The Ethics of Straight-Wall Cartridges for Deer Hunting

I'm no ballistician, but I'll argue the added efficiency of straight-wall rifles over more traditional firearms is reason enough for conservation-minded hunters to welcome their use.

The Ethics of Straight-Wall Cartridges for Deer Hunting
Introduced to the public at the 2019 NSSF Shot Show, Winchester's new .350 Legend boasts serious energy and low recoil. The 180-grain Super X load has a muzzle velocity of 2,100 fps. Photo by Jennifer Kiefaber 

Way back before I could tie my own shoes I remember being taught about ethics. In Sunday School, my peers and I learned that ethical behavior meant doing the right thing even when no one was looking. Though a lesson for all aspects of life, I’ve kept the sentiment close at heart in the deer woods.

As a passionate hunter, I strive to do everything in my power to manage and harvest game animals ethically. Honestly, I can think of no element of wildlife stewardship that is more important than our respect for the life and harvest of wild game.

Growing up I had many questions about the deer regulations in my home state of North Carolina. An eager youngin’ ready to punch all of my tags, I often wondered why the state made it so challenging to harvest deer by forcing me to use archery tackle for nearly two months before muzzleloader and general firearms seasons opened!

Back then I wasn’t a fan of having to wait for legal weapon restrictions to loosen throughout the season. Nowadays, I understand and appreciate why state agencies work so hard to regulate harvests so that game populations thrive. Surely, if deer hunting was the free-for-all I dreamed of as a boy, natural resources would be overextended in no time at all.


Aside from bag limits, another pillar of hunter ethics is shooting ability. Downing game cleanly depends on shot placement. For me, weapon selection is a key step in achieving this goal. So long as they’re used as intended, modern hunting weapons are to credit for a huge upswing in cleanly harvested animals. Simply, today’s archery and firearm tackle is more effective and easier to use than ever before.


In my opinion, some new hunting legislation is also to credit for increasing hunters’ ability to ethically down game. Perhaps the most obvious of these changes is the now decade-long trend of states allowing hunters to use crossbows where such weapons before were reserved only for permitted disabled users.

Though some vertical bow purists still condemn the crossbow for the advantages it provides in the field, I’m a proponent simply because they invite new participants to enter our sport. Many crossbow recruits are youth and lady hunters who otherwise wouldn’t be able to draw back vertical bow weights necessary for legal use. Likewise, plenty still are veteran bowhunters with aging shoulders, eyesight or some other ailment.

In the last five years, there’s been another trend in hunting weapon legislation that has garnered attention. Several popular whitetail states have passed laws allowing hunters to use straight-walled centerfire rifles during firearms seasons that before were reserved for muzzleloaders and/or shotguns. Among the list of states that have made the move are Michigan, Ohio and Iowa.

So, what do these changes entail for hunters? And for game? From my limited handgun hunting experience, I’ve seen how effective modern straight-walled cartridges can be on whitetails. Thus, I honestly believe the new regulations will put more efficient weapons in hunters’ hands.


The fact that straight-wall weapons will allow hunters to execute accurate shots at greater distances is a huge positive and hopefully will result in a higher percentage of recovered animals. Though the effectiveness of every weapon ultimately depends on the user, it’s a fair argument that straight-wall rifles present less challenges for field use.

For instance, a single-shot or lever-action rifle chambered in .357 S&W Mag. or .45-70 Govt. is easier to load, cycle and clean than a muzzleloader. And either will produce flatter bullet trajectories and greater muzzle velocities than most standard muzzleloaders or shotguns.

The majority of time-tested straight-wall cartridges do possess one feature that is discouraging to many users. That’s heavy recoil. It’s understandable, as a lot of these long-in-the-tooth cartridges fire super-heavy bullets at high velocities. The result is serious knockdown power on game, but also on your shoulder.


Naturally, as the market for straight-wall hunting firearms grows, manufacturers continue to release products to fit the niche. Perhaps the most exciting of these is a new straight-wall centerfire cartridge from Winchester Ammunition.

Introduced to the world at the 2019 NSSF Shot Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, the .350 Legend is designed specifically for straight-wall hunters who desire maximum performance and minimum recoil. Said to deliver less shoulder shock that a .243 Win., this new cartridge fits the bill.

Essentially, the .350 Legend cartridge is composed of a .35 caliber bullet fitted to a modified .223 Rem. case that’s been removed of its shoulder. Though small in size (measuring only 2.25 inches in overall length), the .350 Legend is mighty in power, producing more energy than the venerable .30-30 Win.

Winchester’s Super X line has been expanded for 2019 to include a 180-grain .350 Legend offering. The load produces a muzzle velocity of 2,100 fps with 1,762 ft.-lbs. of energy. Winchester also is offering several new XPR rifles in .350 Legend this year, including the SR (Suppressor Ready) model shown on pg. 18.

It’s requisite that for anything to be considered “legendary” it must be revered amongst a group of people. Though still in its infancy, Winchester’s new round has already gathered enough interest in the whitetail hunting community to check that box. I’m excited to follow along as the Legend takes on its first deer season.

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