.357 Magnum vs. .38 Special

What's the Difference?

The .357 Magnum and .38 Special are both popular revolver cartridges, but they have some key differences. The .357 Magnum is a more powerful round, capable of higher velocities and greater energy transfer upon impact. It is known for its excellent stopping power and is often used for self-defense or hunting purposes. On the other hand, the .38 Special is a milder round, offering less recoil and a more manageable shooting experience. It is commonly used for target shooting, practice, and as a concealed carry option. While both cartridges are effective in their own right, the .357 Magnum is generally considered more potent and versatile, while the .38 Special is favored for its ease of use and versatility in various shooting scenarios.


Attribute.357 Magnum.38 Special
Caliber.357 Magnum.38 Special
Bullet Diameter.357 inches (9.07 mm).357 inches (9.07 mm)
Case Length1.29 inches (32.8 mm)1.155 inches (29.3 mm)
Overall Length1.59 inches (40.4 mm)1.55 inches (39.4 mm)
Maximum Pressure35,000 psi (240 MPa)17,000 psi (120 MPa)
Effective Range100-150 yards (91-137 meters)50-75 yards (46-69 meters)
Popular UseSelf-defense, huntingSelf-defense, target shooting

Further Detail


The .357 Magnum and .38 Special are two popular revolver cartridges that have been widely used for self-defense, target shooting, and even hunting. While they may seem similar at first glance, there are distinct differences between these two rounds that can greatly impact their performance and suitability for various purposes. In this article, we will delve into the attributes of both the .357 Magnum and .38 Special, exploring their ballistic characteristics, recoil, versatility, and practical applications.

Ballistic Characteristics

When it comes to ballistic performance, the .357 Magnum holds a clear advantage over the .38 Special. The .357 Magnum cartridge is longer and more powerful, capable of propelling bullets at significantly higher velocities and generating greater muzzle energy. This increased power translates into improved penetration, expansion, and stopping power, making the .357 Magnum a preferred choice for self-defense scenarios where maximum effectiveness is crucial.

On the other hand, the .38 Special, while less powerful, still offers respectable ballistic performance. It is a versatile round that can be loaded with a wide range of bullet weights and designs, allowing shooters to tailor their ammunition to specific needs. The .38 Special is often praised for its accuracy and mild recoil, making it an excellent choice for target shooting and practice sessions where precision and control are paramount.


Recoil is an important factor to consider when comparing these two cartridges. Due to its higher power, the .357 Magnum generates significantly more recoil than the .38 Special. The increased recoil can make it more challenging to shoot accurately, especially for those with less experience or weaker hand strength. However, for experienced shooters who can handle the recoil, the .357 Magnum offers the advantage of faster follow-up shots and increased confidence in its stopping power.

On the other hand, the .38 Special has a milder recoil, making it more manageable for shooters of all skill levels. This reduced recoil allows for quicker target reacquisition and improved shot placement, particularly in situations where rapid and accurate follow-up shots are necessary. The lower recoil of the .38 Special also contributes to reduced shooter fatigue during extended shooting sessions, making it a popular choice for those who prioritize comfort and ease of use.


Both the .357 Magnum and .38 Special offer a high degree of versatility, albeit in different ways. The .357 Magnum, with its greater power and muzzle energy, is well-suited for a wide range of applications. It can be used for self-defense, where its stopping power is highly valued, as well as for hunting small to medium-sized game. The .357 Magnum's versatility is further enhanced by the ability to shoot .38 Special ammunition, providing shooters with the option to use less powerful rounds for practice or when reduced recoil is desired.

On the other hand, the .38 Special's versatility lies in its ability to be fired from a variety of firearms. It is commonly chambered in revolvers of different sizes, from compact snub-nose models to full-sized duty guns. Additionally, the .38 Special can be fired from lever-action rifles and even some semi-automatic pistols chambered for this round. This wide range of firearms chambered in .38 Special makes it a popular choice for those who prefer a diverse selection of platforms.

Practical Applications

When it comes to practical applications, the choice between the .357 Magnum and .38 Special largely depends on the intended use. The .357 Magnum's superior stopping power and penetration make it an excellent choice for self-defense, particularly in situations where encountering heavily clothed assailants or barriers is a concern. Its ability to shoot .38 Special ammunition also allows for more affordable practice sessions without sacrificing the option for maximum power when needed.

On the other hand, the .38 Special's mild recoil, accuracy, and versatility make it a popular choice for concealed carry and personal defense. Its lower power level can be advantageous in scenarios where over-penetration is a concern, such as in crowded environments or home defense situations. Additionally, the .38 Special's widespread availability and lower cost compared to the .357 Magnum make it an attractive option for those on a budget.


In conclusion, the .357 Magnum and .38 Special are both highly capable revolver cartridges, each with its own set of attributes and advantages. The .357 Magnum offers superior ballistic performance, increased stopping power, and versatility, making it a preferred choice for self-defense and hunting. On the other hand, the .38 Special's mild recoil, accuracy, and versatility make it an excellent option for target shooting, concealed carry, and personal defense scenarios where control and ease of use are paramount.

Ultimately, the choice between these two cartridges depends on individual preferences, intended use, and the shooter's ability to handle recoil. Whether you opt for the raw power of the .357 Magnum or the versatility and comfort of the .38 Special, both rounds have proven themselves over the years and continue to be popular choices among firearm enthusiasts and professionals alike.

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