I’ve had numerous requests for this comparison, pitting a pair of medium velocity deer cartridges against one another. Here we have a couple of specialized newbies, undeniably designed to fill a role in the Midwestern states and areas which implement strict rules regarding the use of centerfire rifle cartridges. Some specify a minimum caliber of .357-inch, others limit case length to 1.800 inches, and some demand the case be straight-walled, with no bottle neck. While there are some existing cartridges which can check those boxes, some find them a bit too stiff in the recoil department, or feel the destroy too much venison. Both of these new cartridges adhere to these parameters, and both can be highly effective in the deer woods—much more than the vast majority of shotguns with slugs. Let’s throw them into the ring, and see which comes out victorious.
Winchester’s 350 Legend is the older of the pair, presented to the shooting public at the SHOT Show in 2019. Designed for use in both the AR platform as well as bolt-action rifles, the 350 Legend shows some family lineage with the .223 Remington, in case head diameter and overall length. Using the case mouth for headspacing, much like the 9mm Luger or .45 ACP, the 350 Legend uses bullets which actually measure 0.354-inch or 0.355-inch in diameter, but because of the SAAMI-spec of “+/- 0.003 inches,” it is allowed for use in states like Ohio, which mandate a minimum diameter of 0.357 inches. Sneaking it under the wire? Maybe, but all is fair in love and deer hunting.
The 350 Legend has been adopted by most of the big players in the ammunition world, with factory loads being available from Winchester, Browning, Barnes, Hornady and Federal. Bullet weights range from 150 to 180 grains, with all sorts of choices in construction. You can find traditional cup-and-core designs, like the Winchester Power-Point and Hornady InterLock, to the bonded core stuff like the Federal FUSION and Swift Scirocco II, to the monometal choices like the Winchester Copper Impact and Barnes TSX. The 350 Legend will push a 150-grain bullet to just over 2300 fps, and the 180-grain bullets will leave the muzzle at 2100 fps. Both of these choices are on the lighter side of the spectrum for .35-caliber, and I’d feel much better using bullets on the heavy side of what’s available when it comes to hunting deer, black bear or hogs with the 350 Legend.
The 360 Buckhammer is the first new cartridge from Remington Ammunition, since the split from the firearms side of the famous firm. Based on the uber-popular rimmed .30-30 Winchester (itself based on the straight-walled 38-55 WCF), the 360 Buckhammer is a straight-walled case, 1.80 inches long, using that rim for positive headspacing. The 360 runs at a higher pressure than many of the rimmed, classic “lever gun” cartridges—50,000 psi to be precise—and accordingly will run at higher velocities. As of this writing, both loads for the Buckhammer are from Remington, though I understand that Federal will shortly be offering the cartridge in its ‘blue box’ line. The Remington loads use the 180- and 200-grain Core-Lokt round-nose bullets, safe for use in the tubular magazines of the Henry lever-action rifles designed for this new cartridge.
The 180-grain slugs are cruising at 2400 fps, and the 200-grainers at 2200 fps—a considerable increase over the older and still-popular 35 Remington. Despite the round-nose conformation, the additional velocity of the Buckhammer will play a role in the downrange performance of the cartridge.
So, among the new kids designed for the Midwest, which makes the most sense for the hunter in pursuit of one of those monsters of the flatlands? Having spent a fair amount of time with both, I find them both to be well thought-out, and both effective on deer. Being completely honest, I haven’t used the 350 Legend in an autoloading rifle, but only in bolt-action rifles. I have, however, been shown evidence that the potential for slit cases exists, especially if the headspace is out of spec. Neither cartridge has a recoil level that is in any way intolerable, and I've found both to be more than accurate enough for the ranges at which they should be used.
I’m going to give the win to the 360 Buckhammer, for several reasons. First, I like the positive headspacing of the rimmed cartridges, as it extends case life, and tends to lead to more consistent results. Second, I like the fact that the Buckhammer uses bullets a bit heavier than does the 350 Legend; the 200-grain load shot just over ½-MOA from the Henry rifle I had in hand for testing, and the additional sectional density of the heavier bullet might make a difference on a big black bear. Third, the higher muzzle velocity of the 360 Buckhammer results in a slightly flatter trajectory. Comparing the 180-grain loads, to keep things as fair as possible, and using a 100-yard zero, the Buckhammer drops about 1½ inches less at 200 yards, despite having a round nose profile, where the Legend uses a more conical design. Not a huge difference, but a difference nonetheless. I’d love to see what the Hornady FTX bullet would do in the Buckhammer, to take full advantage of the velocity offered.
I don’t think that those hunters who’ve settled into their 350 Legend rifles are going to flock to the gun shop to make a trade, but I do think a good percentage of those folks shopping for a new rifle in this class will appreciate what the 360 Buckhammer has to offer.
Looking for previous installments of our "Head to Head" series? Click here.