More hunters are turning to the oldest metallic cartridge design for deer and other game
THROUGHOUT THE MIDWEST and other parts of the country, deer hunters are swapping their slug guns and muzzleloaders for rifles chambered in straight-wall cartridges thanks to changes in legislation that make these rounds legal to use. For decades, states such as Iowa, Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan prohibited the use of traditional bottleneck centerfire cartridges for deer, citing safety concerns in areas with high human-population densities. But the limited range of straight-wall cartridges makes them ideal for these places.
On the low end of the straight-wall power spectrum are pistol cartridges. That list includes the .357 Magnum and .44 Remington Magnum. Most pistol-caliber rifles are lever actions like the Marlin 1894 and Winchester 1892, but there are other choices: Ruger offers its light, handy 77/357 and 77/44 bolt guns chambered for these rounds, and there are semi-auto and single-shot options as well. The .357 and .44 Magnums are inexpensive to shoot and produce mild recoil, but their effective range is limited. Larger pistol calibers such as the .454 Casull, .460 S&W Magnum, .480 Ruger, and .500 S&W Magnum offer a straightwall profile with more punch and a flatter trajectory than the .44 Magnum (some border .45/70 Gov’t ballistics) and are an ideal choice for deer-size game at moderate ranges.
The .444 Marlin, .450 Marlin, and .45/70 are rimmed straight-wall rifle cartridges that are most commonly chambered in lever guns such as the Winchester 1886 and Marlin 1895, though there are single-shot options like the Ruger No. 1 and Winchester’s 1885. As the chart below shows, these rifles shoot flatter and hit harder than pistol-caliber straight-wall cartridges. Also, their relatively slow bullets minimize meat damage.
Ballistically, the .450 Bushmaster is close to the .45/70 in terms of velocity, trajectory, and energy, and there are many affordable rifles in both boltgun and semi-auto configurations. As long as you keep your shots to a reasonable distance, the .450 Bushmaster provides plenty of wallop for really big animals such as elk, but like the other straight-wall .44/.45 rifle cartridges, it produces significant recoil. The .450 Bushmaster is legal in most straight-wall-only states.
THE NEW KID: 350 LEGEND
Winchester’s new 350 Legend is a straight-wall case with a .378-inch rim diameter (same as a .223 Rem.) and measures 1.71 inches in length, making it legal in states like Iowa, Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan. Firing .357-inch 150-grain Winchester Extreme Point bullets at 2,325 feet per second, the 350 Legend is effective on deer-size game to 250 yards, and generates more energy than a .30/30 load from a 20-inch barrel. In addition to its relatively flat trajectory (for a straight-wall cartridge, anyway), the Legend offers two other advantages over its straight-wall competitors. First, recoil is extremely mild—20 percent less than a .243 Winchester— making the 350 Legend one of the lightest-kicking deer rifles available. Second, ammunition is affordable, costing as little as $15 a box.
BEYOND THE MIDWEST
Straight-wall cartridges will never replace bottleneck ammunition, but they do have a place in the hunting market, even for those who live in states that don’t require their use on big game. These cartridges are effective out to 200 yards or more and will tackle game up to and including elk and moose. Plus, they give hunters an excuse to tote a classic lever gun afield during fall.
A hunter dropped this whitetail with a single-shot .45/70 Gov’t.