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Smith & Wesson Model 350 Revolver: Full Review

Smith & Wesson have adapted their X-Frame revolver for the 350 Legend straight-wall cartridge. Here's a full review.

Smith & Wesson Model 350 Revolver: Full Review

Winchester took note of the increased interest in the .450 Bushmaster used for deer, hog and bear hunting and, in 2019, launched the .350 Legend. It proved to be shooter friendly, less expensive and more appropriate for these types of hunting. That same year, it won Guns & Ammo’s “Ammo of the Year” award. (Photo by Michael Anschuetz)

I wouldn’t choose it for concealed carry, but I like Smith & Wesson’s big, beefy, X-­Frame revolver. Steady and stable with a matchless single-­action trigger, it’s an ultimate hunting revolver, especially if you’re pursuing pachyderms or small armored cars. The .500 S&W Magnum and the X-­Frame were introduced together in 2003. Two years later, the longer-­cased and faster .460 S&W Magnum was added.

Until now, the X-­Frames have been limited to the .500 and .460, respectively the world’s most powerful and fastest revolver cartridges. They’re fine if you need that level of power, whether for buffalo or big bears, but when loaded with full-­house loads, they’re not much fun to shoot. The good news: That level of power isn’t necessary for the deer and hog hunting most of us do, so there’s no need to soak up that much recoil. The X-­Frame, however, is a magnificent handgun. It’s accurate, smooth, heavy, easy to rest and get dead steady. It sure would be nice if it were chambered to a more practical, shootable deer or hog cartridge...

Now it is!

Meet Smith & Wesson’s M350. It’s the big X-­Frame now chambered to .350 Legend. Introduced by Winchester in Guns & Ammo’s March 2019 issue, the .350 Legend is a medium-­power, medium-­range cartridge, propelling 145- to 180-grain bullets between 2,000 and 2,300 feet per second (fps) in rifle barrels.

The case rim and base are identical to the .223 Remington and 5.56x45mm NATO. Winchester called it a “purpose-­driven” cartridge. They wanted it to be AR-­compatible — and it is — but that wasn’t the primary purpose. It was designed to meet criteria in the several states that allow straight-­wall centerfire cartridges for big game hunting (in some seasons and areas) instead of traditional “shotgun only.” The list now includes Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania, all important whitetail states.

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Smith & Wesson’s Herb Belin developed the .500 Smith & Wesson Magnum in 2002. The cylinder design gave the X-Frame room to expand its offerings to accommodate future cartridges such as the .350 Legend. (Photo by Michael Anschuetz)

These rules are not consistent state-­to-­state, but the .350 Legend meets them all, regardless. Although I’m an avid deer (and hog) hunter, these states are off my beat, so I was surprised at the cartridge’s quick acceptance, with rapid proliferation of both platforms and factory loads.

Designed as a rifle cartridge, the .350 Legend is obviously not a traditional revolver cartridge, but it seems a sensible fit for the big X-­Frame, the first production revolver to adopt the round. X-­Frames in .460 and .500 all have five-­shot cylinders with thick walls, obviously due to the size and intensity of both cartridges. The M350 cylinder is the same size, but with the smaller cartridge, it was re-­engineered to an unusual seven chambers. Since S&W is (currently) headquartered in Massachusetts, you could probably relate it to the seven-­shot Civil War Spencer repeater.

The Legend is a rifle cartridge, and it is powerful in a handgun. Pay attention to your grip and, if rested, expect some muzzle rise. The port ahead of the front sight helps, but there’s still some jump. 

I was introduced to the M350 at the Outdoor Sportsman Group Roundtable, in Grinnell, Iowa, during August 2022. At the range, editors and writers eagerly lined up to take a few shots. “Not bad,” everyone said. It isn’t. You know you’re shooting a big revolver, but the Legend in the X-Frame is very controllable.

As it should be! Part of the impetus for the .350 Legend was the .450 Bushmaster’s surge of popularity, a cartridge which also meets the straight-­wall criteria. Inexpensive, basic bolt-­actions chambering the .450 Bushmaster were hot, surprising everyone with a high level of demand. The problem is that the .450 Bushmaster is a powerful cartridge, similar to .45-­70 with modern loads. It has plenty of recoil, especially in a light bolt gun, and really too much for youngsters. The .350 Legend was designed to provide credible performance on deer with moderate recoil. In actuality, .350 Legend recoil is less than the .243 or .30-­30 Winchesters’.

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Typically carrying five shots of .500 S&W Mag. or .460 S&W Mag., the thick cylinder walls meant that the M350 would accommodate seven rounds of .350 Legend. (Photo by Michael Anschuetz)

In a rifle, it’s not only light in recoil but has a noticeably mild report. In a revolver, I wouldn’t call recoil “light,” nor report “mild.” However, in the 41/2-­pound X-­Frame, it’s “not that bad.” You know that things are going on when the hammer drops, but it’s more controllable than a .44 Magnum revolver with heavy loads.

Moon Clips

The primary differences between the M350 and previous X-­Frame revolvers are in the cylinder. Everyone notices the seven-­shot cylinder, but when you load it you will immediately bump into the other big difference: Loading must be with “moon clips,” a clever little spring steel disc with cutouts that clip into the extractor groove.

Most revolver cartridges have exposed rims, serving as a headspace index and offering a surface for extraction. The .350 Legend is a straight-­walled rimless case with headspacing on the case mouth like straight-­cased semiautomatic pistol cartridges. To adapt such a cartridge to a revolver, each chamber must have a shoulder, or “step,” to stop the cartridge at the case mouth. Then, we need a way to extract-­eject the rimless case. Various single-­action revolvers have been adapted to 9mm and .45 ACP. With a properly cut chamber and manual ejecting rod, no issues. Double-­action revolvers with swing out (or break-­open) cylinders have a problem because there’s nothing for the extractor to grab.

Recommended


In 1917, as we entered World War I, America’s forces were desperately short of everything, including handguns. Both Colt and S&W had large-­frame revolvers: Colt New Service and S&W’s .44 Hand-­Ejector, both easily adaptable to .45 ACP. The result was the M1917 revolver made by both brands, not identical. Altogether, more than 318,000 M1917s were made, some remaining in service through World War II. Barreling to .45 ACP and stepping the chambers was easy, but then you had to dig out the rimless cases one at a time.

gaad-smith-wesson-m350-350-legend-04-1200x800
The Smith & Wesson M350 (above, right) uses seven-­shot moon clips, which is shown in contrast with Boddington’s M1917 revolver that uses both full- and half-­moon clips. The half-­moon clip was invented by S&W in 1917 when existing large-­frame Colt and S&W revolvers were adapted to .45 ACP for World War I. (Photo by Michael Anschuetz)

S&W solved the problem with the “half-­moon” clip, a spring-­steel semi-­circle with cutouts for three cartridges. To my knowledge, only three-­shot half-­moons were military issue, my assumption was because they nested better in an ammo pouch. Full moon six-­shot clips followed and are more prevalent today. Although never common, modern double-­action revolvers have been chambered to various rimless cartridges, including .380 ACP, 9mm and .40 S&W, as well as .45 ACP. Whether full or half, moon clips are the common answer.

With an odd number of chambers, a full moon is the only answer for the M350, and two are supplied. Loading and extraction are simple, but there is a difference between the long .350 Legend cartridge and the short .45 ACP. With the longer Legend case, the bullets dangle and wobble, and you must manually align multiple cartridges with chambers before the clip drops in. With a generous seven shots available, this is not a problem with a hunting revolver, but don’t consider the moon clip a speed loader.

.350 Legend

Critics of the .350 Legend quickly argue that it’s not dramatically powerful. This is absolutely true, and that’s part of the deal. The theory behind restricting deer hunting to shotguns-­only was to limit range in small-­farm areas. With deer overpopulated and highway hazards increasing, the straight-­wall movement sought to improve efficiency without hazard.

In its first three seasons, it accounted for a lot of deer, and I have taken a number of hogs with it. Effect was never dramatic, but competently effective. Power-­wise, in a rifle barrel, it’s sort of between the .30-­30 and .35 Remington. I have no experience with the .35 Rem., but plenty with the .30-­30. I like the larger frontal area of .35 ­caliber, but here’s the point: Neither the .30-­30 nor .35 Rem., nor most current cartridges, meet straight-­wall criteria. The .350 Legend does.

Now, complying with straight-­wall criteria isn’t an issue I face, maybe you don’t face it either, but it’s important enough for a lot of deer hunters to have made the .350 Legend a dramatic success without flashy ballistics. It is here to stay, exemplified by the modified X-­Frame to accommodate it. Bullet diameter is .357, a fact that has caused issues with previous stories I’ve written about the cartridge. So, please note, I didn’t design it. From .35 Remington onward, American “.35-­caliber” rifle cartridges have used .358-­inch bullets. Oversize bullets quickly cause pressure issues, so you can’t use .35 Rem., .358 Win., or .35 Whelen bullets. At some point, undersize must reduce accuracy, but no safety problem. The 9x19mm bullet is undersized at .355 inch; .38 Special and .357 Magnum bullets are just right at .357.

Trust me, the .350 Legend was designed in full knowledge of all this. Part of the reason for choosing .357 as the bullet diameter was that bullets can be made on the same machines that churn out inexpensive 9mm bullets. Likewise, although the .223 Rem./5.56 NATO isn’t exactly the parent case, some of the same tooling can be used to draw .350 Legend cases. Together, these translate to ease of manufacturing and inexpensive ammo. Don’t know about you, but I have seen these factors in play with both the availability and pricing of .350 Legend ammo.

gaad-smith-wesson-m350-350-legend-05-1200x800
The classic, serrated red-ramp front sight still works well with the adjustable, square-notch rear sight. A single port compensator is positioned just ahead of the front sight. (Photo by Michael Anschuetz)

Short-Barrel Performance

Recognizing my limitations with open sights, I immediately mounted a Leupold DeltaPoint Pro reflex sight. The instructions were clear, and in minutes I replaced the rear sight with the DeltaPoint. Since then, I’ve put more than 250 rounds through the revolver.

The deadline for this story preceded any hunting season I could join, so I don’t yet know how the Legend performs on game from a 71/2-­inch barrel. Based on chronograph results, it’s not quite the same cartridge in the M350. We are more accustomed to switching handgun cartridges to rifle barrels, not the other way around. The .44 Rem. Mag. is a handgun hunting cartridge, but it gains a lot of velocity and energy in a longer rifle barrel. The .500 S&W is the same.

Put a rifle cartridge in a short barrel, and results are reversed. Obviously, velocity is lost, but the situation is perhaps worse because production rifle ammo uses propellants intended to reach full velocity in, say, a 20-­inch barrel. Faster-­burning propellants will improve efficiency, but the Legend and its first revolver are too new, so we don’t have the data yet.

Velocity loss between projected speed in rifle barrels, and actual speed in the 71/2-­inch barrel vary widely, from about 21 percent with Browning’s BXR load and Winchester’s suppressed load to 28 percent with Hornady’s 170-­grain load and Winchester’s 160-­grain Defender. With such velocity losses, it must be understood that the .350 Legend in a short barrel is not as powerful as it is in a rifle.

As a rifle cartridge, we can argue the efficacy of the .350 Legend. Although not a powerhouse, I see it as a fine 200-­yard deer cartridge. As intended, it beats shotgun slugs. With a good scope and knowledge of its trajectory, I don’t disagree with practicality to 250, possibly 300 yards. In a revolver, you can’t get that far.

I like iron sights on a hunting revolver, or at least, I used to. With steady hold in good light, I was once good to 80 or 90 yards, but those days are past. I mounted Leupold’s DeltaPoint ­Pro with 2.5 MOA dot. That put me back to about 100 yards for ethical range.

gaad-smith-wesson-m350-350-legend-06-1200x800
Due to its mass, the Smith & Wesson X-­Frame is an excellent hunting revolver. It can be further stabilized when fired from shooting sticks and other field rests. From a standing support, recoil is surprisingly mild and the M350 was very controllable. (Craig Boddington photo)

The loads I had in sufficient amounts to shoot for groups (plus chronographing) were Browning’s 155-­grain BXR; Hornady’s 170-­grain SP; Winchester’s 160-­grain Defender, an open-­point bullet; and Winchester’s Super Suppressed with 255-­grain hollowpoint. The first three are good choices for deer and hog. The subsonic load probably isn’t. Despite great bullet weight, velocity dropped to 815 fps, similar in bullet weight, speed and energy to .45 Colt. 

The average among these four disparate loads, total of 20 five-­shot groups at 50 yards, was 2.55 inches — very credible for a big revolver with red-­dot sight. Within that performance, there were anomalies, good and bad. Several groups had shots touching with me thinking, Man, I got it going this time! Then, the next shot would be a flier. With high shot-­to-­shot velocity spreads, I put this down to rifle ammo in a handgun.

Supporting this theory, all four loads grouped and chronographed with triple-­digit extreme spreads (ES) and double-­digit standard deviation (SD) numbers, greater than I generally see with factory ammo. Of the four, the most consistent and fastest was Browning’s 155-­grain BXR, a quick-­opening design tipped with copper-­polymer matrix. It had the lowest ES and SD, 101 fps between fastest and slowest; it had the highest velocity of 1,807 fps, down 493 fps from the advertised 2,300 fps when shot out of a rifle barrel.

This consistency did not translate to the tightest groups. The BXR averaged a respectable 2.63 inches for five groups. All loads were good enough for 100-­yard hunting, but overall the BXR came in third for accuracy. Winchester’s 160-­grain Defender, with significantly greater ES and higher SD, produced the tightest group average at 2.06 inches, and also the single best 50-­yard group, just over 11/2 inches.

Accuracy results were consistent enough that another M350 revolver might switch them all around, and a different group of factory loads might tell a different story. Right now, I’m looking forward to hunting with the M350. With revolver and reflex sight, I know I have enough accuracy for any shot I’m likely to take. And, with a variety of good factory loads, it has all the power I need for deer and hogs, which are all I intend to hunt with it. If I decide to chase anything bigger I’ll have to go to a more powerful cartridge, and deal with the additional recoil. 

Smith and Wesson Model 350

  • Type: Revolver
  • Action: Single/Double
  • Cartridge: .350 Legend
  • Capacity: 7 (moon clips req’d.)
  • Barrel: 7.5 in., 1:16 twist, ported
  • Overall Length: 13.5 in.
  • Weight: 4 lbs., 7.5 oz.
  • Grip: Synthetic (rubber)
  • Frame: X-frame, stainless steel
  • Finish: Matte, polished
  • Trigger: 2 lbs., 12 oz. (SA); 9 lbs. (DA)
  • Sight: Ramp, red insert (front); Adjustable, notch (rear)
  • MSRP: $1,599 
  • Manufacturer: Smith & Wesson, 800-331-0852, smith-wesson.com
gaad-smith-wesson-m350-350-legend-09-1200x800
(Guns and Ammo Photo)

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