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The .357 Magnum

By Chuck Hawks

.357 Mag.
Illustration courtesy of Hornady Mfg. Co.

The famous .357 Magnum, the original magnum pistol cartridge, was introduced in 1935 by Smith & Wesson as the world's most powerful handgun cartridge. For over 20 years it was simply known as "the Magnum," as there was no other. Newer magnum cartridges eventually surpassed it in power, but not in popularity or usefulness.

Factory ballistics tables call for a muzzle velocity of 1450 fps for the 125 grain JHP with 583 ft. lbs. of muzzle energy. For the 140 grain JHP the MV is 1360 fps and the ME is 575 ft. lbs. For the 158 grain JHP the MV is 1235 fps and the ME is 535 ft. lbs. These figures are all for a 4" revolver barrel.

I have been reloading the .357 Magnum since the middle 1960's. I have found Winchester W231 and Hodgdon HS-6 powders excellent for low and medium velocity loads and H-110, W296, and Hercules 2400 powders excellent for maximum loads with bullets from 125-158 grains.

The 110 and 125 grain bullets are the top choices for personal defense (against "bad guys"), but have not provided top accuracy in my .357 handguns. I have found the 140-146 grain bullets to be a good all-around choice for use in the field, and very accurate. The heavy 158-160 grain bullets are the ticket for many big game hunting applications and for defense in the field (against large predators).

The Handgun Reloading section of the Speer Reloading Manual Number 13 shows that 7.6 grains of W231 powder will drive their 125 grain bullets to a MV of 1129 fps, and 8.3 grains of W231 will drive the same bullets to a MV of 1168 fps.

The 140 grain bullet can be driven to a MV of 1005 fps by 8.8 grains of HS6 powder, or 978 fps by 6.3 grains of W231 powder. I have found these to be useful practice and small game loads.

On the other hand, 13.1 grains of 2400 powder will drive the 140 grain bullet to a MV of 1219 fps, and a maximum load of 15.1 grains of 2400 will drive the same bullet to a MV of 1298 fps. These are good full power loads.

For heavy loads the Speer Reloading Manual Number 13 shows that 13.9 grains of H110 will drive their 158 grain bullets to a MV of 1151 fps, and 15.5 grains of H110 will drive those bullets to a MV of 1217 fps. These Speer velocities were measured in a 6" S&W revolver barrel using Speer cases and CCI primers.

Note: A full length article about the .357 Magnum can be found on the Handgun Cartridge Page.

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Copyright 2004, 2013 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.