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 that didn't involve a messy muzzleloader for the first time ever. Firearms manufacturers seemed to be a little surprised at the demand. Bolt-action rifles in popular hunting rounds started to fly off shelves in states like Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio. Now it seems like you cannot walk through a gun shop in any of these states without hearing about either 350 Legend or 450 Bushmaster.
If you're just now catching up on the trend and want to extend your range and accuracy this season, you've come to the right place. Today we'll look at both rifle cartridges in depth. We'll give a little of the history of how these rounds came to be, and we'll also weigh the pros and cons of each of them. Because both rounds are great, but most hunters are also going to prefer one greatly over the other. By explaining what each one does well, it will help you make a more informed decision on what new hunting rifle to buy for the fall.
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. This round knocks most deer dead where they stand.
The 450 Bushmaster did not take off immediately. In fact, it sat mostly in obscurity until many hunters realized it was on a short list of legal cartridges in many Midwestern states. Hunters loved the knockdown power at distances they couldn't touch before. The 450 is a nice option for smaller pieces of land or in public hunting areas because it lessens the odds a wounded deer will cross a border, or worse, run past another hunter.
There are some cons to the 450 though. The main one being that it has a vicious amount of recoil. I previously owned a Savage Model 110 chambered in .450 Bushmaster and I would say the recoil was comparable to that of a 12-gauge shotgun! Even the 22-inch barrel and muzzle brake did little to help tame it. 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 based on my experience with the Savage, I imagine it's a bit unpleasant.
As another comparison, the 450's recoil is often compared to a lever-action .45-70 Government. Honestly, 450 Bushmaster would probably not be popular 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.
The second major downside is the cost. Before inflation and ammo shortages, 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 into reloading, the costs are a little better, but this is still an expensive round to shoot.
The Legend was unveiled to the firearms world in 2019 and was a direct response to the surge of interest in straight walls. This one was developed by Winchester specifically for harvesting deer out to distances of 250 yards. The engineers at Winchester obviously saw how much people liked the 450 but hated the recoil and responded with round that fixes some of the 450's shortcomings.
The Legend is quite comparable to the 450 in terms of cartridge size. The case is 1.71 inches, so it easily fits into the regulations for most states. That gives it an overall length of about 2.25 inches, so the length is close to the 450. 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. However, the Legend uses much larger bullets, which gives it an appropriate amount of energy for mid-sized game.
Some of the more popular .350 Legend bullet sizes are 160 grains all the way up to 180 grains. 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. Winchester's 180-grain, Super X Power-Point bullets are doing 2,100-fps at the muzzle, 1,762-fps at 100 yards. 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.
The Legend is also the winner in trajectory. Winchester puts the bullet drop at zero for 150 yards with those 180-grain Super Xs I mentioned earlier. At 200 yards, the drop is only 5.5 inches.
Most importantly, the Legend is a true joy to shoot thanks to the reduced recoil. It's comparable to that of a .243 Winchester or a .410 shotgun. Not only does this make the round more suited for youth hunters, but it lends itself better to a shorter barreled carbine or semi-auto sporting rifle 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. Those Winchester Super Xs I mentioned earlier only cost me $30 a box. 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.
With the 350, the main downside is that it's a round that's meant mostly for mid-sized big game. Things like whitetails and mule deer, smaller feral hogs, and pronghorn antelope. We've also seen it used on mountain goats. For anything larger than that, the 350 is a hair underpowered, and you'll likely need a different gun.
350 Legend vs 450 Bushmaster
The inevitable question from here is which cartridge reigns supreme. It's going to vary for every hunter. Although I should mention my story is not an uncommon one. I started with the 450 Bushmaster and hunted with it for a year before deciding it wasn't for me. That recoil was the kicker for me, and I think it is for most hunters. My last trip to the range with my 450 left my shoulder sore for days. With that said, I'm going to miss the raw stopping power of those larger bullets. If you want to eliminate tracking jobs completely, the 450 gives you the best chance of doing that. I also initially purchased the 450 with plans to use it for elk if I'm ever fortunate enough to draw a Michigan tag. I'll need to make other arrangements now if I am drawn.
As a side note, I sold my Savage Model 110 in 450 Bushmaster at a loss and picked up a Winchester XPR stainless in 350 Legend to replace it. When I traded the 450 in, the gun shop guys noted that most of the 450s they have in stock simply aren't moving right now. So, the resale value of the 450 seems to have gone down with the introduction of the 350. It's something to consider if you like to upgrade every few years.
One other thing I've noticed is that while 450 isn't as popular right now, I have noticed more versatile factory ammo options available in stores for the 450. Most of the 350 Legend options on store shelves have been almost exclusively Winchester in only one bullet size. Make of that what you will.
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.
In short, go with the 450 if you want raw stopping power and don't care about recoil. Go with the 350 Legend for more accuracy and less recoil. 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.