Pike County, Missouri, is classic Midwest whitetail country, consisting of rolling hills, timbered draws, and alternating fields of corn, soybeans, and turnips. Last fall, Kyle Masinelli, manager of centerfire and rimfire new product development for Winchester Ammunition, invited me to hunt there with a brand-new cartridge, which is debuting at the 2019 SHOT show. He figured the big-bodied bucks we would be hunting would test the mettle of the cartridge.He needn’t have worried.
On the third day, with a pair of big bucks hanging in the cooler, we settled down to talk about how the cartridge came to be.“Cartridge development is sometimes a solution in search of a problem,” he said. “Not this.”That said, he admits that “the .30-caliber arena is a really crowded market, and it’s hard to come up with something new.”But Winchester has. It’s the 350 Legend.
What It Is The 350 Legend, part of the Deer Season XP line, is a straight-wall cartridge. Winchester believed an affordable straight-wall-compliant cartridge—one that is accurate, relatively quiet, and has low recoil—would interest a lot of hunters. Clearly, the round would appeal to hunters who live in straight-wall states, mainly in the Midwest where this type of cartridge is allowed. But the company also believed it would have appeal far past that segment.If you’re not familiar with the straight-wall concept, it’s essentially a non-bottlenecked centerfire pistol cartridge. By design, the range is limited to 250 yards.
Many of the states that now allow straight-wall cartridges for deer didn’t allow (or severely restricted) centerfire hunting because of concerns of high-power bullet overtravel. That was part of the appeal of limited-range muzzleloaders and slug guns.But lower-power straight-walls, and the 350 Legend is no different, don’t have the range or trajectory of a .308, which keeps the cartridge in compliance with applicable state regulations.
Going this route allows muzzleloaders and slug gunners to up their game, as the 350 Legend has a much flatter trajectory than that of a Foster slug or even a sabot slug shot through a rifled barrel.Then, too, there is what Masinelli calls the round’s “overall shootability.”“Recoil is just slightly more than a .223 Remington or a 300 Blackout, but the terminal performance exceeds both,” he says. “In a 20-inch barrel this cartridge delivers about 1,800 foot-pounds of energy. Compare that to a .223, which is around 1,150 to 1,200 foot-pounds. We’re getting the full weight of a classic .30-caliber deer load, but with far less recoil.”
It’s also a relatively quiet round. A .308 will have 43 to 45 grains of powder in each cartridge. The 350 Legend has only 21 grains. So, you have half the amount of propellant, but with a bigger bore diameter. That means the exit pressures are very low, the concussion is very low even though it’s a fully supersonic full-power cartridge, and the report is minimal. And, as noted previously, the recoil is very light.
This is a light-shooting round that packs a powerful punch. The five of us in camp took big-bodied, heavy-antlered mature deer at distances between 25 and 75 yards. Four of the shots were broadsides that opened gaping wound channels. Those deer all went down within 10 yards. My deer, a ten-pointer, took a quartering shot into the left shoulder, staggered upon impact, and ran into the woods. He only went 50 yards, and we recovered him with little effort.
The Extreme Point bullet consists of four features: a large-diameter polymer tip that accelerates expansion, resulting in rapid impact trauma; a streamlined ballistic profile for flat trajectory and energy retention; a tapered jacket engineered for lethal penetration; and an alloy lead core optimized for maximum energy transfer and impact power. At 200 yards, the bullet will drop 8.5 inches; at 300 yards, 31.3 inches. But if you zero the rifle at 150 yards, you can hold dead on at 200 yards because the drop is only 4.5 inches.
Masinelli says the round is perfect for recoil-sensitive shooters, young or old. And because the recoil is so light, it allows the shooter to re-acquire the target quickly if a follow-up shot is needed.
But maybe the best news of all is price. Because the rimless 350 Legend combines a modified .223 Rem. parent shell case with a .357/9mm diameter projectile, it doesn’t require extensive re-tooling to manufacture. It also requires fewer steps to make—for example, no annealing, as is the case with bottleneck cartridges. Fewer steps translate into lower manufacturing costs, savings that Winchester intends to pass through to the consumer.
“The 350 Legend will land on the shelves late in the first quarter or early in the second quarter with a price very similar to that of premium .223 hunting rounds,” Masinelli says. “And you’re getting more performance because we’re not shooting 64-grain bullets here; we’re shooting 150-grain bullets. Later in the year, we’ll roll out a 180-grain Power-Point version for hog hunters. The cartridge also has the ability to be loaded at subsonic velocities for shooting through suppressors.”
The Other Half
A cartridge without a rifle is akin to a stone without a sling. So, Winchester Ammunition turned to its licensing partner, Winchester Repeating Arms, to provide the shooting platform. Glenn Hatt, Winchester Repeating Arms product manager, got the assignment, and his choice was the polymer-stock bolt-action XPR.
“The XPR is all about value,” Hatt says. “Rugged and reliable, it combines the proven attributes of the classic Model 70, but in a more affordable package [list price is just under $600]. At the same time, the XPR does have the same M.O.A. trigger found on the Model 70. That’s because we won’t compromise on accuracy.”
In order to accommodate the straight-wall design of the 350 Legend, the XPR had to undergo a few minor modifications to the barrel. Winchester also needed to modify the follower to give it the right amount of lift to handle the 350 Legend’s heavier bullet.
Hatt sees a real advantage to the 350 Legend-XPR combo. “Right now, long range is all the rage,” he says. “We’re seeing shots at game out past 400 yards. But the average guy is going to kill a deer between 75 and 150 yards. The performance of the 350 Legend and the XPR puts us right in that wheelhouse.”
Hatt also took a big deer on this hunt, and when I reported a shoulder shot, he hiked out to the shed to take a look.
“I wanted to see what kind of penetration we have in such a light-recoil gun,” he says. “And I was curious to see how it handled a shot through the shoulder of a big buck.”
Was he re-assured by what he saw?
“Absolutely, especially at the distance at which you shot it,” he says. “It went through the shoulder, got into the chest, and did its job. You can’t ask for any more than that.”
Winchester 350 Legend SPECS
- 150-grain Extreme Point polymer tip straight-wall cartridge
- Muzzle Velocity: 2,325 fps
Winchester XPR Bolt-Action Rifle SPECS
- Black polymer stock
- Matte blue finish
- Inflex Technology recoil pad
- M.O.A. trigger system
- Bolt-unlock button
- Nickel-Teflon coated bolt
- Detachable box magazine
- Drilled and tapped for a scope