Snub Nose Magnum Revolvers — Unequivocal

By Wilburn Roberts published on in Firearms

With the great and growing abundance of concealed carry permits, as Americans exercise their rights and commons sense, and with a political climate that currently nurtures such progress, armed citizens are flexing their political muscles and choosing to be responsible for their own safety. This is in contrast to those who look to the government for their safety and bleat like sheep at every emergency. Choosing which handgun may be an easy enough choice for seasoned shooters, but quite a few of the new generation of handgunners are newcomers to the one handgun.

2 snubnose .38 revolvers with speed loaders

Snubnose .38 revolvers have a place. They are good hideout revolvers, and some are pretty accurate. The author feels the .357 Magnum short barrel revolver is a better choice.

Many are steered toward a handgun that doesn’t fit their skill level. A 9mm or .40 compact isn’t for everyone. However, the novice and very experienced shooter alike often choose the revolver. They are well armed when they do so. The revolver still has the image of the more reliable of the handgun types.

The snubnose .38 is a reasonable choice, however, the snubnose .38 is seen as less powerful than the 9mm pistol. This is overcome by the power of the .357 Magnum revolver. When comparing the types, the advantages of the revolver have to be plain to make the short barrel revolver an attractive choice. Reliability is one advantage.

A further advantage of the revolver is that the revolver can be placed against an opponent’s body and fired repeatedly as a contact weapon. The automatic pistol would jam after the first shot, tying up with blood or clothing material blown into the slide. It may also short cycle due to a less than perfect grip.

3Speed holster with Taurus 605 .357 Magnum revolver inside

This Taurus 605 .357 Magnum revolver is carried in a 3Speed holster. This is a great deep concealment rig.

For a weapon to be used at conversational distance, the revolver’s reliability in this scenario is a big plus. A further advantage would be in a struggle for the gun—and this happens often—the revolver can be advantageously grasped by the handle, while the gun grabber has little to hang onto in the case of a short barrel revolver. While all of these advantages apply to the snub nose .38 Special revolver, there are better choices.

An alternative to the .38 is the .357 Magnum revolver. The .357 operates at almost three times the pressure level of the .38 Special. The Magnum operates at some 40,000 copper units of pressure compared to 18,000 for the .38 Special, and 20,000 for the .38 Special +P. This gives the magnum a great advantage in power, and the ability to use heavier bullets than the .38 Special. .357 Magnum revolvers are nearly as compact as the snubnose .38, but with a heavier frame and a heavy barrel, offer a good platform for the magnum cartridge.

These handguns may also chamber the .38 Special. A .38 Special +P load is a good choice for the beginner for use in his or her .357 Magnum revolver. Control is superior to the standard size .38, and the shooter may move to the Magnum revolver after sufficient practice.

Ruger SP101 in .357 Magnum barrel detail

The Ruger SP101 in .357 Magnum is among the strongest handguns—ounce for ounce—every built.

The obvious mechanical advantages of the revolver as related to reliability, the ability to use the weapon with a less than perfect grip and at point blank range, are compelling sales features However, in the end, the ballistics are a selling point as well. There has been a myth circulated for some time that the snub nose .357 Magnum is no more powerful than a good .38 Special, as the Magnum loses velocity when fired in a short barrel. This is far from accurate. The Magnum does lose velocity when fired in a two- to three-inch barreled compact revolver, but it remains far more powerful than the snubnose .38 Special as the accompanying table shows. The .357 Magnum considerably outperforms the .38 Special by any measure.

With these revolvers, recoil could be grim to the uninitiated. Recoil energy approached 12 pounds in some revolvers, compared to six to eight pounds in the 9mm and .40 caliber handguns, and a slight four pounds with .38 +P ammunition. This is a sharp jolt not to be underestimated. The person deploying this revolver must engage in practice and use the proper techniques to master this revolver.

Modern magnum revolvers such as the Ruger SP101 are designed with every advantage toward making the revolver controllable. The factory grips on these revolvers are among the best ever designed. If you are able to find a Smith and Wesson K frame revolver at a fair price, the 6-shot Smith and Wesson is even more controllable, albeit a bit larger.

Use a proper holster such as one of the Galco inside the waistband holsters and you will find the snubnose magnum very concealable. The revolver is simple to use—simply draw and fire. The Ruger and Smith and Wesson each have smooth double-action triggers that lead to accuracy.

Another advantage of the revolver is superb accuracy. The Smith and Wesson Model 19 I often carry has been in service for four decades. A combination of excellent high visibility sights and a smooth trigger make for fine accuracy. As just one example with the .38 Special Fiocchi 125-grain Extrema, this revolver has cut a 1.5-inch 25-yard group for five shots. The .357 Magnum revolver isn’t for everyone. For those who practice, the Magnum revolver offers excellent accuracy, reliability, and proven wound ballistics.

Ruger SP101 .357 Magnum Revolver

Load Velocity

.38 Special

Winchester USA 110-grain JHP 910 fps
Hornady 110-grain Critical Defense 970 fps
Fiocchi 125-grain Extrema 820 fps
Winchester 158-grain SWC 780 fps


.357 Magnum

Winchester USA 110-grain JHP 1170 fps
SIG Sauer Elite 125-grain JHP 1201 fps
Hornady 125-grain Critical Defense 1183 fps
Winchester 145-grain Silvertip 1020 fps

25 Yards – Solid Benchrest Firing Position

Handgun Ammunition 5-shot group

.357 Magnum Ammunition

Ruger SP101 SIG Sauer 125-grain JHP 2.5 in.
S&W M19 1.5 in.
Ruger SP101 Hornady Critical Defense 2.0 in.
S&W M19 1.75 in.

Revolvers make a great primary self-defense handgun and excel as a back up. Do you carry or own a snubnose? Share the model and your experience in the comment section.

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Comments (60)

  • Terry Nixon


    I’m glad to see the .357 getting some new exposure. As a cop for many years it was the standard in protection. Even after being authorized to carry a 9mm, many officers opted to continue to carry the .357 due to weight, and bulk of a semi and 3 magazines each holding 15 rounds.
    I believe the popularity of one firearm over another is cyclic and now with a glut of good semi-autos on the market, some CCW’s will look for something a bit different. Who knows the popularity of the revolvers may peak yet again. Although now retired, if I knew I was to have to engage in a firefight, one of my old S&W Model 66’s would still be my choice of weapon. Although most of the real classic ones have become “safe queens” who know maybe they will start making them again the way they used to without all the safety gadgets someday……


  • Dark Angel


    To state the obvious, at least to experienced shooters; when choosing a ‘snubby’ avoid the ‘light weight’ and ‘air weigh’t like a disease! ‘ When firing a magnum revolver, regardless of barrel length, weight is your friend. ‘Light weight’ make make for easier carry, but if forced to defend yourself, a light weight can and will hurt your had and probably arm, making you hesitate if a second shot is required.


  • DesertRat2


    I carry a S&W M60-15 3″ bbl as my standard concealed carry weapon. It has a high visibility front sight & laser. Compact, reliable and accurate. I never feel outgunned. Gotta practice, always!


  • junkman


    Ruger SP101 3″ (wife’s), SP101 SN Spurless Hammer, Ruger LCR; all in .357 Mag. Nothing but Rugers for us, everything else has been disappointing.


  • James Bailey


    I used to have a Ruger SP101 and there’s a backup piece or is an easy carry alternative for close to home trips, I prefer the revolver to a semi-automatic.

    However, snubbies have one serious drawback: five or six shots, compared to 10-13-15, even up to 20 shots out of some 9 millimeter semi pistols.

    If you’re headed on down to the local 7-Eleven, we’re off to the grocery store just down the block, a Snappy fits the bill with a couple of speed loaders in your back pocket or in your jacket pocket.

    But if I’m going to be out and about all day long going from place to place to place, I want something with considerably more lager to it; and I’m not talking Schlitz, Bud, or Fosters: I’m talking about having the mag in my pistol with it least 10 Rounds, though I prefer the 16 + 1 in my carry piece, with three more mags ready to go.

    I suggest that most folks who can afford it, buy a good snap nose for a backup for short-range carry, they are worth the money, easy to carry, and because they are so easy to carry, you’ll take them with you when you go, which means they can save your life.


  • Luke29


    I own a charter arms bulldog in 44 special. Some days it’s my primary carry gun & other days it’s a backup. If I have only 1 choice I will always pick this gun to carry. I love it!


  • Vincent


    I would like to add my 2 cents to Wilburn’s very nice article about 38 special and 357 magnum revolvers. I have owned a Ruger 357 Blackhawk for over 50 years, and have shot all kinds of ammo with it. There are two basic points I would like to point out:
    (1) All the revolvers discussed and shown in this article are double action revolvers. There is another world of revolvers that are single action, where you have to first cock the hammer back before pulling the trigger and firing it. For concealed weapons, the double action may be preferable to most, and are quicker to reload.
    (2) The is a very big range in ammo power for the 357 Magnum, more than almost any other caliber (at 4:1 ratio from the weakest to the strongest). My Blackhawk is a very heavy duty revolver and can shoot any pre-manufactured ammo, which means it can withstand the pressures. So, I would suspect that most of these stub nose 357 Mag revolvers cannot safely shoot the high powered ammo.

    So, to give you more detail on the ammo power issue, I have extended the charts given in the article to include the muzzle energy that goes along with the muzzle velocities that are shown.

    .38 Special
    MV ME
    Winchester USA 110-grain JHP 910 fps 202 ft. lbs.
    Hornady 110-grain Critical Defense 970 fps 230 ft. lbs.
    Fiocchi 125-grain Extrema 820 fps 187 ft. lbs.
    Winchester 158-grain SWC 780 fps 213 ft. lbs.

    .357 Magnum
    MV ME
    Winchester USA 110-grain JHP 1170 fps 334 ft. lbs.
    SIG Sauer Elite 125-grain JHP 1201 fps 400 ft. lbs.
    Hornady 125-grain Critical Defense 1183 fps 388 ft. lbs.
    Winchester 145-grain Silvertip 1020 fps 335 ft. lbs.

    So, in the above chart all I did was copy the one in the article and add in the muzzle energy ballistics. All of these .357 Mag ballistics are very low for the .357 mag ammo, so none of these should cause the stub nose handguns any issues. But you can buy .357 mag ammo with a muzzle energy of 907 ft. lbs., and this really kicks in my 6.5″ Ruger Blackhawk.

    So, if you are thinking about getting one of these stub nose handguns, keep in mind that you will need to very careful with the .357 Mag ammo selection. If you would like to see more about ammo ballistics for the 38 special, .357 Mag, and 24 more handgun calibers plus some rifle ones also, email me for a free ballistics file at vlavalle @ix.netcom .com.

    Vincent (02-03-2017)


  • Louis


    Wilburn, while I feel the same as you do about the .357 I do have some concerns that you pointed out a little. I own the S&W 686 plus in 2 1/2″ barrel and the Ruger SP101 also in the 2 1/2″ barrel. I was always concerned about the velocity of over penetration, unburnt powder, and the pedals not opening up on the defence ammo. Should I have bought the 3″ barrels instead? Because of this I carry my lighter weight j frames with +P ammo. Thank you!!


    • WR


      .5 inch barrel doesn’t mean much.

      I am presently doing a bit of research on this issue.

      Stick with a good standard 125 grain JHP and you will be OK


  • Dragon


    While I favor semiauto pistols for daily concealed carry, I do like to maintain revolvers in my automobiles for rapid employment from concealed carriers at the driver’s station, and both cars are equipped with S&W Governor six shot revolvers loaded with .410×2.5″ 00 buckshot. At home the bed has a hanging holster on each side in which reside a Chiappa Rhino and a Kimber K6s…..both in .357 Magnum. I figure that if I am going to purchase any revolvers that will fire .38 Special, they’d best be chambered in .357 Magnum for the flexibility that such chambering provides with regard to hot to medium to light loads.


  • Rich K.


    My EDC is a stainless 2″ barrel Taurus 606CH, which is roughly the same frame size as a S&W K-frame .357 (like the Model 19). I can say from experience that .357 loads are VERY unpleasant out of this gun (recoil is excessive – it does not have a ported barrel – and thus fast target re-acquisition is difficult), and the muzzle flash and blast is extreme (to say the least). My preference is to use .38 special +P loads.


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