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The .357 Magnum: Anything But Boring

As I learned the art of pistol shooting, I put thousands of rounds through my Model 27. Now some 42 years later, I’d estimate that revolver’s round count to be a bit more than 50,000 rounds—about half of them magnum handloads. I used to load a Sierra 158-gr. softpoint or 158-gr. hollowpoint over 15.5 grains of the old Hercules (now Alliant) 2400 powder. Recently I chronographed that load and got 1,475 fps from the 5″ barrel. It’s pretty stiff but still manageable. That revolver has been rebuilt twice and now has the longest hand Smith made for that gun. The pistolsmith had to peen the tip slightly to make it long enough to time correctly. If I ever shoot it loose again, I’d need to replace the cylinder, which is why it’s in semi-retirement.

A few years later, as I prepared to move to Wyoming the first time, my dad expressed interest—no doubt fueled by his gun-struck son—in acquiring a home handgun. I had told him that the 1903 Colt .32 ACP pistol he inherited from his dad really wasn’t up to the task of defending the home. So he set me about to find him a “good .357 Magnum.” I ended up finding him an S&W Model 19, brand new with what we now call 3Ts—target hammer, target trigger and target stocks. I doubt that he put more than 300 rounds through the gun, but he kept it meticulously clean. I have it now but shoot it rarely. Nonetheless it is a sweetheart—accurate, easy to shoot with a nice trigger and very controllable even with magnum loads. Its finish is 98 percent-plus, and like all vintage Smiths, it’s drop-dead-gorgeous.

Smith & Wesson Model 19

One of the great advantages of the .357 Mag. is its versatility. You can drop in powder-puff .38 Spl. wadcutters and punch paper or small game all day without punishing your hands or wallet. At the other end of the spectrum you can load a magnum case with slow-burning powder and 190- to 200-grain bullets and slam steel out to 200 yards or drop a big game critter cleanly. I tried some loads with a 190-gr. semi-wadcutters about 20 years ago. They can be hard on the hands and the gun, but if you want the most power you can get from the cartridge, that’s part of the cost of doing business.

Today when I carry a .357 to the field I have settled on another cast bullet load. RCBS makes a replica of Elmer Keith’s original .357-cal. semi-wadcutter (.38-150-SWC 429). It supposedly weighs 150 grs., but my mould and my alloy—about 50-50 Lyman No. 2 and linotype—tosses them out at 155 grs. Atop 11.5 grs. of Alliant 2400 in Winchester +P+ cases, this bullet leaves a 5″ or 6″ barrel at between 1,175 and 1,200 fps. This load is as accurate as wadcutters, pleasant to shoot and has enough steam to pound just about anything you’d care to take on with a revolver.*

The .357 Mag. I most often carry is a Smith & Wesson Model 342PD. At 13 oz. it’s not a gun you wan tto shoot with heavy-bullet magnum loads, but stuffed with Speer 125-gr. Gold Dothollowpoints it is an easy-to-carry and effective pocket rocket.