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The .357 Magnum: Anything But Boring

Like a lot of old guys, I am a hopeless dinosaur. Today’s pistoleros seem to be all about go-fast guns—quick-shooting, lightweight semi-automatics with magazines capable of holding enough rounds to shoot for a week before reloading. I get it. Shooting is fun, and the more shooting, the more fun. But I grew up shooting revolvers, and to this day I cannot get enough of them. Among my revolver shooting buddies, most—including me—are enamored with large-bore wheelguns. Some even look down their noses at .38-caliber revolvers with considerable disdain. Anything that doesn’t threaten to dislocate your shooting wrist is boring. I respectfully, but firmly, disagree.

The .357 Magnum is definitely not boring, obsolete, nor is it useless. It came about in 1934 as the result of experimental work of Elmer Keith, along with some technical assistance from Phil Sharpe who some 20-plus years later served with the Technical Department of the NRA, and Winchester. Douglas B. Wesson, grandson of Smith & Wesson founder Daniel Wesson and president of the company at the time, coordinated the effort and produced heavy N-framerevolvers for the project. After the cartridge was made available to the public, Wesson did double duty serving as a public relations proponent of the gun and cartridge by taking it all over North America on hunting expeditions.

Whereas the .38 Special cartridge offered a slight improvement over its parent, the .38 Long Colt cartridge—a 25 percent heavier bullet at nearly the same velocity—the .357 Mag. virtually doubled the velocity of the .38 Spl. and nearly tripled the muzzle energy. This allowed law enforcement officers the advantage of a revolver, which most were comfortable carrying at the time, with the capability of penetrating a motor vehicle body and disabling suspects using that automobile to shield themselves. It also allowed hunters the capability of humanely taking big game with a handgun. Wesson demonstrated that by taking animals as small as coyotes and as large as walrus with his .357 Mag.

Smith & Wesson Model 27

My first center-fire handgun was a Smith & Wesson Model 27 in .357 Mag. I bought it in 1974 at a time when finding any Smith & Wesson revolver in a case at a gun store priced at factory MSRP was nearly impossible due to the widespread popularity of the “Dirty Harry” movie which featured the Model 29 revolver in .44 Mag. All S&W revolvers were subject to scalping prices, but N-frame magnums—and especially the ultra-premium Model 27 and 29 revolvers—were often priced north of $500, while the MSRP of the revolver was about $275. I was just fortunate enough to be at a local sporting goods chain one day when this revolver was a part of the weekly gun delivery to the store. When the driver wheeled the boxes of guns into the store, this one was on top, and I literally plucked it from the hand truck, marched up to the counter and plunked down my money.