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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.