It happens every season about this time of year: Deer hunters are approaching the annual December two-week primitive weapons season wondering what hunting tool to take to the woods.

Of course, in Mississippi the allowed weapons during the "primitive" season include archery gear, crossbows by special or general Permit, and primitive firearms. It's the later category that seems to get all the attention these days, especially the centerfire cartridge, single-shot, exposed-hammer, breech-loading firearms of .35 caliber or larger.

Some deer hunters contend the traditional black-powder front-end muzzleloading rifles are passé, but I still know a number of hunters bound to their use. I even know a couple guys who wear buckskin duds while toting their flintlock rifles.

Each to his own is what I say.

It's hard to deny, though, that interest in using these centerfire single-shot rifles has really had a profound impact on getting more hunters into the woods, especially youth hunters. Approving this special classification of "primitive" weapons for hunting deer definitely has had the cash registers ringing at local retailers since the rule went into effect.

But the nagging question still remains: What is the right caliber for the task, and what is the right platform to launch the projectile?

The original rule permitted only .38-caliber or larger rifles, but after a couple years wildlife officials backed down the caliber sizing to allow .35 calibers, as well.

While plenty of deer hunters are still second-guessing that decision and others question the whole category of new primitive weapons - or even continuing the special primitive weapons seasons altogether - I say it just allows more options and more opportunity.

I'm for both of those.


Col. Whelen's option

In reality, there are very few .35-caliber rifle cartridges to choose from that can also be found chambered in a rifle meeting the state's primitive weapons qualifications.

Chief among the select few choices is the .35 Whelen, named after the wildcat inventor Col. Townsend Whelen.

Whelen had an extensive career path in the military, and was an outdoors sportsman, an outdoor writer and wildcat cartridge developer. He completed his work on the .35 Whelen in 1922.

By today's standards, the .35 Whelen was not engineering rocket science. Whelen "simply" necked up the standard .30-06 to handle .35-caliber bullets.

But why and with what results? Obviously increasing the bullet diameter meant larger, heavier bullets producing more terminal killing power on big game.

Using the most-popular 200-grain bullets in factory ammunition by Remington or Hornady, the round produces a muzzle velocity of 2,675 to 2,910 feet per second and a muzzle energy poundage rating of 3,177 to 3,760.

Hornady has produced some excellent ammo for the .35 Whelen in their Superformance line of hunting ammo. That 3,760 foot pounds of energy is impressive, making it a top choice among Mississippi primitive weapons deer hunters.


Proof in the pudding

"When I decided to hang up the black powder routine, I started searching for the best 'primitive' rifle rig I could find," Flowood's Kerry French said. "I settled on a Thompson-Center Encore rifle with a stainless frame and barrel with a camouflage synthetic thumbhole stock in .35 Whelen. This cartridge was new to me, and several friends warned me about the kick on both ends. What a bunch of woosies. Sure the rifle kicks at the bench, but in the woods, you never even feel it go off."

The weight of the T/C Encore, along with its recoil-absorbing stock, also greatly helps reduce the felt recoil.

"My results during last year's primitive season using the .35 Whelen 200-grain Hornady load are probably too graphic to detail," French said. "I wanted to save all the prime meat I could on a fat doe, so at 60 yards I took a head shot. The results of the impact were instantaneous, if you can imagine what I mean.

"I now use the T/C in .35 Whelen exclusively, all year long."

Jim Harper from Warren County had similar outcomes with his .35 Whelen.

"My sons and I went shopping for new primitive weapons and we had already been talked out of the light-weight, break-open, single-shot rifles in .45-70 simply because of the recoil issue," Harper said. "I ended up settling on a .35 for myself, and the boys picked the .444 Marlin.

"There is no denying the .35 Whelen in a light rifle has some kick to it, especially during the sighting-in process, but honestly the kill results on whitetails has proven to me the .35's value. I made the right choice for me and, now my boys always want to borrow my rifle. Not!"

For deer hunters looking for a new cartridge to fit the new "primitive" weapons rule for hunting in December and again late in January in Zones 1 and 3 or in February in Zone 2, the Colonel's option is heads above all the other choices out there.

Rifle-wise, the choices are pretty limited. The Thompson-Center Encore or the Pro Hunter makes an excellent choice in a first-class single-shot rifle with premium features.

If you are hunting on a limited budget, then the New England Arms or better known as the H&R Handi-Rifle is a good choice, especially for youth hunters.

Slip on an extra-heavy-duty recoil pad, mount a scope and get it to the range for some practice.

Two other choices on the market that I have yet to inspect include the CVA Scout, and the Rossi Wizard. Ask your local dealer about those or research the Internet.

When Colonel Townsend Whelen developed the .35 Whelen using the classic .30-06 case, he probably never had any idea what impact the cartridge would have on the deer hunting world in Mississippi.

Oh yeah, the pun was intended.