Back in the day (1982) I purchased a S&W Model 66-2 .357 Combat Magnum. U.S. Customs allowed agents to carry personally owned handguns until 1998 when Customs Commissioner Raymond Kelly, now the NYPD Commissioner, stopped the practice. Customs was the last major federal agency to allow personal firearms for duty carry. Many of the “old timers” carried 1911 .45 ACP pistols until Kelly came along. Customs went downhill from there, imploding into the Department of Homeland Stupidity in 2003. But I digress.
A 1986 gun battle that occurred in Miami-Dade between eight FBI agents and two serial bank robbers armed with Ruger Mini-14 semi-automatic carbines was the beginning of the end for law enforcement issued revolvers. During the firefight, FBI Special Agents Jerry L. Dove and Benjamin P. Grogan were killed, and five other agents were wounded. The two robbery suspects, William Russell Matix and Michael Lee Platt, were also killed during the shootout.
This incident led to the introduction of higher capacity semi-automatic handguns in law enforcement throughout the United States. Law enforcement initially went to high capacity S&W 9mm semi-automatic pistols like the Model 6906 issued by Customs. My .357 Combat Magnum went into the gun safe.
9mm stopping power proved to be substandard to .357 magnum loads and hot .38 +P loads that law enforcement officers had carried for years in six shot revolvers.
The FBI began the search for a more powerful caliber and cartridge. The Smith & Wesson 1076, chambered for the 10mm Auto round, was chosen as a direct result of the Miami shootout. The sharp recoil of the 10mm Auto later proved too much for most agents to control effectively, and a special reduced velocity loading of the 10mm Auto round was developed, commonly referred to as the “10mm Lite” or “10mm FBI”.
Smith and Wesson soon discovered that the long case of the 10mm Auto was not necessary to produce the decreased ballistics of the FBI load. Smith and Wesson developed a shorter cased cartridge based on the 10mm that would ultimately replace the 10mm as the primary FBI service cartridge, the .40 S&W caliber.
The .40 S&W became more popular than its parent due to the ability to chamber the shorter cartridge in standard frame automatic pistols designed initially for the 9 mm Parabellum. Other than a .142” reduction in overall case length, resulting in less gunpowder capacity in the .40 S&W; the 10mm and .40 S&W are identical in projectile diameter, both using a 0.400” caliber bullet.
The .357 SIG pistol cartridge was developed in 1994, to duplicate the performance of 125-grain .357 Magnum loads fired from 4-inch barreled revolvers, in a cartridge designed to be used in a semi-automatic pistol. The .357 SIG provides a self-defense cartridge closer to the performance of a 125 gr .357 Magnum. It’s an excellent round and I own a SIG P239 SAS chambered in .357 SIG.
Yesterday I grabbed on old box of Federal (357B) and picked up a new box of Remington (R357M1) at Walmart before heading to the range with my Model 66 Combat Magnum to see how the .357 Sig compared. I’m neither a scientist nor a ballistics expert. Over the past 36 years I have fired hundreds of thousands of revolver and pistols rounds in the .380, 9mm, .38, .357SIG, .357Magnum, and .45ACP calibers.
I’m convinced that the most effective single shot round that I’ve ever fired from a handgun is the .357 Federal 357B or Remington R357M1 round from a 4 inch revolver.
Yesterday indicated to me that after all the research and development over the last twenty five years, the most effective handgun round on the market (regardless of caliber) is still the Federal .357 Magnum 125 grain jacketed hollow point (357B). This load has as much stopping power as any other handgun bullet, including more powerful rounds like the .41 and .44 Magnums. The Remington full-power 125 grain semi-jacketed hollow point (R357M1) is equally effective.
Three different shooters came by to ask me if I was shooting a .44 Magnum. All three were shooting .45 ACP pistols at different times during the morning, when they heard the rapport of my .357 magnum. I was mixing in the Remington .357 rounds with various .38 +p rounds in the same cylinder. It was like going from a .22 to a .45ACP when the hammer fell on a .38+P followed by a .357 Federal 357B or Remington R357M1.
If you’re an experienced revolver shooter and a marksman who wants access to the most effective handgun round currently available, I advise you to carry Federal 357B or Remington full-power 125 grain semi-jacketed hollow points (R357M1) in a .357 Combat Magnum or similar revolver.
However, I don’t recommend these rounds for the majority of handgun owners. The 357B and other full-power .357 Magnums have a lot of blast and kick. Even when “police special” revolvers were carried by virtually all law enforcement officers in the U.S., most officers carried .38 not .357 rounds in their service handguns.
If you are not comfortable with the buck and roar of full-house .357 Magnums and can’t consistently and accurately put the rounds on target, I would strongly suggest that you use a lower-recoil round. Controllability is important, and you will be able to fire lower-recoil rounds more rapidly and accurately. There are many other good self defense handgun rounds, including .357 loads that have excellent stopping power and don’t pack the punch of these two rounds.
I don’t expect the S&W Combat Magnum to become my primary concealed carry self defense handgun. But I can assure you its days hiding in my the gun safe are over.
Here’s my credo: There are no good guns, There are no bad guns. A gun in the hands of a bad man is a bad thing. Any gun in the hands of a good man is no threat to anyone, except bad people. -Charlton Heston, a great American and Second Amendment supporter, who I was fortunate enough to meet in 1982, while on assignment at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, armed with a Diplomatic Security Service issued S&W Model 19 .357 revolver