.357 Magnum Ammo for Self Defense

By Tom Claycomb
Gun writer Tom Claycomb weighs in on the use of. 357 magnum ammo as a self defense round when in the backcountry.

.357 Magnum Ammo Ammunition
.357 Magnum Ammunition
AmmoLand Gun News
AmmoLand Gun News

USA-(Ammoland.com)- Back in the day, the Smokin’ . 357 Magnum was once considered a bad A$$ pistol round.

But….that was before Dirty Harry hit the scene telling the bad guys to make my day” with his .44 mag.

Since that day, a .44 mag. has become a household word but it too was later pushed in the corner by the .454 Casull, .500 SW mag., .50 cal. Desert Eagle and who knows what else?

But lest we place the .357 Magnum in the museum along with the Atlatl and sling shot let’s take a second to reconsider its relevance.

No, it’s not as effective a caliber on bears, wolves, and cougars as a .44 mag. but it is still a viable choice ammunition round for a backup gun. I do a lot of bear hunting and just switched maybe 11 years ago from carrying a .357 as a backup gun and upgraded to a .44 mag.

Do I favor a .44 magum? Yes, of course.

As I type this article I’m en route to Alaska for a brown bear hunt and you can bet I’ll have my S&W Titanium .44 mag. but, what if you’re a dainty little 125 lb. girl and you’re going backpacking? Or fly fishing in the backcountry? Or, on a bear hunt. My S&W Titanium is a nightmare to shoot. It’s no fun at all.

So maybe the aforementioned 125 lb. young lady would rather not carry a pistol at all and just take her chances with bears than to shoot a .44 mag, not a great plan.

My wife and daughters carry a Ruger SP 101 3-inch .357 mag. it’s a great little gun. They can carry it into town loaded with .38’s and when they hit the mountains they load her up with .357’s.

Smith & Wesson Model 19 Revolver in .357 Magnum Ammo

Smith & Wesson Model 19 Revolver in . 357 Magnum Ammo
Smith & Wesson Model 19 Revolver in . 357 Magnum Ammo
I use an Uncle Mike's holster and carry H&K speed loaders when carrying my Smith & Wesson Model 19 Revolver in . 357 Magnum Ammo.
I use an Uncle Mike’s holster and carry H&K speed loaders when carrying my Smith & Wesson Model 19 Revolver in . 357 Magnum Ammo.

My old standby delivery system for the . 357 Magnum Ammo was a 4-inch Smith & Wesson Model 19 Revolver. With the 4-inch barrel, you can obtain reasonable accuracy and it doesn’t kick as much as a lighter pistol. It is a medium sized pistol to carry. I use an Uncle Mike’s Kodra Nylon Sidekick Hip Holster to carry it or you can get a Diamond D Guides Choice S&W N Frame Chest Holster, nice looking leather shoulder holster.

So if you are more recoil sensitive then don’t discount the possibility of carrying a . 357. I’m a big believer in carrying as large of a caliber as you can handle but, if you go overboard then you’ll be scared and not practice as much as you should.

So my advice? Carry as big of a caliber as you’re comfortable with.

Also, due to the improvement in the quality of our bullets, smaller caliber guns can now perform at levels that in the past only their larger cousins could obtain. Decades ago we didn’t have too big of a selection of bullets to choose from but now there are a lot of good options out there. We don’t have time to cover it in this article but, all bullets are not created equal. So buy good quality bullets. On this bear hunting trip, I’m carrying Federal Premium Handgun Ammo loads.

Beside quality bullets, buy the proper bullet for the task at hand. If you’re wanting to use your Smith & Wesson Model 19 Revolver in . 357 Magnum ammo for bear protection then you don’t want a fast expanding bullet.

In fact, a lot of my buddies preach using solid core hunting bullets. They want the bullet to penetrate all the way through and break down the shoulder so you knock a wheel or two out from under him.

I usually alternate in my cylinder. One solid core . 357 hunting bullet and one top quality soft nose/hollow point .357. So the moral to the last two paragraphs is that if you pick the correct ammo, then you may be able to turn your lowly .357 mag into a decent self-protection pistol when you’re up in the mountains, or downtown for a late dinner.

About Tom Claycomb

Tom Claycomb has been an avid hunter/fisherman throughout his life as well as an outdoors writer with outdoor columns in the magazine Hunt Alaska, Bass Pro Shops, Bowhunter.net and freelances for numerous magazines.

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Steven Terry

I like 357 magnum simply for the fact it has never hung up once since I’ve owned it for the past 32 years, how many of you auto owners can say that? S terry


Hard case solids of 175 to 200 grains in the 357 magnum will exceed the sectional density of 41 magnum and be equal to most 44 magnum. This means given similar shot placement they will penetrate equally with similar results. Id prefer carrying something that is easier to shoot accurately and fast with less recoil


10mm will get the job done!

Edward R Burton

The speed-loaders are of the HKS variety, not H&K.


“Back in the day, the Smokin’ . 357 Magnum was once considered a bad A$$ pistol round.”

Lost me at the first line.

James A. "Jim" Farmer

Lake County Examiner: Lakeview, Oregon Wednesday, February 10, 2015 http://www.lakecountyexam.com Letters To The Editor Gun Lesson Introduced jointly in 1935 by Smith and Wesson and Winchester, the .357 Magnum, originally designed by Major Doug Wesson, Phil Sharpe: a ballistician, and gun scribe writer Elmer Keith, is now 80. The .357 Magnum, and it’s parent caliber the .38 Special, were formerly the quintessential law enforcement handgun of the 20th century. Since mass conversion from revolvers to semi-automatic pistols commenced in the late 1980’s/ early 1990’s, revolvers seldom appear in cop’s holsters. However, the historic revolver remains laudable. Both .38 Special and… Read more »

Paul Cella

Roy F. Wilt: Have you looked at the .357 Sig. Ballistics are supposed to be very close to the .357 magnum.

Gary L Griffiths

As I’ve aged, I’ve become less tolerant of the recoil of my Ruger Redhawk .44 Magnum, so I’ve gone back to my old 6″ S&W Model 28, which I carry with hot-loaded 180-gr Hornady XTPs in bear country.

2nd Amender

S&W model 657, .41 magnum, 6 inch barrel…….

In the woods, or in the city…….w/265 gr gob stopper

But, edc…….is 3″ Kimber Ultra……., gotta have my .45 cause they don’t make a .46…..as that goes!


.460 Rowland conversion.

Jim Macklin

125 grain 9mm/38/357 bullets are fine for defense against 100 kg bipeds wearing cotton and nylon. For bears, [not Chicago football players] the 160 grain softpoint is probably teh best choice. The FBI says that 12-16 inches of penetration is ideal for self-defense against human predators. In the 44 Magnum 200 to 300 grain bullets are best and minimum handgun for brown bears. Of course if you like the idea of feeding wildlife, bear will eat your fingers if you shoot them in the skull with a 125 gr JHP 357 since the bullets will give them a headach but… Read more »


Not if you are shooting solids.

Roy F. Wilt

I wish that they would chamber a double stack semi-auto!!!!!! A 357 Mag is 10 times the Quality ( Knock down power) compared to a 9mm, I own a wonderful S. & W. 586 with a 6 inch barrel. I love the pistol! But I carry a FNX-45 (16 Rounds) because that is the best for a, one shot, one kill, protection. I no longer worry about a single attacker! I worry about multiple targets! In other words I now carry with an attack by Terrorists rather than any other threat! This changes your response from ” self protection” to… Read more »


You Got that right


I own a Coonan .357 single stack auto.
If you double stack the .357 you would need gorilla hands to hold it.
My Coonan is at least 1/3 more grip than my 1911 in 45 ACP. because of the length of the .357.
The main spring is stout and requires real hand strength to rack.
The mag spring is just as impressive, loading that last round into the magazine is a challenge.


You could get a custom STI double-stack chambered for 9×23 Winchester. Expensive, for sure, and Winchester’s only defensive load for 9×23 is the old-and-superseded Silver Tip 125gr, but it’s every bit equivalent to standard 357 mag with 125’s. What it really requires is someone to load Speer 147gr Gold Dots. These can be driven to 1355 fps and beyond out of a 5″ barreled, fully-ramped 1911, for over 600 ft-lbs (only specialty 357 mag ammo exceeds this.) It’s still a pussycat to shoot, too. Conversion from a 38 Super requires only a barrel.