I have used a .357, and I have used modern handguns with similar or identical ballistics. I currently own and carry daily, a caliber that is largely vying to take the spot of the .357 Magnum.
The .357 Magnum once was the most powerful pistol on earth, but that’s not the case today. the .357 sig, and 10mm Auto equal the power and trajectory of the .357 magnum with heavy bullets. Newer calibers have in many minds, made the almost century old .357 Magnum begin to become obsolete.
Why do some say the .357 Magnum is Obsolete?
The .357 magnum is the last of the line of great past military and law enforcement cartridge modifications dating back to the civil war. The original .36 caliber cap and ball revolver of the 1860’s was replaced by the 38 Short Colt, which was replaced by the 38 Long Colt, which was replaced in 1899 by the 38 Special.
The changes in cartridges were basically just a slight modification on the existing guns. They all shared the same bullet diameter of .357 inches because the cylinders were changed on the revolvers, but the rest of the revolver, including the barrel was left as is. It was easier that way.
All these cartridges used black powder. In 1902, the 38 Special was upgraded to a smokeless powder version. Still, the round lacked power and effectiveness. Law enforcement needed an option that would stop a drugged criminal without using all the bullets in a 6-shot revolver.
The answer was the .357 magnum. They took the 38 special and lengthened the case by an eighth of an inch. That extra eighth of an inch, allowed for more gunpowder. They rated this new gun for twice the pressure of the older 38 special, and the .357 Magnum became a thing.
When the .357 Magnum started the path to Becoming Obsolete
The .357 Magnum was king of the hill in American law enforcement, self-defense, and even handgun hunting without much of a real challenger until about the 80’s. Why did it happen? Well, honestly, we learned more about guns. Revolvers in general became seen as a liability, or a limiting factor.
The problem with revolvers, is that you only have 5 or 6 shots, and they’re slow to reload. U.S. Military had used semi-auto handguns since World War 2, but most police agencies, and the FBI, trusted the reliability of a revolver over the semi-autos that jammed more often.
Now, with time, the semi-auto pistols got ridiculously good. They also were being offered in models that held over three times the number of bullets of a revolver. The original Glock in the 80’s held 17 9mm rounds. In a gun equal size as a 6-shot revolver. That really was the deal breaker.
By the end of the 80’s, most agencies used higher capacity semi-auto handguns. Also, in the 80’s, two new cartridges came onto the scene. The FBI had the 10mm AUTO developed to replicate a heavy .357 magnum bullet, but in a smoother shooting and higher capacity semi-auto.
Unfortunately, their agents had become too accustom the shooting the half as powerful 9mm, and complained about the heavier recoil, although, it was less than the old .357 revolver. Next, they tried a low-power loading of the 10mm AUTO.
Smith and Wesson had the idea to shorten the case of the 10mm AUTO, since it wasn’t necessary in the reduced powder load, and they created the 40 S&W. Handguns were easily converted to 40 from 9mm. The 40 was a bit more powerful than the 9mm, but not quite.357 levels. Everything is a compromise.
Eventually, the 40 S&W was necked down to a .357 bullet and the result was named the .357 sig. the .357 sig didn’t quite reach.357 Magnum levels, but it certainly beat out the 9mm, and it shoots light weight bullets better than the 40 does.
The .357 sig will shoot a 124-grain bullet 300 feet per second faster than a 9mm will. It is comparable with a mild loaded .357 Magnum round. Like I said, it works great with light bullets, but it doesn’t really fit anything much heavier.
Why the .357 Magnum isn’t Obsolete, it’s a Niche
The .357 will probably be around as long as revolvers are. If you want an effective revolver for hunting or self-defense but don’t want to wield the 44 Magnum, the .357 is for you. As far as power, it’s got it. it’s a sweet choice for hunting mid-sized, and even some large game.
Revolvers have their uses. I will likely not recommend one for self defense due to the low capacity of them. Now for hunting, I like it. it will kill a deer, antelope, or small bear with no problem. Still, I carry my semi-auto concealed with me even if hunting with a revolver.
Another point is that the .357, and revolvers in general are just cool. We have had multiple generations of kids seeing cowboy movies of good guys saving the day with revolvers. That sort of thing shapes an industry. I just took a cautious friend shooting. He loved my revolver because it looked just like the toy gun he had as a child. It brought him back and brought him a lot of joy.
I have a single action army revolver, just because it’s cool. It’s really, really cool. I would never want to have to use it defensively, though I did carry it as a backup when there was a situation going on. I actually carried three pistols concealed that day, but that’s a whole other story.
Will the .357 Magnum go Obsolete?
It absolutely will one day, like all of them will. But not for a long while. I could see it hanging in there for another hundred years. Most of the old-timers in the gun community tout the lordship of the .357 because in it’s day, there was little choice for a powerful defensive round.
It’s heralded as a synonym of power and effectiveness. When you say .357 magnum in a room full of gun guys, everyone pauses and says, Oooh’. Try it and see, it’s true. We all know and agree it’s powerful, it’s just those dad-blamed 5 or 6-shot revolvers.
Don’t get me wrong, I love revolvers. They are super fun to shoot. I personally will not carry one as a defensive gun because I want more capacity. My first pistol was a Glock 20 that holds 15 rounds of 10mm AUTO. Anything less seems small compered to that. I guess it’s all in perspective.
It’s nowhere near the king of the block it used to be, but the .357 isn’t going away any time soon. It’s way too ingrained into nearly five generations of shooters. With most of the interest in handguns going to defensive semi-autos, it will continue to slowly wain, but it won’t disappear. It’s too darn cool.
Don’t believe me? Just pick one up. You’re probably going to say “wow, that’s cool”.
What cartridge will make the .357 Magnum Obsolete?
If there is a round that more or less replaces the .357 Magnum, it will most likely be the 10mm AUTO. Unless another cartridge comes with the same power that gains more popularity. Honestly, the 10mm Auto has been trying to kick the .357 off its high horse since the beginning.
It seems to be gaining more traction in the last few years. It’s really moving full steam ahead. The type of people who used to want the .357 over a 38 special are now looking for a 10mm instead of a 9mm. I predict, with no degree of certainty, that the 10mm AUTO will rise in popularity at an equal pace to the .357’s decline.
Really, the 10mm AUTO can handle nearly the same range of bullet weights at the same velocity as the .357 and, it works best with the heavier bullets that were the weakness of the .357 Magnum. The 10mm Auto does what the .357 was designed to do, only you can stuff 3 times the bullets into the gun
P.S. I gained some new insights and wrote a complete article on 10mm vs 357 Magnum. Here’s a link to it.