Does the world really need another cartridge for the AR-15 family of rifles and pistols? Of course it does! You can never have too many options right? While general purpose “do it all” cartridges have their place, I do appreciate a design intended to excel at a specific task. The .350 Legend was specifically designed to be an effective game cartridge on large whitetail deer and similar sized animals. It accomplishes this by throwing a moderate diameter and weight projectile at a respectable velocity. Due to this it is especially well-suited for those that hunt in heavy cover where the shots are relatively short. Plus, as it features a straight-walled cartridge case, it is legal for hunting in those states, such as Ohio, which have this stipulation in their hunting codes.
A number of firearms manufacturers have added this caliber to their line-up since it was introduced, with Wilson Combat among them. The rifle seen on these pages is Wilson Combat’s Protector AR carbine chambered in .350 Legend. They also offer this caliber in their Recon Tactical, Ranger and Ultralight Ranger lines, so they have a few to choose from. Wilson Combat’s Protector is a very light, quick-handling and compact 16-inch AR carbine which is very well-suited for brush hunting. Before I delve into what Wilson Combat has cooked up though, let’s examine the .350 Legend cartridge.
Winchester Ammunition introduced the .350 Legend at the 2019 SHOT Show in Las Vegas, Nevada. But why did they develop it? A host of cartridges have been expressly developed for, or which fit neatly into the AR-15. These include the 5.56 * 45mm, .22 Nosier, .224 Valkyrie, 6 * 45mm, 6mm ARC, 6.5mm Grendel, 6.8 * 43mm Rem SPC, 300 AAC Blackout, 7.62 * 39mm, 300 HAM’R, .450 Bushmaster, .458 SOCOM and .50 Beowulf. However, if you look at this list you will note there are no common mainstream cartridges in the void going from the .30-calibers to .45-caliber. Winchester noticed this large hole and decided to fill it with an appropriate hunting cartridge.
Now, what I find interesting is Winchester says the .350 Legend is built on a new cartridge case design. In considering what would work best in the market, Winchester recognized the need for standardization. Standardization is what, after all, made the AR-15 as hugely popular as it is. Cartridges which deviate from the standard and require a specialized part, such as a proprietary bolt in the case of the 6.5mm Grendel and 6.8 * 43mm Rem SPC often face difficulty being widely accepted. In the case of the 6.5mm Grendel, it took years for it to be embraced by mainstream shooters. So, when Winchester developed the .350 Legend they decided to utilize the same rim diameter as the 5.56 * 45mm NATO. Thus, with a .378-inch nominal rim diameter the .350 Legend utilizes standard 5.56 * 45mm NATO AR-15 bolts. The only proprietary part needed to build a .350 Legend AR-15 is just the barrel.
Overall cartridge length was kept to the 5.56 * 45mm standard of 2.26-inches. Due to this there are no problems with STANAG dimensioned magazines in this regard. Case length is 1.71-inch and the base diameter is .390-inch. Case capacity is 36.5 grains (water). Projectile diameter is listed as .357-inch which is 9.1mm. This diameter has long been popular with American shooters, sportsmen and hunters and there is a plethora of projectiles readily available in this diameter for reloaders.
Moving up from .30-caliber to .357-inch also provides a nice increase in projectile diameter without getting into the heavier recoil of the big-bores. So, it’s a nice compromise offering a step-up from the smaller calibers while having better exterior ballistics and softer felt-recoil compared to the big dogs like the .458 SOCOM. Another important point is .350 Legend ammunition is noticeably less expensive than fodder for the big-bores. The .458 SOCOM is a great cartridge, but it is very expensive if you want to recreationally shoot with it. This in and of itself is an important selling point to many shooters and hunters.
What about performance? This is after all where the rubber meets the road. Winchester’s intended goal was for the .350 Legend to appeal to deer hunters and for it to have sufficient bullet diameter, mass and retained velocity to harvest large deer at 200 yards. With the cartridge Winchester introduced five loads ranging in weight from 145 all the way up to 265-grains. This line shows the versatility of the cartridge and consists of:
* 145-grain FMJ at 2,350 fps
* 150-grain Deer Season XP at 2,350 fps
* 160-grain Power Max Bonded at 2,225 fps
* 180-grain Power-Point at 2,100 fps
* 265-grain Super Suppressed Subsonic at 1,060 fps
A quick look at these loads shows the .350 Legend in its lighter bullet weights offers a larger diameter and heavier projectile than the standard 123-grain 7.62 * 39mm while matching its velocity. If you move up to similar 145- or 150-grain bullet weights in 7.62 * 39mm and 300 AAC Blackout the .350 Legend has a distinct velocity advantage, especially over the 300 AAC Blackout. Unlike the .30-calibers though, you can move up to a supersonic 180-grain load in .350 Legend. This will provide a good combination of mass, expansion and penetration.
When it comes to subsonic loads the .350 Legend significantly out-performs the .30-calibers. It is capable of driving a much heavier and larger diameter projectile when shooting subsonic through a suppressor. In this regard performance is similar to the Russian 9 * 39mm. Keep in mind, the only reason the 9 * 39mm exists is due to Russia’s Special Operation community’s dissatisfaction with the terminal performance and penetration of subsonic 7.62 * 39mm on the battlefield.
Now to be fair, comparing Winchester’s .350 Legend to the 300 AAC Blackout and 7.62 * 39mm is really apples to oranges. The .350 Legend is a hunting cartridge while the 300 AAC Blackout and 7.62 * 39mm are smaller bottleneck military cartridges. So what would be an ideal cartridge to compare the .350 Legend with? Perhaps the best cartridge to judge the .350 Legend by is one of my old favorites, the .35 Remington.
A cult favorite in the North East, the .35 Remington may be old, but it remains popular with brush hunters going after whitetail, black bear and elk. When I was a teenager it was a popular caliber in Marlin’s Model 336 lever-action rifle and my brother-in-law swore by it. A competitor to Winchester’s hugely popular .30-30 Winchester, the .35 Remington was introduced in 1906. It was chambered in the Remington Model 8 semi-auto in 1908 and unlike many of its competitors of the day, the .35 Remington remains in production today.
Like the .350 Legend, the .35 Remington was designed as a short-range (200 yards) brush gun cartridge for hunters. It was also intended to out-perform a popular .30-caliber hunting cartridge, in this case the .30-30 Winchester. It did this by driving a .358inch 200-grain SP at 2,080 fps or a lighter 180-grain SP at about 2,120 fps. On the flip-side, recoil was not bad and even as a skinny teenage kid I always enjoyed shooting it. The .35 Remington gained a cult following among hunters the old-fashioned way, it earned it through its performance in the hunting field. Its recipe for success is simple, drive a .35-caliber bullet which is fairly heavy in weight at moderate velocity to achieve reliable expansion and good penetration. Performance wise the 180-grain .350 Legend load basically duplicates the muzzle velocity of the well-proven .35 Remington 180-grain load. Performance in the hunting field should be similar to the classic .35 Remington as well.
Now what about the Wilson Combat Protector AR-15 chambered in .350 Legend seen on these pages? It is a good looking and well thought-out little hunting carbine. At just six pounds and nine ounces, it is very light for carrying all day in the field. So, if you are hiking over hill and dale it will not weigh you down. Plus, thanks to its 16-inch barrel and 33.2 inch overall length with the stock collapsed it will not hang-up getting into and out of a vehicle or get in the way strapped to an ATV. It has all the features you might want with no unnecessary bells or whistles. It’s a typical Wilson Combat product, well thought out and nicely executed.