357 Magnum vs 44 Magnum

357 Magnum vs 44 Magnum

Let's take a side-by-side look at the 357 Magnum vs 44 Magnum calibers. We'll analyze history, ballistics and availability to help you determine which one of these revolver heavy hitters is best for you.

When it comes to powerful revolver cartridges, two of the most popular, effective, and well-known options are the .357 Magnum and the .44 Magnum. Both deliver decent accuracy, tremendous energy, and versatile performance.

They make a useful option at the range, on the hunt, and can even be used for personal defense.

So which is right for your needs? Let’s explore 357 Magnum vs 44 Magnum in a magnum caliber match-up to see if one would be best for your shooting.

 .357 Magnum .44 Magnum
Year Released19341955
Rim Diameter.440 inches.514 inches
Bullet Diameter.357 inches.429 inches
Case Length1.29 inches1.285 inches
Total Length1.59 inches1.61 inches
Bullet Weight125 to 180 Grain180 to 300 Grain

357 Magnum vs 44 Magnum

Price Comparison

357 magnum vs 44 magnum ammo side by side

Most shooters, on some level, are concerned with price. Although both of these handgun cartridges are not generally used in high-volume shooting, a difference of only a few dimes per shot can make a big difference over a lifetime of ownership. Although pricing will depend on where and how you buy, you’ll usually find that the .357 Magnum ammo is a more affordable round.

.44 Magnum ammo is larger, and tends to be less common than the .357 Magnum. There can certainly be overlaps in pricing, but in general the .357 Magnum is a better choice for price-sensitive gun owners.

Bullet Size (Diameter and Weight)

357 magnum revolver with ammunition

Bullet size is probably the main physical difference between these two cartridges. This is made clear in the naming of the two. (.44 is, after all, a larger number than .357, although the “.44” comes from the rim diameter, while “.357” comes from the bullet diameter.) The size difference it can also be seen in the bullet weight. The range of bullet sizes for the .357 is roughly 125 to 180 grains, while .44 Magnum ammo has bullets ranging as high as 300 ft-lbs.

Rim Diameter

A 44 magnum revolver by Smith & Wesson with Barnes ammunition

Looking at the cartridges side by side, it’s immediately clear that the .44 Magnum is the larger cartridge, especially in rim diameter. So not only does it have a heavier bullet, but it packs more propellant behind the heavier projectile. This comes into play when we start to look at the performance of these cartridges.

Performance of 357 Mag vs 44 Mag

Which Round is Faster?

LoadMuzzle Velocity25 Yard Velocity
357 Mag - 158 Gr. Federal American Eagle JSP1,240 fps1,187 fps
44 Mag - 240 Gr. Federal American Eagle JSP1,270 fps1,204 fps
357 Mag - 140 Gr. Barnes Expander JHP1,400 fps1,326 fps
44 Mag - 225 Gr. Barnes Expander JHP1,280 fps1,209 fps
357 Mag - 140 Gr. Remington Copper XPB 1,265 fps1,192 fps
44 Mag - 225 Gr. Remington Copper XPB1,235 fps1,172 fps

Measuring muzzle velocity of each caliber with a chronograph at a shooting range

Velocity is one of the most important factors for accuracy, energy, and terminal performance. In almost all cases, the more speed you have, the better a cartridge and bullet will perform. As we see from the three comparable couples above, the .357 Magnum was faster in two of the three comparisons, and it also had the fastest overall velocity.

But the differences aren’t what most of us would consider significant. The bottom line is simple: although there are differences in speeds, gun owners really won’t select one or the other based on velocities.

Winner: .357 Magnum (Slight victory)

Muzzle Energy Comparison

LoadMuzzle Energy25 Yard Energy
357 Mag - 158 Gr. Federal American Eagle JSP539 ft-lbs494 ft-lbs
44 Mag - 240 Gr. Federal American Eagle JSP859 ft-lbs772 ft-lbs
357 Mag - 140 Gr. Barnes Expander JHP609 ft-lbs546 ft-lbs
44 Mag - 225 Gr. Barnes Expander JHP818 ft-lbs730 ft-lbs
357 Mag - 140 Gr. Remington Copper XPB 498 ft-lbs442 ft-lbs
44 Mag - 225 Gr. Remington Copper XPB762 ft-lbs687 ft-lbs

For handguns, energy is an extremely important factor, especially if the cartridge is being used for hunting or personal defense. If muzzle or downrange energy is a concern, the .44 Magnum is your best choice. In all three comparisons, we see the .44 Magnum has higher muzzle energy and energy after 25 yards.

The highest muzzle and downrange energy was by the .44 Magnum, while the lowest came from the .357 Magnum. This does not make the .357 a weak cartridge by any means, it simply can’t match the extreme force of the .44 Mag. There are very few situations where the .357 Magnum is the weaker cartridge; this happens to be one of them.

357 Mag vs 44 Mag: Which Is Better for Self-Defense?

To get an idea of what each cartridge is capable of for self-defense, we set-up a small test using synthetic ballistic gelatin. We picked a common self-defense load for each caliber. For 357 Magnum, that was Federal’s 158 Grain Hydra-Shok round. For 44 Magnum, we went with the 225 grain Barnes hollow point ammo.

From 10 yards out, we fired each of the cartridges through a 4-layer cloth barrier into the ballistic gelatin. This follows similar protocol to how the Federal Bureau of Investigation tests ammunition.

gel testing results with a block of ballistic gelatin with two wound tracks in it

The 357 Magnum round penetrated beyond the 16-inch gel block and into a second block. It ended up penetrating about 22 inches total. According to the FBI’s standards, that’s more penetration than is ideal. You can see the wound channel created by the 357 magnum round inside the blue box in the photo above.

The 44 Magnum round got to the end of the first gel block and then almost stopped. It just barely penetrated into Block #2. So, just about 16″ of penetration for it, which falls into the FBI’s desired range of 12-18 inches. The photo above shows the 44 Magnum’s wound channel with a red box around it.

As far as expansion goes, the 357 Magnum expanded to a final diameter of about .6 inches. The 44 Magnum really mushroomed out. It came to rest with expansion of just shy of .9 inches in the gel. You can see each expanded bullet we recovered from the ballistic gelatin in the photo below.

expanded hollow point bullets recovered from ballistic gelatin

Our recovered 357 magnum 158 grain Hydra-Shok bullet (left) next to the recovered Barnes 44 Magnum bullet (right).

Winner: .44 Magnum

Downrange Ballistics

Load50 Yards (Zeroed at 25)
357 Mag - 158 Gr. Federal American Eagle JSP-.6 inches
44 Mag - 240 Gr. Federal American Eagle JSP-.6 inches
357 Mag - 140 Gr. Barnes Expander JHP-.3 inches
44 Mag - 225 Gr. Barnes Expander JHP-.6 inches
357 Mag - 140 Gr. Remington Copper XPB -.6 inches
44 Mag - 225 Gr. Remington Copper XPB-.7 inches

Although trajectory is more important for rifle ammunition, it still makes a difference in handguns. In this case, the .357 Magnum has slightly less drop than the .44 Magnum, which is likely due to the fact that they have similar speeds but the .357 has lighter bullets. The .357 Magnum Barnes expander with 140-grain bullets had the lowest drop; it’s probably no coincidence that it also had the lightest bullet.

Winner: .357 Magnum (Slight victory)

Final Decision: Choosing the .357 Magnum or .44 Magnum

A box of 357 magnum ammo with an expanded bullet next to a box of 44 magnum ammo with an expanded bullet

So which is the best choice for your needs? To be fair, you can use either cartridge  for hunting a wide variety of game and both deliver plenty of force for personal defense. If you want a hard-thumping round for the range, you’ll be happy with either.

But if you want to hunt larger game with a revolver, the .44 Magnum is your best choice. This round has the capability to drop large game like elk and buffalo, and can even be used to kill a polar bear.

But the .357 Magnum has one advantage: reduced recoil. While it may not be the best choice for a shooter who struggles with recoil, it certainly has a lighter thump than the powerful .44 Magnum. In the end, this could be the deciding factor in your ammunition choice.

No matter which cartridge you select in the 357 Magnum vs 44 Magnum debate, you’ll find the ammunition you need at ammotogo.com.

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