Deer hunters in the Midwest have long been stymied by antiquated deer hunting laws that heavily restricted the types of firearms they were allowed to use on whitetail deer. In states like Michigan, Iowa, Ohio, and Indiana, we've been regulated to using shotguns, muzzleloaders, or handguns only for decades now. While deer hunters have adjusted to this kind of hunting, many of us have been left green with envy at the hunters who could use centerfire rifles to reach out to longer ranges. Fortunately, lawmakers and wildlife agencies have mostly come to their senses in the last decade or so.
Now, many states are allowing straight-wall cartridges for deer hunting. At first, these rifles were relegated to pistol caliber rifles like .44 or .357 Magnum. But it has quickly evolved beyond that. Firearms companies soon realized there was a real market for a low recoil straight wall option capable of a higher muzzle velocity than the other straight wall options out there. Winchester's response was a whole new cartridge that did just that. The cartridge is comparable in size to a .223 Remington yet has a case length that falls within most state's legal parameters. It also has a bullet diameter that's lethal on medium-sized big game and a flat trajectory that us Midwestern hunters have never been able to enjoy before.
Ballistics of Winchester .350 Legend
Once states started introducing straight wall cartridge laws, many hunters flocked to stores to pick up a rifle chambered for .450 Bushmaster. In truth, probably 80 to 90 percent of hunters in the Midwest shooting straight walls are using one or the other. The big problem with the 450 is that it has a nasty kick. In fact, I think it kicks a hair harder than my 12-gauge shotgun. The ammo is also expensive, and ballistically, the 450 isn't great. You can read more on the differences in our 350 Legend vs 450 Bushmaster piece. In any case, Winchester saw where the 450 could be improved and they introduced the 350 Legend in 2019.
More specifically, the engineers at Winchester wanted a round that could reach out 200 yards with minimal recoil while also delivering penetration and a lethal amount of energy to deer and other medium-sized big game. They succeeded on all counts. The 350 has a lighter kick than a 243 or 30-30! This cartridge has become extremely popular for older hunters and youth hunters for that reason. It is a true joy to shoot, and you'll be more accurate because of it.
The speeds are also there. Hornady's 165-grain FTX Customs are doing 2,200-fps and are hitting with 1,773-foot pounds of energy. Step that up to their 170-grain InterLock American Whitetail factory rounds and you still have a muzzle velocity of 2,200-fps that hits with 1,827-foot pounds of energy. At 100 yards they're still doing 1,843-fps and hitting with nearly 1,300 pounds of energy.
Federal Premium makes a 180-grain option in their Power-Shok line that's doing about 2,100-fps at the muzzle. They also have a 160-grain option in their Fusion soft point line that's doing 2,300-fps. Winchester's own 150-grain Deer Season XP his with about 1,800-foot pounds of energy while doing 2,325-fps at the muzzle. Winchester says those rounds have zero drop at 100 yards.
Simply put, Winchester really hit a home run with this hunting cartridge because the ammo is also significantly cheaper than 450 Legend. You can get a box of premium ammo for under $40 in most cases. Something like Winchester white box goes for even less than that, making it an affordable range gun in addition to being a great hunting round.
Since it was Winchester Ammunition that developed the round, it only feels appropriate to start things off with the rifle it was designed for. The XPR was yet another homerun for Winchester. It weighs in at just six pounds, 12 ounces thanks to a polymer stock. It's available in a bevy of camo pattern variations. This rifle features a free-floating 22-inch barrel with a 1:16 rate of twist. The receiver is already drilled and tapped for a scope. Winchester offers a few different finishes so you can pick one to match your needs and budget. This gun comes at a great price point of around $520 too. That makes this gun an ideal starter rifle for the hunter just starting out with straight-wall cartridge guns. Winchester also offers combo packages with a 3-9x40mm Vortex scope pre-mounted for the hunter who just wants to get to the range and then the field.
Savage AXIS XP Stainless
For the hunter working with a tight budget, Savage Arms have put together a great .350 Legend package with the AXIS XP. You are not likely to find another rifle with a matte stainless steel barrel at a better price. This rifle goes for about $449 retail. The barrel is 18 inches and has a 1:16 rate of twist. The matte black synthetic stock helps give this rifle a light weight of just 6.86 pounds. We like it for youth hunters because of that weight too. The stainless steel and stock make the rifle ideal for long periods of time in a tree stand in wet conditions like the Midwest routinely offers during deer season. Those features also make this rifle ideal for spot and stalk applications if you ever decide to travel out of state for bigger game. Straight-walled cartridges are just as effective in the west as they are in the Midwest. Savage offers a combo package with a Weaver 3-9x40mm Scope that is attached at the factory and is already bore sighted. Just grab some ammo and head to the range to start sighting it in for deer season.
Mossberg Patriot Youth Super Bantam
As we've already mentioned, 350 Legend is the ideal first hunting gun for young hunters about to participate in their first youth season this year. The Mossberg Patriot is already a great rifle for adults, but their Youth Super Bantam is an even better option for young hunters. This gun has a 22-inch fluted barrel length with a 1:16 rate of twist, so it will help them drop that early youth season big buck at distances out to 100 yards or more easily. It is slightly heavier at 7.5 pounds, but a big selling point here is the adjustable length of pull. That means the rifle can grow with your young hunter. This rifle also comes fitted with a quality 3-9x40mm Vortex Crossfire II scope. For only $369, this gun is a bargain and a great way to introduce your child or grandchild to hunting this year.
CVA Cascade FDE
CVA may be better known for their affordable muzzleloaders, especially here in the Midwest where that was many a hunter's only long-distance option for years. In recent years they decided to jump head-first into the centerfire rifle market and haven't done too bad for themselves. This is one of their first offerings for a hunting rifle. The bolt-action Cascade FDE features a 22-inch carbon steel barrel with a 1:16 rate of twist and a threaded muzzle. That barrel has a Cerakote finish to help protect from the rain and snow we all deal with hunting the Midwest. At the same time the stock is kept light but strong thanks to a synthetic material reinforced with fiberglass. This rifle features a generous recoil pad and CVA has made the length of pull adjustable by including a spacer standard. It's not a bad option for a 350 Legend cartridge rifle at $600.
Ruger American Ranch
The argument can be made that the Ruger American rifle is one of the most popular guns in Michigan, Indiana and Ohio right now. This rifle is the "compact" version. It measures just 35 inches long and weighs in at just six pounds. It's a true joy for hunters young and old to use.. The compact 16.38-inch barrel has a 1:16 rate of twist. The barrel is also threaded in case you want to add a suppressor or a muzzle brake of some kind to tame the recoil even more. Not a bad idea for younger hunters with a smaller frame. The American Rifle also comes with a generous recoil pad to help with that. The rifle comes fitted with a picatinny rail for optics straight out of the box. The tang safety is easy to access and operate. This gun features the Ruger Marksman Adjustable trigger, allowing for adjustments on the pull between three and five pounds. The compact size makes this a great brush gun for swamps and other areas where vegetation and branches are dense. This rifle is a tack driver that will get the job done on that big buck this season.
Henry Single Shot
We were thrilled to see Henry saw there was a market for straight wall rifle cartridges in their line. This is the rifle to get for those who want simplicity and accuracy. It uses a simple rebounding hammer safety system. We think it'd be ideal for teaching a youngster the finer points of gun safety before heading into the field. This rifle features a 22-inch barrel with a 1:16 rate of twist. In comes in at a comfortable 7.18 pounds and is drilled and tapped for Weaver scope mounts. We know some shooters may look at this gun and think it's a little plain, but to be honest, we dig the classic American walnut and blued steel look. It's an old-school look with a modern cartridge bringing the best of both worlds to the deer woods. Plus they are made in the USA, and at under $400, the price point is great too.
The Momentum is a great option for the serious hunter who is concerned with accuracy. Franchi has an MOA guarantee at 100 yards using premium factory ammo. We also dig the crisp Relia trigger that can be set to break between two and five pounds easily. This rifle has a 22-inch barrel with a 1:16 rate of twist. The three-lug bolt is chrome and fluted to reduce weight. It also has a 60-degree throw for faster cycling. The stock is a simple flat dark earth while the receiver and barrel are an anodized black finish. The TSA recoil pad helps make an already fun to shoot cartridge even more pleasant. At $600, it's still very affordable for almost any budget.
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