A few thoughts to try to organize some of the concepts In this thread.
1) Winchester lobbied hard in several states to introduce a 1.8” maximum case length restriction for straight wall cartridges and did so with the .350 Legend specifically in mind. It isn’t just about straight wall cases, or a certain performance level relative to shot gun slugs and in line muzzle loaders, it’s about straight wall cases and a totally arbitrary 1.8” case length designed to eliminate longer but comparable performing bald powder era cartridges.
As a rimless case, it’s well suited to use in the AR-15, which has become the most popular rifle sold in the US. Winchester saw an opportunity to sell a lot of ammo to the AR crowd as well as an opportunity to sell more bolt action rifles to hunters in those states.
However, Winchester seems to have done so at the expense of the .30-30 and .38-55 In terms of it ammo manufacturing priorities. On the one hand Winchester has apparently learned from its previous mid bore cartridge introduction disasters with the .375 Win, .356 Win and .307 Win where rifles were available but ammo was not. On the other hand, even here in eastern NC where there is no straight wall requirement, the shelves have been packed with .350 Legend ammo, while I have seen a total of 6 boxes of .30-30 in the last six months in local store. Now…there may have been more that flew off the shelves that I didn’t see, but the point is there is a surplus of .350 Legend compared to demand and a shortage of .30-30.
.38-55 has never been easy to find, and that hasn’t changed. The major change is .30-30 now isn’t easy to find and it’s no longer a common and low cost center fire rifle cartridge. The fact there are at least 13 million lever guns out there chambered for it no longer seems to be a point in its favor.
2) Remington developed the .360 Buck Hammer (which is in my opinion an unfortunate and stupid name for an otherwise good cartridge) to both provide a 1.8” compliant straight wall cartridge that will function in a lever gun, and fill the niche created by the scarcity of .30-30 ammo in all those other states where lever gun toting hunters are finding .30-30 harder to get. Again the goal is to sell new rifles and ammo to shoot in them.
3) We can talk about relative performance of the .350 Legend, .360 Buck Hammer, and the .357 Max in 20” rifles, but the fact is none of them are much different than standard pressure .38-55 or .30-30 performance.
Which is where the regulations adopted by those straight was states get it wrong. If the lower pressure .38-55 and .30-30 don’t perform significantly better than it makes sense to bring them in under an exception.
Similarly the black powder era bottle necked cases like the .44-40 and .38-40 are fine short range lever gun deer cartridges. In both cases the bottle neck was just used to get the case to seal against the chamber wall faster at low black powder pressures to reduce the gas and fouling coming back into the action on a lever gun. Bottle neck or not, it’s still a pistol class cartridge that clearly meets the spirit, intent, and performance parameters of a “straight wall” cartridge restriction.
But…the .350 Legend is being pushed by a large ammo manufacturer, and the same thing is developing with Remington and the .360 Buck Hammer.
4) The practical options and alternatives are somewhat limited.
Almost no one chambers firearms for the .357 Max, and with T/C being acquired by S&W and the Encore being discontinued, I don’t know of any company currently making a .357 Max rifle or carbine. Ironically, out of all the cartridges being discussed .357 Max is the only cartridge for which Starline actually has brass in stock.
The .38-55 is a superb cartridge but unless you are made of money and have an in with a wholesaler it’s a “hand load only” proposition. But it’s an exceptional round for cast bullet shooting, and one that doesn’t involve a lot of compromises using cast bullets.
The .375 Win is now an orphan cartridge and has even been relegated by Hornady to its “obsolete“ cartridge section, with Hornady no longer producing a .375“ bullet. Barnes still makes a 255 gr bullet for it, and Sierra makes a suitable bullet as well, but I have not seen either of them in 4-5 years. Unfortunately the .375 Win isn’t as cast bullet friendly as the .38-55. Between the large throat diameter, small bore diameter, and fast rifling twist you have to work a lot harder to find a sweet spot that works and then the performance isn’t any better than you get with the .38-55 with much less effort. Buffalo Bore‘s .38-55 Heavy ammo can be fired in the .375 Win, but it’s about $85 per box.
Starline still makes brass for the “long“ 2.125” and “short” 2.080” .38-55 variations as well as 2.020” .375 Win brass.
On the other hand, Winchester chose a .355” bullet for the .350 Legend which at present limits it’s hand loading potential. That was probably intentional.
Personally, I’d love to see cast bullet .30-30, cast bullet .38-55, and cast bullet .45-70 exceptions in those 1.8” straight wall states. It would be easier to obtain than a general exception for those cartridges and would provide effective, and cost effective options for hunters with lever guns in those calibers.