Reviews Best .357 Magnum Ammo: Complete Buyer’s Guide  Megan Kriss September 20, 2023 1 Comments, Join the Conversation ONE OF THE ALL-TIME CLASSIC CARRY CARTRIDGES, .357 MAGNUM STILL GETS THE JOB DONE The venerable .357 Magnum is one of the most beloved and long-serving rounds out there, as well as it should be. This mighty magnum packs a punch and is relatively affordable, plus, there are about a million different options for off-the-shelf-ammo and just as many firearms to shoot it out of. And it’s just plain fun to shoot. Today we’re going to look specifically at the ammo part of the equation and go over some of the reasons why this round has remained so popular in the ninety or so years since it entered the market, and then we'll take a close look at all the best ammo options that are out there right now. Let’s dive right in. WHY .357 MAGNUM? The popularity of the .357 Magnum has a lot to do with the utility and popularity of revolvers in the mid-20th Century. From about 1920-1980, the standard service weapon of most US police departments was a .38 Special revolver. This is important because .357 Magnum came out of a desire to increase the power and penetration of S&W’s .38 Special cartridge and Colt’s .38 Super. The main impetus was that law enforcement wanted a cartridge that could penetrate the doors of automobiles and other thin covers. 357 Mag from a short barrel is attention-getting at both ends. Legendary cartridge designer Elmer Kieth and the folks at S&W figured they wouldn’t fix what wasn’t broken, and we ended up with essentially a longer .38 Special round with a bigger powder charge and pressure rating, and that was that. This is great because the bullets are the same, and you can fire those .38 Special rounds out of a .357 revolver, which made the .357 Magnum an extremely attractive caliber. Important Reminder While you can use .38 Special rounds in a .357 Magnum but do not use .357 rounds in a .38 Special. At best, it won’t fit, and at worst, you’ll need to replace your gun or some fingers afterward. These days, .357 Magnum might be outclassed a bit in terms of stopping power (I’m looking at you, pistol calibers that start with “.4”), but it hasn’t been completely left in the dust. It’s still very much alive and kicking, and boy are we glad. This cartridge definitely still has its uses. What uses? I’m glad you asked. .357 Magnum Use Today It’s still one of the most popular revolver cartridges for defense against two-legged threats, for one thing. The ability to comfortably fire .38 Special and .357 Magnum out of the same gun is a huge benefit, and makes these guns very versatile. It’s easy to train with a much cheaper .38 Special and then load .357 defensive ammo (which we’ll get to in just a second) for carry. Patrol officers donning tactical helmets, waiting for suspects to emerge from the bank. Note the 4-inch barreled revolver. It’s also a popular option for revolver hunters, though again, the .44 and up crowd really takes the cake there most of the time. BEST .357 MAGNUM AMMO FOR DEFENSE Hornady Critical Defense 125gr FTX Hornady is an old favorite in the world of ammunition because they make good quality ammo at prices that won’t break the bank, and Hornady is no exception. Where Critical Defense does stand out is the company’s patented FTX bullets. These are soft point bullets, meaning that they have a hollow point shape but with a soft insert into the hollow. This helps prevent clogging when the bullet tears through clothes and other materials, while also helping with reliable, consistent bullet expansion. And it does all of this with pretty light recoil. It’s also specially designed to perform particularly well with short barrels, though it wouldn’t perform badly with a longer barrel either. Speer Gold Dot Short Barrel 135gr JHP Speer Gold Dot is another favorite of mine for defensive ammo, and if you don’t want to take my word for it, it’s also a very common choice among law enforcement organizations. Like the Hornady, it’s designed specifically for short barrels, as you’d probably guessed, and with them, the round provides you with a pretty good balance of expansion and penetration. They’re not especially powerful (especially by Magnum standards), just enough to be effective, but that does mean less recoil, so Gold Dot is good for new shooters or shooters with weaker hands. If you have the strength for it, it may be worth going with something with a bit more oomph. Federal Ammunition 158gr American Eagle .357 Magnum JHP Federal’s American Eagle line is another good option for balancing quality ammunition with a reasonable price point. American Eagle is “Ole Reliable” in our house, and one of the rounds we turn to when we have some testing to do, and we don’t want to break the bank. This particular round is a great choice for budget-minded defense as it’s plenty powerful, good quality, and of course, it’s still .357 Magnum, so it’s always going to leave a big hole in whatever you put it into. I love that there’s a good, multi-use hollowpoint out there, with relatively low recoil (comparatively, for a magnum handgun) that doesn’t break the bank, and this is the go-to .357 ammo for general use in our house. Tula .357 Magnum 158gr FMJ Tula is typically a very affordable ammo, and that’s the case here too. Speaking of cases, this IS steel-cased ammo, but with non-corrosive primer and powder so there are no issues other than maybe having to smack your ejector rod a bit harder than normal. Beyond that, this is a great option for folks who don’t reload and who just want something that’s economical for target shooting for fun at the range, or just blasting cans off a berm or fencepost on the Back 40 somewhere. If you’re of the “buy it cheap and stack it deep” mindset when it comes to .357 ammo, this is our top pick because it’s about as affordable as you can go before quality starts to become a problem. Frankly, for this ammo to perform as well as it does at this price is a surprise, but there it is. Fiocchi 142gr FMJ-TC Fiocchi is my go-to for range ammo. They’ve been around since 1876 and in that time, this Italian company has certainly perfected their craft. Fiocchi ammo always fires like a dream, with manageable recoil and very consistent performance. This boxer-primed ammo is great for training or just shooting to kill time, plus the brass is corrosion-resistant. It’s even reloadable! And the price won’t drain your wallet, even if you’re spending all day at the range. What’s not to love? Federal American Eagle .357 Magnum 158gr JSP This first hunting round is another Federal American Eagle pick and as such, it’s very similar to the American Eagle pick under our defensive ammo recommendations, even down to the grain weight. The main difference between this one and our defensive pick is that this one has a jacketed soft point bullet, meaning that the jacket doesn’t completely enclose the bullet, instead leaving it open at the front. However, it doesn’t have that hollow in the front like a hollow point does. This allows it to expand more than a FMJ bullet while keeping the faster, flatter flight trajectory that makes FMJs so useful. However, they still don’t expand as much as a hollow point, so they’re something of a happy medium between the two, making them an excellent option for hunting. Other than that, this American Eagle JSP round is much like the American Eagle hollow point. They both feature manageable recoil (again, by magnum standards) and are very affordable. Magtech .357 Magnum 158gr SJSP Lastly, we have my personal favorite for revolver hunting with a .357 Magnum, the Magtech 158gr SJSP. This is another one that can really be a hunting or defensive round, depending on your needs, and that makes it a great one to keep in stock in our book. Magtech is a great manufacturer and one of the best high-end options out there for .357. The SJSP stands for semi-jacketed soft point, which is designed to expand quickly on impact with a soft target while still staying together enough to get through thick clothing, fur, and lighter bones. They’re also not that expensive compared to some domestic higher-end ammo options, which makes this a great option for defense or hunting use if you’re on a bit of a budget, or just don’t want to shell out $2+ a round for the really pricey stuff. LOOSE ROUNDS .357 Magnum is a great cartridge with a lot of history and a lot of great off-the-shelf ammo options out there for you to choose from. From simple and affordable range ammo, to high-powered and high-quality hollowpoints and solid slugs for self-defense and hunting, you really do have a huge amount of great ammo at your fingertips whether you’re shopping in-store, or online. And what a joy that is. There’s nothing worse than being out of ammo or not being able to find good ammo for your intended purpose. Fortunately, as long as you’ve got the cash, you’ve got some great .357 options available to you. 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