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Deer season opens, and thoughts turn to rifles.

I've mentioned once before that the .357 Magnum is a surprising cartridge. Its performance from a handgun is legendary, if not always deserving of the status, but when stuffed into a rifle it turns into another beast entirely.

Over at
The Truth About Guns they took a variety of loads and fired them from a revolver and a rifle, as well as comparing them to the venerable .30-30 cartridge. While the .357 will never replace the .30-30, and their data proves it, it's remarkable how much the little cartridge gains from the longer barrel of a rifle. They're showing a (rough) average 40% increase in velocity and just about a doubling of energy with every load tested; Magnums or Specials, there is a huge performance gain.

(Their results with the S&B 158gn suggest a very weak loading; my handloads, which are not at the maximum of any reloading manual, perform as well from a revolver as the S&B does from a rifle!)

The .357 Magnum makes for a decent short-range deer rifle (say, 50-75 yards) and a remarkably effective arm for things like coyotes up to about a hundred yards - perhaps a touch more if the individual rifle has sufficient accuracy. I've used mine on live game and never cease to be amazed at what it can do.

Recoil is extremely mild compared even to the .30-30, a cartridge not known for excessive recoil. In the hands of a decent shot there's no reason it can't harvest deer. Keep the shots under roughly 75 yards, which is typical of woodland hunting, and the .357 rifle will bring home the venison.

My experience has been that the 158gn JSP is as light as you should go. At the velocities achieved in the longer barrel, a bullet designed for handgun use is a little fragile. I've seen the 158gn JSP fragment on frontal shots of things like coyotes when it hits bone; a better choice would be a 180gn JSP, which seems to be a little tougher.

A 158gn hollowpoint simply explodes when it hits flesh, and I shudder to think what a 125gn HP screamer - already known for occasionally expanding a little too rapidly when fired from a handgun - would do out of a rifle. It might make a dandy pest control round.

This performance cements my view that the .357 Magnum revolver/rifle pairing is perhaps the most versatile set of guns one could ask for. You can shoot Specials from the handgun as target and plinking fodder, higher energy +P loads as defensive rounds, and Magnums for defense and handgun hunting. Those same loads in the rifle can be used for everything from small game to deer.

It’s hard to conceive of a wider range of activities from just two arms. I’m not usually one to play the “what if TSHTF” scenario game, but if I were restricted to one handgun and one rifle I’d be quite comfortable with a 4” .357 revolver and a matching lever-action carbine.

Of course a lever-action .357 Magnum makes a dandy defensive arm too, but that's another topic for another day.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Another rifle I'm lusting after.

The Firearm Blog reported last week that Ruger is now chambering their Model 77 bolt-action rifle in .357 Magnum. I'm quite excited about the announcement, as I'm a fan of the .357 in longer barrels.

I believe (though I can't find it right now) that I've written about this before: the .357 Magnum coming out of a rifle is a very different beast than the same round coming out of a handgun. One 158 grain load I tested a while back gained nearly 400 fps velocity out of an 18" Marlin rifle barrel compared to the same load in a 4" Dan Wesson tube, traveling nearly 1600 fps.

I've actually used it on animals, and within its range -- say, 75 to perhaps 100 yards -- it's quite effective up to deer-sized game. I've heard some claim that it's suitable for elk "with proper shot placement", but I'd say that's more alcohol-fueled optimism than ballistic fact.

Regardless of such speculation it does make a great small to medium game round, though I've found it difficult to get bullets under 158 grains to hold together at the velocities the rifle can generate. Forget the light hollowpoints; the absolute minimum I'd consider would be a 158gn jacketed softpoint, and even that often disintegrates when it hits flesh.

Someone once told me that the .357 turns from Jekyll to Hyde in a rifle. That's not terribly far from the truth!

Up to this point the only rifles chambered for the .357 have been lever actions from Rossi, Marlin, and Winchester. The lever action is a great platform for the round, but I'm looking forward to getting my hands on one of the Ruger bolt actions. If nothing else, the stainless construction and synthetic stock would be a better choice for our damp Oregon weather than walnut and blued steel! Fitted with a decent 2.5x scope it could be a great all-around rifle for the farm and ranch, one that I wouldn’t need to worry about when the elements turn against me.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday meanderings.

The Truth Is Out There: I've mentioned Kathy Jackson's CorneredCat site as the best resource on the web for those women who want to get involved in the firearms world. This week on the ProArms Podcast, Gail Pepin interviews Kathy about one of her all-time classic articles: "How to Make Your Wife Hate Guns." The interview is even better than the article, and is a must-listen for any man out there who wishes for his wife/significant to start shooting.

Guys, I'm not kidding - you need to listen to this podcast. Kathy's interview starts about 20 minutes in, preceded by Dr. Paula Bratich talking about concealed carry in Illinois.

Better Late Than Never: Prior to the SHOT show, The FIrearms Blog reported that Ruger was going to show a .357 version of the LCR. It was only slightly premature, as Ruger showed it off at last week's NRA Convention. Not for me, thanks, but I'm sure that there are those who will love it.

The Bad Guys Have An Advantage: An interesting article over at asks "Why do bad guys seem to do so well in gunfights?" Worthwhile reading.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Incorrect conclusions.

This morning I got a very nice email from a concerned gentleman in a southern state. His NRA instructor gave him numerous pieces of incorrect information about his new GP100, one of which I've heard many times before: "Don't carry Magnums, because the muzzle flash will blind you in a self-defense shooting!"

With all due respect, bull twaddle.

The .357 Magnum is notorious for muzzle flash, based largely on some well-known pictures from the 1980s. These days, even the Magnum uses flash-suppressed powders, and muzzle flash with the .357 has been dramatically reduced.

Still, the misconception remains that any muzzle flash will blind you and make it impossible to deliver followup shots. In my experience, that isn't the case.

I once did an experiment, in front of witnesses, on our club's indoor range - using not some wimpy .357 or even .44, but a Dan Wesson .445 SuperMag with a 3" barrel. I personally loaded the rounds to "full house" status, which means maximum velocity, recoil, and flash.

We turned off the range lights except for one in the adjacent classroom, which gave just enough illumination for me to make out the IDPA target about 20 feet downrange.

KA-BOOOOOOOOM! If you've never experienced a SuperMag on an indoor range, it's a treat. If, that is, you like lots of noise, concussion, and muzzle flash. We're talking muzzle flash that witnesses confirmed extended 5 feet from the barrel. I wish we'd taken pictures.

Guess what? I could still see my target; I wasn't blinded at all. So I fired another shot. Then another. Still no flash induced blindness. I could still see my target, but most importantly I could still hit it. Understand: I'm not saying that it had zero effect on my vision. I could see the afterimage of the fireball, but it wasn't at all debilitating even in near darkness.

Is this conclusive proof? Of course not, it's just one person's experience - but it's a heck of a lot more experience with the subject matter than most gunstore commandoes appear to have. No matter how impressive the fireball, it just doesn't seem to possess sufficient intensity to markedly reduce one's vision.

If a non-flash-suppressed SuperMag won't do it, I hardly think a .357 with modern suppressed propellants could. Of course I'm willing to be proven wrong, but at this moment I consider it ill advised to pick a round (caliber or brand) based solely on muzzle flash characteristics.

-=[ Grant ]=-

So, just what is the .357 Magnum like in a confined space?

A number of years back my wife and I served as coordinators for the defensive pistol matches at our gun club. Our matches were somewhat similar to IDPA, but without the endless rules to make everything "fair." We enjoyed a cadre of participants that were very involved, and loved to build sets for stages.

(Some of them got a little carried away; one particular gentleman once designed a stage that featured cardboard cows. Yes, cows, complete with udders. He's a very creative sort.)

We held our matches on our club's metallic silhouette range, so we had only a large open field in which to set up stages. We'd usually set up four "open" stages (you could see the entire thing), but also liked to set up one secret stage - the participants couldn't see anything until they were actually in it. The way we usually accomplished this was to hang large tarps on portable stakes to block the view, but there were other approaches.

One particular match several guys got together and constructed a dark tunnel. The premise was that you were walking down an alley at night, and targets would swing out or come charging toward you. It was a technical marvel, and all contained in a narrow structure made of wood and black plastic ("visqueen.") As I recall, it was about 8 feet wide, 8 feet tall, and perhaps 30 feet long.

Since the premise was darkness, the entire thing was sheathed in that black plastic - including the roof. It took quite some time to build, so the guys had been on the range the day before to do the construction. When we arrived the next morning to start the match, we found that it had rained overnight. That wasn't a problem, because the black plastic roof had kept everything dry. What we didn't think about were the large puddles of water on that plastic.

Since I was the match director, I got to shoot first. I was using a Ruger SP101 with the 2-1/8" barrel and fire-breathing 125grain JHP magnums. The range officer and I entered the structure, closed the door, and the buzzer went off.

I saw the first target and put two rounds into it, and immediately heard peals of laughter behind me. Outside of the enclosure, the other shooters were becoming hysterical.

I finished the stage (as I recall, there were three more targets) and exited the enclosure to find the laughter had diminished only slightly. People in the crowd told me that my first shot had created such a large amount of pressure in the enclosure that the sides were pushed out and the pooled water on the roof had been thrown twenty feet into the air. The effect, they said, looked like a Looney Toons cartoon of a stick of dynamite exploding in a barrel.

In the heat of the moment I didn't really notice the concussion, but the range officer mentioned that he didn't want to follow me so closely any more!

-=[ Grant ]=-