Which straight wall cartridge is right for your hunting style?
In many Midwestern states, firearms deer hunting was practically revolutionized overnight with the legalization of straight wall cartridge rifles. Hunters who were previously restricted to shotguns and muzzleloaders only during deer season now had a new longer-range option for when they stepped into the outdoors during gun season.
Firearms manufacturers responded well to the demand, as bolt-action rifles in popular hunting rounds started to fly off shelves. Now it seems like you cannot walk through a gun shop in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Iowa without hearing about either 350 Legend or 450 Bushmaster.
This has left many deer hunters wondering which of these rifle cartridges best fits their style of hunting. Well, today we will look at both the 350 Legend and the 450 Bushmaster in depth and attempt to answer the most burning questions about both. At the end, you should have a better understanding and an idea about which one would be best for your new hunting rifle come the fall.
The .450 Bushmaster has been around for a while although it was not always called that. The straight walled cartridge was originally developed by LeMag Firearms' Tim LeGendre. The idea was inspired by former Marine and handgun legend Jeff Cooper.
Cooper was not exactly a fan of the .223 Remington. He felt the bullet diameter was far too small for big game. However, he did want a rifle that provided superior stopping power out of a semi-auto platform out to 250 yards. One that would drop big game animals where they stood with a single shot. This idea, which was later called the "Thumper Concept," later led to the development of other large bore hunting cartridges like the 458 SOCOM and .50 Beowulf.
In short, the 450 Bushmaster is a .45 Caliber bullet that uses .284 Winchester as a parent case. This gives the round a case length of 1.700 inches and an overall length just over two inches. This was after a tweak by Bushmaster and LeGendre to shorten the case slightly at Hornady Ammunition's request. This information is important because many Midwestern states like Michigan specify what is legal for whitetails based on case length.
Originally called .45 Professional, this round can deliver a muzzle velocity of 2,100 to 2,200 fps even while using heavy 250 and 260 grain bullets. As for power, you are looking at around 2,700-foot pounds of energy delivered to the target. At 100 yards, you are looking at around 1,500 foot pounds of energy using 300-grain Federals. It is enough that it knocks most deer dead where they stand.
The 450 Bushmaster did not take off immediately. It was not until it was put on a short list of legal rounds for states that were previously shotgun-only that it really started to take off. Finally, hunters in places like southern Michigan could reach out and knock down bucks they previously would have had to pass up. Also, it is powerful enough to reduce tracking jobs, making it ideal for small properties or public lands where you do not want your harvest to run very far.
There are some cons to the 450 though. For one, there is a ton of recoil with this rifle and there is almost no way to get around it. I own a Savage Model 110 chambered in .450 Bushmaster and I would say the recoil is comparable to that of a 12-gauge shotgun even with a 22-inch barrel and a muzzle brake. Here in Michigan, Ruger American Rifle Rifle, American Ranch, and Mossberg Patriot bolt guns chambered in 450 with shorter 16-inch barrels are quite popular. I have not shot one of these myself, but I imagine there is a little more kick to them. Depending on your tolerance for recoil, it might be too much. Another comparison you will often hear is that the 450 feels like a lever-action .45-70 Government. I honestly believe the .45-70 would have seen a surge in sales here had the Michigan DNR not decided to limit straight wall case lengths to 1.80 inches, this leaves the 2.1-inch Govt out of the picture completely. Thus the rise of the 450.
The second downside is the cost. Before this ammo shortage started, I picked up several 20-round boxes of Hornady Custom 250-grain FTX polymer tips for about $30-$40 each depending on sales. I also picked up some Federal Non-Typical 300 grain hollow points and some 260-grain Remington Premier AccuTips for around the same price. So, we are talking about $2 a round at a minimum on the high end. If you are thinking about buying an AR-style platform, things can get pricey on a trip to the range quickly. If you are into reloading, the costs are a little better, but this is still an expensive round to shoot.
The Legend is a newer addition to the firearms world, having been introduced only in 2019. This one was developed by Winchester specifically with harvesting deer out to distances of 250 yards in mind. It seems the engineers over at Winchester saw how much people loved the 450 and sought to make it fly faster while simultaneously reducing the amount of felt recoil.
As far as case length goes, the Legend is comparable to the 450. The case is 1.71 inches and has an overall length of 2.25 inches. The big difference here is the bullet diameter. A .450 Bushmaster is .452 inches while the .350 Legend is only about .3570 inches, which makes it more comparable to a .223 Remington. The difference is the 350 Legend's platform allows hunters to use larger bullets, giving the round much more knockdown power.
Some of the more popular .350 Legend bullet sizes are 160 grains all the way up to 180 grains. Obviously, this means you are not going to have as much stopping power than the .223. You are looking at around 1,770-1,900-foot pounds of energy at the muzzle from this round. At 100 yards, depending on the bullet type, that drops to 700-1,300-foot pounds, still more than enough to get the job done. However, the smaller diameter allows the 350 Legend more consistent and faster speeds at a distance. The muzzle velocity varies between 2,100 and 2,300 fps. For a 180-grain federal, this speed drops to about 1,800 fps at 100 yards. The 350 is the clear winner in the velocities department.
Because of the smaller bullets, the Legend delivers less recoil than the 450. Most users say it is comparable to that of a .243 Winchester. Not only does this make the round more suited for youth hunters, but it lends itself better to a shorter barreled carbine or AR-style platform. Shooters will be able to get much faster follow-up shots without sacrificing too much in terms of power and speed. Many companies have already jumped onboard the 350 Legend wagon too. This rifle can be found in almost every popular bolt action platform on the market today.
The other thing 350 Legend has over the 450 is the cost of operation. A 20-round box of 180 grain Federal Non-Typical or 170-grain Hornady American Whitetail will only set you back about $25-$30 or around $1.50 a round. Winchester white box goes for as low as $12.99 or around 65 cents a round. This makes it a much better option for anyone who also wants to shoot the round for fun at the range without breaking the bank.
350 Legend vs 450 Bushmaster
Knowing the basics of each cartridge, the only question left is which straight wall cartridge reigns supreme? Honestly, for us, it is too close to call. There are too many pros to both that make them both viable hunting cartridges for anyone looking to take advantage of the power of these large bore rounds. Personally, I went back and forth for a long time before I finally settled on buying a .450 Bushmaster.
There are few reasons why I chose it over the Legend. The first being that I simply wanted the round with more knockdown power. After years of hunting whitetails with Foster-style shotgun slugs, I decided it was time to step up my game and make my tracking jobs shorter or non-existent. The other reason I went this route was because the 450 is considered to have enough power for not just deer, but bear, elk, hogs, and even moose with proper shot placement. My goal is to do some elk hunting in the future and I wanted a gun that could do the job without having to borrow or purchase a new firearm up for that task. I also do not see myself taking many shots, if any, over 200 yards.
I am also not a huge recreational shooter. I bought my .450 for one reason only and that is filling the freezer with meat every year. It did just that in 2020. Thankfully, I stocked up on ammo prior to the shortage beginning in early 2020. Enough to get me through probably three or four seasons. As such, my range time will be limited to making sure my gun is dialed in and the rest will be used for hunting. Because of that limited use, I am fine with the higher ammo costs. To me, it is worth it for the extra firepower. If you are into reloading, the .450 also makes more sense since you can drop just about any .45 caliber bullet into the case and it will work. The 350 is a bit notorious for being more difficult to find bullets for home hand loads.
If you are a shooter with a smaller frame, shoulder issues, or are looking for something for a younger hunter. Go with the 350 Legend. It is the unquestioned winner here. The light recoil is less intimidating for newer shooters without sacrificing too much in terms of power.
The 350 Legend is also the one to go with if you are looking for more distance. It just shoots slightly flatter than the 450. For my hunting area, the 450 works fine because the largest open space is a food plot that is less than 150 yards long. I can reach the whole field from one position with this gun. If I were hunting larger, flatter open spaces such as a large, picked Iowa cornfield, I would probably want the 350 Legend and that slight increase in range.
It should be noted that this past year Winchester introduced a 160-grain bonded hollow point in 350 Legend to their Defender line of self-defense ammo. It makes sense considering how well the Legend lends itself to a semi-auto platform. Because of that minimal recoil, you will be able to make faster follow-ups which are vital in any self-defense situation. That gives the Legend a slight edge in terms of both functionality and practical usage in our book.
In the end, these are both quite practical rounds that are excellent at what they do. If you live in a state that has recently legalized them for hunting, you are doing yourself a disservice to not check them out and consider one or the other for next season. The key is to look at the scenarios you will be using the rifle for and to choose the one that best suits your needs. Either way, you cannot go wrong and can look forward to harvesting deer that in previous years you would have had to let walk.