The following information on the Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum revolver comes from of Burning Powder by Lt. Col. Douglas B. Wesson. Burning Powder is also available to purchase in print.
The original thought in developing the S&W .357 Magnum revolver was an arm compact enough to allow it to be handled freely and rapidly in a police cruiser car, and powerful enough to take the place of the much longer, and therefore more awkward handling, rifle. To accomplish this we believed that the cartridge should develop, with about a 160 grain bullet, 1400 to 1450 foot seconds muzzle velocity with an accompanying muzzle energy in the neighborhood of 700 to 750 foot pounds. We realized, of course, that in asking this we were going far beyond the known limits of hand-arms ballistics, as up to this time the most powerful commercial cartridge showed something less than 1300 foot seconds and, with a comparatively light bullet, developed but 465 foot pounds energy. The present design would, we felt confident, with any minor changes found necessary by experiment, handle the higher pressure required, and the increased recoil would be cared for by added weight.
The ammunition companies, however, when the proposition was put up to them, were most unenthusiastic; “It would be impossible to get accuracy with that velocity.” “The pressure developed would be beyond the ability of the arm to handle.” “The velocity desired would produce a recoil altogether too punishing.” And finally, coming down to the real meat, “There would be no call for a cartridge of such power and range.” Finally after many months of effort, the Winchester Repeating Arms Co. consented to attempt the production of such a cartridge, and for almost a year their ballistic department worked with us on it with the final result that they not only met, but surpassed our desired requirements, showing with a 158 grain bullet, 1515 foot seconds velocity, and 812 foot pounds energy. And with that terrific increase in speed and power, accuracy that compared most excellently with the most accurate of target loads, the .38 S&W Special Mid Range, and retained that accuracy (as painstaking tests have disclosed) up to 600 yards, a range heretofore considered utterly and completely beyond the limits of hand-arm shooting. It is an undisputable fact that the S&W .357 Magnum revolver has opened up an entirely new field in hand-arms ballistics.
In testing this new revolver and cartridge to determine its value as a police weapon we found that it would penetrate one, two, and even three thicknesses of “bullet proof” vests, swinging freely on a rod, and easily pass through duralumin plates that successfully withstood what were heretofore known as the most powerful hand-arm cartridges, the .38 Super Auto and the .38/44 S&W Special. One most interesting test was on an automobile: with the motor idling at high speed, one shot was fired through the hood from the Magnum, and the engine was wrecked: So much so, in fact, that it was impossible to turn it over even with the hand crank.
While talking of the Magnum it must be remembered that while it is tremendously effective with the S&W .357 Magnum cartridge, it can handle the full line of .38 S&W Special cartridges most excellently, making it actually the greatest “all ’round” hand-arm ever developed.
With the .38 S&W Mid Range Wadcutter cartridge it is not only a target arm of unexcelled accuracy, but most excellent for small game such as partridge and rabbit, making a clean hole, killing excellently and without spoiling meat.
With the standard .38 S&W Special Hi-Velocity, or .38/44 S&W Special you can obtain any graduations of range and power desired, and with greatest accuracy.
In our plant we have an experimental Magnum that has been fired, in the course of the past three years, well over 9,000 rounds of the S&W .357 Magnum ammunition, and very nearly double that number of other cartridges in the .38 S&W Special group. In order to determine the effect on the arm when using the shorter Special shells in the long Magnum chambering we did not clean the barrel or chambers of this revolver during this period, and we are very glad to say that recent tests showed that the accuracy of the arm had been affected in no way, nor were there the slightest signs of ill effect in any way whatsoever.
We found, oddly enough, that with all this demonstrated power the penetration of the Magnum in semi-hard material, such as wood, was little or no greater than with the .38/44 S&W Special. This condition we found was due to the fact that for the first time in hand-arms ballistics enough velocity was developed to produce true mushrooming of the solid lead bullet, and that means, of course, a maximum of efficiency and impact value.
It was at this point that we decided that the only remaining question was the actual efficiency of the arm on flesh, and to determine this our Colonel Wesson took a Magnum to Wyoming for trial on big game. An antelope at something over 200 yards required a second finishing shot, but an elk at 135 and a moose at 100 yards needed but one bullet each, and we felt that the Magnum had well demonstrated its worth as a big game weapon. Much to our surprise when we published the results of the trip, believing that it truly demonstrated the effectiveness of the arm, there appeared some most bitter criticism against the use of hand-arms for hunting large game. While we fully realized that this criticism came from people who had not the slightest conception of what we had accomplished in ballistics, there were many people who believed these critics to be justified; to substantiate our claims we have gathered from many parts of the world reports of large animals shot with the .357 Magnum. We believe that after reading them you will feel that we are well within the bounds of reason in saying, for the first time, “We can recommend the S&W .357 Magnum for big game, and furthermore we believe this kind of hunting requires more skill in stalking and more skill in shooting, and is therefore more thrilling and more satisfactory than with a rifle.”
Mr. J. F. Neilson and Mr. Joe Miller find their enjoyment in Cougar, or, as they call them around Vancouver, Lion, hunting. If, as it once happened, they find themselves without rifles, they tote a Magnum. On this particular hunt Mr. Neilson was nursing a couple of frozen toes, so it was Joe who had the gun. His first cat, an eight footer, needed one shot, the second the same, but Honest Joe admits firing twice as his first shot struck the atmosphere. This lad measured 7 feet 7 inches.
A few days later Joe went out again, Neilson still thawing out his toes, and brought in a six footer. This needed three shots, the first one taking the bark off the limb under its belly (you can’t “bark” a cougar as you can a squirrel), and as the cougar gave a leap and half rolled he fired again, hitting it in the belly. This brought the animal down, and Joe finished it with the third shot. This one was a six footer and is shown at the right in the picture. The one at the left is the eight foot lion, and the one partially showing on the ground, the seven foot, seven inch.
Joe says, “The Magnum can’t be beat. I’m no fancy shot and never shot a six-gun much; all you’ve got to do is hold on ‘um, nothing too big for it.”
Almon Temple of Oregon, had never had any experience with large caliber revolvers until he got his Magnum and fired about twenty-five shells before he went deer hunting. His first deer was sighted at about fifty yards, in full jump through heavy cover; he fired six shots, the last one at something over 100 yards. Two of the shots hit the deer in the leg and did little damage, but the third was higher and penetrated the full length of the back, bringing it down in 200 yards. The second deer was running when first sighted at approximately 100 yards, and the first shot hit it in the side, going through the liver and into the shoulder on the other side, killing the deer instantly.
Mr. Harold R. Johnson of Michigan confirms our belief in the Magnum as a big game gun most fully as follows: “The buck was badly scared and running full blast. I held just in front of shoulder and squeezed trigger. He fell as if he had been struck by a bolt of lightning.”
“I have hunted all my life since a boy and have taken a great deal of game but have never experienced the pleasure that I did in killing this one deer with my .357 S&W. I’ve seen a great many deer killed by friends and other hunters but none of them were killed any more cleanly with the rifles which they carried than was mine with my .357, and a great many of them were stopped only after they had been hit from two to four times with .30/30’s, .30/40’s, or even .30-06’s.”
Sasha A. Siemel hunts the jaguar, or “tigre” in the jungles of South America for pleasure and profit; when hunting alone for sport he uses only his bow, arrows and spear, but with guests (with rifles) sometimes “with clever running tigres my guests are not fast enough to keep up through heavy brush, and I need a light, powerful firearm that does not hinder me in following the hounds, as archery tackle or a rifle would when in one hand I’m carrying a long, heavy spear.”
“So far I have killed six tigres with my Magnum, as well as wild pig, our big marsh deer and tapir. This game we need for food or museum pieces.”
“In my opinion the Magnum is the best revolver ever made, and the ideal weapon for me to use in combination with the spear when I have guests for whose success and safety I’m responsible. It does all the work of a rifle and is light and easy to carry.”
Father Bernard R. Hubbard, S.J., the “Glacier Priest” has spent many long winters in Alaska; as this is being written he is frozen in on a little island in the Bering Straights between Alaska and Siberia, where he is taking observations. His tour of duty will extend from early August 1937, which was the latest he could reach there due to ice and storms, to early July 1938, when the first boat will be able to reach the island. Included in Father Hubbard’s equipment are some S&W .357 Magnum revolvers which are being used not only to supply the expedition with meat, but also as defense against the polar bears. Polar bears, the Father tells us, are among the few animals that will attack humans without provocation; humans move, and anything that moves, in the bear’s philosophy, must be good to eat. Father Hubbard said, when placing his order for the Magnums, “After giving these revolvers a thorough test I’m convinced that they have ample power for my purpose, and from the standpoint of convenience, are far superior to rifles.”
He added that he considered the Magnum to be powerful and effective to the point where he would not hesitate to use it for hunting the gigantic Kodiac bear, the largest and most powerful animal of the Western Hemisphere. As he has killed many Kodiacs with a rifle, and even one with a Smith & Wesson .38 Military and Police Model (although this was not premeditated on his part), we consider him to be well qualified to pass judgment.
From the big game hunters of Africa comes word of the Magnum. Mr. Walter H. Sykes, III, of New Jersey, recently returned from a safari, tells us: “Although I did not have a chance to use the Magnum on lion, I did kill wildebeest with it. Both Mr. Hunter and myself were very much surprised by the impact and penetration of this bullet. On one occasion a wildebeest, hit far back in the shoulder by a bullet, fired from a distance of approximately one hundred yards, was knocked from his feet by the impact. As the shot was too far back to be fatal, it was necessary to administer a finishing shot at close range. This bullet went entirely through the animal at a point just behind the shoulder, a feat which is unusual even for the 7mm. rifle which I was using.”
The Mr. Hunter mentioned by Mr. Sykes is one of the best known of the professional big game hunters and guides of Africa and resides in Nairobi, Kenya. He is most enthusiastic about his Magnum, and has promised us pictures of lion shot with it. His opinion of the arm as expressed in his book, “Africa as I have found it,” is that “it is the one and only hand-arm for African hunting.” Mr. Hunter is most interested in trying its effect on lions, and will try it out on African game as soon as the season commences. We are eagerly awaiting further news from him and hope it will arrive in time to be published in this edition of “Burning Powder.”
And so from the Arctic to Africa, from Michigan to the jungles of Brazil, come tales of the Magnum and its accomplishments on big game, and all this before it has reached its third birthday. Surely we are justified in saying, “The ultimate in accomplishment, in skillful stalking, in accurate shooting, is realized when one captures his trophy with a hand-gun, and we can, without reservations recommend the Magnum for big game hunting.”