The Winchester Model 1886 lever action rifle designed by John Moses Browning is considered by many to be one of the finest lever action rifles ever built. Designed for the largest black powder cartridges of its era, examples of some of its nine chamberings include the .45-70, .40-90, .50-100 and .50-110. In 1902 the M1886 was chambered for its first smokeless powdered cartridge in a bore size of Winchester invention, the .33 Winchester Centrefire (WCF). This cartridge fired a 200 grain .338” bullet at 2200fps and was designed for large North American game. Although the .33 WCF quickly gained popularity, interest in the cartridge gradually waned. The .33 WCF could not do anything that could not be done with the cheap surplus military .30-06 rifle firing heavy bullets and when the depression hit during the 1930’s, many U.S hunters resorted to using the .30-06 over sporting arms. Low sales of the M1886 rifle along with the high cost of producing such a finely machined and fitted firearm forced Winchester to discontinue this model in 1935.
In order to salvage sales Winchester engineers redesigned the M1886 cutting production costs while a new more powerful cartridge was designed to re interest lever action fans. In 1936 Winchester released its new lever action rifle, the Model 71. Although having been through a cost cutting exercise the action of the M71 was beefed up for the new potent cartridge, the .348 Winchester. As a further boon, the butt stock of the 71 featured a pistol grip and a straighter stock (less drop at the heel) to help tame recoil.
Case capacity of the .348 Winchester is impressive. The cartridge design was based on the .50-110 cartridge case with a case rim diameter of .610” and a case length of 2.255”. Rather than continuing to use the tooling for the .33 bore, the new cartridge was designed to fire a .348” bullet, a completely new caliber. Initial loads featured a 150 grain bullet at an advertised 2920fps and a 200 grain bullet at 2535fps. Later, a 250 grain load was introduced at an advertised velocity of 2350fps.
The .348 had ample power and suitable projectiles for hunting a vast range of game body weights out to moderate ranges and although it gained a following the .348 suffered the same fate as its predecessor. Reasons for the lack of continued interest in this cartridge were most likely due to the odd bore size, unique to both the cartridge and Winchester rifle. Again production costs could not be justified with low sales and during the 1950’s the Model 71 and its .348 chambering were discontinued. Factory ammunition which at one time was loaded by both Winchester and Remington was reduced to just one load from each manufacturer but even these have disappeared. Winchester’s last load consisted of the 200 grain Winchester SilverTip at an advertised velocity of 2520fps for a realistic 2450fps in 24” barreled M71 rifles.
The .348 is currently caught between two worlds. On the one hand, original rifles are highly prized and fetch high prices on the second hand gun market. Winchester also make limited runs of model 71 rifles. The case design is highly prized, firstly in its own right as the .348 Winchester but also as a source of brass for the.450 and .500 Alaskan wildcat cartridges designed by Harold Johnson (1950’s). Both the .450 (.458”) and .50 (.510”) cartridges boast velocities of around 2100fps with 400 grain bullets and were designed to be used in the Model 71 rifle. Other wildcats based on the .348 and 71 rifle include (but are not limited to) the .30-348, the .348 Ackley Improved and the .358-348. There is therefore a limited but continued demand for both model 71 rifles along with either brass or loaded ammunition.
When we shift from the .30 caliber to the .338 bore the changes in terminal performance tend to be very subtle. The .348 takes a further step up in bullet diameter in comparison to the .30 calibers and it is here that we begin to see a glimmer of changes in bullet behavior and terminal performance. These changes are still subtle and are effected by bullet designs.
Now, rather than seeing a hydrostatic shock cut off point of around 2600fps on mid weight game, the increased frontal area has a meaningful effect and depending on game body weight resistance (being neither too lean or too heavy and depending on the type of bullet used), we begin to see greater nervous trauma leading to a rapid loss in consciousness at lower impact velocities approaching 2300fps. This translates into shorter dead runs. Please see Effective Game killing section for more information on hydrostatic shock and nervous trauma.
The .348 can be described as having a power level that sits roughly halfway between the .358 Winchester and the .35 Whelen. But again, bullet design has a major influence on the ability of this bore to render fast kills.
The .348 does its best work at close ranges. It produces a high level of trauma when loaded with 200 grain bullets at velocities of 2500fps which stay above the 2300fps mark for a short distance. Once this initial velocity is shed, performance becomes somewhat more mild. With fast expanding bullets, game may run but are just as likely to react in a drunken manner and not travel too far. At impact velocities below 2200fps, wounds become more narrow and game run longer distances.
With slow expanding bullets, the .348 can produce clean kills but lean game may run some distance before succumbing to blood loss. Performance of such loads can be fairly ho-hum.
When loaded with 250 grain bullets at 2300fps, the potential for nervous trauma causing an immediate loss of consciousness is less evident, however wounds remain somewhat broad on large bodied game down to 2200fps and then gradually narrow as the 1800fps mark is approached, after which, wounding potential falls off rapidly. This bullet weight generally carries too much momentum for fast killing of light or lean game and should be reserved for larger bodied animals which offer a good deal of body weight resistance for energy transfer.
The use of core bonded bullets in the .348 deserves careful consideration as these tend to work best at impact velocities above 2400fps. Having said this, the flat point bullet designs used in the .348 help (regain) terminal performance at lower impact velocities. The net result is that providing ranges are kept short and animals are of a relatively large or stout build, it is possible to obtain a mixture of good trauma (fast bleeding) and relatively deep penetration with core bonded bullets.
The .348 can tackle large bodied game but should not be considered a true heavy game (600kg / 1300lb) cartridge in the same manner as the .375 and larger bores.
As for the rifle, the model 71 is of sound and strong design, featuring immensely handsome lines. This rifle cannot however be fitted with a traditional scope sight. And while open sights are quite fine for bush work, one must understand that low light hunting under or into a bush canopy can at times completely obscure sights, making accurate shooting (especially dark colored animals) very difficult. Readers are encouraged to study Williams sight products along with Skinner sights. Please take care to study both aperture (peep) sights along with high visibility front sight options.
It is also important to understand that many of the old rifles are now quite worn. The actions may still be strong however the bores of many rifles have seen better days. Rust and the resulting pitting from wet weather hunting or damp storage conditions versus poor preservation regimes all take their toll on the bores of these old rifles.
The Model 71 is a tube loaded rifle and must be loaded with either flat point bullets or the rubber tipped Hornady FTX. These bullets are no hindrance to the .348 and if anything these help increase terminal performance providing ranges are not pushed too far. The combination of a flat point bullet in a wide bore driven at high velocity can increase the versatility of a medium bore cartridge, enabling one load to achieve fast killing and consistent results on a wide range of game body weights.
Winchester’s now defunct 200 grain Silvertip was ideal for game weighing up to 320kg (720lb). The Silvertip produced some highly desirable results, the stout aluminum tip when driven back caused explosive expansion but could not be expected to hold together if large heavy round bone (ball joints) were encountered. On ordinary cross body shots, providing not too much muscle and bone was encountered, the Silvertip produced severe destruction to vital tissues. The frontal area of the Silvertip was usually wiped off on impact, allowing reasonably deep penetration however the 200 grain .348 bullet lacked a high enough SD to truly benefit from this action. At times and depending on the range (beyond 75 yards), game would not go down immediately however animals hit squarely would react in a drunken manner going down soon after.
It should be noted that all Winchester loads (150, 200 and 250 grain) were initially of the Silvertip type. Winchester all so produced Power-Point (soft point ) loads for a time however it was the Silvertip that produced the most spectacular results. Furthermore, a good number of hunters utilized the 250 grain Silvertip in the far reaches of Canada and Alaska for Moose hunting. The Silvertip could achieve desirable one shot kills but it must be understood that all energy was expended rapidly and that penetration at close ranges was somewhat limited in comparison to modern premium bullet designs.
Today the sole remaining loads available for the .348 Winchester are those loaded by Buffalo Bore and Grizzly. All are core bonded loads, expensive and hard to obtain. Comments on the use of core bonded bullets can be found within the performance section of this text.
Just as factory ammunition for the .348 is rare, hand loading components are also limited. Brass is still obtainable and with a number of wildcat cartridges based on the .348 case, supplies of Winchester brass should continue into the future. The .348 case gives good results with 200 to 250 grain bullets when loaded with H4350 / ADI 2209 burn rate powders, though faster powders (H4895 / Varget) can be useful with lighter bullets. The big .348 case takes hefty charges, driving 200 grain bullets at 2500fps with 60 grains H4350, 220 grain bullets at 2400fps with 57 grains H4350 and 250 grain bullets at around 2300fps with 55 grains H4350. Please note that these loads may be too dangerous for some rifles and should be reduced by 10% before working up. These notes are provided here purely due to the fact that load data is now difficult to obtain for the .348.
One powder of interest for the .348 is Hornady’s Superformance powder (not Leverevolution). Superformance is suited to this particular cartridge due to its slow burn rate and high bulk density which suits this case capacity quite well. For those who are serious fans of the .348 and are well grounded in hand loading including the ability to read pressure signs carefully, Superformance powder will allow the hand loader to develop much faster loads than those quoted here.
Only four projectiles are readily available for reloading the .348 at this time of writing, the 200 grain Hornady Interlock, the 200 grain Hornady Flex Tip (FTX), the 220 grain Barnes Original and the 250 grain Barnes Original.
The 200 grain Hornady is a soft bullet but not explosive unless hitting heavy bone. Performance can best be described as adequate. The Interlock sheds a great deal of weight as it penetrates, but does so in a gradual manner and is not a spectacular killer. This bullet produces clean but generally delayed kills on light framed game if the CNS is not struck directly. The Interlock loses a great deal of weight when striking the major bones of lighter animals, even those weighing less than 80kg (176lb) and can be prone to bullet blow up on heavy bone. In summary, this is a bullet that can be too tough (or retain too much momentum) for fast kills on light game yet can be too soft for heavy game. Such are the limitations when a bullet designer tries to cover the needs of a wide range of hunters with just the one bullet design.
The 200 grain Hornady FTX has breathed new life into the .348. This projectile offers explosive performance similar to the old Silver Tip. Wounds are noticeably wider than other offerings resulting in faster killing. By the same token, penetration is limited as can be expected with this type of performance. This bullet can tackle a wide range of game with Elk as an upper body weight limit. It can be used on heavier game such as Moose but the hunter must have realistic expectations. This is not a deep penetrating bullet. These considerations aside, the FTX is a truly well designed bullet, an SST for the levers. With one load, the hunter can tackle the leanest of deer through to relatively large bodied animals with great consistency.
For those who are not familiar with Barnes Original bullets, these are a more basic conventional bullet design. Performance is similar (to paint a picture) to that of the Sierra Prohunter or Norma conventional soft points in that the jacket is fairly heavy while the core is typically soft. The Barnes bullets do not produce immediate ‘explosive’ performance and perform much like the Interlock but with somewhat greater jacket and core integrity. These are not spectacular killers, but they do get the job done in a reliable manner. The heavy 250 grain Barnes bullet has from time to time been used to take Moose in Canada and Alaska. Under these circumstances the mild impact velocities help the Barnes Original to obtain adequate wounding and relatively deep penetration.
Beyond these bullets there are now few options for .348 users apart from those offered by custom or semi-custom bullet makers. For those who have no access to the FTX and are wanting the same rapid energy transfer, it is possible to hollow point the Interlock and Barnes projectiles, however the hollow points need to be wide and relatively shallow. The same process can be utilized to make heavy 250 grain bullets slightly more responsive. It would be nice to see at least one bullet maker offer a more explosive heavy weight bullet for the .348. One has to remember that heavy bullets arrive at very low impact velocities when fired from the .348 which can aid penetration - but at the expense of wounding. In contrast to this, a fast expanding but heavy .348 bullet can allow the hunter to have his cake and eat it, increasing over all versatility.
Please note that if bullets cannot be found for your rifle it is possible to swage down .358 caliber bullets such as the Hornady 250 grain round nose (an excellent hunting bullet design). This operation can be performed with a custom made swaging die (similar to a reloading die) which allows the .358” bullet to be pushed through the die and swaged down by .010”.
The .348 Winchester is certainly an interesting cartridge. Performance can range from mild or adequate to emphatic and spectacular depending on the type of bullet used. The .348 has the appeal of a classic muscle car but at the same time, it has a practical element to it, the potential to be a solid working hack for the bush hunter.
It is doubtful that the .348 will ever make a huge come back with the .358 bore well established and producing excellent performance in its own right. Furthermore, Hornady and Marlin have in recent years combined to corner the lever action market with new hot chamberings. Nevertheless, the .348 will continue on, loved dearly by those who use it. And with the rifle and brass both in demand for the creation of potent wildcats, the model 71 .348 caliber rifle will not be forgotten.
|Suggested loads: .348 Winchester
|Barrel length: 24”
|Observed MV Fps
|250gr Barnes Original
|Suggested sight settings and bullet paths
Please take careful note of impact velocities at 200 yards. Below 1800fps, most projectiles begin to struggle with expansion.
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