Whether you are looking for a bullet for hunting, self-defense, or target practice, the .357 Magnum vs .38 Special conversation eventually happens. If that is a conversation you are interested in, then keep reading as we compare both bullets, their specs, and the options you have for self-loading either or both.
.357 Mag and .38 Special Cartridge Specs
.357 Magnum - .357 diameter or 9.1 mm
.38 Special - .357 diameter or 9.1 mm
.357 Magnum - 1.29 inches or 33 mm
.38 Special - 1.155 inches or 29.3 mm
.357 Magnum - 1.59 inches or 40 mm
.38 Special - 1.550 inches 39.4 mm
Max Pressure in PSI
.357 Magnum- 44,000 PSI which equates to 300 MPa
.38 Special - 22,000 PSI which equates to 150 MPa
Case Capacity in Grains
.357 Magnum - 26.2 Grain H2O
.38 Special - 32.4 Grain H2O
Both velocity and energy or penetration stats will vary based on the total grain of the round and the quality of the load, as well as other factors that impact both velocity and penetration.
.357 Magnum - 1240-1450 ft/second - Energy 539 ft-lbf - 783 ft-lbf
.38 Special - 755-1150 ft/second - 185 ft-lbf - 333 ft-lbf
The .357 Magnum revolver is a powerful gun. The Magnum cartridge has a higher muzzle velocity than the .38 Special and like most large rounds, the .357 Magnum is better at close distances than as a long range shooter. Smith & Wesson, or S&W, offers a firearm capable of handling the higher pressure (+ P loads) for .357 Magnum.
The .38 Special is a lighter round making it a bit better at farther distances. Still, the .38 Special cartridge is not the first choice for long-distance targets. These are rounds that will do well against closer targets. There is less recoil in the .38 Special revolver, and it was once the first choice for law enforcement.
It is important to note that for self-loaders, the bullet diameters are the same .357, making the bullets interchangeable and giving you a long list of options along with possible recipes for rounds. That means that you have the ability, simply by changing the bullet weight and style, to create a round that is applicable for many different types of shooting environments - hunting, recreational shooting, and home defense.
In an open carry situation, either bullet would offer you impact, speed, and stopping power. Even in a semi-automatic situation, the muzzle energy would be enough to take down big targets in close quarters. What is the best option for revolver rounds? The answer to that question will depend on the situation, your ability to shoot accurately in that situation, and your shooting technique. Both rounds can be a high-velocity option with a variance in energy and impact.
The .357 Magnum has a higher recoil - nearly twice as much - as the .38 special. If recoil is something you can handle as a shooter, then you gain more stopping power with the .357 magnum ammo. If recoil is something that worries you, then .38 Special ammo is a better fit for you. The decrease in recoil means that it takes less time to re-aim, giving you more options for multiple shots at your target, especially if they are moving.
Hand Fit - If you are new to shooting, then you will want to pay attention to the way your hand fits on the grips of the gun. If the fit is poor, and there is too much recoil, you could injure yourself. Worse, is the fear that people get when they think about recoil. You can control both fear and the risk of injury if you choose guns that fit your hand or change the grips on the gun for a better fit. Your last option is to find a gun and bullet combination that has a good hand grip and less recoil. In this instance, the .38 special load would be a better choice over the more powerful .357 Magnum load.
.357 Magnum - offers a magazine capacity of nine rounds for the Smith & Wesson model, though other options are available but may not be legal in the United States.
.38 Special - offers a magazine capacity ranging from 5-6 rounds. Like the .357 Magnum, there are aftermarket magazines that may add more rounds.
Magazine capacity is one factor that people pay attention to, but it is not the most important factor in using a gun. One or two rounds are likely all you will need. That brings accuracy and technique to the forefront of this argument.
Factors that impact accuracy include your technique. You can improve your ability to shoot accurately and quickly with practice and a hard look at the results of it. That also brings us back to how you hold the gun and the fit of the gun in your hands. Both can impact the accuracy of your shots, and both are correctible if needed.
The .357 was known as a handy hunting handgun, but the reality is that it is not a neat or easy hunting weapon. You have to be very close, and your aim has to be nearly perfect. It will take down a bear, but you pretty much have to be within a few feet of the animal. The .38 special is in the same boat. It will take down an adult deer, but you need to be very close - 20 yards or so. Your shot also has to be perfect, or you will spend the rest of your day tracking an injured deer.
The .357 Magnum light rifle would be acceptable as a hunting rifle. It would offer enough punch to take down deer at 150 yards. Beyond that range, it is iffy.
Both handgun rounds can achieve higher velocity when loaded with the correct options. Barrel length, again, is a big deal, which is why the Magnum rifle is a better hunting weapon over the Magnum handgun.
Both the .357 Magnum and .38 Special are awesome for recreational shooting. Whether you choose a long Colt or a .357 rifle, you should not be disappointed. You can even get a .357 semi-automatic with the Coonan option and the .38 in a rimless version will work as a semi-automatic round.
The higher velocity of the .357 Magnum will be closely matched by the .38 Special in close-quarter target practice. You might get a little more distance out of the .357 Magnum.
Both bullets make a good option for home defense. The .357 Magnum might be a little too powerful for firing inside a building as its higher velocity could penetrate walls and pose an unintended injury risk. The .38 Special would be a better option for in-house firefights. For perimeter control, either bullet would do the job. Of course, in that situation, you would use what you have, but thinking ahead in true prepper style, both have benefits. You get more punch with the .357 magnum meaning you may only need one shot. You can achieve better accuracy for all hand types (small, medium, large) with the .38 Special since it has a lower recoil.
These situations all require good shooting technique.
Cost and Availability
Expect to spend around $130 for 1000 bullets or around $40 for a case of 250 bullets. These are priced at the self-load rate so you would need to spend more for the other components. Berry's offers many styles of bullets for both, and since the bullets are pretty much interchangeable, self-loaders have all the options.
357 Magnum and 38 Special Bullets from Berry’s
Berry's has eight varieties of the .38/.357 bullets. Those include:
We offer a max of 158-grain bullet options with 125-grain being the lightest. These are perfect revolver cartridge options for black powder or smokeless powder. Which option would Elmer Keith choose? The mix of tips and grain weights is enough to be able to create the perfect round for different situations. The massive power of the 158-grain option gives a lot of punch, while the 125-grain bullet offers less recoil and perhaps a bit more accuracy.
Be sure to shop our complete line of reloading equipment and brass cleaning supplies. Along with the large selection of bullets, you can find everything you need to reload at home and the freedom to create rounds that fit your lifestyle and situation.
Berry's has served the shooting community within the United States for four generations. We understand the needs of this community and our manufacturing facility produces bullets that meet or exceed those needs.