A Dismal Failure…

The Smith & Wesson M350, with some of its .350 Legend ammunition, beside the (truly) legendary Walker Colt. For years, the Walker was the biggest and most powerful revolver ever made, which gives an idea of the size of the M350. It’s a brute.

by Terry Wieland

…Or a comedy of errors.  You decide.

A while back, in a fit of guilt over not paying sufficient attention to new developments in the wondrous world of guns, I set about testing a Smith & Wesson M350—a massive horse pistol chambered for the new(ish) .350 Legend.

For those who have not been paying attention, the .350 Legend is a straight-walled cartridge designed by Winchester solely for the purpose of meeting the legislative requirements of states that mandate such cartridges for deer hunting. It’s a .35 Remington ‘Lite’ by another name and looks sort of like a .223 Remington opened up.

The engineers at Winchester wanted it to function in an AR-type semiauto (not exactly what the state game departments wanted loose in the woods in deer season, but that’s free enterprise) and in order to do that gave it a (slightly) rebated rim and a (slightly smaller) .355 bullet. These modifications allowed it to headspace on the case mouth while still having enough brass in the mouth for strength and enough taper for easy extraction.

So far so good? Not really.

If a camel is a horse designed by a committee, the .350 Legend is the dromedary of cartridges. In trying to meet so many demands, Winchester created a whole bunch of problems.

When it burst onto the scene in 2019, a number of the brethren set about studying and reloading it. Steve Gash, who writes on handloading for Guns & Ammo, dubbed it the .350 Spinach, predicting no one would like it; Bryce Towsley (American Rifleman) was reduced to nothing but expletives, while Lane Pearce of Shooting Times produced a predictably precise (but subliminal) indictment that should have discouraged anyone from looking at it twice.

Just to show how influential we all are, however, the .350 Legend became, reportedly, wildly popular in spite of such tooth-gnashing problems as critical case length and unusual bullet diameter and scant availability.

In response to this popularity, Smith & Wesson decided it belonged in a revolver, and duly adapted it to their massive X-frame with, just to complicate things further, a seven-round cylinder demanding unique full-moon clips for loading. (Actually, you can load and shoot it without the clips, but that makes ejecting the empties slow and awkward.)

The .350 Legend takes the same diameter bullets as the 9mm Luger, but what good are those for hunting whitetails and feral hogs, the .350’s main targets? Some bullet makers began making suitable .355 hunting bullets, which are fine in the rifles, but since the 7.5-inch barrel of the S&W delivers velocity apprimately 600 fps less than the 16- to 20-inch barreled rifles, they may or may not work.

As for handloading .350 Legend ammunition for use in a revolver, it presents one difficulty after another.

Unlike most rifle ammunition, the mouth has to be expanded (belled) to accept bullets without shaving them or crumpling the mouth, and then this expansion has to be ironed out in the seating die so the cartridge will chamber—all while keeping case length exactly right and the mouth undamaged for headspacing purposes. Redding dies do all this, but it’s a few extra (critical) steps.

And another, this one completely unexpected: I got some Hornady factory ammunition with 165- and 170-grain bullets. When I tried to reload the cases, I found that some of the cases had primer pockets too small for standard Small Rifle primers. Why? Because during the Great Primer Shortage a few years ago, Hornady started making its own primers. These are for their own use, not retail sale. They can’t produce all they need, however, so some of their ammunition uses other (slightly larger) brands. The 165s use bronze-colored Hornady primers, the 170s use what look like Federals (chrome or nickel colored). Just so you know.

Anyway, a couple of destroyed cases, a half-dozen wasted primers and one severely chewed finger later, I realized I had to ream the primer pockets of every shell. Thanks, guys.

Because the case headspaces on the mouth, the revolver cylinder has a lip milled into the front of each chamber. This restricts both bullet diameter and seating depth. Normally, in a 9mm (.355) you could use .356 or even .357 cast bullets, but not here: They simply won’t seat, and if they don’t go all the way in, you can’t close the cylinder.

As I write this, no one has published load data specifically for the revolver, so I was limited to trying to choose which powder would work best in the revolver’s short barrel. I was just getting into it, chronographing and shooting groups, when the revolver decided it had had enough and the cylinder resolutely refused to close. This was after about 75 rounds, none of them anywhere near pushing the cartridge’s SAAMI-ordained maximum pressure of 55,000 psi.

It took me a day or two to figure out exactly what the minuscule but debilitating problem was, by which time the rain came and put an end to shooting before my deadline.

So here we are, suspended in mid-test report. Frankly, I can’t wait to return the revolver to Smith & Wesson. As for the .355-diameter bullets I’ve managed to corral, I can use those in my 9×56 Mannlicher-Schönauer. 

Gray’s shooting editor Terry Wieland looks relentlessly for silver linings. And bullets for the 9×56 M-S have always been difficult to find.