.357 Magnum Vs 9mm: Melee Of The Medium Bores
Handgun rounds in the .38 caliber family have always been the most popular, but since some (.38 Special, .380) are a bit weak the most popular are .357 Magnum vs 9mm. Each of these rounds has a long history and pedigree of efficacy in the realm of self-defense, so that both are good carry rounds is not in dispute.
What people argue about is that .357 Magnum is better because it’s more powerful, or that 9mm is better because you can carry more of them and can be more accurate with it.
Which is better between .357 Magnum vs 9mm? Let’s get into it…
.357 Magnum Vs 9mm: Moah Powahhhhh!
A number of people will side with .357 Magnum vs 9mm because it’s more powerful, which must mean it’s more effective.
Not to the degree you’d think. .357 Magnum doesn’t yield one-shot stops with regularity in the real world, but does deliver a powerful hit when put on target.
.357 Magnum emerged in the late 1920s/early 1930s. The impetus for it was a special outdoorsman variant of .38 Special called .38/44 HV, or High Velocity. This variant of .38 Special had thicker case walls and was only offered in S&W N-frame revolvers, which is their full-size revolver. Handloaders, most notably Elmer Keith, surmised correctly that the case could hold a bit more powder and started handloading it.
Eventually, they convinced Remington to make it a real cartridge, and thus was born the .357 Remington Magnum, which is the proper name of .357 Magnum. The cartridge was made longer on purpose, to keep people from shooting it in .38 Special revolvers. Smith and Wesson then made the Registered Magnum to shoot it with.
Archetypical .357 Magnum loads are 158-grain and 125-grain loadings, with typical velocities being in the neighborhood of 1250 fps for the former and about 1450 fps in the latter, both carrying 500 to 550 ft-lbs of energy. Typical .38 Special loads of those grain weights are around 300 fps slower, and carry about 200 fewer ft-lbs of energy, so there’s definitely a power advantage in a .357 revolver.
The .357 Magnum became a darling of police and civilian shooters as being very effective in most applications, though not without some drawbacks, which we’ll get to later.
357 Magnum: Formerly A Default Police Round For Good Reason…But Has Limitations
It used to be that .357 Magnum was the standard by which personal protection rounds were judged, and for some good reasons.
Ammunition of the day wasn’t that good; the only expanding ammunition was jacketed soft points (aka flat tops) and lead semi-wadcutters and semi-wadcutter hollow points. Regardless of which you selected, .38 Special was known for being spotty across the board.
The oldest trick in the book to make a projectile more effective is to just propel it faster with more powder, and darned if it didn’t work. In this regard, .357 Magnum established itself as the premier fighting handgun cartridge of the pre- and post-war eras. It penetrated well through barriers, and terminal performance was very good as well with handgun ammunition of the day.
Make no mistake: .357 Magnum is a powerful round, and very effective on both hostile people and game animals…if it hits the target!
9mm: All Things To All Men
The 9mm was pretty much a boutique round in these United States until the 1950s, and even then wasn’t highly regarded. It’s basically halfway in terms of power between the .38 Special and the .357 Magnum.
The classic 9mm load is a 115-grain projectile propelled to somewhere around 1150 to 1200 fps (depending) and about 350 ft-lbs (again, depending) of energy. 124- and 147-grain projectiles are also common, with the former usually losing 100 fps of velocity for the increase in weight, and the latter being around 200 fps slower, with little change in muzzle energy.
Why is it so popular? Just powerful enough to be effective, just small enough to be eminently shootable. With modern ammunition, it is much more than adequate. It’s so good that there’s almost no reason to size up, at least for the person carrying for self-defense.
The advantage, of course, is that 9mm can be carried in almost any size of pistol, from slim subcompacts to big service pistols.
Are there any drawbacks to 9mm? Not really, unless you pick a bad carry load for your gun. If you carry a small 9mm, such as a S&W Shield or Sig P938, make sure to select a short barrel load.
In previous times, the 9mm was wanting for performance, so a lot of people used 115-gr +P or +P+ loads to make up for it, or sized up to 147-grain. Even those weren’t the best in the days of cup-and-core hollow points. Said ammunition didn’t work the best in compact pistols either. When modern JHPs came out, those issues vanished, so today…those criticisms are basically moot.
9mm Is More Practical For Concealed Carry
Look, pistols in 9mm are more practical for concealed carry in basically every dimension.
It isn’t so much that you can’t find a compact .357 Magnum revolver; there are a good number of them available and from several different manufacturers. However, snubby revolvers in .357 Magnum and even compact medium frame pistols with round-butt frames and short barrels are known for sharing a particular attribute:
They hurt. A lot.
There’s something of a diminishing margin of returns – and a diminishing margin of sense – when it comes to recoil. A person can become a little more inured to it and thus less sensitive; some people even get to the point where they want MORE recoil because shooting a big, powerful pistol can be it’s own kind of fun.
Hey, shooting a .44 Magnum is kind of exhilarating! But the thing about big Maggies is that you’re shooting a big, powerful bullet out of a big gun. When you’re shooting a powerful bullet out of a small gun, you feel far more of the force because there just isn’t enough mass for the pistol to absorb any.
At a certain point, it just hurts. What this means is follow-up shots take longer. You WILL find reasons not to shoot regularly and keep up your skills. You’ll find yourself flinching prior to squeezing the trigger.
If .357 Magnum doesn’t guarantee a one-shot-stop – and NO handgun round does! – then what the heck is the point?! There isn’t one.
9mm Parabellum is a proven defensive caliber. It’s easier on the shooter. It’s cheaper. If you prefer a revolver, there are a growing number of 9mm concealed carry revolvers out there.
.357 Magnum Vs 9mm: Practical Powerhouse Or The Factotum Of Firearm
The truth about .357 Magnum vs 9mm for concealed carry or self-defense is that neither is a one-shot stopper. Both have a track record of working, beyond doubt. Even in the pre-semi-auto days of police guns, the .357 Magnum was found wanting at times for power and expansion wasn’t exactly always a given with factory ammo, so don’t go thinking it was perfection personified. It also wasn’t until the 1990s that the 9mm really came good.
Neither are a ballistic wunderkind, so don’t even start. No handgun short of the really scary magnums (.480 Ruger, .475 Linebaugh, .454 Casull, .460 and .500 S&W Magnum) have serious horsepower on tap, so don’t go thinking the .357 Magnum does.
The truth is that most people are best-served by the 9mm for daily carry. You easily get enough power, penetration and performance from modern ammunition to put down any hostile personnel so long as you shoot true. It just works, period. So does the .357 Magnum.
While it’s also true that the perceived need for capacity for concealed carry is overblown (you aren’t John Wick and you won’t be taking on an entire terrorist cell at the Walmart) there is something to be said for carrying more than five or six shots.
The other thing, though, is that revolver rounds are best-served by medium- to full-size pistols to get the best performance. Recoil is lighter with, say, a Model 19 or Ruger GP100 than in a .357 snubbie and always will be. That means better control, better accuracy and better performance at long range as well. That’s the kind of gun the .357 Magnum was designed for, and that’s where it really shines.
The handloader can get a lot out of .357 Magnum, including more velocity and heavier projectiles; the 9mm round limits at about 147 to 150 grains but the .357 can easily go up to 200 grains.
Those of us in the lower 48 will find the .357 a handier stopper of hogs, coyotes, wolves, cougars or black bears at close range, as a 200-gr. flat nose has a lot of punch. Handgun hunting of hogs or whitetail deer at close range is possible, and you can get even more punch from a lever-action carbine in that chambering, so there are uses to the outdoorsman than 9mm just doesn’t offer. Some loads rival the .30-30 for power and that’s rifle round.
So, the 9mm is better for the target shooter and concealed carrier. However, the .357 Magnum shines in particular niches the 9mm is not suited for.
That’s on paper. For you, however, you may find you prefer one over the other. Go shoot both. The one you like best, in a gun that you can conceal and carry comfortably, that you shoot well, is the one to have.
Have you shot these firearms? What did you like, and what didn’t you?
Let us know in the comments below!