[video] 357 Magnum Vs 38 Special In Snub Nose Revolvers

MrGunsNGear looks at how much difference there is between .357 Magnum and .39 Special out of a snub nose revolver. There is a debate as to whether the very short barrel is enough to get noticeable improvement out of the magnum load and is it worth it to run them instead of 38 special.


I follow news related to .357’s, as an interest, and CCW .38 Spl. is my carry interest round. I read somewhere to limit practicing with a .357 using .38 round, that the .38 cartridges cause lots of build up of hard soot or fouling in the cylinder of a .357, and I would need to clean it upon arriving home.

I bought my 357 magnum just so I can shoot 357 magnums out of it. I always knew I could shoot 38s out of it but why? That is just the way I feel. I love my 357, it was my first gun and I am really good with it. So, I am not bias at all about it. I have nothing against the 38 but If I would run across a bear or mountain lion I would much more prefer my 357, just saying.


I had an issue shooting .38 Special LRNs. Lead buildup inside the barrel. Didn’t know how to clean it so I had the smith do it. Don’t use LRNs anymore, even in .22. Always use FMJ or .22 Copper plated.

Also love my .357. I have the 5 inch 686+ pictured in the video and it is a great shooter, very accurate.


Thanks Daniel. Sounds like great advice, I’ll heed. I noticed the lead “build-up” differences as well, compared to when I used copper.

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I think I’d go with 38 for carry but shoot some 357 for giggles.

Snub nose revolver is on my bucket list. If I could reasonably and confidently use 357 I’d choose that first, but I’d be fine with 5-6 .38s.

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Just some of my personal thoughts… probably not worth the thought, but might be of consideration for those of us that look at the “value” ammo and like revolvers…

It just seems like…

I know there’s lot of info out there about newer bullet tech that performs certain ways. There’s also different consistencies of lead, different JHP designs, etc.

It seems like a large part of the equation of 1. penetration, and 2. expansion is velocity. However, I think what’s often overlooked in the conversations is the size of the JHP cavity, e.g. a .45 vs .355 and the different volumes of liquid’s effect within that cavity to start expansion, and the design limitations (both material and dimensional) of bullets designed to chamber in an autoloader vs options that work fine in a revolver.

For example, semi jacketed hollow points and full diameter flat bullets that function fine in revolvers… this doesn’t include cast (non jacketed) bullet options (.38, but can cause severe leading with .357 mag velocities). Even some round nose and wad cutter, soft lead 38 special used back in the day seemed to have some decent expansion performance. These designs can’t really be used in semi-autos because of the shape and structural integrity required at the nose of the bullets for proper feeding into the chamber.

What this means to me, is that with most modern JHP, factory offerings, a generic 357 magnum should have better expansion, as well as potentially better penetration, particularly when looking at snub nose revolver performance.

This also leads me to believe that certain bullet shapes, compositions, etc. that might perform better in a 38 special snub, might be completely different than what performs well in a SC 9mm or 380. It also leads me to believe that the mechanics of performance might have different parameters when comparing 38 special to 357 magnum, as well as 9mm.

This last paragraph is why I generally look for 158gr 38 special, but go for 125gr 357 magnum, or even 9mm.

Here’s some interesting video from Paul Harrel. The first going over different performance from some 158gr options from a snub nose, the second comparing some typical modern 125gr JHP through a snub nose:

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I’ve got a couple.38 snubbies and feel fine carrying them. Guys I know who have .357 snubbies seem to carry .38 spl+P, or if they reload they’ll load “medium” level .357.

I think one would be well served to carry a firearm that you can reliably fire a second well placed shot.
Multiple hits in a critical situation may be to your advantage.