Rambling Thoughts on the 350 Legend Cartridge
by Greg Ritchie
Grandpa had a .35 caliber rifle. A lever action Winchester in 32 Special with a shot out barrel. The barrel had been refreshed to 35 caliber and it was rechambered to 35-30/30. I learned a lot from that old rifle. How to form cases, how to reload, but mostly I learned to like the 35 caliber.
When Grandpa passed I was hoping to be given the old Winchester, but those older than me thought I was better served with a Savage Model 24 22 over 410. The 35-30/30 went to a cousin and I have never seen it again. But I did not forget the .35 caliber. When I was old enough to buy my own rifle I bought a Marlin 336 chambered for the 35 Remington. Some years later I bought a H&R Single Shot in 35 Whelen. Through the years I have had the opportunity to shoot the Remington model 600 in 350 Remington Magnum (I gotta get me one of those!) And a Winchester model 94 Big Bore chambered for the .356 Winchester, and the Browning BLR chambered for the 358 Winchester. Alas, I have not owned a 35 caliber rifle since sometime around 1999.
That is in the process of changing. Recently Winchester has introduced the 350 Legend cartridge. MidwayUSA had their AR Stoner 350 Legend AR 15 barrel on sale. Ruger has introduced the American Ranch Rifle in 350 Legend. The stars aligned just right, the spousal unit relented, the AR Stoner barrel is due to be delivered next week and the Ruger American Ranch Rifle is ordered and on layaway. There is about to be another 35 caliber rifle or two in the house!
In reality, I am a bit lukewarm about the cartridge. I think Winchester could have done better. The first issue is the case design. There is no parent case. Sure, the cases can be formed from 223 cases but it is a multiple step complicated process. Far beyond what most reloaders can do. You can not just simply run the cases through a sizing die and fireform as you risk case separation. Starline is selling new 350 Legend brass now and I do intend to stock up. This may actually be a non-concern. The 350 Legend gets good reviews. If the cartridge takes off brass availability will be of no concern, but the cartridge gets its share of bad reviews and if it turns into a flop it might go the way of the aforementioned.356 Winchester and brass will be hard to come by.
The second concern is the bullet it uses. There is no practical reason that I can discern that the cartridge was not designed around the .358 rifle bullet. SAAMI says that the bullet should be .357 (-.003). This means .354 to .357. In effect 9mm/357 magnum/38 Special bullets. Bullets designed for much lower velocities than the 350 Legend is capable of producing. Also bullets that have a poor sectional density. It is oft mentioned that a bullet needs a sectional density of .200 to give adequate penetration for deer sized game. A .35 caliber bullet of 180 grains puts the sectional density at about .202. This says to me that serious bullets for hunting in the 350 Legend will start at 180 grains. For what it’s worth, the 35 Remington gas garnered a reputation as a poor performer with the 150 grain bullet. But it’s a stellar performer with the 200 grain bullet. Proof enough that lightweight 35 caliber bullets do not fare well out of 35 caliber rifles. Speer, Sierra, Nosler, Hornady and others all make .358 bullets ranging in weight from 180 grains to 225 grains that would make excellent bullets for the 350 Legend and would put the 350 Legend squarely in the same class as the 35 Remington. It’s a shame that The 350 Legend only has a .246 bore and .355 groove barrel. It could be so much better bored to take a .358 bullet.
So with the negatives I see why do I want to own a 350 Legend? First off, because it’s the only affordable game in town for a .35 caliber modern sporting rifle. Second, despite its shortcomings I do think it’s a respectable .35 caliber cartridge. I have two different trains of thought for the 350 Legend. As a economical to shoot pinker just for range fun. Bulk 147 grain 9mm bullets should have me on the range at somewhere around .20 to .25 cents per round. For hunting I think I will have this as one of the few dedicated cast bullet Rifles I have. The Lee Precision C358-200-RF Cast bullet, water dropped, gas checked and lubed with 45-45-10 and dusted with talc pushed to around 2000 feet per second should give me a working trajectory out to about 200 yards. With a 150 yard zero it should put me 2 inches high at 50 yards, 2 1/2 high at 100 yards, and 6 3/4 inches low at 200 yards.
I do think the cartridge has a future. I hear a lot of talk, it’s a niche cartridge, it’s a flash in the pan, it’s a fad, 5 years and gone. I am in the niche cartridge group. Actually I think it will be a “double niche” cartridge. While I personally do not think the cartridge will ever reach true “Legend” status, I do believe the cartridge will become a personal favorite of a small group of hunters. It will be the cartridge for the person who wants the 35 Remington but is not a fan of the lever rifle. A cartridge for the person who chooses the modern sporting rifle as their hunting rifle of choice. The second group will be the young hunters and the hunters that do not want a hard recoiling cartridge or a cartridge with a lot of report. I think this second group will be the ones that will boost the popularity of the round outside of the states that require straight wall cartridges. Yes, I think, and hope, that the cartridge has a future. I just think that it could have been so much better.