Deer season opens, and thoughts turn to rifles: the .357 as a deer cartridge.

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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 ]=-

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About the Author:

Grant Cunningham is a renowned author and teacher in the fields of self defense, defensive shooting education and personal safety. He’s written several popular books on handguns and defensive shooting, including "The Book of the Revolver", "Shooter’s Guide To Handguns", "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals", "Defensive Pistol Fundamentals", and "Practice Strategies for Defensive Shooting" (Fall 2015.) Grant has also written articles on shooting, self defense, training and teaching for many magazines and shooting websites, including Concealed Carry Magazine, Gun Digest Magazine, the Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors ADSI) and the popular Personal Defense Network training website. He’s produced a DVD in the National Rifle Association’s Personal Firearm Defense series titled "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals" and teaches defensive shooting and personal safety courses all over the United States.
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