March 2018 - Gun Tests Magazine - Subscribers Only
For more than a year, we have been testing and evaluating some of the most powerful and interesting self-loading handgun cartridges. These are the ubiquitous 9mm Luger, which we think has become the baseline against which all other handgun chamberings can be compared, and the far-less-common but still commercially viable 38 Super, 357 SIG, and 357 Magnum, the last of which is chambered in a Coonan handgun. The evaluation was the result of a reader request, and three of which, the 9mm, 38 Super, and 357 SIG, sometimes use the same bullets, but at different velocities.
We began with a number of goals. First, as always, reliability has to be foremost because the handguns were competing as personal-defense choices. We also viewed them as outdoors-carry choices for defense against feral dogs and big cats. We wanted to see how efficiently each cartridge delivered its power, with the idea that the 9mm set the floor. Increased flash, blast, and recoil may be counterproductive in the others, and as it turned out, we got more horsepower with less recoil than expected. The energy difference wasn’t incremental; it was profound. We didn’t choose average 9mm or 38 Super loads, but instead picked those loads that had given good results in the past. Only the top performers in 9mm and 38 Super are in this report. With the 357 SIG and 357 Magnum, we were on new ground and chose a representative sample of bullet weights. The 357 SIG and 357 Magnum enjoy an excellent reputation for terminal ballistics. The 9mm, less so, and based on previous data, we expected the 38 Super to be as effective or more than a 9mm Luger +P+ load. The primary consideration was personal defense, so control was important. The larger guns may not be ideal for concealed carry, but would be good handguns for field use or home defense. For those wishing to deploy a handgun with plenty of power and accuracy, the 357-caliber self-loaders are easier to control than Magnum revolvers. The self-loaders demonstrate less recoil due to the smaller charge of faster-burning powder and the movement of the action and compression of springs as the handgun is fired. So how would they compare to the revolver? As it turned out, these modern powerhouses outclass the 357 Magnum revolver, in our opinion, on many levels.
We collected a good supply of ammunition, five loads for each gun versus our usual three. We chose three powerful hollowpoint loads for accuracy testing, as is SOP for Gun Tests. We added a fourth load for ballistic testing to test penetration and expansion. We added an economical practice load for use in the combat-firing test phase. So, this was a thorough test requiring several months. We elected not to go lighter than 115-grain bullets in any chambering. The 357 SIG, 38 Super, and 9mm Luger are usually loaded with bullets in the range of 115 to 147 grains. We fired 125-, 140-, and 158-grain bullets in the 357 Magnum Coonan. Here are the results.