The .357 Remington Maximum

By Chuck Hawks

Remington introduced the .357 Maximum cartridge in 1983 to considerable fanfare from the shooting press. It was intended for handgun silhouette competition and hunting, but failed to generate much interest among mainstream shooters.

Ruger collaborated with Remington to bring out the first gun for the Mad Max cartridge, and the two were introduced together. This was a long frame version of the Super Blackhawk revolver with a 10.5" barrel. Unfortunately, it was not discovered until after the introduction of this gun that the large volume of powder burning at high pressure in the new cartridge rapidly eroded the underside of the revolver's top strap above the cylinder gap. The flash gap of these revolvers was not excessive, but the operating pressure and amount of powder burned was. Ruger was forced to withdraw the .357 Maximum revolver from the market. Today the remaining Ruger .357 Maximum revolvers are rare and more valuable to collectors than shooters.

Dan Wesson also built revolvers for the .357 Max starting in 1984, and I believe they still do, but the technical problems encountered with the cartridge as adapted to revolvers limited its popularity. The rather obscure Seville SA revolver was also briefly offered in the caliber. In 1984 the .357 Max was offered in the T/C Contender single shot pistol, and this became its most enduring home. But finally T/C also dropped Mad Max from their list of available calibers. Savage tried chambering a few of their Model 24 combination guns for the .357 Max and H&R built a few break-action single shot rifles for the cartridge, but these were even less popular than the handguns and soon disappeared. One still occasionally sees .357 Max pistols on the used market.

As I write these words, only 20 years after its introduction, the .357 Maximum is already obsolete. Production of factory loaded ammunition was discontinued by Remington in the 1990's. However, those shooters who find themselves with Mad Max revolvers or single shot pistols but no ammunition can use standard .357 Magnum cartridges, which will chamber and fire safely in all .357 Max guns.

The .357 Maximum is based on a unique rimmed case identical to the .357 Magnum case but .315" greater in length. The SAAMI specifications call for a case length of 1.605" and an overall cartridge length of 1.99". The maximum average pressure (MAP) is 48,000 cup, which is 3000 cup greater than the .357 Magnum's MAP. As far as I know the .357 Max case cannot be formed from any other existing case, so reloaders without a supply of brass are out of luck.

At its introduction the .357 Maximum was hyped as delivering the power of a .44 Magnum with the recoil of a .357 Magnum. Some cynics have observed that the .357 Maximum actually combines the power of a .357 Magnum with the recoil of a .44 Magnum. In reality, Mad Max has both power and recoil roughly comparable to the .41 Magnum.

Be that as it may, the .357 Maximum's undeniable advantage over the more conventional magnum revolver cartridges lies in its high velocity and flat trajectory. The 1995 Gun Digest showed that the sole Remington factory load drove a 158 grain jacketed bullet at a claimed muzzle velocity (MV) of 1825 fps in a 10.5" test barrel. It has been reported that the actual MV in revolvers averages about 200 fps less.

The Remington catalog figures showed a mid-range trajectory (MRT) of only 0.4" over 50 yards, and 1.7" over 100 yards. For comparison, the MRT of the standard Remington .357 Magnum load with the same weight bullet is 0.8" over 50 yards and 3.5" over 100 yards measured from a 4" vented test barrel.

For a more realistic appraisal of the .357 Maximum's performance, let's look at the figures given in the Lyman 47th Reloading Handbook. The Lyman technicians developed their reloads using the 158 grain Hornady JHP bullet and Remington cases. They chronographed maximum loads in a 10" T/C Contender barrel (with the following powders) at velocities of 1630 fps (20.0 grains of IMR 4227), 1669 fps (17.2 grains of #2400), 1675 fps (24.5 grains of RX7), and 1715 fps (20.5 grains of H110). The average MV of those 4 loads is 1672.25 fps. Incidentally, the Lyman, Hodgdon, Nosler, and Speer reloading manuals all recommend the use of rifle (rather than pistol) primers due to the high operating pressure of the .357 Maximum.

At a MV of 1700 fps the trajectory of the 158 grain Hornady JHP bullet looks like this (Hornady figures from their long range pistol/silhouette ballistics tables): +2" at 50 meters, 0 at 100 meters, and -8.1" at 150 meters. At a MV of 1700 fps that bullet has 1014 ft. lbs. of energy. At 50 meters its velocity is 1478 fps and energy is 767 ft. lbs. At 100 meters the velocity is 1288 fps and the energy is 582 ft. lbs. And at 150 meters the velocity is 1144 fps and the energy is 459 ft. lbs.

For comparison, Lyman figures for the standard .357 Magnum with a 158 grain jacketed bullet from a 10" T/C Contender barrel show maximum MV's of 1430 fps (16.1 grains of IMR-4227), 1491 fps (14.9 grains of #2400), 1580 fps (11.9 grains of Blue Dot), and 1719 fps (16.0 grains of AA 9). The average MV of those 4 loads is 1555 fps.

In terms of recoil, the .357 Maximum will definitely get the shooter's attention. The "Handgun Recoil Table" shows that it kicks significantly more than a standard .357 Magnum. The recoil energy of the .357 Max in a 2.75 pound pistol shooting a 158 grain bullet at a MV of 1700 fps is 14 ft. lbs. For comparison, the recoil of the standard .357 Magnum cartridge in a pistol of the same weight and using the same weight bullet at a MV of 1250 fps is given as 8.7 ft. lbs.

Mad Max is a handgun cartridge that, like the .41 Magnum and 10mm Auto, falls into that nether world between the .357 Magnum and the .44 Magnum. Such cartridges evidently kick too hard for most shooters and lack the sales appeal of the .44 and .45 caliber cartridges to "big bore" cartridge fans. Nevertheless, the .357 Maximum is an interesting handgun hunting cartridge and it is regrettable that technical problems forced its premature obsolescence.

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Copyright 2002, 2012 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.