In this article, we will take a look at these high velocity and hard-hitting handgun calibers by comparing certain ballistic and other performance categories. What we
hope to do is outline the similarities and differences between the two to better understand what situations and applications both cartridges will excel.
We will take a brief look at the history of the two calibers, compare performance specs using several rounds of each cartridge, and then wrap the article up discussing how their performance translates into using them in certain situations.
357 vs 44 Mag: A Brief History
The .357 Mag’s origins begin in the early 1930’s where the police force was in desperate need of a better terminal performing handgun load. From the .38 special, modifications began to be made by Phil Sharpe, Elmer Keith, and eventually the guys at Smith & Wesson. What came from these modifications is the round that is still in use today, the .357 Mag.
The .357 Mag was a handgun cartridge that provided unrivaled velocity and terminal ballistic performance at the time. Hundreds of different firearms have been produced since the cartridges introduction to the shooting world that vary in length and weight. The .357 Magnum is also used in carbines that are better served for hunting purposes.
The .357 Magnum today is a favorite of handgun connoisseurs with its rich history, home defense with its excellent terminal ballistics, and hunters as well. The variety of .357 Mag rounds allows the shooter to match his ammunition well with the task at hand. The most common .357 Mag bullet weights range anywhere from 120-160gr and come in designs that range from deep penetration to rapid expansion and fragmentation.
The .44 Remington Magnum or .44 Mag for short was introduced to the shooting community in 1956. The origins of the .44 Mag come from the .44 Special that was tinkered with by Elmer Keith to provide more velocity and energy to the heavy bullets used. Eventually, Smith & Wesson and Remington began commercially producing these custom rounds and producing firearms that were chambered for the caliber.
From that point, the .44 Mag has been a cornerstone in American handguns and even in American culture. While it has been eclipsed by newer calibers, the .44 Mag still offers extremely high velocities and energy from handguns. These specifications gave gun owners the option for a hard hitting and deep penetrating handgun cartridge, and that remains true to this day.
Like the .357 Mag, the .44 Mag can also be used in carbines chambered for the caliber and is a great option for hunting purposes where the recoil will be less severe.
The .44 Mag can accept and propel much heavier grain bullets than the .357 Mag. Bullet weights can range from anywhere between 180 to 300gr. There are even lighter and heavier bullets for this caliber though they’re availability is more limited.
357 vs 44 Mag Specs
|.357 Mag||.44 Mag|
|Parent Case||.38 Special||.44 S&W Special|
The .357 Mag cartridge is a much smaller diameter bullet than its .44 Mag counterpart. While the case and overall length are similar, the .44 Mag is much wider and voluminous cartridge that can hold more powder and withstand a higher amount of pressure when the powder is ignited.
To look at the ballistic and other performance characteristics, we have chosen four rounds for each cartridge that covers a range of bullet weights and designs. Below, we have listed these rounds.
- .357 Mag Federal Personal Defense Jacketed Hollow Point 125gr
- .357 Mag Winchester Super-X 158gr
- .357 Mag Hornady FTX Critical Defense 125gr
- .357 Mag Federal Hydra-Shok Low Recoil 130gr
- .44 Mag Federal Hydra-Shok Low Recoil 240gr
- .44 Mag Federal Vital-Shok CastCore 300gr
- .44 Mag Winchester Super-X 240gr
- .44 Mag Hornady XTP 200gr
Recoil with handguns, especially for those to be used for personal defense, is a very important concept to think about before choosing a handgun chambered for a specific caliber. You want to be able to squeeze off several rounds in quick succession while maintaining a semblance of accuracy. Both of these cartridges are known for their power and associated recoil. The barrel length, grip style, gun weight, and of course the ammunition used all influence the amount of recoil.
While both of these cartridges are known for their ability to stop intruders in their tracks or even to take down some larger game, every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and in this case, it is recoil. So let’s take a look at the recoil energy that is generated from these cartridges.
What stands out is the large increase in recoil energy for the .44 Mag over the .357. For several of the rounds, the .44 Mag shows over double the recoil energy. Now, we have chosen several hard hitting .44 rounds, and there are options out there where the recoil is not as severe as the rounds we have chosen, but the trend does make sense. You are firing larger diameter and heavier bullets than the .357. For such a round to be effective, you are going to have to put some force behind them.
Even for handgun rounds that often will not be shot at targets more than 50 yards away, ballistic performance of the cartridges is still important to factor into a caliber comparison. We will take a look at the velocity and the short range trajectory of the .44 vs .357 in order to better sort these two cartridges into specific shooting applications at the end of the article.
The role that velocity has on bullet effectiveness, especially when it comes to home defense, is highly debated and the arguments can even turn a little nasty. What we know for certain is that velocity, along with bullet weight and design all entwine together to determine the rounds terminal performance and its ability to penetrate and expand and if you can deal with the recoil, an extra 100fps of velocity is never a bad thing.
Perhaps the one drawback form having “too much velocity” comes with the potential for overpenetration, but you need extremely high velocities and a bullet that does not expand or fragment for overpenetration to be a real threat.
Let’s take a look at the velocities (ft/s) of our eight rounds for comparison and see if we can draw any conclusions.
While we have data points for out to 100 yards, most shots taken with a handgun are going to be well within 50 yards. What we see is that the velocity depends on the specific round that is being used rather than the caliber. The largest of the .44 Mag bullets show the lowest muzzle to 50-yard velocities which we would expect. Sending such heavy bullets downrange at the same velocity as lighter bullets would generate a recoil that would be unwieldy. Still, there are .44 Mag rounds that are as fast or faster than the .357 rounds.
Regardless, all of the rounds have muzzle velocities well above 1,000fps and potential impact velocities 1,150 to 1,600fps at 50 yards. Paired with certain bullet designs, this is more than enough velocity
We do want to note that these numbers can fluctuate depending on the barrel length of your handgun. For this comparison, we used to designated barrel lengths that were designated by the manufacturer.
The trajectory is discussed with more fervor when discussing rifle calibers, but there is something to say about it regarding handgun cartridges such as the 357 Mag vs 44 Mag.
We have provided a graph to show the flatness of these trajectories over a range that encompassed 500 yards.
Obviously, we are looking at handgun cartridges, and shots at 500 and even a 100 yards are not feasible. This is obvious when looking at 400 inches of bullet drop at these ranges. We will focus more on typical ranges handguns are used for shortly. You can still see the trajectories of these two similar rounds are similar and both show negligible differences out to 100 yards.
Let’s zoom in on this range and see if we can tease apart any differences in bullet drop (inches) between these two heavy handgun cartridges.
We do see a slight difference between the two calibers, but there is some variability between rounds of the same caliber as well. These differences are not very significant until you get out to the 75 and 100-yard mark. Here the heavier .44 Mag rounds show more drop overall than the .357 Mag rounds, though it is still only 2-3inches. Both cartridges show very minimal loss in trajectory out to the 50-yard mark which means you just need to aim and fire with little thought of shot adjustment. This is valuable when using a handgun for defense or even hunting purposes.
For cartridges to be used in home defense, stopping power is without a doubt, the biggest factor a lot of potential buyers are going to be interested in. Stopping power can encompass several different factors. Several of these include bullet penetration, expansion and the level of fragmentation of the bullet. Like we briefly mentioned earlier, velocity also plays a role how a bullet performs on impact. Not only this, but the energy that is transferred from a bullet to the target on impact also causes severe trauma to nerves, tissue, and organs.
Most of these factors are more of a comparison between the design of the bullet more so than the cartridges, but the amount of force that is carried by the bullet gives us a better comparison between cartridges. Because of that, we are going to look at the stopping power (ft.lb) of each of the eight rounds and see if we notice any trends between calibers.
If we look at the graph, we notice that when thinking about the 357 Mag vs 44 Mag, the .44 Mag rounds we have chosen bring a lot more force with them than the .357 Mag. All but one of the .44 Mag rounds are carrying more than 600ft.lb of force at the 100-yard mark. This is an incredible amount of stopping power and will factor into what applications we feel this caliber is useful for.
The .357 Mag rounds are no slouches either. Though less than the .44 Mag, the .357 Mag rounds are still around the 500ft.lb mark at 50 yards, which is still enough to penetrate and cause damage to targets. It also depends on the round. The heavier 158gr .357 Mag round performs more like the other .44 Mag rounds in force.
As we mentioned before, and is important enough to mention again, there is more to a cartridges effectiveness than the amount of ft.lb force it carries when talking about its ability to stop a target. While a lot of these .44 Mag rounds carry more energy than the .357 Mag rounds, it doesn’t mean the .357 rounds cannot stop an intruder. That is as far from the truth as you can get.
Let’s take a look at another factor that goes into stopping power, the penetration.
The best method for quantifying penetration without the use of ballistic gel is to look at the sectional density of the bullets for each caliber. While gel can give us a lot of information, we’re not sure how well they replicate an intruder with heavy denim or a big brown bear tumbling down the hillside at you.
The sectional density is derived from the bullet’s weight and diameter. The higher the sectional density, the more force is applied to a smaller area which gives you better penetration. We should note that the bullet design also affects penetration. Rapid expansion and fragmentation will negate deep penetration. For comparison and simplicity sake, we are not factoring in these variables into our comparison, but do keep that in mind.
So, let’s take a look at our eight rounds and see how the sectional densities of the bullets match up.
From the sectional density data, we can see that the .44 Mag rounds are going to provide you with much more penetration than the .357 Mag rounds. When you get into the 200+ grain weights. This doesn’t imply that the .357 Mag has poor penetration for handgun caliber. It’s quite the opposite. It’s velocity, energy, and sectional density all point to it having tremendous stopping power, just not quite as much as the .44 Mag.
For handgun cartridges, especially in home defense settings, accuracy is obviously an important factor. Though it is important, putting numbers to accuracy for caliber comparison is difficult to do. The reason is that so much depends on the firearm and more so on the person doing the shooting. And for most purposes of these cartridges, you are taking shots at close range.
We have seen from the velocity and the trajectory that you are not going to have to be making huge adjustments to your shot placement when firing a round. Even up to 50 yards, the bullet drop was minimal for both.
Where there is going to be a major difference between these two cartridges when discussing accuracy has to do with recoil. The .44 Mag has a much more pronounced and severe recoil than the .357 Mag. If you’re not well practiced with handling the heavy recoil, they can influence your shot, and they will influence your ability to make quick follow up shots that are accurate, especially when you are in a situation where you need to protect yourself, and the adrenaline is pumping.
Regarding ballistics and when used at normal handgun distances, there is not going to be much of a difference between calibers. Between rounds, perhaps, but we don’t feel comfortable saying one caliber is more accurate than the other.
Price and Availability
Price is always a factor when thinking about buying a firearm, especially if you are still on the fence about exactly what it is that you need. For factory loads, the .44 Mag ammunition is going to be quite a bit more expensive than the .357 Mag rounds. The same goes for the brass when loading by hand. While there are rounds available that are cheaper and on the high end of the price spectrum for both calibers, averages lean towards the .44 Mag being a more expensive caliber.
|.357 Mag Federal Personal Defense Jacketed Hollow Point 125gr||$19.29 (20 Rounds)|
|.357 Mag Winchester Super-X 158gr||$25.00 (20 Rounds)|
|.357 Mag Hornady FTX Critical Defense 125gr||$32.60 (20 Rounds)|
|.357 Mag Federal Hydra-Shok Low Recoil 130gr||$22.49 (20 Rounds)|
|.44 Mag Federal Hydra-Shok Low Recoil 240gr||$31.99 (20 Rounds)|
|.44 Mag Federal Vital-Shok CastCore 300gr||$40.00 (20 Rounds)|
|.44 Mag Winchester Super-X 240gr||$26.00 (20 Rounds)|
|.44 Mag Hornady XTP 200gr||$27.81 (20 Rounds)|
The availability of these rounds also differs. While you can find both of these calibers in the major retail stores that carry ammunition, you are more likely to find more options for the .357 Mag. They are just more .357 chambered handguns and carbines in use than the .44 Mag. It’s not that you won’t find .44 Mag ammunition, but the selection is usually going to be smaller. The same goes for the components needed to hand load rounds.
So now that we have all of the ballistic and other performance comparisons down let’s think about the applications of the 357 versus 44 Mag.
While a lot depends on the bullet, the .44mag will give you more security as a trail gun than the .357. The .44 mag with some heavy bullet loads is going to get excellent penetration on bear or other predators if you are out in the backwoods. While there are .357mag rounds that can fill the same role, overall the .44mag might be the better option.
The much heavier bullets for the .44mag give a lot more penetration than the lighter .357 bullets and the force carried by the bullets is much greater at further distances which also make it a better choice for hunting or protection from larger game.
With a carbine and at shorter ranges, the .44 Mag is even capable of taking the largest of North American game and larger game across the world. While the .357 Mag is also a suitable hunting rifle, it’s penetration might restrict it from some of the larger game the .44 Mag is suitable for.
When thinking about home defense, both of these cartridges offer way more than enough stopping power for an intruder. Both cartridges are also in rounds with a variety of bullet type options that offer rapid expansion for large wound formation. The only drawback to the .44mag is the heavy recoil. For a lot of users, it is just too unwieldy to be able to provide quick shots with accuracy.
Though the .357 also has a lot of recoil, it is not as pronounced as the .44mag, and there are rounds that offer less recoil while still providing enough stopping power. We give the edge to the .357 for home defense, but the .44 mag is more than capable when in the right hands.
Handguns are also valued because of their ability to be carried on person in a concealed capacity in many States. Both require larger weapons to better manage the heavy recoil and might be difficult to wear comfortably in day to day scenarios. There are better options for concealed weapons chambered for the .357 though they are often smaller with a shorter barrel which makes the recoil pretty vicious.
Conclusion – The .357 VS .44
We hope that by now, you are convinced that both the 357 Mag and 44 Mag can be highly effective rounds both in the hunting and self-defense world. Both cartridges have their pros and cons and excel at certain shooting applications.
When used properly and in the right settings, both the .357 Mag and .44 Mag can be a joy to handle and shoot. We are sure there are some who will label one better than the other, but by looking at our modest comparison of the two, you can see that both have a spot in the shooting world for years to come.