Bottle-necked pistol cartridges have not had a great deal of success in the last century or so. The .44-40 Win. was a darling of the Old West and remains a classic to this day, but any attempts at getting a bottle-necked to take root seem to have fallen on their respective faces. The .256 Win. – a .357 Mag. cartridge necked down to hold .257-inch bullets – and the .22 Rem. Jet Magnum and .221 Rem. Fireball all either found their niche in the rifle world or faded into obscurity. There were a variety of European designs, like the .360 Mars and the 9.4 mm Dutch, that saw the light of day, but again, there’s a reason you’ve probably never heard of them. However, the .357 SIG is a horse of a different color, but does it have the goods to keep its head above water?
The .357 SIG was released in 1994 as a joint venture between SIG Sauer and Federal Premium as an attempt to replicate the ballistics of the .357 Mag. cartridge – the darling of the wheelgun crowd – in an autoloading pistol. The concept was to use the 10 mm cartridge, necked down to hold the .357-inch bullets we love so much. It would use an 18-degree shoulder, a short neck measuring 0.275 inch and run on a standard small pistol primers. There were some issues early on with brass separation, but that has been rectified. The goal was to drive a 125-grain bullet to a muzzle velocity of 1,350 fps – in deference to the favored load of the .357 Mag. – but in a shorter, smaller, easier-to-handle firearm. The goal was reached, and the .357 SIG is a perfectly viable cartridge.
It was adopted by several law-enforcement agencies, with rather good results. The .357 SIG has a good balance of velocity, bullet weight and terminal ballistics, however there are some who find the recoil level and muzzle blast of the SIG to be more than acceptable. There was one episode, involving a shootout between several law-enforcement officers and a suspect in a tractor trailer. One officer was armed with the .357 SIG, the other armed with a .45 ACP. Subsequent reviews of the scene revealed that the .357 SIG actually out-penetrated the .45, and while that point can be argued and debated, it’s evident that the .357 SIG has penetrative qualities. There is a definite increase in muzzle blast, inarguably, when compared to the parent .40 S&W, though I feel the recoil is on par.
The .357 SIG is on the decline though, both among LEOs and civilian shooters. Why? Well, there’s that muzzle blast issue, and I’ve read complaints of recoil levels. However I feel it’s the affordability and availability of the trio of 9 mm /.40 S&W/.45 ACP, combined with the moderate muzzle velocity and recoil/report levels of those three, that might have sealed the deal for the .357 SIG. Yet, there are those who still champion the cartridge.
My pal Pat Vitetta, Jr., who shoots quite a bit of IDPA and USPSC competitions, is a huge fan of the .357 SIG. He’s used his Glock 32 in .357 SIG to good effect, and it’s brought him home several trophies.
“Phil, the .357 SIG is a great design, and in my experiences, I’ve encountered less malfunctions, jams, whatever you’d like to call them, than with any other cartridge," Vitetta, Jr. said. "I find it to be extremely reliable, and once you become familiar with it, it is seriously accurate.”
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that Pat spends more time behind a pistol trigger than I do, and I know he uses several different cartridges routinely.
“I’ve done a bit of research into the effectiveness of the .357 SIG, and it engenders quite a bit of confidence," he said. "I can hit what I’m aiming at, and the terminal ballistics of the SIG are exactly what I’m after. Speed kills, as we all know, and I like the way the .357 handles.”
Pat is well-versed in pistol performance, and gets to use a variety of calibers, yet still feels the .357 SIG is a viable design, and I have to agree with him. However, sales for the .357 SIG still decline. I think that the need for a hotter 9 mm has been well-met by the .357 SIG, but unlike the rifle world – where a wildcat or niche cartridge can thrive in the underworld for decades – pistol cartridges tend to rely on availability. In the semi-automatic handgun circles, the trio of 9 mm-.40-.45 has that pretty well locked up.