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Thread: The 400 Whelen....

  1. #1
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    Default The 400 Whelen....

    I have a couple of pm's on this subject and a few more about another 40 so I thought I'd answer some of those questions here and perhaps other could benefit from my meager experiance on the subject, or at least ease their curiosity a bit.

    The original 400 Whelen was developed by a group of experienced and knowledgable men back in the 1920's. Townsend Whelen, James V. Howe and barrel maker Adolph O. Nieder. I believe that Fred Adolph, who developed the 30 Adolph express, later called the 30 Newton, was also involved in this project. The caliber was a brain child of Whelen, the rifles made by Howe and the barrels were made and installed by Nieder. There is some evidence that Whelen and Adolph corresponded on the 38 Whelen, which died away after Winchester discontinued the 275 grain 38-72 bullet, and likely corresponded on the 400 as well. Of course the rifle makers of Griffin&Howe and Hoffman were involved in making many rifles for Whelen designed cartridges.

    I have always liked the 40 caliber rifles and the 400 Whelen peaked my interest many years ago after reading about in in one of Elmer keith's books. My first rifle in the caliber was a miserable failure because the smith who made it used a reamer that fllowed the tapered case dimensions of the standard 30-06 and there wasn't enough shoulder to headspace the cartridge. My second rifle was made with a reamer redesigned and made by a machinist friend of mine with the shoulder diameter expanded to leave about .016" of taper in the 30-06 case. This one worked well and I used it for a few seasons on elk before it was traded to another friend.

    The base of the 30-06 case is .473" in diameter the shoulder is .441" The diameter of bullets for the 400 Whelen is .411" That leaves .030" brass wall thickness and shoulder to headspace on. Not enough. The brass wall thickness will be about .024.028" which basically leaves the case like old no-shoulders the snake. My "improved" version was expanded at the shoulder to about .457" and the shoulder angle was changed to 25 degrees from the 17.5 degrees of the original. I later read an article in a magazine about it that indicated the original Whelen was made from cylindrical brass and necked down leaving the shoulder at minimum body taper and a diameter of .458" with original shoulder angle. I have recently found this information on the Z-Hat webb site about the 400 Whelen and I think it also applies to the 411 Hawk caliber that Fred Zeglin makes as well.

    To apply this to the practical side of life what this means if you want to make a 400 Whelen make sure the reamer will cut a chamber that will allow you to use expanded brass or the cylindrical brass neck appropriately.

    I no longer have a 400 Whelen. I would like to have another so marked as "400 Whelen". I don't want a 411 Hawk, not because it isn't a good working caliber, it is, but because it wouldn't say "Whelen" on it. I think I'd like to build a 400 Whelen on a Springfield action, just the way Whelen did it.

    I have in the mean time, developed a very good working caliber, based on the 376 Steyr case. This case is a little fatter in body than the '06 case and will leave a more substantial shoulder. I further expanded it to .486" at the shoulder and changed it's shoulder angle to 25 degrees, to not only give a good headspace datum, but it will headspace correctly even before fire forming. Not that fire forming is a task, but all brass fits better when it is fired in ones own rifle and many factory rounds fail to headspace with a crisp, positive lockup. This 376 has slightly more powder capacity and improved ballistics. It still has .400" of neck, it has a positive headspace datum, and it will fit and function in a standard Mauser action and magazine, even with a 400 grain bullet. It's purpose in life is to give 450/400 Nitro Express ballistics from a standard length bolt action, this being 400 grains at 2150 fps. It also will exceed the 405 Winchester ballistics, as does the original 400 Whelen, with the 300 grain bullets so readily available today. The expected mark with the 300 grain bullets is 2600 fps and 2250 fps with the 400 grain bullets. This is serious lion medicine and I'm sure Theodore would agree. I wonder what Mr. Whelen would think of this one.
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  2. #2

    Default 400 whelen

    Thanks Murphy,

    I was talking on PM with another member about this round, and I thought it would be a good idea to as your advice on the matter. Thanks for the info. I will get mine started in a few months.

    Whit

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    Murph,
    I've got a 411 Hawk, and you are right, it doesn't have the charisma of having 400 Whelen on the barrel... Still a great cartridge, as is the 400 Whelen and the 400 Brown-Whelen.

    The one drawback is the availability of quality mid to heavy weight bullets for it. Woodleigh makes a 400 grain and that's about it. The Hawk bullets I've tried seem incredibly soft for what this rifle would be used for.

    In 350-360 grain, the pickings are slim. Swift makes an A-Frame run once every blue moon and Mike Brady at Northfork makes his 360 grain about as often.

    I'm hoping Hornady will add to the inventory when the 450-400 ammo finally hits the shelves.

    If I were building a bolt action rifle, honestly, I think would forego the headaches of the .410-.411" and build something utilizing .416" bullets. The selection in brand, type and construction is just so much greater.

    But then, it wouldn't be on the '06 case and it wouldn't be the 400 Whelen...

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    New member George's Avatar
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    Default Whelen bump ups

    All good stuff about this subject. Some shy away from many wildcats (and in many cases for good reason) because of the lack of factory ammo for most. The 35 Whelen was popular enough and good enough to warrant the factory ammo and chamberings. Even for reloaders, wildcats can be problematic with added headaches of finding a gunsmith with the correct reamers or ordering and paying for the reamers plus ordering/paying for the higher cost dies. But, there is a niche for the different. I like different too... within reason. I have no where near the experience that Murphy has with such wildcats but my limited experience has taught me that what Murphy posted about headspace, shoulder angles, blowing out the shoulder/upper body, etc. when bumping up say a 30-06 case to a larger caliber is worth paying attention to!!! (there's your plug Murphy ). Even the tested and venerable 35 Whelen can have unseen headspace problems. Out of sight- out of mind... maybe. The problems may not even show themselves until after a few reloadings of the brass. Controlling headspace for any of the bumped up '06 wildcats (among others) should be one of primary attention.

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    If you are serious about that rifle, I have a copy of the blueprint Whelen had sent to Mauser for a stock for the Springfield action. I can see about making a copy of it. It is real sized so making the stock wouldn't pose a problem if you had the correct tools.
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    The dirty little secret about headspace, or what the main stream does not tell you.

    "Headspace becomes a problem when the extractor is unable to hold the base of the ctg against the bolt face"

    I'll just leave that quote hanging there in space for a while. Now I hope some of you will think up a reason why that might just be the case or do you think that statement is just plain wrong?

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    Default wrong

    If you are holding the case by the extractor and the sholder is not in contact with the chamber you are asking for case head seperation. Just my humble 2 cents.

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    Default good one!

    I'll bite. Speaking mostly of standard, beltless, rimless carts...I've thought of the extractor as one possible element of headspace control. But never set up a gun or load to see if it should be used as the primary control. It would seem to be kind of iffy a lot of the time if not most of the time. I imagine the role it could play depends upon how poorly the primary headspace control is set up.... usually the shoulder datum contact. How effective the extractor would be as a headspacer would depend on how rigid it is, the amount of clearance between the rear edge of the cartridge extractor groove and the contacting edge of the extractor... along with the closeness of fit of the cartridge in the chamber. Of course the other players in the game could at one time or another be the bullet itself or cartridge body taper.... but the shoulder datum ideally being primary in most applications for the beltless, rimless carts. Hope I understood the point? If it was just bs bait- I bit Seriously, I've shot ammo that was well short of headspace contact at the shoulder and the primer fired ok so the extractor was good enough for that but upon further experimentation found the case bodies excessively stretching just forward of the web. Not what I would call good headspace.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Big Al View Post
    The dirty little secret about headspace, or what the main stream does not tell you.

    "Headspace becomes a problem when the extractor is unable to hold the base of the ctg against the bolt face"

    I'll just leave that quote hanging there in space for a while. Now I hope some of you will think up a reason why that might just be the case or do you think that statement is just plain wrong?
    That's kind of funny, "I'll just leave that quote hangin' there" because that's what is happening. The case is hangin'. (I get points for this, right?)

    I once had a Glock model 20, 10mm. The extractor was so strong and fit so well that I could shoot 40 S&W in the gun. The short forty case was held just by the extractor, tight enough to fire, everytime. The gun also fed them from the same magazine as the 10's.

    I personally know of several guns being destroyed by using the wrong ammo, 308 in an '06, 308 in a 280, a 9.3x62 in a 358 Norma chamber,etc. They fired becasue the claw extractor held the case close enough to allow good firing pin strike and KaBoom!! These are examples of "excess headspace as well as a lot of stupidity. What happens here is the bullet ususally leaves the barrel, the case ruptures and an enormous quantity of hot high pressure gas goes out the bottom and destroys the bottom metal and stock.

    Certainly headspace is a problem at such times. Headspace is a problem at other times as well and I've had many experiences with it. I once had a beautifull restocked model 54 that had a model 70 bolt, trigger and safety fitted to it. It was originally a 30-06 but had been rebored to a 338 then chambered to 338-06. It was then rechambered to 338-06AI. Now when rechambering to an AI, the barrel must be set back or brass will not fit. Specifically, standard '06 brass will have some slop between the shoulder and the front of the chamber. Ackley specifically chambered so that factory ammo could be safely fired in all his AI chambers. They use the exact same headspace dimension. Well this little Winchester was not so chambered. The chamber was AIed after the gun was made and was crudely stamped AI after the 338-06 stamp, which was well done. I used a 338-06 case that I had fire formed in another rifle, primed only. It would not fire but maybe 3 out of ten times. I later fire formed brass with cream of wheat in this rifle and discovered that it had about .030" of gap infront of the "standard" brass. I made special brass for it this way for a while then finally tired of that process and ditched it.

    Many new factory guns will swallow a no go gage and I've seen some that would accept a field gage. Most factory ammo for belted mags will have excess headspace on the first firing and every firing if loading dies are not adjusted to not push the shoulder back and allow the cartridge to headspace on the shoulder and not the belt.

    Now, for those who don't know, a headspace gage is a steel or brass billet shaped like the cartridge case with a specific dimension from the base to some reference datum point, usually on the shoulder of rimless cases or the front of the belt or rim on those cases. There is a go and a no-go gage. The go is the minimum dimension, the no-go is the maximum dimension. They are .006" difference in length. (A field gage is +.012" from the go.) A rifle shoud always close on a go gage and not close on a no-go gage. The no-go is the maximum allowable 'slop' for any chamber of any rifle so marked as the ammunition it was designed to use. That isn't very much. I will say any bolt action rifle that will allow a cartridge to fire when held only by the extractor will likely still have headspace in excess of the .006 of an inch.

    Is this greater than .006" headspace dangerous? Yes, in some guns, no in others. In the Glock, the rimless pistol round which headspaces on the case mouth, was fully contained in the longer chamber, similar to a 38 spcl in a 357 cylinder. In this case there was no danger, in my model 54, there was.

    I think I am well versed and experienced in this headspace concept. I have designed many wildcat cartridges which have different headspace from the parent case. Consideration should be given as to how this will be managed. Such as how will you form brass that can be fired safely. It is rather easy to push the shoulder back and difficult (more work) to pull it forward. Is fireforming with inert filler necessary or can we just fire "standard" ammo in our wildcat chamber? Or can we just neck up and load? The Brown-Whelen family of cats on the '06 case is an example of a shoulder moved forward as is the Hawk series. The 338-06, 35 Whelen, 257 Roberts (from 7x57) are some examples of "standard" wildcats. I think I have good reasons for all the special changes I make in the brass of all of my wildcats, some may not think so. I have a series of WSM cats that just neck the case up or down. I have a series on the 375 Ruger case that move the shoulder back a certain amount. Each of these in each series will use the same headspace gage regardless of caliber. All 375 Rugers use the same regardless of caliber, but not the same as the 375 itself as the datum point is pushed back. The shoulder is not moved in the WSM's.

    Yes headspace can be changed by using the wrong loading dies or dies that are not adjusted correctly for your rifle. Handloading allows custom tayloring (fitting) of ammo to your specific chamber, standard or wildcat.

    This may be far more than most care to hear but honestly, I don't think many people know what headspace is, how it is established, measured or maintained. I hope all will find this information useful.
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  10. #10
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    Does anyone really think that the M1 Grand was a vary strong action?

    I had a guardsman hand me an eight round clip loaded with 7.62 NATO NM at camp Perry at the national matches for the rapid prone event, instance accuracy problem as the only rounds in the target were my own two 06NM rounds. Laying on the grass next to me were a neat bunch of straight cases with no shoulders.

    I still have the rifle after these 30 years and it is still vary accurate when using proper ammo. The rifle has vary tight head space on a go gauge and will not allow the bolt to rotate on a no go. Why didn't it blow-up?

    I have never seen a 30-06 rifle with a good extractor system blow-up using .308 win ammo. I've seen a number of problems with rifles with poor extractor systems and head space problem with head space problem caused by reloaders using the recommended set up for there sizing die push the shoulders back to far, have case head separation.

    Now lets move on to rimed cases, Lots of old wildcats in this category. Head space becomes a problem real quick with these cases (sometimes), yet I've seen a goodly number of 30-30 ammo shot in .32 win special chambered model 94's, again an action not noted for being a strong action. No blow-ups. Yes the head space on the rim was right but the shoulder and a bunch of slop was there, no blow-ups.

    I'm a big fan of some of the late great P.O. ACKLEY chamberings, having custom reamers and gauges for my favorites (read the ones that work). I also have many other wildcat reamers and gauges most with 35 deg shoulders. The reason for this is to reduce the amount of trimming and get longer life out of these formed cases.

    I saw a Wetherby Vanguard blown by using .300 Wby ammo in the chamber of a .300 Win. Of course that was on the third shot. All three shots they used a piece of 2X4 to close the bolt and twice to open it.
    Both ctgs belted and they head space on the belt, right?

    Maybe we don't think about it to much, but what about tight necks, brass does flow into that area also. Seat a bullet into a neck thats thick, close the bolt on that ctg, and I bet the pressures will be a might higher. I recall hearing in the back ground that" I know the shoulder was in contact when I closed the bolt cause I could feel the resistance". That guy was lucky, he only lost a rifle.

    The reason for good head spacing is more for accuracy than what we consider as a safety factor in many rifles.

    I'm rather surprised no one remembers Mr. ACKLEY's chapter on this subject. Where he was trying to find the strength of various military action that were being flooded into this country after the second world war.

    Where real problems can come about is with case head separation when locking lug cam set back happens, due to wear in action types with poor extraction systems. This I have seen many times. Almost always in machine gun that due to large amounts of ammo being cycles through causing wear.

    I think after all my years fooling with wildcats, I think the problem that many of my fellow gun nut thought was head space problems, was in fact problems related to either no knowledge of proper annealing of the brass they were using. Or the total lack of knowledge that the brass was work hardened to much.

    I have in my collection a lot of old ctgs with split necks the bullets still in place, unfired in (if you didn't know the history) you would think are factory loaded ammo. Yeah I know they call'm season cracks. The fact is I have 1919 Frankford .30-06 ammo that shows no cracks. That stuff predates the other by at least seven years. The only reason the other is cracked is because it was over hardened and not annealed properly.

    The point in all of this is that head space needs to be understood a lot deeper than what we are lead to believe.

  11. #11
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    Talking I have my 400 Whelen....

    Well.....not really, but as close as I can get to what the good colonel really had in mind when he brought up the idea to his friend James Howe.

    The idea of a forty caliber, rimless, beltless, 30-06 length cartridge is now, as it was then in Townsend Whelen's day, still a good idea. It is a very good idea for a bolt action rifle to be carried in bear country anywhere or for a moose hunt in the interior of Alaska where we could bump into a good grizzly.

    The original 400 Whelen ballsitics were to give 2400 fps to a 300 grain bullet. This .411" 300 grain bullet was available for the then still popular 405 Winchester, made famous or at least made more popular by a well known American hunter, Theodore Roosevelt. Well, if the 405 Winnie was good lion medicine for Teddy, then the same ballistics from a stronger bolt action Mauser, should easily do as well. In reality, my 400 Whelen will exceed the ballistics from any of the 30-06 cases, regardless of shoulder diameter or angle.

    The diameter of the 30-06 at the base is .473", the diameter at the shoulder of the 400 Whelen has been variously stated to be anywhere form .441" to .458". Couple this with the neck diameter of at least .430" (.410" bullet with .010" of brass thickness) it does leave a small surface area on which to headspace the cartridge. There must be some taper to the case and even if we limit that to .015" in the length of the case, That would only give us a .458" shoulder maximum diameter. Still not much of a solid shelf for headspace.

    My 400 Whelen uses a case with a base diameter of .508" (max) and a shoulder diameter of .486" (max) and with a max diameter of neck (chamber dimension) of .441" I still have a substantial headspace shelf. This max diameter of the neck will also allow me to seat slightly oversized (.413") cast bullets, though My bore slugged out to be best fit with .412".

    Dan Gongiolosi, of Bull Shop Bullets gave me some samples of his well made bullets of his own design that will soon be tested in this versatile cartridge. I have some 350 grain hard cast with a nose poured of soft lead to allow some expansion. Dan sized these down from .416" for me to try along with a half dozen other designs. He has used the 350 grain in a 416 to drop a big bull moose and was pleased with his results. Currently I have only used the 300 grain Hornady and the 220 grain Sierra FPJ, 41 Mag revolver bullet. I hit the 2500 fps mark with the 300 grain and 2900 fps with the 220 grain. Both these loads are below max pressure.

    This cartridge is housed in an old Mauser rifle action rebarreled with a .411"x14" twist Kreiger barrel cut and crowned at 21.5" with a #5 taper. The action had no other work except the FN Mauser flat bolt knob was replaced with a rounded grasping knob. This was a chore for my smith as he ran into problems with the metal compostion of the bolt and his carbon rod weld. Also the bolt face was opened .025" to accomodate the .500" head of the case I used. No other work was put into the action to facilitate feeding and none is needed. All metal work was done by Ken Corcoran of north Pole, Alaska. He did a good job chambering and fitting up the barrel on the Mauser with only some minor problems leaving a less than perfect asthetics of the gun. All metal was then parkerized by Ken and left a very good durable, matte finish. An NECG front ramp was screwed down to the barrel and a Dave Gentry barrel band sling stud was added up front. Both parkerized to match. I used a set of Weaver grand Slam all steel bases and Ken parkerized them to match the rest of the rifle. I then added an NECG back-up rear aperature sight to the Weaver rear base and a front insert in the ramp with a sour dough post with a nickel silver inlay. This proved to be highly visable and my calculations of hight were very close. The nickel silver was tough when the sun was behind me looking like a saphire in the mud.

    The rifle is butt ugly, oweing mostly to the dull parkerizing and the original J.C.Higgins stock of plain American black walnut without checkering or grain to adorn it. I chiseled out this stocks barrel channel with little or no care as my original intentions were to place the barreled action into a McMillan ugly camo pattern stock which won't arrive for some weeks down the road. This sears stock has the right drop for my sights and the LOP will be perfect with a 3/4" Pachmeyer pad installed. I think I'll bed this stock and stick a pad on it and call it good.

    This ugly duckling of a rifle has performed above all my expectations as to cartridge ballistics and accuracy. It seems to point like a dream and just hits where I'm looking. This wide open aperature and thick front post is crude and not precise at all but I have no trouble beer cans out to a hundred yards or smashing the dirt around them to launch them in the air. Close misses you might say. The pistol bullets are really somthing. Zapping out at nearly three times the speed of sound, ear muffs and plugs recommended. I guess we would have to wonder of the use for such a load but prairie dogs beware. It is to support year-round use of this all purpose rifle. I beiieve my goal of duplicating 450/400 Nitro Express loads with 400 grains at 2150 will also be realized. I have some Hawk and Woodleigh bullets coming for this application.

    OK, OK it's isn't a real 400 Whelen on a Springfield action but it will serve the need and ballistically, it is all any 40 caliber could be on a standard length beltless case. No wait....there is still the new 375 Ruger case......Hmmmm.
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  12. #12

    Default Butt Ugly

    I'll have you know my J C Higgins takes offense to that remark. It doesn't have the original stock either. It has been retro'd with a camo synthetic which has a removable 12oz mercury break for the range. You see it has been rebarreled to 416 Taylor and has a military Black Oxide finish. It shoots very well though.
    Congrats on your project!!
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    Murphy, let me know when you build your Springfield based Whelen. I will send you a copy of Whelens' original stock blueprints.
    Great spirits have always found violent opposition from mediocre minds. The latter cannot understand it when a man does not thoughtlessly submit to hereditary prejudices but honestly and courageously uses his intelligence. Albert Einstein

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