Limited .35 Whelen Ruger Number 1 Single Shot Rifle


by Jeff Quinn

photography by Jeff Quinn & Boge Quinn

October 3rd, 2006




I will admit it right off the bat; I have a weakness for single shot rifles. Not just any single shot rifle, but those elegant designs with an under lever, such as the Ballard, Sharps, Winchester High Wall, and the most modern of the type, Ruger’s Number One. Ruger announced their single shot in 1966, and ever since, it has had a loyal following. With its clean lines and internal hammer, the Ruger is one of the most elegant single shots ever built, reminiscent of the old British single shots of years long gone.

Of the several variations of the Ruger Number One, my favorite is the 1A, with its slender barrel, Henry forend, quarter rib, barrel band sling mount, and open sights, it just looks right, and handles like a dream.

As it happens, I also have a weakness for thirty-five caliber rifles, whether it be the .358 Winchester, .35 Remington, .357 Magnum, or even the large belted magnums. However, my favorite thirty-five caliber rifle cartridge is the grand old .35 Whelen. The Whelen was the result of an effort by Townsend Whelen to make an affordable medium bore big game rifle out of the US Military Springfield bolt-action. Enlisting the help of machinist James Howe, the result is a .30-06 case simply necked up to take .358 inch diameter bullets. The .35 Whelen is one of our most efficient medium bores, with ample power to take any American big game, and flat-shooting enough to do so out to 300 yards and beyond, if the shooter is capable.

If necessary, I could do any hunting that I will likely ever do, including Africa, with the .35 Whelen and just two different bullets. For medium game such as whitetail deer, the same 200 grain Hornady Spire Point that I have grown to love in my .358 Winchester is just about perfect. For anything heavier, the Barnes 225 grain X bullet, in either their coated XLC or uncoated Triple-Shok version, would serve very well. The .35 Whelen can also use .357 caliber handgun bullets for light game such as predators and vermin, or even deer when properly loaded.  Cast bullets also work very well loaded to moderate velocities in the Whelen, but the cartridge's forte lies in its ability to achieve good performance on heavy game, at long range, and to do so very efficiently, burning less powder and making less noise than with some of its belted competitors. With a usable case capacity pretty close to the .350 Remington Magnum, the Whelen does best with powders in the medium burning range, such as IMR and Hodgdon 4895, Accurate 2460, Hodgdon BLC(2) and 335, and IMR 4064. I also achieved good results with H322 and Varget in the .35 Whelen. On the slow side, I plan to give H414 a go with some of the heavier bullets in the 250 to 300 grain range, although I do not see that they would offer much advantage over the Barnes X 225. Being an homogenous copper bullet, it always holds together well for excellent penetration, and has a good ballistic coefficient for a relatively flat trajectory.  For those who do not load their own ammo, Remington offers their excellent 200 grain Core-Lokt bullet load, which should work very well on most game up to around 500 pounds, and Federal loads the 225 grain Trophy Bonded bullet for anything heavier.

This particular rifle differs from most of Ruger’s stainless Number Ones, in that instead of wearing a laminated wood stock, this K1A wears a checkered walnut stock, which is much more pleasing to my eye, and should also weigh a bit less than the laminated version. The rifle has a slim twenty-two inch barrel that measures just .577 inch just behind the front sight barrel band. The contrast of the stainless and walnut just does something for me! It is a fine looking rifle. It has the Henry style forend, with the forward sling mount on a barrel band, just as it should be on a rifle with a bit of recoil. The pistol grip cap is also of stainless steel, with a gold-colored Ruger eagle emblem insert. The buttstock wears a firm synthetic rubber butt pad, and the rear sling swivel mount is also of stainless construction. The only blued-steel parts on the rifle are the open sights, with the rear being adjustable for windage and elevation. The safety is right on top of the tang, just as it should be, and is equally useable for either left-handed or right-handed shooters. The trigger released crisply and cleanly on the K1A, but measured a bit heavier than I like at just over four and one-quarter pounds.  The sample K1A weighed in at just six and one quarter pounds, making it a delight to carry, and to come up quickly to the shoulder like a good bird gun.  The wood-to-metal fit is very good on the sample rifle, and the cut checkering is very well executed.

Shooting the .35 Whelen presented a problem to me, as I am still under doctor’s orders to not be pounding my shoulders with recoil. For chronographing chores, I enlisted the help of my brother Boge. He fired all of the test loads over the PACT chronograph set at a distance of ten feet from the muzzle. Being that I had Boge’s shoulder to wear out, I tried several different loads, varying powder charge weights,  and powder and bullet types.

The Remington 200 grain factory loads chronographed at 2617 feet-per-second (fps), and exhibited excellent consistency. With the 200 grain Hornady Spire Point, 58 grains of Hodgdon Varget gave very good consistency and relatively mild recoil with a bullet speed of 2583 fps. This bullet can be pushed faster with H322 or H4895, but this load is excellent for whitetail sized game, and is easy on the shoulder. Another fine load was the Barnes 225 grain XLC pushed to 2707 fps with 57 grains of H322. However, the load using the same bullet with 58 grains of H4895 clocked 2616 fps, and showed better consistency. It was later proven to be a good choice on the target range.  A good cast bullet load used the Mt. Baldy 250 grain gas checked lead bullet pushed to 2254 fps with 46.5 grains of H322. All loads used a Federal GM210M primer. These loads showed no excessive pressure signs in the test rifle, but have not been tested in any other. Do not try these in an old converted Springfield!

When I began testing for accuracy, I had not the use of Boge’s shoulder on those days. I tried a gun rest that had been sitting in the barn for a couple of years that was sent to me and advertised to take all the recoil out of shooting from the bench. I gave it a try. The device might work well with a bolt gun, but it had insufficient clearance underneath to open the lever to load the Ruger. Having to remove it from the rest made accuracy shooting a joke. The gun would not set in the rest the exact same way every time, and the results were dismal. Heading back inside, I decided to try a Caldwell Lead Sled. However, due to the design of the rest, it presented the same problem of having to remove the rifle to load, which unseats the buttstock from the rear holder, and makes consistency a lofty goal. I had to figure out a way that I could use my Target Shooting Model 1000 rest. I have confidence in that rest more than any other. I needed a way to use it, and to protect my shoulder at the same time. I had Cousin Melvin to bend a car rear axle spring for me to set behind the rest, going between my shoulder and the buttstock. I bolted this to my bench with a PVC cap to keep the Model 1000 centered, and the results were perfect. I could shoot as I normally do, and have complete control of the rifle. I was well-pleased with the accuracy exhibited by the Number One. It proved capable of grouping three shots into under one inch at 100 yards with my handloads, and almost as good with the Remington factory load.  The light barrel heats up quickly on the little Ruger, but three-shot groups are just fine to test a big game hunting rifle, and the Number One proved capable of excellent hunting accuracy.

After accuracy testing, I fitted the Ruger with what I believe to be the ideal scope for such a rifle capable of hunting large game in the thick woods or at extended ranges; the Leupold VX-II variable 2 to 7 power. The trim little scope has ample eye relief, a good field of view, and plenty of magnification for big game hunting. Set at two power, I can shoot with both eyes open, and get on target very quickly. At longer ranges, the seven power setting allows the shooter to see his target and any obstacles well, allowing for a precision shot.  The excellent Ruger rings permit quick removal of the scope should the need arise, and reattaching returns the scope without the loss of zero.

I really like this K1A Ruger. It looks right, feels right, handles quickly, and is a rugged, powerful, and accurate choice for big game hunting. If you like to have a magazine full of cartridges for backup, the Number One is not for you. However, if you are of the attitude that you like to make one well-placed shot count, with the knowledge that a quick reload is possible with practice, this K1A could be a very practical choice for a big game hunter. The stainless construction is both beautiful and durable, especially for those who hunt in wet coastal climates, such as Alaska. This would be a very practical choice for an African bound hunter, offering a classic style capable of taking all plains game easily. It is also an excellent choice for a Southern hunter shooting 120 pound whitetails, but who knows that someday he might be found hunting coastal Alaska and on the plains of the Dark Continent. We all need a truly big game hunting rifle, even if a .243 will do. There is just something about a good medium bore, and this K1A is a beautiful example of what a big game rifle was meant to be.

This .35 Whelen K1A is not a catalog item, but is one of 250 made up for Lipsey’s, a distributor in Louisiana. If you want one, you better have your dealer call them now. Collectors are grabbing them up quickly. However, these rifles are too good to be stored away like a gold coin or one of those fancy jeweled ceramic eggs They should be carried afield and enjoyed by shooters and hunters. They also have a trim little blued steel .25-06 Number One that is exclusive to Lipsey’s. Look for a review on it very soon.

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Jeff Quinn


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Click pictures for a larger version.


Limited .35 Whelen Ruger Number 1 Single Shot Rifle.





The Number 1 .35 Whelen is comparable in size to a 20-inch-barreled Winchester 94.



Both Jeff and Boge appreciated the handy size, power and accuracy of the Number 1 .35 Whelen.





The Number 1 .35 Whelen sports a nice set of iron sights, which is fitting for a big game rifle.



More precise long-range shooting requires quality optics, and Leupold's VX-II scope proved perfect for the job. The Ruger is supplied with scope mount and rings.



Author's favorite .35-caliber bullets.



A good factory load for medium-sized game.



As Jeff is still recovering from coronary bypass surgery and is still under doctor's orders to refrain from subjecting his chest area to the effects of recoil, he installed this simple but effective homemade recoil device to his shooting bench.



The Number 1 proved capable of fine accuracy with a wide variety of loads tested.