Firearm History

A History of Long-Barrel Magnums

Colt New Service

A long time ago, there were no Magnum cartridges. It was only 85 years ago that the .357 Magnum cartridge was introduced. Prior to this, anyone wanting a reasonably flat-shooting handgun cartridge handloaded the . 32-20 WCF or .38 Special.

Each could be loaded to about 1,200 fps in a strong, heavy-frame revolver such as the Smith and Wesson Heavy Duty or Colt Single Action Army. Handgunners wanted more and they got it.

Long-Barrel Magnums
There is nothing quite like long-barrel magnums.

Initial Design

The original .357 Magnum was a deluxe revolver with fully adjustable sights a ramp front sight and an 8 3/8-inch barrel. The 3½-inch barrel versions were designed for holster use and proved popular with the FBI and Border Patrol.

The original Magnum was designed to jolt a 158-grain SWC to 1450 fps. Seldom did factory ammunition meet the advertised velocity.

On the other hand, a careful handloader could use a hard cast 160-165-grain SWC over a stout charge of 2,400 and illicit 1,550 fps from the same firearm.

Game was taken with the Magnum that may have been an overmatch, but a cool marksman and deep penetration can work wonders.

Galco Holster - Double-Barrel Magnums
While double-action revolvers are good, there is nothing wrong with long-barrel magnums riding in a Galco holster.

Colt’s Take

Colt’s .38 Super automatic was eclipsed by the new revolver and cartridge combination. After all, we were a nation of revolver men. But Colt needed to get up and running with their own .357 Magnum. They had two likely candidates:

  • The Colt SAA was strong enough. A single-action revolver wasn’t likely to be adopted in force by law officers, and many of them were going to cling to their .45s.
  • The Colt New Service is a robust double-action revolver even larger than the Smith and Wesson N-frame.

I have tried to do the research, but cannot determine which of the two Colt revolvers were offered in . 357 Magnum first. But examples of either were leaving the factory soon after Smith and Wesson’s introduction of the Magnum cartridge.

Either was more affordable, if not as slick and smooth as Smith and Wesson Magnum. While the Smith and Wesson was setting long-range records, a few shooters adopted the Colts for practical use.

Colt Long-Barrel Magnums
The six-inch barrel Colt in the middle is a fast-handling revolver worth the price.

Other Adjustments

Among the more interesting revolvers is the Colt New Service. This big handgun features a 7½-inch barrel, a true western standard usually found on the Colt SAA. A close look reveals that this is actually a Colt 1917 and it left the factory in .45 ACP.

After WWII, Colt did not go back into production of the New Service. Thousands of .357 Magnum barrels and cylinders were sold to Gun Parts Corporation. Some are still in stock!

At some point, someone obtained the original Colt .357 barrel and cylinder and fitted it to the 1917. This is an excellent job and the barrel cylinder gap are good.

At some point, someone also drilled and tapped the barrel for an optic, but I don’t know the history of the gun, so I am at a loss for that. Suffice to say this is a piece of history.

Revolver Drilled and Tapped
For some reason, this revolver is drilled and tapped for a scope mount.

Modern Load Performance

Today, there are other long-barrel magnums from Taurus, Smith and Wesson, Dan Wesson and Ruger. The single-action Blackhawk with 7½-inch barrel is among the finest.

And how do they shoot? Nothing save perhaps the ultra-rare eight-inch barrel Python hunter shoots like the 8 3/8-inch barrel Smith and Wesson. With proper handloads or factory ammunition, the S&W is very accurate.

Here is a table of some of the loads and their performance.

Smith & Wesson with 8 3/8-inch barrel

Load Velocity 25-yard group (five shots)
Buffalo Bore 180-Ggrain FP* 1,440 fps 0.9 inches
Buffalo Bore 158-Grain JHP 1,560 fps 1.5 inches
Buffalo Bore 135-Grain JHP 1,654 fps 1.2 inches
Handload H110 Power/Hornady 125-Grain XTP 1,720 fps 1.15 inches

*1380 fps in a Ruger GP100 4-inch barrel

Colt New Service .357 with 7½-inch barrel

Load Velocity 25-yard group (five shots)
Handload 180-Grain XTP W296 Powder 1,250 fps 2.25 inches
Handload Hard Cast Matt’s Bullets 173-Grain SWC W296 1,050 fps 1.95 inches
Buffalo Bore .38 Special Hard Cast 158-Grain SWC Outdoors Load 1,159 fps 2.0 inches

Buffalo Bore Ammunition offers some of the best examples of hunting ammunition and these loads—including the revolver—give a good example of what a Magnum is capable of. These are a far cry from the general results in a four-inch barrel revolver.

Long-Barrel Magnums - Buffalo Bore
With Buffalo Bore ammunition, the 8 3/8-inch barrel Magnum is a formidable hunting handgun.

Conclusion

An early proponent of the .357 Magnum said that these revolvers are like a rifle on the hip. I agree. They are quite a piece of steel!

What are your thoughts on long-barrel magnums? Let us know in the comments below.

About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.


Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Handloader
Rifle Magazine
Handguns
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns



Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (9)

  1. One of my first handguns was a Colt Trooper Mk III, 357 Magnum, with a 4″ barrel. I bought it used from the head of security at the local Montgomery Wards store. What a sweet gun! It’s a lot of fun to shoot, very accurate, and I wear it on a chest rig every elk season.

  2. No offence, but you obviously haven’t shot the latest Dan Wesson #715, 357 Magnum “Pistol Pack” revolver, using the included 8″ barrel. I’ve yet to have an actual “shoot off” against my 8 & 3/8″ 686, but early casual shooting of the 715 tells me it’s incredibly accurate and might very well out shoot my 686.

  3. The formula to determine the correct number of firearms anyone should own is always; N + 1, N being the number of firearms you already own.

  4. Let’s be real. Sidearms are just that– something beside the main workhorse, either full rifle or carbine. And even the carbine will slam game harder than any pistol I can conjure.

    Pistols/revolvers are defense weapons only. Think, last resort. Unless, of course, it’s crime you intend. Then concealability is of supreme importance. Aside from all this, pistols require way more practice to master, mainly because they’re harder to aim w/ any precision. Even a shot-pistol requires some practice, or you’ll miss the target on a quick draw.

    Unless you’re an Ed McGivern or Bob Munden, you’ll do just as well in the bush w/ a carbine. In fact, I’ll bet your last dollar, you’ll do much better w/ the “bean” over the piece. Yea & amen.

  5. Love my long toms, S&W 8 3/8″ Model 27, Dan Wesson 715 and 744,Ruger SBH ,Thompson Center Contenders.
    I always take a couple to the range, and that sound when I get a hit on a meta gong target at 100/150 yards is music to my ears.

  6. It is a time to remember and it does still have roots today in the way some of our modern cartridges were developed over the years.
    I’d love to do more with wheelguns and loads but the prices keep that but a dream.

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