.357 SIG Auto-Pistol Delivers Penetration and Accuracy

by R.K. Campbell

I don't agree with many of the self-proclaimed experts in the wound ballistics field, but we all seem to agree on the effectiveness of the .357 Magnum 125-grain load. It has been so widely used and performed so well, there is little room for argument. It works-and works more often than not. For lack of a better description, the wounds produced by this load and cartridge combination resemble high power rifle strikes.

Like many longtime peace officers, I have not been in a dozen gun battles but have seen the aftermath of quite a few. On one occasion, I arrived after a perpetrator had been shot with the magnum. He had attempted to fire over his shoulder at the pursuing officer. The officer's return fire, a 125-grain Remington hollowpoint, caught the felon at the point fulcrum of his jaw and skull, on the left side, at a quartering angle upwards. Both eyes were blown out by concussion and the top row of teeth blown apart by bone and bullet fragments.

When a 1,400 feet-per-second (fps) hollowpoint strikes bone, these things happen. But there are other worthwhile magnum loads for different purposes. Effects of the magnum are impressive in the game field, on smaller animals, at moderate range. The 180-grain bullet is slower but offers deep penetration. It is a proven deer load. The BRP 180-grain gas check is a fine solid bullet for game, among the most accurate of all cast bullets for long-range work.

I have had to fire for real when carrying the magnum, against a large and angry canine which had bitten the end of a citizen's finger off. My revolver was a well-worn Ruger Security Six, the load a Georgia Arms 125-grain JHP. A snap shot took the big dog in the shoulder as he charged. The effect was immediate. The bullet exited, taking a three foot stream of blood and lung tissue with it.

Energy Transfer
This performance is representative of the effect of the magnum on animate targets. The .357 Magnum in general, and the 125-grain load in particular, is among the most potent loadings chambered in handguns. Even cartridges of more power such as the .44 Magnum seldom perform appreciably better on animate targets. I have examined several .44 Magnum shooting victims. Tissue damage is often severe, but complete penetration of the victim is a rule. The .357 seems to dump all of its considerable energy in the body.

The magnum has one great drawback. It exhibits considerable flash, blast and recoil, enough to frighten a novice. Many experienced shooters shun the magnum. The best choices for controlling the magnum are probably the 40-ounce Smith & Wesson 686 and the Ruger GP-100. These revolvers are excellent examples of handguns designed to manage the magnum. Practice and correct technique are demanded, but these handguns offer a stable firing platform. We often choose lighter handguns-and the Combat Magnum is a personal favorite-for ease of carry and speed into action. This exacerbates the problem of control but does make for speedier presentation from the holster.

There have been several attempts to chamber an auto-pistol with a round which equals the .357 Magnum. The Coonan auto notwithstanding, it is most difficult to chamber an auto-pistol for the rimmed Magnum cartridge. And why would we wish to? Revolver cartridges use relatively large charges of slow-burning powder which produces more recoil energy than the auto-pistol. A smaller charge of powder in a high-intensity cartridge, coupled with the auto's recoil-absorbing reciprocating slide, makes for a much more comfortable handgun. The hot 9mms and the .38 Super never equaled the magnum, but did nip at its heels.

Bullet Design
A problem aside from ballistics is that auto-pistols demand a bullet with a rolled over ogive for good feeding. A bullet with a lot of lead exposed on the nose will never feed in the slam bam auto's action. No matter how well designed such a bullet may be, it will not equal the potential of a bullet with more exposed lead on the nose.

We have a number of super-hot 9mms such as the Powermax load that offers near magnum performance. A 115-grain JHP at 1,389 fps is nothing to sneeze about. This should be an effective personal defense load. The .38 Super as loaded by Cor-Bon will break 1,400 fps with the same bullet. The elegant old Super is hardly worth discussing, it is so seldom seen.

The big news is the .357 SIG. A .40 Smith & Wesson case necked down to 9mm, the .357 SIG offers impressive ballistics. A 125-grain bullet at 1,368 fps is the average of several factory loads I have tested. Cor-Bon's 115-grain load broke a sweltering 1,500 fps from my Glock. My personal Glock 22 is fitted with a Bar Sto Precision .357 SIG barrel. It will place five shots into less than 2 inches at 25 yards, if I do my part. The .357 SIG seems to be more accurate than either the 9mm or the .40. Here we have something.

But, does it equal the magnum? Do we finally have a truly top notch fast auto-pistol cartridge? Well, yes and no. The bullet used in most .357 auto loads are law enforcement oriented. They do not fragment as the 125-grain Magnum will, but hold their mushroom to the end of the desired penetration depth. Part of the rationale behind the .357 SIG was the need for increased vehicle penetration.

Per my tests, the Federal 125-grain .357 SIG load, in company with the Speer 125-grain Gold Dot loading, outclasses any 9mm or .40-caliber cartridge in this regard. In terms of penetration, it actually outperforms the 125-grain .357 Magnum load. In artificial mediums, the loads expand well. They offer fine accuracy in quality handguns. They do not equal the magnum in every regard but out-perform any other smallbore auto-pistol cartridge.

Handgun Choices
There are many reasons for choosing the auto-pistol over the revolver. The auto-pistol uses smaller charges of faster burning powder, which results in less recoil energy. Even more important, the control and an instant second shot is possible. The higher magazine capacity is simply a bonus.

I have considered the .357 SIG at length. Its power may result in excess firearms wear in the long run, but so does the magnum. It is not an inexpensive cartridge and not as widely distributed as other calibers. Compared to the .40-caliber Smith & Wesson, it is obvious the .40 has much merit. Perhaps there is truth to the rumor the .357 SIG was a marketing ploy designed to lure the last magnum revolver holdouts to the auto-pistol! Cor-Bon's 135-grain JHP moves along in the .40 S&W at 1,325 fps.

A big .400-inch bullet at this velocity has much to recommend it. If you own a .40-caliber, a simple barrel change is all that is needed to make the gun a .357 SIG. So far, springs do not seem needed. The choice between the .357 SIG and one of the hotter .40 loadings is not a simple one. The .357 SIG loads were designed to produce greater vehicle penetration, the Cor-Bon load, designed for personal defense, being an exception.

Here is an auto-pistol cartridge which mocks the magnum, but the verdict is out on its true effectiveness. It probably will never equal the magnum, but seems a good round on its own. My testing seems to indicate the .357 SIG is more accurate than either the .40 S&W or the 9mm. I have a custom barrel in the .40, mostly for the use of lead bullet reloads to which the polygonal rifling of the Glock is not friendly. I have never been able to equal .357 SIG accuracy with this top notch combination. The .357 SIG's accuracy has much to do with the fantastic Bar Sto barrel, but others, using stock pistols, also report good .357 SIG accuracy.

When body armor and heavy vehicles in the hands of gangsters demanded more powerful handguns, it was the .38-44 and then the .357 Magnum that evened the odds. Today, the .357 SIG follows that tradition. It is a good cartridge-a powerful handgun loading which should give good service.

Comparison Chart
Cartridge   Velocity  Barrel
 .38 Special Winchester 110-grain JHP  1,004 fps  4-inch barrel
 .357 Magnum Winchester 125-grain JHP  1,399 fps  4-inch barrel
 .357 Magnum Winchester 145-grain Silvertip  1,321 fps  4-inch barrel
 .357 Magnum Winchester 180-grain Partition  1,089 fps  4-inch barrel
 9mm Luger Winchester 115-grain Silvertip  1,170 fps  5-inch barrel
 9mm Luger Winchester 147-grain SXT  1,005 fps  5-inch barrel
 .40 Smith & Wesson Winchester 155-grain ST  1,181 fps  Glock 22
 .40 Smith & Wesson Cor-Bon 135-grain JHP  1,321 fps  Glock 22
 .357 SIG Federal 125-grain JHP  1,365 fps  Glock 22
 .357 SIG Cor-Bon 115-grain JHP  1,503 fps  Glock 22
 .357 SIG Cor-Bon 125-grain JHP  1,414 fps  Glock 22
 .357 SIG Hornady 125-grain JHP XTP  1,341 fps  Glock 22

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