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.

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Comments (62)

  1. One cool thing is that they make revolvers in 22, 380, 9mm, 40 cal and 45 (as well as others I’m sure) that can be used as a back up to your auto and even use the same interchangeable ammo.

  2. I carried nothing but autos for as long as I can remember. I never liked revolvers even growing up I hated them. Once I got older and realized that I’ve never had to shoot anyone, nor is it a daily issue that a revolver would suit me fine. This is my preference and by no means a suggestion for anyone else. It’s just what I personally like. A 5 shot revolver is enough for me because I don’t plan on being a hero of say a bank were getting robbed as I’m not going to risk my life for an insurance company’s money. If someone else was likely to die I’d have to cross that unlikely bridge if and when I get to it. I carry a gun as a means to get myself out of harms way. I do not have a kids to worry about, but I do have my dog which I would also protect with my gun if necessary because she’s like my kid to me. This won’t likely be a scenario since I can’t take her into most places. I carry speed strips and a speed loader with up to 29 rounds. I carry 4 strips with all 6 rounds filled. Even though I have a 5 shot gun I carry, I may as well add the 6th round for more extra as it doesn’t interfere with reloading and the speed loader is even quicker. If someone walks up and puts a gun in my back, no gun is going to help me in that moment. If I go for my gun and they intend to shoot me, I’ll be shot. Situational awareness is a very important factor that some have and some don’t. Again, this is just what I like and I come from carrying only autos for a long time. Situational awareness is something that some people have and some do not though type of gun you carry is certainly not an indicator of how much attention you pay to your surroundings. I have a 5 shot 357 and a 7 shot 358 as well and 5 38 specials and I usually have 2 J frames on me so that’s 10 rounds readily available. I guess I just love old school weapons. However, if I had a kid or kids, I may think differently. To each their own, but I love my revolvers and they are pretty reliable. I’ve been at the range when a light primer strike happens in an auto and I have to recock the hammer to shoot (unless it’s a double action auto which I do own as well) or rack the slide again if it doesn’t go off. With the revolver, when that has happened at the range, I just pull again and boom. Then once I hit the last round, I pull the trigger a few times until that round comes up and it has always went off the second time for me every time, but that’s not by any means a guarantee that it will, but it’s still loaded and ready at least whereas a SA auto, you lose that round, but you have more to begin with in an auto. I have had jams with my autos as well, and never with my revolers, but that is because they have been ammo specific and certain rounds wouldn’t fire as well as others. I did have once with my Taurus 605, after shooting a few cylinders of heavy powerful 357 rounds it would lock up on one chamber every time through the cylinder. If I pulled, the trigger would not go back, but if I let off and pulled again it would fire. I worked it out with empty rounds in the cylinder and I just kept working it and it worked itself out thankfully. Since, I shot heavy rounds, but not those Buffalo Bore 180gr Magnum rounds and no issues. They each have their own advantages and disadvantages, it’s just up to the user to decide. Me, personally, I wish more people would give up on revolvers so the crazy price of the older Smiths and Colts would go back down lol! Whatever you choose to carry, be safe, God bless and I hope it works out for you and remember, paying attention to your surroundings may save your life better than your gun can. At least hopefully that’s how it goes. At least we all love guns and most love both kind, so if auto users don’t like revolvers, at least we can all agree that guns are awesome.

  3. I purchased my S&W 360 PD about one year ago and I love it. At 11.7/14.x oz. it is like wearing nothing at all. The size makes it work well in a pocket holster too. It does not get a steady diet of .357s when I am at the range but when I do shoot mags the soft grip it comes equipped with makes the recoil tolerable. I gave up five shots when I switched from my Glock 29SF but I have a couple of 5 Star speed loaders should I have the need. On speed loaders in compact revolvers I would recommend – Do no not go with the less expensive options, they do not work nearly as well as the 5 Star brand.

  4. Clothing, Blood and muck could effect the slide but just as likely if not more is the change in gas pressure with the gun against the body. Could cause a reycyling/ejection problem the you have a jam. Won’t happen with a snubby.

  5. Well aren’t you completely stupid.
    It has been repeatedly PROVEN , by such notables as Jeff Cooper and U.S. government that a pistols are far less likely to jam than revolvers.
    If you want to pimp Ruger, so be it. I’ll protect myself and those I love with my Semi-auto pistols

    1. I’d maybe give this to you on sand/mud torture tests, although no gun is immune to such conditions and very few perform well. The revolver is king in the draw/empty without malfunction. There are just so many fewer variables when compared to any semi auto. Imperfect draw, limp wristing, pushing out of battery, defective ammo, magazines, cycling obstructions, clogging… The revolver is nearly immune to these conditions when compared to the semi auto. The recover is much easier to deem reliable and simpler to use. They aren’t really simple mechanisms, but are simple to operate. The main disadvantage of the carry revolver is capacity/reloading. Statistically a non issue in most confrontations but it’s a clear disadvantage. I carried a taurus 605 with shrouded hammer with a clip draw attached successfully for years working construction, and will buy a Smith 649 eventually to replace it cause there’s few things as effective/thoughtless. That said, I do like to shoot/carry autos and would prefer a reliable full size double stack in an armed confrontation.

  6. The problem with the 357 snubby is that is is the same power as a 9 mm with much more blast and recoil. I chose a S&W model 60 with 3″ barrel instead. Instead of 400 ft# of energy, I can get 787 ft# of energy. The 357 with a 2″ barrel is a waste of powder. The recoil and noise make you think it is a powerhouse, but it is not.

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