The .30-06 Springfield—and its predecessor the .30-03 Springfield—are responsible for a great number of cartridges, both wildcat and commercially accepted. Some have become undeniable classics in their own right, and here I’m talking about the .270 Winchester, .25-06 Remington and .280 Remington, and others have a small yet fervent following, like the 6.5-06 and the 6mm-06. The case has been necked up to create the .375-06, and even the immense .400 Whelen, but the most popular choices range between .277-inch and .358-inch. Two of my favorites among the ’06 offspring are the .338-06 A-Square and the .35 Whelen, which give the shooter access to a larger frontal diameter and heavier bullet weights than are associated with the .30-06 Springfield.
The .35 Whelen is the older of the two designs, first making an appearance as a wildcat nearly a century ago. It was designed by James Howe of Griffin & Howe fame, to mimic the performance of the .318 Westley Richards, .333 Jeffery and .350 Rigby. Howe used the .30-06 Springfield for its plentiful brass as well as donor rifles, necking it up to hold .358-inch diameter bullets, and naming the cartridge in honor of Col. Townsend Whelen. The cartridge would remain a wildcat for the next 66 years, when Remington decided to legitimize Howe’s design in 1988.
The commercial version uses the same case length as the .30-06 at 2.494 inches, and the same 17½-degree shoulder as the parent case. Remington offered a 200-grain Core-Lokt load at 2675 fps, and a 250-grain spitzer softpoint at 2400 fps. Being .35 caliber offers a rather wide range of component bullet weights: between 150 grains and 310 grains. The most popular factory loads feature bullets weighing between 180 and 250 grains. The Whelen makes a great choice for the hunter who enjoys pursuing larger game species, as the 250-grain bullets have a definite and visible effect on elk, moose and bear.
The .338-06 A-Square may be the most obscure of the commercially produced cartridges based on the .30-06, but it also one of the most well-balanced of the lot. Its roots can be traced to the .333 OKH, a cartridge developed by Charles O’Neil, Elmer Keith and Don Hopkins, which used .30-06 brass necked up to hold the 250- and 300-grain bullets of the .333 Jeffery. The popularity of the .338 Winchester Magnum put a bunch of .338-inch diameter bullets on the market, and it was only logical to mate those bullets to the Springfield case. Like the Whelen, the .338-06 uses the case length and shoulder angle of the .30-06, so one pass through a resizing die will have a properly sized case. The case in its current iteration was formally presented for SAAMI approval by Col. Arthur Alphin’s A-Square company in 1998, and before long Weatherby was chambering for the .338-06.
Weatherby offered factory-loaded ammunition for the .338-06 at one time, featuring the 210-grain Nosler Partition at 2750 fps, but it seems that it has been discontinued. Factory ammunition is now loaded only by Nosler themselves, who offer the 180- and 200-grain AccuBonds and the 225-grain Partition in their custom ammunition. The .338-inch bore diameter offers a similar bullet selection to that of the .35s, with weights of hunting bullets running from 160 grains up to 300 grains. Muzzle velocities are very similar to that of the .35 Whelen, and run a couple of hundred fps behind the .338 Winchester Magnum.
Comparing the two, you’ll find that the Springfield case is well-suited to both these bore diameters. And, looking deeper into the specs for the pair of contestants, you’ll find that the biggest sticking points are actually the common arguments between the .338 and .358 bore diameters. Do you prefer frontal diameter, or do you appreciate sectional density? Logically thinking, the .35s should handle heavier bullets than the .338s, but that’s not the case. In fact, they are so similar that there really is not difference. If you are firmly planted in the sectional density/ballistic coefficient camp, the .338 bore diameter will assuredly appeal to you. If you prefer the larger frontal diameter, the .35s will check the boxes for you.
From the point of view of the availability of factory ammunition, the .35 Whelen will win the fight, hands down. Barnes, Hornady, Remington, Federal and Nosler all offer .35 Whelen ammo of some sort, where only Nosler offers limited runs of .338-06 ammo. Yet, even the Whelen ammunition is becoming increasingly scarce these days. Being completely honest, if you are going to get serious about either of these cartridges, you’ll want to handload your ammunition, or have someone handload it for you. If we consider the handloading option, I will give the edge to the .338-06, as the bullet conformation appeals to me. As a huge fan and user of the .318 Westley Richards, which uses .330-inch diameter bullets, the .338-06 A-Square is very close is specs and performance. The .35 Whelen, while a great design, gives up a bit in the ballistic coefficient and sectional density departments.
Personally, I wish there were more factory loads for both cartridges, as well as rifle choices. These two give a great balance of exterior ballistics and palatable recoil; the rifles can be as light as any .30-06, and yet the increased striking power is appreciated, especially when the big bears or other similar game is on the receiving end. I’m a handloader, so if pressed to choose, I’d be converting Springfield brass into .338-06 A-Square cases and happily hunting everything but the thick-skinned heavyweights of Africa with the rifle.
Looking for previous installments of our "Head to Head" series? We've got you covered.
• .308 Winchester vs. .300 Winchester Magnum
• 6.5 Creedmoor vs. 6.5 PRC
• .22 LR vs. .22 WMR
• .30-06 Springfield vs. .300 Winchester Magnum
• .300 Wby. Mag. vs. 8mm Rem. Mag.
• 7mm Remington Magnum vs. 27 Nosler
• .257 Roberts vs. .25-06 Remington
• .300 H&H Magnum vs. .300 Winchester Magnum
• .308 Winchester vs. .338 Federal
• .222 Remington vs. .223 Remington
• .270 WSM vs. 7mm Rem. Mag.
• .22-250 Remington vs. .204 Ruger
• .25-06 Remington vs. 6.5 Creedmoor
• .444 Marlin vs. .45-70 Government
• 7x57mm Mauser vs. .280 Remington
• .300 Win. Mag. vs. .300 Wby. Mag.
• .375 Ruger vs. .375 H&H Magnum
• 7mm-08 Remington vs. .280 Remington
• .280 Remington vs. .280 Ackley Improved
• 7mm vs. .30 Caliber
• 6.5 Weatherby RPM vs. 6.5 PRC
• .338 Win. Mag. vs. .340 Wby. Mag.
• .300 RSAUM vs. .300 WSM
• .500 Jeffrey vs. .505 Gibbs
• 7mm RUM vs. .300 RUM
• .308 Winchester vs. 7mm-08 Remington
• 6.5 Creedmoor vs. .260 Remington
• .303 British vs. 8x57 Mauser
• .30-06 Springfield vs. All Other .30s
• .17 HMR vs. .17 WSM
• .450 Nitro Express vs. .470 Nitro Express
• 350 Legend vs. .35 Remington
• .280 Ackley Improved vs. 7mm Rem. Mag.
• .404 Jeffery vs. .416 Rigby
• .243 Winchester vs. 6mm Creedmoor
• .300 PRC vs. .300 Win. Mag.
• .30-06 Springfield vs. .270 Winchester
• 6.5 Creedmoor vs. 7mm-08 Remington
• 8x57 Mauser vs. .318 Westley Richards
• .358 Winchester vs. .350 Remington Magnum
• .22-250 Remington vs. .220 Swift
• .270 Winchester vs. .270 WSM
• .26 Nosler vs. 6.5-300 Weatherby Magnum
• .458 Win. Mag. vs. .458 Lott
• 7mm Rem. Mag. vs. .300 Win. Mag.
• .243 Winchester vs. 6mm Remington
• 7x57mm Mauser vs. 7mm-08 Remington
• .25-06 Remington vs. .257 Weatherby Magnum
• .338 Winchester vs. .375 H&H Magnum
• .30-30 Winchester vs. .35 Remington
• .257 Roberts vs. .250-3000 Savage
• .270 Winchester vs. .280 Remington
• .35 Whelen vs. 9.3x62mm Mauser
• .416 Rigby vs. .416 Remington Magnum
• .308 Winchester vs. .30-06 Springfield
• .22 Nosler vs. .224 Valkyrie
• .300 Win. Mag. vs. .300 WSM
• .223 Remington vs. .22-250 Remington