medium bore cartridges

All About The .357 Magnum

A lot of people would submit the .357 Magnum for consideration as one of the best all-around handgun cartridges. It has a whole lot going for it, too, as it's one of the best defensive chamberings and a capable woods gun as well.


Hitch, of course, is that it's almost exclusively confined to revolvers but then again, when a lot of people add a revolver to their collection...a .357 is usually the one they get.


.38 Special Improved


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The .357 Magnum is essentially a hot load of the .38 Special, as the rounds share all but a few specifications. The major differences between the two are case length and powder charge, as well as greater ballistic performance of the longer, hotter round.


The genesis of the .357 Magnum goes back to the late 1920s/early 1930s. At the time, Smith and Wesson released a small number of revolvers quasi-chambered for .38 Special using their N-frame architecture. At the time, the N-frames were chambered for .44-40 or .44 Special but S&W got the idea to cook up a hot .38 of sorts.


They called the new guns .38-44, and released a new round to go with it, the .38-44 HV or "heavy" which were basically .38 Special rounds loaded a little hotter, albeit with a longer case. However, there were some issue with the ammunition as the case length was just a little too short to get the best out of it, which is where Elmer Keith and a cast of other characters come in.


Keith, for those unaware, was an outdoorsman extraordinaire, gun writer and wildcatter, handloading custom rounds. One such was a .38-44 HV with a slightly longer case, which solved the reliability issues the .38-44 was known for. A few others were involved, but Keith mostly gets the credit.


Part and parcel to this was a new bullet design - the Keith Semi-Wadcutter - which put more of the bullet outside the case, allowing for a bit more powder inside the longer .38-44 HV case. Smith and Wesson took notice, and after refining the design, created the .357 Magnum in 1934, named for the projectile's diameter - .357 inches, which is actually the same as the .38 Special; the case diameter of both rounds is .379 inches - and released the Registered Magnum (later re-branded the Model 27) to shoot them with the same year.


The new round caught on with the public and also law enforcement in short order, and within a matter of years, .357 Magnum revolvers started to become standard issue with various police departments and federal agencies.


What The .357 Magnum Has To Offer


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Why is the .357 Magnum so good? Why has it remained one of the most popular revolver cartridges in the history of ever? Well, because it offers a certain balance of good attributes.


It's one of the easiest of the powerful magnum rounds to shoot. The .357 creates about 35,000 psi of pressure, and - depending on the load you select - sends a projectile downrange at anywhere from 1300 to 1700 feet per second, carrying somewhere between 500 to 800 foot-pounds of energy. It shoots fast and flat, with far less bullet drop than many handgun calibers around the same dimension.


In it's day, the round was able to penetrate the early bulletproof vests and also car bodies, which led to it being popular with state patrol departments.


The .357 Magnum is one of the best handgun rounds for self-defense, as it's powerful enough to stop any threat but recoil is manageable enough for quick followup shots, though that's mostly relative to the other magnum revolver rounds. The recoil, flash and muzzle rise of the .357 Magnum is more than the other popular carry rounds such as 9mm, .40, 10mm and .45 ACP.


With the right load, it's good for handgun hunting at closer range with good shot placement, though shots past 100 yards are not recommended. At close range, it's effective on most North American game. Some would argue that it's no more than adequate, however, on the largest of ungulates (moose, elk, bison) and bears, and then only at very short distance.


Another incredible bonus is that any .357 Magnum revolver is also able to chamber .38 Special, meaning you can practice on the cheap but use the full-house loads whilst afield or concealed carrying. Just make sure to have a good holster and gun belt.


Finding A 357 Magnum Revolver


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If you want to put a magnum revolver in your collection, a .357 is probably the best place to start. While revolvers aren't as popular as they once were, a number of companies still make them and one can generally be found to fit nearly any budget.


Not only that, but you can generally find one to suit nearly any purpose you have in mind. There are plenty that fit the "service revolver" class of pistol, a good number of large-frame revolvers are also offered in this chambering. There is also a plentiful supply of snubnose revolvers offered as well, though a snub nose .357 Magnum is daunting to shoot with full-house loads.


Bear in mind, however, that a good amount of ballistic testing has shown that a 4-inch barrel length (or longer) is necessary to get the most of .357 Magnum performance. If that is a consideration for you, selecting at least that barrel length or longer is warranted.


As a result, you'll want to consider the intended application before purchasing.


Take care, however, that some magnum revolvers of any chambering are not meant to fire full-house loads on a regular basis. As a result, you'll want to tread carefully with load selection. Some, however, are built to take everything you can throw at them and still punch targets with the fury of a thousand grizzly bears (Ruger, we're looking at you!) and as a result are the ones to acquire if you intend to only shoot the high-test stuff.




Sam Hoober 

About The Author


Born in southeastern Washington State, Sam Hoober graduated in 2011 from Eastern Washington University. He resides in the great Inland Northwest, with his wife and child. His varied interests and hobbies include camping, fishing, hunting, and spending time at the gun range as often as possible.

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