As someone that has been shooting with revolvers for decades, and I can truly say that the .357 Magnum Revolvers are some of my favorites. They have, each in their own way, served me well in hunting, competition shooting, and for personal defense. Professionally, I have also been asked by many people, “What is the best .357 Magnum Revolver?” While each person has different hand characteristics, eyesight, and other physical characteristics, there is truly a .357 Magnum for every person. However, there is no such thing as a “one gun fits all”.
In this article, I will share my advice on which .357 Magnum revolvers I like best and why they might also be of interest to you. It is my sincere hope that you, the reader, gain some valuable insight that enables you to choose a better weapon so that you always remain safe from harm and able to defend yourself.
An Introduction to .357 Magnum Revolvers
These revolvers fire a mid-weight, medium caliber bullet. Most models hold six rounds of ammunition while smaller compacts hold as few as 5 rounds of ammunition. There are also some medium size models that can hold as many as 7 rounds in the cylinder (example the Smith & Wesson 686 Plus ). Finally, the full-size Taurus model 608 has the cylinder capacity to hold 8 rounds of .357 Magnum ammunition.
There are three sizes of .357 Magnum revolvers:
These revolvers are:
- Small and have a barrel length of around 2 inches.
- Their empty weight is usually somewhere between 12 ounces and less than 2 pounds; depending on building materials.
- The frames are usually made of blue steel, stainless steel, or alloy.
- The best actions are DA/SA.
- Their small size makes them easier to conceal. Since most gun altercations occur at a distance of fewer than 7 feet, the shorter barrel has the advantage of more accurate pointing and faster target acquisition.
My choice for the compact revolver is the Smith & Wesson Model 649-5. The Smith & Wesson compact revolvers are built on the 5 shot “J” frame. This is the smallest of the company’s frames, and it’s an excellent choice. My personal revolver is a model 649-5 DA/SA, in .357 Magnum that features a 2-inch barrel, rubber grips, and a hammer shroud. Since this revolver is made of stainless steel, the little extra weight helps to tame the .357 Magnum’s recoil. This makes a perfect concealable revolver because there is nothing to catch on clothing, to get hung up in a purse or backpack.
Smith & Wesson revolvers are readily available in the marketplace at a fair price. The quality and design are excellent and they are very popular among compact revolver shooters. Smith & Wesson has a limited warranty on their revolvers.
For general target practice, I prefer to use 38 Special wad cutters or round nose bullets. For heavier load practice, I recommend either a 38 Special +P or a low velocity .357 Magnum round. This ammunition will help simulate the harder recoiling .357 Magnum defensive ammunition, which can be hard on compact revolvers. A steady diet of defensive ammunition can greatly shorten the usable life of your revolver by breaking parts or mis-aligining others.
Medium sized revolvers
The next revolver weight class features include:
- A 4-inch barrel
- The cylinder holds 6 rounds of ammunition
- As with the compact revolvers, I recommend a DA/SA trigger action.
- These revolvers usually weigh between 20 ounces to about 40 ounces unloaded.
- Revolvers usually in this class are made of blued steel, stainless steel or an alloy ( for lighter carry weight ).
These revolvers are still small enough to be concealed with the proper holster and loose fitting clothing. Most importantly they are big enough to comfortably manage the heavy recoil of the .357 Magnum ammunition. They may not be as good at closer ranges because it will take a little longer to come to bare on the target than with a compact revolver.
My choice for the medium size revolver is the Smith & Wesson Model 686.
The Smith & Wesson medium revolvers are built on the companies’ 6 shot “ L” frame, which was developed because
the old “K” frame lacked strength when firing very hot ammunition. Case in point, When I was in my late twenties, I fired my Smith & Wesson model 19 with very high velocity .357 Magnum ammunition. The end result was the revolver cylinder exploded and the frame was badly distorted. I was lucky that I was not killed or seriously injured; only a few minor cuts and burns plus a flinch that took a time to overcome.
My favorite Smith & Wesson medium revolver is the model 686. This is a stainless steel DA/SA .357 Magnum revolver, with a 4-inch barrel, with a full underlug barrel, adjustable rear sights, and, rubber grips. This revolver is designed for heavy use with hot ammunition and will not shake itself apart. With the rubber grips and the added weight of the stainless steel, it’s a pleasure to shoot. If you prefer blue steel revolvers, Smith & Wesson has a model 586 that may be just right for you. It ‘s the same as the model 686 stainless, but in blue and has wooden grips.
For general target practice with the 686, I prefer to use 38 Special lead round nose or FMJ ammunition. This ammunition is a lot cheaper than it’s .357 Magnum counterparts. As you get a better feel for shooting the Smith & Wesson 686, begin shooting 38 Special + P and lower powered .357 Magnum ammunition. Finally, when you are ready, shoot many different brands of defensive .357 Magnum ammunition to see which one works the best for you. I personally keep a notebook to record which ammunition works the best for the revolver under all conditions.
Full sized revolvers
The full sized revolvers are the largest and heaviest of the commonly manufactured revolvers. These revolvers usually have:
- A 4 inch or 6-inch barrel and
- A cylinder that holds 6 rounds of ammunition.
- Here too, I recommend a DA/SA trigger.
- These revolvers usually weigh between 25 ounces to over 60 ounces depending on what metal was used for construction.
These revolvers have their advantages and disadvantages over the other sized revolvers. One advantage is that the larger and heavier frames are strong enough to take repeated shooting of hotter ammunition over a longer time with less felt recoil. A major disadvantage with these revolvers is that their size and weight makes them harder to conceal. Even with a good holster and loose fitting clothing, they are easy to spot.
My choice for the full sizes revolvers is the Taurus Model 608.
This Taurus full-size revolver is built on Taurus’ large frame with a full underlug 6.5-inch long barrel. This revolver has a cylinder that holds 8 rounds of .357 Magnum ammunition. Not only does this revolver shoot .357 Magnum ammunition, it also shoots 38 Special and 38 Special + P. The action is DA/SA. The Taurus Model 608 also has adjustable rear sights, and rubber grips that help to absorb the recoil.
The one thing I like least about this revolver is its size. A larger person can conceal it without much trouble, but an average build person will have some problems. Even with a good holster that keeps the revolver close to the body, I notice the revolver prints easily. Still, I like this revolver because it has the weight to lessen the recoil, Is built tough enough to shoot heavy defensive .357 Magnums, holds 8 rounds of ammunition, and can shoot 38 Special and 38 Special + P ammunition.
This revolver comes with Taurus’ “Life Time” Warranty, which is the best in the Firearms Industry. It breaks, fails, no matter the cause Taurus will fix it or replace it no questions asked. I especially like this because the larger and hotter the ammo, the more stress it puts on the frame of weapon. At least, if something goes wrong with this model, the manufacturer will take care of it for life at no further expense to me.
When I practice with my Taurus 608, I usually start out with 38 Special FMJ ammunition because it is much cheaper than .357 Magnum ammunition. Before the end of my shooting practice, I shoot some standard .357 Magnum ammunition then shoot some defensive .357 Magnum ammunition to keep in practice.
In conclusion, to answer the question “Which .357 Magnum Revolver would be right for you?”, start off by deciding if you want a compact, medium size, or the large size revolver. All three of these revolvers styles have their good points and bad points. The only way to know for sure that one of these revolvers is for you is to research it, hold it, and fire it. Try each of these revolvers types in a concealed carry holster, and find out which of these revolvers is the most comfortable to carry, draw, and fire. Only when this is done can you choose the best .357 Magnum revolver.
I wish to leave you with this last thought.
“Remember the first rule of gunfighting … have a gun.” This is a quote from the late great John Dean “Jeff Cooper”. Who is known as the father of “Modern Techniques” of modern handgun shooting.
Please feel free to share your experiences with choosing and using a .357 revolver. Which models do you like best and why? We are all here to learn (including me), and always remember that knowledge shared is not knowledge that will be lost.
- The Revolver as a CCW Gun
- Mid-Size Revolvers for Concealed Carry
- The .357 Magnum for Survival: You Can’t Do Better