The Winchester .350 Legend

By Chuck Hawks

Winchester .350 Legend ballistics chart
Illustration courtesy of Winchester Ammunition.

Winchester Ammunition raised a lot of eyebrows and created a buzz at the 2019 SHOT Show by announcing a new medium bore hunting cartridge, the .350 Legend. It is being released with a choice of three hunting factory loads. These include a Winchester Deer Season XP load (150 grain bullet at 2325 fps MV), Power Max Bonded line load (160 grain at 2225 fps) and a Super-X Power Point 180 grain bullet at a MV of 2100 fps. The ammo should be in stores by April, 2019, priced competitively with .223 premium hunting loads.

"Legend" seems like a strange name for a brand new cartridge that is not a legend and will require, at a minimum, decades to become one, if it ever does, which is inherently unlikely. (Very few rifle cartridges have ever become truly legendary!) This new offering is designed primarily, but not exclusively, for use in Modern Sporting Rifles (MSR) and primarily, but not exclusively, for use in states that require a shotgun slug gun or a rifle chambered for a short, straight wall cartridge for deer hunting.

It is my understanding that Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and possibly other places have mandated that rifles shooting cartridges of at least .35 caliber with straight wall cases between 1.16 and 1.8 inches in length are now legal for use in what Michigan calls the "limited firearms deer zone." (Formerly "shotguns only," I believe, for deer hunting.)

I have lived in the far west my entire life, so please forgive me if I find such detailed and restrictive regulations not only incomprehensible, but a huge over-reach of bureaucratic authority. However, for those affected (or afflicted) by such regulations, practically any rifle cartridge is more useful than a shotgun slug.

CMMG announced the first AR-15 (in their Resolute line) chambered for the .350 Legend, Ruger is introducing rifles in the caliber and Winchester Repeating Arms has announced a new Model XPR Compact bolt action in .350 Legend. Examples of the Winchester XPR rifle and .350 Legend ammo were available for members of the media to shoot during SHOT range day.

The .350 Legend is based on a .223 Remington case (.348 inch rim diameter, small rifle primer) blown out straight (no shoulder) to accept .35 caliber bullets. The new .350 case has an expanded base (.390 inch) and measures .378 at the case mouth, to give it a bit of body taper to aid extraction from the chamber. On the other hand, this makes the case a rebated rim design, which degrades reliable extraction by making the extractor's bite on the case rim smaller.

Winchester specifies .357 inch diameter bullets, which seems odd, as all rifle bullets intended to be fired in a rifle with a .350 inch bore are designed for a groove/bullet diameter of .358 inch. Fortunately, a difference of only .001 inch in bullet diameter typically makes no significant difference to the rifle or the bullet, at least in other cartridges with which I have worked.

Reloaders using .358 diameter bullets in their .350 Legend rifles should begin with starting powder charges and work their way up carefully, chronographing as they go. Stop when factory load velocities are approached.

The .350 Legend is a small cartridge with the same 2.25 inches cartridge overall length (COL) as the .223 and it operates at the same (high) 55,000 psi maximum average pressure (MAP) as its parent cartridge. Winchester reps let slip that the case is loaded with around 21 grains of powder, but did not mention what powder, or which factory load / bullet weight to which they were referring.

With light for caliber bullets (150-180 grain) loaded at 55,000 psi, the .350 Legend approaches the performance of the .35 Remington with the same bullet weights. Although the .35 Rem. is a larger cartridge in all dimensions except bullet diameter (up to 2.525 inches COL), it operates at a much lower pressure (33,500 psi MAP).

Note that due to the changes in base diameter and case shape, reloaders cannot use .223 cases to form .350 cases. Nor can .223 magazines be used in .350 rifles, as the feed lips and magazine followers for the two cartridges are markedly different.

Winchester's initial promotional material touts the .350 Legend as the fastest straight-walled hunting cartridge in the world. (See ballistics chart at top of page.) This claim is simply false.

Comparing American factory loads shooting hunting bullets, the .350 Legend is slower at the muzzle than the 9.3x74R (Nosler 250 grain at 2550 fps and Federal 286 grain at 2360 fps), .444 Marlin (Hornady 265 grain at 2400 fps) and .458 Win. Magnum (Federal 350 grain at 2470 fps). Since Winchester advertises "in the world," you could add various British and European factory loads for cartridges seldom seen in the USA to the list, but you get the idea.

You could also add the .375 Winchester and .405 Winchester to the list if you compare them to the .350 load (Super-X 180 grain) with the most similar bullet sectional density (SD), which Is a much fairer way to compare cartridges. The highest velocities are achieved in the .350 Legend with bullets weighing 145-160 grains, which even with spitzer points are notoriously inefficient in .35 caliber rifle cartridges and rapidly shed velocity as the bullet flies downrange.

The highest velocity .350 Legend loads are almost inevitably going to prove to be the poorest and least effective choices for hunting Class 2 animals. For example, Remington has long offered a 150 grain Core-Lokt Pointed Soft Point (SD .168) factory load at 2300 fps for the .35 Remington. Unfortunately, this load has a bad reputation among experienced .35 Remington users, because the bullet is too light for the caliber, penetrates poorly and sheds velocity rapidly. Consequently, it has never sold well.

180 grain bullets are about the lightest conventional rifle bullets commonly used in .35 caliber deer cartridges. With a SD of .202 they are barely above the minimum SD of .200 considered adequate for rifle cartridges used to hunt deer and other Class 2 game. 200 grains (SD .223) is the most popular bullet weight for general Class 2 game hunting with .35 caliber rifles.

220-250 grain bullets are often used in the more powerful .35 rifle cartridges, such as the .358 Winchester and .350 Remington Magnum, for hunting Class 3 game and on mixed bag hunts. In fact, when I checked all of the bullet manufacturers listed in the latest Shooter's Bible and in the various reloading manuals, I could not find any .35 caliber rifle bullet lighter than 180 grains. In the case of the .350 Legend, I would definitely expect the Super-X 180 grain load to be the most popular and useful.

Revolver cartridges, such as the .357 Magnum, used for hunting in both long barreled revolvers and lever action carbines, get by with lighter hunting bullets, typically 158-180 grains, because the assumption is the range to the game animal will be much shorter (typically around 50 yards) than with actual rifle cartridges. Since Winchester is advertising the .350 Legend as a 200 yard deer cartridge, it must be compared to other medium range rifle cartridges, not short range revolver cartridges adapted to carbines.

Winchester has also released promotional charts comparing facets of the .350 Legend's performance to other selected rifle cartridges. The most interesting shows recoil, presumably in ft. lbs. of energy. In seven pound rifles, Winchester's chart shows 8.52 for the .350 Legend, 9.64 for the .30-30, 10.38 for the .243 Winchester and 22.99 for the .450 Bushmaster. The first three cartridges are close together and mild kickers, which is very beneficial to accurate bullet placement. The catch is the chart does not state the specific loads being compared for any of these cartridges!

Another Winchester .350 Legend promotional chart compares energy on target at 200 yards and includes the .30-30, 223 and .300 Blackout. It credits the .350 Legend with 903 ft. lbs. and the .30-30 with 781 ft. lbs. from a 20 inch rifle barrel, which is lower than any .30-30 load published in the Winchester ammo catalog. The .223's 200 yard energy is given as 603 ft. lbs., which is lower than normal .223 hunting and varmint loads.

Again, the loads tested are not given, but Winchester must have used the least powerful .30-30 load they could find, as 781 ft. lbs. is 200-300 ft. lbs. below typical .30-30 factory load ballistics, which are usually taken in 24 inch test barrels. (For good reason, as 24 inches was the "standard" barrel length for classic Winchester .30-30 rifles, although they could be ordered with practically any length barrel) and is again today in the premium Marlin XLR and new Winchester Model 94 rifles. For example, the Hornady LEVERevolution 160 grain .30-30 load used by the entire G&S Online staff delivers 1305 ft. lbs. at 200 yards, based on Hornady ballistics.

The last Winchester .350 Legend comparison chart I have seen purports to compare penetration in ballistic gelatin at 200 yards. It compares the .350 Legend to the .243 Win. and .223 Rem and is the most bogus chart of all. This worthless piece of propaganda shows the .350 (11.7 inches) leading the way over the .223 (7.3 inches), with the .243 about in-between (9.5"). Impact energy, bullet construction and bullet SD are not given, all of which are crucial factors in bullet penetration.

The most comparable .350 Legend and .243 Win. hunting loads should be the Super-X load using a 180 grain Power Point bullet (SD .202) in the Legend, which according to Winchester ballistics is carrying 859 ft. lbs. of energy at 200 yards. The standard Winchester .243 Super-X load, popular for decades, uses a 100 grain Power Point bullet (SD .242), which is carrying 1332 ft. lbs. of energy at 200 yards (also per Winchester ballistics). With far superior energy to power penetration and far superior SD, the .243 load should easily penetrate deeper than the .350 Legend load, so something is obviously fishy.

The most reasonable ballistic comparison for the .350 Legend would be with the .35 Remington, which was introduced in 1908 and is still alive and well today. The .35 Remington has been offered in a variety of pump, autoloading and bolt action rifles over the years and is primarily offered in the Marlin 336 and Henry Side Gate lever actions today.

Ballistically, the .350 Legend is a slightly less powerful and less versatile cartridge (depending on the loads compared) than the .35 Remington, when the latter is shooting traditional factory loads that launch a 150 grain Pointed Soft Point bullet (SD .168) at a MV of 2300 fps, or a 200 grain Round Nose bullet (SD .223) at 2080 fps (Remington figures).

The recently introduced Hornady LEVERevolution factory load for the .35 Remington elevates its performance beyond the reach of the .350 Legend. It calls for a 200 grain FTX bullet (SD .223) at a MV of 2225 fps and ME of 2198, which easily exceeds the power and performance of any .350 Legend load and it is loaded within the SAAMI mandated 33,500 psi MAP of the .35 Rem.

Buffalo Bore "Heavy .35 Remington Ammo" launches a 220 grain JFP bullet (SD .245) at a MV of 2200 fps and ME of 2364 ft. lbs. from a Marlin 336 Carbine with an 18.5 inch barrel (MAP unknown). This modern, powerful factory load, suitable for use on elk and moose at moderate range, leaves the .350 Legend in the dust.

Reloaders with Marlin or Henry carbines (20 inch barrel) in .35 Rem. can load the Speer 180 grain Hot-Cor bullet to a maximum MV of 2258 fps without exceeding the cartridges mild 33,500 psi MAP, which is 158 fps faster than the Winchester 180 grain factory load for the .350 Legend at 55,000 psi. For hunting large Class 3 animals, such as Roosevelt elk, reloaders can drive the 220 grain Speer Hot-Cor bullet at a maximum MV of 2031 fps (Speer figures).

Finally, Winchester claims the.350 Legend is superior to the far more popular (and truly legendary!) Winchester .30-30, which is a small bore (less than .33 caliber), bottleneck cartridge. This claim seems so totally off the wall that Gary Zinn has examined it in detail in his Member Side article Compared: the .30-30 and the Winchester .350 Legend.

I find misleading advertising repugnant, particularly in the shooting sports, and I am not a fan of cartridges that head space on the case mouth or have rebated rims. Therefore, gentle reader, from my perspective the .350 Legend was introduced with a couple of strikes against it. On the other hand, I am known to regular G&S Online readers, as well as to some in the industry, for promoting the .350 Remington Magnum cartridge and I have owned a number of .357 Magnum carbines over the years and used them for deer hunting, so it would not be fair to conclude I have a bias against .35 caliber cartridges.

Every time you fire a cartridge the case stretches, thus changing the head spacing if it head spaces on the mouth. The higher the operating pressure, the worse this problem becomes, which is one reason only relatively low pressure auto pistol cartridges normally use this system of head spacing. Hand loaders must carefully trim the case after every firing, if it is to be reloaded.

In addition, only a "taper crimp" can be used to keep the bullets from moving in the cases of cartridges in the magazine when the rifle is fired. A solid roll crimp, used by most medium bore cartridges, would solve this problem, but prevent proper head spacing with the .350 Legend.

A taper crimp must be carefully applied, as too much crimping force will also affect head spacing. This is why the classic, reliable as dirt, straight cased cartridges often used for hunting dangerous game, such as the British Nitro Express cartridges, European 9.3x74R and American .45-70, .458 Win. Mag., .458 Lott and the like were designed with solid rims or solid belts upon which to positively headspace. It is too bad that Winchester could not have worked a belt into the new .350 Legend rimless case, which would have made head spacing more positive, eliminated taper crimping and eliminated the need to trim the case after every shot.

None of this is intended to belittle Winchester's .350 Legend. It is a very specialized number intended primarily to give AR-15 (MSR) hunters a new, straight case option in some midwestern states with truly arcane deer cartridge requirements. This, naturally, required some design compromises to be made. The .350 Legend's most valid and strongest selling points are its suitability for use in MSRs and its low recoil, which might make it a good choice for very recoil sensitive woods and brush country deer hunters everywhere.

Note: This article is mirrored on the Member Side Rifle Cartridges index page. In addition, there are in-depth articles about all of the other cartridges mentioned in this article on the Rifle Cartridges page.

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Copyright 2019 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.