My Friend, The .357 (Part 2)

Written by Skeeter in the mid-1960s, the following is the second part of an article found by his wife Sally shortly after Skeeter's death in January 1988. It was published for the first time in the June 1988 issue of Shooting Times in its unedited version. We present it again unedited as a special tribute to Skeeter. The first part appeared in last month's issue.
--The Editors

Almost all the objections to the .357 Magnum as a police weapon come from city police departments. It is argued, with some justification, that an officer who fires a magnum in a crowded city is more likely to kill innocent noncombatives than he would be if armed with a standard .38 Special. Not much mention is given to the fact that the same officer runs a hell of a lot more risk of being killed himself when his low-powered .38 fails to put an armed opponent out of action.

The .357 can, when necessary, be loaded down to any desired velocity level that will preclude unwanted penetration and yet offer a very good stopping power with proper bullets.

The Texas Department of Public Safety and the U.S. Border Patrol have accepted the .357 as standard for the patrol officers. Many of these well-trained cops frequently work in crowded, metropolitan areas. Those that do find it a simple thing to load their magnums with medium-velocity handloads, sometimes with expanding bullets that are good manstoppers but which won't penetrate dangerously. These thinking cops carry full-powered "maggie" loads in the bullet loops of their Sam Browne belts. If the need arises to stop a car or rouse out a barricaded gunman, they can do it.

The long suit of the .357 is its versatility in handling a wide range of special-purpose cartridges. These range from powder-puff .38 Special target loads to full-powered hunting rounds of up to 1600 fps velocity.

I have used many different bullet styles besides the Lyman 358156, although it has remained nearest my heart. A flatnosed semiwadcutter bullet performs best in the .357, especially in heavier loads, and several other good designs are available. In preparing to load for this caliber, some thought should be given to the use of the swaged half-jacket bullets, although I have found them to be generally less satisfactory than good cast bullets, due to their leading qualities and to their greater expense.

Below is a table of my favorite .357 loads, separated into three categories. The first two sections, light loads and medium loads, can be put up in either .38 Special or .357 Magnum cases. I generally load these in .38 Special cases so they can be readily identified and also because .38 brass is cheaper. The third section, heavy loads, should be assembled in sound, clean .357 cases. While not each is a maximum load, they perform better than any other combinations of the same bullet and powder that I have tried. Bullets used are .357-inch diameter. Velocities are estimated to be those obtained in an 83⁄8-inch-barreled revolver.

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Skeeter's Favorite .357 Magnum Handloads

Light Loads
Lyman 158-gr. 3581565.3Unique900
Lyman 150-gr. 357446 HP5.05066950
Lyman 170-gr. 3584293.5Bullseye850
150-gr. swaged half jacket 5.0Unique900
Medium Loads
Lyman 158-gr. 35815613.524001200
Lyman 150-gr 358156 HP13.524001250
Lyman 150-gr. 358156 HP7.0Unique1250
Lyman 170-gr. 3584296.0Unique1150
Lyman 158-gr. 3574465.0Red Dot1000
Lyman 158-gr. 35744612.047591250
150-gr. swaged half jacket7.5Unique1300
Heavy Loads
Lyman 150-gr. 358156 HP15.524001500
Lyman 158-gr. 35815615.024001450
Lyman 150-gr. 358156 HP15.042271400
Lyman 158-gr. 3581568.0Unique1400
Lyman 150-gr. 358156 HP14.0Sharpshooter1600
Lyman 158-gr. 35744614.524001450
Lyman 170-gr. 35842914.524001400
Lyman 170-gr. 35842913.5H2401350
150-gr. swaged half jacket14.524001400
NOTE: All load data should be used with caution. Always start with reduced loads first and make sure they are safe in each of your guns before proceeding to the high test loads listed. Since Shooting Times has no control over your choice of components, guns, or actual loadings, neither Shooting Times nor the various firearms and components manufacturers assume any responsibility for the use of this data.

Since so many varying factors apply to make the results of handloading good, indifferent, or disastrous, neither Shooting Times nor I can be responsible for results obtained by the reader. I can only say that these loads have been safe and useful in my guns.

This list, of course, is by no means a comprehensive selection of .357 loads. It merely represents some that have worked well in my experience. Powder charges listed here may be used with other bullets of the same weight and similar design, but it is well to remember that a plainbase bullet, such as the 357446, will give higher pressures with the same powder charge than the gaschecked 358156. Too, a bullet case of soft alloy will show higher pressures and more barrel leading than one composed of a hard mixture, such as 1:10 tin to lead.

Barrel lengths affect muzzle velocities, but not as much as you may think. Longer barrels do a better job of burning the slow powders necessary for magnum loads, and many hunters buy guns with uncomfortably long barrels in order to squeeze the last foot-second of velocity from their loads.

Tests have shown that in cutting an 83⁄8-inch-barreled Smith .357 off one inch at a time, only about 35 fps velocity is lost for each inch removed when factory or high-velocity handloads are fired. This means that the shooter who carries an 83⁄8-inch model that gives 1500 fps would still get 1415 fps out of a six-inch revolver and 1345 fps if he chopped her down to four inches. The game he shoots isn't likely to know the difference, and the maggie man should pick the barrel length that he can shoot best and carry most comfortably.

In the middle '30s, the Smith & Wesson was the only sixgun chambered in .357. Colt didn't seem especially interested in the cartridge but did produce a few Model P single actions in that caliber, along with a sprinkling of New Service and Shooting Master double actions with its .45 frame. These prewar Colts are now collector's items.

Today Smith & Wesson offers its old original model, slightly refined, as well as a less highly finished version of the same gun, called the Highway Patrolman. Advances in metallurgy have enabled Smith & Wesson to chamber its .38 Special revolver for the .357 cartridge, and it holds forth as the Combat Magnum, filled up with target sights and a heavy, ribbed barrel.

Colt sells sixguns in the form of the old Model P single action and its target-sighted offspring, the New Frontier. The Python, an improved version of the famous .38 Officer's Model target revolver, is the top gun in the Colt line and one of the most popular .357s used by police. The Trooper is a less fancy version, competing with the S&W Highway Patrolman in price.

Sturm, Ruger & Co. came out with its .357 Blackhawk in 1955, and it is an extremely practical, durable hunting arm. Intercontinental Arms of Los Angeles imports the Dakota, a good replica of the Colt single action from Italy that can be had in .357. Intercontinental also sells a sturdy derringer in the same caliber.

All of these handguns are strong and accurate. At one time or another, I have carried each of them at my side on hunting trips or in law-enforcement work. If I had to choose just one gun to side me for the rest of my life, be it handgun, rifle, or shotgun, I would select a .357 Magnum revolver.

So if you're in a critical mood, pal, lay off my .357--it's an old friend of mine.

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