June 22, 2022
Some might say that a heroic name like “Legend” needs to be earned. Okay, but American cartridge nomenclature is a mess, and I’d prefer a simple title to an alpha-numeric soup that confuses us with existing cartridges. Also, there is major historic precedence to whimsical names for cartridges, as in “Creedmoor,” “Hornet” and “Zipper.” Upon introduction, Winchester’s .350 Legend was hardly legendary, but its name will never be confused with anything else.
The proper description for the .350 Legend is “purpose-driven.” Actually, it offers multiple purposes. Although rim and base diameter are the same, the .350 Legend isn’t exactly based on the 5.56mm NATO cartridge, but it was designed to fit into the AR-15 action. This may not seem important for a hunting cartridge, but wait — the 5.56mm and .223 Remington are the most popular cartridges in the world. Cases can be made on much of the same machinery currently loading millions of these rounds, and ARs can be converted with uppers. The .350 Legend was also designed to use 9mm (.357-inch) diameter bullets, which speaks to economy and simplicity.
So, the .350 Legend is an AR cartridge. However, it was not designed as an alternative military round. Across the country, many jurisdictions are shotgun-only for firearms deer season. The point was never to restrict the harvest but, in areas with a dense human population, to limit projectile travel and increase safety. This has long been traditional, but whitetail deer overpopulation is an increasing problem (and road hazard) in many areas. I wish I knew which genius came up with the idea, but in 2014 Michigan enabled straight-walled centerfire rifle cartridges in lieu of shotguns. Parameters are tight, but the intent is to enable more accuracy and efficiency at medium range without greater projectile travel. Since then, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and most recently Iowa, have followed suit.
Cartridges that fit the criteria are limited, but include rare birds such as the .38-55 Winchester and .375 Winchester; and big bores like the .444 Marlin, .450-Bushmaster, and .45-70 Government. Although effective, the latter three are needlessly powerful for deer and have a lot of recoil, especially for youngsters and small-statured people. And, folks, we do want to promote young and female hunters, don’t we?
Winchester’s engineers wanted to produce a cartridge that would meet the “straight-wall” criteria and provide effective performance on deer and hogs to 200-plus yards without the punishing recoil. And, for manufacturing economy, would use a .223/5.56mm bolt face so that it could be housed in an AR upper. I admit that, at first, “I didn’t get it.” Why the .350 Legend? I spent little time in “shotgun-only” areas, and my experience with buckshot and slugs is limited. So, I was shocked when the .350 Legend took off like a rocket in popularity, followed by a rapid proliferation of factory loads. I should have run the numbers; there are a lot of deer hunters in those straight-wall states. Obviously, they were hungry for an effective alternative to the shotgun slug, one that didn’t kick themselves or their loved ones into next week!
The Cartridge & Loads
The .350 Legend has been an uncommon situation of almost immediate acceptance of a new cartridge. Belatedly, I concede that Winchester hit it right, identifying a need and a market. Most hunting loads run from 155 to 170 grains at around 2,200 feet per second (fps). Winchester also has a 225-grain subsonic load for suppressed use.
There are also 9mm pistol bullets in .350 Legend loads, offering economical target ammo. With older .35-caliber rifle cartridges, .358-inch bullets are most common. I’m sure deciding on .357-inch was based on economy: The ability to use 9mm bullets.
Both Remington and Winchester have a long tradition with .35-caliber cartridges. Remington’s started with the great .35 Remington in 1906, which propelled a 150-grain bullet at 2,300 fps, and a 200-grain bullet at 2,080. (Yep, similar to the .350 Legend.) Remington also introduced the .350 Remington Magnum in 1965 and, in 1988, legitimized the .35 Whelen, which was long a popular wildcat. Winchester, originator of the .350 Legend, has even greater claim to the .35-caliber legacy. Its early .35 and .351 Winchester Self-Loading cartridges were mild, but most of their .35s have had larger cases and more power: .348 Winchester (1936 with a weird .348-inch bullet); .35 Winchester (1903); .356 Winchester (1983); and .358 Winchester (1955). My suspicion is the .350 Legend has already outsold most of them.
Legend Meets Patriot
Neither Winchester nor sister company Browning are among the many AR manufacturers, so the .350 Legend was first seen in bolt-action form, but quickly migrated to AR platforms. Bolt-action availability has also grown, and the short-action Mossberg Patriot is a natural. Modestly-priced, light, and accurate, the Patriot is ideal for the straight-wall whitetail states — and it’s not bad for deer, hog, or black bear hunting.
I’m no stranger to the Mossberg Patriot. It’s a simple bolt-action, push-feed layout with dual-opposing forward locking lugs resulting in a easy-to-lift 90-degree bolt throw. The two-position safety lever is behind the bolt-handle’s root, and the polymer magazine works very well.
The bolt has spiral flutes, and it runs amazingly fast and smooth for an inexpensive production rifle. In my experience with several other cartridges, Patriots have always delivered at least “good” and sometimes “great” accuracy. Given adequate accuracy, absolute reliability is more important. I’ve hunted quite a bit with Patriots in several cartridges from 6.5mm Creedmoor to .375 Ruger, including tough conditions. Reliability has never been a concern.
An unusual (though not unique) aspect to the Patriot is the two-piece bolt sleeve with a separate bolt head that’s held by a stout retaining pin. It works and is simple to disassemble for cleaning, and I’m sure it creates manufacturing efficiencies. Otherwise, the Patriot is a straightforward and very complete rifle. The Synthetic model that’s offered in .350 Legend is also available in a dozen other chamberings, from .22-250 Remington to .450 Bushmaster. The 22-inch barrel is fluted and given a recessed crown, while all metal is finished a matte blue. The black synthetic stock is free floated, with very good recoil pad and sling swivel studs. The Patriot is available in a range of models including Cerakote and stainless, with models stocked in walnut and laminate, as well as camouflage and Flat Dark Earth. The Synthetic, the first Patriot in .350 Legend, is thus a basic tool — a very good tool.
In these days of pandemic shortages, I was incredibly blessed to have seven different loads to try, a shocking selection for a cartridge less than 2 years old! Winchester ammo included its 160-grain jacketed hollowpoint Defender; a 145-grain flat-point FMJ; and a heavy 255-grain hollowpoint for suppressed use. Browning loads were a 124-grain FMJ round nose; and a 155-grain BXR, a rapid-expanding bullet with a matrix tip. Two Hornady loads on hand were a Custom 165-grain FTX and an American Whitetail load with 170-grain Interlock. The FMJ loads used 9mm pistol bullets, which makes target shooting inexpensive; the rest are intended as hunting bullets. I grouped them all, which was a lot of shooting. I was struck by the mild recoil and, as Tom Beckstrand reported last year, the noise is incredibly mild. (Not mild enough to forget hearing protection, but noticeable.)
The trigger is Mossberg’s LBA, one of the several triggers today that has a vertical safety bar in the center of the trigger shoe. The trigger press doesn’t start until the bar is fully depressed into the trigger. Additionally, the LBA trigger is adjustable between 2 and 7 pounds. Some Patriot models are supplied with rail mounts; all the rest come with Weaver bases provided. Both make it simple and inexpensive to quickly mount a scope. Not knowing what to expect, but wanting to give the rifle an opportunity to shoot its best, I put a Zeiss Conquest 4.5-14X on it. This was clearly over-scoping for a cartridge having a stated purpose of short-range deer hunting, but I was curious!
All loads were close to specified velocities. Accuracy was also extremely consistent, and groups were round or square, with very few uncalled “fliers.” That said, group averages were below what I’ve seen from most Patriot rifles. However, I have limited experience with other .350 Legend rifles, so have no comparison to make. With the loads on hand, this particular rifle was consistently a 2 to 21/2-inch gun for five-shot groups at 100 yards. Today, that is not spectacular for the Patriot (or any modern bolt-action), but it must be understood in the context of the cartridge’s purpose: It’s a hunting round intended for use at a maximum of 250 yards, in keeping with the design parameter of limited projectile travel.
The fastest load was the Browning 155-grain BXR, which is rated at 2,300 fps. Sighted 1.7 inches high at 100 yards, it’s dead-on at 150 yards, down 4.4 inches at 200 yards, and already dropping almost 2 feet at 300 yards. Sure, you could figure out how to plunk a whitetail’s vital zone at 300 yards, however, remaining energy at 300 yards is just 655 foot-pounds (ft.-lbs.), far below the energy I want for deer, and not enough for big hogs or black bear. So, whether representative or a fluke, the accuracy is more than adequate for the purpose of the cartridge. Absent a really good rifled slug barrel, it is far better than can generally be expected from any shotgun with slugs or sabot.
In mid-October, I was at the Record Buck Ranch in the Texas Hill Country helping my daughter Brittany with one of her She Hunts Skills Camps. This area is overrun with wild hogs, so we had the opportunity to slip away. Though not always larger, I consider wild hogs tougher than deer.
Many cartridges can be used, but I’ve always been a fan of .35-calibers for pigs, and the Legend did not disappoint. We shot, er, several hogs with it, out to about 150 yards. Adequacy was unquestionable; some hogs went down on the spot, and others made a last dash. Provided we did our part, the Legend did its job with authority. Notable was the loud “thump” of the bullets hitting, especially on solid shoulder. In my experience, this is a benefit of frontal area: You will hear the bullet hit!
I used both the Browning 155-grain BXR and Hornady 170-grain Interlock; no problems were encountered. With its small case and light-for-caliber bullets, the .350 Legend cannot be compared to the faster .358 Win. or .35 Whelen. In power and performance on game, I think of it as much more similar to the .30-30 Win. and .35 Rem., which is not damning with faint praise. Compared to the .30-30, the Legend’s 9mm bullet has a much greater frontal area, a factor I believe in. Of course, the .35 Rem. is a legendary “big woods” cartridge.
However, back again to the .350 Legend’s purpose. Every hog we shot (properly) would have been equally dead with a .30-30 or .35 Rem., but neither cartridge is legal in the straight-wall cartridge states. I have a preference point for a great area in Iowa, so I bought the Mossberg Patriot in .350 Legend. Maybe next season it will account for one of those huge whitetails that Iowa is famous for.
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