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. Ok, time to eat your hearts out guys – I have a COLT MAGNUM CARRY .357, Python trigger works, 6 shot, stainless. Smoother than silk in double action, breaks like glass in single. The BEST OF THE BEST 2″ BARREL Revolver that I have ever found or read about.

  2. I have been searching for a Kimber K6s .357 Magnum revolver ever since I first read about it in a number of the gun magazines to which I subscribe. At a recent gun show, in Waco, I found one, and it is everything that the reviews said it is. It is a beautifully executed piece of machinery, being the size of a J-frame with a six chamber cylinder. It is brightly polished, and has absolutely no sharp edges or corners. It is truly a gem of a snub revolver. I noticed that it has blue neoprene grips on it made by Crimson Trace, so that piqued my curiosity, and much to my delight I found that Crimson Trace does market a laser sight for it in the form of LaserGrips. I currently have a set on order, and once I have them mounted, I suspect that I will have a truly magnificent piece of firearms craftsmanship that will likely be my very favorite snub revolver.

  3. Sorry to hear you got sucked into that Scrap & Worthless was a better gun. I tried the EAA Windicator .357 Snubby, but the trigger was not good for me. Love the SP101, the only gun my wife feels confident with.

  4. I used to have an SP 101. I wished I still had it. I traded it for a S&W 638, huge mistake! Someday I will have have another SP 101. I recently purchased a new EAA Windicator .357 Snubby. It’s a great gun for the money! It was less than half the cost of an SP 101! It’s not as refined, or quite as accurate as an SP, but It gets the job done. I would recommend it to anyone who wants an affordable snubby.

  5. The SP 101 SN ‘with the spurless hammer is what I carry loaded with snake shot. Has saved me several times. Fantastically tough gun, carry it in very dirty conditions.

  6. I have had a Ruger SP101 hammerless .357 magnum snub nose by which I swear by.

    only twice in all the time I have had this revolver, did I have to reach for it, freeing it from its holster, but not having to aim and shoot. [did enough of that stuff while doing ‘robust military service’]

    easy to clean, very smooth action, and accurate, [if I am ;aiming’ it] out to about 3-5 yards.

    but actually it is a ‘belly gun’. or, my ‘Heaven Help Me’ ‘gun’.

    I am in my sixties, with multiple disabilities, and want to feel safe. I practice fire with it monthly, believing that practice makes perfect.

    being a disabled military veteran citizen, I do NOT go looking for trouble.

    and like I said, the two times that trouble appeared to have looked for and found me, having it at the ready, precluded severe harm to me as well as possible death.

    thank you very much Ruger Firearms Company. ‘ya done good’ by me.

    1. I’m right there with you, no I’m only 59, I started out with a very bad disease, that’s gotten worse as I’ve gotten older.

      Knees are completely shot, so quote on quote running away, is not an option!

      I carry a full size CZ 85 Bravo, and I had an SP101, I would like to kept it, but financially all I could do was trade it, for some money and another gun, so that I could finally afford my CZ!

      Had I my druthers, I would once again carry a Smith & Wesson model 60 3 inch barrel, in great shape. It is a jframe if I remember right, and it shoots as smooth as silk.

      My CZ I carry in an el cheapo (but comfortable $15) shoulder rig, because I shoot great follow-up shots because of the CZ slide design, and the bullet choice for the all metal frame and slide.

      My choices would be 3 inch barrel, in the Smith & Wesson model 60, or the Ruger SP101, or that new Taurus Allsteel Snubbie.

      The laws of physics cannot be obviated, and the force of recoil must go somewhere: I prefer to let the weight of the revolver take part of the recoil, rather than letting it go all the way through my hand and into my wrist!

      It Is My Hope, but I will one day be able to afford a CZ 2075 Rami, and a Smith and Wesson bodyguard Shield model and 380 ACP, with a green laser; which would be my pocket pistol, otherwise known as a mouse gun!

      We old folks have a lot of problems, as do we crippled folks, but regardless of what our problems are, and our political beliefs are or our religious beliefs are, none of us deserve to have the hell beat out of us, where the windup in a wheelchair or in a pine box.

      A good snubby, are bona fide pocket pistol or Mouse gun, fits the bill for this crippled up old man!

  7. Many a Viet Cong was taken out of commission by the S&W Combat Masterpiece Model 15 revolver which was previously in service by the Air Force Security Police and a snub nosed version carried by air crew members including B-52 crews. Do not count it out.

  8. Age, Hand Strength, & Arthritis have changed how & what I carry. I have what I consider serious Semi-Auto’s in .380 & 9mm with 3 Revolvers. In Florida especially during the summer the size & bulk matters as well. My first F/A in early ’80’s is a S&W M&P Model 65 .357 3″ Ported, firepower reliability are high priority. I use speed loaders nearby & still practice. In 90’s got a S&W S/S Model 640 2″ from their Custom Shop rated in +P with a Top Ported Barrel & very smooth trigger. Until I got it & practiced I thought that a small barrel wasn’t one accurate at 25 yards. Concealed Hammer which opens up shooting options, being ported more controllable, and one that has been 100% under all conditions. Sure if I was in a multi-person defense I’d also like my Berretta Model 92 Hi-Cap 9mm which I do carry in Winter with a Jacket. The best firearm to carry is one with stopping power, comfortable, accurate & reliable which is what the S&W Custom is. I also carry the S&W Model 65 with .357 Magnum, but when I also have the S&W 640 with me load both with 38+P Critical Defense. Grips make a real difference as well depending on your hands. I have a Pachmayr Grip for the S&W Model 65 & an Uncle Mike’s Boot Grip for the S&W 640.

  9. “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.”

    How would blood that was blown into the slide cause a semi-auto to jam?

    1. Bronson,

      You were kidding right?

      What part of the word ‘blockage’ do you not understand?

      Blood is a very viscous commodity, and slapping something sticky in a slide is not, what I would refer to as an act of intelligence!

      Revolvers on the other hand operate completely differently, obviously, than a semi-auto.

      It’s going to take a lot, I repeat a humongous amount, of viscous material to clog up a snubby revolver!

      Snubbies were designed to be used when you are looking eyeball-to-eyeball into the person you’re about to shoot! I State this because that’s how blood is actually going to get onto the revolver, or the semi auto!

      This stuff may sound like Theory to you, but trust me it’s not Theory!

      Basically, think of it in these terms: the situation is such that you are about to lose your life, you’ve got a pine box right there beside you, and there is a very unpleasant person who is determined to put you in that pine box!

      So the question is this, which tool that you get to use only once, are you going to choose, to make sure that you do not end up in that pine box??

      In such Close Quarters, I’ll take a Snubby!!

    2. Clogging the action of a semiauto pistol…..or even a revolver….. with biological debris and clothing may be a consideration in employing one’s firearm in a contact shot. That said, however, the principal reason that semiauto pistols can fail in contact shooting is because pressure of the muzzle against the body of the intended target can…..and usually does…..push the slide far enough out of battery to render a disconnection of the firing train (trigger-trigger link-sear-hammer/striker) thus resulting in a malfunction and failure to fire.

    3. James,

      That is one of the best explanations and post I have seen.

      Very good analogy!


      Bob Campbell

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