Sponsors of Leverguns.Com
T. Riekers Sporting Agency & Gun Works | Steve's
Gunz | Henry
Repeating Arms Co.
by Jim Taylor
Enough has been written about the .357 that I have no need to rehash old history. Suffice it to say that the First Magnum impressed people from the beginning and that it still has a place in one's battery today. No collection of handguns is complete without one.
While it was touted as a "car stopper" for Police work, it did duty as a game-getter from it's birth. Major Doug Wesson and Elmer Keith were the first notables to use it on game and write it up. Today it is fashionable to pooh-pooh it as a Big Game gun but these men did not see it that way.
There is some reason, however, to at least (in principle) agree with those who are hesitant about the use of the .357 on Big Game.
First, the factory loadings today are loaded to less pressure than the original loads and consequently have less power. The early .357's were loaded in cartridges that utilized a Large primer and heavy loads developed quite a bit of pressure above the established levels of today's factory offerings.
Second, it is a .35 caliber pistol and as such the shots must be placed on the game very carefully. A lot of those who take to the field these days are not experts either in hunting or shooting. In the field a person must know when and when not to take a shot... or as the movie line goes, "A man has to know his own limitations." Unfortunately many do not and if they read that so-and-so used "this" or "that" to bag his trophy they figure they can too.
Having said that, I know a number of hunters who would be perfectly at ease using a .357 on the game they hunt. They are both excellent hunters and shooters and would do just as well with a .22 should that be all that they had. They understand the principle that it is "the man, not the machine" as John Linebaugh is fond of saying.
The .357 did duty in the Korean War and proved very effective at penetrating the body armor worn by Chinese Communists. It was also carried during the Vietnam conflict and was used effectively. I have a good friend who is alive today because of his use of a .357 (the gun was given to him by Elmer Keith) on a VC who had homemade armor. The VC shot several men in the compound and was not stopped until my friend got his .357 going. They found later the Viet Cong had metal plates tied in front and on his back. The .45 ACP did not penetrate, but the .357 made holes in and out!
It's use as a Police weapon began to be curtailed in the 1960's. It had proven very effective against criminals.... so much so that the protests said it was too effective! Litigation and political pressure caused many Police agencies to look for a weapon that had a "nicer" public image and little by little the .357 was phased out. Very few Departments today use them.
357 Magnum Testimonials from earlier days
The Antelope was hit the first time at 125 yards. It ran, stopped and was shot the second time at 200 yards. The second shot killed it.
The Bull Elk was killed with one shot through the lungs.
The Moose was shot in the chest near the base of the neck. It cut the 2nd rib, passed through both lungs, sheared the 8th rib on the off side and stopped just under the hide. No follow-up shot was required.
These animals were taken on a Fall hunt in Wyoming, near the West entrance of Yellowstone Park. The Grizzly was taken later in Canada.
The above game was taken using factory loads which were a 158 gr. bullet at 1515 fps from an 8 3/4" barreled S&W producing 812 ft. lbs of muzzle energy. (S&W later shortened the barrels to 8 3/8" as we have today)
To those who criticized, the Major replied that they "..had not the slightest conception of what we have accomplished in ballistics.." - a statement that still applies today.
"When the new .357 cartridge and gun came out I gave it a very thorough tryout ... and found it had more actual knockdown killing power on all game that I shot with it than any other factory loaded, real revolver cartridge on the market.... (It) proved to have much more actual shock effect and killing power ...than any factory loaded revolver or auto pistol cartridge including the .44 Special and the .45 Colt..."
Sixgun Cartridges and Loads pages 29 & 30
His Guide, John Hunter (of "HUNTER" and "AFRICA AS I HAVE FOUND IT") wrote that the .357 was "the one and only hand-arm for African hunting"...
He wrote, "...It does all the work of a rifle and is light and easy to carry.."
He referred to his S&W .357 Magnum as his "killing machine"....
"No automatic cartridge is as powerful as the .357 Magnum........Years ago I stated that if I could have only one gun, it would be a Model 27 S&W."
Skeeter Skelton on Handguns page 16
My First Magnum
It was in the late 1950's and I was 14 years old when my Dad gave me my first center-fire sixgun, a Ruger Blackhawk .357 Magnum. Boy was I proud of that gun! I shot thousands of rounds through that pistol ..... in one year alone shooting over 20,000 rounds of home-made ammo.
I cast the bullets on my Mom's kitchen stove melting the lead in a cast iron skillet and using a Lyman bullet ladle to dip the lead out out and pour it. The main bullet I cast was the Ray Thompson bullet ... Lyman #358156. It had 2 crimp grooves so that you could seat it out in .38 Special cases and have the same powder capacity of the .357 Magnum cases.
Dad reamed the gascheck step out of the mold so that the bullets were plainbase instead of gascheck as designed. It also increased the weight a bit.
I lubed them by standing the bullets in an old cake tin and pouring melted lube around around them. When the lube hardened I cut the bullets out of the lube with a Kake Cutter and then pushed them through a Lyman bullet sizing die on a 310 Tool.
All my .357's were loaded using the old Lyman 310 Tool. The light loaded ammo did not need to be full-length sized and the standard dies on the 310 worked just fine, neck-sizing the cases only. The heavy-loaded 357's had to be full-length sized. This was accomplished using a Lyman Full-Length sizing die which was a piece of steel rod a little over an inch in diameter and about 1 1/2" long. It had been reamed to the correct dimensions to full-length size a 357 cartridge case driven into it.
I would set at my "loading bench" ... a home-made picnic table... and lube all the .357 empty cases by rubbing candle wax on them. Then one by one I would drive the cases into the die, turn it over and drive them back out using a heavy wooden mallet. It was slow work but I was 15 years old, we did not have TV and I had plenty of time. I spent many an evening pounding all the fired cartridges into and out of that die!
I had 2 powder charges that I used ...one with 2400 and one with Bullseye. I fired more of the Bullseye loads than the 2400 ... but I shot a lot of both. By scrounging my lead .. from gas stations and by "mining" the shooting range... my bullets cost me nothing but time. We made our own lube so that was "free". Primers were 80 cents or so a hundred, and powder was $8 or $9 a pound... if I remember correctly. It has been awhile. With the Bullseye load I used ... 3.0 gr. of the stuff .. .I figured I could get around 2000 handloads from a pound of powder ... for around $10 cash outlay! It was cheaper to shoot the .357 than my .22 ... though the 10 bucks was hard to come by at times in those days.
I dipped the powder charges. Dad made me 2 powder dippers and regulated them on his powder scale. The small one threw right at 3.0 gr. of Bullseye and the larger one threw 14.5 gr. of 2400 which was my standard magnum load. For serious target work I found that 13.5 gr. of 2400 gave superb accuracy ... especially after I had hand-lapped the barrel on the gun. 50 yard 5-shot groups of 2 1/2" with open sights were fairly common. Oh for young eyes again!
I had been reading everything I could get my hands on about sixgunning .. there was not much in those days... and ran across an article about lapping barrels. I talked to my Dad about it and he showed me how to pour a lap. I slugged the barrel on the Ruger and found it had a tight spot at the juncture of the barrel and frame. (Later I found this to be a common problem on sixguns.) Using Fine valve grinding compound I lapped the bore making 2 or 3 short strokes for every full-length stroke. I worked at this for quite a few hours over the next 2 days and eventually lapped a taper in bore, so that it tightened toward the muzzle. This virtually eliminated leading and enhanced the accuracy noticeably. When I did my part the gun would shoot into the X ring of the 50 yard bullseye using my handloads with the Thompson bullet.
It was with this gun that I learned to slip-shoot fast and fairly accurately. Once I was shooting with Nick Seivers of Washington State... Nick was an old Exhibition Shooter who shot for Winchester at one point in his career. He asked if I could do the old trick that some did with double action guns of placing one tin can on another, shooting the bottom can so as to make the top can fly up into the air, and then hit the top can before it hit the ground.
I was 16 at the time and had been doing speed shooting with the single action for several years. I told him I thought I could do it. He was skeptical, but set up the cans at about 15 feet. The first go around I fired fast enough but missed the top can. After that I got onto it and was able to do it fairly easily. Nick was impressed, which I enjoyed. He had been up and down the road several times in his life and had seen lots of shooters. It was a real privilege to know him and shoot with him.
I shot that old Ruger for years and took quite a bit of game with it. Eventually I obtained one of Lyman's molds in the Keith 173 gr. plainbase semi-wadcutter. This was a very fine bullet. With my handload of 2400 and fired by a rifle primer these hardcast bullets ran fast enough that they would crack a car rim at 200 yards. I never had one stop in any game animal up to Desert Mule Deer size. Accuracy was on par with the Thompson bullet.
In my first year of married life I was forced to sell the old gun. It was with reluctance that I parted with it, but my commitment to my wife came before "things". I did however keep the XR3 gripframe off the gun and it resides today on the Ruger .45 that Linebaugh rebuilt for me. That particular .45 is special to me for several reasons, among which are the memories associated with that gripframe and what it has been attached to.
A few years ago I became the proud owner of an old, beat-up .357 Ruger. I had traded a couple of horses to a gentleman and he owed me a bit of money on them. One day he came by and asked if I would take a Ruger .357 in trade for part of what he owed me. The gun was basically a junker, missing some parts, rusted badly with deep pits in the frame, hammer and barrel. It also had what best could be described as "dings" on it... since it had ridden in the toolbox of his semi across the country for several years, just laying in loose among the wrenches.
Looking it over I figured I could do something with it and since I would not have much in it, AND it WAS the frame size I prefer, I said, "Sure...I'll take it." And so the old sixgun became a Project Gun. Everyone should have a Project Gun. One that gets worked on from time to time, letting it evolve into something that really becomes a joy to carry and use.
To get the gun back in shooting condition I had to replace the barrel, remove rust, and fix or replace internal parts that were missing or broken. I contacted some friends and eventually got another barrel from John Taffin, an original in 6 1/2" length. I picked up the parts that were needed internally and replaced those. I soaked all the pieces in diesel fuel to loosen the rust, scrubbed, cleaned, sanded and worked to get the rust out of and off of the frame.
To make the barrel fit properly and to tighten up the cylinder gap I turned enough metal off the barrel to set it back 2 full threads, screwed it in and then used a Brownell's Throating Kit to face off the breech end of the barrel and fit the cylinder with a very tight minimal gap. I used the same kit to put an11º throat in the barrel. I had to shorten the ejector rod housing a bit since the barrel now set back further than it did originally. This was accomplished with a little file work one evening.
Sporting a 6 1/2" barrel, I used the gun in that condition for part of the next year. I carried it while working on the tractor putting up hay, wore it on my hip while working the cattle and generally used it for a "working ranch gun". While I like the 6 1/2" barrel length I found it to be somewhat in the way at times. This was especially true while sitting on a tractor. Over the summer I came to the conclusion that it needed a shorter barrel. One rainy day I decided it was a good time to work on it. In my shop I keep a barrel shortener, known to most folks as a hacksaw. With a little preparatory work (measuring and marking) I soon had the barrel cut to 4 1/2" length. Some file work on the muzzle of the barrel along with cutting a muzzle crown and there it sat! Minus the front sight of course.
I had a replacement sight for a .454 Casull in my parts drawer and soon had that silver soldered in place. Note: This is NOT a job for the faint of heart. It does take some work to get the sight generally in the middle of barrel, in line fore and aft, and close to where it needs to be to make the gun hit center. Over the next few weeks in my spare time I remodeled the top strap to somewhat resemble the Colt Single Action Army top strap. That is, with a groove down the center and fixed rear sight. Since the Ruger frame has a large portion of it cut out for the adjustable rear sight, I decided to simply remodel the old aluminum rear sight and make it into a fixed one that filled the space in the frame.
I first used a horseshoe rasp to "mill" the topstrap close to the proper height. Those of you who have shod horses know how well a good horseshoe rasp can eat up metal. It took no time at all to take the topstrap down to where I wanted it.
Then I used a bench grinder with a fine wheel to smooth it off. Using the edge of the wheel I cut the groove into the topstrap until it began to resemble the old Colt SAA topstrap. After the grinding, I used a round file to shape it, and then LOTS of sandpaper, working down in coarseness as it took shape. I finished with 600 grit cloth with oil on it to give the finish a fine smooth surface.
The Ruger rear sight had the sight blade removed from the body, then I cut crossways down through the sight with a fine-toothed hacksaw. The sight was finished up by filing and sanding. The sight notch was cut into the aluminum body using jeweler's files. I did the finish work on the range, cutting the notch to get the shots near center at 25 yards.
Once that was done and the rear sight notch cut I spent some time reshaping the grip frame. I removed all the metal that I dared from the bottom of the grip frame, shortening it considerably in the process. By this time I had decided I was going to make a compact carrying gun out of the .357 and I felt the grip was too large for what I wanted. I reshaped the grip frame making it into something of a "round-butt" grip, again removing as much metal from the lower rear part of the frame as I dared. While doing that I undertook to round as many of the sharp edges as possible on the pistol. The front sight was sloped down toward the rear to make it come out of a pocket or holster as easily as possible. The back side of the ejector rod button was rounded off and sloped toward the front. If you leave it square-shaped as originally made, it can cause problems when carrying the gun "Mexican Style" (shoved down into the front of your pants). Drawing the gun quickly, the back of the ejector rod button will sometimes hook on your underwear and pull your shorts up near your armpit. This can be uncomfortable. by rounding it off the gun comes out quickly and smoothly.
The front edges of the cylinder were rounded as were all the corners on the frame. In it's final shape the only sharp place is the hammer spur. I may do something with that, though I have yet to decide exactly what I would want.
The compact gun now carried easily whether I had it on my belt in a holster, tucked under my belt in my pants or in shoulder holster. Carrying it during haying season I used it to shoot at coyotes, foxes, an occasional crow and other targets of opportunity. It worked just fine. But it was UGLY!! The cylinder had sort of an "orange peel" finish, what with all the little rust pits. Places where I had "ground" the frame were "scratchy" in appearance and it just generally was unattractive. But it shot just fine.
This last June I took it with me to the Shootists Holiday where I used it doing rapid-fire single action shooting, playing kick the can and other games. And while it worked well, several of the gunsmiths there commented on it's lack of attractiveness. Now I know that I am NOT a gunsmith. John Linebaugh told me years ago that as far as gunsmithing goes I should stick to shoeing horses. Most of what I had done to the Ruger so far basically amounted to blacksmithing. At the end of the Holiday I left the pistol with Milton Morrison of QUALITE' PISTOL ( http://www.qpr-inc.com/ ). Milton felt he could "finish up" what I had begun. I wished him Good Luck.
Several months passed and one day UPS delivered a package from Qualite' Pistol. I was excited as I opened it. And I was not disappointed. Milton had refinished the .357 and reblued it, making it look like a totally different gun than what I had left him. In a phone conversation he told me it had been a real challenge. He said the old gun was pretty rough. (Which it was) But I was more than satisfied with the work they had done. The pits in the cylinder and frame had been mostly taken care of, yet they had not buffed the lettering or numbers out as you sometimes see happen on older guns. The grip frame had been refinished with a bake-on Teflon process that makes it look better than the original. The blue on the barrel and frame was rich and dark, better than what came on the gun originally. I had replaced the original rusted, pitted hammer with one that had the hammer spur welded back on after it had broken off. The blueing did not "take" on the hammer spur where it had been rewelded, but that was OK with me. Milton said we could call it a "ringtail".
The only thing the gun lacked now was a new set of grips. I contacted my old friend Sam Bass and asked him to make me a set of white Micarta grips for the Ruger. Since I had reshaped the grip frame he said I would need to send it to him so he could get them correct. I removed the grip frame from the gun and shipped it to him immediately. A few weeks later I received it back and found a beautiful set of white grips installed on the frame. In a short time I had the grip frame and new grips on the gun and was again very well pleased. The gun now bore absolutely no resemblance to the old, beat-up sixshooter that I originally traded for. In fact, it looks like a new handgun altogether which I guess maybe it is. I have thought about taking it back and showing it to the man I got it from, but he may want it back.
On the range it has proven to be more than adequate. The fixed sights are cut so that it hits slightly above point-of-aim at 25 yards with the 125 gr. loads. In factory ammo I have found the Black Hills 125 gr. loading to be one of the most accurate in this gun. The CCI 125 gr. Gold Dot load is also a very good one. For practice and plinking loads I use a 158 gr. cast semi-wadcutter or else a 148 gr. wadcutter over 3 gr. of Bullseye powder in a .38 Special case. These light loads are great for quick-draw practice, point shooting and rapid fire work. And they hit almost exactly the same place as the hotter 125 gr. loads. I tried factory loads from Winchester, Hornady, CCI and Black Hills in the 158 gr. loadings, but for some reason none of them shot as well as the 125 gr. loadings in this gun. I guess it just prefers the lighter bullet! Both the CCI and Black Hills 125 gr. loads averaged less than 1 1/2" at 25 yards. Those are what I now carry in the .357 when it is "on duty".
After carrying the gun with the round-butt for a couple years I decided I did not like it. The "feel" was off as far as my other guns. All my old model Rugers wear the XR-3 grip frame. (If they did not have it originally I changed them to it.) This one was just too different.
One day on the Board I mentioned something about it and Carl Laco contacted me. Seems he had an XR-3 gripframe that someone had nickel plated. Was I interested? You bet! In no time I had the grip frame and began making plans. Eventually I fitted a set of walnut grips I had gotten from John Taffin to the gun. They were made for a First Generation Colt SAA. The XR3 gripframe is very close to the Colt and it did not take much work to get the grips on the gun. The round-butted gripframe and grips now reside on another "wreck" with a certain gentleman in Mississippi. Perhaps one day when he finishes his Project Gun he will share the pictures and story of it with us.
357 in Rifles
As Paco says so well, when you begin using the .357 Magnum in a rifle you enter a whole new world. Careful handloading can get near the level of .30-30 Winchester power in appropriate firearms. It is possible to run handgun bullets beyond their design capabilities in the rifle. While these make good varmint loads they would not be the choice for deer and other large game. Please choose your loads and bullets wisely.
Years ago the only way a person could get a .357 rifle was to have one custom-made. Winchester Model 92's in .25-20 and .32-20 were the best choices for leverguns at the time.
Today Winchester, Marlin, Rossi, Uberti, and H&R make rifles in the .357 caliber. You can get on in the Marlin Model 1894, a copy of the Winchester Model 92 or 73 or a neat single-shot.
The old toggle-joint action of the Model 1873 is a weak design and should never fired with heavy loads. Don't beat a fine old gun to death. If you want to hot-rod the cartridge be sure you have a firearm that is designed to take it.
A VARIETY OF USES
The .357 levergun is a great Urban Stop-Assault Rifle. It is not as threatening in appearance as some of the black rifles would-be ninja types seem to love, yet it can be just as effective. For pest control, whether two-legged or four-legged, fanged or armed, the lever action carbine can be very useful.
Very light quiet loads can be constructed to rid your homestead of small pests without disturbing the neighbors. Factory +P loads can be had in bullets weights from 110 gr. up to 180 gr. in a wonderful variety of velocities.
For those who do not handload there is a most wonderful array of .38 Special loads available. This makes practicing with the firearm practical and affordable. Many of the Cowboy loads now on the market are just plain fun. And if you have never used black powder there are now factory loads that can introduce you to the fun and excitement of yesteryear. (and you will learn why smokeless powder was invented when it comes cleaning time <smile inserted here>)
Please do not just jump in and start handloading with the heaviest load you can find. If you don't know how to determine a STARTING LOAD - DON'T START LOADING!
Remember - each firearm is a law unto itself and what may be safe in yours may not be in mine ... and vice-versa. WORK UP CAREFULLY.
You can have a lot of fun with the 357 in a rifle. Let's keep it fun.
SHOULD NEVER BE FIRED IN
handloading data with CAUTION!
- 357 Rossi 92
Hills .357 Magnum
- .357 Magnum
CCI Small Pistol Primers
Black Powder loads
From P.O. Ackley's Handbook For Shooters
& Reloaders Vol. I
Some of the above loads look to be
Very High Pressure to me.
Compare the pressure data in the table below and see what I mean.
Data from "Handloading" published
by the NRA