“You can hunt anything in North America with this rifle.” With those words, my Dad gave me his lovely custom-built, .35 Whelen Improved rifle. Stocked by a man named Bill Hall, it was emblazoned with a ‘Diamond-H’ insignia below the beautifully-engraved, silver pistol grip cap. I honestly could not believe that my Dad was giving away this rifle. He had begun collecting Bill Hall rifles many years before, and had accumulated quite a stash. In fact, my Dad had mentioned over the years that Ruger management had tried to recruit Bill to come and work in their custom-rifle shop. I don’t know if this was legend or not, but like my Dad, I had fallen in love with Bill’s workmanship as soon as I held my first Diamond-H rifle.
Though almost always a gruff and serious person, my Dad could also be very generous. As I sat entranced by a detailed examination of ‘my’ rifle, he handed me something that meant as much as the firearm itself. He presented me with a set of custom dies and a handwritten sheet containing reloading instructions garnered from many years of his own experimentation with the rifle.
Fast forward over a decade, and I was planning my first African safari. As suggested by my older brother, we were heading to South Africa to hunt with Blaauwkrantz Safaris. Very early in the planning stage, I decided I wanted to take my Dad’s rifle to Africa. I don’t know if he ever considered trying to organize an African safari, but I know that he voraciously read of the exploits of those who did. So, his rifle would go where he never did. And, to prove my Dad’s conclusion concerning the capability of the caliber to handle big-boned, muscular animals, I wanted to take a zebra – a species that writers from Ruark to Boddington have pointed to as one of the toughest of the tough.
The goal of taking an African animal using my Dad’s – and now my – .35 Whelen Improved rifle was fulfilled late on the afternoon of May 19, 2018. The effect on the 800-900-pound animal was immediate. In fact, as I came down out of the recoil, chambering a cartridge as the muzzle dropped, I found that the zebra had literally dropped-to-the-shot. The 250-grain Nosler Partition impacted high on the animal’s shoulder and, according to my PH, it collapsed without a twitch.
Dad, you were right. This caliber is amazingly effective on large, tough species. I really wish you were still around, so that I could tell you that in person.