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Thread: Short barreled .357 Mag vs .38 Spl

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    Default Short barreled .357 Mag vs .38 Spl

    Does anyone have any substantive data regarding heavy loads from a .357 Mag out of a 2" barrel as compared to a .38 Spl out of a 2" barrel?

    The reason for the question is how much do you really gain by burning twice as much powder in the magnum, most of which burns outside the barrel. Can a heavy loaded .38 Spl do just as well??? Compare penetration of a 200 gr. SWC fired from each gun....is the muzzle blast and recoil of the 357 Mag really worth it? Do you gain anything over the .38 Spl +P with a 200 gr SWC?

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    What I am wondering is what you intend to use the gun for. For people, then a heavily loaded .38, if your gun is good for +P, will work fine for close self-protection. If you are thinking of bears, then I suggest a heavier caliber.

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    Let's think black bear and not brown bear for arguement sake. The idea is a light 38 with a heavy load in your belt better than a heavy 44 mag in the truck? Of course it is. Something that will meet the FBI protocol for 12" to 18" of penetration and 1.5 times bullet diameter for expandtion may not be the best black bear protection gun but back to the question, is the 38 in a 2" barrel better than a 357 Mag in a 2" barrel?

    I read something that showed the old 200 gr RN lead 38 special rounds will out penetrate a 357 Mag by a significant amount which follows the argument that a 45-70 will out penetrate a 458 Win Mag with the same bullet.

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    I can't figure out how on earth a 38 2" would ever out penetrate a 357 2". I own both and the thought never even crossed my mind.

    And the fbi tests/requirements do not apply to black bears. I would recommend a hard cast flat nose bullet with more energy and penetration than the fbi tests.

    I carry the s & w 44 airweight and don't even notice it is there. I hand load 265 gr keith bullets to 1200 fps.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Lowrider View Post
    Does anyone have any substantive data regarding heavy loads from a .357 Mag out of a 2" barrel as compared to a .38 Spl out of a 2" barrel?

    The reason for the question is how much do you really gain by burning twice as much powder in the magnum, most of which burns outside the barrel. Can a heavy loaded .38 Spl do just as well??? Compare penetration of a 200 gr. SWC fired from each gun....is the muzzle blast and recoil of the 357 Mag really worth it? Do you gain anything over the .38 Spl +P with a 200 gr SWC?
    The end answer to this question is do you reload ? If so the ultimate answer is the 357 WILL give far greater power than the 38 spl +P. The key to reduced muzzle blast and increased velocity is to use a fast burning powder. The ammo designed and sold over the counter is loaded for 6" handguns. However the addition of bullet weight from 158 out to 200 grns will significantly increase recoil in any handgun. The faster the bullet is launched the higher the recoil increase will be.

    BUT these loads are for really modern handguns ONLY !!
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    I get it now.

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    [QUOTE=AKF;1000209]
    And the fbi tests/requirements do not apply to black bears. I would recommend a hard cast flat nose bullet with more energy and penetration than the fbi tests.
    QUOTE]

    Maybe my logic is flawed but I brought up the FBI standards because I thought their requirement to shoot thru 4 layers of denim material and one layer of auto glass and still get 12" of penetration sounds like that could be close to a black bears hide and skull and into their brain/neck/spine. If that is true maybe we are underestimating the lowly 9mm, 40 S&W and maybe even the 38 special with that 200 gr bullet.

    Agreed, the bigger calibers and heavy bullets work better but can we make a heavy bullet 38 special with a 2" barrel do a creditable job for black bear protection given a well placed bullet?

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    A 38spl with 200gr lead bullets could easily out penetrate a 357 with 110gr HPs, but the 357 with an equal weight cast bullet will almost certainly out penetrate the 38spl. Much of a handguns velocity is gained in the first couple of inches of cylinder/ barrel length and the almost double pressure limits of the 357 over the 38 will make a noticable velocity increase along with muzzle flash and noise. I know the 2" revolvers are very compact and light but a couple more inches of barrel will increase shootability as well as velocity with out adding much weight or size to the gun. In my opinion there is such a thing as a gun that is physically too small. The question is often brought up as to whether a 6" hot loaded 357 is enough gun and now you are asking if a 2"38 will be ok. Well, nobody knows for sure whether it will work in the next bear encounter or not as there are just too many variables to mention. Most folks think minimum caliber starts with a 4 but I think a proper loaded 4"+ 357 would give me a good fighting chance. A 2" 38spl no matter how it's loaded would leave me sweating bullets. Hopefully big ones and a gun to shoot them in.

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    I wouldn't choose a 2" barrel anything, because I hate Muzzle Blast, and the way a snubbie recoils.

    I'll go along with the longer barreled 357, suggestion.

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    In my SP101 I carry 180BB or 200DT in 357mag. No 38spec in the gun will come close to being as good.
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    Well 38 was the police round for a long time but many instances of 38 power being too light for some jobs lead to it being replaced by 357, by 1970 38s were completely out as a primary duty weapon, at least in Arizona anyway. So here is a round deemed by law enforcement not enough to stop people every time and you want to shoot a BEAR with it?

    Beyond that you want to use a 2 snub to deliver this well placed shot under stress? Im not a bad handgun shot but the sight radius and general type of sights on these guns have meant that I find it surprisingly easy to completely miss a 16X24 target more than once at ten feet when Im completely calm.
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    A 2" 357 will be faster with all bullet weights and will out penetrate any 38 Spcl load in a 2" barrel. The best load for eighter concerning bears would be a wide flat point hard cast of at least 158/160 grains

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    The original question was...is a .357 Mag in a 2" barrel significantly better than a 38 Spl in a 2" barrel and is the muzzle blast and recoil worth it? I'm not trying to justify a 38 Special as a bear round!!

    I used to carry at work a Smith Model 19 in 2.5" and it was awful to fire with 125 gr .357 mag rounds. Back in those days we had the old "Super Vel" ammo that was what we would call today "+P+" I guess. I played around with the 38 Super Vel 110 gr in a 2" model 36 shooting milk cartons filled with water and saw very little difference between the two guns. This was very unscientific but entertaining. There used to be a Corbon load that pushed a 110 gr 38 bullet at over 1000FPS out of a 2" gun. What would a 38 with at 200 gr at 750 FPS do? I was thinking about that which is what brought up the question of penetration between the two rounds.

    It seems counterintuitive to believe that a slower 200gr SWC from a 38 could out penetrate the same bullet fired from a .357 mag and I certainly agree with that in a 4"+ barrel which brought me to the question in the first place...do you really gain anything from a couple hundred FPS in the .357 Mag shooting heavy bullets? Whether you use it to shoot thru car windows or black bear skulls isn't relevant....I'm still researching and thinking.

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    This is a slight tangent, but why a 2" magnum revolver?

    If you go up to a 3"' or 4" gun, you still have a compact weapon, but 2" barrels waste a lot of the .357's capabilities and converts it partly into flame thrower.

    Look at the dramatic increases in bullet velocity when you go from a 2" barrel to a 3" barrel or 4" barrel: http://www.ballisticsbytheinch.com/357mag.html

    Although not tested there, I assume the same would be true for bullets heavier than 158gr.

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    This isn't exactly adressing the original question but it reflects one study results:

    More information from Doctor Roberts: "With few exceptions, such as the Speer 135 gr +P JHP and Barnes XPB, the vast majority of .38 Sp JHP's fail to expand when fired from 2" barrels in the 4 layer denim test. [...] There is no reason to go with .357 mag in a J-frame, as the significantly larger muzzle blast and flash, and harsher recoil of the .357 Magnum does not result in substantially improved terminal performance compared to the more controllable .38 Special bullets when fired from 2 barrels."
    • Corbon 110 gr JHP DPX
    Penetration Recovered Diameter Recovered Weight
    Bare Gelatin 13.0" 0.52" 109.5gr
    4-layer denim 12.4" 0.52" 109.7gr

    Also look at loads using the Barnes DPX bullet as loaded by Federal. Please be aware that Federal lists the "Barnes expander" under their "Vital-Shok" handgun hunting section, while the inferior Hydra-Shok is listed for personal defense. Then again, it's questionable why one would want the extra recoil/muzzle blast of the .357mag when the .38spl load works just as well.

    This came from an interesting site: http://ammo.ar15.com/project/Self_Defense_Ammo_FAQ/index.htm#BARREL

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    My GUESS, is that using the kind of bullet suitable for bears, (??158 grain SWC GC)?? the 357 would out penetrate, (inside a bear) a 38 Special with the same bullet. (I certainly agree with jwp500's suggestion for bullet choice. I'm sure he knows.)

    Using lightweight JHP bullets I can see where the higher 357 velocity would cause greater expansion, and limit penetration PERHAPS, more so than with lower 38 Special Velocity.

    As previously stated, I hateth muzzle blast, so it IS and issue, at least for me. For CC, or Hme Defense, I go with 38, not 357, for just that reason.

    I'm no expert, and this, is just my opinion, based on my own preferences and limitations.

    The revolver I purchased for my Trusty Wife, has a 4" inch barrel. It is a Colt model that's no longer available in 38 Special. It is quite pleasant to shoot, whether with JHP 125 grain at home, or 158 grain SWCs loaded to +P for out in the swamps.

    So, it's not a great choice for bears, but it's something, she can shoot, without fear of the gun.

    BTW, I like your post, the subject is interesting.

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    I agree with Smitty's comments. Also, to clarify my point above, forgetting the .38 Special for a moment, is that you supposedly can get a 200gr HC bullet to go about 1,150fps out of a 4" .357 Mag, which is probably about ideal for a .38-cal bear-etc gun. The velocities of the same cartridge in a 2" .357 probably are a lot less ideal. And a 4" .357 is not necessarily a giant pistol or more than a couple ounces heavier than a 2" one.

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    I don't have my logs at hand, but in actual chronograph comparisons (2.5" Mod 19 K-frame vs 2" Chiefs Special J-frame) the 357 turned out roughly 1/3 more velocity with any bullet. If you put any stock in the value of the extra velocity, it's trumps to the 357 in every case.

    Then there's the rest of the story. With the hottest loads in the J-frame it was virtually uncontrollable with the stock grips in double action. Add larger grips to restore control and it's virtually as big as the K-frame and only a few ounces lighter. And meanwhile a 5-shot.

    Theory is fine, but reality is a cruel mother.

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    I fully agree with the use of a longer barrel both from a performance and muzzle blast standpoint. Big differance between the 5.5" SBH and a 10" Contender barrel in the 44 Mag!!! If you think the 2" .357 Mag has a lot of blast, try a 3" 12 Ga mag out of a 7" barrel in the short barreled shotguns I build....it is a whole new experience!!!

    This whole thing started about penetration of a slow moving extra heavy (200 gr .358" hard cast SWC) and whether the 38 Spl would do as well as the .357 Mag in a short barrel since it appears slow and heavy is better than fast and heavy as far as penetration is concerned. I have been doing some reading on .45 LC reloads and it looks like folks are having better penetration with a 300+ gr flat meplat bullet at 900 - 1000 FPS than they are at 1200 - 1300 FPS. My Long Colt is a 4 5/8" Blackhawk and I think 1000 FPS is just a more pleasant load to shoot than trying to get the 325 gr any faster.

    Since the Mid 80's I've loaded linotype cast bullets from a NEI 310 gr .430 mold for the 44 Mag and shoot them at about 1000 and they go thru just about anything I point them at. I've never shot a brown bear with one, but I have full confidence they will do the job if placed in the right spot. They will go full length of a blacktail or whitetail or crossways on a moose and exit.

    Another example is the 147 gr 9mm subsonics I use in my 7" 9mm AR carbine or G22 with a Lonewolf 9mm barrel. They will penetrate pressure treated 6x6 post where the supersonic 115 grs will not always do so.

    Anyway, the "moderate velocity is better" for penetration idea is what got me thinking about slow heavy hard 38 Spl slugs from a short 2" barrel. IF....and I mean IF the hard cast 200 gr 38 bullet will penetrate as well or better than the .357 at a higher velocity then maybe it could be useful for bear protection.....certainly not the best, but something better than a fingernail file.

  20. #20

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    Quote Originally Posted by Lowrider View Post
    IF....and I mean IF the hard cast 200 gr 38 bullet will penetrate as well or better than the .357 at a higher velocity then maybe it could be useful for bear protection.....certainly not the best, but something better than a fingernail file.
    That settles it then. With a non-deforming bullet, more velocity results in more penetration. The only possible way the 38 could penetrate more was with a bullet that deformed in the 357 and not in the 38. And shooting 200's in a Chief Special? BTDT. Try it yourself with stock grips. Try it again with larger aftermarket grips. Then compare the size of the Chief with aftermarket grips to a 357. No bargain.

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