The .357 magnum is something of a cultural icon. It was developed pre-World War II to offer a service revolver with superior stopping power. During prohibition, the criminal operations that supplied the States with booze had access to better weaponry than the police forces trying to contend with them. Many police officers at the time carried revolvers chambered in .38. It is a functional round but lacked the stopping power they desired. The history of the .357’s development is somewhat complex, but in essence, Smith & Wesson developed a .357 magnum revolver that changed the handgun game.
An Upgraded .38 Special?
It is hard to give an exact definition of what distinguishes magnum rounds from others.
More powerful? Ok, but how much more powerful?
Heavier bullets? Ok, but how much heavier?
Due to the lines being blurred, it is simpler to think about them in generalities. Magnum rounds aim to create bullets that are more powerful than their non-magnum counterparts. Remember mass x acceleration = force? They use heavier bullets to add mass to the equation. They load them with more propellant to add acceleration to the equation. That means a heavier round traveling faster that will result in more force and penetration upon impact.
The .357 magnum follows this logic. It is essentially a round of the same diameter of a .38 special. The main difference in physical parameters is that it is longer. This meant that engineers at the time were experienced in the manufacturing of barrels and chambers that could hold .357 rounds. What they learned was that handguns designed to fire .38 special rounds could not withstand the pressures from firing .357 magnums. The receivers were too light, so a new handgun had to be developed that was up to the task.
With stronger receivers, superior stopping power, and the excellent engineers at Smith & Wesson, an amazing class of handguns was born.
Looking to Purchase One?
One major benefit of purchasing a .357 magnum revolver is that most of them can also shoot .38 rounds. The .38s are the same diameter, so they fit in most of the guns chambered for .357. The guns are machined to withstand higher pressures than a .38 would ever deliver. This means that you are purchasing one weapon with two options in terms of cartridges. .38 rounds tend to be cheaper, so you will have options for cheaper plinking.
Keep in mind that the .357 magnum is not for beginners. With that extra power comes greater recoil. They are not the easiest rounds to control. It may be in your best interest to start with a more manageable caliber if you’re new to shooting. You could also purchase a .357 revolver and shoot .38 rounds to get the hang of things and then move on to shooting .357 magnum rounds.
In general, revolvers are less prone to malfunctions than other handguns. That is not to say that a Glock is prone to malfunctions, just that the simplicity of revolvers makes them more reliable. They are also simple to operate and maintain. Field stripping handguns requires a working knowledge of their assembly and can take time to clean properly. With revolvers, you only need to take the cylinder off to strip and clean them.
They do tend to be heavier than most modern polymer handguns. They also usually only hold between 5 and 7 rounds at a time. When it comes to self-defense, many prefer handguns with larger capacities. However, the power of a .357 in the hands of an experienced shooter may mean less rounds are needed. This comes down to personal preference.
There are a lot of great brands making .357 magnum revolvers today. Smith & Wesson is still at the top of the heap. Their Model 60 is a smaller stainless-steel handgun that is great for concealed carry. It is designed with ergonomics in mind making it incredibly comfortable to shoot. Their Model 686 Plus is a full sized .357 magnum. Much like the Model 60, they are stainless steel and ergonomically designed. They have adjustable sights and a cylinder which holds 7 rounds.
The previous two were modern versions, but you can also find surplus Smith & Wesson .357s on the cheap. They were used by police forces for a long time which means there are a lot of police trade ins on the market due to police forces largely transitioning to striker fired handguns.
Ruger is famous today for many firearms like their semi-auto .223s, the 10-22, bolt action rifles, and semi-auto handguns. They also make some incredible revolvers. The Ruger Vaquero is designed to harken back to the days of the wild west. They keep the aesthetic appeal of the six shooters of old while offering guns made to modern standards. They come in stainless steel and blued steel finishes. The grips range from wood to beautiful ivory. Ruger makes a few other models, including the GP100 which is highly customizable and intended for competition shooting.
The Chiappa Rhino is one of the most intriguing looking firearms of any caliber. It’s hard to describe its looks in words, but the word “Rhino” is a good start. Along with its looks, it has some other interesting features. With most revolvers, the top of the cylinder lines up with the barrel. However, it is the bottom with the Rhino. This, along with other design elements, helps it fire with less recoil while also being one of the lightest on the market. Even if you don’t purchase one, it is worth googling pictures of it.
The Taurus Model 66 is a great gun for those new to revolvers. It excels when it comes to safety features. It has a moderate length and has comfortable grips. Like the S&W Model 686 Plus, its cylinder holds 7 rounds.
There are a lot of options, so make sure you find one that is right for you.
Addition by Dave.
In the United Kingdom handguns are legally available in Northern Ireland for target shooting and in the mainland .357 magnum long barrel revolvers such as the Chiappa Rhino are available. These are revolvers that have been specially modified to meet mainland UK legislation. The .357 Magnum cartridge is also commonly used in lever action rifles which are legal to own and used in a variety of disciplines and styles of shooting in the UK.
Jay Chambers, writes for https://minutemanreview.com/