Ammunition

Magnumitis: How to Know When the Gun Is Just Too Much

muzzle blast

You won’t find “Magnumitis” in the dictionary. The term was coined as a derisive nickname for the tendency of shooters to go for broke in the pursuit of power.

I think it was meant to imply that the shooter who has succumbed to Magnumitis places power above accuracy. The originator made the argument that we could do just as well in the hunting field with standard calibers as we do with Magnums.

When it comes to rifles, this is probably true. But in handgun terms, the Magnums represent a much-needed improvement in standard performance. Handguns are weak instruments compared to long guns.

When compared to the .30-06 rifle or 12-gauge shotgun, the “weak .38” and “strong .45” are more alike than they are different. But the outlook is different when we begin to move to the Magnums.

Magnumitis accuracy
Accuracy can make up for power. The reverse is seldom true.

These handguns often are possessed of more real-world killing power at moderate ranges than high-power rifles. Magnum handguns have a surplus of power in some applications. The Magnum revolver is a fine example of modern technology.

Prior to the advent of the Magnum, the accepted standard for increasing handgun effectiveness was to increase the bore diameter and the weight of the projectile.

Frontal area and mass still mean much, but the Magnum introduced another important factor into handgun ballistics. For the first time, handgun calibers proved capable of reaching velocity over 1300 fps, and with full bore, heavy for the caliber bullets.

Changing the Game

Handloaders had acquired a taste for high velocity with 1200 fps .32-20 WCF loads. Heavy bullets once were the slowest choice in each caliber, often compromising velocity for weight.

With the advent of the Magnum, heavy bullets with long bearing surfaces became feasible. The advantage of the big bore had been short-range killing power, which the small-bore lacked. Magnums introduced another consideration, a product of increased velocity.

Handguns now had increased range. The handgun had sufficient velocity to make long-range handgun hunting a real possibility. Sufficient energy was retained in the projectile to retain effectiveness at this increased range.

Handgun cartridges had reached a new plateau. The Magnum gave outdoorsmen an all-around revolver. The handgun was seen as a backup to the rifle, useful for taking down a bad steer at point-blank range or perhaps finishing off a wounded animal, and little else.

Smith and Wesson Combat Magnum
The Smith and Wesson Combat Magnum with 2.5-inch barrel was among the first downsized Magnums.

The Magnum legitimized the serious consideration of the revolver as a hunting arm. This was a major accomplishment. In 1935, the newly introduced .357 Magnum shattered every existing long-range accuracy record for revolvers.

Not inconsiderable was the Magnum’s effect on the handgun marketplace. The introduction of the .357 Magnum and the deluxe revolvers that chambered it assured the ascendancy of the revolver for more than 50 years. Autoloaders could not compete.

We were a nation of revolver men and the Smith & Wesson Magnums were the finest of all revolvers.

Use with Caution

Today, we have other Magnums, from the diminutive .17 caliber Magnum to the mighty .500 Magnum. I will not sugarcoat the problems inherent in mastering the Magnums, and the skills needed.

The principles of marksmanship are not so difficult they cannot be mastered by the average shooter, but when we add bone-jarring recoil to the equation, the problem is compounded considerably. Full-power Magnum loads are not pleasant to fire in long sessions.

There is a muzzle blast, as well as recoil. There is no free lunch, but these guns and loads really do the business with a good man or woman behind the sights. And, as you should know, you do not have to run the Magnums wide open all of the time.

.44 Magnum
This modern .44 Magnum is a five shooter. Not for the faint of heart!

There are ammunition choices that allow the shooter to practice with pleasant, even docile, loads. The .38 Special is a great understudy for the .357 Magnum.

Since the .357 was developed from the .38 Special by lengthening the .38 Special cartridge case by a tenth of an inch, .38s are easily loaded and used in the Magnum chamber.

Control Difficulties

The problem is that with modern steels it is feasible to chamber very small handguns for Magnum cartridges. This leads to folks carrying handguns they cannot handle well. A J-frame .357 Magnum isn’t controllable with any load.

I think the height of a handgun misfit came to light in my classes a few years ago. A fellow had purchased a Smith & Wesson .340, a lightweight Magnum, for his wife. She carried it loaded with 125-grain loads and had never fired it (!).

During the class, she fired a single shot, screamed, and nearly dropped the revolver. It nearly ruined her acceptance of handguns at all.

Magnumitis
Standard calibers offer a good balance of speed and control, helping you avoid Magnumitis.

Alternatives to Consider

The rub is that people deploying these handguns are not getting nearly the horsepower they believe. They expect the 1400 fps the load is rated at. The actual velocity from a two to three-inch barrel may be 1089 to 1170 fps, per my testing.

Hardly worth the trouble. If you have Magnumitis, consider coming down from the high of unburned powder and muzzle blast and try a good .38 Special +P.

The Buffalo Bore .38 Special lead hollow point at 158 grains breaks 1,000 fps from a snub nose revolver. This is a stout load, but not nearly as difficult to control as the .357 Magnum.

Automatic pistol shooters are also subject to a bad case of Magnumitis, although the cartridges aren’t Magnums. Among the worst offenders it the .357 SIG.

Folks think the 9mm isn’t enough and they have a point, or perhaps they would like to have a .357 Magnum in the self-loader.

.338 Federal
The .338 Federal isn’t a Magnum, but hits plenty hard.

A fellow purchased himself and the little woman identical Springfield XDs, fine handguns—hers in 9mm and his in .357 SIG. During the class, she was one of the top shooters.

The male part of the team did OK for the first few cartridges and then fell apart as recoil and muzzle blast added up. He should have purchased a reliable 9mm and he would have known when he was ready for the .357 SIG.

The .357 SIG offers fine penetration for police work, but in most cases, 9mm loads expand as well or better. Food for thought.

Conversely, folks bringing the 10mm to class seem to be experienced shooters. They pace themselves, recover from recoil, and get good hits.

expanded Speer 10mm bullet
This is an expanded Speer 10mm bullet. Sometimes the non-Magnums are pretty impressive!

What About Rifles?

When it comes to rifles, I see shooters using too little gun, such as the .223 or .300 Blackout, and on the other end shooters hunting with rifles they cannot control well.

I use the .270, .308, .30-06 and .300 Savage, although I am becoming attached to the 6.5 Creedmoor. I enjoy the 7mm Remington Magnum in certain situations and regard it as no more difficult to master than the .30-06.

Mauser rifle - .30-06
A Mauser rifle with a Bushnell scope is pure class. All in .30-06.

But I also see shooters attempting to fire the .300 Winchester Magnum and making miserable groups at the range. Some do not make it past the sighting in a stage. A recent range session illustrated my point, but with a standard caliber.

A skinny teen of perhaps fourteen was attempting to fire and sight in a Savage Axis in .30-06. This is a great rifle. Truth be told, the young fellow gritted his teeth and made it through, but I am certain he was bruised from the recoil.

Perhaps a .308 would have been a better choice.

.308 BAR rifle
This BAR in .308 is an ideal rifle for most hunting situations.

Battling Magnumitis

There is a learning curve needed to master the larger guns. If one cannot master the nuances of handloading, marksmanship and game taking with the .357, he will have no chance with the .44 Magnum handgun and in rifles.

The same applies for the .308 and .300 Winchester Magnum. Begin with the .308! A number of perfectly controllable standard calibers do the business well.

.45 ACP in action
When ammunition like the .45 ACP turns in excellent results, maybe you don’t need a Magnum for personal defense.

Hunting is a concern as we wish to take game humanely with a minimum of shoots—usually, only one chance is offered. By the same token in personal defense, we want an effective handgun.

I have looked over both ends of a gun barrel in my lifetime, and the Magnum produces a rapid effect on the target and a more severe wound than even the .45 auto.

The semi-auto is easier to control and has many advantages, including the good effect on motivated adversaries.

FN .45 ACP in action
This young lady is showing how it is done with an FN .45 ACP. Recoil isn’t a problem.

Many who used the .357 Magnum in the wild and killed animals as dangerous as Jaguars remarked that as far as killing power at short range goes, the Magnum was a “rifle on the hip.”

The trick is the caliber must be mastered. This means serious attempts at mastering the firearm beginning with lighter loads, long practice sessions, and learning to control the recoil of the more powerful loads.

Accuracy can make up for power. The reverse is seldom true.

Have you ever experienced “Magnumitis?” Let us know in the comments below.

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Comments (17)

  1. I have a .22 and a 9mm. I tried for a long time with more powerful, but I sucked at any kind of speed with them. Besides I can afford to shoot them more over other more expensive calibers so I can be a little bit better from practice as well.

  2. Excellent article! I acquired a Charter Arms Mag Pug XL in. 41 Remington magnum few months ago. Not fun with full power loads. Cast bullets and 5gr. of Bullseye allow me to practice without pain. I do carry factory full power magnums when I walk the dog in the woods, though. We have a feral hog problem in the area and I am too old to run away.

  3. Great article. I chuckled several times while reading it because it reminded me of times in my past. Like the first time I fired the M1 Garand in boot camp. I was 17, and probably weighed less than 120. I soon got used to it standing. Sitting was then no big deal. In the prone position, it drove me back an inch to 1.5 inches on each shot. After each clip, I would use my elbows to move me back to my starting position. Our drill instructor soon noticed this, and “asked” me what I was doing. I suggested he watch while I shot a full clip. I fired the eight rounds, then said, “I’m hitting the target.” Then using my elbows moved back to my starting point. He held his binoculars up to see my target and said, “Carry on.” Later that day he asked me how my shoulder felt. I just answered, “No problem.”

    Today, in my retirement, I’m a gunsmith, and addicted to big bore handguns. I don’t own a .357, but I deer hunt with a Ruger Super Redhawk in .44 magnum. This year I bought a Glock long slide in 10mm, and plan on deer hunting with it next month. I can hit a squirrel-size target at 15 yards with it, but I wouldn’t plan on eating the remains if it was hit with a hollow point.

  4. A marine Corps Gunny Sargent once corrected my thinking by stating it does not matter what you shoot (caliber) as long as you shoot well!

  5. Agree that most shooters are prone to buy too much gun, men especially. Not long ago I witnessed a fellow shooting his S&W 500 for the first time. Three shots and he unloaded the weapon and left. I’d be willing to bet he sold it off. Weapons of this type are specialty firearms. Beginning shooter should start off with light recoiling firearms and work on control, sight picture and trigger pull. As a young fellow, I started off with the 22’s. In the army, I “graduated” to the M24 (7.62 NATO – .308) The instructors taught zeroing techniques and sight acquisition. I’d guess my message is start small and graduate up as ouyou gain confidence. Recoil is a fact of life with firearms. You don’t need to like just how to control it and mitigate it.

  6. Basically all of your column is correct. The only thing missing is extreme motivation. With enough training and good motivation, y’all can control the Magnum loads. I for one carried a .44 mag with a 6” barrel for a good dozen years and practiced on a weekly basis always using full loads. After a short while I was able to shoot one handed (in case of getting wounded in one arm) and able to hit center mass at both 25 and 50 yards. But as y’all know it comes at an expense. 44 mag is not a cheap cartridge, and shooting 100 rounds a week puts a dent in your wallet. Nowadays I go with a.45 cal auto, with 13 round mags (with 2 spare mags and one in the chamber I’m up to 40 rounds) a slight advantage over having to lug 5 speed loaders in my pockets (there goes the concealed part!!).

  7. Ok, I’ll play “Captain Obvious” and mention that weapon weight can help tame recoil down from a savage, bruising punch, to more of a violent push. If the shooter isn’t limited by strength or other issues, I’d recommend avoiding the “backpackers special” rifles in high powered calibers. I still dread my “featherweight” .308, preferring to hunt with a heavy 7mm mag. Likewise, I’d rather shoot my heavy X-frame .460 s&w mag with 8″ barrel than, say, the .45/70 derringer of youtube notoriety.

  8. I suffer some from Magnumitis due to age and arthritis. I have always loved my .44 Magnum Blackhawk with 7 1/2 ” barrel, but it is a lot more fun to practice with loaded down rounds nowadays. Blasting away with 240+ grain hot loads was more enjoyable thirty years ago when I was only middle aged ! However, it is still no problem hitting a man sized target at any reasonable range and I KNOW it will stop an attacker. My little .38 snubby is easier to carry and conceal for everyday, but if we ever have the SHTF situation, it is more likely the rifles and smaller pistols will be left behind and the .44 will be the do everything weapon.

  9. I’m guilty of magnumitis !
    I have owned and carried several
    9mm, .38, .357 and .357 sig. I have been
    able to control each very well and
    maintain very good accuracy. I have
    hunted deer with a Redhawk .44 magnum
    and taken many deer with it.
    I do reload several calibers
    I carry a Glock 32 (.357 sig) or Kel-Tec
    PMR 30 (fun to shoot) depending on my mood.

  10. Love multi caliber versatility with fewer firearms.. I do own a Dan Wesson 15-2 (old) in 357. I have 2 barrels… 2 1/2 and a 6. What is nice…I can also fire 38 spl out of it as well. To add some frosting on the cupcake… I also have an older model of Marlin carbine in 357/38 as well… so a lot of convertibility in those firearms. My other is I bought my first Colt AR 15 many years ago but… I also bought a Colt 22 conversion kit for it…so I can utilize a plinking round at times. The kit fits other ARs I have so.. flexible. I reload so I have a setup that allows me to convert 223/5.56 brass to 300 AAC.. and the uppers are interchangeable as well. ( I have a separate BCA for the 300) . I have other calibers of rifles and pistols but I don’t use them all with the same frequency as some. But, they are all fun to shoot. I have slowed down on my gun purchases as I am getting older but…still have a couple of bucket list targets. Who knows.

    My Grand Daughter is in the process of becoming a State Trooper and I wanted to buy her a back-up.. we settled on the Sig 365 9mm. I bought her father a Walther PPKS for his when he was going through the training as well. I checked the new models and they have corrected the issues and it fits in the hand well. I liked it so much..I figure I needed another 9mm ( I have a Ruger P89… the Timex of 9s…takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’ ) The Sig would make a good CC for me too… I have a few that I carry, according to what I am wearing.. summer/winter. Better to have and not need than to need and not have.

  11. As an RSO, I’ve witnessed magnumitis many times over the years, but never experienced it personally in my firearms purchases. My first handgun was a S&W model 66 .357 Magnum in 1980, and I generally practiced with .38 Special loads, more for economic reasons than magnum issues. Even back then, .38’s were cheaper to buy than .357’s. I grew up shooting a Remington Gamemaster in .300 Savage, but purchased a used but well kept H&R Ultra in .300 Win Mag (Action was made by Sako and H&R imported them) when I turned 18 in 79′. I kept shooting the .300 and various 12 ga shotguns until 2007, when I started having the signs snd symptoms of Degenerative Joint Disease. After having bone resections on both shoulders, I could no longer tolerate the recoil from either rifle or shotguns, so both were given to my son. My AR’s in 5.56 and .300 AAC don’t have as heavy of recoil, so those I still shoot. I still have my Dad’s Winchester model 94 in 30-30 (made in 1952,, so a pre 63). I can still fire it as long as I don’t overdue it. .380’s, 9mm, .40 an 10mm I still practice with, though I have to watch the 10mm as too much prsctice can make the shoulder’s flare up and I psy for it the next few days.

  12. The author states the 300 win mag is harder to master then the 7mm mag? It’s the same parent case for the 7mm,.300, and .338 series of magnum rifles. I own all 3 and could give someone that never shot any of the 3 guns at random, and they would not be able to tell the difference between them. Given close weight bullets and my 3 are all savage rifles. There’s hardly any difference in felt recoil. Now if you would have said the difference from a 7mm mag to a 375H&H mag then yeah that’s a difference, or may be even a 338 lapua. As far as the 44 mag being harder then the 357 mag…. well I highly agree with the post above. It’s just as much about the gun as it is about the load. My 100lb wife can shoot my Taurus raging bull in .454 casull fine. She struggles with her father’s Smith and Wesson in 357 mag. And the 308 to 30-06. The 308 when loaded properly shoots the same bullet the same velocity as the 30-06. So unless your hot loading the 06, there should be minimal difference. As (I assume you should know) the 308 was made to replace the 06 with the same performance wile using modern powders. Again I own both, if I’m not hand loading for the 06 you can hardly tell a difference, and that (again) if from shooting a synthetic stock rifle vs a good ole heavy wood stock rifle. The weight play a major role.

  13. I believe at least part of the problem with being able to control magnum caliber handguns is the grips. I’m a small guy at 5’6″ and 135#. Several years ago I bought an S&W Mod.19. The factory grips put the recoil mostly in the webbing between my thumb and index finger. I ordered a set of Jordan grips from Herrett’s. Problem solved.

  14. The author states, “If one cannot master the nuances of handloading, marksmanship and game taking with the .357, he will have no chance with the .44 Magnum handgun and in rifles.” I am completely at odds with that premise.

    Let me explain, I have owned or fired multiple .357 revolvers that I never cared for. My experience with Ruger revolvers was less than pleasant. I am small of stature, but I have been shooting handguns for more years than most people, having carried a 1911 for the Army back in the early 70’s someplace overseas, but the name of the place escapes me. The Security Six hurt my wrist because of the torque placed on it. I also tried the Ruger Blackhawk and had the same problem.

    One day at the range in the mid 70’s, a friend let me shoot his Model 29 with an 8 3/8” barrel. It was actually pleasant to shoot. I later bought a Model 19 Smith and moved up to a 686 and was not pleased with either of them. When I was offered a chance to buy a Smith 29-2, I jumped on it. It, too, was love at first shot. I kept it until I had the chance to acquire the first Smith 629 Classic Hunter to hit Oklahoma City. Had to sell the first to afford the second. The 629 has a 6” full underlug barrel and a non-fluted cylinder and is a joy to shoot.

    Somewhere between those two handguns, my wife and I buried our oldest son. My therapy through that difficult time was handloading ammo every evening during the week and going to the range on weekends. I averaged shooting somewhere between 300 to 500 rounds each week. With about half of those being medium load .44 Special and half being hot load magnum, I had a lot of chance to experience the beauty of the weapon.

    To say that if someone cannot handle a .357 is in error. It could just be the model the shooter is trying. Changing the weapon makes all of the difference.

    BTW, I am still not a fan of the .357, but I can shoot my Classic Hunter all day. I have friends who use the .357 for deer. Not all of them have found the deer they shot. I know of very few deer hit with a .44 that have not dropped on the spot. Those that did not drop immediately did not run far.

  15. I don’t have much use for handguns. My “carry gun” is a Marlin 336Y 30-30 win. With a shortened stock. Since it is a two hand weapon that is very compact extremely sccurate with more than adequate power in my opinion it is the ideal carry weapon. Mine is 26 1/2″ long so it is legal and with a sling is very easy to carry. The advatage is the ability to continuosly reload. If Marlin had made the 336 in 25-35 I would prefer that to the 30-30 for a short carry “rifle.”

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