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The .357 Magnum cartridge is the most popular all-around revolver cartridge out there. The .357 seems to be the go-to round for wheel gunners. You can also use it whether you carry a snubby for protection or a larger gun for target shooting, hunting and hiking. In addition, the cartridge is viable for most uses because it is available in many different loads. It also works in the favor of those of us who reload – this cartridge is one of the most easily reloaded ones out there. When you add in the myriad .38 Special loads in your .357, its versatility and popularity become obvious.
I like guns and have tried (and owned) many different guns and types. I can say that revolvers are one of my favorite action types. Additionally, I like the cowboy, old-movie vibes a single-action revolver gives off. But, a good double-action .357 is about perfect for an all-around, do-it-all gun.
Here, I am reviewing the best .357 Magnum Revolvers…
|Ruger LCR||A light-weight with a stainless steel frame best for concealed carry.||$718.99|
|Taurus 617 Stainless||A 7-shot cylinder with a rubber grip and low-profile concealed carry revolver.||$618.23|
|Ruger SP101||Has two sized barrels: A 2.25” and 3”, solid-steel sidewall revolver that has an adjustable rear-sight-model.||$799.99|
|Smith and Wesson 66 Combat Magnum||A heavy, K-framed, 6-shot beauty with adjustable rear sight and decent grips.||$894|
|Smith and Wesson Stainless Model 60||A J-Frame revolver with a five-inch barrel, this gun has a ramped front and adjustable rear sight.||$806|
|Ruger GP-100 Blue||A revolver made of heavy stainless steel that has a triple-locking cylinder locked into the frame at the front, rear, and bottom to withstand recoil.||$929|
|Taurus Stainless 692||This stainless revolver can also be mistaken as a 9mm because you can change it into one.||$542.01|
|Ruger Blackhawk Blue||Tank-like revolver that is strong, accurate, and durable gun.||$669|
|Ruger Blackhawk Stainless||This reliable Ruger Blackhawk model has a 6.5-inch barrel that is ideal for hunting||$1025.99|
|Taurus Stainless Model 66||A 4-inch barrel revolver that is easy to carry but can fire the potent .357 round.||$529|
|Smith and Wesson 686 Stainless||A revolver with a 6-inch barrel that is a hunter’s dream gun with its impressive velocities.||$873|
|Colt Python||This Colt’s legendary double-action revolver returns in stainless steel alloy and a re-designed rear sight.||$1499|
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A Little History
In the 1930s, gangs were roaming the countryside robbing banks and creating mayhem. In this period in American history, automobiles rose in popularity and affordability. It had become the getaway vehicle of choice which made robbers mobile and hard to stop. The service revolver of the time was a four-inch .38 Special. It comes with a round nose lead bullet at around 800 fd and wasn’t cutting it. Sometimes the only way to stop a gang was to shoot into their automobile and hope to disable the driver. The old .38 couldn’t do that reliably.
Enter the .38 Super
Colt introduced a lengthened .38 Auto cartridge in 1929 called the .38 Super. This was the first cartridge approaching magnum-like velocities made for a semiautomatic pistol. Moreover, FMJ round nose bullets were better at passing thin sheet metal and glass. But the revolver was still the gun of choice for law officers.
Something More Than The .38
Elmer Keith, a gun writer, experimented with heavy .38 loads using a large, .44-sized frame gun, the Smith and Wesson .38-44 Heavy Duty. Even with the higher velocities gained with this combination, he wanted more. As a result, Keith, Phil Sharpe, and Dan Wesson created what became known as the .357 Magnum. Sharpe was from NRA Technical Staff, and Dan B. Wesson was the Vice President of Smith and Wesson.
Based on a .38 Special case lengthened 1/10”, they created the .357 to prevent it from being chambered in a .38 Special revolver. Additionally, they used the powders and bullets available in 1934. They were also able to get a 158-grain lead bullet close to 1500fps out of an 8-inch-plus barrel. As a result, it proved itself as a very effective cartridge. Afterward, they tinkered with it for a while, and in 1935, they introduced it to the world as the “.357 Magnum.” The numbers 3-5-7 is the bullet diameter of the cartridge. In addition, “Registered Magnum” was the name of the original Smith and Wesson .357 revolver. It also came with its own certificate of authenticity, available in barrel lengths of 3.5” to 8.75”. Each gun was, pretty much, a custom order.
In 1939, Smith and Wesson standardized the gun to make it easier to produce, calling it simply the “357 Magnum”. The barrel lengths are 3.5-, 5-, 6.5-, and 8.75 inches. Eventually, the gun became the Model 27. Additionally, the 3.5-inch barreled version was also very popular. Many F.B.I. agents carried it, as did General George S. Patton. It also had custom ivory grip panels engraved with his initials and called it his “killing gun.”
In 1954, they introduced Model 28 (the “Highway Patrolman”), which is a watered-down Model 27. It lacks expensive hand polishing, engraving, etc.
The .357 Magnum Today
To this day, the .357 guns that Smith and Wesson make are among their best-sellers. Even from the Depression-era days of the Registered Magnum, they couldn’t keep up with demand. They had backlogs with orders for the four years they produced the Registered Magnum. This day, the caliber’s popularity continues. However, the original Model 27 Smith & Wesson no longer mass produce the original Model 27. Instead, they now include it in Smith and Wesson’s “Classic” line of revolvers, available for an extra cost.
Shooting The .357 Magnum
When the caliber was first introduced, Phil Sharpe went worldwide to test it on animals of all sizes. The 8 ⅜”, long-barreled revolver produced some very impressive velocities. In addition, it allowed people to kill animals that were not, up to that point, shot using a handgun. That signaled the hype and the legend of the .357 Magnum. Moreover, we have to remember that this caliber was the most powerful revolver load at that time. They described the gun as a man’s-man type of gun that you had better wear gloves to shoot. However, those savvy shooters who owned this beast would shoot .38 Specials at least part of the time.
That accomplished two purposes. First, it let the shooter shoot a lot more than if he was shooting full-bore .357 loads. Additionally, it saved wear & tear on the gun, enabling it to last longer. Sometimes, a revolver that shoots only full-power magnum loads needs to go back to the factory for adjustment. This also needs tuning more often than one that shoots a mixture of light and heavy rounds.
In my personal experience, I have owned and still own .357 revolvers. As mentioned, my first one was the Model 28 with a four-inch barrel. The four-inch barrel length is representative of .357 revolvers, and is carried by a lot of people for various purposes.
Another .357 I wish I’d kept was a Dan Wesson 15-2 with interchangeable barrels. This was the original Dan Wesson made in New England. Unfortunately, it went out of business until the brand’s revival a few years ago by the CZ company (although discontinued now, alas), which was also a very good thing. It was originally made in .44 Magnum, also. If you can find one, grab it.
This .357 consisted of a frame and barrels held in place by a barrel nut that you remove with a special wrench. In addition, you need to unscrew the barrel from the frame and replace it with a different-length tube. I owned one 8-inch and one 2-inch barrel. Moreover, the Pistol Pack sold had four different barrel lengths. Now, if you bought the “suitcase”, you have barrels in 2-, 4-, 6- and 8-inch lengths. To replace the barrel, insert a .003″ feeler gauge between the barrel and the front of the cylinder. The front nut tightens by then. That way, you can apply proper tension to both the front of the barrel and the rear.
The threads are also holding it tight. Because of this dual tension, the guns were very accurate. Another feature ahead of its time was that the grip was one-piece and, Ruger-like, slipped over a post. Ruger tightened it from the bottom with a set screw. In addition, the gun’s adjustable rear sight made it suitable for hunting and target shooting, and also for silhouette shooting. In other words, the gun was a marvel of engineering. If I could afford it, I’d buy the new one just for old time’s sake, not to mention the practical aspect of having four guns in one.
Fast-forward to today…
I owned a 6-inch barreled Rossi .357 gun until recently. Thinking of whether to get a 4-inch- or 6-inch-barreled .357? Well, there is a difference between those two barrel lengths with the recoil and muzzle blast. The shorter tube is harder on the shooter in both categories. I remember a thing over 40 years ago. I bought a 4-inch Model 28 and a box of Smith and Wesson-branded 110-grain JHP ammo. That’s all I could find at the store. The average weight of a .357 bullet is 125 – 158 grains. The lighter than average ones in the .357 Magnum are usually loaded to higher velocities. In addition, every handgun caliber with lighter bullets is faster than heavier ones within the pressure envelope. This higher velocity translated into increased muzzle blast in that four-inch fire-breather.
That time, I forgot my hearing protection (of course) but decided to go ahead. I sighted it in by shooting most of that box of ammo. Moreover, it took two days for an ear to open up and four for the other one. I can only imagine the permanent damage I did to my hearing. (What? I didn’t hear your response). So, there are two morals in this story. First is that hearing protection should ALWAYS be worn, along with eye protection. This is obvious or should be. Second, four-inch .357s are very loud with full-tilt loads. You should also plan accordingly on the gear you take to the range. All I can say in my defense was that I was extremely anxious to get that gun sighted in.
Looking back, I surely wouldn’t do that again! I hope I have gained some “shooting sense” over the years. And a note to the reader – don’t pull this stunt. Most importantly, once you’ve lost your hearing, it’s gone for good, for the most part. So it’s best to always protect your ears and eyes, especially with a powerful round like the .357 Magnum.
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We’ve taken a stroll down 357 Lane and have looked at what it’s like to shoot this caliber. Now, let’s look at some specific guns. I also have tried to include different barrel lengths, because the .357 is such a versatile round. Some people hunt deer with it using longer barrels. On the other hand, some people carry it for protection with short barrels. So, we’ll look at some of the more popular models available in 2018. In addition, I will list them in barrel-length order from short to long with a couple of exceptions.
Now, I’ve only listed models from Ruger, Smith and Wesson, Colt and Taurus to make up the twelve total guns discussed. Why not list only one from each manufacturer since so many companies make .357 revolvers? It’s because I consider these to be the best out there, for our purposes. The guns are similar but perform different functions due to barrel length and action. So, I’ve included more than one model from these three manufacturers. Here’s the breakdown, with barrel lengths included:
|Gun||Barrel Length (Inches)|
|Taurus Stainless 617||2|
|Smith and Wesson 66 Combat Magnum||2.75|
|Smith and Wesson Stainless Model 60||3|
Hunting/ General Purpose
|Gun||Barrel Length (Inches)|
|Ruger Stainless Blackhawk||6.5|
|Smith and Wesson Model 686 Stainless||6|
Some readers may consider a four-inch-or-so barreled revolver suitable for concealed carry. I included that barrel length in the Hunting/General Purpose category. Additionally, most folks who carry concealed carry a snubby, with that line drawn at three inches or so. I also have no issue with carrying a longer-barreled gun as long as I could hide it well. It always depends on the carrier’s call and no one else’s.
The Ruger LCR (light carry revolver) is available in .38 Special and .357 Magnum. I had listed this gun as a best buy in another article I wrote about the best concealed carry revolvers. The difference is that it was in .38 Special. Now, we will look at the same gun in its .357 Magnum version, which was released in June, 2010. This is a very unique revolver.
The grip frame is polymer, with steel used in the areas where its strength is needed. The cylinder is heavily fluted to save weight.
As with any handgun, a very light revolver that fires a very hot cartridge is going to kick like a Missouri mule. The gun is an ounce over a pound. It’s also one that you would stuff .38s into for practice. Save the wrist-crackers for a concealed carry role. At least, that’s what I would do. As stated above, it’s easier on both you and the gun.
This gun has advantages and disadvantages. Its size and weight work against it so the blast and recoil is fierce with full loads. In addition, the size and weight of this revolver are also an advantage. How can they be both? Because you can carry this gun around all day in the right holster and forget that it’s there. Both size and weight work are in its favor. Plus, let’s face it – how much are you going to shoot it versus carry it? You will need to practice with your full-tilt loads, of course. But you can get by with a range session of 80% light loads and 20% or so of the barn-burners. Overall, the Ruger is a popular carry choice for those reasons. Add in Ruger’s legendary customer service and we have a very desirable, reliable revolver.
Taurus 617 Stainless
The Taurus 617 is a sleeper. It has a solidly-built .357 at a bargain price. It’s like the Smith and Wesson 640 in size and weight. But with an exposed hammer, the 617 is one tough cookie. Taurus guns have their detractors and defenders, to be sure, but I’ve owned (or still own) several.
I have had a problem with only one Taurus, a 1911. This was several years ago and they fixed it. I’ve also had to send back Smith and Wesson, Ruger and Kel Tec guns – that’s the way it goes. The new leadership at Taurus is aware of the company’s quality control issues in the past. Anyway, in the case of revolvers, Taurus has had a lot of practice. Moreover, the Brazil-based company produced its first revolver in 1941. In 1971, the Bangor Punta Corp. (owners of Smith and Wesson at that time) purchased 54% of the Taurus company. An exchange of ideas, designs, etc. ensued. (That’s why some Taurus revolvers look a lot like Smith and Wesson guns).
The partnership lasted until 1980 when its current owners purchased Taurus. Its connection with Smith and Wesson ended. Interesting note, Taurus bought Beretta’s Sao Paulo factory, tooling, machines, and designs. This was after Beretta finished a military contract for Brazil. So now we know where the Taurus PT92 9mm came from – the Beretta 92FS design.
Back to the 617 – if you want a concealed-carry revolver that gets attention when fired, then take a look at this gun. Pair it with your .357 caliber and you’ll get it. This 7-shooter, is backed by a lifetime warranty and should give years of service.
Ruger – the name that conjures up guns made of armor plate and put together with tank welds. Additionally, this is an apt description of the SP101 series of guns. We’re talking about a 2.25-inch-barreled 5-shot revolver. So if you want a longer barrel, there is also a three-inch version. An adjustable-rear-sight-model is also offered if that is on your needs list.
The SP series is derived (along with the GP series) from Ruger’s Security Six revolvers of the 1970s. The Security Six line was the first double action wheelgun made by Ruger. In addition, these guns were definitely built to last. The SP101 makes an ideal gun to carry inside the waistband or in a pocket if you have some mighty tough pockets. It weighs 1.6 pounds. Furthermore, the nice thing about the short-barreled SP101 is that it weighs 1.6 pounds. That weight makes shooting .357 Magnum rounds a little easier on your hand. Also, you can swap the grip panels out for something that absorbs more recoil.
No matter which SP101 you get, you will have a gun that will last a lifetime, at least yours if not your grandkids’. Before, SP101s were found in deep concealment about the policeman’s body somewhere. They also made excellent back-up or hideout guns. Additionally, there are still some law enforcement officers that carry this short-barreled gun. That, I would imagine.
When I picked up an SP101 of any persuasion, the word that comes to mind is “solid.” Pick one up the next time you’re standing at your local gun shop’s counter and you’ll see what I mean. The same feeling I get when I hold a GP100. Either of these guns deserve to be on a “best .357” list. More importantly, Rugers are made for a lifetime of shooting.
Smith and Wesson 66 Combat Magnum
Here we have a rebirth of a legendary revolver that sold like crazy when it was introduced a few decades ago. The original Model 66 was basically the stainless version of the Model 19. In addition, this is the K-frame .357 that Bill Jordan convinced Smith and Wesson to release in 1957. The N-framed Models 27 and 28 were just too much to tote around all day, so Bill had asked Smith and Wesson to produce a four-inch, K-framed .357. Moreover this revolver includes a shrouded barrel and adjustable sights. He called it the “peace officer’s dream.” It was also in 1970 that the stainless version, the 66, was introduced. However, it was discontinued in 2005. Afterward, the newly-reissued stainless Combat Magnum 66 made its appearance in 2017 which had the 2.75”-inch version. Lastly, the four-inch barreled version predated the shorty by three years.
Old Vs. New
The short-barreled 66 makes a great carry gun. It is heavy, a touch over two pounds. In addition, it is a K-framed, 6-shot beauty with adjustable rear sight and decent grips. The new Model 66 exhibits a few changes over the older version.
- 2.75 two-piece barrel (a sleeve covers the actual barrel)
- A different front cylinder lockup (new ball detent replacing the older spring plunger)
- A slightly longer cylinder
- An altered gas ring
- A slightly longer frame
Some internal parts are MIM as opposed to machined and the ubiquitous keyed lock is present. Additionally, it has an aesthetic touch – the cylinder release, trigger and hammer are black. It also contrasts nicely against the satin stainless finish of the rest of the gun. Most are sent out with black rubber grips, so you have a good-looking gun if you like those colors.
The front sight has a red insert that helps it to stand out against the target. To me, the “feel” of the two versions is different. Moreover, the older K-frame sat lower in my hand as opposed to the new one. This new one points a bit more precisely when I do the point-the-gun-at-a-target test. Whenever I open my eyes, the front sight is pretty close to whatever I’m aiming at. It’s not a big difference, mind you, just a little. In addition, you can tell they are two separate guns but you also can feel the similarities between them. Revolver first cousins that would be welcome in my gun safe, to be sure!
We will look at the advantages/disadvantages of a slightly longer barrel on this gun a bit further down. But…that 2.75” barrel hits a sweet spot. It is long enough to give you a slightly longer sight radius than most snubbies. It is also short enough to conceal easily. Overall, this is one very nice gun.
Smith and Wesson Stainless Model 60
The Model 60 is a J-frame revolver. We can’t forget that. It shares most dimensions with the other Smith and Wesson J-frames. Although it differs on barrel length, overall length and weight. To glance at it, you might not see its J-frame DNA.
This gun looks to most eyes like a “grown-up” Smith and Wesson. As you can see, it has a black, ramped front sight and an adjustable rear sight. It is also available with a five-inch barrel that is different from the typical J-frame! The 2.125-inch-barreled version fits the snubby mold more than does the three- or five-inch guns. So, if you like your .357 to weigh in at only seven ounces over a pound, here’s your gun.
What sets this gun apart from the other short-barreled .357s is that it has adjustable sights. We couldn’t decide whether it is a concealed-carry piece or a hiking/target/camping/plinking gun. With light .38 Specials, it would make a dandy plinker. However, if you pushed the versatility of the gun to the max, you could load one or two .38 Special shotshells. Then, put either .38 or .357 loads in the other three chambers. Overall, this is a gun that screams out “carry me anywhere.” It makes about a perfect do-it-all gun for those uses mentioned above.
I had a use for a gun like this on more than one occasion. I have had to dispatch various critters around our rural home. This gun would make that task easy.
So, if you are looking for a do-most-anything .357, give the three-inch Model 60 a look. You will end up with one of the most versatile guns, in one of the most versatile calibers, out there.
Ruger GP-100 Blue
The GP-100 is the descendant of the old Security Six revolver that Ruger introduced in 1972. That gun was Ruger’s first entry into the double-action revolver market. In addition the GP-100 retained the adjustable sights prevalent on the Security Six guns. The SP101 went down the fixed-sight path like the Ruger Service Six.
One Hefty Gun
When I picked up a GP-100, I was impressed with its heft. A two-and-a-half-pound gun should impress you when you pick it up, to be sure, and this one does. In addition, shooting full-bore .357 loads from its 4.2-inch barrel isn’t exactly the proverbial piece of cake. But it sure is easier on the gun and the shooter than the same loads shot out of a gun that weighs half of what this gun weighs.
Additionally, there are deer hunters who use this particular gun in states where it is legal. It is accurate, reliable and gets the job done. With the gun’s 1 1/2 inch-wide cylinder, you tend to get more steel around each cartridge case. Moreover, you can shoot heavier loads. It is for that reason (plus a few more) that folks hunt with this gun. However, if it isn’t the primary hunting arm, you will see it on the belts of those who are using a rifle or other deer gun as backup. It all depends on what’s legal in your state. In mine, I could use it as my main deer-slayer with its four-inch-plus barrel and .357 chambering.
I Can See Clearly Now
Another plus of the GP-100. You can change out the front sight to something more appropriate for your purpose. There are several YouTube videos showing how to do it. In addition, it is something that shooters can do with minimal fuss and bother. The end result is that you can custom tailor your sight picture to one that works for you. Moreover, it opposes having to put up with what comes from the factory. There are those who shoot GP-100s in competition with iron sights. Most of these shooters appreciate the ability to swap out sight blades.
Speaking of competition, you can get a GP-100 with a match barrel for an additional cost. The ordinary barrel is accurate for most purposes. Another good thing about the GP-100 is that there are many holsters out there made for it. So, regardless of what kind of holster you want, there is one for this gun. The GP-100 is a common gun with lots of stuff out there. After-market parts, different front sights, grips – check one out soon.
Taurus Stainless 692
I am going to throw a ringer into the mix now. The Taurus 692 is a case of mistaken identity at times. You can point to it and say that it’s a .357 Magnum (or, of course, a .38 Spl). That is true for all the guns in this roundup. But – this is the only one described herein that could be identified as a 9mm revolver. Huh? How so?
Look at the photo above. See that little button in front of the trigger guard? That’s the key. Open the cylinder and press that button in. Then slide the cylinder post out of its hole in the frame and remove the cylinder. Afterward insert the post for the other, the included 9mm cylinder in until it clicks, then close the cylinder. That’s it…you just changed the gun from a .357 to a 9mm. That’s all there is to it.
But why would you want to do that? Well, what if you had a large supply of 9mm ammo but not so much .357/.38? This is one gun that wouldn’t hurt to shoot a lot of 9mm ammo in the stuff that you wouldn’t put through your autoloader. Moreover, I could see this gun being used as a trainer of sorts. Be it hunting small game or ring steel with low-recoiling 9mm ammo. In addition, to learn the gun and know how best to shoot it, then load it with full-power .357 thumpers for deer or other larger game. That way, you will be used to its trigger, sights, handling characteristics, etc. Not a bad deal! I reviewed the shorter-barreled version here – I really liked the gun! That easily-swapped cylinder is worth the price of admission.
Another huge selling point concerns the ported barrel. When I shot this gun’s shorter-barreled cousin, I was very impressed by the lack of felt recoil and muzzle rise. Those ports really do help! If you’ve not shot a ported-barreled-gun before, give one a try. Additionally, those little holes in the barrel really do help keep your shooting hand from going numb. The “Ribber” grips help as well, by keeping the gun’s kick from getting out of hand. They are also very good at soaking up recoil. To put the cherry on the top, the rear adjustable sight is excellent – I had no troubles with the one on my test gun at all.
So if you are looking for one of the most practical wheelguns out there, give the 692 a close look. This is one of Taurus’ bestsellers, for obvious reasons.
Ruger Blackhawk (x2)
Blue Ruger Blackhawk Specs
StainlessRuger Blackhawk Specs
What? Single action “cowboy guns” in an article about the best .357s of 2021? Yes sir. For those of you who haven’t shot a Blackhawk variation, you need to do so at your earliest opportunity. The thing with these Ruger guns is that they are built like … well, tanks. I keep using that term to describe how Rugers are put together. In addition, it is never more applicable than when discussing their single action revolvers.
I’ve owned several and currently have a 5.5-inch-barreled .45 Colt with an extra .45 ACP cylinder in my gun safe. This gun has taken deer with “knock-’em-down-and-stomp-’em” loads. It is made to last. I mention my .45 Colt while we are discussing .357 guns to emphasize a point —dollar-for-dollar. I don’t think you can find a stronger, more accurate and durable gun as the Ruger Blackhawk. You tend to get way more than you pay for.
Why Two Barrel Lengths?
Why do I list two different barrel lengths for the Blackhawk .357s? Because they perform different functions. Either gun will take the game, but how they do it is what matters. Additionally, some folks like to have a short-barreled gun to be prepared for whatever comes their way. I heard of one fellow working for a local farmer who had a short .357 on his belt. He has this while checking fences and running across a couple of deer bedded down on his farmland. It was in season and he had a legal gun with him and a permit, so he took one of the dogs before they headed off to parts unknown. This is a perfect example of just packing a gun along for whatever pops up. Given this farm is not that far from the city, I could see him toting the .357 for protection from two-legged predators as well.
Choosing to carry a six-inch-plus barrel reflects some thought beforehand. It is a more purpose-driven choice. In addition, this is an ideal length for hunting deer-sized game. Also, it would be handy (with the right reduced loads) for small game as well. Mine works very well for squirrels, for example. A .357 with a barrel length of 6 inches is also very practical. This length allows you to enjoy a little more velocity. Plus it gets the sights a bit further apart which aids practical accuracy.
The Ruger Blackhawk is a very strong, versatile revolver. I referred to mine, a .45 Colt model with a 5.5-inch tube. As mentioned, I have taken deer with this gun with some fairly strong Ruger-only loads. But, I also realized its capability to put small game in the pot with reduced loads. The short Ruger listed is finished in blue. Additionally, the longer-barreled model is stainless. You could get either one in both, to the best of my knowledge. I just like those finishes with those barrel lengths for some aesthetic reason. Ruger’s customer service is also second to none, which is a factor that should be considered.
Another reason that you might consider the .357 Blackhawk is that it has been around for a few years, to say the least. The .357 was the first centerfire caliber that Ruger built their new Blackhawk around. The year was 1955, and their single-action .22 gun was selling well. Ruger wanted to capitalize on the cowboy/western TV show craze of the 1950s. They knew that the .357 was a perfect fit for their new cowboy-style revolver. Additionally, people could shoot .38 Specials in it if they want to, or use more serious ammo for hunting. The gun was popular from the start, and it still is. To summarize, a Blackhawk .357 is one great all-around gun regardless of barrel length. Check one out if you can – you might just find yourself taking one home.
Taurus Stainless Model 66
The next gun in our little gathering of .357s is the Taurus Model 66. It comes with a four-inch barrel and stainless construction. If you are familiar with revolvers, you might wonder why Taurus can make a gun that resembles a Smith and Wesson. I explained above why some Taurus revolvers look like Smith and Wesson’s.
A little More History…
The Smith and Wesson’s connection with Taurus helped to introduce its designs to South America. As Taurus’s sales went pretty much worldwide so the Smith-influenced designs did, too. The U.S. was a huge target market, as it still is for Taurus.
The Model 66 equivalent from Smith and Wesson appeared in 1955. While its stainless counterpart, the Model 66, hit the scene in 1970. These were guns that were lighter than the other Smith and Wesson .357s available at that time, the Models 27 and 28. In addition, they were easier for policemen to carry yet still fired the potent .357 round. One year after the Model 66 was introduced, Smith and Wesson’s parent company bought Taurus. This lasted until 1980. Legally, Taurus could continue building its version of Smith and Wesson revolvers. They do it up to this day.
The guns do have some differences:
- Coil vs leaf springs
- Fit & finish
The Taurus is a very decent gun for its price. I have owned several Taurus guns that did a very good job. You get a very nice revolver with good sights, great grips, tight lockup and a lifetime warranty. If you are looking to buy a four-inch .357 to carry for general use without breaking the bank, give this gun a look.
Smith and Wesson 686 Stainless
The Model 686 is one of Smith and Wesson’s stalwart revolvers. This gun is popular in its various barrel lengths – 2.5, 4, 6 and 8 ⅜ inches. Additionally, the six-inch variant is one of the most popular. It is in the “Goldilocks” category – barrel not too long, not too short…just right. Moreover, this revolver is a hunter’s dream gun. You have a long tube enough to generate some impressive velocities. Yet not so long it bangs on things like trees or car doors. I also have a longer-barreled revolver – I own an 8 ⅜ inch Model 629 .44 Magnum.
Now there’s a barrel that likes to find anything in its general location and bounce off it as it rides on my belt. The shorter barreled 686 doesn’t have this problem. In addition, I also had a Rossi six-inch .357 that I’ve taken into the woods, so I speak from experience. This is just a nice, all-around .357.
The great thing about a .357 is that you can shoot .38 Special ammo as most of us know. Using that, I took a squirrel out of the top of a tall hickory tree with my six-inch .357 shooting offhand. That barrel length does not only provide decent ballistics but it also helps with the sight radius. Furthermore, it spreads the front and rear sights apart to yield a practical accuracy than would a four-inch model. Lastly, accurate guns are “practical” or otherwise.
The Model 686 is the stainless version of the 586. The 686 was introduced in 1981 and was based on the medium L frame (like the K frame only a little larger). Before transitioning to semi-autos, the 4-inch 586 was the police’s revolver of choice.
The stainless version of 686 that we are discussing was introduced in 1988. The guns were popular until the mid-1980s when self-loading pistols became the rage. In addition, the 9mm started its inexorable climb to stardom. But savvy shooters still carry the 686 whenever possible.
It makes a great woods gun, as we have seen, but it also excels at home defense. When stoked with .38 Special +P ammo, it makes a good nightstand gun. Additionally, those rounds tend not to penetrate as much as full-bore .357 rounds usually do. You can also use it as you like and load it with a couple of .38 Special shot loads if snakes are at the bottom of your fauna list. The point is, the six-inch .357 does most everything well. It is also a great choice for the only-can-afford-one-gun person. Moreover, it has an excellent trigger and outstanding sights. It also comes with the benefits of ergonomic revolver design. Overall, these features make the Smith and Wesson 686 one of the best .357 revolvers in the handgun world.
And, last but by no means the least…
What “Best-Of” list of .357s would be complete without this gem on it? The Colt Python has been called the finest production revolver ever made. There is good reason to think that.
It started in 1955 when Colt started building what would become its most popular “snake gun” that year. From the get-go, the Python was a top-notch, high-quality revolver. Lots of hand fitting and loving attention by top gunsmiths at Colt produced a revolver like no other. It was originally chambered in .38 Special intended of being a top-level revolver. Afterward, it was chambered in the more powerful .357 magnum caliber. It is also available with a 4- or 6-inch barrel and polished to a mirror-like sheen.
The gun was in demand, considering that it went for $125. In addition, the slogan that Colt used at the time was “a finer gun than you actually need.” and it’s an understatement. I’ve seen 1955-era Pythons put up for auction priced over $10,000.
In 1999, Colt ceased mainstream production of Python. You could still get one from their Custom Gun Shop until 2005. However, after that, all production ceased. Colt evidently re-thought the situation and re-introduced Python in 2020. The new version is built of stronger materials than its predecessor. Additionally, there are a few minor mechanical differences but… it’s still Python. One of the materials the gun is made of is unobtanium. Since its re-introduction, the gun has been very hard to find for those wanting to buy one. Hopefully, that will change soon…I for one am glad to see that this “snake” is back. You can read more about Colt Python in the Best Revolvers article.
And, In The End…
After reviewing the ten .357 guns here, it makes me want to go out and buy two or three of them. You can’t argue the fact that the .357 is just about the most popular revolver cartridge out there. This statement comes from a guy who likes wheelgun calibers that begin with a “4”. I reload for all of the popular rimmed revolver cartridges. Despite my affinity for the .45 Colt and .44 Special, I say that the .357 is one of the easiest and most versatile calibers to reload. The .357 provides the shooter with whatever load they require, be it from light target loads to deer-stompers.
How do you decide which of these guns to buy? The answer is simple – what are you going to use it for? If you are going to carry it concealed, one of the short-barreled guns is in order. Hunting? The six-inches fit that niche very well with their longer sight radius and velocity boost. Hiking/general use? A four-inch is a perfect candidate for the title of most versatile .357. In addition, there must be some validity to the 4-inch-barreled .357 being the “most useful overall length” – in my state, that’s the minimum length for a deer-legal handgun. No matter what you need, there is a gun out there that will work for you…you just need to go find it.
One thing about the .357 – you shouldn’t have any trouble finding one you like. Plus, there are a lot of them out there. It’s also a great caliber. If you already shoot the .357, you know what I’m talking about. But if you’ve not shot one – isn’t it about time you did? It’s a useful caliber with some great guns made for it.
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