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Cricket bought a handgun and has some questions

Here is Castle Commenter Cricket's post (she left it in a comment, and I promised to post it for her).

I finally broke down and bought my revolver. It is a Taurus .357 magnum; it fires .38 rounds as well. What is the difference in the grains? I know about caliber (larger size), so what makes a magnum a magnum versus a special? I bought the revolver because I do not have the ability (yet) to work the slide on an automatic, and it felt right in my hand. The heft, the balance; it just felt like it belonged there. I know it will have a kick (duh) and I am prepared for that, but the main issue is the difference between the rounds and *why* it can fire two different calibers and types of grain.
I'm with Cricket on being able to use a revolver easier than a slide on other handguns, but I'm thinking maybe those are not called automatics? I dunno - all you guys with handgun expertise, please give us lots of info in the comments.  :)


Grains refers to bullet weight. 

Magnum versus Special versus no qualifier is an expression of relative power - i.e., .357 Magnum is more powerful than the .38 Special which is more powerful than the .38 Smith and Wesson.  In fact the rounds were developed in reverse order, each in response to perceived weaknesses in the preceding rounds in terms of stopping power.

While there are experts out there who will argue the point (voluminously, and with charts) the rule of thumb for normals is - shoot what your pistol manufacturer recommends.  Unless you are going to become a gun geek, stick with the known.

Bullet weight matters.  The Castle .357 Desert Eagle Mk I will not cycle reliably on the most commonly available loads of .357 ammunition.  It needs the heavier bullet to develop the proper gas pressures to cycle the action.

Heavier bullets, because they take more oomph to get moving, will create greater pressures in the bore.  Some pistols are designed for that, others are n't (same the is true for rifles, too).

With revolvers, especially older ones, it's entirely possible to buy modern ammo (beware of "P" ammo, the "P" means high pressure, and you need to be sure your weapon was built for it) that will overstress your cylinder.  It may work fine for 10 rounds or 100 rounds.  Or even a thousand.  And then the chamber will blow out, which is hard on your hand and the shooter standing next to you.

So - absent some more detailed data - shoot the ammo your pistol calls for.  And don't listen to the stranger at the range who tells you that the rounds you are shooting are too light and you can shoot *these* rounds which will stop an elephant.

Remember, you're the one who's going to pay the price, not him.

All that said, Cricket - you looking for recommendations for bullets?   Which Taurus did you get?
To give a quick rundown on the "power levels" you can get out of that gun:
  • 38 special is the lightest weight, but you'll want to clean the cylinder of the gun a bit extra, because a 38 special round is a little shorter than a 357.  So you'll get a little extra carbon fouling in each chamber.
  • 38 special +P is the same only loaded "hotter" so it will be noticably more powerful.
  • 38 special +P+ more so.
  • 357 magnum is a little larger, holds more powder, and is even more powerful.
The 38 special and 357 magnum are essentially the same diameter bullet, so they can use the same barrel, which is why it shoots both.  However, you may find guns like one I own that can only shoot 38 special, they're not built strong enough to handle the 357.

As for special vs magnum... that's all marketing.  Each cartridge has different characteristics, but "magnum" was simply a made up term for firearms, just means more powerful, it comes from the extra large wine cask term.

As for revolvers vs automatics, my wife loves her revolver, and I really enjoy shooting both kinds.

I guess what is commonly done:  Use normal 38 special for target practice.  It's cheaper and less kick, and that means you'll get tired less, and enjoy it more.  But ocassionally shoot 357 magnum so you're not surprised by the difference.  Even to the point of putting one 357 in the cylinder with the rest being 38.  Worry about that later, right now just think 38 special and clean the gun extra carefully.  But when you carry the gun or put it in your nightstand for self defense, use 357 rounds as they'll pack more of a "punch" when it may be needed.
While I agree with the above post, I don't think I would worry about +P rounds, if the revolver is chambered for .357 it should withstand the gas pressure from a +P round. I have self loading pistols and revolvers in the house, I keep a .38 special Colt Trooper on the nightstand, if I need it NOW waking from sleep I want the ease of use no frills ability to start shooting without slides, safeties. I like 125 grain HP.
Mike - I was really generalizing out beyond Cricket's exact situation, and doing some CYA, so that someone didn't blow off a finger and say, "But Castle Arggghhh! said it was no big deal..."

Chad did a better job describing it, anyway.
Cricket & John,

The distinction between the magnum vs. the special is attributable to the increased length of the case. And, as a result of the increased load producing higher internal pressures, necessitating an increased rim thickness.

As for the weights of the bullet as applicable for self-defense: While the heavier bullets have more knock-down, in confined spaces, they also have greater penetration potential making over-penetration along with the possibility of collateral damage a cause for thought in choosing the correct round/load.

The only thing I'd change in the above comments, if I were advising one of my own kin, would be to use the same ammo for "on that day of need" and at the range. No real need to go with the heavier bullet for defense needs. It's better to be able to place rounds closer to  where you need them, than adding flinch extra from using a heavier bullet.

Actually, I advise the wimmin folk in my family to keep a "rat shot" (plastic bullet filled with pellets) as the first round in a revolver, for the same reasons I keep a low powered  #9 bird shot as the first chambered round in my own riot gun.

At indoor ranges, that's plenty enough to insert some serious hurt on a fella, and there's way way less worry about shoot-through damage into other rooms which may or may not be occupied by friendlies. Psychologically, it helps a bit if having to fire off the first round with as few collateral worries as possible. If you have to fire off a second round, you're pretty much done worrying about secondary issues and deep into worry about your ownself, so have solid shot for follow up.
Cricket, lets K.I.S.S..
Everything I say here will be a generality so please people, don't pick at nits.
The 38spl and 357mag cartridges are the essentially the same except that the 357mag is a bit longer case. The bullet itself is the same caliber or width. Therefore it will hold a bit more powder and thus push the same size bullet faster. This also makes the gun 'kick' harder in your hand. Since the revolver you have is chambered for the longer cartridge you can shoot the shorter cartridge all day long. You will find both cartridges with bullets that weigh anywhere from around 110 to around 158 grains. Lets say you just use 38spl. The lighter bullets will generally kick less than the heavier assuming that they are just normal pressure cartridges. Same applies as you move up to +p, +p+, and on to 357mag. I would recomend you start shooting regular 38spl 'plinking' rounds at first. As you become accustomed to the gun move up to +p then 357mag.
The 357 'full house' ( meaning full power ) rounds can be painful and hard to shoot for many men so dont take any guff from someone who thinks you are a wimp for not shooting those loads. I carry a S&W M66 with a short barrel and she kicks like a mule with Federal 125gr defence loads but is easier to handle with 110gr Winchester JHPs. I have shot a full IPSC course with the Winchester loads and scored well. I doubt I could do the same with the Fed's. So I choose to carry what I can shoot well with.
The point here is to shoot the load you can control. If you can't shoot one shot right after another fairly quickly your load is to heavy, move down a bit. Making that followup shot is important in real life as well as in matches. Remember that scene from "True Grit"?  Rattlesnakes, eww!
So enjoy your new toy and be safe.
And don't forget: the front sight is put there for a reason, use it.
- Pat

I don't know what state you're in but if you do a search on the state and "concealed carry" you'll probably pull up a nice forum with lots of gun owning friendly folks.  Not only will they help you now, they'll be there if/when you go for a concealed carry permit.

For general info check out - a female friendly gun info site.

Remember too that revolvers while having fewer usable bullets, when fully loaded, are more reliable than automatics.  So make sure you hit what you shoot at with the first round.

And the second, and the third, etc.

Always hit what you shoot at.  Less room for lawsuits.
Cricket - I shoot .357 Magnum rounds (125 gr, as I recall) when I practice.  They definitely kick more than .38spl, but they are what I plan on using to aerate anyone stupid enough to invade casa Way, so that's what I shoot at the range.  The handgun I have is not concealable, though - and within any sight line in the house, I can put the round inside of the 5 ring on a target, which is plenty accurate enough. 
You should start with the lighter rounds if you need some time/practice to get comfortable with the gun.  You can then consider the advice of the guys, as well as the Taurus suggestions, to determine which rounds you want to use for your purpose, and practice with those.  That's my 2 cents worth, ennywho.
It is a Taurus 605.  A .357 on a 38 frame,  five shot.   My question *is* about ammo, as I plan to shoot what the manufacterer recommends, but I would like to practice with the .38 rounds as well.  If the revolver is designed to take a .357 round, and a .38 will foul the gun with more carbon (cleaning it is not a problem), but will still take it, then both are *safe* for the weapon. 

I also would like to commit the heresy of reloading my own ammo once I learn a LOT more.
Barb, I wrote this before I read your comment, so I think my instincts are right.  Your comment gave me a LOT more confidence!

Same with you all.  I do have the CCW permit; got that last spring.  I missed out on getting the Taurus last December and had to wait ten months to get the Taurus.  Georgia is Glock country, but I know of women in my local church congregation who have revolvers because we just can't work that *&$(##& slide!

Keep the comments coming if you think of anything else that would be helpful, and thank you, Beth!

"For general info check out - a female friendly gun info site. "

And I like it too!

Got the wife a nice little .22 auto, she can ring in with what that one is, memory is failing me...  But one warning...if you ever use it, use it until it quits!!!

First, let me do what no one else has done and welcome you to the fine fraternity of wheelgun shooters! Next, let me add a few words about the cartridges for your pistol....

A .357 Magnum cartridge and a .38 Special cartridge are similar in diameter and the bullet in both is .357 (nominal) inches in diameter. The .357 catridge is about .500 inches longer and more powerful. Cartridge naming and nomenclature is a fascinating field in it's own right, John could write several pages on it. The main point is that both cartridges can be fired in your revolver.

The bullet in the cartridge is weighed in grains - 7000 grains to a pound. In my .38 Special, I shoot 158 grain lead wadcutter bullets, a type very suitable for target shooting. A typical defensive round may use a 125 grain hollow-point bullet, for a slightly higher velocity and better expansion. In general, the physics are fairly straightforward - lighter bullets generally travel a little faster, and because kinetic energy = 1/2*m*v^2, faster bullets can produce more "muzzle energy" than slower ones.

It really gets very complicated very quickly - at this point I wouldn't worry about it too much. Here's the main point - your revolver will shoot both the .357 Magnum cartridge and the .38 Special cartridge. The .38 is a little less powerful, but also produces a little less recoil - it is more manageable to shoot, particularly in quantity. That makes it an excellent option for practice and training - and you will want to do a good amount of both to become proficient with the pistol.

So I would suggest to do your day-to-day shooting with the .38 Special and an occasional box of .357 Mag for fun. By all means, look into reloading - handgun shooters go through a lot of ammo, and you can reload for a fraction of what new stuff costs. Talk to the people at your local range - there is a lot of information you can get from other shooters.  And always ask if you aren't sure about something - there is no such thing as a foolish question when dealing with firearms.

Good shooting!

(Nods in agreement to a great deal of good information; grains are a measure of weight, usually bullets are the first things talked about, then if the discussion is in more detail it's propellent -- powder -- which is also so measured.)

I think you may be both more comfortable and more effective in extremis if you load for defense what you practice with; while I think it's true that .357 has more "stopping power", but more important than that is that you're hitting the goblin you're shooting, and shooting familiar ammo can help with that. Do some practice without ear protection, so that you're used to the sound without it, and are not startled into a bad reaction by it. Guns in enclosed spaces are much louder than they are on an open range. Don't over do this; tinnitus is not good.

I suspect you've already learned Cooper's Four Rules, but for those who haven't:

1) All guns are always loaded.
2) Never let the muzzle cover anything you don't want destroyed.
3) Never put your finger on the trigger until you're ready to fire.
4) Always be sure of your target, and what is above, below, beside, beyond, and through that target.

Know them, do them.
It sounds like you people have done this before:-)

Cricket, in case they didn't say it enough, practice, practice, practice.

Oh Yeah, have a lot of fun doing it.
Crocket - one other dynamic that may not have been mentioned : .38 rounds are cheaper than .357 magnum rounds.  That's another very good reason to start there before you move to the .357 mangum ones. 
And I echo the welcome!  I wish we were close enough to join you in practice :-)  BCR and I will have to go to the range and practice, so as to join you 'remotely' ... heh.
"Got the wife a nice little .22 auto,"

Walther, she wanted to say PPK, which we have, a recycled _real_ German Police PK, but that's a 9MM, this is a really sleek .22, and I've told her as I said above, if you ever have to use it, use it until it stops working (i.e., out of bullets).  Saves on lawsuits, somebody said somewhere, somewhen...

The first thing I did at the store when the salesman checked the pistol to see if it was loaded was check it again.  He chuckled, but approved heartily of what I had done.

I will definitely get the two ammo types, and plan on getting a reloading kit as soon as I can.  I do like the information about grain.  Could you also recommend reloading books?

There is no 'heresy' in reloading ammo, EXCEPT in legal defense following a shooting. Some lawyers........

The theory goes that if you use reloads for defense, then you've 'designed' them for extra not nice hurtiness. This theory may not hurt you much in a criminal case (I'm not a lawyer) but it has been used; trying to turn the victim into the predator. It could really hurt you in a civil case.

So, reload for economy and plenty of practice, but use factory for puttin' the actual hurt on!

(It is a wierd world we live in.)

Have fun.
Dennis - that's news to me.  Gotta love a lawyer with not enough to do.