Looking for a sweet shooting straight wall cartridge to hunt with this fall? Here’s what you need to know about the .350 Legend.
While it has only been around for a couple years, the new .350 Legend cartridge has really taken off with certain segments of the North American hunting community after Winchester rolled out the cartridge at the 2019 SHOT show.
That may not make sense to some people at first, especially considering that the cartridge does not have extremely impressive ballistics on paper. Likewise, it’s most likely not the best choice for many hunting situations.
However, the .350 Legend is a relatively specialized centerfire rifle cartridge that was designed specifically to fill a very specific niche in the hunting world. Like any specialized cartridge that’s well designed, the .350 Legend performs very well in its intended role.
What hunters should be using the cartridge? Is the .350 Legend just the latest fad that will get overshadowed by the next high profile cartridge that comes along?
In this article, I’m going to discuss the history as well as the strengths and weaknesses of the .350 Legend in detail. I’ll also provide some information on how the .350 Legend compares to the .223 Remington and .450 Bushmaster cartridges to give you an idea of what sort of performance you can expect from the cartridge and so you can decide if it best fits your needs as a hunter.
Before we get started, I have an administrative note:
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350 Legend History
The folks at Winchester noticed a few years ago that demand for .450 Bushmaster ammo was pretty high in certain mid-western states. They investigated the situation further and realized that a lot of whitetail deer hunters were using the .450 Bushmaster because it was one of the more popular rifle cartridges that met the relatively strict definition of a “straight-walled” cartridge as required by hunting regulations in those states.
In particular, states like Iowa and Ohio require hunters to use a straight-walled cartridge during the modern firearm deer season. This also applies on public land in Indiana as well as in parts of southern Michigan.
Most modern cartridges like the .223 Remington (pictured below on the left), 6.5 Creedmoor, and .30-06 Springfield, are bottlenecked cartridges. A straight wall cartridge (like the .350 Legend in the center and .450 Bushmaster on the right) is exactly what is sounds like: the cartridge doesn’t have a shoulder.
Those states have more restrictive regulations on what constitutes a legal cartridge to hunt with ostensibly because they’re more densely populated and they want hunters to be using handgun cartridges with a shorter effective range.
For this reason, lots of hunters use shotguns, handguns, muzzleloaders, and rifles chambered in straight-walled cartridges like the .450 Bushmaster and sometimes the .45-70 in those states.
Some states also have restrictions on the length of the cartridge case. For instance Indiana and Michigan prohibit the use of cartridges with case length greater than 1.8”, which is the length of the .460 Smith & Wesson handgun cartridge. The .45-70 has a case length of 2.105″ and is not legal to use in those states. Ohio does not have that restriction, so the 45-70 is legal to hunt with there.
As you can see, the situation is a little complicated.
At the time, there weren’t that many straight wall cartridges in common use with plentiful supplies of rifles and ammunition that met those requirements while also being powerful enough to reliably and cleanly take whitetailed deer.
Designed as a more powerful alternative to the .223 Remington/5.56x45mm NATO that would still reliably function in an AR-15, the .450 Bushmaster has a case length of 1.7″. The cartridge is more than powerful enough for use on deer and it was also in mainstream use in the 2010s.
So by a weird twist of fate, that cartridge became something of a “go to” choice for a lot of deer hunters in the mid-west because it just so happened to meet the legal requirements for use there.
There’s not a darn thing wrong with hunting whitetail deer with the .450 Bushmaster and it’s extremely effective on deer-sized game. However, it’s really more powerful than what’s necessary for that sort of hunting. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the downside of the .450 Bushmaster is the fact that ammo is relatively expensive and the cartridge also does have a fair bit of recoil.
Some people handle that recoil without issues, but it can be too much for smaller framed and/or recoil shy hunters.
For those reasons, Winchester decided to build a new cartridge to fill that need.
Specifically, they opted to design a straight-walled cartridge that was at least .357 caliber, had a case length shorter than 1.8″, was powerful enough to cleanly take deer-sized game, but had less recoil and was less expensive than the .450 Bushmaster.
Basically, they were trying to build the optimal deer hunting cartridge that would give hunters an effective, mild recoiling, and reasonably priced alternative to cartridges like the .450 Bushmaster that still met the legal requirements of those straight-wall states.
The result was the cartridge we now know as the .350 Legend.
SAAMI gave formal approval to the .350 Legend in early 2019 and Winchester introduced it to the world at the 2019 SHOT Show.
Though similar to the .223 Remington in appearance in some ways, the .350 Legend utilizes a new rimless case design and does not have a parent case. With a bullet diameter of .357″, a maximum overall length of 2.26″, and a case length of 1.71″, the .350 Legend is legal to use in all the straight wall states and will also function reliably in an AR-15.
Winchester touted the relatively high velocity of the cartridge from the get go and advertised the .350 Legend as “the world’s fastest straight-walled hunting cartridge” in their initial product promotions.
While some gun writers criticized Winchester for perhaps stretching the truth a bit with that statement, it’s certainly true that the .350 Legend is one of the fastest straight-walled cartridges that meets the current legal requirements for use in Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio.
In addition to promoting the cartridge very aggressively, Winchester worked very hard from the beginning to get things with the .350 Legend started off on the right foot. For this reason, they made sure to produce appropriate rifles and ammunition for the cartridge and avoid mistakes Remington made with cartridges like the .260 and .280 Remington over the years that derailed their product launches.
Winchester initially offered the .350 Legend in the Winchester XPR bolt action rifle. They also started producing the .350 Legend in five different ammo lines: Deer Season XP with a 150gr Extreme Point, Super-X with a 180gr Power Point, Power Max Bonded with a 160gr Bonded Rapid Expansion Hollow Point, USA white box with a 145gr full metal jacket (also known as Winchester White Box ammo), and Super Suppressed with a 265gr Open Tip subsonic bullet.
So, deer hunters had a quality, but reasonably priced rifle available in the cartridge from the start. The same goes for a pretty good selection of good hunting ammo as well as reasonably priced full metal jacket (FMJ) 350 Legend ammo for practice work at the range.
The cartridge was a big hit from the jump and hunters all over the United States, but especially in those mid-western states, quickly adopted it. Since then, other companies have started producing .350 Legend rifles and ammunition as well.
Browning, Federal, and Hornady have also started producing .350 Legend ammo as part of their BXR, Power Shok, Fusion, Non-Typical, and American Whitetail lines. Winchester has also expanded their .350 Legend ammo production to their Defender and Deer Season XP Copper Impact lines as well. The Copper Impact ammunition should be of particular interest to hunters in the State of California who are required to use lead free ammunition.
At least to this point, the .350 Legend seems like a smashing commercial success for Winchester.
To learn more about why that’s the case, next we’ll talk about the ballistics of the cartridge and how the .350 Legend stacks up next to the .450 Bushmaster, both of which will help explain why the cartridge has been so well received by the hunting community.
350 Legend Ballistics
Typical .350 Legend ballistics are a 150gr bullet at 2,325 fps (1,800 ft-lbs), a 160gr bullet at 2,225 fps (1,759 ft-lbs), or a 180gr bullet at 2,100 fps (1,763 ft-lbs). Those loads deliver excellent performance on deer-sized game at short to moderate range with light recoil.
These loads are very nearly on par with the sort of performance delivered by well regarded short range deer hunting cartridges like the .30-30 Winchester (150-grain bullet at 2,390fps for 1,903 ft-lbs of muzzle energy) and .35 Remington (200gr bullet at 2,080fps for 1,922 ft-lbs of muzzle energy).
450 Bushmaster vs 350 Legend vs 223 Remington
The .350 Legend was designed as a lighter recoiling and less expensive alternative to the .450 Bushmaster that was adequate for use on deer and still legal to use in straight-wall states. Additionally, the .350 Legend was also designed for use in the AR-15 platform to supplement the extremely popular .223 Remington and .450 Bushmaster cartridges there as well.
Therefore, all three cartridges are very similar on overall length and case length.
That’s how the three cartridges compare to each other in a nutshell. As we drill down into the details of their similarities and differences though, several especially important factors emerge.
First, the three cartridges fire different size bullets: .224″ for the .223 Remington, .357″ for the .350 Legend, and .452″ for the .450 Bushmaster.
Additionally, they all use different weight bullets.
The majority of .223 Remington factory loads shoot bullets in the 35-77 grain range. Of these, 55 grain and 62 grain bullet weights are by far the most common. The .350 Legend normally uses 145-255gr bullets with 150gr, 160gr, and 180gr bullets being most common. Most .450 Bushmaster ammo typically has bullet weights in the 158gr to 300 gr range, with 250gr and 260 gr bullets being the most popular.
The three cartridges have the same maximum overall length (2.26″) and have similar case lengths: 1.7″ for the .450 Bushmaster, 1.71″ for the .350 Legend, and 1.76″ for the .223 Remington.
The .350 Legend and .223 Remington have the same rim diameter of .378″ while the .450 Bushmaster has a larger .473″ rim diameter.
Finally, the .223 Remington and .350 Legend both have a higher SAAMI maximum pressure of 55,000psi vs 38,500psi for the .450 Bushmaster.
Those differences in the external dimensions of the .223 Remington, .350 Legend, and .450 Bushmaster do translate into some interesting differences in their ballistic performance.
The table below compares Winchester Deer Season XP factory ammo in .223 Remington loaded with a 64gr Extreme Point (.282 BC), in 350 Legend loaded with a 150gr Extreme Point (.223 BC), and in .450 Bushmaster loaded with a 250gr Extreme Point (.210 BC).
All three cartridges used a 100 yard zero.
The high velocity .223 Remington has by far the flattest trajectory with the least bullet drop of the bunch. However, the .350 Legend and .450 Bushmaster both have significantly more muzzle energy (~39% and 108% respectively).
The .350 Legend fits neatly in-between the .223 Remington and .450 Bushmaster in terms of trajectory and kinetic energy at typical hunting ranges. The .450 Bushmaster still holds a significant (~50% more) advantage in terms of muzzle energy, but that shrinks down to about a 40% advantage at 300 yards.
If we’re being honest, both of those cartridges perform best at ranges inside 200 yards due to excessive bullet drop and too little retained energy at longer range. They’re both more than adequate for use on deer sized game at those ranges though.
Even so, the .350 Legend is still a relatively powerful cartridge itself. This is especially true considering the constraints the designers had to work under with regards to straight-wall cartridge legal requirements and compared to the .223 Remington when it comes to AR compatible cartridges.
The chart below compares how much a 10 mile per hour crosswind impacts those same .223 Remington, .350 Legend, and .450 Bushmaster loads out to 500 yards.
The same general trends hold true with regards to wind deflection as well.
The .223 Remington has the least wind drift of the bunch while the .350 Legend is next and the slower .450 Bushmaster comes in last. Once again, this data supports using the .350 Legend and .450 Bushmaster at ranges inside of 200 yards.
Now let’s talk about recoil.
The table below compares the recoil produced by handloads that are very similar to the loads compared above for the .223 Remington, .350 Legend, and .450 Bushmaster when fired from identical rifles.
Felt recoil will vary from shooter to shooter and rifle to rifle, but free recoil energy is still a useful way to compare cartridges.
All that extra power the .450 Bushmaster has does come at a price recoil and that cartridge has more than twice as much free recoil as the sweet shooting .350 Legend!
The .223 Remington has an extremely mild (almost non-existent) recoil. So, the .223 Remington does have an advantage over even the sweet shooting .350 Legend in this respect. However, most people (even very inexperienced and/or young hunters) should still be able to handle recoil from the .350 Legend without too much trouble.
Don’t underestimate the impact that recoil has on the ability of a person to shoot accurately either. Some people do handle recoil better than others, but all other things being equal, they will absolutely shoot more accurately with a milder recoiling cartridge. More than doubling the free recoil energy like you will when jumping from the .350 Legend to the .450 Bushmaster can really make a big difference in how pleasant a rifle is to shoot.
So where do we stand overall with these cartridges?
350 Legend vs 450 Bushmaster
The 350 Legend fires smaller and lighter bullets at a higher velocity than the 450 Bushmaster. The 450 Bushmaster has significantly more kinetic energy than the 350 Legend at typical hunting ranges. The 350 Legend is powerful enough for use on deer-sized game, has a flatter trajectory, and has much less recoil.
350 Legend vs 223 Remington
The 223 Remington fires smaller diameter and lighter bullets at a much higher velocity than the 350 Legend. While the 223 Remington has a much flatter trajectory and significantly less recoil, the 350 Legend has significantly more kinetic energy than the 223 Remington at typical hunting ranges.
450 Bushmaster ve 350 Legend vs 223 Remington Cost
Finally, let’s talk about the price of ammunition.
In general, .223 Remington ammunition is the least expensive of the three. Prices can wildly fluctuate, especially during times of high demand. However, mass produced or military surplus 223 FMJ ammunition marketed for general shooting and plinking is about the least expensive centerfire rifle ammunition available in North America. Normal .223 Remington hunting ammo is usually a little more expensive.
.350 Legend ammo typically costs a little bit more. Winchester does make fairly reasonably priced FMJ ammo marketed for range time and general plinking. That stuff is more expensive than .223 Remington ammo, but is usually still less expensive than most other centerfire rifle ammunition. Likewise, .350 Legend hunting ammunition is a little more expensive still, but is normally one of the more affordable centerfire rifle hunting ammo options.
Finally, .450 Bushmaster ammo is significantly more expensive than the other two. I’m not aware of any commonly available budget .450 Bushmaster FMJ ammo designed for time at the range and .450 Bushmaster hunting ammo will sometimes cost almost twice as much as .223 Remington or .350 Legend ammo.
With all of that in mind, I think it’s pretty clear that the .350 Legend accomplished the goals the folks at Winchester had when they originally developed the cartridge.
The .350 Legend is a sweet shooting, mild recoiling, and inexpensive to shoot cartridge that’s very capable on deer-sized game inside 200 yards, functions well in bolt-action rifles as well as the AR platform, and meets the legal requirements for use in states that require the use of a straight walled cartridge.
Sure, other cartridges are more powerful and/or are more capable at longer range.
If you aren’t required to use a straight-wall cartridge, then yes, it probably makes sense for you to use a more established cartridge like the .243 Winchester, 6.5 Creedmoor, .270 Winchester, 7mm Rem Mag, .30-06, and .300 Win Mag instead.
All of those cartridges are objectively better choices for certain hunters in one way or another. This is especially true for situations where longer ranged shots are more likely or when hunting bigger game like black bear or elk.
However, the .350 Legend was not designed to be an extremely versatile cartridge. Instead, it was developed to fill a very particular need, which it does extremely well.
.350 Legend Ammo
There is a pretty good selection of factory loaded .350 ammunition these days. At this time, Browning, Federal, Hornady and Winchester are the primary sources of factory .350 Legend ammo.
Most of this ammunition is geared specifically for deer hunters like the Browning BXS, Hornady American Whitetail, Federal Non-Typical, Federal Power Shok, Winchester Super X Power Point, and Winchester Deer Season XP ammo lines.
Winchester Power Max Bonded and Federal Fusion are also available in .350 Legend for hunters who want slightly tougher bullets for use on a little bit bigger and/or tougher game. Likewise, Winchester Defender ammo is marketed towards those who want to use the cartridge for self-defense. Finally, Winchester Super Suppressed Subsonic ammunition is an option for those who want to run the .350 Legend in a suppressed rifle.
The cartridge is popular enough that most of the bigger retailers in the USA do normally keep some .350 Legend ammo in stock. This is particularly true in the mid-western states where the cartridge is especially popular.
The ammunition selection for the cartridge is also normally pretty good online and the .350 Legend isn’t nearly as tough to get as some other cartridges during the ongoing 2020-2021 ammo shortage.
Unfortunately, the cartridge is a challenging project for reloaders. It can be done, but reloading the .350 Legend isn’t especially easy. Reloading components for the cartridge aren’t exactly growing on trees, but you can still normally find what you need during normal times.
.350 Legend Rifles
There is currently a pretty good selection of high quality rifles available for the cartridge. Among others, the Savage Axis, Mossberg Patriot, and Winchester XPR bolt-action rifles are available in .350 Legend. Several different models of the Ruger American rifle and the Ruger American Ranch rifle are also available in the cartridge. The break action CVA Scout and Henry single shot are options as well.
The same goes for Modern Sporting Rifles like the CMMG Resolute 100 and Ruger AR-556. Indeed, the cartridge has also become a relatively popular choice for those who like to shoot and/or hunt with ARs.
The Winchester XPR is available in .350 Legend with a 16.5″, 20″, 22″, or 24″ barrel. The models with a 22″ or 24″ barrels are great for hunters who want to wring out all the performance they can from the cartridge while the model with the 16.5″ barrel model is nice for hunters who want an extremely compact rifle or who want to mount a suppressor without the rifle being excessively long. The model with the 20-inch barrel is a good middle ground choice.
Likewise, Ruger makes a compact version of their Ruger American Ranch Rifle with a shortened length of pull and a 16.38″ barrel. This is a fantastic option for a first rifle for a younger hunter who needs a low recoil rifle for use on deer at close range.
If you’d like to learn more about some of the various hunting rifle choices for the 350 Legend read this article:
Best .350 Legend Ammo For Hunting
While Browning, Federal, and Hornady also make hunting ammo for the cartridge, Winchester factory .350 Legend hunting ammo seems to be the most common and easiest to find right now. That could very well change in the future, but Winchester Ammunition has done the best job job of continuing to get their ammunition for the cartridge to market in the ongoing ammunition shortage.
As of August 2022, Winchester Deer Season XP and Winchester Super X ammunition are the most widely available loads I could find for the cartridge.
Fortunately, both of the aforementioned Winchester loads are very capable and flexible ammunition choices for a wide range of purposes ranging from deer hunting to personal protection.
That said, Winchester Defender, Winchester Power Max Bonded, Federal Fusion, Hornady American Whitetail, and Hornady Subsonic loads are available from time to time as well.
Learn more about some of the various 350 Legend ammunition options at the link below.
Final Thoughts On The 350 Legend
While the .350 Legend is a very specialized cartridge that was primarily designed to fill the needs of a somewhat small segment of the hunting community, it’s still an excellent choice for those who want a light recoiling and reasonably priced, but still very capable deer hunting cartridge. Indeed, it’s a fantastic choice for use on North American game like deer and feral hogs out to 200 yards or so.
The mild recoil of the cartridge also makes it a good choice for small framed and/or recoil shy deer hunters.
The .350 Legend would not be my first choice to hunt bigger and/or tougher game like black bear, elk, or moose. It will certainly work on those animals, but I just think there are better options. So, use it on those hunts at your own risk.
As good as it is though, most hunters in North America don’t have a real need for the .350 Legend unless they’re required by law to use a straight-wall cartridge. At the same time, while it is a very capable and mild recoiling deer cartridge, other cartridges like the .243 Winchester provide many of the same benefits, but have a longer effective range and/or are more widely used.
That said, it’s an absolutely outstanding choice for hunters who are required to hunt with straight-walled cartridges. It’s also great for deer hunters who don’t have a need or desire to use something that’s more powerful or has a longer effective range.
Like I said, the .350 Legend is an excellent cartridge that largely performs as advertised. If it sounds like an appealing choice for you, then get a good quality rifle, learn to shoot it accurately, and I’m sure you’ll be happy with how it performs for you afield.
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Winchester provided information for the history of .350 Legend (here and here). The data used to compare the trajectory and recoil of the cartridges was obtained from Winchester. Maximum pressure and data to compare cartridge sizes for the .223 Remington, .350 Legend, and .450 Bushmaster were obtained from SAAMI (p26, p34, p68, p147, and here). I used Shooters Calculator to compare trajectories, wind drift, and recoil for the cartridges.