The Perfect Mix of Stopping Power, Reliability and Accuracy: Is the .357 SIG Law Enforcement’s Best Defense Cartridge?

By CTD Suzanne published on in Ammunition

What an elusive round the .357 SIG is. Hardly talked about, never fodder for forum debate and difficult to find in stock. It has devoted followers and some of our most important law enforcement agencies—such as the Secret Service—depend on the .357 SIG. In fact, falling just under the .40 S&W, it is the second most issued caliber to law enforcement agencies nationwide.

Many experts—self-defense gun instructors and writers—along with many law enforcement professionals believe the .357 SIG has just the right combination of features to make it a near perfect self-defense round.

I do not have any real proof the following story actually happened, but when the Texas Department of Public Safety was switching from .45 ACP to the SIG Sauer P226 chambered for .357 SIG, officers were caught in a shoot out with some bad guys. A senior officer, still carrying his .45 ACP, fired into the cab of a tractor-trailer, but the bullet failed to penetrate the metal of the door. Another cop on the scene had his newly issued P226. He fired one round of .357 SIG into the tractor-trailer. It penetrated the steel and into the perpetrator’s head, killing him instantly. The one-shot stop myth might not be myth after all.

Picture shows a red box of American Eagle .357 SIG ammunition.

Essentially, but not exactly, the .357 SIG is a .40 S&W case, necked down for a 0.355” (9mm) bullet.

In the early 1990s, more and more law enforcement agencies were moving away from revolvers and moving toward semi-autos. Reluctant to leave their trusted .357 Magnum behind, Ted Rowe of SIG Sauer took on the task to develop a round that performed like the magnum, but fired from a semi-auto. In collaboration with Federal, the two came up with the .357 SIG. Essentially, but not exactly, the .357 SIG is a .40 S&W case, necked down for a 0.355” (9mm) bullet. (The .357 SIG case is longer than the .40 S&W case.)

Not often found in handgun cartridges, the .357 SIG has a bottleneck shape. Distinctive to rifle calibers, a bottleneck case is so deemed because it resembles a glass bottle. The neck is smaller than the bulk of the case. The distinction between the neck and the rest of the case forms a shoulder. The design allows a smaller bullet to travel as fast as a larger caliber bullet. The .357 SIG has the capability to reach velocities of 1500 fps! Not only is it a speedy little round, the bottleneck shape makes feeding issues virtually non-existent.

.357 SIG v. .357 Magnum

Before the .357 SIG’s introduction in 1994, no other round could match the .357 Magnum’s performance in a semi-automatic pistol. Rowe’s goal was to equal the performance of a 125-grain bullet shot from a 4-inch barrel .357 Magnum revolver out of a semi-automatic pistol. The benefits of Rowe and Federal’s round are plentiful. Among them are a higher capacity from an easier to conceal handgun with the same stopping power police officers depended on from the .357 Magnum. The .357 SIG has the capability to travel faster than the .357 Magnum with less recoil and muzzle flash. In some instances, it has shown to create a deeper wound as well

.357 SIG v. .40 S&W

Another giant plus to law enforcement was the fact that .357 SIG could penetrate barriers such as car metal, windshields and heavier clothing that the .40 S&W could not. The .357 SIG can also be loaded to higher pressures than the .40 S&W. Plus a full capacity magazine loaded with .357 SIG weighs less than a full mag of .40. Due to the similarities, .357 SIG guns can convert to .40 S&W with a barrel swap. Though its parent case is the .40 S&W, the dimensions are different. Therefore, you cannot use .40 S&W cases when reloading .357 SIG.

Accuracy

The .357 SIG shoots an extremely flat trajectory at longer ranges than its self-defense round counter parts. And gets even faster in longer, five or six-inch barrels. Massad Ayoob tested American Eagle’s 125-grain Full Metal Jacket bullet out to 25 yards in a 4-inch barrel Glock 32 Gen 4. He achieved highly satisfactory 1.05-inch groups. Push the .357 SIG even further, and accuracy is not compromised even out to 100 yards. Rumor has it the .357 SIG will over penetrate, but this just isn’t the case in reality. If so, the Federal Air Marshals would not be issued handguns chambered for .357 SIG. Not because a hole in the airplane would suck anyone out—it wouldn’t—but due to the confinement and closeness of people relative to the bad guy in a commercial airline cabin.

In tests, the .357 SIG outperformed the 9mm, .40 S&W and the .45 ACP in higher percentage success rates in one-shot stops, fatal shots, accuracy, and less number of rounds used to stop an assailant. Loaded to the same pressure as a .357 Magnum, but 14 percent higher than a .40 S&W or a 9mm, the .357 SIG creates quite the report when fired. Recoil is similar to the .40 S&W—if you need something to compare it to—but less than the .357 Magnum. It can handle a 160-grain bullet, but 125-grain jacketed hollow points perform best for self-defense. Its stopping power is undeniable.

The .357 SIG a niche caliber? Perhaps. However, it is certainly one that performs to a greater expectation for law enforcement than other self-defense rounds.

Do you own a .357 SIG? Tell us about it in the comment section.

SLRule

Introduced to shooting at young age by her older brother, Suzanne Wiley took to the shooting sports and developed a deep love for it over the years. Today, she enjoys plinking with her S&W M&P 15-22, loves revolvers, the 1911, short-barreled AR-15s, and shooting full auto when she gets the chance. Suzanne specializes in writing for the female shooter, beginner shooter, and the modern-day prepper. Suzanne is a staff writer for Cheaper Than Dirt!

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Comments (28)

  • Saltman

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    Nice comments on the .357 SIG capabilities. I first experienced the round in a cheaply rented Glock 32 compensated. I subsequently purchased a ‘standard’ Glock 31, Springfield XD 357 sig and a RARE new-gen Steyr M357-A1.
    I love the straight-to-the-rear push, not a flip-up, that the 357 sig provides. My Steyr is my favorite and the grip is angled perfectly for the round.
    44 Mag in a short barrel, 460 or 500 S&W, the 357 sig actually makes me and my friends smile more, of course we are not facing huge animals either.
    Retired Nuclear

    Reply

  • Johnny C. Kitchens

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    Thanks for a great write up on the 357 SIG. I have the Springfield Armory XD-357 Tactical. A great firearm for the 357 SIG. The 5″ barrel squeezes even more performance from the ammo. It is easy to get over 1500fps from Underwoods 125gr ammo. More people need to try this round out, and see for themselves why so many are impressed with the rounds performance…

    Reply

  • John C Sell Jr

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    .38 Special may safely be used in a .357 Magnum Revolver! But neither is similar to the .357 Sig.

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  • Glock .357 SIG Forever

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    Thanks John and Pete, very valuable advice that I will take heed.

    Reply

  • Pete in Alaska

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    I’m not suprised that your NYC cop is retired! If he’s giving out advice like that I’m guessing he was as much a danger to himself as to others.
    .38 Spec and .357 Sig have so little in common as to be apples and oranges. About all that is common to them is that they are ammunition. DO NOT EVEN ATTEMPT TO USE DISSIMALER MUNITIONS IN ANY FIREARMS.
    You may wish trying to GOOGLE “.357 Sig Ammuniation, for sale” and see what turns up. There is more available out there than you may think with a little bit of hunting.. I’ve seen it pop up faily often of late.

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  • John C Sell Jr

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    DO NOT SHOOT .38 SPECIAL IN A .357 SIG!!! They are not the same round or even close! The Sig round is a bottleneck, rimless round. The .38 Special is a straight-wall, rimmed round. Using any ammo in a gun it is not designed for is VERY dangerous!

    Reply

  • Glock .357 SIG Forever

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    I own and shoot both a G31 .357 SIG and a G33 .357 SIG and would not give them up for anything. I find that finding/buying ammo is an almost mission impossible and when you can find it it is too expensive, thus limiting my range and target practice sessions. Can any tell me where I can buy bulk ammo in this caliber. A retired former NYC policeman told me that .38 Special rounds will work in a .375 SIG, with no modifications, I find that hard to believe and wonder if any of you fellow gun lovers know if this is true? Thanks

    Reply

  • BRASS

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    A lack of interest likely stems from this history as far as I can tell.

    If I remember correctly the original factory loading for the 10MM created for the Colt Delta Elite 1911 and the Smith and Wesson 1076 was made by Norma, a Norwegian company formed around the turn of the last century, was a 200 grain bullet at over 1,200 fps and around 750-60 lb. Ft of energy. That loading produces significant recoil, blast overpressure and flash in the 5″ barrel of the Colt.

    Originally developed for the FBI following the disastrous 1986 shootout in Miami where 4 people died and 5 were wounded including the subject of the action, two armed robbers the first loading turned out to be too much for most field agents to handle comfortably. FBI ballistic requirements revolved around the ability to penetrate auto windshield glass and door metal eventually ended up in a so called 10MM lite loading. Smith and Wesson found they could produce the same 10MM Lite exterior and terminal ballistics in a shorter case and so the .40 S&W was born. With the advent of the .40 S&W what demand there was for the 10MM largely died off. Also the full power 10MM loads tended to beat frames and slides on early guns badly with frequent use. The later development of the polymer frame Glock 20 gave us flexible platform that handles the full power loads better and reduces felt recoil as compared to the all steel 1911s and S&W 1076. I have shot both and while reduced power loads are similar in feel in both the 1911 and the Glock, to me at least the difference at full power is noticeable.

    I have an early Delta Elite and I reload for it. I have fired numerous loads from the original Norma factory loads to 135 gr. self defense loads in factory ammo and currently use a supply of 180 and 165 Federal HydraShock for that purpose. I originally used the gun for pin matches, (bowling pins placed on a flat metal table that are hard to knock off without a high energy round) and later reworked it for Bullseye matches. It is extremely accurate and in most loadings the recoil is manageable though I’m not particularly recoil sensitive. For most of my loads I use either 155 or 180 gr. Hornady XTP HP for the serious stuff and the same weights in Hornady HAP for practice. I also load 180 gr. LTCFP for general training although the use of lead requires lower velocities to keep down barrel leading. I like to use Alliant Blue Dot for a powder as it is a slower than the fast burning powders like Bullseye and is easier to control pressures with. Blue Dot fills the case better and in higher gr. loadings doesn’t smoke much and provides excellent accuracy, at least in my gun. In lighter loads I find Blue Dot smokes a little more and burns less efficiently. I can load moderate power levels of around 1,000 FPS with a 180 gr. bullet easily at moderate pressures and recoil and still have a potent round for any but hunting purpose. If I used it for hunting as some do, I would load at the upper reaches where the 10MM approaches .41 Magnum levels and great penetration on game including white tails.

    In summary most would say the 10MM lacks popularity due to the availability of the .40 S&W at the loadings used today and the .40 is the most used round by law enforcement today which is always a significant factor. Like the 7.62/.308, 5.56/.223, .45 ACP, 9MM, .38 Special and .30-06, anytime a cartridge is standard issue or in wide use with either military or law enforcement it is almost guaranteed popularity due to compatibility with civilian firearms and availability. Surplus ammo and guns have in decades passed been a primary reason for adoption and use by everyone else.

    Reply

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