Caliber Battle: .30-30 Win. vs. .350 Legend

One of the oldest and most popular cartridges of all time, the .30-30 Winchester, was released in 1895 and has been bringing all kinds of games ever since.

The .350 Legend has to catch up if it wants to compete with its 127-year-old predecessor. Released in 2019, the Legend was designed for use in states that restrict deer hunters to straight wall cartridges and was listed as the fastest cartridge currently in production.

Military snipers won’t be adopting either cartridge any time soon, but both enjoy a dedicated following of hunters who appreciate a mid-power option that can get the job done at 250 yards. Which cartridge emerges victorious in this battle between the old school and the new? Read on to find out.

These cartridges are ballistically stacked so closely together that neither can claim to hit harder than the other.

This .350 Legend from Federal, for example, can launch a 160-grain bullet at about 2300 feet per second, while this .30-30 fires a 150-grain bullet at about the same speed. The .350 wins that power matchup, but this 170-grain .30-30 option offers 1,827 ft-lbs of energy at the muzzle, while this heavier 180-grain .350 Legend only produces 1,762 ft-lbs.

In most caliber battles, one cartridge clearly offers more power and velocity in a variety of loads and bullet weights. With this matchup, the winner depends on the specific loadouts being compared.

However, as a bottleneck cartridge, the .30-30 has a slight advantage at longer ranges. It’s not a long-range powerhouse by any means, but it can be loaded with more streamlined .30-caliber bullets that offer higher ballistic coefficients (BCs).

Among Federal’s offerings, the highest BC for a .350 Legend is .259 while the highest BC for a .30-30 is .313. (For context, Federal’s highest 6.5 BC Creedmoor clocks in at .607.)

That higher BC allows the .30-30 to maintain a flatter trajectory and resist the wind more effectively. This 170-grain .30-30, for example, drops 7.7 inches at 200 yards and 26.6 inches at 300 yards. In a 10 mph crosswind, the bullet travels 7.4 inches and 17.8 inches at those distances, respectively.

The Legend has more trouble fighting wind and gravity. This 180-grain load from Federal drops 9.4 inches at 200 yards and 34.1 inches at 300 yards. A 10 mph crosswind will move the bullet 8.9 inches and 21.6 inches at those distances.

The .30-30 in this example travels about 5% faster in the muzzle, but drops about 20% less than the .350. That suggests that the difference, at least in part, is due to the bullet.

All of this may sound like hair on end, and it is. These cartridges are remarkably similar ballistically, but the .30-30’s slightly better long-distance performance gives it the edge in this category.

Winner: .30-30 Winchesters

We determine the firing capacity of a cartridge considering its cost, availability and recoil energy.

It’s safe to say that your local sporting goods store is more likely to stock the .30-30 Winchester than the .350 Legend. If you expand your search to the World Wide Web, most online dealers offer double the .30-30 options.

Midway USA, for example, which is among the best at keeping ammo in stock, reports 35 varieties of .30-30 while only 15 offerings of .350 Legend. This suggests that in normal times the .30-30 is easier to find.

But these are not normal times. At the time of this writing, five of Midway’s .350 Legend options are in stock, while the company reports that it has no .30-30 cartridges available. It’s a similar story at other online outlets. The .350 Legend is popular enough to warrant continued production, but not popular enough that shelves are empty. Bottom line? It’s a great time to have a rifle chambered in the .350.

Here’s how the cartridges compare, price wise. The .350 Legend costs between $1.15 and $2.30 per round and the .30-30 Winchester between $1.15 and $4.70 per round.

For quality hunting ammunition, expect to pay between $30 and $45 for a box of 20.

Neither cartridge produces a stiff recoil. Upon its release, the Legend was marketed as a light blowback cartridge, and the .30-30 is also known as a good choice for recoil sensitive cartridges. Both register about 9 foot-pounds of energy, about half that of a .308 Winchester.

Competition in this category is as close as ballistics, but at this point, better availability gives the .350 Legend the edge.

“Versatility” refers to the range of animals that could realistically be harvested with one cartridge. Both the Legend and the .30-30 feel more comfortable in the medium to large game category, but the .30-30 offers a slightly wider variety of bullet weights and applications.

Federal only offers two bullet weights for the Legend (160 grain and 180 grain). For the .30-30, however, the company offers multiple 150- and 170-grain loads, as well as a 125-grain jacketed hollow point and 170-grain Nosler partition that the company bills as ideal for elk.

Federal does not market any of its .350 Legend options as elk cartridges. This makes sense: the Legend was developed specifically for use in white-tail Midwestern states that require straight-sided cases. The Legend could certainly take down a moose, but “possible” isn’t the same as “ideal.” If you’re looking for a do-it-all cartridge, the .30-30 will likely serve you best.

You’re also more likely to find a rifle in .30-30, especially on the used market. Many companies now offer bolt-action, semi-automatic, and single-shot rifles chambered in the Legend, but the .30-30 can be found in the same variety. There are also thousands more .30-30 pistols floating around on the used market, so if you’re looking to save some change, the older cartridge is the way to go.

Winner: .30-30 Winchesters

And the winner is…
As the winner of two out of three categories, the .30-30 Winchester deserves the mainstream recognition. The .30-30 offers more power at certain loads, better long-range performance, and smooth recoil. The cartridges are (generally) widely available and cost no more than the .350 Legend.

Still, I hope it’s clear how close these cartridges stack. Every competition has a winner, but the truth is that you are unlikely to notice much difference from the white-tailed position.

Overall Winner: .30-30 Winchester