The stuff of Legend
Winchester’s XPR in .350 a winner, writes Con Kapralos
Every year it seems cartridge manufacturers, especially in the US, deliver another batch of calibres touted to shoot faster, flatter and with a greater knock-out punch or ballistic superiority over those already on the market. Seldom do we see a new calibre designed with a particular purpose in mind, where the faster and flatter prerequisites don’t get a look in.
In the US there are several east coast states which only permit centrefire metallic cases of a straight-walled design greater than 1.8” in length for seasonal deer hunting. The rationale is these calibres are suited to shooting in relatively built-up areas and small acreages and don’t pose a great risk as they’re only effective out to 200m or so and fall off quickly thereafter.
The .450 Bushmaster for example is popular and fires a .45-calibre projectile which packs a punch over short distances. Winchester USA engineers saw the versatility in the .450 Bushmaster which uses projectiles in the 225 to 300-grain weight area with muzzle velocities around 1750-2500fps.
Yet they looked at designing a cartridge which would shoot a lighter projectile, be kinder in recoil but still use a straight-walled case to comply with the deer hunting requirements of the US states concerned. Enter the .350 Legend, built for deer hunting using a .35-calibre projectile with the parent case being a modified version of the ever-popular .223 Remington bottleneck. A major selling point was it had to be affordable.
.350 Legend overview
Many would naturally think .350 Legend brass could be formed from spent .223 Remington brass but this isn’t the case. Winchester USA, designers of the .350 Legend, used the .223 Remington as the parent case which required several additional steps in its manufacture to produce a straight walled option 1.71” in length and a .378” case head with slight taper which facilitates extraction from the chamber once a round is fired.
The resultant case has no shoulder and with its taper is perfectly suited to.35-calibre projectiles. Comparing directly with a .223 Remington load is like chalk and cheese as the .350 Legend has significantly less muzzle blast than the .223 but a tad more felt recoil. Winchester USA and Browning initially introduced a variety of loads for the .350 Legend with other US manufacturers Federal and Hornady coming to the party with their own loads for the Legend soon after.
Most factory offerings in .350 Legend embrace projectile weights in the 145 to 180-grain bracket, an exception being the 255-grain Super Suppressed load from Winchester. For the bulk of hunting applications, suitable projectiles in the 150 to 180-grain region would pass muster, with Winchester’s 150-grain Deer Season XP and 180-grain Power-Point and similar offerings in the Browning BXR, Federal’s Power-Shok/Fusion and Hornady Whitetail loads all excellent candidates. Hunting projectiles in this weight category are suited to quarry out to around 200m and for Australian hunters this equates to small-to-medium deer species along with goats, pigs and feral canines (so long as ranges are kept in mind).
The key to effective hunting with the .350 Legend is ensuring your given load has sufficient knock-down power for your target and the ranges involved. Medium deer species such as fallow would need 1000 ft-lb of striking energy as minimum. The 150gr loading falls short at 200m with around 900 ft-lb of residual energy but smaller and lighter-framed quarry such as goats, smaller pigs and wild dogs could be effectively tackled with the 150/180gr loads out to 200m with the residual energy present. For deer, 150-160m would be a better and more ethical distance with the .350 Legend.
Winchester Australia supplied the standard model XPR Synthetic in .350 Legend calibre along with a matching optic in the excellent Meopta Optika 5 2-10×42 riflescope in Recknagel rings and bases. Also put forward were samples of Winchester ammunition for the calibre in the 145gr FMJ, 150gr Deer Season XP, 180gr Power-Point and Super Suppressed 255gr subsonic load.
The XPR rifle has been in production for quite a few years and is popular in the US, being offered in a large choice of variants and calibres, though in Australia the distributor only has two models in the Synthetic and Extreme Hunter. Features of the Winchester XPR Synthetic include the following:
- Push-feed action with a full-diameter three-lug bolt and 60-degree bolt for quick cycling of the action;
- Receiver made from steel bar-stock with pleasant round-bodied profile;
- Lightweight polymer stock with steel recoil lug inletted into the floor, mating up with a cross-slot machined into the underside of the front receiver ring;
- Winchester’s MOA single-stage trigger, fully adjustable for weight and travel (review rifle trigger pull set at 2.2 kg);
- Teflon-coated bolt for silky smooth operation;
- Two-position safety located behind the bolt notch with bolt unlocking button;
- Winchester’s Inflex Technology recoil pad to reduce felt recoil;
- Textured panels around pistol grip and fore-end to assist with positive grip no matter the weather;
- Sporter weight 22” (560mm) barrel made for the .350 Legend calibre along with newly designed detachable box magazine holding three rounds in single stack.
The review rifle measures 1065mm and weighs 3.01kg (fitted with two-piece Weaver bases).
At the range
Being a new rifle it was thoroughly cleaned to remove any factory preservatives and the stock retaining screws checked for correct torque, as were the fitted Weaver bases. Once the supplied Recknagel rings and Meopta Optika riflescope were fitted, the rifle was bore-sighted at 25m before the target frame was moved out to 100m for accuracy testing. Five 3-shot groups were the order of the day with a quick barrel clean between ammo changes.
Winchester XPR Synthetic in .350 Legend – 100m
|Ammunition||Best group (mm)||Worst group (mm)||Average group (mm)*|
|Winchester 145gr FMJ||20||26||23|
|Winchester Deer Season XP 150gr||18||28||23|
|Winchester Power-Point 180gr||26||38||32|
|Winchester Super Suppressed 255gr||19||34||28|
* Average calculated from five 3-shot groups at 100m from a benchrest.
From the outset the .350 Legend was a pleasure to shoot, its mild recoil and muzzle blast making for a total shooting experience. Never once did it shoot poorly with all average groups around the Minute of Angle (MOA) mark and many individual groups less than that. For a centrefire cartridge suited to shooting at relatively short ranges, the .350 Legend really surprised with its accuracy. The oddity in the Super Suppressed 255gr load worked well too, but its point-of-impact was around 30cm lower than the other loads with the lighter 145 to 180-grain projectiles.
The XPR Synthetic rifle cycled and ejected the .350 Legend cartridges and brass without issue and feeding from the 3-shot magazine was helped by a small chamfer cut into the entrance of the chamber to assist guiding the long, tapered rounds into the chamber itself. Hunters may like to note a Grizzly Winchester XPR .350 Legend nine-round magazine can be bought separately from dealerships which would be ideal in a culling scenario such as feral goat or pig control.
I decided a good test of the .350 Legend would be against some early summer fallow deer, which at that time of the year are in peak condition for the table. With the rifle sighted-in using Winchester Deer Season XP 150-grain ammunition I’d a couple of areas in mind which the calibre would be well suited to, stalking through open woodland and light scrub with shots usually inside 150m. With synthetic stock and Meopta optic it carried well, the overall light weight making this a great hunting outfit though sadly no deer presented at ranges where the .350 Legend could cleanly take them.
In a hunting scenario the .350 Legend would mimic such proven calibres as the .30/30 Winchester and 7.62 Soviet with its ballistics and I certainly hope Australian hunters embrace it as it’s an affordable and enjoyable short to medium-range calibre. The Winchester XPR Synthetic in .350 Legend retails for around $995 and is available through the Winchester Australia dealer network. More at winchesteraustralia.com.au