Educational Zone #104 – Interesting Cartridges – The Mighty .357 Magnum

In 1970, I went to work as a Patrolman at the Port Arthur, Texas, Police Department. I was issued uniforms and a Sam Brown pistol belt with all the accessories.

Lt. Spradlin loaned me a Model 10 Smith & Wesson .38 Special pistol until I could buy one of my own. He also issued me eighteen Remington .38 Special, 158 grain Round Nose Lead cartridges.

Six for the pistol and 12 for my cartridge holder. I was as ready as they got back in 1970.

We were allowed to carry only a .38 Special with a 4 inch barrel. They bent the rules a little and allowed us to carry a .357 Magnum pistol, but we had to load it with .38 Specials. They were kind of “loose” with this policy, but no one knew much better.

Now the commanding officers were good guys, but they didn’t really know much about ballistics, as not many people did back in those days. The .38 Special had been the service pistol for police officers all across the country for 50+ years, and it was “what you used”.

I had always been interested in ballistics and began to study the subject. I knew that the .38 Special was on the “weak” side, but what could you do?

But one day, I was talking with an old Patrolman and he was carrying a .357 Magnum and had it loaded with .357 Magnum rounds. I asked him why and he said, “Because the .357 Magnum is the Hookin’ Bull.”

I knew then that I had to get one.

The .357 Magnum was designed in the mid-1930s after some experiments by Elmer Keith, where he use a heavy pistol called the .38/44 Heavy Duty, which was a pistol with a heavy .44 Special frame in .38 Special and loaded it hotter and hotter until he had about maxed out the potential velocity. He talked S&W and Remington into developing a cartridge that had a case that was approximately one-tenth of an inch longer than the .38 Special and to call it the .357 Magnum. Both the .38 Special and the .357 Magnum use bullets that are .357 or .358 inches in diameter. But the longer case of the .357 Magnum would prevent the hotter cartridges from being loaded into weaker .38 Special pistols.

The result was a great round. It originally had a Keith-type semi-wadcutter bullet of around 160 grains, loaded to a scorching 1,500+ fps in the original loadings. This was soon reduced to around 1,400 fps, still plenty hot.

This new cartridge was much more powerful that the old .38 Special rounds which were usually loaded to around 800 fps, and was used by Elmer Keith and Col. Wesson to take just about every game animal in North America.

It is important to understand that in those days, reliable Jacketed Hollow Point or Soft Point bullets were unknown and unavailable. But a good Keith bullet with a large, flat meplat was about the best thing going. It remained so for many years.

Of course, false rumors soon ran rampant about the .357 Magnum, such as the rumor that it would “bust a motor block on a car”. It will, of course, do no such thing.

But it sure did penetrate doors and tires, and bad guys very well.

I cast a lead, Keith-type bullet for the .357 Mag.

Mine is the Lyman #358156, a 158 grain SWC with a gas check.

Old Elmer didn’t like gas checks, but I do.

I have found that I can drive these bullets to 1,400+ fps with no leading at all and they are a lot cheaper than JHPs.

Here’s is my 4 cavity gang mold, which sure speeds up production.

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You can easily pour the 4 bullets, one after the other.

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A little work and you have a bunch of bullets ready to size and lube.

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Then a run through the Lyman 450 Sizer Lubricator and size them to .358 diameter and crimp on the gas check.

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You will then have a bunch of bullets, lined up like little soldiers, ready to load.

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I charge the prepared cases with a stout load of Accurate Arms #9 Powder.

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Then place a cast bullet on top of each case.

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Seat the bullet and crimp it in place (important with hard-kicking rounds in revolvers),

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and you have a loaded cartridge.

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Here is one of my .357 loads on the left and a standard .38 Special on the right.

You can easily see the longer case of the .357 Mag.

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I have a few pistols that shoot the .357 Magnum. A couple of my favorites are these top two. 

They are both S&W Model 27s, the top one with a 8 3/8th inch barrel and the second one with an 6 inch barrel.

I believe that to really get the advertised velocity from a .357 Mag, you need enough barrel to burn the powder.

These heavy pistols can easily handle the hot loads and are not unpleasant to shoot with hot loads.

The third pistol is my buddy Ted’s Model 28, called the Highway Patrolman.

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The Model 27 was the “Top of the Line” model with the very deep S&W deep bluing.

It is different from the Model 28 in that the Model 28 had a less shiny bluing.

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The 27 had a checkered top strap and rib, and the 28 was smooth.

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The 27 also had the large wooden grips, while the 28 usually came with the smaller grips.

They were both great revolvers, extremely strong. The only differences were cosmetic.

They are surprisingly accurate. You can shoot .38 Special target loads in a .357 Magnum revolver for target practice.

But I have found that these pistols often “like” the hot .357 loads and shoot them very well.

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Here’s a typical target with a group shot with hot loads. That’s 18 rounds.

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The .357 Mag is about the heaviest kicking pistol that most people can handle in combat shooting.

Here I am doing a Type B response on a target (two to the chest, and one to the head, quickly as possible)

It is a hand full, but it can be done with practice.

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The target is at about 10 yards.

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Here are the results, not perfect, but plenty good enough for combat.

Harder than you might think with a hard-kicking pistol.

One thing for sure…..When that 160 grain round gets there doing 1,400+ fps, it speaks with some authority.

Modern Jacketed Hollow Point cartridges make this round ever better than it used to be and it is an excellent hunting round, certainly powerful enough for deer sized game.

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I enjoy shooting the long barreled Model 27, as the longer sight radius helps with long range accuracy.

Today we were bouncing a piece of wood around on the 50 yard berm without much trouble.

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Here’s Ted shooting some through his Model 28. As you can see the Alox lube causes a little smoke, but they do not lead the barrel at all and are very accurate.

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Conclusion:
If you’ve never had the pleasure, look for a chance to meet the Mighty .357 Magnum. You’re gonna like it.