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.356 Winchester


After poor sales of the Model 88 lever action rifle, the Winchester marketing department had to concede that the popularity of Winchester lever actions lay in the traditional 94 design. During the 1970’s, in order to meet a small market demand for more powerful lever action cartridges, Winchester redesigned the internal workings of the 94 adding strength to the action without changing its traditional visual aspects. This resulted in the 94 XTR Big bore chambered in .375 Winchester, released in 1978. Acceptance of the .375 was only fair, causing Winchester to further research into high power cartridge development for the 94.
During 1982, Winchester designed their .307 cartridge, a semi rimmed version of the .308 Winchester, designed to give much higher velocities and a flatter trajectory than the modest .30-30 WCF. Following this, the case was then necked up to .358” to create the .356 Winchester during 1983. 
Along with the new cartridges, the M94 rifle was subtly changed to angle eject while the receiver was drilled and tapped for scope use. The new model was designated as the 94 Big Bore AE (angle eject) XTR and was released in 1984 chambered for the two new cartridges.  Unfortunately both cartridges failed to gain popularity and in 1987 production of the M94 Big Bore rifle were halted. For a time the M94 Big bore was produced in smaller runs but by the later 1990’s production had ceased altogether.
Winchester initially advertised two factory loadings for the .356 featuring a 200 grain bullet at 2460fps and a 250 grain bullet at 2160fps. Velocities for both of these loads were measured in a 24” test barrel with realistic velocities from 20” barrels being closer to 2320fps and 2020fps respectively. Due to poor sales the 250 grain load was eventually dropped, today only the 200 grain Powerpoint loading remains in limited production runs.
It should be noted that both of these cartridges are not only semi rimmed, but also utilize a slightly thicker case head than the parent .308 Winchester, reducing potential velocities by around 50 to 100fps.
Besides Winchester, the only other manufacturer to adopt the .356 chambering was Marlin who produced a little over 2000 Model 336 lever action .356 rifles.



Put simply, the .358 bore does its very best work at impact velocities above 2200fps.
Various hunting authorities state that it has been a shame to see the Winchester .356 factory 250 grain load dropped as this bullet weight was more effective on larger game. However, this load gave 2000fps at best. The sole remaining factory load (when it is in production) reflects not only the demand for a fast moving, fast expanding bullet, but also to a great extent explains what sized game the .356 is or was most commonly used on. The plain truth is - this is the bullet weight that works in the .356 Winchester. And while the .356 loaded with heavy bullets is adequate for large game, this cartridge shines when simply used as ‘a deer rifle’ at bush / woods ranges.
With factory ammunition the .356 is most potent when forest hunting. Beyond 2200fps or 30 yards, the .356 requires more careful shot placement however the blunt nose bullets still continue to produce adequate wounding with rear lung shots, along with free bleeding blood trails. The 200 grain factory load reaches 2000fps at around 100 yards and then reaches its limit at 150 yards (1800fps). At this range and beyond, projectiles struggle to expand.
Hand loads for the .356 are a different animal. For example, the 180 grain Speer Hotcor can be launched at very high speeds while its light core bonding is a great aid to penetration. With such a load, the hunter can confidently shoot in close and across clearings, packing serious punch.
As a further note to performance and regardless of pros and cons, if using this rifle and cartridge in semi open country, the hunter should learn to aim forwards. The forward shoulder shot ensures that the bullet will meet plenty of resistance at lower impact velocities when shooting across clearings. This also means getting to know the rifle at such ranges and also having high expectations of oneself and not simply expecting the rifle to only group 2 to 3” at 100 yards “because it’s just a lever action”. The more one lifts his own game, the more such a cartridge will show its own strengths.  

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Factory ammunition

The 200 grain Winchester Powerpoint is now only available in limited runs. As previously described, true velocity from a 20” barrel is around 2320fps. This bullet is fast expanding and suitable for hunting a wide range of game. At very close ranges the Powerpoint is a fast killer but as ranges exceed 30 yards, low velocity can lead to delayed but clean kills with rear lung shots. Again, the best practice is to aim forwards so that changes in range do not cause dramatic changes in results. This also allows some room for error at close ranges. This is something I sometimes struggle to explain in print, yet the experienced hunter will understand (see also 200 grain Hornady round nose comments in hand loading section). The 200 grain Powerpoint will handle raking but not tail on shots on larger bodied deer. This bullet is quite adequate for hunting larger Elk sized game with the previously mentioned caveats.


Hand loading

Cases for the .356 are now generally only available in limited runs and can also easily be formed from .307 Winchester brass. It is also possible to use straight .308 Winchester brass in both the .307 and .356 Winchester. Extraction is normally fine but pick up and feeding can be an issue. This is something that must be experimented with carefully. Brass can also be formed from the .444 Marlin. Cases cannot unfortunately be formed from .303 British due to the narrower case head and also the wider rim.
The .356 produces extremely good results when hand loaded with fast burning powder such as Hodgdon’s H4198 / ADI 2207. The slightly slower H4895 / ADI 2206H burn rates also work well in the .356 Winchester and certainly help keep pressures down, proving most effective with heavier bullets. I do however advocate “chasing” velocity in the .356 so long as safety and accuracy are not compromised and to this end, high velocities are best achieved with the faster burn rates.
From the 20” barrel of the M94, standard velocities include 2550fps with 180 grain bullets, 2350fps with 200 grain bullets, 2250fps with 220 grain bullets and 2150fps with 250 grain bullets. With experimentation it is possible to load up to 100fps higher than these quoted velocities and this increase does make a vast difference to performance, if it can be done safely. Winchester engineers warn against the use of round nose bullets in the M94 which has enough recoil to cause detonation of cartridges in the magazine necessitating the use of true, flat pointed bullets. Having said that, hand loaders now have access to the Hornady rubber tipped FTX.
As with all of the .358” bores, the .356 Winchester can be hand loaded with .357” projectiles should the need arise. Examples include the 158 and 180 grain Hornady XTP bullets, the latter being ideal for lean game.
Of the .358” bullet offerings, Speer’s 180 grain .358” flat point Hotcor bullet is one of the most popular projectiles used in the .356 and with good reason. While the Winchester 200 grain factory load is a good compromise weight, the hand loaded Speer is a far better deer bullet. The Hotcor does not suffer any loss in penetration over the 200 grain Winchester bullet, boasting increased hydrostatic and hydraulic shock, remaining above 2200fps out to 100 yards with standard loads. This single bullet with careful hand loading really boosts the performance of the .356. Other aspects include a low SD for maximum energy transfer, yet with adequate core bonding (but not too heavy) and good shoulder stabilization to ensure relatively deep penetration. This is one load that is really hard to fault and is quite unique.
In the 200 grain weight, Sierra is the only major bullet maker to offer a true flat point, though it is sometimes possible to purchase Winchester projectiles, generally as factory seconds. The 200 grain Sierra Prohunter is a generally good bullet, doing its best work at close ranges where velocity is still high. The Sierra has a relatively tough jacket and is able to tackle light to mid weight game from most angles, but it cannot be said that penetration is greater than the 180 grain Hotcor. On the other hand, this bullet is somewhat stouter than the Hornady bullets (regardless of Interlocking). This bullet is therefore slightly better suited to larger deer body weights, when used in the .356. As a reminder, once initial velocity is shed, shot placement is important as a means to increase resistance (to help expansion) and ensure fast killing. By the same token, if the shot falls too far back, the Prohunter is capable of creating a wide, free bleeding exit wound.
Hornady offer both the 200 grain FTX and 200 grain round nose bullet designs. As previously discussed, Winchester maintain that there is a risk of detonation in tube magazine rifles if using round nose bullets. Regardless of warnings, the 200 grain Hornady round nose Interlock is often used in the .356. For those who wish to use this bullet in a safer manner, the tip of the Interlock can be flattened off with a few strokes of a file with no resulting change in aerodynamic performance. The Hornady bullet has at times been accused of being too stout for lighter medium game however this bullet is extremely soft. It must be understood that slow kills with this bullet or the PowerPoint or Sierra Prohunter are as a result of low velocity. If any of these bullets are loaded slow or used at too greater ranges without care towards shot placement then yes, slow kills can occur. Such results cannot be blamed on bullet design.
The Hornady 200 grain round nose bullet is extremely soft, fast killing, and can be forgiving of shot placement. If the hunter aims forwards but strikes the rear lungs at woods ranges, the result is generally a very short dead run, without any difficulty tracking. But if the hunter is poorly practiced, aims at the rear lungs and then strikes the gut, not only will the kill be slow, there will be no blood trail - there never is with gut shots. Yet for all of this, the .358 bore will always try to make good of a bad situation. This bore diameter generally allows us to take follow up shots, especially with full power loads, used at close ranges.
Hornady’s 200 grain FTX is well suited to the .356 Winchester though it does shed a great amount of weight on raking shots or on larger bodied game. The key (and this also goes for the round nose Interlock), is to not set unrealistic expectations of penetration. The strengths of the FTX are in its stopping power, but this stopping power is derived from energy transfer and heavy trauma. This does not leave a great deal of room for exceptionally deep penetration. But as a general deer load, the FTX performs extremely well. The pointed tip of the FTX does help it to retain some velocity in the .356, in a meaningful manner. Trajectory is not what we are concerned with here. If loaded fast (2450fps), the FTX remains above 2200fps out to a range of 75 yards which helps maximize wounding potential, resulting in fast bleeding and therefore very fast killing.
When considering any of the 200 grain bullets, please understand that there is a difference between generic hand loads that may only yield 2250fps versus a carefully worked up and chronographed hand load boasting up to 2450fps. Higher velocity loadings give far more emphatic performance and truly allow us to see the virtues of the .356 bore including its ability to be forgiving of shot placement when taking difficult offhand shots in bush / woods hunting situations.
Of the heavy .358 bullets, only one is offered with a flat point for .356 users - that being the 220 grain Speer. This bullet offers maximum penetration but does sacrifice wounding potential due to low impact velocities. For those who wish to use this wonderful bullet design, I suggest that max velocities are fully and safely explored, ranges kept short and body weights above 90kg or 200lb. Even then wounding may be limited, not by fault of the bullet design but again as a result of low impact velocities. It should also be noted that the Speer has a narrow ogive, much like a regular pointed soft point but terminating at a much blunter tip than other bullet designs, yet somewhat similar to the excellent Norma Vulcan bullet. And while this bullet profile does help aerodynamic performance to some extent, this also limits energy transfer (or speed of). The 220 grain Speer is perhaps the best choice when hunting heavy bodied game but again, at the expense of some wounding potential and in this instance, the .356 loses some of its ‘room for error’ virtues. The cartridge now behaves more like a .30-30 when used on mid weight deer. The rules are therefore much the same; get close, aim to break bone and destroy the autonomic plexus (see Effective Game Killing).  
These comments may sound as though the .356 is somewhat wanting but again, the velocity of hand loads does significantly affect results along with intended ranges. The .356 does its best work at bush / ranges, not out at 200 to 250 yards. The 220 grain Speer is for example very emphatic at impact velocities above 2200fps. For those who can safely load to 2300fps, this translates into wide wounding out to a range of 30 yards. At 2350fps, this range is extended to 50 yards. And again, shot placement or increases in game weight help maximize energy transfer. As ranges increase, rifle accuracy and shot placement comes to the fore.
It should also be noted that even if we are using a cartridge of much greater potency, such as the .375 RUM loaded with premium bullets, the same shot placement should be used in order to achieve rapid kills. 
As for bullet modifications with regards to increasing wound potential on large and heavy bodied animals, the 225 grain Nosler Partition can be made flat and blunt along the same lines as the 220 grain Speer. The 225 grain Woodleigh round nose can also be made blunt or slightly concave at its tip. But in each of these cases, we do not gain velocity and we gain nothing over the 220 grain Speer. It is possible to gain increased frontal area after flattening the Woodleigh however the core bonding within this bullet is tougher than the Speer and can cancel out any potential improvements. Unfortunately, there is no premium mid weight bullet for the .356. One could use the 180 or 200 grain Barnes TTSX to great effect, but a pointed bullet load would have to be carried in the chamber and follow up shots would be with flat point bullets which may not shoot to the same POI. All these things aside, with care towards intended ranges (matching the cartridge to suitable ranges), load development, bullet selection and shot placement, the .356 can perform extremely well with existing bullet designs.  


Closing comments

Since the discontinuation of the M94 Big Bore, these rifles have gained some degree of collectible value. The .356 might not suit everyone but when used as it was designed, it offers ample power and simply excellent performance at bush / woods ranges on a wide range of game body weights. This cartridge is at its best when hand loaded fast. In this instance, chasing that last 100fps does make a difference. The .356 can be used on the smallest of deer species and also the fantastically large bodied Moose, all with relative ease if care is taken to select appropriate loads and with some care towards shot placement. It is only when we decide that we want a classic styled lever action, but then either realize or decide that we also want to shoot long, that such combinations fail to meet our expectations, especially if we fail to pursue accuracy. Hunters must therefore be very much aware of what kind of terrain they intend to hunt in and typical game ranges before selecting this or any similar scrub cartridge design.  
Load fast, get close, break bone.
big pig square

Hunting pigs in close, an ideal shot for the .356 Winchester.
Suggested loads: .356 Winchester Barrel length: 20”
No ID   Sectional density Ballistic coefficient Observed  MV Fps ME
1 FL Winchester 200gr FP (open sights .7”) .223 .238 2320 2390
2 FL Winchester 200gr FP (Scope 2”) .223 .238 2320 2390
3 HL 180gr Speer FP .201 .236 2650 2806
4 HL  200gr  Hornady FTX .223 .300 2450 2665
5 HL 200gr Hornady / Sierra  RN .223 .200 2450 2665
6 HL Speer 220gr FP (also 225gr Woodleigh RN) .241 .286 2300 2584
Loads 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 set for scope height of 2”. To ‘roughly’ duplicate scope trajectories with open sights, sight roughly .25” higher at 50 yards or sight in dead on at 100 yards.  
Suggested sight settings and bullet paths       
1 Yards 50 100 150 200    
  Bt. path +.6 0 -2.8 -8.2    
2 Yards 50 100 150 200    
  Bt. path 0 0 -2.2 -6.9    
3 Yards 50 100 150 200    
  Bt. path +.3 0 -1.4 -4.7    
4 Yards 50 100 150 200    
  Bt. path +.2 0 -1.7 -5.4    
5 Yards 50 100 150 200    
  Bt. path 0 0 -2.3 -7.4    
6 Yards 50 100 150 200    
  Bt. path 0 0 -2.1 -6.6    
No At yards 10mphXwind Velocity Ft-lb’s
1 150 4.3 1829 1485
2 150 4.3 1829 1485
3 200 6.6 1950 1519
4 200 5.7 1914 1628
5 150! 6.4 1754! 1365
6 200! 6.6 1762! 1516
Note: Please pay attention to 1800fps velocity cut off points. Note also, Load 3 (180gr Speer) breaks 2200fps at 125 yards. Load 4 (FTX) breaks 2200fps at 75 yards.

356 Winchester final
.356 Winchester Imperial Metric 
A .506 12.85
B .471 11.96
C 20 deg  
D .454 11.53
E .388 9.85
F 1.560 39.62
G .365 9.27
H 2.015 51.2
Max Case 2.015 51.2
Trim length 2.005 50.9
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