View Full Version : Bubba vs Ballistics? - Why the 357 gets no respect

July 7, 2005, 10:53 AM
This year I wanted to try handgun hunting for deer since I mainly go to enjoy the outdoors, not really caring if I put a hole in anything or not. I was going to use a 41 mag, since no one seems to question that it can easily drop a whitetail. But now I got myself interested in what seems to be the underdog in the game of things...the 357.

But the former world's most powerful handgun doesnt seem to be getting much respect these days. Much like the 30-30, which I've never been even the least bit concerned of its ability to drop a deer in wooded ranges, everyone seems to be calling the original magnum "marginal at best" on a tiny little 125lb deer. My question is why?

Now I'm not about to come into this without checking things out a bit first. I've gotten into loading my own over the last few months, so I'm learning a bit about how things really work beyond *squeeze-boom.* A quick look at Remington's site shows the 41 mag 210gr hunting load doing 1300fps and 788lbs muzzle energy. The 357 165gr hunting load is 1290fps and 610lbs at the muzzle. At ranges of 50-75 yds, sometimes less, does that little bit of difference really matter?

To me at least, it all seems like a reason for Bubba the Hunter to justify that 454 that swings over his head from recoil every time he shows off to his hunting buddies. If the 41 mag will take out an elk with relative ease, a 357 loading that's only trailing by a tad I'd think would do equally as well on a little whitey. Am I wrong? I love my 41 to bits, but now all this talk has got me wanting to prove that the world's first magnum still has a place in the world as a perfectly useful cartridge.

BTW...pistols I'd be using would be a 6.?" Smith 686 in 357 or a 7.?" Blackhawk in 41. Somewhere around there. :o


July 7, 2005, 08:20 PM
I find marginal to be a rather grey area. Some people call the .243 Winchester marginal for deer but it keeps taking em reliably in the hands of the right guy. Ive heard that the .270 is marginal for Elk yet boddington dropped one a 410 yards with... you guessed it a .270.

I dont know about handguns or handgun hunting but it appears to me that many if not most people underestimate the potential of rounds. These are also the people who would carry a .30-378 into the white tail fields.

July 7, 2005, 08:47 PM
I was reading a FBI report some time back that the 357 mag had more one shot drop kills than any other hand gun against people. The only thing that beat it was the shotgun.

The 357 mag and the report could be debated all night! but the way I figure it the 357 mag can't be all the bad of a round and in the hands of a skilled shooter it would be deadly for game animals

July 8, 2005, 09:52 AM
When I'm humping my tree stand to my site (I try to get it there the night before), I carry my 357mag in case I jump a deer. In the thick and brushy mountains where I hunt, it's possible. So far, I haven't had the opportunity to use it.

People that have shot deer with the 357mag suggest a heavy bullet load. IIRC, Paco Kelly said a 180gr hard cast bullet will penetrate from one end to another on the small deer we have in Va. I'm comfortable with a broadside shot out to 50yds myself.

FWIW, I use 180gr Hornady XTP at 1250fps or so.

If I can find that article, I'll post a link.


July 8, 2005, 10:08 AM
Here's the article. I had it saved on my PC. I can't find the original link...

All credit goes to Paco Kelly.



There is no contest, the 38spc./357 magnum cartridges and caliber are #1 in America today, and have been for decades...and decades ....and....more. And they are extremely popular in other countries as well. But I feel because of the inordinate focus of the shooting world today on the megamagnums and extraordinary handgun power...the 357 magnum has been unfairly relegated to position of a substandard handgun hunting round.

It is just not true. Many of my friends say they draw the line at the 41 magnum for hunting....why? In my experience with heavy bullets and heavy loads in strong guns the 357 is a killer with power. There are a plethora of heavy bullets/jacketed and cast...and numerous powders that can be successfully used with them. The cast bullet designs are from round nose to totally flat and everything in between. The jacketed designs are soft nose, hollow point, and full patch....there are some bullets designed for 358 caliber rifles that will work well. Though we have to be careful with the rifle bullets, some are absolutely too stiff with handgun velocities to do much but punch holes.

Is the 357 magnum in a handgun format powerful enough to hunt big game? First of all we have to define big game. At the phrase some think deer, and others immediately think elk size and larger, others even switch into African game animal images. As much as most of us are into reloading to get much better performance from our firearms...the great majority of shooters and hunters use commercial ammo. Outside of performance ammo loaded by specialty companies like Cor-Bon and Buffalo Bore, most of the commercial ammo is loaded to moderate or less pressures. Big game for this caliber, is up to small elk.....generally around 250 lbs to 350 lbs on the top end. Moderate commercial loads won’t do it.

The early loadings of the 357 reached pressures in the high mid 40,000 psi levels. One 1938 load we tested went 47,000 psi plus! These were loaded for heavy frame sixguns...not the small framed genre of popular designs for personal protection, that have come along over the last few decades. But we have more heavy frame sixguns today then we ever had in the 1930s thru the 1950s. Both single action and double action designs that will take heavy pressures...pressures the original 357 cartridge was designed to work at. Not only take those pressures but sustain them over thousands and thousands of rounds...I have one Ruger 357 single action that has it’s barrel changed twice...and you have to work at burning the throat out of a Ruger...their steel is superb. I have no idea of the number of rounds fired from that gun...but it was a test bed for a reloading company we had back in the late 1980s in Tucson Az. We used to call it ‘old faithful’. It just fired everything and kept on truckin’...and some of the loads were totally red line.

While a law enforcement officer with over 30 years, and 23 years of that, just in the drug control and homicide areas...I had the opportunity to see at extremely close hand the results of way over a dozen shootings involving the 357...and had agency records on hundreds more. There is no argument for me as to the 357s ability as a defense caliber with the right ammunition. One of my ancillary duties at one time, was as the Chief Firearms Officer for DEA for the Southern District of Arizona. But I was privy to all shootings occurring everywhere, in the Department of Justice agencies, for more than a decade. At the time a number of those agencies were required to carry the 357. So there were lots of that caliber involved in shootings. The general pubic has no idea as to the number of shootings in the enforcement arenas that go on each year. In fact the anti gunners love to add in the police shootings to the number of humans killed each year by handguns. Very tacky on their part. As most police agencies learned, the 357 is an exceptionally pragmatic and efficient weapon for enforcement purposes when loaded with the right ammo. Those in my agencies that carried the 357 had to carry as a minimum 158/160grain magnum plus P loads.

The key to the 357 like most calibers, is the right bullet for the intended purpose, but it is even more important with the 357/38 class of loadings. I know I’m going to get a bunch of negative E-Mail on this paragraph...but at least try to have an open mind while I fully explain and back it up with experience. With a handgun used for defense inside a house or apartment, the 110 to 125 grain 357 commercial rounds are acceptable to me for only one reason....they tend not to penetrate fully the walls or slow down greatly going thru one. Probably the most deadly commercial round we used in the 1970s and 1980s was the Remington 125 grain scallop hollow pointed 357, when it worked properly. But we had a large number of shootings where that bullet...the best of the best then...failed to open when penetrating heavy clothing...especially leather jackets. The various 110 or less weighted hollow points are for home protection only as far as I’m concerned. At across the room distances and with near muzzle energy and velocity they are I feel, in the same class as heavy loaded 32 H&R magnums and light bullet 9 mms. I’m not saying they won’t do the job...I’m saying that is their place. Not for the varied and sometimes difficult situations police get into.

For example I once had to fire on someone thru a car windshield...the various light bullets would have never made it....but the Winchester 160 grain gilded +P+ Keith shaped load did the business very well.

The auto crazy of the late 1980s and early 1990s all but removed the revolver from law enforcement...but they went at first with the 9 mm and ultra high velocity light weight bullets. .Law Enforcement departments all over the country today are quietly switching from their beloved 9mms to the 40 S&W and 45 acp. Why? The light bulleted 38s/357s/9mms are failing under certain conditions. For home protection and close quarter personal protection fine...on the street enforcement forget it...for hunting anything over the size of small game...absolutely not in my book! I’m not saying they won’t kill big game or two hundred pound felons, they will...but they will not stop big targets consistently, they will not perform consistently, they are ....the dreaded word...unreliable under certain conditions. And handgun hunters generally have found that true using them in the game fields on large game...but unfortunately the caliber along with the ammo got the black eye.

So putting those loads aside, we have discounted a good deal of the problems that have cropped up on the hunting fields with folks using the 357 in handguns....much of the bad press about the 357 and hunting game has been because of the use of these loads in the game fields....but not all of it. Another big reason for problems hunting game has been the use of....and the non understanding of....cast bullets. Because the 357 has a small frontal area in comparison to the big forty plus calibers, transmitted shock is much less at the bullet striking the target. That is not to say cast bullets are not deadly...they are, decidedly so because they penetrate deeply if they have the weight. The problem is the lack of ‘incapacitation’ performance....in other words the animal is going to run and perhaps show no reaction to being hit.

I once shot a rather large black bear with a reversed hollow based wadcutter. I didn’t plan it that way...that load happened to be the first to come up under the hammer of my Python, it was a personal protection load. The 147 grain hollow base over a simple 4.5 grains of Bullseye in 38 cases giving around 900 fps...it exploded the rib it passed thru going in and put a wound as large as a grapefruit in the near lung. The bear went about 20 yards and laid down...and I shot him again with a heavy load. But the point is that gaping hollow base transmitted tremendous shock even at such modest velocity. The second shot a 173 grain Keith over 15 grains of 2400 broke his neck and exited...but left a small wound channel. If the first shot had been the 173 grain cast Keith...it would have mortally wounded the bear but he would have run a heck of a lot further then 20 yards before he laid down.

July 8, 2005, 10:10 AM

All credit goes to Paco Kelly.

It’s not that cast bullets don’t kill effectively...it’s that they kill differently. It’s not that game animals don’t react to cast bullets...it’s that they react differently. So the hunter observer shoots his deer/elk/black bear for the first time with a hard cast RCBS 210 grain flat point .357 at 1500 fps and

said animal takes off in a mad rush. The shooter knows his shot was good, that the hit was in the right place...but the animal ran 200 yards instead of 50 yards, like they do when he hits them with his TC/S&W/Colt with a jacketed hollow point at that velocity.

Several observations here...lung shots are great...they are consistently deadly but with cast bullets, especially in the 357 caliber, I always try for large bones also. I may know for example that the 200 plus grain cast bullet is going thru the deer’s lungs from the shot presented...but if I can angle it so it also smashes a leg bone or shoulder knuckle on the off side...I’m going to try hard to do it. A heavy 357 will penetrate that well.

Even you don’t hit big bones, let him run....hit him in the lungs even high, you will get some long/deep, two to three inch radial damage in the lung area...if you don’t chase him he will lay down. Once down he isn’t getting up. Go to the spot where he was hit....you’re not only looking for cut hair and such...but look real close on the other side of where he was. Heavy 357s like many heavy handgun bullets usually exit. What you find can help tell you the damage the animal sustained.....pink tissue, lung hit. Frothy lite colored blood also lung...dark red blood and spurts of it separated from each other in the direction he ran, could be a heart hit. Brownish red could be a gut hit....of course gristle and bone tells it’s own story. If the shot is good he is not going to get away. Give him time to ‘stiffen up’ as the expression goes. What that means is the adrenalin wears off and the real pain of the wound starts, the animal wants to lay down...once he does it’s over. If you chase him he gets adrenalin rushes and is able to run longer and further....

The balancing act with cast bullets is at the time of casting. What is your target, what do you want the bullet to do....is it for target practice, then straight wheel weights tempered for the velocity is fine and even preferred. If it’s for game then velocity and expansion are the issue. The great thing about heat treating is that it will work even with softer materials and still allow expansion. For game bullets I use magnum shot because as a lead base magnum shot has 6% antimony in it. I add tin so the mix is around 1 in 15 to 18....one part tin to 18 parts shot. I allow the pot to get very hot, and the mold also....when I open the mold I drop the cast bullets directly into water....if they sizzle they are tempering. Wait twenty-four hours before you size and lube....a cast bullet gets it’s real hardness over that period. Even though these bullets are now hard enough to resist fouling in the barrel up to 2000 fps with good lube like ApacheBlu....they will expand in heavy flesh starting at 1200 fps or so.

Expansion of cast bullets....I have recovered cast bullets from all kinds of mediums including flesh. Unknowing friends always comment on the lack of expansion like a jacketed bullet. Indicating that the bullet looks like it wore away.....Exactly! As a cast bullet travels thru flesh...if it’s make up is balanced and not extremely hard it expands, but as it does the leading edges of the expansion having no support rip away and because of the extremely high rotational velocity of the bullet, those particles become secondary missiles destroying flesh in a radial wound pattern. That’s one of the reasons you want a heavy cast bullet, so you have the length and bullet mass to allow expansion and flashing of particles into the surrounding flesh.

The other reasons for heavy cast bullets in any caliber...is the ability to push them to as high velocities as heavy jacketed bullets can be pushed....and that gives the final and most important reason...penetration. Deep penetration is what makes heavy cast bullets so effective in larger game animals.

The lightest cast bullet I like to load is the Keith 173 grainer. Every decent mold manufacturer makes heavy 38/357 molds. So my choices are no better or worse then the next shooter...what I am careful of is shape. The round nose cast bullet is for deep penetration on very large animals like small elk. I like the various flat nose designs for deer and such. RCBS makes a dandy that drops at 200 to 210 grain and is gas checked. Lyman makes a 210 grain gas checked Keith design that is excellent...it was designed for the 357 Maximum in the early 1980s but it is a hunting bullet from 357 magnums for sure. Lyman makes a 190 grain blunt round nose I’ve killed hogs and small elk with several times. A feral hog...boar...what ever you want to call him is a small tank. Pound for pound he is a tough animal...tenacious to life and can be some what dangerous. With 357s you need deep penetration, and hits in the lung/heart...shoulder....spine...etc areas. I would not shoot a boar with a light...under 173 grains...bullet if I had any choice at all.

Jacketed bullets of superior weight....180 thru 200 grains. Speer makes a 180 grain jacketed flatfaced bullet but it is full patch and I have not tried it in hunting...they also make a tapered soft point that is really a 358 rifle bullet...it is a little long for 357 mag cylinders, especially on Colts. And really doesn’t open at revolver velocities....but in the T/C Contenders where you can get them up to 2000 fps they are a fine large game bullet. Hornady’s 180 grain XTP is my bullet of choice for hunting. It is a hollow point that will open up even at handgun velocities. I shot one very large range bull that was feral with a 357 S&W and this bullet at around 1200 plus fps. Even at this fairly modest velocity this bullet opened well. The Smith was the only gun I had with me, and the bull had presented a very close dead shot opportunity. This bullet is excellent because it will open well at modest velocities but still hang together for deep penetration.

For those that like to have a heavy bullet that is an all around defense and hunting bullet....Remington’s 180 grain hollow scalloped point is the one to go for. Midway sells this bullet in bulk form and it is a good deal. The soft nose is extensive so even in small game or serious social arguments it’s going to expand nicely...even at modest four inch barrel velocities. This Remington bullet is the real all around heavy jacketed 357 bullet. Both my four inch Python and the seven shot S&W Mountain gun get excellent accuracy with this bullet...HS7...Blue Dot....H4227 and H110 are excellent with these heavy weights. H4227 and H110 and the 180 Remington give the best all around results in my guns. And don’t believe that old bug-a-boo that you need fast powders in short barrel guns...medium and slow pistol powders work really well with heavy bullets and give better velocities. I like 2400 powder because it keeps you out of trouble with heavy bullets....you can load large amounts like 13 to 14 and 15 grains or modest amounts like 10 and 11 grains and not have excursions in pressure.

As I and a number of knowledgeable friends are prone to say...there are better handgun calibers and cartridges to hunt with....certainly the 40 calibers are deadly on large game. But where I differ is...there are good reasons for the use of the 357 on the same game. Many folks just can not handle the big 44s and 454s...yet will practice and shoot the 357s with accuracy and deadly intent. Over 150 yards for me tops...the 357 is a flat shooter. I will shoot at much longer distances but at non living objects....you can practice more with the 357 without the wrist and hand going bad...and the flinches taking over. Folks don’t fear the recoil so they don’t pull their shots in the field....and as I said...I have killed many large animals with our first magnum and not found it wanting. Just because there are better calibers doesn’t mean the 357 is a poor cousin...try it I think you will like it...remember heavy bullets for large game

July 8, 2005, 04:06 PM
I found a wonderful article about the .357 on leverguns.com: http://leverguns.com/articles/taylor/357magnum.htm

Here is a clip from it:
357 Magnum Testimonials from earlier days

Major Douglas Wesson

* Antelope - 200 yards (2 shots)
* Elk - 130 yards (1 shot)
* Moose - 100 yards (1 shot)
* Grizzly Bear - 135 yards (1 shot)

The Antelope was hit the first time at 125 yards. It ran, stopped and was shot the second time at 200 yards. The second shot killed it.

The Bull Elk was killed with one shot through the lungs.

The Moose was shot in the chest near the base of the neck. It cut the 2nd rib, passed through both lungs, sheared the 8th rib on the off side and stopped just under the hide. No follow-up shot was required.

These animals were taken on a Fall hunt in Wyoming, near the West entrance of Yellowstone Park. The Grizzly was taken later in Canada.

The above game was taken using factory loads which were a 158 gr. bullet at 1515 fps from an 8 3/4" barreled S&W producing 812 ft. lbs of muzzle energy. (S&W later shortened the barrels to 8 3/8" as we have today)

To those who criticized, the Major replied that they "..had not the slightest conception of what we have accomplished in ballistics.." - a statement that still applies today.

Elmer Keith

"When the new .357 cartridge and gun came out I gave it a very thorough tryout ... and found it had more actual knockdown killing power on all game that I shot with it than any other factory loaded, real revolver cartridge on the market.... (It) proved to have much more actual shock effect and killing power ...than any factory loaded revolver or auto pistol cartridge including the .44 Special and the .45 Colt..."

Sixgun Cartridges and Loads pages 29 & 30

Walter Sykes

* Wildebeest - 100 yards - complete penetration, knockdown on the first shot.

His Guide, John Hunter (of "HUNTER" and "AFRICA AS I HAVE FOUND IT") wrote that the .357 was "the one and only hand-arm for African hunting"...

Sasha Siemel - Professional Hunter in South America

* 6 Tigres - Amazon Jaguar's - using the S&W .357 Magnum

He wrote, "...It does all the work of a rifle and is light and easy to carry.."

As you can see, the .357 magnum can and has killed many animals. Do like the hunters of old, put the bullet where it's needed and the .357 will do its job.


July 21, 2005, 05:32 PM
a properly placed 357 will kill as cleanly as a 44 mag. improperly placed it will do no worse.

July 30, 2005, 12:31 AM
Might you be thinking of getting a lever gun to compliment your pistol?

July 30, 2005, 02:00 AM
People used to hunt dangerous game with muzzle-loading single shot rifles in calibers that often weren't as effective as some of our modern pistol cartridges.

What's more they did it without optical sights, binoculars, or laser rangefinders.

I'd like to hear someone who hunted under those conditions comment on the calibers many consider "marginal" today.

July 30, 2005, 12:18 PM
I like 357 S&Ws, used to be my fav deer rifle


July 30, 2005, 01:40 PM
All I can speak from is experience. I have taken Whitetails with a .357 Ruger SA, and a Rossi .357 Model 92 lever gun. In each case, the deer did what he is supposed to do; run a few feet and fall over dead. I have used the same recipe for hunting handloads for over 40 years, a 158 grain JSP over a good dose of 2400.

July 30, 2005, 06:38 PM
i just got a 357 blackhawk with the intention of using it on whitetails. being new to pistol hunting i believed a coworker when he told me that i'd "have to be shakin' hands with a deer to kill it with that." obvously i was quite dissapointed because i though i had bought the wrong gun for what i wanted to do. this thread has made me a happy man. but i guess i should have known. this is the same guy that always emptys the mag of his 12ga when he sees a deer

August 2, 2005, 09:41 AM
Okay, so what does a lever action .357 offer that a lever action .44 or a lever action .30-30 offer? If all three rifles were sitting in the rack, tell me why you would take the .357 magnum if someone said,

"Okay, we are going to go shoot a deer, then we are going to shoot a black bear."

August 2, 2005, 10:28 AM
If all three rifles were sitting in the rack, tell me why you would take the .357 magnum

Well, for pure hunting of deer and bear, the .30-30 or the .44 Magnum is a better choice. Don't use many rounds on a hunt, and want something squarely in the powerband.

But, for plinking, target, varmint - the .357 Magnum is a better choice - it can be shot more comfortably and much less expensively (even using .38 Specials). On the other hand, if loaded up with hot heavy loads, particularly with the extra velocity and accuracy of a rifle, it can still do the deed on deer or bear (or home defense). It's a great all-purpose rifle.