.38 or .357 for defense?

Discussion in 'Handguns' started by gunsmoker, Sep 20, 2014.

  1. gunsmoker

    gunsmoker Member

    I had always "heard" that if you're considering carrying a small revolver for self-defense, the .357 magnum has very little advantage over a .38 special because the barrel will be too short to burn that extra gunpowder.

    The bullet will pop out the end of the little 1.8" barrel (for S&W J-frames) while much of the magnum powder payload is still unburnt, and it will burn in the air with a huge muzzle flash that is impressive to look at (and blinding) but doesn't boost the bullet's velocity because the bullet has already left the confinement of the barrel.

    HOWEVER, I just looked at the "BALLISTICS BY THE INCH" website, and compared .38 spl and .357 magnum loads.

    Since they didn't test any real-world guns in each caliber with the same barrel length and from the same manufacturer, I had to look at the data for their T/C Contender barrels. No cylinder gap here-- just a straight barrel and chamber which is all counted together for the "barrel length" measurement.
    Since the "chamber" of a .38 is about 1.1 inches long, and the .357 mag chamber is about 1.3 inches long, that means the functional "barrel" in this test was really a bit under one inch. The bullets would only move that inch before exiting the barrel.

    RESULT: discarding the highest and lowest velocity readings, and averaging all the others, the "under 2-inch" .38 special averaged 726 f.p.s.

    For the .357 magnum, the average was 920 f.p.s. So that's a 200-feet-per-second boost in velocity for the Magnum, even in a remarkably short barrel.


    Just for fun, I looked at the data for 6" barreled .38s and .357 magnums.

    Again, these numbers come from the break-open single shot T/C contender pistol, not a revolver with a cylinder gap, but at least for the revolver the "barrel length" would only count the actual barrel, not the chamber too.

    .38 special from 6" test barrel: 1,060 f.p.s. average

    .357 mag from 6" test barrel: 1,590 f.p.s. average.

    So it looks like the .357 is much better across the board, when it comes to ballistic performance. At least with modern loads and powders. (All of these tests were done in the last several years, with fresh ammo.)

    I myself don't have a .357 magnum snubby. I chose to always go with .38 snubby revolvers, mostly for keeping recoil at manageable levels (especially if I have to shoot one-handed in an emergency). But I also thought that the .357 wasn't going to give me that much of a boost in velocity anyway. Now I see the boost is significant.

    I do have a 6" barreled .357 magnum revolver, which is both a defensive weapon for home defense or open carry days as well as being a fun and accurate range gun for target shooting. I used to say it was my "bear protection" gun for hiking in the woods, but now I've changed my mind about toting this big hunk of steel. I carry a polymer-framed 9mm in the woods and just try to avoid surprising the bears.
    Last edited: Sep 20, 2014
  2. dogsbreath

    dogsbreath Member

    Hi Gun,
    My thoughts? Unless you are a cop or a drug dealer, you probably don't need any gun. But I still ware my seat belt, know what I mean?
    I group threats into some basic classes.
    Dumb but dangerous: Snakes and wild dogs. Pretty much any gun will do.
    Dumb human and coward: small time thief, punk needing cash, or teen 'wanting to prove sompfin'. Again, any gun will stop this guy.
    Addled or incentivized human: Desperate guy doing something desperate, and, though not willing, has little choice but to take rough chances. Or drugged up and acting 'unguided by the thought process'. You need a gun to stop this guy. Something that will kill quickly. Yeah, a .25 acp will kill a bear assuming that bear doesn't go to an ICU. But in the week it takes complications to kill said bear, you will be dead and half eaten. In these cases you need to stop the machine. The bigger caliber with more energy the better.
    The professional hit man. Like a hunting big cat, he will hit before you know he is there, and you have probably done sompfin stupid.
    More than one assailant. They might be juicing off each other. Dangerous, but unless they are determined, any gun will do.

    So, boil this down a bit. Odds of needing a gun? slight. (for non-cop/drug dealer). Odds of needing more than 'any gun' a slight subset of that slight set.

    The chance of you needing more than what a WELL PLACED .38 special can do is greater than the odds of you being jumped by 4 mad clowns on your way to cash in that winning lotto ticket.

    Carry what you can shoot well. I had a discussion on another board where they wanted you to carry what you shot the best. Nope. It is not survival of the fittest, it is survival of the fit. I shoot big guns better than small guns, but I carry small guns better than big ones. So, do you shoot a .38 well enough (you define enough)? Carry it.

    I've got a nice snub nose that delivers a smooth (but punishing) 620 ft/lbs of energy. With practice, it is hunting accurate out to 50 yards for me. That'll stop any un-armored assailant.


    btw, if she says 'size doesn't matter', she might still love you, but she is lying to you. To be effective, you either need pipe, caliber, or recoil.

  3. Birddogyz

    Birddogyz Banned

    I am not as wordy as DB :D but I agree with what he says. If you can shoot and feel more comfortable with the .38, by all means carry it. I carry everyday and my choice is the .40 S&W Glock 27.
  4. paulkeen

    paulkeen New Member

    I.was told to treat a gun like a condom....its better to have it and not need it and then need it and not have it...with that being said i carry a .22lr naa mini revelover

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  5. buck119

    buck119 New Member

    Gunsmoker, last year when we went to Tom Lowe skeet shooting range, if you remember, I had a stainless steel 2" DS-II Colt revolver. The reasons why I wanted that revolver were: (a) while it is still comparable in size to a J frame, it has a six rounds cylinder (too bad they don't make them anymore) and (b) it is heavier that any other small revolver that I have tried, including the older Detective Special. While I am really not a champion as a "target" shooter (as Dogsbreath knows very well :)), I can honestly say that when it comes to defence pistol and rapid fire, with that revolver I was able to achieve good if not excellent results. Two hands or one hand. Left hand or right hand. Definitely better than what I used to get with lighter revolvers, such as the aluminum frame Colt Cobra or the S&W 642. At the beginning of the year I decided to upgrade to an even heavier and bigger snub revolver so I purchased a seven rounds 2.5" S&W 686+. At the beginning the idea was to carry it loaded still with the 38 special, and in fact it was perfect, up to the point the even my son (9) was able to shoot it without even feeling too much the recoil. Shortly after I started practising defense with the .357 Magnum and it did not really take long before I achieved results that were comparable to when I shot the DS with the 38 special.
    Long story short, while one only one year ago I still thought that the .357 Mag for personal protection was a no-no, for me at least, it is what I carry now. And believe it or not, with the right holster it is not more difficult to conceal than a G19.
    ... and for the bears I carry Buffalo Bore 19/A :)
  6. Al_Barrs

    Al_Barrs New Member

    Something to keep in mind when purchasing either a .38 Special or .357 Mag revolver is the fact that you can shoot .38 Special ammo in a .357 Mag, but you cannot shoot .357 Mag ammo in a .38 Special...
  7. howl

    howl New Member

    The difference in power is pretty obvious when you fire them. .357 is too much to be practical in a snub unless you train regularly. Remember, that a defensive revolver is not put to the test under range conditions. You might be half dead, firing with your weak hand, while trying to get good grip on a gun made slippery by blood and sweat. If you are so dedicated as to get up to that task, you're probably toting a longer barreled gun on the hip anyhow.

    Mere mortals like me are best off with a lightweight .38 that fits well in the pocket. And one that does not take .357 because it can be smaller and lighter.

    I myself am moving over to .327 Federal/.32 H&R. Just gotta find a 432PD I feel like paying for.
  8. paulkeen

    paulkeen New Member

    [​IMG][​IMG] something like this howl

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