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9mm vs .357 magnum

The question of “what’s the magic bullet for self-defense” is debated endlessly on all sorts of sites, but these tests show why I carry a big-ass unwieldy revolver with six shots of  .357 magnum rather than smaller 9mm semi-auto that holds 17 shots.

I used to carry a 9mm. It’s much easier to carry, concealed or open, and doesn’t weigh as much as the hog leg revolver. But the ability of .357 to punch through stuff is unquestionable.

(click on each photo to see it big)

Guns used in test: .357: Ruger GP-100 (six-inch barrel model- I picked the longer barrel for extra power and accuracy):

9mm: Springfield XD:

Targets: steel plates, 3/32 of an inch thick (between 1/8″ and 1/16″ thick):

Shooting distance: 11 yards (33 feet.) Targets were not clamped down and were allowed to fall when hit.

AMMO: 9mm: Winchester 9mm Luger, 115 gr. FMJ. .357: Hornady, 140 gr. JHP


Hole is from .357 mag. Dents are from 9mm:

CONCLUSION: If you’re a good shot, and willing to deal with the extra weight and learn to use speedloaders quickly, a big .357 hog leg is probably a better carry gun for the Rocky Mountains than a small .9mm with more rounds. At least in winter. I have a friend here in Wyoming who says “9mm before Labor Day, .40 after Labor Day.”

I know there’s the whole argument of “penetration vs. expansion”, but JHP .357 expands once in. My point is it’s not going to be slowed down by heavy clothing. And .357 is the smallest caliber that can cause remote wounding by Hydrostatic Shock.

We have four-legged beasts here that can kill you, like cougars and bears. I’d rather face one with .357 than with 9mm.

From the FBI’s notes on the 10 mm:

The fear of over-penetration is a misconception, which was created back when law enforcement was trying to overcome misinformed public resistance to the use of hollowpoint ammunition. In the process, we began to believe it ourselves. First, our lawyers are unaware of any successful legal action resulting from the injury of a bystander due to a round over-penetrating the subject. We are aware of numerous incidents of Agents/officers being killed because their round did not penetrate enough (Grogan and Dove, for example). Further, if you examine shooting statistics you will see that officers hit the subject somewhere around 20-30% of the time. Thus 70-80% of shots fired never hit their intended target, and nobody ever worries about them – only the ones that might “over-penetrate” the bad guy. Third, as our testing shows, even the most frangible bullets designed specifically for shallow penetration will plug up when striking wood or wallboard and then penetrate like full metal jacket ammunition. We are aware of successful legal actions where an innocent party has been struck by a shot passing through a wall, but as we have proven, ALL of them will do that.”

And from :

“Grogan and Dove were the two FBI agents killed in the 1986 Miami shootout with a pair of bank robbers named Platt and Matix. Five other agents were wounded. Matix fired only one shot, which missed. Platt did all of the rest of the fighting against the FBI agents and arriving Metro-Dade police officers. He soaked up numerous bullet wounds, including several rounds of 12 gauge 00 buckshot that hit his legs as he wriggled out of a wrecked car, and one 9 mm hollowpoint round that entered through his arm early in the fight and stopped just short of his heart. Platt was pretty much everyone’s worst nightmare – ex-military, well-practiced, and unrelenting. “As a result of ammunition failures in Miami, the FBI undertook a program of extensive ammunition testing. The FBI concluded that a minimum of 12 inches of penetration in ballistic gelatin was necessary for reliable incapacitation, and “18 inches is better.”

ALSO: On a note related to self-defense, but not related to the above tests, I’ve added an aftermarket front sight, fiber optic HiViz brand. Really helps find your target in low light:

Posted in Cool stuff we like!, guns, take action NOW!.

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29 Responses

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  1. MichaelWDean says

    Almost the same power as a .357, but with 14 rounds, not six.

  2. MichaelWDean says

    I now carry a Glock model 23. 40 Cal.

  3. asiong says

    I like the discussion, but for the urban living, not the woods what would you prefer to carry?

  4. Sean I says

    I agree about the 357 being a great all rounder. I have a Ruger SS Security six just like Tom did above and also a Marlin 1894 carbine in 357. The revolver to me is a much more positive fool proof SD gun than an auto; I could so easily use it in the dark without searching for controls if I had to, and don’t ever worry about it jamming or breaking. My marlin is very accurate and as someone said above utilizes the full potential of the 357, you can get close to 30-30 power out of it and holds 8 rounds in a with a 16″ barrel.. love them both.. nice discussion.

  5. Tom Ferrandino says


    I was first issued a Ruger Secutiy Six SS 4″ with the Border Patrol in the mid 80’s and carried the Federal 125 grain JHP pushing 1450 feet per second. A very stout load and still today one of the best. In the mid 90’s we were mandated to .40 cal autos, (Beretta). I was very fond of my revolver and never felt undergunned in all of those remote areas we patrolled. With the revolver we qualified 4 times a year out to the 50 yard line, 72 rounds and with the auto also 4 times a year 72 rounds but only out to the 25 yard line.
    The revolver made us better marksman, the number one priority.

    The .357 is very versatile for Outdoorsman, .38s, .357s, snake shot ect. In retirement I carry a Ruger SP 101 SS 2.25″ 5 shot. I still maintain my marksmanship proficiency and feel very secure with it. All you can do is try to stay as prepared as you can. Badder, tacticool high cap pistols doesn’t mean you will always win. A cool head and steady aim will put your threat down and a .357 will do that!

    I just did my job and retired with my integrity and dignity.

  6. John J. says

    Hey Michael – got finished listening to each of your podcasts, the home video and my friend is burning G&W:R2F for me because I live out in the woods with a wifi.

    In regards to a 9 MM over a .357 Magnum, I reload. I much more prefer to have a .357 Magnum than a 9 MM. @ Justin – I’ve heard that joke before too, it’s a good one. But – it is not substantiated (even though it’s funny.) The fact is that the .357 Mag loads we see for sale today, have been scaled down from it’s original power over the last few years. This is because many ammunition makers didn’t want to suffer liability suits for chambers/revolver cylinders popping open for weaker made guns, over penetration suits from CWP scuffles and more so, because alot of people are getting a hold of .357’s in snubbies for concealed carry – it’s just too difficult to load the right round for everyone. At 1500 feet per second, a .357 Magnum load out coming of snubbie – with a traditional 158 Grain bullet – has a ridiculous recoil for a 2″ barrel (and smaller) J frame.

    They do, however, make rounds that still make yo mamma cry (like Buffalo Bore Ammo)

    I carried pistolas al dues when I was in bear country. I lived out in the woods by myself with my dog for about two months (just to see if I could). I had two revolvers with me always. My specialty load was a 180gr. Winchester Supreme JHP Partition Gold in .357, which got about 1100 FPS out of my 4″ 66 – plenty fine for black bear. And contrary to what folks hear, grizzlies have been killed with .357 Magnums. The difference is that many JHP’s shot from a .357 Magnum won’t punch skull like an old hard cast bullet (Elmer Keith, who designed the .357 Magnum, shot big bear with it, but it was with his own 173 Grain FN-SWC solid bullet, not a 180 gr. JHP.) Stated, had I known yhrn what I know now, I would have carried a larger, cast bullet instead of slightly larger JHP. Still, with a .357 in 180, that’s not under-armed for eastern black bear.

    While one did come up on my camp for a few nights, it never came so close I had to shoot, but I had both pistols in hand when he did show up (Got that idea from the 5 Rings Japanese Sword Parable).

    Given, today, I cast my own bullets and load cartridges for almost all of my guns (save for the 22 Rimfires). Cast bullets don’t work at faster speeds as well as copper jacketed ones do in some rifles – same goes for .357 Magnum loaded leverguns, but they don’t have to if the shot is accurate and the pattern, firm. A rifle chambered in .357 Magnum is a great, great low to mid range solution for many needs.

    In a pistol, I have a 125 gr. JHP in 357 Magnum I can push up to 1800 (MV) FPS, a 158 JHP or LSWC or LSWCHP I can push to around 1600 FPS and a 180 gr. JHP bullet I can get to around 1300 fps, all of those loads, well over 500 foot pounds, with the 125 Gr. giving close to 800 foot pounds out the barrel. But the 180 gr retains it’s punch of nearly 500 foot pounds at 100 yards – that’s alot when we are talking pistols.

    From the make, Michael’s gun could handle those loads, no doubt.

    Regardless, either a 125 Gr. JHP .357 Magnum or a 158 Gr. LSWCHP .357 Magnum will not fail you when it comes to self defense, especially in a revolver. (They do make a full .357 Magnum Automatic, it’s called a Coohan, designed by an Irishman no doubt.)

    Like many things in life, you have to roll your own to get a good .357 Magnum load. (There are plenty of good factory self-defense 9 MM loads out there).

    Factory ammunition in the .357 Magnum just can’t do what hand-loaded ammunition can and I do need to add this caveat, those loads mentioned above do require a larger L – N frame .357 Magnum, with at the minimum, a 4″ barrel.

    Just remember, when it comes to mass, if the bullet has a decent ballistic coefficient (the higher, the better), slower doesn’t always mean worse. Sometimes, a heavier round will do a lot more damage. (Google ‘cat sneeze loads’ and you’ll see exactly what I mean. That’s a slow moving, larger, sub-sonic rifle cartidge – I’ve seen these made for the .308’s and they are awesome. Done right, sounds like an air gun, hit’s like a cannon.)

    I’m a ballistics monkey (love my math when it comes to this stuff), when I started reading my first wound and ballistics reports and the old gun writers like Elmer Keith, Skelton, Paco Kelly and Bill Jordan – it became clear to me the .357 no longer realizes the potential that it once had, for hunting and for law enforcement. This is sad. It’s such a great, great gun.
    [Also has links to a guy killing a grizzly with a .357 Magnum snubbie, btw]

    On the topic at hand, we jokingly call the 9 MM a ‘europellet’ in my cirlce of friends, but truly, it’s not a bad round and it does meet the first rule of a gun fight – have a gun. Plus, those are some pretty nice ‘dents’ in those steel plates from the picture there. (Which, due to that over penetration, is why law enforcement officers are sometimes made to carry a 9 MM and hardly anyone has a .357, cept maybe as a backup – and one should always have a backup gun.)

    There is alot of BS on the internet – glad to see more folks are on the road to gun ownership, but more importantly, gun wisdom.

    Hope I didn’t boggle anybody, just google/search on any abbreviations, hope I could help in this debate a little. If just one person reading this gets inspired to start hand-loading or casting bullets, I’ve done my job.

    Keep up the good work man! Love Freedom Feens. Blessings to Neema and your wife!

    Ballistic Artist : the target is my canvas, the lead – my paint. The press forms my pallet of bright brass & fine powders. My ideas are expressed through the straight brush of a barrel. Due to a ‘lack’ of ‘professional training’, some might label my art; ‘folk ballistics’. But really? To them I say, “As the proverbial proof is found in the pudding, beauty is in the eye of the target”.

  7. MichaelWDean says



    The longer the barrel, the more the power. In handguns, some of the powder is unburned. In rifles, it’s mostly all burned. A .357 rifle has twice the energy of as a .357 snubbie with the same ammo. And a six-inch .357 has about 1.5 times the energy of a snubbie.

  8. Randy S says

    There’s a way to increase the accuracy and punch of a .357 magnum, yet minimize the recoil and even the noise – get a .357 magnum lever action. I am the happy owner of a ’94 Winchester Trapper in .357 and am amazed at how mild it is to shoot, yet it’s accurate to 200 yards and probably quite effective to at least 100 yards. Marlin, Henry, and Rossi still make a lever action in .357. The shorter barrel versions are excellent for home and neighborhood defense.

  9. steven says

    All you need is a .22 for self defense, or maybe a .380. I use 9mm for hog hunting, a .357 magnum in a lever action rifle for deer hunting. Not sure what the rest of you are smoking. If you really want to debate stopping power, why not start arguing the stopping power of the .454 Casull vs the S&W .460?

  10. John N says

    Good conversation, been discussed a long time all over the place. At the end of the day, sure seems like you need to know what you’re doing – at least basically – before you tackle guns, people and grizzly. I carry a 357 revolver in the backcountry, horseback and on foot, no problems, have no problem either with the idea of a 1911 auto or other large caliber auto in the backcountry. It’s just that I’m a revolver guy, I labor under the illusion that revolvers are more reliable and easier to clean. Wish I had the online link to the series of about ten photos from about ten years ago of the Montana game warden getting out of his truck with the adult grizzly in a cage in the back of the truck, with the Forest Service biologist looking on from inside the truck. Someone taking pictures of the whole thing from the passenger side and about fifty feet away. The game warden climbs on top of the cage, raises the gate door, the grizzly jumps out, truns around, grabs the top of the cage, pulls the warden and cage off the truck, the bear grabs the warden, the warden’s pulled his 357 mag revolver, empties it into the bear as they’re rolling around on the ground, next shot is the warden sitting on a stump and the wildlife bio treating the minor scratches he has on his left leg – his only injuries. It’s all relative, isn’t it folks?

  11. Todd says

    I own both 357mag and 357sig and have fired both fire one wait then other as to not give advantage to one or the other. Both 4″ barrels both 125gr hollow points speer gold dot. recoil on .357sig is less. trigger pull less on auto. yet that can be ajusted on .357mag. wound pattern at 5yards to pumkin identical entering marks, the exit the sig has a larger wound and is a perfect circle. after comparing returned to 5yrd line and fired double tap 357sig had two shots ontop onf one another 357mag 1/2inch apart . it all comes down to the shooter both are great calibers and i carry both 357sig primary and a 2inch .357mag as back up thought most of the time lately it has had .38spl +P+ in it.

  12. dave says

    i’ve had a 4” s&w 357 revolver for over ten years, a few months ago i bought a springfield xd in 9mm, the springfield is a gorgeous extremely well functioning semi auto.. having said that i traded it 3 days ago for another 4”S&w 357 revolver. now i have 2 holstered to the same belt!
    discarding shot placement, the difference between the 9mm and 357 magnum are huge,anyone whose shot both should know that if you dont hit anything vital with a 9mm hollow point you had better have more bullets coming at your target. with 357 magnum,especially hollow point you are going to blow a BIG whole out the back of your attacker and throw alot of his guts 5 to 6 feet down the road. leaving him open for an easy head shot if he isnt smart enough to go down and stay down, i cant believe people even try to make an argument for 9 vs 357. its kinda laughable really! i like 9mm and it has its place but vs. 357? please. ask an old retired cop what 357 magnum does to a badguy, gaurrantee he will grimace before he tells the story!
    as for bears, if you have to shoot a bear with ANY handgun you are in a bad spot! there hearts beat so slow that a fatal shot still takes many minutes for the bear to know hes dead so to speak, having said that i would rather attempt it with 357 fmj than any other handgun round,, with 357 fmj you MIGHT be able to get through the massive skull and hit brain

  13. Todd says

    Try shooting some 185 grain Corbon/Buffalo Bore/Grizzly Rounds, then try the Double Tap 200 grain rounds. Fearing a bear will never be the same.
    The .357 was good enough for Whitman, good enough for Patton. No other handgun can match their variety of bullets available.

  14. DanT says

    Yes, Colt of course. Thanks MichaelWDean-!! I even knew that at least in multi-choice format. Also it might help for ME to read the posts before blundering in for the day. Again my apologies. I will take a look at the links you sent.

  15. DanT says

    My apologies for my edited re-post. Guess I am a bit tired lately ….

  16. DanT says

    Thanks for the topic, the 9mm vs. .357 magnum. Gives me plenty to consider and think about, as usual. My question is when folks talk about a 1911 do they mean a S&W 1911 or could it be any 1911 style ? Just wondering what you all think? I am looking to add to my home defensive firearms. I have a S&W .357 mag. model 65 six shot revolver and a Rem. 870 Express 12 gauge. I find the price of shooting the 357 magnums way to expensive so I shoot the 38+P (read less expensive) but it’s just not the same, close but not quite.

  17. MichaelWDean says

    “my wife likes the lesser recoil of a straight 38. Under duress with adrenaline flowing near maximum she won’t will notice the difference ??”

    yes, true, from all I’ve heard.

    My usual carry pistol these days is a .38 snub (or two of them) with +P:


  18. Dan says

    Thanks for the topic, the 9mm vs. .357 magnum. Gives me plenty to consider, as usual. I am looking to add to my home defensive firearms. I have a S&W .357 mag. model 65 six shot revolver and a Rem. 870 Express 12 gauge. I find the price of shooting the 357 magnums way to expensive so I shoot the 38 plus’ but it’s just not the same, close but not quite. (my wife likes the lesser recoil of a straight 38. Under duress with adrenaline flowing near maximum she won’t will notice the difference ??) I have been leaning towards a 1911. My question is when folks talk about a 1911 do they mean a S&W 1911 or could it be any 1911 style ? Just wondering what you all think?) I’ve considered the Glock’s. Also I think about the .357 in a rifle. Sure wish I had a couple three thousand to spend ….

  19. JD says

    @ Justin (not West). The thing about .357’s is pretty true. though if you’re like me and that’s the largest size you have, it beats having nothing. But I prefer to carry my Mossberg 12 Gauge when in bear country

  20. Justin says

    Must be something about dudes named “Justin”, we’re all know it alls, LOL. I was gonna say the same thing but you beat me to it. 😉

    And just for the record, I carry a 1911, and probably always will. I’m not a cop, therefore I have no protection whatsoever if one of my rounds over penetrates a target. I’ll go to jail if that happens or else have to deal with the fact that I killed a family member if the battle in question happens in my home and a bullet penetrates a wall and hits someone. Tests by the US Army a hundred years ago, and since, concluded that a man hit by a .45 ACP round would, in pretty much all circumstances, go down. He might get back up, but if he was hit, he was GOING to go down. Not only that, but a .45 hollow point is going to impart a LOT of energy on its target. If it does over penetrate, there’s not going to be a lot of oomph left to do damage on the other side. Add that to the fact that the 1911 design has been around for more than 100 years and has proven its safety and reliability not only in police service, but also in the roughest and toughest combat environments on the planet in two world wars and countless smaller skirmishes, and any other semi auto is a compromise IMHO. No other hand gun that I am aware of holds anything close to the service record of the 1911.

    Also, if you’re carrying a .357 for bears, especially grizzlies, be sure and count your shots. That way you can save one to put yourself out of your misery after he’s done chewing on you, LOL. That’s the advice given to me by an Alaskan hunting guide, and believe me, he knows what he’s talking about.

    My dad’s a big .357 fan, and I definitely dig their accuracy, but for a carry gun I find them a bit too cumbersome. Deer hunting? Sure. Competition? Sure. Strapped to my leg all day walking around town? No thank you, LOL. Just my opinion. 😉


  21. Justin West says

    JD, the 38 Special is not a true .380″ bullet. It uses the same .358″ bullet as the .357 Mag. The number in front of the cartridge name is rarely the exact bullet diameter. The classic 30.06 uses .308″ bullets, and the classic 270 Winchester actually uses .277″ bullets.
    A .357 handgun will shoot .38 Special loads. The .357 was created by taking the .38 Special and making the brass slightly longer and upping the power level. The only reason they made it longer is so that a .357 cartridge can’t fit in a .38 Special chamber. The 44 mag is the same way. It is a slightly longer and more powerful 44 Special.

  22. MichaelWDean says

    I dont’ know, but it works. I do it all the time for practice. (.38s are much cheaper.)


  23. JD says

    not to hijack this or anything, but I do have a question. Talking about .357’s yesterday with my father, he said how they can also shoot .38 specials. But there’s a .023 caliber difference between to two. So how does that work?

  24. MichaelWDean says

    Lowglow, my buddy who said the thing about “.40 after Labor Day” came over for dinner tonight and he was carrying a 45 1911!

    My friend Mac up north near Devil’s Tower carries one too.


  25. MichaelWDean says

    .357 auto rounds are really expensive, and I like to practice a lot with what I carry.

    Also, those guns tend to jam.


  26. Aaron says

    I also prefer the government model 45. Did you try .357 Auto, though? That might change your mind on the size/weight thing. It’s preferred by many in law enforcement, has most of the advantages of .357 Mag and none of the disadvantages of 9mm.

  27. Lowglow says

    I guess I’m the odd one out, I still carry a .45 1911, and I sometimes wonder if I’m the only one that still does.

    I do like the .357 it’s a perfectly balanced round for self defense, that just my opinion, of course, but I’ll stick with my 1911, only because I’ve shot it for so many years that it feels natural to me.

  28. MichaelWDean says

    I reposted this on

    and there’s a lot of interesting conversation, pro and con…. 9mm users defending that, and bigger caliber users defending their choice.