May 2012

Dangerous-Game 357 Magnums: Cor-Bon, Grizzly Clear Winners

The facts simply bear us out on this one — some 357 Magnum cartridges are suitable for backwoods self-defense, and some are not. We preferred two 180-grain rounds with great penetration.

Some time ago, we were contacted with a question concerning a very popular revolver cartridge — the 357 Magnum. This cartridge is an effective choice for personal defense, and a solid choice for small game and predator control. With a long-barrel handgun and careful load selection, the 357 Magnum is even suitable for deer-sized game. However, this reader’s question took a different path. The question was, does the 357 Magnum have enough bullet weight and penetration for effective defense against wild animals? The fact is, the 357 Magnum is probably the most common handgun caliber that is packed solely for protection against animals. Quite a few Combat Magnums, Blackhawks, and Trackers do double duty in the wild. Whether it is the best choice is open to interpretation, but it is the largest caliber the occasional shooter is likely to wish to attempt to master. Calibers smaller than the 357 Magnum — the 38 Special and 32 Magnum — are too light, small, and slow for effective use against larger animals. Big-bore revolvers such as the 44 Magnum are heavier, making them more difficult to holster and carry comfortably. The boomers are much more difficult to control, with close to twice the recoil of the 357 Magnum. The 357 Magnum is the most powerful cartridge that the average shooter will be able to control, given a handgun of sufficient weight and modest practice. A guy or girl who carries a snub 38 Special for protection and practice will be able to control a mid-size 357 Magnum revolver for occasional use and peace of mind on the trail.

The advantages of the revolver have proven out in defense against animals. In more than one case, a person was bowled over by a charging cougar or bear. The defensive handgun was placed against the animal’s body and the trigger pressed until the desired effect took place. A self-loader would jam after the first shot in such a situation. The facts simply bear us out on this one. In most cases the animal attacks quickly, and it is literally on top of the person, biting and clawing before the victim has time to draw the handgun. The handgun is used at intimate range. While there may be exceptions to the rule, the revolver is a wise choice for this type of personal defense. As for cartridges, we would prefer something larger, but then, the 357 Magnum has been known to suffice. Remember, there is a great difference in hunting and defense and between taking a careful shot and placing a bullet in the heart of a creature and producing a quick, clean kill and actually stopping an attack. Only a cartridge with sufficient bullet integrity to penetrate deeply and break large bones and produce a wound to the blood bearing organs is suitable. Even the skull of some animals is quite thick and resistant to light bullets. As an example, we are aware of a case in which a game warden fired five rounds into the skull of a bear and only one penetrated — the stopping stop. He was using fast-opening 125-grain JHP bullets. Penetration is vital. Some expansion would be ideal, but in the end we have to sacrifice expansion for penetration. If the projected threat is one of the big cats or the dangerous feral dogs, then an expanding bullet is ideal, as long as it has sufficient penetration to perforate the creature. If you are in bear country, then a heavy, non-expanding bullet is needed.

The question was relevant on another level — can a self-defense shooter simply change loads and have a viable outdoors revolver for protection against bears? This question would eliminate testing the 6- to 8-inch-barrel revolvers we normally consider hunting revolvers. Could a defense-minded shooter who normally deploys a 110-grain load in his 357 be loaded for bear if he simply changed bullet weights? This is an intriguing question. Normally, heavy bullets with little expansion are contraindicated for personal defense, but not in this scenario.

We elected to test several loads that are advertised as heavy loads, and loads that offer sufficient expansion and penetration for use against animals. We threw in a number of general-purpose loads and personal-defense loads as well. Some were recommended by readers or the raters we worked with on this subject. While penetration and ballistic effect is foremost, accuracy is also interesting. These were among the most accurate handgun loads we have ever tested. Since the 357 Magnum is a very popular cartridge, there was no shortage of ammunition available. We leaned toward heavier bullets, but we also tested several personal defense loadings for comparison, simply to confirm our suspicions that these loads did not generate sufficient penetration for use against bear size animals. Wild hogs can be dangerous, and they are in the large and dangerous category. If your problem is feral dogs or the big cats, the first three loads are interesting choices.

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