The Winchester .350 Legend Cartridge
April 02, 2019
Photos by Mark Fingar
When a new cartridge comes out, shooters seem to fall into one of two camps. There are the curious who wonder why it exists and what problem it solves, and then a few folks approach it with hostility and point out what the cartridge doesn’t do. I’m all about a healthy debate, but I’m an optimist at heart. So, here’s what I’ve learned thus far on the how and why Winchester unveiled the .350 Legend.
In June 2014, Michigan’s Natural Resources Commission (NRC) approved the regulation to allow the limited use of certain rifles capable of using .35-caliber or larger ammunition with straight-walled cartridges that have a minimum case length of 1.16 inches and a maximum case length of 1.8 inches to take deer in the limited firearms deer zone. In March 2017, the NRC recommended the law’s sunset provision be removed “entirely.”
These dimensions were aimed at making sure that no bullet of that diameter fired from that type of case would travel far enough from the muzzle to pose much of a threat to potentially nearby residents. While this law started in Michigan, it has since spread to other states including Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
If many of you, like me, have wondered why there’s been a rapid rise in the popularity of the .450 Bushmaster these last few years. It may have something to do with this positive news. After all, the commercial version has been with us for more than a decade.
Winchester took note of the increased interest in the .450 Bushmaster, and decided that it was time to develop a cartridge that was more shooter-friendly, less expensive and more appropriate for deer hunting. Shooting deer with a .450 is like swatting flies with a sledgehammer.
Winchester figured out that using the .223 Remington as the parent case for its new .350 Legend was the way to go, but taking .223 Rem. cases and transforming them into Legends would require three draw steps and some additional forming on a hydraulic press.
The first two draw steps produced a long, straight-walled case 1.71 inches long, with a .378-inch case head. Then a third draw would swage out the lower portion of the case an additional .013 inch to allow for some cartridge taper. The taper is to facilitate extraction, because tapered cases experience much less friction than those without when pulled from the chamber.
Winchester’s engineers worked the draw process and the taper to produce a case mouth that accommodates a .357-inch diameter bullet. The initial factory hunting load uses a .357-inch, 150-grain Deer Season Extreme Point (XP) bullet featuring a large polymer-blend tip. The tip improved the bullet’s ballistic coefficient and ensures expansion down to an impact velocity of 1,550 feet per second (fps). With a muzzle velocity of about 2,290 fps out of a 20-inch barrel, that gives the .350 Legend an effective range of somewhere between 200 and 250 yards.
The overall loaded length of the ammunition I tested for Guns & Ammo measured 2.25 inches, which is identical to the length of the .223 Rem. This makes this a small cartridge ideally suited for hunting hogs and deer.
Recoil & Muzzle Blast
A loaded round uses about 21 grains of powder and pushes the bullet down a large .35-caliber hole. This means the .350 Legend has very mild recoil and little muzzle blast. The low recoil comes from it having the same case head size and powder capacity as a .223 Rem. I’m sure there’s a small increase in recoil compared to the .223 Rem. due to the Legend’s heavier bullet, but I didn’t notice.
What I did notice was how little muzzle blast the .350 Legend generates. This matters to everybody, but especially to new and young shooters. Muzzle blast is just as much to blame as recoil when it comes to identifying what causes poor shooting habits.
Muzzle blast is caused by a high exit pressure, or the pressure of the gas inside the barrel when the bullet leaves the muzzle. You can get an idea what exit pressure will be like by learning to analyze a cartridge based on how much powder is in the case, the bore diameter and the barrel’s length. Calling the Legend’s muzzle blast mild is an understatement; no rifle cartridge has less.
Comparing the .350 Legend to the .223 Rem., we see both having a maximum chamber pressure of 55,000 pounds per square inch (psi) and both using about 21 grains of powder. By the time the bullet gets to the end of a 20-inch barrel, the volume of the bore is considerably different between the two rounds.
The .350 Legend has a volume of 1.92 cubic inches (cu.-in.) and the .223 Rem.’s volume is .76 cu.-in. That huge difference in volume explains why the .350 Legend’s muzzle blast is much lower than that of a .223 Rem. (It’s just over a 250-percent reduction.) The .223 Rem. is far from abusive, but the .350 Legend is positively tame.
It’s great when a cartridge is easy on the shooter, but that doesn’t matter much if it doesn’t perform in the field. So, I evaluated the .350 Legend on a Missouri whitetail hunt last fall and I’m happy to say that I had great success with the new cartridge.
I took my first shot at 13 yards from a tree stand where I had to thread the bullet through the tree limbs into an unobstructed target: the buck’s heart and lungs. It passed through and created a large exit wound. I ran the bolt, got back on the now-running buck, and quickly sent my second security shot through his shoulder at 27 yards. He was dead at 36 yards. Bullet performance was excellent and the very low recoil made it possible to get back on target fast.
A friend of mine on the hunt took another animal with the .350 Legend at just under 200 yards. The bullet entered behind the shoulder on one side of the deer and exited through the shoulder on the far side. Between these two recent experiences, I’m very comfortable recommending the use of the .350 Legend on whitetail out to 200 yards, where legal, especially for those who prefer as little recoil as possible.
While the performance of the .350 Legend is excellent, the cost of the cartridge is another attraction. Winchester produces millions of rounds of .223 Rem. every month for the U.S. military. Since the .350 Legend uses brass that starts off on the same machines, it is relatively simple to produce in large quantities.
Bullets for the .350 Legend also get produced on the same machines as 9mm projectiles. The Legend’s bullet construction is different, but the machines and some of the tooling are the same. The economies of scale savings from leveraging components from the .223 Rem. and the 9mm machinery are being passed along to the consumer.
What does that savings look like in the gun store? A box of hunting ammunition will sell for $19 to $22. Keep in mind that most hunting ammunition currently sells for an average of $28 to $32 per box. I’ve been told that Winchester will soon produce full-metal-jacket (FMJ) ammunition for the .350 Legend, and that the FMJ load will cost even less per box. If you want to ring steel with an easy-going cartridge that has an almost indefinite barrel life, the Legend is for you.
I think it was a 1990s hip-hop and rap artist who once wrote the lyrics, “I like big bullets and I cannot lie,” or something to that effect. Well, I do, too. This cartridge has similar ballistics to the .30-30 Winchester and the 7.62x39mm, but it does so using a .35-caliber bullet designed to expand at Legend velocities. Throw in some serious savings at the cash register and I predict that the .350 Legend will enjoy a long and prosperous life.