Thursday, May 9, 2013

The .357 Magnum

In these days of mega-magnum handguns like the 454 Casull, 475 Linebaugh, 500 Smith & Wesson and 480 Ruger, the .357 Magnum seems like a weak sister to a lot of folks.  Why get a .357 when you can get a .41 or .44 Magnum?  There are plenty of reasons for going with the .357, in fact if I could have only one gun, it would be a .357. 

The .357 Magnum is now 77 years old, having come to fruition in 1935, right in the middle of the Great Depression.  Even at the then exorbitant price of $60, Smith & Wesson sold every one they made.  At the time, each one was hand made, and could be ordered with pretty much any option the customer wanted.

The cartridge itself is an extended .38 Special case, stretched out an extra 1/10”.  This was to prevent the hot loaded round from accidentally being chambered in the weaker .38 Special Military & Police model.  The new .357 Magnum was chambered in the N frame size gun, as it was believed that only the larger framed gun could handle the pressures of the new powerhouse, which were upwards of 47.000 psi.  It was, at the time, the most powerful factory handgun round available. 

Handgun authorities of the time, including Elmer Keith, Phil Sharpe and Douglas Wesson, were quick to extol the virtues of the round.  In fact, Doug Wesson used the new handgun and cartridge to take many head of game, including antelope, elk, moose and grizzly bear, to prove it’s superiority to any other factory round available.  The head of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, authorized it for carry by his agents.

Fast forward 20 years to 1955.  A Border Patrolman named Bill Jordan liked the .357 Magnum round, but didn’t like carrying the weight of the heavy N-frame.  He asked Carl Hellstrom, then president of Smith & Wesson, if it would be possible to package the power of the .357 round in a revolver the size of the K-frame Military & Police. This resulted in the creation of the .357 Combat Magnum, later to be known as the Model 19.  At 35 ounces with a 4” barrel, Jordan called it ‘the peace officer’s dream,’ combining portability and power. 

One of the biggest fans of the .357 Magnum round, and one of my top 3 favorite gun writers, was Charles A. “Skeeter” Skelton.  He wrote many articles praising the .357, and his use of the Lyman bullet mold #358156, a gas checked 158 grain semi wadcutter bullet available as either a solid point or hollowpoint, has made that particular bullet a classic along the same lines as Elmer Keith made the Lyman #429421 250 grain bullet famous for the .44 Magnum. 

For a long time, I wrote off the .357 as being more of an annoying little brother to the .44 Magnum.  As I’ve gotten older, and done more study, I’ve come to realize that the .357 Magnum may be a better choice, for most people, than any of the larger rounds available.  The acquisition of several hundred .357 and .38 +P cases allowed me to experiment with different powders and bullets, and I have settled on one or two loads for all my needs. 

I have 2 .357 revolvers that I normally use, a Smith & Wesson Model 19 with 4” barrel, and a Ruger Blackhawk single action revolver with a 6 ½” barrel.  The Model 19 is a favorite for defense and field use. I have a set of Herrett’s Roper style grips on it, made to fit my hand perfectly. They are not too terribly expensive, running about $100.  They are worth the money, as good fitting grips are worth their weight in gold. 

My normal working load is a handload of the Oregon Trail Bullet Company 158gr semi-wadcutter bullet, with 7.5grs of Unique.  This gives me around 1200 fps or so, which is adequate for most of what I use it for.  It is powerful enough for lighter, thin skinned critters, and I can load up a pile of them to shoot and practice with on a regular basis.  Getting out and shooting is the only way you’re going to get good with a pistol. 

I carry this sixgun in one of 2 holsters, depending on what I’m doing.  For concealed carry, I’ll use a Range Master Holster from Rob Leahy at Simply Rugged.  It pulls the gun butt in close, yet allows a speedy draw.  I’ll carry extra ammo in a belt carrier on my left hand side.

For field carry, where concealment isn’t a concern, I use a tanker-style holster I picked up in the local Cabelas Bargain Cave for $12.  It is made for the 4” K frame, and is slung from the right shoulder to the left hip.  It also has a canvas cartridge slide on it for holding 12 extra rounds.  It is extremely comfortable, and it is reassuring to have the extra ammo where it is easy to get to. 

The Ruger Blackhawk .357 Magnum single action revolver has been in production since 1955, with a few improvements along the way.  They are just about indestructible, and are offered in blue or stainless steel.  Mine was picked up new in 2007, and has been toted around quite a bit in the time since.  It has been a hunting revolver for the last two seasons.  With the 6 ½” barrel, it balances nicely for long range shooting, but is not ungainly like some guns with longer barrels.  It wears a set of Ruger synthetic ivory grips, which give it a little bit of personality, along with a Belt Mountain #5 base pin for the cylinder.  Patterned after an Elmer Keith design that he had on his #5 revolver, hence the name, it is a tighter fit than the factory part, and reduces the wobble in the cylinder, giving a little bit tighter lock up  It also lends a touch of class to the gun.

Normal shooting loads are made up of the Cast Performance Bullet Company 180 grain Lead Flat Nose-Gas Check bullet with a healthy dose of Alliant 2400 powder behind it. This is my hunting, walking around, do-all load for the Blackhawk. Sighted in at 50 yards, I am entirely confident in it to do whatever I need it to.  For a light practice load, the above mentioned Laser Cast 158gr semi wadcutter bullet and 3 grains of Bullseye in .38 Special cases fills the bill. 

It is usually carried in another holster made by Simply Rugged, a #120 with an extra long retention strap.  The holster rides on a 2 ½” cartridge belt with 28 cartridge loops, and the whole thing is carved in a floral pattern.  It’s a beautiful rig, made for showing off or heavy work. It is quick to draw from, should the need arise, and keeps the gun safe and secure.  I asked Rob to make me one just like Skeeter Skelton’s, and he came through!  If I want to carry it concealed, I have a Simply Rugged Pancake holster for it.  It’s a big gun, but under a cold weather parka or rain jacket, it’s doable. 

Even with its heaviest loadings, the .357 Magnum is still much easier to shoot than its larger siblings.  The Blackhawk is the best value in a hunting handgun today, and will last forever if cared for properly.  For someone who is doubtful of their ability to handle the bigger calibers, the .357 is still effective on nearly everything 4 legged in the lower 48, except that bullet placement is a little more critical.  We owe this to any game animal we shoot, anyway.

The Smith & Wesson Model 19 is a classic sixgun, and is lightweight to carry while still being easy to shoot. One can carry it all day, and not be tired or sore when the sun goes down.  Six rounds of .357 is still pretty potent, and I’ve never felt undergunned by having “only” 6 rounds. 

So, don’t be ashamed of having a .357 Magnum; embrace it, make it your own, live with it, shoot it every day.  You’ll be far better off than your friends who have their bigger toys, but can’t hit the broad side of the proverbial barn!
CCW classes are being held every week, plus we have advanced classes coming up:

Tactical Medicine for CCW: May 11, 10am-2:30pm.  MAC Pro Shop and Training Center, Springfield, Mo.

Figthing Handgun Skills: May 25th, 9am-6pm. It will be held in Willow Springs, MO.

Notice that our enemies are still training, no matter what the gov't says.  We need to be training, too.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Monday, May 6, 2013

OK, it's been a while since we've posted here.  We've got classes coming up in the next few months!  CCW classes every week, 1 day fighting handgun classes, 2 day classes out of town and private classes.  Lots going on, so we'll keep you up to date!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas to All!

The Lord Jesus Christ was born this day!  Give thanks for this most precious gift, and all that He has given us. 

Here's hoping you all have a safe and Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Assault Weapons and the Truth

Assault Weapons and the Truth
The Obama administration has nominated an anti-gun zealot as the U.S.’s top gun cop.
The Obama administration is moving into high gear in putting gun-control advocates into important government positions. The administration’s nominee to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE), Andrew Traver, should be of particular concern. His attacks on the civilian use of so-called assault weapons raise real questions about his willingness to distort the truth for political purposes. The person nominated to be the nation’s top gun cop shouldn’t use inaccurate descriptions to scare people into supporting gun control.

Mr. Traver is the special agent in charge of the BATFE’s Chicago field division. Therefore, he knows what was covered by the federal assault-weapons ban that sunset in 2004. But in November 2009, NBC interviewed Traver and reported: “Traver says the power and randomness of the heavy caliber, military-style weapons make them so dangerous not only to people, but to police. They’re so powerful, body armor can’t withstand a hit, and they’re so difficult to control, their bullets often get sprayed beyond the intended targets, striking innocent victims even when they’re in their own homes.”

The list of problems with Mr. Traver’s claims is very long. If he really believes that these weapons fire unacceptably “heavy caliber” bullets, he is going to have to ban virtually all rifles. Small-game rifles — guns designed to kill squirrels and rabbits without destroying too much meat — typically fire .22-caliber bullets, which are only slightly smaller than the .223-caliber bullets fired by the M16 (used by the U.S. military since Vietnam) and the newer M4 carbine (used in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars). Deer-hunting rifles fire rounds that are very similar to those used by the AK-47.

Speaking of M16s, M4s, and AK-47s, Traver is correct when he states that the guns covered by the federal assault-weapons ban were “military-style weapons.” But he fails to note that this really just deals with style — the cosmetics of the guns, not how they actually operate. The guns covered by the ban were not the machine guns actually used by the military, but civilian, semi-automatic versions of those guns. The civilian version of the AK-47 may look like the guns used by militaries around the world, but it is different. It fires essentially the same bullets as deer-hunting rifles at the same rapidity (one bullet per pull of the trigger), and does the same damage.

On penetrating body armor, Mr. Traver leaves out one important detail: Rifles in general are often able to penetrate body armor simply because their bullets travel faster than those fired from handguns. The same can be said for going through the walls of houses. But if he had said that deer-hunting rifles can often penetrate walls and lower-level types of body armor, it is unlikely that his comments would have generated the same fear.

Unfortunately, Mr. Traver has done more than make clearly inaccurate claims about so-called “assault weapons.” He has supported banning .50-caliber rifles, regulations that would force many gun shows to close down, the Chicago handgun ban, and repealing the Tiahrt Amendment, which protects sensitive trace data from being misused in frivolous municipal lawsuits against gun makers. He also worked with the Joyce Foundation, which has funded gun-ban groups such as the Violence Policy Center, on the “Gun Violence Reduction Project.”

The fact that Mr. Traver uses the same misleading claims as groups such as the Brady Campaign shouldn’t make it too surprising that gun-control groups are applauding his nomination. Nor is Traver’s nomination very surprising after President Obama appointed two strong anti-self-defense members to the Supreme Court. But Mr. Traver’s nomination is dangerous. Making up claims about guns to demonize them is beyond what is acceptable for someone who wants a position in which he will be regulating American gun ownership.

John R. Lott Jr. is a contributor, an economist, and the author of More Guns, Less Crime, the third edition of which was recently published by the University of Chicago Press.