A Guide to the .357 Magnum

Megan Kriss

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Ruger GP-100 in 357 Magnum

The .357 Magnum is an American classic and has been a popular round since its introduction nearly 90 years ago.

It’s a powerful round that doesn’t quite stray into “oh God my wrist” levels of recoil like some of its magnum brethren, but it still has a legacy of reliably handling a variety of game animals as well as two-legged threats.

Because of that popularity, there are a huge number of .357 guns out there, which can make choosing the best one a bit of a challenge.

Whether you’re looking for a hunting revolver, a defensive carry option, or an old-school lever gun to blast away with at the range, there’s something out there for every shooter and every occasion. The only problem is: how do you choose the best .357 gun for your particular needs?

In This Article:

.357 Magnum Comparison

Below is my list of the best .357 Magnum guns for 2022. I list the best choices in terms of value, performance, design, and cost.

Click on the name to head to the product page, read reviews and check prices or skip ahead to the list of guns.

ImageNameSelectionPrice
Smith & Wesson Model 627 ProBest Overall$1,004
Ruger Super RedhawkBest .357 Hunting Revolver$1,217
Ruger GP100Best First .357 Revolver$913
Ruger SP101Budget Option$679
Ruger LCRBest CCW .357 $703
Ruger BlackhawkBest Convertible .357$695
Colt PythonPremium Option$1,799
Taylor’s & Company 1892 Alaskan TakedownBest Backpacking Lever Gun$1,500
Henry Big BoyBest Overall Lever Gun$912

Choosing the Best .357 Magnum Guns

I’m going to go over everything you need to know about the .357 Magnum, including what the best options are on the market right now in terms of guns chambered for this awesome caliber that is near and dear to my heart, and probably yours too.

Click on the name to head to the product page, read reviews and check prices or skip ahead to the best .357 Magnum guns.

We’re going to discuss things like value, overall performance, reliability, upgrade potential, and aftermarket support. We’ll also go over some specific options and considerations for both open or concealed carry, hunting, and even competition.

Why You Should Listen To Us

Personally, I’ve had something of a fascination with revolvers and .357 Magnum guns since childhood. I blame the fact that I spent a lot of my formative years watching John Wayne and Gary Cooper movies with my dad.

As an adult, I’ve tested a lot of .357 magnum guns, from standout revolvers like the Ruger GP-100 to lever guns like the Henry Big Boy. I love indulging the little kid inside me that grew up with cowboy movies and the .357 is definitely my modern revolver/lever-action round of choice.

Even if it was released long after the Wild West was tamed.

Still, the .357 holds a special place in my heart, and out here in the country it’s what lives on my side of the bed in case something goes bump in the night and I need to bump back. It’s a great round, and it’s served me well in the couple of decades that I’ve been shooting it.
If you see me at the range with a revolver, it’s almost certainly going to be a Ruger Blackhawk single-action or a more modern offering like the GP-100 or Super Redhawk (I also have a thing for Ruger revolvers, but that’s an article for another day).

So, with that out of the way, let’s take a look at the best .357 magnum revolvers and lever-actions on the market today.

The Best .357 Magnum Firearms

1. Smith & Wesson Model 627 Pro

First up, we have the Smith & Wesson Model 627 Pro, which is what comes to mind when I think of a revolver chambered in .357 Magnum. It comes factory-tuned from S&W with a few extra features like a fiber-optic front sight and an even smoother trigger.

Smith & Wesson Model 627 Pro & ammo
170 years of wheelgun excellence.

Smith & Wesson is a byword for quality when it comes to revolvers, and they’ve had 170 years to perfect their approach to making excellent wheelguns. Their letter frame revolvers (think L Frame, J Frame and K Frame, etc.) are the archetype of the modern wheelgun. The Model 627 is one of the premier examples of that experience being brought to bear.

It’s an 8-shot DA/SA revolver with a fluted cylinder, and it utilizes S&W’s popular steel “N” frame. This is a very smooth-shooting revolver, and one of my personal favorites. It has a 4” underlug barrel length that is just about perfect for target shooting or home defense along with a gold bead front sight and adjustable rear sight.

Smith & Wesson Model 627 Pro Cylinder
The Model 627 Pro packs 8 rounds into the cylinder.

Overall, this thing just rocks and if you can get over the price tag, you’ll find that it’s worth every penny.

2. Ruger Super Redhawk

Next, another personal favorite, we have the Ruger Super Redhawk. This is a similar choice to the 627 above, but one more geared towards hunting. It has a six-inch barrel, target-style sights, a rear adjustable sight, and one of the nicest triggers on any Ruger revolver (or any revolver, for that matter).

Ruger Super Redhawk with scope
Is there a more classic hunting revolver? I think not.

The Ruger Redhawk is a great option for deer hunters, or for a backup in black bear country, and it’s an absolute blast at the range as well.

Like the 627, it’s a bit more expensive than some of the other options on this list, but it absolutely earns its entry price. I’ve shot probably 2,000 rounds through mine over the years, and I have never once had a complaint.

3. Ruger GP-100

For those looking for a slightly more affordable alternative to the two options above, Ruger has you covered with the GP-100. The four-inch barrel variant is one of Ruger’s most popular models, and it has been a standout pick for decades among serious revolver enthusiasts.

Ruger GP-100 with ammo

The GP-100 was actually my first revolver and is probably the one that I shoot most frequently. I linked to a fairly standard black-finished model above, but you can get a variety of different finish and grip combos, as well as a variety of different barrel lengths.

The trigger on the base model GP-100 isn’t quite as smooth as the two options above, but there’s also a Match Champion model that tunes things up a little bit with fiber optic adjustable sights and a smoother trigger. If you’re hankering for more capacity Ruger introduced 7 round models in late 2017, so that’s on the menu as well.

Ruger GP-100 with holster
A .357 revolver and well-worn leather holster.

Whichever version you go with, you’ll find the GP-100 a reliable companion on the hunt, on the field of competition, or even in a bedside safe.

4. Ruger SP-101

Next up we move into something even more affordable, the Ruger SP-101. This is a very middle-of-the-road option on the price scale, but it’s still made to all the same exacting standards as every revolver Ruger makes.

It loses out a bit in the trigger department, and as far as I’m aware the base model is only available with some relatively cheap-feeling polymer grips, but this thing still blows other revolvers at this price point out of the water.

Ruger has a rep for budget-friendly guns that just work and the SP-101 is a cornerstone of that reputation. It’s not fancy, but it will go bang every time you ask it to and put rounds where they’re supposed to go.

5. Ruger LCR

This is the last Ruger revolver I’ll include…maybe.

Originally chambered in .38 Special, the LCR is Ruger’s pocket-sized defensive option, and while it is very affordable don’t confuse “cheap” with “cheaply made”. This is an excellent little concealed carry revolver, with a simple push-button cylinder release that prevents snags when carrying. I have shot and actually carried the LCR a good bit, even though my normal concealed carry is usually a 9mm semi-auto of some kind.

The Ruger LCR is a 5-shot model that does well with .357 or .38 SPL rounds, but I will say recoil is a bit snappy with hot .357 defensive rounds, and given the self defense focus there’s no rear sights available.

But if you’re looking for a backup gun, something that can live in an ankle holster, or a lightweight backpacking gun for dealing with two or four-legged predators, the Ruger LCR has got you covered.

Oh, and the version I linked above has great Crimson Trace laser grips, which I personally really like, but you can get a slightly cheaper variant without the extra laser bit.

6. Ruger Blackhawk

Okay this is actually the last Ruger revolver on the list, I promise. They just make so many good ones!

357 Magnum Guide - RUGER NEW MODEL BLACKHAWK on deck
A single-action, Peacemaker-style .357? Yes please.

Anyway, the Ruger Blackhawk might be my favorite gun on this list just because of the sheer cool factor. It’s a single-action revolver in the style of a classic Peacemaker, and the simulated ivory gunfighter-style grips on this particular model only add to the Wild West feel.

This is a great target gun, and is an absolute blast to shoot at the range, in cowboy action competition, or just to blast a soda can off a fence post. But it has a neat trick that sets it above a lot of the other .357 revolvers out there.

It can convert to a 9mm revolver too.

That’s right, you can swap the cylinder on this bad boy (it’s included) grab a couple of moon clips, and blast away with some much more affordable 9mm ammo.

It makes an already great gun feel even better and gives you yet another option when you take it out for a spin.

7. Colt Python

I saved our best revolver for last. The Colt Python, an already legendary gun made even more famous by pop culture appearances such as in The Walking Dead, is a phenomenal choice for committed revolver enthusiasts with serious money to spend.

Walking Dead Colt Revolver
Blasting walkers is all a days work for snake guns.

It’s expensive, but it has the best trigger of any revolver I’ve ever touched, and the single-action mode will make you weep tears of joy if you’re a trigger snob like me.

The version I’ve linked here has a beautiful stainless steel frame and six-inch barrel, and the 6-round cylinder is finished in the same style. The Walnut wood grips emblazoned with the iconic Colt medallion really bring the whole thing home.

Colt Python revolvers of varying barrel lengths
Pythons are available chromed or blued and in any barrel length to fit your kit.

For my money, there’s not a better revolver on the planet than this one, so if you’re looking for the best of the best and are ready to put your money where your trigger finger is, this is one revolver that should be on your list.

8. Taylor’s & Company 1892 Alaskan Takedown

And now for something completely different.

The Taylor’s & Company 1892 Alaskan Takedown is actually a tuned-up Chiappa clone of the much-beloved Winchester Model 1892. It’s been converted into a two-piece takedown model, and is available in a blued or stainless finish, with a 20” or 24” barrel, and 10 or 12-round capacity.

Hence "take" "down".

Takedown lever-actions like this are extremely popular with small aircraft pilots and crew in Arctic regions (hence the “Alaskan” part) and are a great choice for anyone who wants a lot of firepower in a very portable form factor.

9. Henry Big Boy

Finally, we have the legendary Henry Rifle, in particular the Henry Big Boy. This is the “damn Yankee rifle you can load on Sunday and shoot all week”, but gussied up a bit for the modern shooter.

The All-Weather version here features a nearly rust-proof stainless steel finish, a gorgeous American Walnut stock and forend, and a 10 round capacity.

I actually know a black bear hunting guide that carries this exact rifle on 50 trips a year in North Carolina when the season is in, and it has actually saved him from an angry bear on two separate occasions when clients were less-than-perfect with their aim.

I can’t really give it a better recommendation than that.

History of the .357 Magnum

Colt 1911 the standard firearm of the world 1918 ad NYPL-side
Colt’s .38 Super cartridge -- a predecesor to the .357 Mag -- was produced starting at the tail end of 1920, and was designed primarily for use as a black powder cartridge with 1911 style handguns.

The venerable .357 Magnum has its origins in the Bonnie and Clyde era when law enforcement (and to a lesser extent the military) began looking into handgun rounds that could penetrate car doors, as well as some early forms of body armor that criminals were wearing.

One such answer to these problems was Colt’s .38 Super cartridge. This round was produced starting at the tail end of 1920, and it was designed primarily for use as a black powder cartridge with 1911 style handguns.

In fact, the .38 Super is still a hot competition round and tends to do very well in IPSC and other handgun competitions because of some gaming of the power factor scoring, but that’s a story for another day.

Going back to the early 1930s, a number of law enforcement agencies began looking favorably on the .38 Super once it became widely accepted that it was, in terms of penetration, a marked improvement over the .38 ACP and .38 Special rounds that were popular at the time.

Handgun cartridge comparison
From left to right: .44 Remington Magnum, .357 Magnum, .38 Special, 7.62x25 Tokarev, .45 Auto, 9x19 Parabellum.

Now, seeing the attention the .38 Super was getting, a number of gun industry types, the entire development wing of Smith & Wesson included, decided to get in on the action with a rimmed cartridge that could compete with the .38 Super in a large frame, double-action revolver format.

They started with the .38 Special and loaded it hotter and hotter until they reached the pressure limit of the .38 revolvers of the time. To fix this, S&W took their .44-caliber revolver frames and chambered them in .38 Special, and gave it a 5” barrel.

They called this beefier blaster the .38/44 Heavy Duty and released it to a decent amount of fanfare in the Spring of 1930. It was a great success with rural police and highway patrol, and a year later S&W released the hunting-focused .38/44 Outdoorsman, which had a longer barrel and adjustable iron sights.

38 44 Heavy Duty SW Revolver
The .38/44 Heavy Duty cartridge was released it to a decent amount of fanfare in the Spring of 1930 and found a home with rural police and highway patrol, often wrapped in a K-Frame S&W.

Of course, we gun enthusiasts are almost never satisfied and are prone to demanding more and better from the firearms industry, so of course, we couldn’t leave well enough alone.

Avid tinkerer and wildcatter Elmer Kieth, and notable writer and NRA Technical Staff member Phil Sharpe would then go on to separately work on the problem of getting more performance out of the .38 Special and the .38/44 platform.

As the years went by, Keith shifted his focus to other calibers and left his bullet designs and musings on .38 Special case dimensions out in the wild — he went on to design the Keith-style bullet, which shifted the mass of a bullet to outside the cartridge case, providing more room inside the case for powder — but Sharpe continued the quest for a better .38-caliber round and handgun.

Keith Style Bullet
The "Keith-Style Bullet"

He would eventually team up with S&W Vice President Doug Wesson (grandson of founder Daniel B. Wesson) as well as the ammunition division of Winchester repeating arms, who saw promise in the early work Sharp and Keith had put together.

Over the next few years, and after much tinkering and testing, the .357 Magnum we know today was created.

In 1934, the new .357 Mag was released (along with Smith & Wesson’s Registered Magnum — two guesses as to the chambering…) featuring a .125” longer case than the .38 Special (to help prevent accidentally loading a .357 into a .38 Special revolver), a (9.07 mm) bullet diameter and using denser smokeless powder had the ability to push a 158-grain bullet to over 1,500 fps out of a handgun. With typical bullet weights in the 100 to 200 grains (6.5 to 13.0 g) being the common range, for options from light target loads to heavier loads designed for hunting or self defense.

This of course immediately thrilled both law enforcement and civilian shooters alike, and the “Magnum era” was off to the races.

Why use a. 357 Magnum?

357 Magnum cartridges are just lengthened .38 Specials (But don't tell them that.)

Of course, these days most law enforcement members don’t really need to shoot through the steel door of a bootlegger’s 1930’s Ford Coupe, and modern cartridge development, at least on the LEO side of things, has left the .357 Magnum behind.

But that doesn’t mean the .357 is outdated.

Far from it, in fact. It may not be the go-to round for beat cops and G-Men anymore, but it is still a well-loved round and there are an amazing array of great guns chambered in the round, especially among hunters and outdoorsy folk.

A Multi-Purpose Hunting Round

Hunting coyotes with a 357 Mag
Few calibers are better for popping the occasional coyote out on the range than the trusty .357 Magnum.

It’s a great round for brush hunting thin-skinned game such as whitetail or smaller sheep species, and it has been a great varmint slayer as well. For popping the occasional coyote out on the range, it’s perfect.

Of course, it also rocks as a self-defense caliber, and while you lose the capacity and quick-reloading capability of a modern semi-auto, the flexibility of having the option of a light-recoiling .38 Special or a heavy-hitting .357 Magnum coming out of the same gun is appealing to many.

Fun At The Range

It also makes a really fun (and practical) target shooting option, which is what I find myself using it for the most.

There’s something just incredibly satisfying about blasting away at tin cans, clay pigeons, and old soda bottles with a big, heavy stainless steel frame revolver. The slow fire rate helps to keep the cost of slinging .357 rounds down a little bit, but you still have the option of shooting the cheaper .38 Specials too.

This versatility is one of the things shooters love most about a .357 Magnum revolver. You have the cheaper .38s for target shooting, practice, or just playing around, and then you can switch to the more powerful .357s for hunting or self-defense.

Lever-Action .357s Are Worth Your Time Too

Lever action 357 Magnum rifle
A lever action .357 Magnum gives you more range & oomph than a revolver. Plus, look at the thing -- it's beautiful.

Finally, if we move things over to the world of lever-action rifles, the .357 Magnum truly starts to shine. Out of an 18” barrel, you can easily get 1700 fps with hot modern loads, which gives you the energy to deal with game such as black bears and wild hogs at close ranges.

While nobody will be packing their lever action for concealed carry, the energy they provide makes the .357 a great option for hunting a variety of game in dense cover, making it a popular choice for areas like the swampier parts of the Southeastern US and the denser parts of the Midwest where shots are frequently under 200 yards, where modern .357 ammo shines.

.357 Magnum vs .38 Special

This all seems to lead to one question: is the .357 really worth it over the .38 Special which is both cheaper initially and cheaper to feed?

With modern ammo, defensive +P and +P+ ammo in particular, the gap between .38 Special and .357 Mag has surely decreased, and you can get some truly wicked power out of the .38 these days that would have Elmer Keith and Phil Sharpe raising eyebrows.

Bringing the .357 Into the 21st Century

Ruger SP101 in 357 Magnum
With the variety of ammo available today, packing a .357 Magnum means you get innovating and flexibility -- hard to beat!

But the .357 hasn’t missed out on these modern improvements either.

These days, you can get some truly scorching .357 ammo too, and you can get some lever-action-specific rounds that are more than capable of taking down medium-sized game at 200 yards.

Of course, .38 Spl is still a good bit cheaper than .357 and has less recoil, which sounds like some strong arguments for going with it over the magnum, but I’d actually argue it’s more a point in favor of the .357.

More Options = More Better

See, you can always run the cheaper .38 Special ammo in your .357 if you don’t want to run full power .357 loads, but if you try to put a .357 in a .38 it’s either not going to chamber/cycle properly, or you’re going to very much wish it hadn’t.

You can also get a big, heavy .357 Magnum with it’s additional barrel length and frame material and run some hot full power .38 defensive loads in it to get all the extra power with some incredibly controllable recoil — even in something as manageable as a four inch barrel.

.38 Special Guns Are Cheaper Though

The one point I’d say the .38 really has in its favor is that the firearm itself is going to be cheaper because of the smaller amount of material involved and the lower pressures of the round. If you’re on a budget, the .38 is absolutely a good, value-focused option.

Manufacturers know this and will often have an equivalent .38-only version of a revolver for a few hundred dollars less than a .357.

For my money though, the extra power and versatility of the .357 is worth the extra expense at the end of the day, especially considering it can do everything that the .38 can do, and often with less recoil because of the generally heavier nature of the guns.

Must-Have .357 Magnum Gun Features

When choosing your own .357 Magnum, there are some things I’d suggest you look at first.

Double-Action Revolvers Rock

Ruger Super Redhawk on box
A double-action revolver, like this Ruger Super Redhawk, will allow you to fire more quickly, but still have the option of manually cocking the exposed hammer to get a smoother and lighter trigger pull for those carefully aimed shots, especially at long range.

First and foremost, if you’re looking at a revolver, I strongly recommend getting a double-action model, unless you’re specifically looking for that old-school cowboy aesthetic. Which is fine by the way, but it isn’t for everyone.

A double-action revolver will allow you to fire more quickly, but still have the option of manually cocking the exposed hammer to get a smoother and lighter trigger pull for those carefully aimed shots, especially at long range.

Since one of the big draws of a .357 Magnum is its versatility, the double-action format is a great choice for a revolver, unless you specifically want the full-on single action revolver cowboy experience for a range gun.

Safety First

Ruger GP-100 with transfer bar safety
A transfer bar is a thin piece of metal that gets raised into position between the hammer and the firing pin when the trigger is fully depressed. The hammer then contacts this piece, which is what strikes the firing pin.

None of the wheelguns on this list have a traditional external safety, but they do all have some extra features that help to keep the shooter and those around them safe.

One common feature that you’ll see is a transfer bar safety. A transfer bar is a thin piece of metal that gets raised into position between the hammer and the firing pin when the trigger is fully depressed. The hammer then contacts this piece, which is what strikes the firing pin.

This is important because the other option is to have the firing pin either attached to the hammer or otherwise directly impacted by the hammer when it falls after the trigger is pulled. And if that’s the way the revolver is set up, then any impact to the hammer could cause the revolver to fire.

Fortunately, most modern revolvers do have this transfer bar, so it’s not a huge deal with most newer guns. You will want to keep this in mind when looking at replicas of older guns, single-action models in particular.

This is why you may have heard “never carry a revolver with the hammer down on a loaded chamber”. You can absolutely do this safely, just make sure your revolver actually has a transfer bar.

Types of Firearms Which Shoot the .357 Magnum

There are two main types of firearms that shoot .357 Magnum, revolvers and lever-actions.

.357 Revolvers: An American Classic

Ruger Blackhawk waiting for some range time
Is there anything more American?

Most revolvers have a capacity of 6 or in some cases 8 rounds, and have a rotating cylinder that revolves (hence the name) to line up a new cartridge to be fired. This is a classic design, and a pretty integral part of American history.

.357 Revolvers in particular were popular with police for decades until they started being supplanted by more modern semi-autos in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Lever-Action .357s: Also An American Classic, Sorta

Who needs wall art?

Lever-Action .357 have been around for a while as well, with older Marlin, Winchester, and Henry Models showing up on the market in the later 1930s.

Today, these guns are popular with hunters, as well as those who just like the feel and experience of shooting a classic lever-action. The .357 is especially nice in this capacity as it’s a good bit cheaper than most other lever-action rifle rounds, and softer shooting to boot.

A Note About Semi-Autos

Given the length and rimmed case nature of the .357 Magnum, it doesn’t really lend itself well to a semi-automatic format.

That hasn’t stopped some smart folks from making it work in a semi-auto though. In particular, the Coonan semi-auto stands out for it’s 1911-style design. While undoubtedly cool, only a few thousand were ever made, making it a bit of a collector’s item.

The other option is the Desert Eagle .357 which, while excellent, didn’t quite make the list due to some reliability issues I had with the one I tested. Now, that was a range gun with a lot of miles on it, and I was shooting old reloads, but generally the gun is a little niche for me to have much time with it.

Now, Magnum Research, if you want to get one of these out to me, I’ll be more than happy to take a look at another one.

Shortcomings & Issues with the .357 Magnum

As much as I love the .357 Magnum, I do also have to warn you about some issues with the caliber.

The first is that, while revolvers are great, they do lag behind a bit in terms of defensive firepower. For that reason, .357 isn’t a go-to option for many when it comes to carry or home defense anymore – especially when you can easilly get 15 or more rounds on tap with a semi auto.

The other big issue is recoil. This may not be an issue if you’re hunting, but in a defensive situation, heavy recoil means more time between shots unless you’re at or near point-blank range.

What You Get For Your Money

  • Under $400: This is the real of small, defensive revolvers generally speaking, and a good place to look if you’re looking for a carry option. Beware super cheap options from less-than-reputable manufacturers, but a careful eye will definitely find some gems here. You’ll find Taurus revolvers, the Charter Arms Mag Pug and concealed carry options with black rubber grips and a fixed rear sight at this price point.
  • $400-$1,000: This is where most .357 revolvers will clock in at. The extra money gets you things like a better trigger, an all-steel frame, much better sights (no fixed sights here), and nice additions like real hardwood grips. This is also where you’ll find most of your standard-issue leverguns. You’ll see products like the Ruger Security Six, some Taurus guns, and Ruger’s LCR in this price range.
  • $1000+: The realm of professional tools and collector’s items. Revolvers in this category are going to be extremely high-quality and suited to serious target shooting or hunting, often featuring a barrel shroud or ported barrel and other special touches designed to help these guns perform at the highest levels. You’ll also find some high-end lever-actions in this price bracket marketed towards professional hunters. Brands in this space will from the likes of Dan Wesson, Ruger, and Smith & Wesson revolvers as well as more exotic revolvers like the Chiapa Rhino, which uses a unique design to reduce muzzle flip, or collectibles like the Colt Single Action Army.

How We Selected These Recommendations

I’ve been shooting revolvers chambered in .357 Magnum for over two decades, and either own or have owned most of the guns on this list, and the ones I haven’t personally owned I’ve either borrowed from family (thanks to my father and father-in-law).

I love this caliber and all the revolvers and guns on this list, and I had a great time exploring the best revolvers in this caliber more thoroughly to put together these recommendations

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