August 2007

All-Around .35-Calibers: We Pit Remington’s CDL Vs. the BDL

Remington’s Model 700 BDL survived when the ADL was put out to pasture. In the ADLs’ place came the Classic Deluxe, or CDL, guns. So, which of Big Green’s guns are better?

The pursuit of an all-around rifle for big-game hunting leads one to the so-called medium-bore rifles, simply because nothing smaller can do as much. The bigger cartridges can either be handloaded to lower velocity with normal bullets, or reloaded with lighter bullets to cut recoil. In this report we take a look at both bullets and bolt actions to see what hunters might like in a woods rifle.

Big Game Rifle Ammunition

The bullets, from left, are 158-grain cast-lead SWC, then three Speers in 180, 200, and 250-grain weights. These are followed by Hawk’s 300-grain, and the mighty 310-grain Woodleigh s/n.

First, we wanted to explore a medium-bore cartridge comparison, pitting the .35 Whelen versus the .350 Remington Magnum, two rounds we’ve not tested in the magazine’s history. Second, we have been curious to see how Remington’s three-year-old CDL line fares against the company’s standard-bearer, the BDL, which began in 1962.

To accomplish this, we got a .35 Whelen Model 700 CDL No. 27019, $907. This is our first test of the Classic Deluxe guns, which kicked off in 2004, the same year the inexpensive ADL line was discontinued.

Millions of Model 700s have been sold over the years, so when a 30-year-old trim designation is replaced, we naturally become curious about the new guy on the block. The standard, of course, is the BDL, but we were unable to get a new BDL in .350 Remington Mag. because, oddly, Remington today offers only one rifle in that cartridge, the Model Seven CDL No. 26369, $933.

Instead, we acquired a test .350 Magnum 700 BDL without forend tip, in like-new condition. They sell for about $750.

The Cartridges

The 35 Whelen is essentially the .30-06 case necked up to take bullets of 0.358-inch diameter, with no other change. As such, it’s mighty similar to the .338 OKH and the not-often-seen .375 and .400 Whelen. The .35 Whelen was apparently created by Townsend Whelen, who got James Howe (of Griffin & Howe) to build the rifles.

.35 Whelen Rifle

The .35 Whelen, most certainly will work with all of the above bullets.

The cartridge first saw the light of day around 1922. Remington made it a legitimate cartridge in 1987 and, today, Remington and a few other makers still offer rifles for the cartridge. Remington makes three in .35 Whelen (our test CDL, plus the autoloading Woodsmaster 750 carbine and rifle, $831). There are quite a few more Whelens and .350 Mags if you count the costly custom shop offerings, starting at about $2300.

Basically, the cartridge is a good one, or it wouldn’t still exist. Ruger, for instance, has loaded its single-shot and bolt-action rifles in the caliber in the recent past. Today, we could find only the .358 Winchester and 350 Remington Mag. in Ruger’s bolt rifles, but no single-shot .35s.

One limitation of slightly oddball calibers is that not every gun shop has ammo for them. We found only one load each for the Whelen and Remington Mag at our local store. We tested the Whelen with Remington 200-grain Core-Lokt PSP, and the .350 Mag with essentially the same bullet, 200-grain PSP (it looked different despite the same designation). Here’s what we found.

Remington CDL

35 Whelen No. 27019, $907

This rifle had a beautiful matte finish on its wood and metal that immediately caught our eye. The trigger guard and hinged floor

.350 Remington Magnum

The .350 Remington Magnum, will probably not work with all of the above bullets.

plate were matte-finished aluminum. The latch for the forend was inside the trigger guard near the top of the opening. It was possible, though unlikely, that recoil could fling the trigger finger forward to bump the latch and dump the magazine contents. We’d watch that carefully if we owned this rifle. It took mighty little effort to open that door.

The stock was straight, with a raised cheekpiece. The recoil pad was a lesson for all other makers. It looked great, very like a leather-covered one, and was splendidly soft. The stock had an ebony-like forend and pistol-grip cap, and a capped cross bolt at the weakest point. The well-done checkering wrapped the forend, and was generous at the pistol grip. The stock was slightly floated off the barrel, almost invisibly, but there was a pressure point just aft the end cap. All the woodwork and metal work were exceptionally well done and tasteful. The walnut quality and grain were sound, but not exceptional.

The jeweled bolt worked like it was on roller bearings. The fine checkering on the bolt knob was useful, we thought, and was a classic Remington treatment. The Whelen magazine held five rounds, and the bolt could not be closed over the fifth. Feeding was exceptionally slick and smooth. The safety was the old standard Remington lever at the right rear of the action. Press it forward to shoot. The trigger broke all over the place, with readings from 4.5 pounds to 6.75. The average was about 6.0. There was some creep, which we noticed at the bench.

With our 12X Leupold mounted in Weaver bases and rings, the CDL shot exceptionally well. Our best three-shot group at 100 yards was 0.7 inch, with an average of 1.1 inches. We all thought the stiff trigger was a hindrance to even more astounding accuracy, and is the first thing we’d attack if we owned this rifle.

We noted the felt recoil was very mild, much less than for the other rifle, though the test weights of the two were essentially identical. This was not only the result of the fine new recoil pad on the CDL, but also of the excellent cheekpiece that kept some of the kick off the face.

Remington 700

.350 Remington Magnum, $750

The rifle’s stock was glossy finished, with a small-diameter pin inserted through the stock where the Whelen CDL had a nice big black plug. The checkering wrapped around the forend, and was a bit smaller than the CDL’s on the grip. The bluing too was glossy, and the 22-inch barrel sported iron sights screwed in place. The rear was the old-style ramp, adjustable for both elevation and windage with one lock screw. The sight had a deep U-notch that we didn’t like. The front was a white-dot bead which sat on a ramp with no cover.

The trigger guard was glossy-finished aluminum with the same easily opened floor plate of the CDL. There was no pistol-grip cap, and the thick recoil pad was hard as a rock.

The .350 weighed a fraction of an ounce more than the Whelen despite its 2-inch shorter barrel. The balance of both rifles was very similar, with the nod maybe going to the .350, but that would change with a different scope on the Whelen. The weight of both rifles seemed about right for the power. We wouldn’t want them to be much lighter, not for all-around use, but again that’s up to the individual.

On the range our first groups with the 200-grain ammo averaged 3.3 inches for three shots. We cleaned the barrel again, but to no avail. Recoil very definitely got our attention. Most of the pain came from the hard pad, but a significant amount came from the stock against our face. We noted the velocities of the two cartridges were very similar. The Whelen’s longer barrel didn’t make much difference.

In fact, the .350 got slightly higher velocities. We also noted it took much more effort to move the fat, belted cases from the magazine into the chamber than with the Whelen. However, feed, firing and ejection from both rifles were all flawless. The .350’s magazine held three rounds, and you could close the bolt over the top one.

We switched to the 250-grain fodder and things picked up. Now we noticed a trend in all our groups. The .350 would put two rounds within an inch of each other, and a third would open the groups to 2.6 inches on average. The two close rounds were about 0.75 inch apart in all cases. This could be the result of questionable bedding, and if we owned this rifle we’d have it glass bedded when we had a new recoil pad fitted. We’d also get the trigger pull reduced. It broke cleanly and consistently at 6.0 pounds, and we’d like 3.5 to 4. With a bit of fixin’ up this would be a mighty nice rifle, we thought. But most of us still preferred the CDL chambered for .35 Whelen.