No doubt more than enough was written about the first magnum revolver cartridge--the mighty little .357--in the years following its introduction in 1934. The (now) wee beast kicked off a new arms race in handgun cartridges, but it ruled the roost for long enough to cement its place among the finer modern defensive rounds. And when rifles were finally chambered for it, the sturdy little fella persuaded many that he could be quite useful in hunting, too.
While the .357 is in no danger of fading into obscurity today, it could certainly be said that he's been elbowed to the back of a room rather crowded with surly, broad-shouldered handgun cartridges. But he is still a Bruce Lee, and Bruce Lees should not be underestimated. They may be humble, soft-spoken, even diminutive, but they are also sneaky, efficient, and highly lethal.
In an odd twist, the .357's once leading role as a self defense and law enforcement cartridge has been eclipsed not by its broad shouldered cousins like the .44 mag and .454 Casull, but by cartridges that once would have been considered inadequate. The two most widely used law enforcement cartridges today, the .9mm and .40 S&W, have inferior ballistics to the .357. But the advent of reliable, high capacity semi-automatic handguns brought with it (rather gradually) the new, inescapable doctrine of "more is better."
On Mr. Lee's other flank, the big brutish cousins moved in to oust him from his hunting role. While back in the day, intrepid hunters went after everything on up to bear with the .357, once the breakneck race to magnum superiority picked up steam (in both rifles and handguns) it became more and more difficult to persuade younger hunters of the .357's usefulness in the woods. Not that many were trying to make that argument anymore.
Best Survival Cartridge
And I'm not here to argue that the .357 can or should, reclaim its old titles. But I will argue that it still deserves a place in the ring...maybe just a different ring. I believe the .357 has a better than average shot at claiming the title of "Best Survival Cartridge."
The term "survival" or "survivalist" has been applied to a broad range of scenarios, from civil war to simple marooning. For the sake of simplicity, I'll define my scenario as one in which an individual or small group might be forced to live off the land, and in which contact with "civilization" or other persons might be impossible or undesirable. Resources would be limited to what could be pre-arranged (in a remote cabin for instance), carried on one's back, or rummaged afield.
Flexibility, Portability, Sustainability
In survival scenarios outside a combat theater, a Marlin 1894 or Henry Big Boy Steel chambered in .357 Magnum /.38 Special offers a combination of flexibility, portability, and sustainability that is tough to beat. Its 10-round standard capacity offers adequate defense against most North American animals, including pack predators, and enough reloads can be carried in one pocket to last for days, if not weeks. Load flexibility is superb: .38 spl loads can be quite discreet on small game, shot capsules can take birds and snakes at close range, and heavy hitters can take nearly all North American game with a well placed shot or two.
Another fine trait I am always reminded of at the reloading bench is just how easy and affordable it is to reload .357/.38. No case lube, very little powder (one pound will get you 400 hard chargers) and a wide variety of bullets, or boolits, give you a lot of bang for every pull of the press handle.
Great for Suppressors
Lastly, their is an interesting niche for the .357/.38 carbine in the modern gunner's stable. Suppressors are very popular these days, and with them the .300 Blackout cartridge. We thread a lot of lever action muzzles for our customers, many of whom have come to realize that their quiet, fast actions make perfect platforms for cans.
A .357 that Emulates the .300 Blackout Cartridge?
The Marlin 1894 or Henry Big Boy Steel carbine, firing .38 special subsonic loads, fills this role beautifully without any further modification. But of course, there is always a modification. My next will be to re-chamber a Marlin .35 Rem barrel in .357 so that it can stabilize big 220gr+ bullets at subsonic velocities. That would make it the practical equivalent of the .300 Blackout cartridge.
Bruce Lee is not dead. He's only lurking in the shadows.