It isn’t very often that a new cartridge comes out that catches my attention. The 350 Legend Winchester, announced in January at the National Shooting Sports Foundation’s 2019 SHOT (Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade) Show in Las Vegas, caught my attention.
One thing that caught my attention was the name; labels such as “legend” or “hero” are typically earned. You simply don’t introduce yourself as a legend. It comes across as ostentatious, and in any event, it puts you in the position of putting up, or shutting up.
The 350 Legend is a straight-walled, rimless, .357-caliber rifle cartridge billed as the fastest straight-walled cartridge available with game killing performance out to 250 yards. This should be of immediate interest to Ohio’s deer gun hunters. In fact, Winchester is specifically marketing this towards people who hunt in states, like Ohio, where deer rifle hunters are limited to straight-walled cartridges.
Furthermore, not only is Winchester claiming it to be the world’s fastest straight-walled cartridge, and a 250-yard performer, it was introduced with a passel of other claims: boasting more energy than the .30-30, 300 BLK, and 223, less recoil than a 450 Bushmaster, and more penetration than a 243 Winchester with less recoil to boot.
I’m not too crazy about the cherry-picked comparisons to other cartridges or the performance hype; I’m positive that other straight-walled cartridges can match its speed, hit harder, or both. The 444 Marlin and 460 Smith & Wesson Magnum spring to mind, but I guess you could say that the 444 Marlin is technically a “tapered” cartridge (not actually straight-walled, but Ohio says straight-tapered is okay) while the 460 S&W Magnum is a handgun round.
I digress. Unless your name is Matthew Quigley, no straight-walled cartridge is going to be a long-range proposition. It is enough that it offers Ohio outdoorsmen another legal option for deer hunting.
The 350 Legend was immediately compared in the outdoor forums to two similar cartridges: the 357 Remington Maximum and the 357 AR Max Rimless. The 357 Maximum, introduced in 1983, is a mostly obsolete handgun round that has since obtained a niche following as a rifle cartridge, while the 357 AR Max Rimless is a rimless 357 Max cartridge, formed from straightened and trimmed 223 brass, for use in the AR-15 platform.
People hoping that they could make 350 Legend cases from 223/5.56mm brass were quickly disappointed. According to Winchester the 350 Legend has no “parent case.” That means although the case is similar in many respects to the 223/5.56mm, you can’t use it to make 350 Legend cases, and it will require its own, unique reloading dies instead of using 357 Magnum/Max dies. That’s one strike against it in my book.
I don’t necessarily buy the hype, but I don’t think it needs it. There’s no reloading data out there, but since the 350 Legend mirrors the 357 Maximum it is easy to speculate on its performance, and I’m confident it will be a solid performer out to at least 200 yards and have less recoil than the Ohio-popular 45-70, 444 Marlin, and 450 Bushmaster.
Ultimately, whether this cartridge succeeds is going to depend solely on one thing: how well it works in a standard AR-15 style rifle. Winchester is offering it in a bolt-action rifle, but no one cares. People commenting on articles about the 350 Legend only want to know one thing: “Will it work in an AR?” Such is the popularity of this platform. If it reliably feeds and functions in an AR, if it is accurate, if existing 223/5.56mm guns can be easily and affordably converted to the new round, if it is friendly to reloaders and to the wallet, then the 350 Legend may have some legs. That’s a lot of “ifs.”
Winchester set the bar high by dubbing their brand-new cartridge the “legend.” Time will tell whether it is a legendary flop or a legendary success. I’m willing to give it a fair chance, in fact I can’t wait to try it.
Jim Freeman is the wildlife specialist for the Meigs Soil and Water Conservation District and a long-time outdoor writer. His column generally appears every other weekend. He can be contacted weekdays at 740-992-4282 or at firstname.lastname@example.org