conceal carry revolver

One Can Concealed Carry .357 Magnum Pistols...Though Some Are Better Suited Than Others

Part of the whole "caliber wars" thing is a number of malcontents that insist that only concealed carry .357 Magnum pistols (or larger caliber) are acceptable. Puny auto rounds like the 9mm Parabellum (aka 9mm Luger, or just 9mm), .40 S&W and .45 ACP are just not good enough.

This means one has to obtain a concealed carry revolver, though there's certainly nothing wrong with that. At least, that's usually what it means. However, those determined to carry this caliber will have some compromises to make.

The .357 Magnum - The King Of Small Cartridges

.357 ammunition

The .357 Magnum is the king of the moderate-sized handgun rounds, of that there is no doubt. There are bigger, faster handgun rounds available, such as the .41 Magnum and .44 Magnum (feel lucky?), and so on.

However, the .357 Magnum occupies a "Goldilocks zone" between the moderately-sized cartridges and the larger cartridges. The recoil is manageable enough for a lot of shooters, and the performance is such that it's an outstanding personal defense round.

The genesis of the round starts with Elmer Keith, the gunwriter, handloader and outdoorsman. Keith was a proponent of fast, heavy calibers, believing they delivered the injury to animals and/or bad guys sufficient to down them in the short order.

Back in 30s, Smith and Wesson made a number of .38 Special revolvers with .44 caliber revolver frames, which they chambered for a hot .38 Special round - the .38-44 HV. Keith realized that with a bit of tinkering to the projectile, the cartridge case could be loaded to even higher pressures, which those pistols could withstand.

Eventually, that got back to Smith and Wesson, and they tinkered a bit more. Eventually, they called it .357 Magnum and started selling it. The round propels a .357-in diameter projectile (same as .38 Special - hence why .38 Spl can be fired by a .357 Magnum revolver) at velocities between 1200 and 1700 feet per second, double that of many .38 Special rounds.

Police of the era found it capable of piercing car doors, windshields and bulletproof vests of the day, which helped it catch on with police and civilians alike as a manageable yet very powerful round.

Good For Use In Concealed Carry Revolver

357 revolver

Generally, the idea of a magnum revolver conjures images of a 4- to 6-inch barrel, 6-shot cylinder and large grips - not ideal for a concealed carry revolver. Perfectly fine for open carry in the woods, around the home or if one is going to open carry in general, but not necessarily for concealed carry without outerwear.

However, there are a number of .357 Magnums for concealed carry available. Smith and Wesson,the commercial progenitor of the round, make a number of J-frame revolvers chambered in that round. A number of other handgun makers such as Ruger, Taurus, Charter Arms, Chiappa, Rossi also make snub-nose/short-barrel revolvers chambered in .357 Magnum as well.

The concealable models will usually have a 2- to 3-inch barrel, and five-shot cylinders, as most concealed carry revolvers do. Expect a concealable magnum to be a bit heavier than their .38 Special counterparts as well, as the frame often has to be beefed up a bit to accommodate the higher chamber pressure. Some medium frame revolvers that are optimized for concealment, such as some models of the Ruger GP100 and S&W K-frame, can be had as well.

Unfortunately, there are only a few autos that are able to chamber this round. Chamber pressures aren't normally the issue; .357 Magnum pressures aren't far removed from 9mm +P pressures. The issue is actually case length, as the cartridge case is too long to fit in most autos.

A small number of magnum semi-auto pistols are out there, though they are fairly boutique and expensive. Two autos chambered for this round are the Magnum Research Desert Eagle and the Coonan Inc family of pistols. The latter are based on the 1911 platform, and compact models are available for concealed carry.

The former, however, is not easily concealable.

As a result, if a person wants to concealed carry a .357 Magnum, it's perfectly feasible. Granted, it's all but assured that one will have to carry a revolver, but there's nothing really wrong with that.

What If A Person Doesn't Want A .357 Revolver?

revolver vs semi-auto pistols

The wheel-gun aspect puts a lot of people off; a lot of people will shy away from a .357 revolver in favor of a semi-auto. Having a capacity of five or six shots in one's carry gun can seem insufficient to some, and not everyone wants to carry multiple guns for a New York reload, which was how many police officers carried in the days when wheel guns were more common for police.

Additionally, some people find snub-nose revolvers to have too much recoil for them to handle, even with a moderate .38 Special round. It will be worse with a .357 Magnum, and in fact may be more than some will be able to shoot more than once if needs be.

There are a few rounds with ballistic performance close to the .357 Magnum that are available in semi-autos and with less ample recoil than a snub-nose. A good number of 9mm +P (overpressure) loads, for instance, reach similar velocities as many .357 loads. The 7.62x25mm Tokarev round is similarly a real screamer (velocities in excess of 1300 fps are not unusual) but is very rare; good luck finding rounds in stores.

More common auto rounds that rival the .357 Magnum for performance include the .38 Super, which dates to the same era. The .38 Super - which was also known for penetrating glass, thin steel and bulletproof vests of the day - was developed by Colt in the 1930s and optimized for use in the 1911 platform; conversions are possible and a number of companies produce pistols chambered for this round. Sig Sauer developed a proprietary cartridge, the .357 Sig, which has nearly identical performance and has found favor with some law enforcement agencies.

The drawback to .38 Super and .357 Sig, however, is that both rounds are expensive (more so than .357 Magnum) and harder to find in stores. They also exact a higher toll, as pistols chambered in these rounds require more frequent servicing and can have a shorter lifespan due to the wear of the higher pressure ammunition. That said, they both pack a wallop and can be used in a semi-auto.

Tips For .357 Magnum Concealed Carry

357 mag ccw

Decided that .357 Magnum concealed carry is for you? Awesome! However, there are definitely a few things that you should know and be prepared for.

First is the issue of barrel length. What's generally known about bullets of any caliber or platform (handguns, long guns, etc.) is the longer the barrel, the better the performance of a bullet. Handguns generally need about a 4-inch barrel to get good performance from most bullets and especially with magnum rounds.

However, a 4-inch gun K-frame or GP100 is not going to be the easiest gun to concealed carry. Unless you plan to conceal under a jacket year round...not very practical. That means a shorter barrel is called for.

This gives you the choice of either a compact medium-frame, such as a compact K-frame or Ruger SP101, or a snubbie. The former are still big (A S&W Model 66 Combat Magnum is the size of a Commander-frame 1911) and not the easiest to conceal and carry every day, but doable. Snubbies are easy to carry...but wickedly nasty to shoot magnum rounds through, which will impact how well you shoot it. The compact medium guns aren't exactly a Swedish massage either.

That said, load selection will be critical. You'll need to select a quality short-barrel loading for concealed carry, as most .357 Magnum loads are designed for full-size guns.

Some people pick up a compact .357 Magnum for use as a woods gun. Certainly not a bad choice, and a compact magnum can actually work in both roles as this is one of the few rounds well-suited to that usage. However, again, load selection is critical. For humans, you want hollow points that expand reliably in soft tissue. For critters, you want deep penetration and controlled expansion.

For that purpose, JHP rounds are out. Lead semi-wadcutter hollowpoints will be as well; the classic 158-grain LSWCHP only works well out of a 4-inch barrel. Solid cast bullets such as wadcutters and Keith semi-wadcutters both work regardless of barrel length. If you can find a jacketed flat point or other soft-point round designed for short barrel guns, those are solid woods carry rounds and will do for two-legged predators, coyotes, wolves and will do for all but the largest black bears.

Browns, though...require much, much stronger medicine.

If you decide to carry a compact .357 Magnum, take care to select an appropriate carry round, and make sure you can shoot it well. If you can't shoot the thing, there's no point in carrying it.

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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