The Best .357 Magnum Ammo is the ammunition that fits the specific need for you in the most efficient manner. That’s an interesting concept though, as the .357 Magnum cartridge is a versatile cartridge capable of many duties. The .357 Magnum is a potent handgun round for self-defense or duty weapons, where you need to have the ultimate stopping power in a still manageable cartridge. It is also a popular hunting and target shooting cartridge.

The .357 Magnum is a versatile cartridge with a ton of options. So we have put together a list of the finest .357 ammunition loads for your different needs, and it should help you narrow down a style of ammunition or a set of characteristics that you should be looking for in an ammo for your use case. If it doesn’t outright offer the best in class cartridge for you to buy, it should serve as an easy guide to push you towards the ammo you should be looking for.  

General Information about the .357 Magnum

It’s known as the cartridge that started the “Magnum revolution” in handgun cartridges; and is based off the .38 Special cartridge. Famous gun industry figures including Elmer Keith (writer, hunter, tinkerer, sometimes thought leader) and D.B. Wesson (of Smith & Wesson Fame) and Phillip Sharpe (Strong NRA connections, vocal advocate for anything gun related) had a hand in developing the cartridge, which would quickly become the standard for police and special agent duty weapons in the law enforcement organizations across the United States including the FBI.

The 1934 introduction made the .38 Super for law enforcement use all but obsolete. The agencies and officers nearly all, preferred to have less rounds of the .357 Magnum than the 1911 based .38 Super and revolver based .38 Special rounds because of the inherent power and stopping power. It was a major shift towards performance when it came to matching the firepower on the streets against criminals and gangsters that were now starting to implement bullet proof vests and heavy steel car doors to shield themselves from police bullets.

What is the .357 Magnum used for?

Mostly, the .357 magnum is known for its prowess as a duty cartridge for law enforcement and as a potent cartridge for personal defense and home protection, where the fast projectile can penetrate deeply enough and create a large enough transfer of energy so as to immediately stop most threats. It has been one of the premier cartridges for such use since its inception onto the market in 1934, where it was immediately used by many police agencies across the country as noted above.

It is also a great handgun or lever gun cartridge for hunting of animals in the intermediate and large size range. Hunters everywhere have used it as a secondary backup firearm on big hunts or as a primary handgun or lever gun for intermediate sized game at intermediate and shorter ranges for decades. The high velocity and high energy transfer with the penetration and modern designed projectiles (more on that later), which offer high weight retention, this is a perfect cartridge for many types of game.

The well-known, well-loved .357 Magnum can also be used easily for plinking or range training, and target shooting. In fact, it has had a great resurgence in the competition world in a sport called Cowboy Action Shooting in the recent years. This sport puts reenactment into a competition form, in a sense, and challenges competitors to shoot old time cartridges in replica or other guns that were in use prior to 1899; with a specific set of challenges and loads. The round is a popular one among this crowd.

What do the different aspects of Ammunition performance mean?

Static ballistics

Static ballistics are the numbers that are produced by the ammunition projectile in factory testing or by the standard pressures of the load in an optimum setup. It is comprised of the velocity and the energy delivery at the muzzle exit point, before significant wind drag or other environmental effects can degrade the power of the bullet. It is a good indicator of the build of a cartridge relative to industry competitor loads.

Ballistic coefficient

This is the amount of efficiency that a projectile has during it’s flight path. It can encompass several aspects, but it essentially means the bullet’s efficiency at shedding wind in direct flight towards a target. It is a direct measure of the effect of drag on a projectile size, weight, shape and profile,

Deformation/mushrooming/expanded diameter

This metric is used to show how much wider a wound channel can be made by the change of the bullets dimensions at or shortly after impact. The wound channel is affected by the size difference between the bullet as it enters and the bullet as it changes diameter through design moving through a target.

Generally, the larger the diameter change, the better the impact on the wound channel, which would increase the devastation, and therefore the stopping power of a given projectile, within reason. This has been proven to be less effective than some other aspects of projectile performance, as the diameter sometimes does little more to cause more trauma or decrease the time it takes to stop a target.

Weight retention

The more that a bullet retains weight, the better the jacket and the core lead (or other material) held together. It also shows how much the bullet can be expected to shed, or not shed its kinetic energy as it travels through the target. The greater the retained weight, the less energy loss inherent to the projectile and the greater the stopping power at impact.

Grain Weight

The total amount of weight that a projectile holds. This is a variable in calculating and delivering mass on target through kinetic energy transfer. The larger the bullet weight, generally the larger the energy delivery (though there are some exceptions to this rule).

Velocity

The amount of speed that a bullet is traveling. Generally, the faster the round is traveling, the better penetration there will tend to be, given the right mix of grain weight and velocity. Also, the velocity can aid in things like impact energy, and in the case of some animals, the amount of shock to the system through a controversial topic called “hydrostatic shock theory”.

While this is a highly debated subject it’s beyond the scope of this article, except to say, that there has been compelling data to show that some animals are given an almost instantaneous death due to a bullet traveling above a certain speed and increasing the chance for devastating consequences related to the impact a high speed projectile has on a target with a high volume of liquids.

Whether you agree it’s a real thing or not, there is a dearth of credible unexplained data that shows this phenomenon has at least some roots in reality.

Penetration

Penetration varies on different targets. More than that, the debate about what is and is not a proper penetration depth and performance is a heated discussion at most times. Suffice it to say, adequate penetration is important. All the projectiles in the cartridge on this list are at a penetration depth which is within the depth of penetration that the FBI sets as a standard for the best defense and Duty ammunition.

Now that you know what the different aspects of the performance matrix deliver, the list of top quality ammunition choices will be easier to understand for their given purposes as outlined.What follows is a list of the best .357 Magnum cartridges for a variety of uses in real world scenarios.

Speer Gold Dot Short Barrel Ammunition 357 Magnum 135 Grain Jacketed Hollow Point

SPEER GOLD DOT SHORT BARREL AMMO 357 MAGNUM

It’s got less velocity and less energy potential compared to other rounds, and on the surface, it looks like a sort of anemic .357 Magnum, but the uniformity of expansion and the adequate penetration levels, as well as the relative consistency and reliability means this is a perfect pairing with your self-defense concealed carry type revolvers.

Pros

  • Optimized for use out of short barrels – and actually shows it in testing

Cons

  • Very specific niche ammunition

Best for

Self Defense and Concealed carry for shooting out of a compact revolver or an ultra-lightweight .357 Magnum.

Hornady LEVERevolution 357 Mag 140 gr FTX

Hornady LEVERevolution 357 Mag 140 gr FTX.jpg

Very fast, a nice sized projectile and an exceptional ballistic coefficient, makes this offering from the LeveRevolution line by Hornady a near perfect hunting round when you need to be going out past 50 yards with a .357 in the field on intermediate game sized animals like deer. The penetration and range are unmatched for the bullet sizing.

Pros

  • Excellent ballistic coefficient for a bullet that does not ordinarily have good ballistic coefficiency
  • Polymer rubber tip that does not risk primer hits in the magazine tube
  • The best .357 Magnum ammo for hunting at longer ranges

Cons

  • Very specific niche ammunition

Best for

Using in a modern Lever action for performance, hunting or other needs.

HSM Cowboy Action Ammunition

HSM Cowboy Action Ammunition

Simple cartridge made to preserve the original loadings of the round. The recoil is mild compared to most rounds available and the performance is excellent with the all-lead semi wadcutter which shows well on paper targets and offers easy shooting.

Pros

  • Simple and Straightforward

Cons

  • Can be slightly dirtier to shoot and clean up after on your guns

Best for

Cowboy Action Shooting and old school competitions.

Winchester Bonded PDX1 Handgun Ammunition

Winchester Bonded PDX1 Handgun Ammunition

This is the culmination of 150+ years of experience in developing self-defense and duty ammunition and Winchester has pulled out all the stops to deliver a product that is super premium, with a performance that most other cartridges are jealous of. Yes, there are other loads that can do well in concealed carry, but none of them are as well put together as this cartridge when you look at all facets of design and performance.

Pros

  • Well balanced and performs extremely well
  • Fit and finish and quality control for this line are second to none.

Cons

  • Expensive

Best for

Home Defense and Personal Defense in a Carry situation, when you need the ultimate in stopping power and need ultimate reliability and are aware of the surroundings.

Fiocchi Shooting Dynamics, .357 Magnum, FMJTC, 145 Grain

Fiocchi Shooting Dynamics, .357 Magnum, FMJTC, 145 Grain

Budget range ammunition that is well priced and well made for a consistent and reliable range experience every time you use this ammunition made by Fiocchi who makes all their own components for each line they market (with the exceptions of certain premium collaborations). This is probably the best value priced .357 Magnum ammunition for range and target practice. The premium brass is reloadable like the other cartridges on this list, and this offers a benefit to perceived value for shooters.

Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Mild recoil
  • Premium reliability

Cons

  • It has a Single use-case – range and target ammunition

Best for

Cheap range and target shooting and plinking for those who don’t want to spend a lot of money practicing.

Barnes VOR-TX, .357 Magnum, XPB HP, 140 Grain

Fiocchi Shooting Dynamics, .357 Magnum, FMJTC, 145 Grain

An all copper projectile retains the most weight of any projectile type, while offering excellent penetration through the bones, heavy muscle and thick hides of tough game like hogs, and other intermediate sized game. The fast velocity and lightweight bullet offer significant penetration, while the exceptionally uniform expansion creates a wide wound channel for maximum blood loss.

The hard-hitting copper bullet still offers maximum stopping power despite being lighter weight than some competing projectiles. Satisfies most jurisdictional regulations for larger game hunting with the hollow point, all copper projectile and power/ballistics.

Pros

  • All copper projectile
  • Heavy energy transfer and excellent penetration in tough animals

Cons

  • Pricey

Best for

Intermediate and large game hunting for the .357 magnum out of a revolver. This is a contender for the best 357 Magnum ammo for hunting of tough animals at moderate ranges due to the penetration potential and the hard copper projectile that offers extreme reliability in the mushrooming and diameter expansion.

Conclusion

The .357 Magnum is one of the more versatile pistol cartridges in the world for shooters who want something that can bridge different use cases. The value for your shooting dollar is exceptionally high and the performance has been market leading since it was introduced in the 1930’s.

The best .357 magnum ammo for each use case is outlined above. Make no mistake, there are other great rounds out there, and many loads that could easily replace the above list items, but for the money, and given the specific use of each of these loadouts, this list is a very good indicator of the stacked lineup of .357 Ammunition that exists on the market.

It is a loaded field of competitors because it is one of the most popular rounds in the United States and it enjoys a very good reputation for performance that is still able to be handled adequately by most shooters.