Firearms

Range Report: The Colt .357

Colt .357 magnum revolver right profile

The revolver illustrated in these pages is a rare piece with only 15,000 made from 1951 to 1961. It is more rare than any Colt Python variation but doesn’t command the prices the snake guns do. Yet, the Colt .357 is perhaps as accurate as the Python and offers a shootable piece of history for less money than the snake guns.

Bob Campbell shooting a Colt .357 revolver from a barricade
Firing from the barricade rest, this revolver is bench rest accurate.

The history of the piece is interesting. Colt’s double action revolvers began production about the turn of the previous century. The Army Special, and later the Official Police revolver, were robust handguns with a smooth action.

The Colt Official Police is slightly larger than the Smith and Wesson Military and Police and was sometimes chambered in .41 Colt. We often call the Colt a .41 frame revolver. The Army Special/Official Police is the primogenitor of the Colt Python.

Magnum Colts

Smith and Wesson introduced the .357 Magnum cartridge in 1935. The deluxe revolver that chambered this supercharged number was a sensation in its day—and still is for those who understand how to coax performance from a handgun and a magnum cartridge. While the usual four-inch barrel revolver with a defense-oriented load is often used for personal defense and home defense, a six-inch barrel .357 Magnum with target sights is a great hunting handgun.

The Colt, half Fitz, and 3-inch detective special revolvers
The Colt is in good company in the author’s gun safe. That’s a half Fitz above and a rare three-inch barrel Colt Detective Special below.

This type of revolver points like a finger for personal defense and kicks less than a lighter revolver. Colt was slow to offer a magnum revolver. About 525 Single Action Army revolvers were chambered for the .357 Magnum prior to World War II. Colt’s first modern double action Magnum was called simply The .357. Sources differ with some stating the .357 went into production in 1951 and others 1953, but they agree the revolver was discontinued in 1961. Colt also introduced a less expensive revolver, the Trooper, in 1954.

My personal Colt .357 was manufactured in 1954. This six-inch barrel revolver has proven to be among the most accurate and useful revolvers I have owned. It will take game that can be taken with the .357 Magnum, and it is a fine target gun.

I would not hesitate to keep the .357 at home ready. However, keep your eye on old steel. In common with the Python, this revolver should not be dry fired. The firing pin in my 1954 Colt broke not long ago. I had a difficult time finding a replacement, and when I did, I ordered two—just in case—one to repair the Colt .357 and the other in case the 1969 Python in the gun safe breaks a firing pin.

Colt .357 magnum revolver  with cylinder open
The action is smooth and operates with precision hand fitting.

I do not own any firearms I do not fire! The Colt .357 is a very accurate revolver. Much of my shooting has been with cast bullet handloads. Cast bullets are an alloy. Since they are not pure lead, they do not lead badly. (Leading is traces of the bullet left in the barrel. Accuracy is eventually affected.) A 160- to 180-grain semi wadcutter at 1,000 to 1,200 fps is a powerful and accurate loading.

Among the factory loads that have proven impressive as far as accuracy and penetration is the Federal 180-grain JHP. This loading penetrates to an optimum depth and expands reliably. I have also used the Federal 158-grain Hydra-Shok with excellent results.

This is a very accurate revolver. It isn’t unusual for the Colt .357 to fire five shots into 1.5 inches with good handloads. The Federal Hydra-Shok will do the same. I have fired a 1.25-inch five-shot group at 25 yards with the Federal 180-grain JHP. The double action trigger is a joy to cycle. There is nothing in production today as smooth as the Colt .357.

.38 Special
Load Velocity Five-shot group at 25 yards
Hard Cast 160-grain SWC/WW 231 powder 890 fps 1.75 inch
Hard Cast 173-grain SWC/Matts Bullets/WW231 850 fps 1.4 inch
200-grain RNL Matts Bullets /Titegroup 770 fps 2.0 inch
.357 Magnum
160-grain SWC H110 1,340 fps 1.6 inch
Federal 125-grain JHP 1,470 fps 2.0 inch
Federal 130-grain Hydra-Shok 1,501 fps 1.8 inch
Federal 158-grain Hydra-Shok 1,267 fps 1.5 inch
Federal 180-grain JHP 1,100 fps 1.25 inch

The .41 frame, six-inch barrel, and well designed grips make for a very comfortable handgun to fire and use. The revolver accepts the same speed loaders as the Colt Official Police and Colt Python. The grips are also interchangeable with the Python.

Are you a Col  fan? What is your favorite wheel gun? Share your answers in the comment section.

[bob]

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Comments (13)

  1. I picked up a Colt 357 about three weeks ago at an estate auction. It’s one of the first year models based on the serial number and the rear sight leaf (rounded instead of squared off). Very sweet shooter. Unfortunately it did not come with the original wood target grips, but I’m okay with that. Great revolver.

  2. I picked one up at a good price several months ago at a really nice price because it had been improperly stored at one time and there was some pitting on the cylinder. The grips looks nearly new, however so I don’t think it was used hard. It is still a real joy to shoot and I am considering having it restored.

  3. Hi Bob,
    I have an original .357 Colt. Apparently it is a pre-Trooper model with a 4″ barrel. I cannot find any reference to it anywhere, as it has a finish that looks like dull aluminum. It has adjustable rear sights and a ramp front sight. The left side of the barrel simply says “Colt 357” and just underneath that is “.357 Magnum” in much smaller print. When I got it, it only had rubberized Pachmyr grips. It is dead on accurate with 180 grain FMJ rounds and has a trigger pull that is absolutely butter smooth. In single action it drops the hammer at the first thought of trigger pull. I have searched everywhere for a picture or info of one like mine, or any reference to the finish on it in that original model, but no luck. Do you have info on it?
    Thanks,
    Dennis
    Thanks,
    Dennis

  4. Great article. I have a colt Officers model match 38 and a Colt trooper 357. Both guns are superb. The OMM has just a bit more fine tuning and is a bit smoother. Both are fabulous shooters though..

  5. My current favorite Colt is my model 1878 (1902 military Philippine) clambered in what else .45 long colt. It came to me from my father and from his father who traded for it for my grandmother (a five foot tall part part Indian) so she would have protection from snakes when she worked in the feilds. My grandmother would tell him she did’t need a gun as long as she had a good sharp hoe. I don’t shoot it very much any more but when i do i assure you i enjoy.

  6. I’ve had my Python for more than 40 years, used it for police work, sporting, hunting, and protection: I’ve never shot any other revolver with a smoother trigger pull, and so accurate, talk about an extension of one’s self!

  7. Great Article! The Old Colts are Great! I must mention that the Old Dan Wesson Model 15 revolvers are also Awesome Wheel Guns! I have both and I think the Dan Wesson is the better shooter!

  8. I bought a 4″ barrel Colt Trooper Mk 3 in the 70’s from an acquaintance who was the security mgr for Montgomery Wards. What a sweet gun! I use it with a chest rig when I’m big game hunting.

  9. A Colt Trooper MKIII started my love affair with the .38/.357. A gentlemen had 3 .357’s for sale all with 6″ barrels. A Smith 19, Ruger GP100 and the Colt. I went to buy the Ruger and left with the Colt. I now have 5 .38/.357 firearms with plans for at least 2 more. My favorite .357 load is a Penn Bullets 158Gr TCBB at about 1200 fps.

  10. I always enjoy your articles, Mr. Campbell. I’d bet a box of ammo that it would be a lot of fun to spend an afternoon (probably a LONG afternoon) exploring the contents of your gun safe with you.

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