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Cartridge Clash: .357 Mag. Vs. .44 Rem. Mag.

Author Brad Fitzpatrick explores the pros and cons of the .357 Mag. versus the .44 Rem. Mag. cartridges. Hunters limited to straight-walled cartridges for big game and shooters interested in crossover cartridges for both rifle and revolver, take note. 

Cartridge Clash: .357 Mag. Vs. .44 Rem. Mag.

A sizeable portion of America’s 15 million or so hunters live in states where they are limited to straight-wall cartridges for big game. And while there have been some new cartridges designed to tap into this market in addition to classics like the .45-70, there’s growing interest in crossover cartridges that allow you to use the same cartridge in both your revolver and rifle.

The legendary Elmer Keith was one of the earliest voices calling for a souped-up factory .38 Spl. handgun round. Maj. D.B. Wesson took up the idea, lengthening the .38 case by .135 inch so the new round would not chamber in .38 Spl. revolvers. In 1935 the new hot-rod .38 arrived in factory form as the .357 Mag. While intended as a revolver cartridge, gunsmiths soon started modifying Winchester Model 92s to accommodate the round, and soon Winchester and Marlin both were offering .357 lever-action rifles.

Keith wasn’t content to stop with his fingerprints on one magnum handgun cartridge, and pretty soon he was at work converting the .44 Special into something a bit more potent. This led to the release of the .44 Rem. Mag. in 1956, a big-bore round that was to become the standard choice for handgun hunters and for bear defense.

While .357 Mag. handguns are considered effective for deer at very close range, a .357 Mag. rifle is a different animal altogether. For example, Federal’s 125-grain jacketed hollowpoint produces a muzzle velocity of 1,440 fps for 575 ft.-lbs. of energy at the muzzle from a four-inch test barrel. By contrast, the company’s .357 Mag. Hammer Down hunting ammunition pushes a 170-grain bonded hollowpoint at 1,610 fps from the muzzle and generates 978 ft.-lbs. of energy at the muzzle from a rifle-length barrel. At 100 yards the Hammer Down load is still carrying 634 ft.-lbs.

Of course, the .44 Mag. trumps these numbers. Hammer Down .44 Mag. ammunition drives a 270-grain .44 Mag. bullet at 1,715 fps, and that equates to 1,763 ft.-lbs. of energy at the muzzle. At 100 yards it’s still generating just over 1,200 ft.-lbs. of energy.

Considering that 1,500 ft.-lbs.of energy is considered suitable for elk-size game and 1,000 ft.-lbs. is considered the minimum for deer, the .44 Mag. Hammer Down load is actually suitable for large animals—up to and including bears—at close range and deer out to just past 100 yards.

The .357 can’t match that, but it’s no slouch. Speer Reloading Manual 13 describes the .357 as suitable for hunting light-bodied deer to 100 yards as long as bullet design and placement are sufficient. It’s plenty suitable for hogs as close range, and its low recoil allows you to make faster follow-up shots.

Both the .357 Mag. and .44 Rem. Mag. have, over the years, been offered in a wide array of lever guns from Marlin, Winchester, Rossi and others—as well as in single-shots from Ruger, Traditions, CVA and more. Ruger offers both 77/357 and 77/44 bolt-action rifles, and previously the company produced the Model 44 semiauto. In the 1980s my father had to dissuade me from spending most of my summer wages on a slide-action IMI Timberwolf .357 Mag., since straight-walls weren’t yet legal for hunting in Ohio.

MidwayUSA currently lists 73 different .357 Mag. loads versus 64 for the .44 Mag., although a higher percentage of .44 Mag. loads are designed for hunting. Ammo for the .44 Mag. is slightly more expensive, ranging from about $1 each to $3.50 or so for premium hunting loads. Ammo for the .357 Mag. is about 20 percent less expensive.

Which one is right for you? If you like the idea of lower recoil and less expensive ammo and are willing to keep shots on deer-size game relatively close, the .357 Mag. works just fine. If you need more range and more power, the .44 Mag. is your best option.

.357 Mag. Vs. .44 Rem. Mag. Hits and Misses



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