While the 1950s and 1960s may have been the height of the magnum craze in the US, that magnum craze was largely confined to rifle ammunition. Handgun ammunition’s magnum craze had been ignited long before then, with the introduction of the .357 Magnum in 1934.
The development of the .357 Magnum came during the era of bootleggers and gangsters, with police constantly looking to increase their firepower to be able to shoot through car doors and body armor. Many policemen at the time were armed with .38 Special revolvers, which were wholly inadequate for those tasks.
The .38 Special had originally been developed as a blackpowder cartridge, and thus performance even with smokeless powder was kept low in order not to destroy older revolvers. By using larger amounts of smokeless powder at significantly higher pressures, the .357 Magnum was born, offering a significant increase in performance over both the .38 Special as well as pistol cartridges such as the 9mm Luger and .45 ACP.
Whereas the .38 Special might offer a 125-grain bullet traveling at 900 feet per second from a revolver, or a 158-grain bullet at 850 feet per second, the .357 Magnum can push a 125-grain bullet at up to 1,650 feet per second, a 158-grain bullet at up to 1,400 feet per second, or a 200-grain bullet at nearly 1,300 feet per second, all at pressures under 35,000 PSI and from a 6” barrel. Velocities are even higher when fired out of rifles, with the 158-grain bullets traveling at 1,750 feet per second, and the 200-grain bullets at up to 1,500 feet per second. That offers between 1,000 and 1,100 foot-pounds of muzzle energy when fired from a rifle.
The .357 Magnum case had to be made 1/8” longer than that of the .38 Special, to prevent the stronger .357 Magnum ammunition from being fired in firearms chambered for the weaker .38 Special. One benefit of that is that firearms chambered for .357 Magnum can also fire .38 Special if needed, in order to teach younger shooters, or for training and practice purposes.
With the ability to be fired out of both rifles and revolvers, the .357 Magnum can also serve as a useful cartridge for those looking to use the same cartridges in both a handgun and a rifle. The same ammunition can be fired from both, giving someone an effective man-stopper in a revolver and a decent hunting cartridge in a rifle. Performance of the .357 Magnum out of a rifle is sufficient to take deer and black bear with the right hunting bullets.
If you’re in the market for a cartridge that can do double duty, that can be found anywhere in the country, and that can serve effectively in any survival scenario, you’ll want to take a look at the .357 Magnum.