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400 Legend: Field Testing Winchester’s New Straightwall Cartridge

The 400 Legend strikes a balance between the 350 Legend and the 450 Bushmaster
Aram von Benedikt Avatar
Winchester's Power Point Ammo now offered in 400 Legend.
Winchester

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Following the 350 Legend’s surprising popularity among hunters—especially in those states with cartridge restrictions for hunting—Winchester has announced the brand new 400 Legend; a cartridge that checks every box for the hunter who desires a hard-hitting, mild-recoiling, 300-yard deer rifle.

As we’ve seen in recent years, an increasing number of Midwestern states are embracing straight-wall cartridges for hunting, happily outdating the shoulder sledgehammers known as slug guns. These newly-designated straight-wall and primitive-cartridge states have long restricted the use of bottlenecked high-velocity rounds for big-game hunting, deeming them unsafe due to the potential for those high-velocity projectiles to travel far beyond their intended target. Whether these restrictions are unnecessary or sound reasoning, they are what they are and they have, for decades, reduced deer hunters to carrying shotguns and shooting slugs. These have ever been a close-range, body-pummeling, less-than-accurate solution. But that’s changed with the restricted-state’s evolving cartridge laws.

Recent years have seen refreshing regulation changes that enable hunters to carry straight-wall cartridges into the field. These cartridges provide greater accuracy with less punishment and, in a masterstroke of genius, the capability to be used in MSR style hunting weapons—at least in the case of the 350 and 400 Legend cartridges.

Rifles chambered in the 400 Legend will be offered in the coming year from Ruger, Savage Arms, Mossberg, CMMG, Winchester Repeating Arms, and more. Winchester

I had the opportunity to hunt with a pre-production rifle shooting pre-production 400 Legend ammunition last fall, and was blessed to harvest the whitetail buck of a lifetime. As anticipated, the cartridge and bullet performance in the field was impressive.

My shot came at the thin edge of dusk. The old bruiser had his head tipped back working a licking branch 113 yards from my position when my bullet struck him. A complete pass-through and a 48-yard dash later he crashed in a tangle of branches and briars. It was the very first animal ever harvested using the 400 Legend, and what a buck it was. Massive of body and antler, it was the perfect first field test for the new cartridge. The 215-grain Power Point bullet entered the broadside buck just behind the left shoulder, passed directly through a rib, continued on through both lungs, and exited the far side of the broadside animal, again right through a rib bone. There was energy and penetration to spare.

400 Legend Specs

  • Bullet Diameter: .4005 in.
  • Available loads: 215-grain Power Point (300-grain SuperSuppressed to follow this year)
  • Muzzle Velocity (215-grain Power Point): 2,250 fps
  • Muzzle Energy (215-grain Power Point): 2,416 ft-lbs
  • Parent Case: None
  • COL: 2.125” – 2.260”
  • Case Length: 1.650”
  • Case Head: 0.422 (Same as 6.8 SPC)
  • Twist: 1/16
  • Muzzle Velocity: 2,250 fps
  • Free Recoil: 16.26 ft-lbs
  • SAAMI Max Pressure: 45,000 psi

Origin of the 400 Legend

Cartridge specs on 400 Legend.

The 400 Legend is the bigger but ironically younger brother to the 350 Legend, which was born as a result of engineer’s search for an alternative to the .45/70 Gov’t and the 450 Bushmaster. The Bushmaster was the innovator’s first answer to the need for a bolt-action-friendly cartridge suitable for hunting the newly-announced “straight-wall” states. It was a good answer too, at least on the terminal end. But the problem with the Bushmaster is it kicks like a Missouri mule every time you touch the trigger. Shoulders and shooters alike complained.

So Winchester put their engineers to work and found a solution that met the demands of a recoil-sensitive hunting public, as well as (with a touch of brilliancy) modern shooters sporting AR-15-platform firearms. Not only did the 350 Legend shoot with the perfect manners of a British Dutchess, it also cycles through America’s favorite MSR (Modern Sporting Rifle) with the attitude of a young Marine. It may have come as no surprise to Winchester that the 350 Legend rapidly became one of their top-selling rounds.

Side by side comparison of the 350 legend and 400 legend straightwall cartridges.
The 350 Legend (left) and the 400 Legend (right). Winchester / OL

But the 350 has one small weakness. It’s, well, small. In the hands of an accurate shooter it kills with surgical precision, and out to 200 yards or so it’s more than any whitetail can handle. However some hunters wanted a round with greater authority. Unfortunately, at the time the only options were the graceful 350 or the brutal 450 Bushmaster. There was no happy medium.

Enter the 400 Legend. Bridging the gap between the 350 Legend and the 450 Bushmaster, the 400 Legend perfectly plugged the empty hole. It provides a perfect solution for the hunter who wants a harder-hitting, milder-recoiling cartridge than was heretofore available, with the bonus attribute that it is compatible with bolt-action and MSR-style rifles alike.

For your perusing pleasure are the following velocity and energy charts that compare five different loads: two 350 Legend, two 450 Bushmaster, and the currently available 400 legend load. These are basic comparison calculations developed by entering the projectile diameter and weight, advertised muzzle velocity, and G1 BC into the Ballistic AE app. Drop values are calculated using a 150-yard zero.

Ballistic tables comparing the 350 and 400 legend
Ballistic charts on the 400 legend and 450 bushmaster

Winchester designed the 400 Legend cartridge brand-new from the ground up, with the exception of the case head itself, which matches that of the 6.8 SPC. The case dimensions enable the cartridge to cycle cleanly through the action of an AR-15 firearm, and thanks to the rim and head proportions it’s compatible with any 6.8 SPC bolt.

You might ask; since this is the same diameter as the .40 S&W does it shoot the same projectiles? The answer is no; Winchester has designed all-new projectiles especially suited to the 400 Legend’s velocity and expected deer hunting distances. Theoretically, any suitably shaped .4005 diameter bullet would be useable for handloading in the new 400 Legend, however for optimal lethal performance on deer sized game you’ll be well advised to use a bullet specifically designed for that purpose.

Introducing the New Straightwall Cartridge

Winchester will officially announce the new 400 Legend at this year’s NRA show and ammunition will begin shipping in July. Rifles chambered in the 400 Legend will be offered in the coming year from Ruger, Savage Arms, Mossberg, CMMG, Winchester Repeating Arms, and more.

The first 400 Legend factory load from Winchester will feature their well-respected Power Point bullet in a 215-grain configuration, starting out the muzzle at a velocity of 2,250 feet per second.  According to factory specs this bullet provides 2,416 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle and enough downrange energy to kill effectively out to around 300 yards. Trajectory will be significant at longer distances, so if you plan on stretching the range out you’ll want to know your drop and learn to compensate accordingly.

A 300-grain “Super Suppressed” subsonic round will follow later in 2023, tailored specifically for shooting with the aid of a suppressor. More offerings will be developed and announced by Winchester in 2024, and undoubtedly other ammo manufacturers will soon jump on the bandwagon as well.

The 400 Legend at the Range

A hunter beside a big whitetail buck.
The author with his whitetail, the first animal taken with the 400 Legend.

When I hunted with the yet-to-be-announced 400 Legend last fall rifles and ammo were still in prototype stage, and the opportunity for shooting groups was limited. My rifle was a bolt-action Winchester XPR, and I was told that the final twist-rate had yet to be established, so don’t expect stellar accuracy from the rifle. Complicating my sighting in and testing was an incoming storm, complete with vicious, gusting winds up to probably 30 mph.

Read Next: The Best Rifles for the 350 Legend

Despite the prototype rifle and adverse conditions I was able to consistently average less than minute-of-deer groups at one and two hundred yards. Unfortunately I never had a chance to shoot and measure actual test groups with the new 400, and so have no hard data for you. During sight-in, my 200-yard groups were in the neighborhood of four inches (2 moa); plenty good enough to kill a buck, as I later proved. While zeroing a battery of rifles I shot perhaps 40 or 50 rounds in a couple hours time, and found the cartridge comfortable to shoot. It did kick, no doubt, but tolerably.

400 Legend vs. 350 Legend vs. 450 Bushmaster

It’s useful to draw a handful of comparisons in order to establish some reference regarding the new 400 Legend. The below percentages were calculated by Winchester and provide insight into the nature and temperament of the 400. Here are some of the most interesting:

  • Energy equivalent to the 450 Bushmaster, with 20 percent less recoil
  • Over 20 percent more energy than a .30/30 Win. and up to 25 percent more energy than a 350 Legend, while providing more penetration
  • Double the energy of a 12-gauge slug gun at 100 yards
  • 55 percent less recoil than a 12-gauge slug
  • Similar recoil to a .308 Winchester, roughly halfway between the 350 Legend and the 450 Bushmaster.

Here’s some additional interesting information, also generated by Winchester:

  • Maximum effective range on deer-sized game; 300 yards
  • Maximum effective range on larger game such as elk and large hogs and bears; 200 yards
  • Inexpensive; ammunition for the 400 will be affordable, likely between the 350 Legend and the 450 Bushmaster in price
  • 400 Legend versus 350 Legend: The 400 offers almost 30 percent more energy than the 350, providing more authority on larger game like elk and bear as well as an increase in lethal range
  • The 400 Legend is an excellent choice for hunters wishing to hunt big game with a Modern Sporting Rifle. The cartridge dimensions fit nicely inside standard receivers, and head dimensions allow for use of a 6.8 SPC bolt. Additionally, the 400 Legend provides 700 foot-pounds more energy at 200 yards than does the .223 Remington
  • Compatible with straight-wall and primitive-season regulations, providing a great alternative to shotguns loaded with slugs

Final Thoughts on the 400 Legend

The Winchester ammunition company has a long and respected legacy building American ammunition for hunters across America and around the globe. Their products are reliable and their prices are affordable. They continue to innovate, as evidenced by their very popular recent cartridges the 6.8 Western and 350 Legend, and now the brand-new 400 Legend. No doubt they will continue to do so, their ammo dropping ducks and pheasants and bringing down big old whitetail bucks long into the future. Thanks to a square hole that needed to be filled, the 400 Legend is a thoughtfully designed square peg that fits perfectly into America’s cartridge needs.