A cartridge with a lot of buzz in the industry that seems to fit my needs for a medium sized, light and compact carbine. Match Grade Machine in Utah has been my go to supplier for Custom barrels for my T/C Encore rifles (and pistols), for some time now, (Matchgrademachine.com). Their quality and consistency is unsurpassed, so when I decided it was time to test the new .350 Legend cartridge, MGM got the call.
Why the 350 Legend? Well, I asked the same question at first, in part because there seemed to be so many detractors on social media platforms. The comments ranged from “it’s a pointless cartridge, other options already exist”, to “the .30-.30 is a better option”, to “the .450 Bushmaster is better”. As with every new cartridge introduction, the naysayers came out in force.
Being guilty of questioning the release of some new cartridges myself, I had to consider all the comments. I am, after all, famous for being critical of the 6.5 Creedmoor, which is a great cartridge, but which has led to the “all but abandonment” of the better .260 Remington, of which I could go on and on about…..but I won’t…again…I digress.
Here’s the logical case for the .350 L, and why I think it’s here to stay…and why I hope it does.
Firstly, one day before writing this, I was hunting a soybean field with a doe permit in my pocket….with access permission from a farmer who was very hopeful that I would help mitigate his crop damage issues. For this hunt I used my TC Encore, with the new MGM .350 Legend barrel, to flatten a huge whitetail doe at about 80 yards.. I was a little hesitant about the energy carrying capability of the 350 prior to the hunt, but no more. A heart shot, hitting no major bones, knocked the big doe off her feet and dispatched her in seconds. I’ve made the same shot with a .30-06 and had to track deer for over a hundred yards. I’m aware that a .30-06 has more energy, but there’s something about larger diameter bullets that seems to provide an extra oomph on game. Nevertheless, energy transfer, check. If anything, there was more energy than needed. The bullet passed clean through and plowed a furrow about 40 feet long in the freshly plowed, and snow dusted field. I looked, but couldn’t find the slug. The exit hole in the deer was impressive and suggested significant expansion.
Recoil at the shot, and while sighting-in at the range, was hardly noticeable. This is one of those guns that is fun to shoot. A big reason for going to the 350 is because for the last two seasons, I’ve hunted the restricted rifle zone of Southern Michigan (restricted to straight wall cartridges, not more the 1.8” in case length), with a .450 Bushmaster. Last year I hunted with a Ruger American Ranch rifle in .450. It has a 16” barrel and while it fit the bill for a compact carbine, designed for hunting at close range in woodlot habitat common to Southern MI., It was NOT fun to shoot, especially from a tree stand…or without hearing protection! It’s a great gun for the money, but overkill for this type of hunting where shots will be under 200 yards, and more often than not, inside of 50 yds. Ruger now offers the Ranch rifle in .350, so apparently there was demand for the lighter recoil of this round. I also have an Encore barrel in 450 that I hunted in 2017, and being that it’s 22” in length, It’s a bit more pleasant to shoot…. And it does flatten deer. I used it 2 years ago to drop a large bodied 10 point at 40 yards…..but my ears were ringing afterwards. The .350 is a no compromise, yet more pleasant to shoot option that seems to do the trick for deer.
After trying most of the available factory ammo that I could find, from 145 grain to 180 grain, I settled on the Hornady 170 grain American Whitetail load. I wanted a heavy for caliber bullet and while the 170 isn’t the heaviest that I found, it seemed to be the most consistent in velocity and accuracy, and it’s heavy enough. The nicely rounded and pointed “Interlock” softpoint design provided very good expansion and fairly flat shooting at 2280 FPS muzzle velocity, from my 20” Match Grade Machine barrel, which turned out to be higher velocity than that stated in Hornady’s literature. Bonus. It’s hard to beat Hornady factory ammo. I pick it over hand loads for many of my guns. It’s just that consistent and the components and powders are as good as it gets. Those who do prefer to hand-load will find the same to be true from Hornady products.
At the range I sighted in dead on at 25 yards to get on paper. This resulted in a 50 yd impact at 2” high, a 100 yard impact 3” high, dead on again at 150 yds., and a 200 yard impact 5.5” low, which I left unchanged aside for fine tuning for windage, knowing that a center mass aim on a whitetail is good anywhere from 25 to 200 yards. I had to check and double check these impacts, and later watched a lot of YouTube videos that showed similar results. This is a pretty flat shooter. I noted the impacts right on the 1-4X Leupold scope, in white pencil, so that I can make slight adjustments for hold depending on the situation while hunting. In the future I may order a CDS scope dial from Leupold, after further range testing, which could make the gun 300 yard capable. I trust that it would carry enough energy for deer at that range, but just. At just over 600 ft lbs., this is about as low as I would choose to go on game. In reality, as intended, being a capable 100 yd gun is what I want and what it is.
Wanting a versatile carbine, I ordered the barrel from MGM with iron sights and a scope base. MGM now can deliver iron sights on orders, which is a new and welcome offering from them. While they offer a couple of options, I opted for a set of very high quality, adjustable fiber-optic sights which MGM sources from Williams Gun Sight in Michigan. These are great iron sights, the rear, an adjustable “ghost ring” peep style with two green fiber optic dots at the 3-o’clock and 9-o’clock position. The front is a vivid red dot. With a Leupold scope set in a pair of Warne quick detach scope rings, on the MGM scope rail, this is a very versatile gun. Being able to quickly switch to iron sights in thick brush, or in the event of a damaged scope is the kind of redundancy that I like. I have had great luck with QD scope rings from Warne set up this way. While pleasant to shoot, the 350 Legend does pack a punch. Certainly enough for black bears and I think it would even be ok as a grizzly protection gun too, though as a single shot, you’d better accurate, and a fast re-loader if you use it for bear. An AR platform might be a better choice for that duty. I would be confident in the bullet and power delivery in bear country. I’ve carried a number of guns as bear protection in Alaskan brown bear habitat, as a guide. I’d have no hesitation choosing the 350 Legend for this role.
Before settling on the 350, I considered many options. One of the common comments from YouTube “experts” is that the 357 Maximum already exists, so the .350L is redundant. I almost went with a 357 Max, before the 350 was introduced. I’m glad I didn’t. There is no comparison. The 357 max is a good cartridge, BUT, ammo is rare and it’s expensive, it’s not as powerful, it isn’t loaded with heavy streamlined bullets, and it doesn’t lend itself to hand loading those bullets. It doesn’t work in factory AR platforms or bolt guns like the .350 and long before the .350 arrived, it was already on its last legs in terms of factory offerings. Other common complaints were in comparing the .350 to a .30-.30. Admittedly most of those complainers seemed to be from parts of the country that don’t have cartridge restrictions and were/are unaware as to the evolution of the .350. In Michigan and in many other neighboring states there are restricted areas where center-fire rifles with bottle-neck cartridges like the .30-.30 aren’t allowed. In Southern MI., we called it the “shotgun zone”, though in addition to shotguns, muzzle-loaders and some pistols were and are still legal. Pistols were restricted to straight wall cartridges…and still are. The cartridge case length rule change, (to 1.8” case length, straight walled), is what opened the doors to new more powerful loads intended for rifle platforms, and the .450 Bushmaster and the .350 Legend resulted. There are still plenty of shot gunners hunting these areas and with powerful handgun rounds like the brutal .460 S&W, 454 Casull, 44 mag and even .357 magnum, many handguns and rifles are still out there using those options. For years I used a scoped, rifled 20 gauge barrel on my Encore, that’s a tack driver at 200 yards, flinging 250 grain slugs. So the .350 isn’t going to take over completely, but you can bet it’s here to stay. I think I’d choose it over a .30-.30, based on bullet weight and frontal area, and energy, regardless of restriction zones. Certainly on versatility of platform availability, and ammo cost too. A box of 20 rounds of .350L can be found for as little as $10.00 for light FMJ target ammo.
My performance impressions are based on initial trials but at the distances that I’ll use it to hunt, and on deer sized game, I’ve only had good results. I’m sure this would be perfect for hogs and coyotes too. I wanted a compact, light carbine that I still considered to be a “thumper”. I know the limitations of this gun and if I’m hunting an area where long range shots are called for, I’ll use a gun intended for those conditions. For Southern Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, or anywhere else with firearm hunting restrictions, I’ll grab my .350 Legend. I have all the faith in the world for shots on deer, out to 200 yards….and you can take that to the bank. If you own a TC Encore or Contender, call Match Grade Machine in Hilldale, Utah for a .350 Legend barrel. (Ph 435-628-0071). They can make just about any custom barrel you’ll want. Fluted, threaded, various lengths, materials and calibers, let your imagination run wild. You will be impressed! I own many MGM barrels for my Encores, so needless to say, I am!
I’ve got a couple more weeks left to find a mature whitetail buck before our rifle season ends, and I go back to bow hunting for the remainder of the season. I’m looking forward to seeing how the .350 Legend performs on a big tough Southern Michigan buck. I’ll let you know the results, if I’m so fortunate.
Brandon Vaughan has over 40 years of personal and professional experience in a broad array of hunting and fishing disciplines, from Alaska to Belize. Past professional experience includes working as a professional guide in Alaska and around the Great Lakes region. In addition to hunting and fishing throughout the lower 48, Canada and Central America, Brandon has been an Orvis Endorsed Fly-fishing guide, a fly-fishing and fly-tying instructor, a hunting guide and shooting instructor.