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357 MAGNUM AND THE LITERATURE

PACO

While looking over the literature on reloading the 357 magnum round for handguns and rifles, I was reminded of the fact that velocities rarely resemble each other for the same loads from book to reloading book. The reasons for this of course have been explained before. See Jim Taylorís article on why ballistic engineersí hair goes gray...

I thought I would give you a taste of the across the board past and present reloading data in some of the top reloading manuals and some of the anomalies that seem to appear. The first thought was to check on the differences between the handgun ballistics verses rifle ballistics. I included pressures, but not the pressures I have tested in the past, but the pressures from Richard Leeís very fine books MODERN RELOADING vol. 1 & 2. And of course some of Leeís reloading data. The vol. #2 book, is one reloading book we all should have on our shelves, if we reload anything and have no other way to check pressures.

The guns I used in my tests of some of the data were three 357 magnum rifles, the 20 inch barreled Marlin, a 24 inch Winchester 94, and a 24 inch Navy mod. 92. The Marlin is two decades old and has the so called dreaded micro-groove rifling. Which by the way I have never had trouble with as long as the cast bullets were hard enough for the pressure/velocity I was loading them at. The Winchester was one of the last Legacyís from the factory before it closed, and it is a peach. The model 92 of course is the strongest of them all, and was used with the heavy loads just as I do when Iím using it hunting.

And I used an old Rossi 357 mod. 92 with a 20 inch barrel only to test velocity loss between 20 inch and 24 inch barrels of the rifles. The average for high pressure loads was less than 80 fps for all 4 inches of the two barrel lengths (20 fps per inch). With handguns the average was 31 fps per inch. That was testing with a Ruger 4 5/8ths" and a Ruger 7Ĺ" both single actions. The basic testing figures I give from my tests come from the 24 inch model 92 and the Ruger 7Ĺ inch single action. Unless listed otherwise.

The Rossi was used to compare because as a 92 action it is very strong, and some of the loads I didnít want to test in the Marlin, or the Winchester. Both of those rifles will easily take 40 to 42,000 psi... but some of the loads exceeded that. I have read many times that the original pressure in 1935 for the 357 magnum was anywhere from 40,000 to 50,000 psi. Several years ago we tested original 1935 manufactured 357 magnum ammo for velocity. The word was being written that the original velocity from a handgun for the 357 could never have reached the advertised 1510 fps of the times... We fired five rounds from my S&W N-Frame mod. 27/8+ inch barrel. And if I remember correctly, the average was around 1530+ fps. We couldnít test the pressure at the time because the friend that has the equipment wasnít available. But Elmer Keith writes that the pressure was 45 to 47,000 psi and I believe him, since he was involved in the development.

Keith loaded ammo for Doug Wesson, President of S&W, to magnum velocities. At the time Winchester was developing the ammo... but it was later passed on to Remington. The folks at Winchester tested Keith loads and they were up in the high 40,000 psi range. Keith states they said he was crazy and tried to put him out of the picture. We have to remember that back then handgun pressures were kept at low levels only up to about 16,000 to 18,000 psi. The country was just 2 decades out of the black powder era. High pressures were worrisome to ballistic folks. And for good reason, the metals used in the old guns just could not take high pressure. But Wesson and S&W were developing a whole new gun, based on the information and platform developed from the earlier higher pressure 38-44 ammo and handgun Wesson had put on the market five years earlier.

When all was said and done, the ammo finally developed for the market and the S&W 357 magnum handgun, had come full circle and was at the levels Keith said they had to be at, the high 40,000 psi levels. Interesting is the fact that it was Remington that took over the development of the ammo. The original cartridge cases used large pistol primers, not the small pistol primers they are manufactured for today. Today most of the 357 magnum commercial ammo has been lowered in pressure into the high 30,000 psi levels. For a number of reasons, most of which is the plethora of small frame 357 mag handguns that have been put on the market. Not that these well made little handguns couldnít take the original pressure, they could, but not over a sustained amount of shooting and time.

Thatís why S&W brought out the L-frame revolver to replace the K-frame. The K-frame 357 magnum series handguns were shooting loose. We had S&W model 13s in DEA in the 1970s. They were round butt, three inch barreled K-Frame S&W revolvers... they were made special at the time for DEA. With fixed sights and Law Enforcement loaded 357 magnum 158 grain hollow point from Remington, they were neat and powerful. But the little guns did shoot loose after a few thousand rounds.

A famous friend in Law Enforcement who shall go nameless, carried the S&W mod. 19... which was very close to the mod. 13. It had a 2Ĺ" barrel. Well one night things went south quickly and my friend took a quick close snap shot at a real idiot with a Saturday Night Special who refused to drop it on command. My friend missed his head firing from just a few feet away. He missed but in those days Afro hair cuts were the style.. Tight curls piled high on and around the head with oily hair dressing, the powder flash out of that short barrel set the idiots hair on fire....! It was an interesting dance to say the least....

Which brings up the first anomaly... itís generally thought by many that short barreled handguns need fast burning powder for the best velocities. But the facts donít show that. Slow medium and slow powders give the highest velocities in four inch and less barrels, except for one fast powder which happens to be 110 years old. Bullseye performs in short or long barrels.

Some commercial ammo we ran over the screens was enlightening. From the 4 and 5/8ths Ruger some older S&W 125 grain jacketed hollow point ammo ran an average of 1280 fps, R-P JHP 158 grain went 1312 fps, 125 grain R-P JHP went 1425 fps, and WW 158 grain JHP hit 1333 fps... All very respectable considering the pressure has been lowered. Firing the WW 158 grain JHP from the 20 inch Marlin the velocity was 1845 fps for a 500 fps plus difference from the Ruger handgun.

And that is another fact we found. So often we read that the difference between the handguns and the rifles with the 357 ammo is around 300 to 350 fps. But 80% of the loads we tested were well above 450 fps and almost 60% of those were above 500 fps over the handguns with the same ammo. To bear this out, just one of the loads developed by Ken Waters, listed in his excellent Pet Loads was 16 grains of 296 under a 158 grain Hornady JHP, with velocity from a six inch Colt at 1192 fps and from a 20 inch Marlin it ran 1705 fps for a 514 fps difference. And that is just one example of many....

To kill another old wives tale told over and over.... The story goes, rifle velocities with handgun bullets donít mix, because the handgun bullets canít take the strain of the higher velocities and will only give surface wounds... or will shed their jackets and not penetrate deep enough... or will just come apart... and a lot of other so called warnings. Iím sure you have read as many as I have.

I started using the 357 magnum from a 20 inch carbine mod. 92 converted from a 32-20 Winchester back in the late 1960s and into the 1970s. Over the years since I have used 16 inch barreled Winchester Trappers to 24 inch mod. 92s and everything in between. There was a period in the reloading/hunting era from the late 1960s thru the mid 1990s where every hunting load had to be top end in velocity... including the 357 mag loads.

I have no idea how many deer I have taken with 357s, but we lived in the wilderness of the southeast for over five years. I harvested from 20 to 25 deer a year and kept the Kelly family and many neighbors in game meat.. including hogs and a few black bear. Never had I had a 158 grain thru a 190 grain jacketed bullet by any manufacturer come apart loaded to the gills, give shallow surface wounds, or not penetrate deep enough! Now if they ever did fail it was because of my shooting not the bullet. The only truth I can see in this is the shedding of some of the jackets of the early 158 grain JHPs. But it is a half truth, because the lead core always went on deeply, and expanded well to put the game animals down.

I shot a black bear one time with a reversed 147 grain hollow base wadcutter, so the hollow base was now the hollow nose, and it was loaded over 6 or so grains of Bullseye for over 1500 fps. Killed that bear so fast I thought a tree fell on him... Of course it fouls at that velocity also very quickly... but even that soft wadcutter went thru the lungs of the bear and expanded well... Jacketed bullets fail but only when they donít have enough velocity and donít expand...

I have shot coyotes here in the southwest west with all kinds and makes of 125 grain JHPs and JSPs at over 2000 fps, from every angle... many into the Texas road map... I seem to get a lot of them running away... Every brand Iíve tried usually punch all the way thru and create two inch radial wound channels... most of the way. Todayís jacketed bullets are the best that have been offered by the industry... including the handgun bullets of every caliber. They will perform very well from leveraction velocities...

In weighing brass I found that WW brass weighed 85 grains empty with a water weight capacity of 15 grains to the bullet base area, Winchester Super X brass was basically the same. Federal was 78 grains empty and held 16.7 grains of water, while R-P empty was 77.5 grains and held 17 grains of water. Itís fascinating that these cases also hold about the same weight in slow powders like 2400 and 296/H110 as they do water. Not too many other cartridge cases do that. It certainly helps accuracy.

Richard Leeís book for someone like me who loves reading about reloading, and of course doing it.... is a rich source of solid information as youíll see from the loads I mention from his book on the 357 magnum. Since he gives a good deal of pressure information lets emphasize the loading data from the perspective of pressure. That way looking at loading data from other sources will give you a good estimate of the pressure the other books are dealing with....

Bullseye is the fastest American burning powder... and it does very well for such fast burner... Bullseye has 40% nitroglycerin content and I use it a good deal of it in silent loads....

Lee states that 8.7 grains under the 110 grain JHP gives 1642 fps and 9 grains gives just under 1700 fps at a cost of 31,700 psi (handguns and rifles). With the 125 grainers 7.9 grains gives 1464 and 8.4 gives 1550 with 32,800 psi. (Bullseye is a good example of a powder that gives an unexpected pressure jump when all looks well) ...One grain more at 9.4 grains and pressure jumps to well over 42,000 psi and thatís near 5000 psi per each Ĺ grain....! The 140/146 grain level of jacketed bullets still work fairly well with Bullseye, 5.2 grains give 1354 fps and 5.7 grains give 1475 fps for 34,000 psi. A lead bullet at 158 grains over 6.5 grains gives 1320 fps for 33,900 psi. I have used this load with cast bullets extensively in rifles and handguns... velocity is about the same in both... like most fast powders. Anything above the 158 grain level and Bullseye will work, even give good accuracy but velocity suffers and pressures go high.

One of my favorite powders is the medium burning Blue Dot. It seems to go well with light bullets. Lee shows 14.6 grains under a 110 grain JHP will go 1873 fps and 16 grains will hit 2040 fps at a cost of only 33,800 psi (rifle). You should see what happens to a southwestern jackrabbit when hit with one of these flying bombs, we could title it THE DECAPITATION FACTOR . It is a very accurate load from my Marlin, and a varmint load supreme. One caution, because the load is 16 grains and only 33,000 psi+ donít think that we can load up to say 18 grains.. Lee stopped at 16 grains for a reason... Fast and medium handgun and shotgun powders also can reach a critical pressure stage sometimes with little warning....

Leeís loads for 125 grain JHPs with Blue Dot are also very good... 13.1 grains gives 1647 fps and 14.5 grains pushes the 125 grainers at just under 1800 fps for a cost of 34,000 psi. a great load for heavier varmints like coyotes....

The highest weight with Blue Dot worth using goes with the 158 grain jacketed bullets. And for good cause, the pressure reaches excursion levels before velocity can get to the height it should for the pressure jump that occurs. With 9.5 grains as a starting load gives 1316 fps and 10.7 grains gives 1420 with 33,300 psi (handguns). With the 170 grain jacketed bullet and 9.7 grains you get only 1310 fps at 33,800 psi. Blue Dot is not slow enough to give those big jumps in velocity when used in long barrels.. Like the leverguns.

Unique is a fast/medium powder. And with ten grains under the 110 grain jacketed bullets Lee registers 1735 fps for 34,000 psi. With the 125 grainers and 8.7 grains he gets 1455 fps for a starting load and 9.6 grains of Unique gives 1585 fps for 33,800 psi. With the 140/146 grain jacketed bullets 5.8 grains hits 1344 for a starting load and 6.4 grains gives 1465 fps for 33,800 psi. Good solid medium loads for folks that donít want a lot of recoil, but still having good killing power. (Handguns 7Ĺ" Ruger).

And here is what I meant about the slow burning powders and light bullets... 22 grains of H110 under the 110 grain bullets as a starting load it gives Lee 2308 fps and 23 grains which becomes a compressed load, gives just under 2400 fps and only 37,200 cup..(rifles). With the ball powders Lee gives pressure levels in copper units of pressure (cup) instead of pounds per square inch (psi). 2400 fps for a 110 grain bullet gives over 1400 foot pounds of muzzle energy. Itís a dumpy shaped little bullet so it is a short range round, but it is still deadly on varmints at 100 or so yards.

With the 125 grain jacketed bullets Leeís figures read 21 grains of H110 for 1881 fps and 22 grains is a compressed load giving 1966 fps at 41,400... this load was top for my Marlin and I got 2090 fps and two inches at 100 yards from the bench with a small scope. Out to 150 yards it would be a deadly, no recoil, varmint load.

The 140/146 grain class of bullets and H110 begin to show what heavier bullets and slow powders can do. 17 grains gives 1815 fps and 19 grains gives just under 2000 fps for 40,900 cup. It would be the minimum load I would use on small deer and under 125 yards... and I would not deliberately go hunting deer with it. But if I was out there and needed the meat, and thatís all I had in the gun at the time when one jumped up, offering a fine shot... I would take it with confidence.

The 158 grain XTP bullet over 15 grains of H110 gives just under 1600 fps and 16.7 grains gives 1757 fps for 40,700 cup. And I like this bullet. I have pushed it faster with 2400 in the mod.92s and it has always performed very well. 15.5 grains H110 under the 170 grain jacketed bullet gives 1662 fps at a cost of 40,800 cup (44,200 psi). I have used 19 grains of WW296 which is H110's sister powder and a 150 grain jacketed bullet for 2310 fps from the rifle and 1776 fps from the Ruger.. Again the pressures were up in the high 45,000 psi level.

H4227 is much faster than IMR 4227 in the 357 magnum case. Lee shows 18 grains of the H brand under the 125 grain class of bullets gives a good starting load with well over 1900 fps and a compressed load of 20 grains gives him 2122 fps... at an acceptable 42,000 cup. The 140/146 grain class with 16.2 grains gives 1755 fps and 18 grains give 1930 fps for 42,600 cup.

If I had to live with only two powders for everything... 2400 and Bullseye would be the two.... and of course if it had to be one powder... 2400 would be it. This powder and also Bullseye and I go back almost 60 years..... 2400 and Bullseye were the first two powders I reloaded with just after the Second World War. Powder was almost impossible to get... But the fast powders and 2400 which was considered a fast rifle powder at that time was really not used by the military... so the remaining stocks were sold to the public. While powder production was in full gear for powders like 4895, 4195, and others in that burning rate for the 30-06 military rounds. And 45 ACP rounds along with 38 special used non canister ball powders like the 30 carbine ammo did....

The 45 long Colt when it turned from black powder to smokeless in the late 1890s went to Bullseye. The rounds we have opened dated 1913 contained 6Ĺ grains of Bullseye and 250+ grain soft lead bullet. Bullseye may have been used in the First World War by the military in handgun loads, but very little in the Second World War.

2400 with the 125 grain bullet and 17.6 grains Lee states gives 1810 fps for only 31,800 psi. I donít know why Lee stopped at 17+ grains... I have gone to 23 grains under the 115 grain bullets for 2408 fps in the 24 inch barreled mod.92, and the pressure indications from case measurements showed it was in the high 45,000+ psi levels. Fine also for the Rugers ...giving 1481 fps, though there are better powders of such a light bullet, in handguns.

Lee shows a lead bullet at 158 grains over 15.3 grains of 2400 gives 1620 fps and 34,000 psi....compare this to the Bullseye load at about the same pressure gives only 1320 fps, 300 fps less... With a jacketed 158 grainer 15.2 grains gives 1535 fps for 33,100 psi... 16.6 grains of WW 296 gives the same bullet almost the same velocity as 15.3 grains of 2400, 1610 fps but at a 6,400 psi more pressure, hitting 40,400 psi.

I mentioned before that I had killed a black bear with a 148 grain hollow base wadcutter. It was loaded backwards so I had a giant hollow point at around 1500 fps. Over 5.7 grains of Bullseye Lee states it gives 1475 fps and 34,000 psi, it does lead badly at these velocities... But it is an incredible self defense load from a short barreled 357 handgun at across the room distances.

As we outline other similar loads from other sources, Leeís pressure material gives us some idea of the pressures of those loads... not all of them but some.

Noslerís data is from a 8.75 inch barrel, probably a test barrel, and they are somewhat conservative in their loading levels. But their data for the 180 grain bullet is interesting.

Nosler 180 J

2400... 10... 1010fps

9.5.. 931 fps

H4227..12.... 1023fps

11.... 861fps

H110......13.5..1257fps

12.5..1148fps

w296.....13.... 1188fps

12.... 1052fps

Speer gives velocities from a 20 inch barreled Marlin, while Sierra gives data from a 6 inch handgun... though the bullets are manufactured by two different companies the weights are the same in the handgun/rifle velocities I note here. Obviously the different makes would give different velocities with the same loads from the same gun, but the differences would really not be that much. So these two sets of figures gives us a good idea of the velocity differences between the 6 inch revolver and the 20 inch rifle. I also added in some places Leeís pressures noted for the same loads...

 

MARLIN 20 INCH RIFLE/SPEER  &  SIERRA 6 INCH REVOLVER

110 grain JHP

19.5/2400 2291fps/ 1550 fps (Difference 741 fps)

23/296 2321fps/

21/296 2131 fps/ 1450 fps (difference 681 fps) 23/H110 2353fps/37,200psi

 

125 GRAIN JHP

20/H110 2125fps (19g)41,400 psi

20/296 2125fps

17.5/2400 2019fps 31,800psi 1400fps 6 inch handgun(diff. 619fps)

 

140 GRAIN JHP

18/296 1934 fps

13/2400 1683 fps

15/2400 1860 fps

19.2 IMR4227 1882 fps

17.2 IMR4227 1672 fps 35,200psi 1210fps handgun (difference 462 fps)

17.2 H110 1873 fps 40.000psi

 

158 GRAIN JHP

15.5 H110 1738fps

14/ H110 1564fps

15/2400 1650fps 33,100psi

15/296 1575fps

13/296 1340fps

Ken Waters in his Pet Loads book put out by Wolfe Publishing compares some of the same make and weight bullets in a 6 inch Colt and the 20 inch Marlin....

SIX INCH COLT & MARLIN 20" LEVERACTION

 

110 GRAIN SPEER JHP

9.5 Unique 1473fps 1917fps (Diff. 444 fps)

14.5 Blue Dot 1650 fps 2062fps (Diff. 412 fps)

18.5 H4227 1400 fps 2247fps (Diff. 847 fps)

 

125 GRAIN HORNADY JHP

9 Unique 1400 fps 1766fps (Diff. 366 fps)

 

125 GRAIN SIERRA JHP

13 Blue Dot 1440fps 1875fps (Hornady) (diff. 435fps)

17.5/2400 1477fps 2001fps (diff. 524 fps)

18/2400 1497

 

125 GRAIN SIERRA JSP

13 Blue Dot 1400fps

16.5/2400 1315fps 1896fps (diff. 581 fps)

17.5 H4227 1192fps

18.5 H110 1266fps 2026fps (diff. 760 fps)

 

146 GRAIN SPEER JHP

14.5/296 1020 fps

15.5/296 1100 fps 1644 fps (15/296) (diff. 544fps)

8/Unique 1261 fps

11/Blue Dot 1200 fps

13.5/2400 1179 fps

14.5/2400 1286 fps

15 grains of H4227 and IMR 4227 just about broke 1000 fps they are only good in rifles with light bullets... but are good with heavy bullets in handguns....

 

150 GRAIN SIERRA JHP

8.5 Unique 1308fps

15/2400 1278fps

15.5/2400 1310fps 1685 (Marlin) (diff. 375 fps)

11 Blue Dot 1221fps

12 BlueDot 1325fps

 

158 GRAIN SIERRA JHP

15.5 H4227 1140 fps

15.5 H110 1200fps 1665fps (diff. 465fps)

16/296 1207fps 1705fps (diff. 498fps)

 

158 GRAIN HORNADY JHP

11 Blue Dot 1180fps 1581fps (diff. 401 fps)

15/2400 1274fps 1744fps (diff. 470 fps)

16/2400 1390fps

15/H110 1180fps

15/296 1122fps

16/296 1192fps 1705fps (Speer) (diff. 513fps)

17/296 1366fps

 

My loadings over the last 30 plus years in the 357 reflect basically the same levels. But many of my loads went further, the figures for most of the above loadings are conservative in pressure.. Especially for the strong Ruger single actions and the model 92 design modern leveractions.... these next ones are my loads and for your information only.... your guns and mine are different so I canít recommend these to you....

I think a word here about the turn of the 19/20th centuries. And a comparison of power of the popular loadings for three of the great deer harvesting calibers of those times... the 30-30, 32-40, and the 38-55. I have two hunting loads for the 357 in my rifles. From my Winchester 94/24 inch 17.5 grains of IMR 4227 gives 200/210 grain cast bullets 1755 fps and just under 1400 ft.lbs of muzzle energy... and the same load under the 180 jacketed PSP gives 1757 fps and 1230 plus ft.lbs of muzzle energy. The original velocity with a 165 grain bullet in the 30-30 from 1895 into the 1900s was around 1860 fps and 1260 ft.lbs of muzzle energy.. The Win 32-40 loading was also a 165 grain bullet at 1400 fps and under 720 ft.lbs of muzzle energy, while the great 38-55 with the Win loading of a 255 grain bullet at 1320 fps and gave just under 1000 ft.lbs of muzzle energy. As you can see the 357 loaded right even for the Marlins and the Winchesters (40,000 to 42,000 psi) can eclipse the early big three rifle loads.

So why am I comparing apples and oranges, the modern loaded 357 from rifles vrs. old time rifle loads...? Because the three old time rifle loads above were the deer and black bear slayers of the times, and gave excellent service to our grandfathers... They kept families well fed, protected homes and live stock, and much more. All this to show the 357 from leverguns with the right handload is no hyper handgun load. It is a very powerful 100 to 150 yard deer harvester. Yes there are much better calibers. But for youngsters or those that canít take recoil it is a fine offering.

STRONG RUGER SINGLE ACTIONS, FA SINGLE ACTIONS, AND MODERN MODEL 92 LEVERACTIONS.

20/296 140 Speer JHP 2390fps 20 inch model 92 / 1670fps Ruger 7.5"

20/296 150 Sierra JHP 2310fps 20 inch model 92

15/Rel 7 200 grain Cast RN 1660 fps 20 inch 92

15/Rel 7 180 Cast RN 1670 fps 20 inch 92

200 grain RN cast in 38 special+p cases 16/296 just over 1870 fps (52,000psi) for my strong 92s only... they are cast hard, left for 24 hours, then lubed .358 and then placed in a pan of water up to the leading edge and then the noses are de-tempered with a butain torch... it allows the nose to be soft and expand and the body to stay hard and resist fouling.... I use small rifle primers usually Federal.

120 grain PSP over 21/2400 2410fps 24"mod.92 24 inch.. and 1535fps Ruger 7.5"

Remington makes a PSP (pointed soft point) bullet at 150 grains, itís cone shaped and I clip the nose, making it a flat tip, for the leveraction tube.. Over 20/296 from the 24 inch Ď92 it breaks 2000 feet per second, with a +3 inches at 100 yards it is zero at 150 yards, and down 8 inches at 200 yards... the normal round nose type 158 grain 357 bullets canít get close to those ballistics....

So the next time someone says to you the 357 magnum is the weak sister of the magnum cartridges... tell them that the factual data tells a different story....

 

 

 

 

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