Is A Snub 357 Magnum Worth Considering As A CCW Gun?

snub 357 revolver
Some people think .38 Special isn’t good enough and as a result there are a plethora of snub .357 Magnum pistols on the market. A number of such pistols are capable of full-house .357 loads, but is the extra firepower necessarily worth it?

A small gun that fires a powerful round isn’t going to be as pleasant to shoot, and shorter barrels tend to diminish performance from rounds that are much better suited to larger pistols. It’s certainly something to ponder, if considering a compact magnum.

Barrel Length Correlates To Velocity And Other Aspects Of Performance


It isn’t controversial or even debatable that barrel length correlates to muzzle velocity and other aspects of bullet performance. Pistol caliber carbines are known for considerably boosting velocity; even adding an extra inch of barrel length makes a difference.

It also isn’t terribly difficult to find a revolver holster for a three or four-inch barrel, so it’s hardly that concealment or comfortable carry will really be an issue with a slightly larger gun.

If you want a bit more data for reference, the Ballistics By The Inch website has done extensive testing on most popular handgun calibers, including .357 Magnum, .38 Special, 9mm, .40 S&W and so on. For some .357 Magnum loads, an extra inch produces almost 200 more feet per second of velocity in their real-world tests.

More than one person has posited that a 4-inch barrel is optimal for the magnum revolvers. Any less doesn’t get the most out of the round, and the point of a magnum is that they fly faster and hit harder than lesser loads. As to the .357, a lot of people reckon a pistol about the size of a 4-inch S&W N-frame or L-frame – or a similar Ruger GP100 – is about perfect.

A 2- or 3-inch snub won’t let a magnum round stretch it’s legs, so to speak, as much as a longer barrel will.

Recoil May Be More Than Some Shooters Can Handle


It goes without saying that the recoil of a snub .357 Magnum might be more than some shooters are able to tolerate. Part of why many people consider a medium- to large-frame revolver perfect for the .357 Magnum is because the greater mass of the larger gun absorbs more recoil. The heavy bull barrels common to that class of pistol helps get back on target faster and tame muzzle flip, and the larger grips make for an easier impact on the hand.

A snub .357 is going to kick. Not only will this make full-house loads unpleasant to shoot, follow-up shots will take far longer than with a .38 Special or .38 Special +P. Some shooters already find snub .38 Specials to produce more recoil than they like.

357 Snub Is Not Without Merit


There are merits to carrying a .357 snub, of course. It’s still a faster, more powerful round than .38 Special. If that’s important to you, then that’s something to consider.

Ballistics By The Inch found a difference of 200 fps to 400 fps in real world testing out of a 3-inch barrel between the two calibers, so it’s hardly the case that there’s no difference. There’s also the benefit of being able to practice with .38 Special, which is pretty cheap, which is certainly something worth considering, and you can also run .38 Special +P without worrying since the chamber pressure is far less than what’s produced by full-house magnum loads.

In fact, some people buy value brand .357 Magnums just to shoot .38 Special +P with fewer worries.

Also, regarding follow-up shots, this is one of the great debates when it comes to concealed carry guns. Some people figure a large round that you only have to fire once is better than a smaller round you have to fire multiple times. Others would rather have a gun that allows the shooter to get rounds on target in quick succession. Most studies into the matter indicate most defensive shootings are concluded fairly quickly, with few shots fired. Some, however, are not.

A .357 Magnum won’t guarantee one-and-done. Even a .44 Magnum or full-house .45 Colt can’t guarantee an assailant will be downed with a single hit. Even a 12-gauge loaded with 00 won’t always do the trick in one shot. Then again, a single shot of .22 WMR in the exactly right spot might.

This aspect is something every person will have to figure out for themselves. However, a snubnose .357 Magnum still puts a powerful round in a compact package, which may be worth considering.

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  • Green Hornet

    What ever works for you, some carry a 380, I a 45
    revolvers are good, some people seem better suited to them and as long as you can hit your target!
    of course I’d bolt Gatling guns on my truck

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    • Green Hornet

      go away

  • uspshooter

    When I teach Pistol classes to new shooters I let them try my ultralight s&w 360 with 38 Spl and 357 magnum rounds. I’ve only had two students shoot all five 357 rounds. Being lightweight and a barrel less than 2″ it kicks harder than a mule, is loud and has an impressive muzzle flash. It has its place though, as a backup in my ankle holster.

    • Fleet Yaw

      What are you teaching your students with this exercise? It sounds like the lesson is that you’re experienced and powerful enough to wrangle that little beast and they should respect your prowess. Why would you hand a new shooter an 11 ounce fire breathing dragon and expect anything more than a Pavlovian response to that negative reinforcement? Try that same exercise with a J-frame made of 23 ounces of steel and see your students gain a better understanding of what they can handle. Scandium is for masochists.

      • robert57Q

        Seems like a useful lesson to me, given that new shooters often lean (or are steered) toward a ‘little gun’, thinking it will be just enough for them. It’s quite valuable to have some perspective on the balance between what’s easy to carry, and what’s easy to shoot.

      • Maudlean Spires

        I think if they are new shooters and the first thing that they shoot kicks them badly, they may develop a bad habit of flinching. I would rather let them start off with something small and learn them to see the sights and develop a good understanding of the importance of sight alignment.

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      • Bob Long

        he is allowing students to fire before they make an investment, I try on shoes but most gun stores wont allow a person to shoot their firearms, kuddos to you uspshooter!

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      • uspshooter

        In my classes we talk about the fact that a more concealable firearm has drawbacks compared to a larger firearm and that bullet choice is not necessarily a choice of stopping power but what the student feels most comfortable. This exercise is not part of the class but I offer it to any of my students that want to try it out after the formal class has concluded. I also let them shoot various 9mm and .40 pistols of various sizes. So, no, it is not me displaying my prowess but a real life example of the choices that go into a carry firearm. It gets them thinking about what THEY want in a carry gun.

  • Ken

    I don’t see a reason for a 357 in a snub nose at all. I have both a 4″ and snub nose 38 special revolvers. I am pretty accurate with the 4″ but I have to be really up close and personal to hit reliably with the snub nose. I think the 38 is more than adequate at the distances a snub nose is normally used for.

    • James Andrews

      Exactly. Hell, a .22 mag, or a .327 Federal mag at close range with a hollow point is scary.

  • James Andrews

    A regular .38 special or a plus-p round is friendlier, and in a hollow point, is still deadly.

  • LibertysSon

    S&W used to make a 3″ barreled J frame back in the day. I would love to have that, instead of my 1 & 5/8 inch J Frame. You listening S&W?

    • Fleet Yaw

      They still make them! The Model 60 with full length underlug and Model 60 pro if you like thin profile slab sided barrels.

  • The_Great_Gearoni

    Of course it is worth considering. If you can handle it then use it, if you can”t then don”t. Not knowing the capabilities and limitations of both you and your selected weapon is the real problem, not what you carry. Caliber, Length, Type of Pistol…,Fords, Chevys, and Dodge…same argument..

  • Fleet Yaw

    Why not tailor your carry load to your level of skill and arrive at the Goldilocks zone? I’m a medium to thin build man with smallish hands and I get more energy at 100 yards with this loading than a stout .38 special +P does at the muzzle.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/4f8a090b7ffb39e3b43d8a912fb13d1ca9f8825bd0851534d03ba10a45d1f0ef.jpg

    Most magnum loadings utilize slower burning powders that don’t finish their work in the barrel length provided. A cylinder of these in my S&W 640 pro and extra moon clips works just fine for me, even with the wood combat grips.

  • Paul Crouch

    two Ruger SP101s 3 inch… Wife carries .38 Federal HP…. I carry .357 Hornady HP.
    Also Hornady Critical Defense in my S&W Shield 9mm.

  • 2ThinkN_Do2

    What is important to remember is: you can shoot 38 special in the 357 snub (or any size). So, if like the punishing effect of the 357, by all means, blast away with them . . .if not, use the milder 38S+ or plain 38 special rounds. The significant difference will be in the weight of the model that supports the 357 rounds, it will be somewhat heavier, unless you purchase the lightweight alloy models. Yes, the longer barrel (than snub sizes) will improve performance and accuracy. As always, use what you will actually carry and that you can shoot well (and that is reliable of course).

  • I’d rather have something like a Jovino Effector in 45LC. It doesn’t have to be fast, it’s plenty big and wide and with the right bullets, expansion is possible too.

  • My Ruger LCR .357 is sweet and my “go to” for conceal carry. It goes bang every time.

  • Bob Long

    My back up which I did not carry today is the 357 Ruger LCR, My car pistol is the Ruger SP100, with 4 inch barrel, I have nothing against the 38, heck, I practice with the lighter loads, but, due to the shortened barrel on snubbies, the 357 mag is just more, MUCH more effective than the 38 short and weak, the 38 special and even the 38 +P. yes, I have an old S&W that is ONLY chambered from the 38 S&W, It is a top break revolver, I use it for educational purposes, I dont shoot it much, now the PRESSURE is considerably different between the 38 and the 357 mag. 17,000 psi, vs 35,000 psi respectively, of course the kick is harder, but in a true self defense situation with adrenaline pumping, you wont even feel it. now, honestly, it boils down to shot placement, so learn the fundamentals and practice ingraining good habits, not bad ones. Thank you for the article, and for the opportunity to comment

  • Jon

    I have a Ruger SP101 in .357/.38 in a 3″ barrel. I use it as a back up at times but I don’t shoot .357, I use .38 +P and work great. Remember we are talking about for self defense which 49 times out of 50 a close encounter, real close. I bought the .357 so I could use as a wilderness elf defense in .357 but I don’t get out in the woods much anymore, but I am handgun instructor and have had few any complaints from students shooting it .38 special. It is a heavy all steel gun but not so heavy the ladies can’t handle it. It also works great as home gun, no springs to stress out. My students have the opportunity to shoot any of teaching firearms they wish to and offer to go to the range with them for one-on-one instruction, all they have to do is ask.

  • Richard Garrett

    Still carry my S & W mod. 19; just feels right

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