Snub Nose Magnum Revolvers — Unequivocal

2 snubnose .38 revolvers with speed loaders

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.

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 decicions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (62)

  1. I love my Revolvers. I have a S&W Mod 66 357 2 1/4 inch barrel, a S&W Mod 60 357 2″, A Colt Detective special 2″ 6 shot and a Coly Python 4″. Depending on the weather and time of year I choose which to carry. When I worked as a Police Officer I carried the Python before we transitioned to semi-autos, and I always carried a S&W Mod 37 38 2″ as my back up. This model has a shrouded hammer.

  2. That question isn’t “is the revolver a good choice”, but is it the best choice…. A chronograph will show tha the snub nosed 357 loses enough velocity(with a 2 1/2″ ) that it has little advantage over a plus p 9 mm load in a 3″gun. Many people feel that a Glock 43 or a Kahr pm9 is easier to hit with,as well. Easier to load,and holds more rounds…and reliability? If they weren’t reliable,law enforcement wouldn’t use them….Hey…I love revolvers….one of my favorites being a 3″ m 60 S&W, but it’s just not my first choice in defense

    1. Neil Tressler,

      All things being equal, from a paper point of you, I would agree with you!

      However, in the real world paper positions don’t cut it, and such things as blood getting in a slide, or the slide jamming for fail to feed or fail to extract, all lead me to the conclusion that a snub nose in an eyeball to an eyeball situation, it’s still the best choice!

      Remember, according to FBI crime data, the average distance in an actual firefight is 7 to 10 feet!

      This would lend one to believe the semi-automatic would be the best choice! However, as you may have noticed Marxist bugs are out in force these days, and they tend to show up at the most inopportune moments!

      These days, you don’t have just a one-on-one situation, you’ve got two three four or more thugs facing you at arm’s length!

      I’m a beat up old cripple, and the fact is that in such a scenario of being caught out in the open, with a bunch of Anti Trump Marxist thugs, is a situation that is real, if you live in Portland, or Seattle,or LA, or anywhere on the Eastern seaboard, but also even in the heartland of the USA these days!

      So basically, if I had my druthers for a backup piece, I would choose a Model 60 3 inch barrel in the small of my back or in my jacket pocket, as my first choice if I do not have that 7 to 10 feet of distance between me and an assailant!!

      Thus, if a bunch of young thugs in masks and hoodies are rushing me because they’re out to hurt anybody that might be pro-Trump, or God forbid a capitalist, then I’m going to choose the Snubbie!!!

      The reason is clear: chances are those bunch of punks will have my sorry crippled but down on the ground: I’ll have to shoot through my pocket in order to stay alive!

      Try that with your Glock, or a Beretta 92, 94, or 96! Try it with a 1911 Commander or government model!

      You might get the first shot to go off, but those follow-up shots are going to be a real mother!

      So, take a moment, take a deep breath, grab an nice crystal glass of whatever your favorite booze is, kick back and consider these finer points of staying alive!

      You’re welcome, have a nice day!

  3. Yes. Stubby wheel guns all the way. And never forget the .327 Federal Magnum. Although as mentioned in the article, practice with its recoil is a must!

  4. Let me begin by saying that my first issue and carry gun was a S&W model 19 4″. However, as a veteran handgun instructor of more than 20+ years, and a SWAT Medic for many more, the revolver is usually not my recommendation. It is much more difficult to shoot well and slower putting out multiple rounds on threat even at ranges less than 7 yards.
    It is also much easier for an opponent at contact distance to tie up the action and render the gun useless by simply grabbing the cylinder and preventing it’s rotation. Gun can’t go bang. Try it!
    Also, that long double action trigger makes it more difficult to keep sights lined up during trigger press.
    Modern semiautomatic of reasonable caliber and a grip large enough to actually hold onto during rapid multiple shot engagement are my preferred recommendation for most new and intermediate students.
    The street is changing as indicated by post incident shooting reports. We are shooting more rounds now and about 50% of the time you will be facing more than one opponent.
    A five or six shot revolver just don’t cut it unless you cut your shooting teeth on one and can reload very fast while moving.

    Sorry, can’t agree with the premise of the article.

    Border Tactical Training Team

    1. Sir,

      Thanks for reading. Excellent points, certainly for defense against gangs and multiple opponents you have a valid point. Just the same, for reasons mentioned in the article, revolvers are sometimes a good choice.

  5. I actually carried the S&W 629 with a 3 in barrel and combat grips, it was my daily carry for 6 years, i loved that 44 mag, i shot that gun every weekend to make sure i could put rounds on target, at 25 meters my shot group was about 2″, it was very expensive to shoot, but sooo much fun

  6. @Steve Scott: Steve, I hope you don’t depend too much on the display of a firearm to discourage a criminal. Yes, in some cases it does but not always. Just ask any cop who has been on the job for any length of time how many times a subject has offered to relieve the officer of his firearm and insert it in a body preface of the officer. Ask him how many times a subject has actually attempted to relieve an officer of his firearm. Maybe other more peaceful part of the country it doesn’t happen, but the news here carries at least one story of some officer involved in a struggle for his weapon a week. While logic tells us that it is best to flee someone who has a firearm displayed, too many times criminals operate under the influence of drugs or alcohol or both and their judgment is seriously impaired. Then we have the serious problem of too many folks who years ago would be confined to a state mental hospital for care and treatment running around at loose ends until they finally have a psychotic breakdown and are no longer functioning in anything that approaches a rational mode. The old saw of just racking the slide will make them run away just isn’t based on reality.

  7. Thank you for your reply Wiburn, I await your research on the shorter barrel .357. If needed I will go with the 4″.

  8. Actually, my favorite snub-nosed revolver is a S&W N-frame custom in .45 ACP that a good friend built for me many years ago. Heavy enough that the recoil is negligible. I started life as a S&W Model 20 .38 special and a duty weapon for the Pueblo Police Dept. (Engraved in mainspring housing)
    It is rough- finished in sandlasted grey Parkerizing. I use full-moon clips in it.

  9. Speaking as a 62 year old 113lb woman, with weak wrists and arthritis, I will say that I have decided to mostly carry my Smith and Wesson 642, which is a 38, or the sig p238. The Smith does have enough recoil to cause pain if fired many times. But I can handle it for the five shots it holds. It is an up close weapon, and if I can’t resolve the problem up close with five shots, I am probably in more trouble than I can get out of anyhow. I simply cannot conceal or handle a 357. Even in my model 19 with a short barrel, I use 38’s. The Sig p238 has a slide that I seem to be able to consistently operate, which is something that frequently proves difficult with other semi-autos. So, depending on what I am wearing, those are my choices.

    1. Kathy,

      Please take a look at the 380 ACP round, in a Smith & Wesson Shield M&P model with a green laser.

      It’s basically a pocket pistol, and as you remember the 380 ACP is also called a nine millimeter short!

      The federal HST line of ammo provides excellent results in 380 ACP, nine millimeter, and the other calibers that you can get in that line!

      I carry a full size 9 and my magazines are loaded with 147 grain Federal HST jhp. Those .38 width bullets expand to nearly three quarters of an inch upon impact!

      The expansion rates on the 380 ACP are not quite that good, but still phenomenal! The addition of that green laser allows you to shoot faster than bringing up a regularly sighted pistol to your eye level!

      Basically, the laser allows you, in computer terms, to point and shoot! Further, the 380acp is a super low recoil round.

      Go to tn9outdoors on YouTube and take a look at his ballistic gel test. What you will find is some phenomenally excellent ballistic results that will provide you with the information you need to make a wise choice, should you need to go to a 380 ACP.

  10. Wife and I are both in our mid 70’s and never leave the house without a snub nose, most of the time with .38 +p. I have been shooting revolvers sense the late 1950’s. Have a 4″ .357 six shot Dan Wesson loaded with .357 and two speed loaders that sits on the night stand every night and sleep like a baby. Have never felt out gunned with a revolver because when you pull the trigger, 99.9 % of the time you will hear a loud bang. Granted pistols are much better than they use to be but I am a revolver boy.

    1. I’m in my early 70s and have carried my Ruger SP 101 snub 358 mag for as long as I’ve had my concealed carry permit. It is always ready to be used to defend my wife and I and those I love. If I should need a backup I also carry a S&W Bodyguard 380 ACP . Both weapons are reliable and I can count on them in a life threatening situation. I use Hornady Critical Defence ammo in both weapons. When concealment is a problem I use a S&W Airweight 38 special, but only when concealment is a problem. The Ruger SP 101 and the S&W Airweight are in IWB holsters and the Bodyguard in a inside the pocket holster. These weapons, I believe, are more than enough fire power.

    2. Richard G,

      I used to carry Hornady Critical Defense, but then I watched several YouTube videos by tn9outdoors.

      He did a very scientific full scale ballistic testing scenario using various loads for the 9 millimeter, the 380 ACP, and the 40 S&W.

      I had originally chosen to go with a 115 grain or 124 grain Critical Defense in nine millimeter.

      However, after watching all of the ballistic tests, I chose the 147 grain nine millimeter jhp, by Federal in their HST line.

      The reason is that in my All Steel full size nine millimeter sidearm, the heavier bullet doesn’t give me all that much more recoil, but it does expand to nearly three quarters of an inch and only penetrates to 13 inches, using the FBI Denim and ballistics gel test!

      Penetration is an issue, because as you will know, we are responsible for every round that we shoot!

      Over penetration by any round has an excellent chance of hitting an innocent bystander!

      Please remember, according to FBI data the average distance in a real firefight is 7 to 10 feet!

      I’ve seen some data which says seven yards, which is 21 feet, but the bottom line is that if you’ve got a bullet that penetrates 16 to 24 inches, or more, that bullet will pass all the way through the assailant, and into some poor soul behind him or her!

      This is why I continue to go to YouTube to take a look at ballistics tests by reliable reviewers, so that I can continue to be on top of the physics involved, in life and death situations!

      Tn9 Outdoors also did a ballistic test on 380 ACP ammo, which is why, when I can afford to buy a pocket pistol, it is going to be the Smith & Wesson Shield M&P model, in 380 ACP with a green laser!

      Federal HST ammo is superb and delivers great transference of kinetic energy without over penetration!

      Let’s face it, being above the ground rather than six feet below it, even at this point in life, is still a good idea!

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