The .357 Magnum – the first and most popular handgun magnum caliber – was developed in 1935, as an improvement to the .38 Special. It was the result of a collaboration between the legendary Elmer Keith, gun writer Phil Sharpe, and Colonel D.B. Wesson of Smith & Wesson and Winchester firearms. The .357 Magnum uses the same case as the .38 Special, but is 0.125” longer. Muzzle velocities over 1,500 feet per second for the bullet used in the .38 Special were reached by a charge that Sharpe developed. It pushed the 158 grain projectile down an 8 ¾” barrel in a .38/44 Outdoorsman revolver built by Smith & Wesson. The result of this work was the S&W Model 27.
Since then, many other revolvers have been built to accommodate the .357 Magnum cartridge, which has historically been popular among both law enforcement and civilians, keeping demand high since its introduction. All major ammunition manufacturers produce .357 Magnum ammo, and all major firearms manufacturers produce a weapon for this common caliber.
Law enforcement agencies used the .357 Magnum for many years, and U.S. military personnel used this caliber from World War II through Vietnam. General George S. Patton is one particularly famous user of this caliber. He carried two revolvers, one an ivory handled (not pearl) S&W .357 Magnum, and the other an ivory handled single action .45 Long Colt.
The .357 Magnum is mostly found in revolvers, however, other firearm types fire this caliber as well. Lever action rifles chambered for the .357 Magnum have been manufactured by Marlin, Henry and others. Semi-automatic pistols that fire the .357 Magnum have been manufactured by Israeli Military Industries and Coonan. Ruger has introduced a bolt action rifle chambered for the .357 Magnum. It might be the perfect combination rifle and pistol cartridge when you consider how many single shot and pump action rifles can be had in this caliber.
The .357 Magnum is now less popular among law enforcement agencies due to the advantages in performance and capacity offered by semi-automatic pistols. It is, however, still a valid hunting and self-defense caliber. The famous LEVERevolution ammunition made by Hornady in .357 Magnum is popular among North American hunters for medium and large game. First Defense, a solid copper bullet for self defense manufactured by Magtech, also comes in .357 Magnum. It is versatile and can be shot in many firearms, ensuring that the first Magnum will continue to be one of the most popular on the market.