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Comparing the 9.3x62 and the .35 Whelen

First, The Personal Opinions

"There isn't really a great deal to say about it. Everybody found it so generally satisfactory that there wasn't anything to start a discussion."

This is how John "Pondoro" Taylor sums up the 9.3x62 in his classic "African Rifles and Cartridges".  The majority of posters on rifle forums can learn from this sober viewpoint that Africa professionals had as was expressed by Taylor. If a cartridge is generally satisfactory, and if another cartridge (or a few others, as is often the case) are also generally satisfactory there is absolutely no need for the mostly boring and invariably less than psychologically adult bickering and inconsequential hair splitting just to defend the writer's biased opinion


Let us continue the sober evaluation.  The  9.3x62 still is regarded by South African hunters as generally satisfactory for any dangerous game in Africa. From its introduction in 1905 until the 1960s when it was plagued by inconsistent ammunition supply, the 9.3x62 reigned supreme as the all-around, and probably most popular non ex-military dangerous game cartridge in Africa - at least at the same level as the later .375 H&H.  During the past 10 years it has seen a renewed growth with South African ammunition manufacturer PMP supplying excellent ammunition with premium 286 gr bullets, and also supplying consistently high quality reloading components.


The  9.3x62 has killed so many elephant, Cape buffalo, rhino, and the big cats that one could quote reports from old writings and from as recent as the last hunting season - that describe the exact same way it penetrated and killed whatever was hunted (mostly Cape buffalo). It is an established elephant and buffalo killer.  If the hunter has the knowledge of the animal's anatomy - as every hunter should have of every animal he plans to kill from small to big - a 286 gr solid bullet from the 9.3x62 at impact velocity of 2,300+ ft/sec at 30-40 yards will penetrate the heavy shoulder bone of buffalo and elephant and kill it.  A soft bullet with large frontal area expansion will not - which is also true for the .375 H&H, or .416 Rigby, etc.

US literature is equally awash with writings that extol the successful ability of the .35 Whelen on white tail deer,  a moose here and there, and maybe an elk. It is hardly fair to present the opinions of those owners of what it probably "could  do" on the big stuff in Africa to draw fair comparisons. Neither is there any value in quoting how a hunter killed his elk with it and at what distance as it will tell us nothing about the ability of the .35 Whelen;  that simple job is done many times a day in Africa on kudu and wildebeest and gemsbok and zebra with far lesser cartridges like the 7x57s, .303s, the .308W and the 6.5x55s. 


I think Elmer Keith killed one brown bear with a .35 Whelen - which is neither here not there as many, many Africa lion have been killed by cattle ranchers with the .308W.  Also, the .308W regularly kills brown bear in Colorado.  All indications are that even Townsend Whelen himself never took the trouble to take the .35 hunting as he could easily kill anything in the US with his favourite 30-40 and 30-06. In fact the good colonel displayed a distinct disinterest in this cartridge that came to carry his name.


Similarly, there is no value in researching the abilities on soft skinned animals of either the 9.3 x 62 or the .35 Whelen because the 7x57 / .308W / 30-06 / 7x64 / .303 Brit very adequately serve the non-dangerous game varieties.  With bullets lighter than 286 gr. neither cartridge is sufficient for heavy, dangerous animals and there is no edification value in telling how well a .458 WM or .45-70 or .375 H&H or .35 Whelen kills impala or zebra while a 7x57 does exactly the same.


Let us look at some physical similarities and use the existing knowledge base of what works for the 9.3x62 Bock and what not, and extrapolate that to the 9.1 x 63 (Whelen)

Case Specifications



Bullet diameter.............9.30 mm (0.366 in)

Neck diameter............. 9.91 mm (0.390 in)

Shoulder diameter.....11.43 mm (0.450 in)

Base diameter............12.10 mm (0.476 in)

Rim diameter..............11.93 mm (0.470 in)

Rim thickness..............11.30 mm (0.051 in)

Case length..................62.00 mm (2.441 in)

Overall length..............83.60 mm (3.291 in)

Rifling twist..................1:350 mm (1-14")

Primer type..................Large rifle

Maximum pressure... 57,500 psi

.35 Whelen


Bullet diameter.............9.1 mm (0.358 in)

Neck diameter............. 9.8 mm (0.385 in)

Shoulder diameter.....11.20 mm (0.441 in)

Base diameter............12.00 mm (0.472 in)

Rim diameter..............12.00 mm (0.472 in)

Rim thickness..............11.30 mm (0.051 in)

Case length..................63.30 mm (2.494 in)

Overall length..............84.80 mm (3.340 in)

Rifling twist..................1:406 mm (1-16")

Primer type..................Large rifle

Maximum pressure...  62,000 psi

Bullet Performance

Bullet weight       Muzzle Velocity   100 yd Vel/Momentum

250gr Interbond      2,600 ft/sec             2,360 / 84


                                                                   50 yd Vel/Momentum

286gr Solid               2,460 ft/sec             2,350 / 96


The above velocity numbers are controlled tested figures for commercial ammunition.

Bullet weight    Muzzle Velocity  100 yd Vel/Momentum

250gr Interbond     2,500 ft/sec          2,250 / 80


                                                              50 yd Vel/Momentum

275gr  PSP               2,336 ft/sec           2,220 / 87


The above velocity numbers are factory published figures for commercial ammunition.

What Knowledge Can We Take Away from this Data?
  • For hunting non dangerous antelope in Africa or their equivalent weight counterparts in the US both the 9.3x62 and the .35 Whelen are 100% effective performers - but so too is the 7x57 / .280 Rem / 7mm Rem Mag / .308W / 30-06 / .300Win Mag.

  • For all dangerous game in the US (soft-skinned brown and grissly bears) the .35 Whelen and 9.3x62 will be 100% effective - but so will be the 7x57 / .280 Rem / 7mm Rem Mag / .308W / 30-06 / .300Win Mag.

  • For hunting dangerous game in Africa the 9.3x62 has proved itself to be generally satisfactory. In some Africa countries the .366" is the minimum calibre allowed, using 286 gr solid bullets for buffalo and elephant, and 286 gr soft point bullets for lion. Reviewing the figures above for impact momentum one may see the logic of that.  The reader may wish to develop this thinking towards a logical conclusion:

1.   Experience shows that 96 impact momentum applied to that one tenth of a square inch bullet frontal surface - and surface area of skin, tendons, bone and flesh on a buffalo shoulder which a 9.3 mm bullet bears against, creates a sufficiently powerful penetration impulse to break through with enough retained momentum to reach the heart and maybe beyond.  The 9.3x62 will never penetrate all the way through both shoulders, but for a heart shot that is no big deal - not even the .416 Rigby with the excellent 400 gr Peregrine 1.5x calibre expanded VRG-3 does that.


2.   That level of penetration is generally satisfactory, and the experience of Africa game control wardens over many years have developed the wisdom that any weaker penetration impulse than this is not fully predictable, and therefor not safe.  So: impact momentum below 90 as the Whelen gives certainly creates a doubt - and like in aviation risk management where the threat level is high -  "when there's a doubt there's no doubt".

3.   This means that when I am preparing the upcoming season's  hunting camp in far northern Mozambique, being the only man around with a rifle I prefer to carry not just the minimum but a little more because I will ONLY shoot an elephant or buffalo in self defense at the last moment of a charge and then want more than the minimum penetration impulse because  the conditions for such a shot will not be under my control.  The 9.3x62 would be acceptable when the .375 H&H or .416 Rigby is not in camp.


4.   A .35 Whelen would be a camp meat rifle with ONLY 275 gr monolithic solids, and would only go out on its own in the hands of a bush-wise hunter, a 100% perfect off-hand shooter who would take care to avoid the very dense vegetation conditions where a surprise encounter with hippo,  buffalo or elephant could happen. During camp preparation I need to take my men into dense bamboo forests (elephant), take shortcuts through dark and dense riverine forests carrying heavy loads of bamboo or marula poles (10 yards encounters with elephant, hippo and buffalo).  This is not slow hunting where I have the situation under control.  Shooting would be reactive, so the .416 Rigby or .375 H&H is carried for these walk outs.

5.   This brings up the issue of expanding bullets. From .35 calibre and thicker there is no reason whatsoever to have any frontal area expansion as the wound channel already is large enough through the heart. The degrading in sectional density that any .35 bullet suffers due to expansion to even 1.5x calibre is excessive. Coupled to this doubling in frontal area and subsequent doubling in profile drag such a decrease in the impulse force per frontal area is caused so that penetration suffers remarkably.  As an example to illustrate the concept: penetration through big game shoulders of a 225 gr .338 Win Mag is measurably less than a 220gr from a 30-06 when both bullets experienced 1.5x calibre expansion.  

6.   The .358" calibre of the .35 Whelen is not allowed for buffalo, but I shall have no problems to guide a hunter wanting to use it.  We shall hopefully be able to stalk it unseen, side-on to 40 yards, wait for it to move the inside front leg sufficiently forward to expose the heart and then put the bullet into that organ with only one wide, almost overlapping thick rib in the way.  This caveat means that we may need to pass up on a number of buffalo until the suitable body position mentioned above can be achieved - when WE are the proactive party and not the buffalo.

All the above are the reasons why there are virtually no .35 Whelens in Africa. It is a cartridge we started reading about in the 1970s but the impact calculations do not bear up to be 100% sure of taking Cape buffalo with it on even fairly easy, side-on shots;  and while it is more than 100% capable for all the big antelope including eland, no gun dealer could since its formal acceptance succeed to interest any number of buyers.  The to-be-expected question was:  "Why? My .308W or 30-06 or 7x57 is more than capable already.  What can the Whelen do better than these cartridges?".  In fact the very same reasoning is why the .338 Win Mag has never sold here in significant numbers either. "What shall we shoot with it that we cannot shoot with a 30-06?


There simply is no job for these two cartridges in Africa: the smaller calibres (.308" and 7mm) as mentioned earlier do the job 100% perfectly on all non dangerous antelope - and the Whelen appears to fall short to be generally proficient on Cape buffalo and elephant under average conditions. Townsend Whelen no doubt also had made his calculations and formulated his reasons for having turned his back on it and denying having had any part in its creation.

Added: Possibly the only way to establish the actual penetration ability into the heavy shoulder of a Cape buffalo by the heaviest monolithic solid from a Whelen is to just go and do it.  Imagine presenting that report of a clean kill to Winchester and convincing them that patriotic fervour needs a boost - and "here is reason for a new Safari Grade rifle..."

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