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Handguns

The Magnificent .357 Magnum

by Jim Wilson   |  January 3rd, 2011 0

According to the Sheriff, even with all the modern, autoloading pistols around, the .357 Magnum revolver is just too good to be put on the shelf and forgotten.


The Taurus Ribber grips and porting system go a long way towards taming the felt recoil when magnum ammunition is fired in the Tracker.

Just the other day, a friend of mine came to me with a handgun question. He lives on a large acreage, nestled in the northern California hills, and was looking for a good handgun to carry when he went on his daily walks. Some time earlier, he had purchased one of the polymer, striker-fired pistols but was wondering if it was what he needed to deal with possible encounters with mountain lions, wild hogs, and feral dogs.

I asked him what other guns he had, and he allowed as how he had an old revolver that he’d bought years ago. On further questioning, this “old” revolver turned out to be a 4-inch-barreled, stainless-steel, double-action .357 Magnum. I told him to look no further; he already had the gun that he ought to be carrying on his outings in the woods.

In this day of modern, autoloading handguns, the .357 Mag. is still a viable and versatile choice for many of our handgunning duties. The good .357 guns are ruggedly built and quite accurate. In addition, no other handgun is more versatile when it comes to the selection of ammunition.

.357 Mag. revolvers will chamber all of the various .38 Special loads, target ammo right on up to the +P hollowpoints for defensive use. And this includes shot loads for dealing with poisonous snakes. On the top end of the spectrum is a huge selection of .357 Mag. ammunition. The shooter can choose from the really hot stuff, like the 125-grain JHP loads that generally have velocities of 1400 to 1500 fps. Or the shooter may opt for some of the heavier bullets in the original 158-grain weight and on up to the 180-grain hollowpoint and softpoint ammo for hunting purposes.

The last time I looked, the .38/.357 was the top-selling handgun caliber in terms of reloading supplies, too. No other caliber has a greater choice of bullet weights and configurations to meet virtually every shooting need. In addition, reloading manuals are chock full of time-tried and proven handloads to meet every need, too.

In my own case, I started carrying a .357 Mag. revolver nearly 40 years ago when I entered law enforcement. The hot 125-grain hollowpoint ammo had just come out, and we found it was a comforting thing when relations degenerated into a shooting situation. Naturally, when I started handgun hunting, my first hunting sixgun was a .357 Mag. Although I later transitioned into a .45 auto for most of my defensive uses, I still own five DA .357 Mag. revolvers that serve as house guns and woods guns. I found out a long time ago that the .357 Mag. is just too good to be put on the shelf and forgotten.

A Most Interesting .357
For the purposes of this article, I acquired a Model 627SS4 .357 revolver commonly called the Taurus Tracker. In many ways, this is one of the most interesting .357 Mag. revolvers I’ve ever come across. To begin with, it is a medium-frame revolver that is chambered to hold seven rounds of ammo.

Manufactured of stainless steel that is finished in pleasing dull-gray tones, the Taurus Tracker has a ramp front sight and an adjustable rear sight. The 4-inch barrel is a bit on the heavy side, having a full-length underlug. However, the Tracker has two other features that make it stand out as an all-purpose revolver. The first of these is the porting system that is standard on all Trackers.

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Taurus Tracker Accuracy

Factory Load Velocity
(fps)
Standard
Deviation (fps)
Extreme
Spread (fps)
25-Yard
Accuracy (in.)
.375 MAGNUM, 4- INCH BARREL
Black Hills 125 gr. JHP 1208 19 51 1.50
Federal 130 gr. Hydra Shok 1383 42 89 1.63
Federal 140-gr. JHP 1244 31 64 1.75
Winchester 140-gr. Silvertip 1227 17 43 1.25
Magtech 158-gr. JSP 1175 4 11 1.25
Notes: Accuracy is the average of five, five-shot groups fired at 25 yards from a sandbag benchrest. Velocity is the average of 25 rounds measured 15 feet from the gun’s muzzle.

As most handgunners know, medium-frame revolvers can usually kick up quite a fuss when fired with high-performance .357 Mag. ammunition. Over the years, several methods of porting the barrels have been tried in an attempt to reduce recoil. Of course, recoil is really not reduced, it is merely diverted. One of the earliest successful recoil-reduction systems was the Mag-Na-Port method. Mag-Na-Port used a slot on either side of the front sight at the muzzle to redirect the gases that travel down the barrel behind the bullet. As these gases are released and driven upward, they keep the handgun muzzle from flipping up quite so much. The gun doesn’t jump in the shooting hand quite so much, and it actually feels like some of the recoil has been reduced.

Taurus accomplished the same thing by drilling four holes on either side of the front sight. As some of the gas from the fired cartridge escapes upward through these eight holes, the barrel tends to not flip so much, and the gun is actually easier to manage. I think it is a smart move to think of the customer’s shooting comfort and install these ports during the manufacture of the Tracker revolvers.

Another smart move by Taurus also involves shooter comfort. And that is the design of the factory stocks that come standard on the Tracker revolvers. Some years ago, when Taurus brought out its Raging Bull revolvers, the company spent a lot of time studying revolver stocks and trying to find ways to improve them. The recoil-absorbing stocks that were designed for those big Raging Bull revolvers are some of the best in the industry. The same is true of the issue stocks on the Tracker revolvers.

Made of soft rubber, the Tracker’s stocks have numerous ribs that run horizontal to the stock body. The whole effect gives a cushiony feel and allows the shooter to really clamp down on the revolver. The stainless-steel Taurus Tracker weighs just 28.8 ounces with a 4-inch barrel, and I would not care to fire many stout .357 Mag. rounds without the great porting system and the comfortable stocks. These two features really make the Tracker stand apart from other medium-frame revolvers.

In order to put the Taurus Tracker through its paces I selected five different .357 loads. Highest velocities were obtained from the Federal 130-grain Hydra-Shok loads, which averaged 1383 fps. The nod for most accurate ammo test-fired goes to the Winchester 140-grain Silvertip and the Magtech 158-grain JSP loadings. Both of these cartridges averaged 1.25 inches at 25 yards when fired from a sandbag rest. It is while firing a number of rounds of magnum ammo, as in these velocity and accuracy tests, that a person quickly comes to appreciate the recoil-dampening effects of the Tracker’s rubber stocks and barrel porting.

Of course, I can’t be expected to test a .357 Mag. DA revolver without doing a bit of defensive speed shooting. And this is where the porting and rubber stocks really shine. One of the tenants of defensive pistolcraft is the firing of controlled pairs. The idea is that two bullets being driven into the same area might quiet your attacker down more quickly and cause his mind to consider more celestial matters.

However, a magnum revolver often kicks so badly that it is difficult to bring the muzzle back down on the target with any kind of speed. The Tracker’s porting, however, doesn’t let the muzzle flip quite so much, and I was able to manage the recoil a bit better and get the sights back on target just a bit quicker. Not a bad trait, at all, for a defensive handgun to possess.

As I sit here writing this article, the Taurus Tracker is near at hand so I can examine it as I go along. I have to tell you that it is a handsome and handy sixgun, a revolver that would be just as much at home on a city fellow’s hip doing defensive duties as it would be carried by a country fellow who enjoys walking the woods. In my view, that’s the mark of a good, useful handgun. And it is certainly true of the .357 Taurus Tracker.

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