat cartridges.

Wildcat cartridges have been around for a long time. A wildcat cartridge is one that is not available in factory form. Rather, handloaders alter an existing cartridge to create something new.

Many wildcats eventually become widely accepted and recognized and eventually become factory cartridges. Two example of wildcats that became factory cartridges are the 25-06 Remington and the 7mm-08 Remington.

The 35-30 name is misleading and inaccurate, but the name has stuck for for over 100 years. The 35-30 was born of necessity. It was the best way to keep a 32 Winchester Special caliber rifle with a shot out bore in service.

Likewise, this applied to 30 Winchester Centerfire (aka 30-30) rifles. The name could have been 35-32 and it would still be appropriate.

The 32 Winchester Special and 30 Winchester Centerfire were introduced as black powder cartridges with cast lead bullets. However, smokeless powder and jacketed bullets soon followed. Corrosion from black powder can quickly deteriorate the condition of the barrels for and rifling. Increased pressure and friction from smokeless powder and jacketed bullets also contributed to wearing out the relatively soft steel barrels that were never intended for these advancements in cartridge technology.

One way to preserve these "shot out" barrel is to rebore them to .358 diameter with no other changes to the rifle. Forming cartridge brass to the proper size is as simple as fire-forming 30-30 Winchester or 32 Winchester Special brass in the rebored rifle.

Fire-forming is outside the scope of this article, but it consists of firing a light load or a load with a wax bullet through the rifle. Upon firing, the brass forms to fit the larger bore and chamber. Reloading dies are necessary to make cartridges and designated 35-30 dies are available from Redding and CH4D, as well as on a custom order basis from other die manufacturers.

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While it is possible to make cartridges using a mix-match of other dies to achieve brass resizing, neck tension and bullet seating the proper dies make loading fast and straightforward.

Another huge advantage to having the proper dies is the ability for form brass without fire-forming. Any 30-30, 32 Winchester Special or 38-55 brass can be simply lubricated and run through the sizing die to form the 35-30 brass you need.

The 35-30 conversion can be made on any strong action such as Winchester 94s, Marlin 336s, single shots and most bolt actions. There are many gunsmiths who will do the conversion with the price typically running between $200 and $250. Look for a gunsmith who offers reboring services.

The 35-30 cartridge offers quite a versatile selection of bullets and loads. Light loads for plinking, target shooting, and hunting up to medium game can be loaded with pistol bullets designed for the 357 Magnum.

Loads for big game typically start with 200 grain bullets that are commonly used in the 35 Remington cartridge, among others. The 35-30 and 35 Remington have similar powder capacities and will have similar ballistics with the same weight bullets.

However, the 35-30 has a longer neck so it will handle longer bullets that weigh more. Bullets of up to 300 grains can be used and the cartridge will still feed from a lever-action rifle that was originally 30-30 or 32 WS caliber.

35-35 cartridge
Photo by Joe Riekers

There is very little reloading data available for the 35-30, but does offer some. I have found that Benchmark is and excellent powder for jacketed bullets that weight 200 or 220 grains as well as cast bullets from 200-250 grains.

With a 20" barrel I am getting an average of 2000 feet per second with 200 grain jacketed bullets and 1900 feet per second with 250 grain cast bullets. Those ballistics make the 35-30 suitable for close range bear, elk and moose.

Deer with 35-30
Photo by Brandon Riekers

The 35-30 is one of the oldest wildcats and a cartridge that has never been turned into a factory loading. This is too bad because its mild recoil, good ballistics and versatility make it a viable cartridge for a broad spectrum of shooting and hunting needs.

Maybe someday it will be available, but until then, it's up to the DIY crowd.

What's your favorite wildcat cartridge?

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The 35-30 Cartridge is One of the Original Wildcats