Is the .357 Magnum the Most Versatile Revolver Caliber of All Time?

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posted on January 27, 2021
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When it comes to selecting a centerfire revolver for general-purpose use, there are not a lot of options, and all the best options are magnums. You have the .327 Federal Magnum, the .357 Magnum, the .41 Magnum, and the .44 Magnum. Yeah, there are some larger caliber cartridges but they’re generally best for hunting only. There are also some auto-pistol cartridges like the 9 mm and 10 mm, and there’s the age old .45 Colt. However, when it comes right down to it, if you’re going to have only one revolver, the .357 Magnum is probably the best of the bunch.

With inspiration from the great gun writer Elmer Keith, the .357 Magnum was introduced in 1934. It was soon adopted by police agencies and has become an American classic. Virtually every revolver manufacturer in the world has offered a .357 Magnum in single and/or double action. And, they can be had in many sizes and with short, medium and long barrels. Here are five reasons you should consider the mighty .357.

Controllable Power

As a law enforcement cartridge, the .357 Mag. has a legendary history of stopping bad guys. Truly impressive terminal performance from a handgun starts with impact velocities faster than the speed of sound, and a 158-grain jacketed hollow point at 1,240 fps hits with more than 500 ft.-lbs. of energy. Sure, the .44 Magnum hits harder, but with that comes a level of recoil few can withstand. (There’s a reason every used .44 Magnum comes with a half-box of ammunition.) The .357 offers a balance of power and recoil most shooters can tolerate, and there are seemingly endless options when it comes to ammunition, with bullet weights ranging from 110 to 180 grains. 

Versatility with the .38 Special


For those who might find full-power .357 Magnum ammunition objectionable, .357 Magnum revolvers will also fire .38 Special ammunition. Not only is this extremely handy for the recoil-sensitive shooter, but it also allows for the use of more affordable and lighter recoiling practice ammo. Just as important, by virtue of being able to fire low-recoiling .38 Special loads, the .357 Magnum revolver is ideally suited to training new shooters and being shared by your entire family. This compatibility almost doubles the factory ammunition offerings available for a .357, which allows for the shooter to custom tune their revolver for whatever they want to do with it.

Hunting Applications


If you’re a hunter, the .357 Magnum has you covered there as well. With lightweight bullets .357 Magnum or even .38 Special loads can be very effective on small game. With the heavier bullets it can reliably take larger animals. Hardcast loads like the Buffalo Bore .357 Magnum Outdoorsman load push a 180-grain hardcast bullet as fast as 1,400 fps. This makes the .357 more than suitable for feral hogs, deer, and similar sized game. And, with loads like this, it is even sufficient for elk. In a single-action revolver with a good trigger, the .357 is easily a 100-yard hunting handgun.

Frame Size Matters

.357 Magnum revolvers come in all sizes. You can have it in a 6-inch, 46-ounce Colt Python, a 4-inch, 37-ounce Smith & Wesson Model 19, and if you can withstand the wrist twisting, you can have your .357 Magnum in an ultra-compact, snub-nose revolver like the Ruger LCR, and it will ballistically outperform any similar sized semi-automatic handgun. At less than 20 ounces these little revolvers are easy to carry on your belt, ankle, or even in a pocket. And, with such a wide range of ammunition to choose from, you can surely find a load that’s suitable for personal protection and that generates a level of recoil you can tolerate.

Rifles Too



Back in the day, cowboys appreciated revolvers that fired the same cartridge as their rifle. This greatly simplified logistics. Though not as common today, it’s still a viable approach to general-purpose firearm selection. Whether you’re wanting guns for home defense, hunting, sport shooting or all of these pursuits, the ability for a rifle and handgun to share ammo can be truly appreciated. When topped off with ammunition like the new 170-grain HammerDown load from Federal, rifles like the bolt-action Ruger 77/357 or the Marlin 1894 effectively extend the range of the .357 beyond 200 yards. This same load will function just fine in a revolver and still expand and penetrate deeply, even out of barrels as short as two inches.

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