By Melissa Bachman
A very common question I run across comes from people wondering is…what is the best caliber for deer?
Obviously, this is a very personal question, but I’ve often struggled with what the best answer is, until now. Last season I shot the 350 Legend, and this seems to be the perfect combination of knockdown power, yet delivers very light recoil. Most of my shots on deer are 250-yards and in, and this is the perfect caliber for shots at this distance and in.
With this 350 Legend, you have the option of shooting 150-grain Deer Season XP ammunition that has the power to take big bucks right off their feet. I shot a big Nebraska mule deer last season and a beautiful Montana whitetail where this truly shined. It took the whitetail right off its feet and made me a believer. Think of it as a modern-day 30-30 that is the fastest straight-walled hunting cartridge ever made. The fact that it’s a straight wall cartridge is great because this allows people to use it in numerous states that don’t offer rifle calibers but allow straight-walled cartridges or slugs. This will be the perfect round for Iowa in my mind because most of the shots are inside that 200 to the 250-yard range and the accuracy one gets with this caliber is truly unbelievable.
Most of my shots are 250-yards and in, so this is the ideal round for those distances. Next, I was truly amazed by the lack of recoil. This caliber has 20% less recoil than a .243 but gets 20% more penetration. The best part is the 350 Legend is a straight-walled cartridge. It is the fastest straight-walled hunting cartridge ever made. So, for many states with restrictions, this is the ideal caliber. For people hunting in states like Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana this round gives them another option with incredible ballistics. I was using the 150-grain Deer Season XP which has a large diameter polymer tip providing rapid trauma and huge wound channels. You get a massive downrange energy-transfer. This means incredible knockdown-power. It actually has more energy than a .30-30 Win and less recoil than a .450 bushmaster.
First up was a Nebraska mule deer. We ended up sneaking in on an absolute monster and got inside 50-yards. I made a good, clean shot and this buck went straight down within eyesight. To see a caliber with this light of recoil put a huge mule deer down was impressive, to say the least. This was my biggest mule deer to date, and I knew the results would speak for themselves when people started seeing what this caliber could do.
Next, we headed to Southeast Montana to rattle in whitetails on the Powder River. What I love about rattling in whitetails is the non-stop excitement and interaction. Even though not every buck I rattle in might be a shooter, the anticipation is so much fun. Most of the time when rattling shots will be 100-yards and in. After a short rattling sequence, we looked up and had a nice mature deer looking for a fight. When he was slightly quartering, I squeezed the trigger and dropped this buck right in his tracks. I couldn’t get over how minimal the recoil was; less than a .243 yet has the knockdown power to knock a big buck right off its feet.
The 350 legend is a great caliber for new hunters, women, kids, and really anyone who doesn’t want a ton of recoil. Usually, I shoot a .300 Win. Mag. with a 180-grain bullet. This packs quite a punch, but after using the 350 legend and seeing the results, I’m completely sold. As a rule, most people shoot better when there is less recoil. It allows for a quicker follow-up shot if needed and normally helps ensure that the first shot is even better with less chance of jerking the trigger. I like to use a suppressor, so with my Silent Legion suppressor in a .375 H&H the recoil is hardly even noticeable. The Winchester XPR’s are all threaded for a suppressor if you’d like and their short barrel makes this an amazing gun in the field.
Recently we took our son Max out on his first doe hunt and naturally the 350 legend was our caliber of choice. We live in a wonderful small town in South Dakota and one of the pheasant operations, Wild Wings has a ton of deer on their property and actually posted a note in the paper telling any kid in the community that they were welcome to come out and fill their doe tag, free of charge.
The best part about this is kids love a lot of action, and none were disappointed. Does streamed out of the trees heading to their food plots and there were plenty of opportunities (which is sometimes needed with kids). Although the hunt was quite cold Max was dead set on harvesting a doe. We headed out on New Year’s Eve carrying our blind, all the gear, a shovel and of course a big smile across Max’s face.
We found a good ambush spot with the wind in our favor, popped up a blind and began waiting. We wanted Max’s shot to be inside 100-yards and unfortunately, the deer started coming out a little further away than we were hoping. Luckily a snowmobile drove by spooking all the deer off and we decided this was the time to make our move. We picked up our gear, Ben my husband lifted the blind and we scooted everything forward another 80-yards. It wasn’t 15 minutes after our move deer started coming back out and this time a big buck lead the way. Unfortunately, Max’s South Dakota mentor tag only allowed for a doe so we filmed the buck, then watched as a couple of does walked within 60-yards of our blind.
Max was setup on a Bog Pod Death Grip, which I love because it holds the gun in the perfect position and its always ready. Max got on the gun, settled in on a big doe and squeezed the trigger. A perfectly placed shot had this doe piled up not far away and he was so excited. This deer would be one we kept to fill the freezer. Many of my deer throughout the year are donated to local families in need, but when the kids harvest an animal, we always process theirs. I’ve found it to be super rewarding throughout the year that they know they put the food on the table from an animal they harvested.
When starting kids or new hunters off it is so important to not only set them up with the right equipment but to ensure that they are not afraid of any part of the process. If they’re scared to shoot a gun, start out by shooting it for them so they can see it’s not going to have a ton of recoil. Give them a set of shooting sticks that makes them feel comfortable and allows for a very steady shot. Next, ensure they have the right gear to stay warm, dry or whatever the elements may present. Lastly, explain every part of the hunt and why each aspect is important. From field dressing the deer to processing it and even learning how to cook it later on. It’s all about making it fun, creating lasting memories in the field and ultimately bringing another new hunter for life into our great sport. In my opinion, there is no better way to attract more hunters than by word of mouth from one new hunter to their friends. If they had a positive experience, they will talk about it in a wide variety of instances in the future, completely unprovoked.
We all know that getting more people into the hunting world is of top importance and see the numbers declining, but often wonder what can be done to help? I believe this happens one new hunter at a time. So, within my show, Winchester Deadly Passion, I created a segment called Memory Chase where anyone 18 and under can submit their footage for a chance to be highlighted on the show. I pick 10 lucky kids a year and not only will their footage be edited and put on TV, but they also win a prize pack worth over $1,500. It’s just a fun way to get more kids excited about hunting, and give them some incentive to get out there, create some family bonds and get their harvest on camera, even if it’s just a cell phone.
So, if you have someone in your community, a son or daughter, relative, wife or girlfriend- do your best to help introduce them to the amazing world of hunting and remember that getting them started with the right gear is essential. In my mind, the 350 Legend is the perfect caliber for the closer shots and the limited recoil is key along with the incredible performance and knockdown power I know that there are many hunters out there who aren’t too worried about recoil, but this caliber really is a joy to shoot.
To top off this caliber, Winchester designed the Deer Season XP in a 350 legend, which is made specifically for bucks. They’ve done tons of research and development to ensure this load offers everything a deer hunter is looking for. Incredible accuracy, great penetration with a huge impact and powerful knockdown power. All this leads to quick, clean kills and happy deer hunters!
I read all the stats and knew this would be a hit, but honestly, it’s the results that speak for themselves. Winchester has filled a void that many didn’t even know existed. Now anytime someone asks me what my number one caliber suggestion for deer would be, the answer is easy, the 350 Legend.
So, in the end, if you’re in the market for a new gun or just want to give something a try, I’d highly recommend giving the 350 legend a chance. You won’t be disappointed!