June 09, 2020
By Lane Pearce
Just about everybody should have heard about the .350 Legend by now. It’s been featured in just about every gun magazine, including Shooting Times. But some of you may be interested in handloading the new round. For you, we present this report.
The .350 Legend case is a straight-wall case with a slightly tapered body so that it will reliably feed in a bolt-action or semiautomatic rifle. It’s also rimless and headspaces on the case mouth. According to its SAAMI specs, the maximum average pressure (MAP) is 55,000 psi, so unlike similarly shaped pistol cases operating at pressures up to 35,000 psi, .350 Legend cases are more likely to stretch when fired and resized. Trimming each batch to uniform length proved to be an important step to ensure correct headspace.
For this report, Hodgdon provided load data for several Hodgdon, IMR, and Winchester handgun propellants with burn rates from medium to slow. I also experimented with a few other suitable powders and added them to the chart. Small Rifle primers are recommended to withstand the significantly increased operating pressure.
Hodgdon’s data sheet revealed a serious problem with reloading the new cartridge. Only two “rifle” bullets were listed with the required but unique 0.355-inch diameter: Hornady’s 170-grain JSP and Winchester’s 180-grain Power-Point. All the rest were jacketed pistol bullets.
Bullets of .35 caliber for reloading rifle cartridges are both few in number and typically 0.358 inch in diameter. So, loaded in the .350 Legend’s case, they’re likely too large to allow the round to chamber and also too stout to adequately expand at the .350 Legend’s reduced velocities.
Pistol bullets of .35 caliber typically range from 0.354 to 0.357 inch (jacketed) and 0.357 to 0.360 inch (cast or swaged lead) in diameter. There’s a good selection of 9mm/.35-caliber jacketed pistol bullets, but because they’re typically launched at 900 to 1,300 fps, they’ll likely not be strong enough to effectively drop a deer or a hog.
Although the project started out with a scarcity of suitable bullets and encountered a couple of hitches along the way, I’ll still say any time spent at my reloading bench or at the range is a good thing. Winchester, Hornady, and Starline offer .350 Legend cases. Winchester is already shipping at least two bullets packaged for sale to reloaders. I’m hoping Hornady and Federal add their bullets to the product mix. I had samples of Federal’s 180-grain JSP and 160-grain Fusion bullets, (and factory load data), but they’re not yet available for the handloader.
Redding was one of the first to offer reloading dies. Of course, unlike sizing revolver brass with a carbide die, the .350 Legend cases must be lubed. Because there’s very little difference in the .350 Legend’s case head and neck diameters, it’s too often difficult to get the case mouth aligned with the sizer die. After sizing more than 300 or so cases, I developed a scheme of positioning the case in the shellholder that seemed to work about half the time! I also experienced a few other problems, but they were my fault. For example, using Hodgdon’s load data for Lil’ Gun, I assembled and fired dozens of three different 147-grain JHP pistol bullets with charges up to near-max without mishap. When Winchester’s 145-grain FMJ bullets arrived, I assumed I could safely substitute it with that recipe, especially since I seated them a bit farther out than the factory loads, i.e., increased initial combustion capacity.
The second round I fired in the Ruger American bolt gun resulted in a blown primer. Both shots cut one ragged hole in the target, but when I ejected the empty case, the primer was missing. That’s when I thought to look at the chronograph and discovered both shots registered 2,650+ fps. That’s way too fast.
Of course, I didn’t fire any more rounds and pulled the rest of the bullets. I verified three or four charges were, in fact, 28 grains of what looked exactly like Lil’ Gun. I then decided to resize the primed cases to ensure uniform neck tension. I assumed since they had already been full-length sized, I could skip lubing them. I’d done the same thing earlier with a batch of new .350 Legend brass without mishap, right?
The second case stuck in the die.
I lubed, sized, and wiped the rest of the batch clean before expanding/belling the case mouths. The expander die was already set, so I didn’t pay close attention to how much it flared each case mouth. I recharged all but five cases with 23 grains of the recovered but “unverified” powder.
I loaded those five with the same charge of Lil’ Gun right out of the bottle so I could, hopefully, satisfy myself when firing them over the chronograph that I had loaded the “right” powder to begin with. When I attempted to seat the first 145-grain FMJ bullet, it snagged on the inadequately flared case mouth and crumpled the case wall. I emptied the charged cases, readjusted the expander die, and repeated processing them—again!
Everything went well at the range. Based on the recorded velocities, the 23-grain charge essentially duplicated the ballistics of the Winchester 145-grain factory load. That’s 5.5 grains less (19+ percent reduction) than Hodgdon’s data shows as max for the 9mm jacketed pistol bullets. Once again, I’ve learned you can’t be too careful when reloading a new cartridge or a new component.
In a previous Shooting Times Quick Shot on the Ruger American Ranch .350 Legend bolt-action rifle, I concluded it was, at best, a 2-MOA combo suitable for taking deer and hogs at ranges up to 175 yards with selected ammo. The Ruger AR-556 MPR autoloader performed similarly for this report. In fact, only about half of my test loads met that mark, so I haven’t changed my mind.