The Unequivocal Instrument: Snubnose Magnum Revolvers

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While the revolver is often looked down on as old technology, few handguns are as reliable and accurate as the short-barrel .357 Magnum revolver. KEEP READING

ruger sp101 357

Wilburn Roberts

With the great and growing abundance of concealed carry permits as Americans exercise their rights and commons sense, and with a present political climate that nurtures such progress, armed citizens are choosing to be responsible for their own safety. Choosing which handgun may be an easy enough choice for seasoned shooters, but quite a few of the new generation of handgunners are newcomers to one handgun in particular…

Many are steered toward a handgun that doesn’t fit their skill level. A semi-auto 9mm or .40 compact isn’t for everyone. However, the novice and very experienced shooter alike often choose a revolver. They are well armed when they do so.

snubnose revolvers
Short barrel revolvers are great personal defense firearms. Be certain to train well!

The snubnose .38 Special is a reasonable choice, however, the snubnose .38 is seen as less powerful than the 9mm pistol. (A “snubnose” is generally defined as having a barrel length 3 inches or less.) This is overcome by the power of the .357 Magnum revolver. When comparing the types, the advantages of the revolver have to be plain to make the short-barrel revolver an attractive choice.

Reliability is one advantage.

A further advantage of the revolver is that the revolver can be fired repeatedly even if it’s contacting an opponent. The semi-auto would jam after the first shot. It may also short cycle due to a less than perfect grip.

taurus 605
This Taurus 605 .357 Magnum revolver is carried in a 3Speed holster. This is a great deep concealment rig.

For a weapon to be used at conversational distance, the revolver’s reliability in this scenario is a big plus. A further advantage would be in a struggle for the gun — and this happens often — the gun grabber has little to hang onto in the case of a short-barreled revolver.

As said, an alternative to the .38 Special is the .357 Magnum. The .357 operates at almost three times the pressure level of the .38 Special. The Magnum operates at some 40,000 copper units of pressure compared to 18,000 for the .38 Special, and 20,000 for the .38 Special +P. This gives the magnum a great advantage in power, and the ability to use heavier bullets. There are .357 Magnum revolvers almost as compact as the snubnose .38, but often the Magnum will have a heavier frame and a heavier barrel which offers a better platform for the more powerful cartridge.

galco holster
Galco’s Carry Lite revolver holster is among the best for concealed carry. This inside the waistband holster is affordable and available.

These handguns also willingly chamber the .38 Special, providing a power level option in the same gun (that’s not available in a semi-auto). A .38 Special +P load is a good choice for the beginner for use in his or her .357 Magnum revolver. The shooter may move to the Magnum loadings after sufficient practice.

The obvious mechanical advantages of the revolver as related to reliability, the ability to use the weapon with a less-than-perfect grip and at point-blank range, are compelling sales features. However, in the end, the ballistics might be the best selling point. There has been a myth circulated for some time that the snubnose .357 Magnum is no more powerful than a .38 Special, as the Magnum loses velocity when fired in a short barrel. This is far from true. The Magnum does lose velocity when fired in a 2- to 3-inch barreled compact revolver, but it remains far more powerful than the snubnose .38 Special as the accompanying table shows. The .357 Magnum considerably outperforms the .38 Special by any measure.

With these revolvers, recoil could be grim to the uninitiated. Recoil energy approaches 12 pounds in some .357 Magnum revolvers, compared to 6 to 8 pounds in the 9mm and .40 caliber handguns, and a slight 4 pounds with .38 +P ammunition in a snubnose. This is a sharp jolt not to be underestimated. The person deploying this revolver must engage in practice and use the proper techniques to master this revolver.

sp101
The Ruger SP101 in .357 Magnum is among the strongest handguns — ounce for ounce — ever built.

Modern .357 Magnum revolvers such as the 5-shot Ruger SP 101 are designed with every advantage toward making the gun controllable. The factory grips on these revolvers are among the best ever designed. If you are able to find a Smith & Wesson K-frame revolver at a fair price, the 6-shot Smith & Wesson is even more controllable, albeit a bit larger.

Use a proper holster such as one of the Galco inside the waistband holsters and you will find the snubnose revolver very concealable. The revolver is simple to use — simply draw and fire. The Ruger and Smith & Wesson each have smooth double-action triggers that promote accuracy.

Another advantage of the revolver is superb accuracy. The Smith & Wesson Model 19 I often carry has been in service for four decades. A combination of excellent high-visibility sights and a smooth trigger make for fine accuracy. As just one example with the .38 Special Fiocchi 125-grain Extrema, this revolver has cut a 1.5-inch 25-yard group for 5 shots.

The .357 Magnum revolver isn’t for everyone, but for those who practice, one offers excellent accuracy, reliability, and proven power.

magnum specs

Check out Midsouth AMMO here.

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5 thoughts on “The Unequivocal Instrument: Snubnose Magnum Revolvers”

  1. .357 snubbies are a handful, not at all fun to shoot and a muzzle blast that is awesome. Do they have a place in SD arsenal? Yes. Would I recommend them for a beginner? No. Also the ME developed in the short barreled .357 is LESS than some good 9mm self-defense rounds (Underwood, Cor Bon etc). Malfunction remedy is easier with a revolver, just pull the trigger again – BUT, you only have 5 or 6 rounds and if recoil is stout to say the least, you will practice less and most likely miss more. I can fire 15-20 rounds of full house .357 out of my S&W 3″ M60, a few more out of my SP101 before it’s quitting time, reloads are slow, muzzle blast excessive and at night dangerous. I would think most shooters, especially beginners would find the 9mm a better choice and would train more with it, than a .357 magnum. Yes you can shoot .38 spl rounds in the revolver which make it more fun to shoot but I’m a firm believer in practicing with ammo that is compatible with what you carry. No sense in practicing with ammo that is mild recoiling and hits to a different POI than duty ammo which will be totally different in feel, accuracy, noise and muzzle flash.

    1. This is just a general comment about revolvers for defensive use. I didn’t write the article, just posted it. Me? I like big (powerful) revolvers. Always have trusted them. Maybe it’s because I’ve shot SO much competition with semiautos and have therefore seen SO many malfunctions. Right, maybe we are running a little edgy with the race guns, and malfunctions are very often ammo or maintenance related. But I’ve yet to have a failure with a revolver. I do think semis are probably the best choice for most. The idea that because a gun has recoil you can’t hit with it is nonsense! You can either shoot or you can’t. Recoil comes after pulling the trigger, not before, unless it’s a flinch and that’s what causes a miss. My personal carry gun is a 4 inch .44 5 shot. I carry it in a specialty backpack. I trust it. I’ve also owned a .44 Mag. since I was 16. Just shoot the sister or brother, whichever you prefer to call .38 Special or 44 Special to learn the gun, develop the skills. Work up to the Mags, or don’t. The others can be good choices also for defense.

  2. Hello, I just happen to read your article this morning over a cup of coffee about the revolver being a CCW option for people. I liked it and wanted to comment on the validity of the writing and the reliability of these revolvers.

    I think you hit a lot of key points when it comes to the effectiveness and reliability of this over looked CCW option. I happen to carry a snub nosed 38 revolver everyday as a backup weapon for duty purposes. There were several reasons I chose a revolver over a semi-auto. Mainly for it’s ability to fire, when I need it to fire!

    I’ve carried a few different weapons in my law enforcement career, and my revolver has shot every single time I’ve pulled the trigger. It’s never failed to fire on me once. My other duty weapons…… Well, they’re a lot more mechanically complex compared to this, and I’ve had failed to fires, fail to ejects, double feeds, stovepipe issues, etc… Luckily for me, it’s always been during a training scenario. Furthermore, I’ve been trained on how to work through these issues and get my primary weapon up and running again, which might be too late in a gun fight though.

    I chose a S&W Airweight 38 special with a shrouded hammer. This gives me the ability to fire the gun from several positions. One of them being, while it’s touching someone who’s winning-the-fight over me and I couldn’t use other means to defend myself. Another reason I carry a revolver is because I can fire it from the pocket on my shorts, pants, sweatshirt, jacket etc…. It will simply fire form any position. Did I mention it’s reliable?

    It’s light enough to carry all day and I know for sure, this thing will work when I need it to. It doesn’t get any more reliable than that; Plain and simple. As with any revolver, we’re limited on the number of rounds it carries. However, a smart person would hopefully use this to get them behind cover, or to another gun or out of the area ASAP if the threat wasn’t stopped.

    Having a plan in place is good. Having another plan is essential. I would highly recommend anyone who’s considering a CCW also consider a revolver, especially new shooters as you mentioned. Great article by the way.

  3. ‘Recoil could be grim to the uninitiated’? Recoil is grim for EVERYONE who shoots a 357 Magnum short barreled revolver. Think about it; would you rather hit what you are shooting at using 38 Special ammunition or miss the target using 357 Magnum rounds?

  4. My Taurus 605 is ported and that helps with some of the recoil control..The 3 holes on each side of the front sight will impress in low light shooting, night vision be damned.! I love this stainless .357 revolver for its simplicity..No slide release, no safety, no mag release and no slide to rack with arthritis in the hands..Just five big bangs every time the trigger is pulled..Did I mention it always goes BANG.!

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