View Full Version : shooting .38 special in .357 magnum

pistol named Bertha
September 11, 2011, 10:30 PM
I've heard that you can shoot .38 special in a 357 magnum. I habe a s&w model 686 I'm 357 magnum....is it safe? Does it hurt the barrel? Pros cons please

I have just acquired around 100 rounds of .38 special...

September 11, 2011, 10:33 PM
It won't hurt it. In some revolvers, the .38 won't be as accurate due to the longer jump to the forcing cone - or so I've heard - but I've never noticed a difference in my revolvers.

Due to the shorter cases, though, crud rings can form in the chambers when you shoot .38. This won't hurt the gun, but should be removed by a good cleaning, if such rings form. The crud rings will often make it difficult to load .357 cartridges until they've been removed (standard solvent, brush, and patch cleaning, nothing fancy required).

I've heard some people claim the rings could cause pressure issues, if allowed to get really thick, but I've never heard of that actually happening. I clean my revolvers often enough that I'll never find out, either.

pistol named Bertha
September 11, 2011, 10:39 PM
Thanks.....I love that revolver best shooting firearm I have......thanks fellow georgian I'm from macon.

September 11, 2011, 10:47 PM
You're welcome. We're up in the Canton area.

September 11, 2011, 10:49 PM
A .38 Special has a lower chamber pressure, which creates less stress on the frame, barrel and action vs. a .357 Mag. One thing I would not do is fire .38 Special lead bullets and then firing .38 Special jacketed bullets or .357 Mag bullets (jacketed or hard cast) without first doing a good thorough cleaning to remove the lead in the barrel. Firing a jacketed or hard cast bullet after a soft lead bullet without first doing a thorough cleaning of the barrel will make it harder to remove the lead fouling from the barrel.

September 11, 2011, 10:52 PM
Discern makes a good point. If you are used to shooting .357, you probably don't shoot much lead - since the only lead you normally see in .357 is gas-check hardcast for hunting. Soft lead at .357 velocities tends to foul the rifling pretty quickly.

But lead reloads in .38 aren't that big a deal, as long as you follow Discern's advice.

September 12, 2011, 09:11 AM
I shoot thousands of lead .38 Special reloads through my .357s. I have a chamber brush from Brownells to deal with the buildup in the chambers. Kroil gets the lead out of the bore nicely. Accuracy may suffer a bit, but clay birds on the hill at 35 yards die with regularity, and the small pieces get pulverized as well.

I shoot very few full load .357s any more. All my K frame S&Ws see .38 Special almost exclusively. My N and L frame guns do rare .357 duty, usually when some younger folks want to see what it's like to shoot a full load. Then we get out the .45 Colt as well with full power loads and Rugers.

There is a school of thought that says firing a jacketed bullet after lead is the way to clear the lead. I don't bother.

lee n. field
September 12, 2011, 09:40 AM
I've heard that you can shoot .38 special in a 357 magnum. I habe a s&w model 686 I'm 357 magnum....is it safe?


Does it hurt the barrel?


Pros cons please

I have just acquired around 100 rounds of .38 special...

Cons, possible build up of residue inside cylinder, making inserting the longer .357 cartridge more difficult until it's cleaned. Possible slight loss of velocity due to longer jump before the bullet encounters the rifling.

September 12, 2011, 11:20 AM
I would think that most of the shooting done in this country, after .22LR, is probably .38 fired in a .357 revolver. Very commonly done.

As Lee above said, you'll have a ring of "crud" left in the chambers at the end of the cases that will try to block you getting longer Magnum cartridges in after shooting .38's. It can also make extracting the magnums hard to do. You'll be cleaning your gun anyway so just make sure to clean that crud ring out. Solvent won't do it, you have to scrape it.

There is a similar relationship in other guns, you can shoot .44 Special in a .44 Magnum, and .45 Colt in a .454 Casull, among others. The only time I've ever heard of any 'danger' is in that last one, if you get a crud ring in a .454 chamber by using the shorter .45 Colt cases, you could create a situation with a .454 cartridge afterward that could 'block' the opening of the case during firing and cause pressures to exceed safe levels. The lower powered guns are not near enough the 'red line' to ever achieve this kind of trouble.

September 12, 2011, 12:54 PM
If I had a quarter for every .38 special round I fired through a 686, I'd have a fair sized bank account.

Back in the '80's, a shooter could buy .38 ammo for $6-8 per box of 50. I could reload 'em quite a bit cheaper than that. Working in a gun shop didn't hurt, either. My buddies and I didn't have much to do with video games and such; we shot guns for our entertainment, and we sent a fair amount of lead down .357 mag barrels from .38 special cases.

I wouldn't worry about it a bit. If the gun gets dirty, clean it. It's what you'd do with any other gun and cartridge combo, right? Shoot it, have fun, and be happy.


September 12, 2011, 04:31 PM
Cleaning the carbon rings left over in .357 chambers by .38 special rounds is a piece of cake just so long as you clean regularly. Brush them thoroughly with a dry brush, one that hasn't been soaked in solvent. Even better, brush them with a brush that is in a slightly larger caliber than the gun's chambers. For example, I routinely brush my .357 chambers with a .40 cal. brush. Then, run a few solvent soaked patches through the chambers. Do this after every trip to the range and that should take care of 99-100% of the carbon buildup.

I've fired 1000s of .38 special round through my .357s. I've never noticed an iota's difference in accuracy between .38s and .357s in the same gun.

September 12, 2011, 04:50 PM
It's kinda hard to see how the shorter length of the .38 case affects accuracy, since the bullet still has to pass through 4-6 inches of barrel to be stabilized and exit just like a .357 bullet. I've never really noticed a difference, and I bet that any negative effect on accuracy is way down in the "noise" for most shooters.

You can also use an empty, flared .357 case to clean the crud from the chambers on the firing line. It's helped me a lot even with my K-38, which has very tight chambers that are susceptible to crud buildup, making it hard to chamber .38s fully after a few dozen rounds.

September 12, 2011, 08:20 PM
...It's kinda hard to see how the shorter length of the .38 case affects accuracy... In my 686, I could not find an accurate .38 Spl. cast bullet load (the only loads I shoot are cast). It may have to do with the increased bullet jump. In any event, I switched from .38 Spl. cases to .38 Spl. level loads in .357 Brass and found my accurate target/plinking/fast double action load.

September 12, 2011, 09:27 PM
Cleaning the lead buildup in the cylinder in my 686 is a pain, so I just reload .38SPC-level loads... in .357 cases.

But to answer the OP, as others have, yes, it's safe to fire them.

September 12, 2011, 09:36 PM
This is why I like .357mag guns over .38 Special only, because you have the option to shoot either cartridge from the same gun. Given the option of either caliber in the same platform I would always go with the .357 if the gun could handle it. More versatility.

September 13, 2011, 05:51 AM
I regularly shoot lots of 38 spl's in my 686 and always clean it afterwards. Never had a problem with it.

September 13, 2011, 06:59 AM
These days I buy and shoot a lot more 38 special guns than I do .357, but back in the day I always bought .357's working on the theory that I could shoot either ammo.

I made no particular effort to clean a "crud ring" out of them, and I never once had a problem. Maybe I just didn't shoot enough, but back then I was going to the range ever other day or so. I made no special effort to clean it, just routine cleaning.

I tend to think of the "problem" as more theoretical than anything else. I'm not saying it doesn't happen, just it must take more shooting and less cleaning than I do.

September 13, 2011, 10:24 AM
I regularly shoot lots of 38 spl's in my 686 and always clean it afterwards. Never had a problem with it.

+1. I shoot more .38 than I do .357 out of my S&W 686.

September 13, 2011, 10:30 AM
Seems like 90% of folk shoot .38spl out of their 357 frame handguns. Less recoil and easier to control.

I do too.

September 13, 2011, 12:03 PM
All you need is a quick trip around the cylinder with a brush and you are good to go back to 357 mags. I've fired a lot of ammo through my 686 much being 38 special reloads. The only problem I've ever seen is the carbon bullet wax build up making inserting and removing 357 rounds a we bit sticky. Not a permanent thing, just use a brush. The only concern you might have is cleaning your gun after shooting 38 specials if you keep 357s in it for defense. If you practice with 38s and use 38s for defense it's not an issue. Shoot that ammo in your gun and stop worrying! The only thing that's going to be off about it is your sights.

September 13, 2011, 08:33 PM
Firing a jacketed or hard cast bullet after a soft lead bullet without first doing a thorough cleaning of the barrel will make it harder to remove the lead fouling from the barrel.

Nonsense. I've been shooting for over 40 years and have always followed lead with jacketed. It makes it much easier to clean.

Here's a lively discussion. Match point was made by pistolsmith and moderator (also a contributor to this forum) 1911Tuner.


nutty ned
September 13, 2011, 08:40 PM
Here is my story on the issue and it supports most of the above comments.

I shot 100's of .38 spl in a Highway patrolman and just cleaned it after each session with no attention to the crud ring. Then one day it became difficult to shoot DA and difficult the cock the hammer for SA. Finally, I figured out that ammo was dragging on the recoil shield because the crud ring had gotten to the point that it would not let cartridges slide fully into the chambers as the cylinder turned and the cartridge moved along the ramped part of the recoil shield that pushes the ammo back in place after it recoils back against the recoil shield on firing.

I good cleaning and all was good. I now pay attention to the crud ring.

September 13, 2011, 11:45 PM
38 spl is weaker than 357 mag. putting less stress on the gun AND your hand :)

With regards to accuracy, the only time accuracy is really important is while target shooting. If you intend on CC, put self-defense 357mag rounds in it while you CC.

September 14, 2011, 07:44 AM
I rarely shoot .357 in my M19 and M66.....mostly shoot my own 158 gr wadcutter rounds.

September 14, 2011, 05:13 PM
I haven't fired my 586 a whole lot, but I've noticed the crud ring starting to form a little. I've noticed similar results when shooting my buddy's .357 with .38 spl rounds. It wasn't a big deal, though, since it cleaned out pretty easily.

Everything has been pretty well covered. One major perk for me is that .38 spl rounds cost less than .357 magnum rounds. If you don't reload this can be really helpful.

February 14, 2016, 11:35 PM
i have a GP 100 in 357 mag + shoot 38 specials half the time, i am looking to get a lighter 357 prolly SP 101 to shoot mostly 38 but have the option of 357's. my dilemma is i really want a 3" barreled model + ruger only has a ditch type rear sight, the not as robust but lighter model 60 smith has nice sights, even though costlier i would think a better value than getting an adj rear put on an SP 101 which seems an expensive PIA. i was holding out for the 16 shot show to see if ruger did any new 3" sp101's. hoping the lighter model 60 smith would hold up shooting almost all 38 spl, looking for comments thank you

February 15, 2016, 08:28 AM
Either will be just fine with 38. Neither will be great for 357. I agree with not trying to put an adjustable sight on the SP so if that is important to you, get the Smith.

What barrel length is your GP? I have two 3" GPs that I really like, one that came with adjustable sights. That might be an option.

By the way, welcome to TFL. It's generally considered better practice to start your own thread for new questions than to revive a years-old thread.

February 15, 2016, 08:45 AM
Btw if you are set on a light three inch revolver, consider the Ruger LCRx-3. I have one and I love it. Some really like the flash and bang of 357 in a snubnose but the fact of the matter is that when you get down to short barrels (esp. 2 inch and below) the 357 doesn't have much of an advantage over 38 special +p. The velocities end up almost the same. Buffalo Bore makes a 38 sp. +p outdoorsman load that matches the velocity of many 357 loads at that three inch barrel length. Compare the buffalo bore site to ballistics by the inch. Just a thought.

February 15, 2016, 09:36 AM
Shoot, inspect, and clean like you would any other ammo. I've been waiting at least 30 years for all these crud ring and accurracy problems to materialize. Still waiting.

Shoot it and enjoy. They are both .357 caliber. The .38 is a .357 short.

February 15, 2016, 10:21 AM
Carbon rings can certainly occur. I suspect they might not if you regularly clean your cylinder.

I bought a used Ruger GP100 a few years back. The carbon rings were bad enough I could not load .357 Magnum rounds the first time I tried to.

If you encounter this problem, a Hoppes tornado bore brush (for .40 caliber) solves the problem quickly.

February 15, 2016, 03:29 PM
I have been shooting 38's out of 357 revolvers for nearly 30 years now with zero programs. After I shoot a revolver I always clean out each chamber in the cylinder, similar to the way I clean the barrel. That's all it takes. I have never noticed the 38's to be less accurate, just easier on the hands and wallet.

February 15, 2016, 04:28 PM
pblanc is right. Clean those chambers judiciously (as well as religiously) between outings and you'll have no trouble.

February 15, 2016, 08:25 PM
I have a LCR 357 MAG and shoot pretty much nothing but 38 special cast through it. I like the weight of it and it shoots them extremely well. Have run over a 1000 rounds through it, and only 25 or so has been 357-mag

Doc Holliday 1950
February 16, 2016, 09:31 PM
I only have 357's and I shoot 38 specials, 38 +P's, and 357 mags. So, IMHO, shooting 38's from a 357 is like cotton candy.Fluffy,sweet and light as a feather.
Can shoot them till the saints come marching in.
Just remember that if you ever want to use 357 mag loads, you better start practicing with it because it's a whole different thing and you really don't want any surprises in an emergency. Again, this is IMHO.

February 17, 2016, 06:05 AM
I've owned dozens of 357 revolvers over the years. I'll bet I haven't fired two hundred rounds of 357 ammo in all of them. The rest was all 38's. Almost always lead bullets of one type or another.

If a "crud ring" ever built up, I never noticed it when I did go to shoot 357's. They just dropped right in like they're supposed to. I do clean my guns regularly, but I don't do anything out of the ordinary.