Simply put, the 357 Magnum is the most powerful handgun of its time. It was made for the .357 Magnum cartridge which, has a bullet diameter of .357 inches. But the history behind the birth of this gun takes it far far away from anything simple, plain and boring.
Image 357 Magnum CC0 Public Domain Sam Bourland
To understand the 357 Magnum as a weapon, first, we need to understand the magnificent cartridge 357 Magnum and how its need made way for the ultimate handgun of the 20th century.
The .357 cartridge started the Magnum Era. Its introduction in the year 1934 made way for a range of power packed large-sized cartridges for both — handguns and rifles. Though the cartridge itself came about in 1934, its roots go back to the .38 Long Colt.
Till the year 1898, the .38 Long Colt had been used as the military firepower of choice. But it was found failing during the Philippine-American war as it was not enough to combat the charges of the attacking army. Hence, the .38 Special with its larger case was introduced by Smith & Wesson. It soon became a favorite of the law enforcement agencies and was the standard service cartridge. Its popularity also made it the common sidearm during the World War 1.
By the 1920s and 1930s, the gangster era had evolved. Criminals had access to bulletproof vests and used high-speed getaway cars to flee from crime scenes. Additionally, they were not afraid to use the Thompson submachine gun and the Browning BAR to discourage pursuers.
The law agencies found themselves defenseless against such high-power weapons. The .38 Special could not penetrate automobile doors or the protective vests worn by the gunmen.
Colt stepped up to this problem and introduced the .38 Super to be used with its semi-automatic pistol, 1911. The .38 Super carried more pressure and power and had a higher velocity that enabled it to penetrate car door and the bulletproof vests that the criminals wore. Many saw this as Colt’s bid to expand its business from military to law enforcement, which was till now Smith & Wesson’s turf.
Finally, in order to defend its position, Smith & Wesson created the ultimate cartridge for power and protection — the .357 Magnum.
Designed by avid hunter and experimenter Elmer Keith, the .357 Magnum is an advanced variation of the .38 Special. Joseph Wesson from Smith & Wesson evolved its design and Phillip B Sharp who was a member of the National Rifle Association’s Technical Division helped with the technical aspects of the cartridge.
The trio began with a large frame revolver called the N frame revolver that could accommodate a .44 caliber cartridge. They rebarreled and rechambered the gun for a .38 special cartridge. This made the gun extremely strong and able to fire a high-powered cartridge. From here they kept testing and increasing the power of the .38 cartridge till it was twice as powerful as before.
However, the experimental .357 Magnum and the .38 Special were both identical in size and appearance. Hence, it would be easy for anybody to load a .357 Magnum into a .38 Special revolver. But the weapon would not be able to withstand the impact of the high powered cartridge and could result in disastrous situations. Thus, to differentiate the two cartridges, Smith & Wesson slightly extended the case of the .357 Magnum to 33mm from the original 29.3mm in the .38 Special cartridge. This would make it impossible to load the bigger .357 into a revolver not made to withstand the pressure of the cartridge.
To make sure that the gun was well introduced to the law enforcement agencies, Smith & Wesson presented the first ever 357 Magnum revolver — Model 27 or the Registered Magnum — to the then FBI director J. Edgar Hoover with Registration number 1.
They introduced the 357 Magnum as “the most powerful gun ever”. It was made on Smith & Wesson’s large N frame made of and available with 3 1⁄2", 4", 5", 6" or 8 3⁄8" barrel lengths and adjustable sights.
The gun manufacturer wanted to strengthen their foothold with the law enforcement agencies and with this gun and cartridge they did do so. The FBI ordered guns with barrel sizes 3.5, 4 and 5 inches. The fact that the gun was customizable as per buyer request, also made it extremely popular.
The lawmen were already comfortable with Smith & Wesson products and now with the huge ballistic leap that the .357 Magnum cartridge took, they naturally adopted the handgun as their firearm, even as their personal weapon. Many of them even used the versatile 357 Magnum revolver but loaded it only with the .38 Special.
What’s not to like? A handgun that can fire one of the most powerful cartridges and is available in a range of variants that can take care of all your concerns — the 357 Magnum is definitely a success story.
But the true beauty of the 357 is in their versatility. You can chamber .38 Special cartridges in any 357 Magnum gun. As well as the power-packed .357, allowing your handgun to turn from a good weapon to a fantastic one.
It is also great for new gun users who want to learn to shoot and improve their aim. The recoil in a .38 Special is less and the cartridge is also much cheaper than the .357, making it easy for new users to get used to the gun and how it works.
The stoppage power of the .357 cartridge has been loved by one and all — law enforcement to game hunters. Many a deer have been known to drop in one shot — the .357 cartridge can handle pretty much everything up to a brown bear, making it a great partner for outdoor adventurists.
The 357 Magnum has been the most popular and effective handgun of all times. Its popularity has hardly dwindled over the years. Due to its popularity, it has a large number of variants with different size, weight, barrel length and finishes. Though it makes the gun a piece to marvel over, choosing one such piece to own it may be difficult. But we’ve made it simpler for you with a pick of some of its best variants.
Small but powerful, this little gun has an exposed hammer and an underlug barrel of 2.25 inches. Made from a durable synthetic material, the grip is classy black and makes using the gun very easy. Made using stainless steel, the gun is sturdy with enough weight to reduce the recoil. Still, with the weight, it is compact in size and easy to carry as a concealed weapon.
This is a medium fame stainless steel gun with adjustable rear sight and ramp from sight. The gun comes with a 4-inch underlug barrel. It is a solid gun with enough weight to reduce the recoil on firing a .357 magnum. The gun is easy to take apart and clean by yourself without any special tools. It has a transfer bar mechanism, which is a great safety lock.
A nickel-body medium-framed gun, this one isn’t the best choice if you want to operate from a hidden vantage point. The nickel reflects light and can take away your element of surprise. The gun comes equipped with a ramp front sight, rear adjustable sight and has an exposed hammer.
Made using high-grade stainless steel, the Redhawk has an eight-shot barrel and 2.75-inch barrel. Its sturdy build and heavyweight are made to withstand the impact of firing a heavy duty cartridge. An 8-round moon clip helps with faster reloading. The gun has a light recoil which makes it easy to fire continuous shots.
One of the best large frame revolvers, this is an N frame gun with a large trigger and hammer. It has a custom 5-inch underlug barrel and an 8-shot chamber. The gun is already high on its style quotient with an 8-round fluted cylinder, the choice of wood or black synthetic grips makes it even more so. An 8-round moon clip makes it faster to load the gun. It comes with a gold bead front sight and an adjustable rear sight.
This is an impressive gun, especially for long-time users. Built for durability the gun is made using stainless steel, an integrated hammer and a comfortable rubber grip. Even with continuous shots, the gun is easy to handle and use. It has the impressive Taurus system of locking for safety which includes a key to stop the gun from firing. And the mechanism is built into the gun, so the key is never lost. High on accuracy and reliability, the gun also scores for its aesthetics with a slim build that accommodates eight rounds.
Backed by Taurus, this is one of the best high-performance guns in a reinforced polymer frame that can also be carried in a shoulder holster. The trigger is on the harder side but a rubber grip that makes it easy to carry and use the weapon extensively makes up for it. The recoil in the gun is minimized and makes it easier to control the gun. If you are looking for a reasonably priced compact gun with superb accuracy, the Taurus 605 is a good one to go for.
This is an aluminium frame big gun by Magnum Research. Probably not the best for high-speed continuous shots in the battle or an outdoor adventure, but good to shoot and enjoy. You can hard pack up to 10 rounds in this one and have a day at the shooting range. It has amongst one of the lightest recoils in .357 Magnum guns. It looks so stylish in a black anodized finish, that sometimes it is okay that it is a hard one to conceal.
If you are looking for a gun with a clean and beautiful design coupled with an impressive performance, then the Chiappa Firearms Rhino 40DS is your handgun. A slim piece, it is really accommodating in terms of the holster you need for it and fits into just about any. The crisp trigger with a choice in neoprene or wood grip makes it easy to use and hold. It has a slightly longer radius with fibre optic sight which allows more light to come in and gives a clearer view of the target.
A gun crafted for beauty and convenience of use, the Dan Wesson 715 is a hassle-free and easy-to-maintain handgun. The trigger is smooth to operate and the sight gives a clear view of the target. One of the unique features of the gun is that you can change its barrel and several other parts. Overall, the gun is a work of art with a carefully polished frame and barrel that is not just functional but visually appealing too.
So, whether you are a first-time buyer or an experienced one, whether you are looking for home protection or a game hunt, the 357 has something to offer for everyone. Its versatility in chambering the effective .38 Special or the powerful .357 Magnum make it a world favorite. So much that even though the .44 came out as the most powerful handgun in the world, it was not able to dent the popularity of the .357 Magnum.
The .357 Magnum has been around for about eighty years and though it has begun to phase out with the introduction of high capacity semi-automatics and the Magnum Era is almost over, it will never completely vanish or be forgotten.
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