Best .38 Special & .357 Magnum Ammo [2019]

Revolvers were cool in the days of Wild Bill Hickok and they’re still cool now.

They’re practical target guns, reliable self-defense tools, effective hunting implements, and in some cases…downright gorgeous pieces of firearms art.  Don’t have one yet?

Check out our Top .357 Magnum Revolvers.

Art That Goes Bang
Art That Goes Bang

But how do you pick the best ammo for your revolver?

Well that is a question that deserves a long explanation, I’ll cover that in a moment but if you need a simple list now – here you go:

NameBest For
Sellier & Bellot .375 Mag 158 Grain FMJ.357 Magnum Training
American Eagle .38 Spl130 Grain FMJ.38 Special Training
Remington HTP .357 Mag 110 Grain SJHP.357 Magnum Home/Self-Defense
Hornady Critical Defense .38 Spl +P 110 Grain JHP FTX.38 Special Home/Self-Defense
PMC .357 Mag 158 Grain JSP.357 Magnum Deer/Boar Hunting
Magtech .38 Spl +P 125 Grain SJSP.38 Special Varmint Hunting

As a competition shooter and law-enforcement officer, I’ve had my hands on revolvers quite a bit over the years.

Let’s go over some common terminology first before diving into the best .38 Special and .357 Magnum ammo for home defense, target shooting, and hunting.

Table of Contents

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Safety Briefing

There are many kinds of ammunition for modern .357 Magnum and .38 Special revolvers.  Both of these revolvers have the same bullet diameter of .357 inch but the .357 Magnum has a slightly longer case.

.38 Special vs .357 Magnum
.38 Special vs .357 Magnum

Why does that matter?

Well, as long as you are using .38 Special ammo you can fire it safely in any .357 Magnum revolver.  

Meaning if you have a revolver chambered in .357, you can fire both ammo types without any issues.  But make sure you are not using .38-40 or .38 Short.

Don’t think that just because you can shoot .38 Special in a .357 Magnum that the reverse is true.  This makes the cartridge too long for a .38 Special cylinder to close and lock most of the time.

Putting a .357 Magnum round in a .38 Special takes the firearm from handgun to hand grenade. In most cases, this is not ideal.

Not Something You Want to Go Off In Your Hand
Not Something You Want to Go Off In Your Hand

Alright, now let’s get to the fun stuff.

Pro Ammo Tip #1: Know Your Abbreviations

You will find abbreviations on ammo boxes that combine the jacket, point, and nose type.

For example, if you see SJ and HP in on the box, then you know the bullet features a Semi-Jacket and has a hollow point. Since there are many variations, it is best to learn the basic abbreviation and then apply them to each box of ammo.

  • Jacket Type: A Full Metal Jacket (abbreviated FMJ) encases the sides of the softer lead core, but not the bottom. The “jacket” is a metal like copper that is harder than the enclosed lead.  A Total Metal Jacket (TMJ) completely surrounds the lead core.  TMJ’s are used with higher velocity rounds and larger amounts of powder.  Semi-Jacketed Rounds (SJ) have a harder shell around the shaft of the bullet, but not the tip.
Full Metal Jacket
Full Metal Jacket
  • Nose Type: Refers to the top of the projectile.  The Lead Round Nose (LRN) refers to a bullet that has a smooth curve at the top.  The Lead Flat Nose (LFN or Cowboy Action Load) is flat all the way across the top.  Lead flat nosed bullets deliver better impact than round ones.
  • Hollow Point vs. Soft Point: Hollow Pointed Bullets (HP) have a tip that expands so that a larger area of injury occurs.  Soft Pointed (SP) bullets have a jacket that leaves part of a soft bullet tip exposed.  The tip will still expand and deform, but at a greater rate than a standard hollow point.  These are the standard self-defense rounds.
Hollow Points, Semi-Jacketed, Lead Flat Nose, and Full Metal Jacket
L to R: Hollow Points, Semi-Jacketed, Lead Flat Nose, and Full Metal Jacket

Pro Ammo Tip #2: Know Your Bullet Weight and Why It Matters

As a bullet travels down the gun barrel…its speed depends on the amount of powder and weight of the projectile. 

Here’s what you need to know:

Heavy Bullet Characteristics

  • The heavier the bullet the slower the velocity.  The speed at which it hits the ground or “bullet drop” is faster than for a light bullet.
  • A heavy bullet in motion will be less affected by wind and other weather factors.
  • Big, heavy bullets tend to do well in short-range defensive situations with a minimum of dangerous over-penetration (hitting someone or something behind your target).
  • Heavier Bullet = Greater Recoil

Lightweight Bullet Characteristics

  • The lighter the bullet the faster it will travel.  Lighter bullets have slower bullet drops, which can increase accuracy over long distances.
  • Lighter bullets have less mass, but make up for it with increased velocity in defensive situations, but there is more danger of over-penetration
  • Lighter Bullet = Less Recoil

So, which one is better?

While there is considerable controversy over whether heavier bullets are better than light ones, in reality, different situations need different bullets.

Which brings us to…

Best Training and Range Ammo

New and experienced shooters usually look for the cheapest ammo to use for practice.  For beginners, it is just as important to choose ammo that has the least possible recoil.

Light recoil gives better accuracy and also reduces developing bad shooting habits.  Using the wrong ammo can cause you to flinch, breathe wrong, or even close your eyes while firing.

Also, even the biggest, baddest dude at the gun range is going to get tired of shooting if the recoil is hurting his hands after a while.  He just may not admit it.

Angeles Shooting Range Stations
Angeles Shooting Range Stations

Now get ready for our recommendations.  Most will come from Lucky Gunner…see why we like them in our Best Place to Buy Ammo Online article.

Best .357 Magnum Training Rounds

  • The Sellier & Bellot 158 Grain FMJ is an excellent round.  It shoots a 158 Grain FMJ bullet at a muzzle velocity of 1263 fps.  It is excellent for target or as a training bullet.
Best .357 Mag Training Ammo
24
at Lucky Gunner

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

  • The Tula .357 Magnum 158 Grain FMJ is a good training round. It shoots a 158 Grain FMJ bullet at a muzzle velocity of 1280 fps.  Shooting this round can be a little dirty though, so gun cleaning is mandatory after each shooting session.  To help keep the price down this bullet uses a steel case so sometimes it might not eject easily for your revolver.
14.50
at Lucky Gunner

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

  • The Fiocchi .357 Magnum 142 Grain FMJTC is an excellent round.  It shoots a 142 Grain FMJTC bullet at a muzzle velocity of 1420 fps.  This bullet is easy to control and manage when fired and is an excellent training round.
340
at Lucky Gunner

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Best .38 Special Training Rounds

  • The Federal American Eagle .38 Special 130 Grain FMJ is a good starting point.  It shoots a 130 Grain FMJ bullet at a velocity of 890 fps.  It is great for training or target practice.  I like it because it has a low recoil and will not frighten new shooters.
Best .38 Spl Training Ammo
18.75
at Lucky Gunner

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

18.75
at Lucky Gunner

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

  • The Sellier & Bellot .38 Special 148 Grain WC is an excellent competition target round.  It shoots a 148 Grain bullet at a velocity of 699 fps. With it’s low recoil there is little to disturb the sight picture.  This is a good round for new shooters.
18.50
at Lucky Gunner

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Choosing Home Defense Ammo

In matters of self defense, your goal is to hit the target somewhere vital in order to neutralize the threat.  The ammo will need to produce a lot of energy to produce the greatest amount of tissue damage and trauma.

The bullets used for self defense are a bit more expensive than the ones you would use for target practice.

Typically, Jacketed Hollow Points are the best choice for self-defense, just make sure you get a relatively fast round to ensure it expands properly.

The rounds I recommend most for self defense include…

Best .357 Magnum Defensive Ammo

  • The Remington HTP .357 Magnum 110 Grain SJHP is an excellent self-defense round.  It shoots a 110 Grain bullet at a muzzle velocity of 1295 fps.  This bullet has excellent high terminal performance, ensuring maximum effectiveness with proper shot placement
Best .357 Mag Home/Self-Defense Ammo
25
at Lucky Gunner

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

  • The Blazer Brass .357 Magnum 158 Grain JHP shoots a 158 Grain bullet at a muzzle velocity of 1250 fps.  This bullet is heavy for a self-defense round.  It has excellent high terminal performance and will get the job done.
25
at Lucky Gunner

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

16.75
at Lucky Gunner

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Best .38 Special Defensive Rounds

27.50
at Lucky Gunner

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Best .38 Spl Home/Self-Defense Ammo
23.50
at Lucky Gunner

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Editor’s Note: This is what I carry, and it has literally saved my life in a situation with a rabid dog.  What’s your take?

Readers' Ratings

4.94/5 (220)

Your Rating?

Choosing .357/.38 Special Ammo for Hunting

Expanding hollow point or soft point bullets are best for hunting because these bullets expand reliably and deliver the most kinetic energy into the animal.

Never use full metal jacket bullets because they may pass through the animal without a humane kill.  You’ll also want to make sure your round is powerful enough to ensure a humane kill, so if in doubt, go for the bigger boom.

Quick Deer Hunting Revolver Ammo Tips

For hunting larger game over 100 lbs. with a .357 Magnum revolver I would use a bullet weight of at least 158 to 180 Grains with a heavy powder charge.

For hunting smaller varieties of game 50 lbs. and under I have used a .38 Special revolver.  I would use a bullet weight of 158 Grains in a .38 Special +P cartridge.

The rounds I recommend most for hunting include…

Best .357 Magnum Hunting Rounds

  • The PMC .357 Magnum 158 Grain JSP. It is an excellent deer hunting and wild boar hunting round, and can reliably and humanely take down this animals, or similarly sized animals.
PMG .357 Magnum 158 gr
PMG .357 Magnum 158 gr
Magtech .357 Magnum 158 gr
Magtech .357 Magnum 158 gr
American Eagle .357 Magnum 158 gr
American Eagle .357 Magnum 158 gr

Best .38 Special Hunting Rounds

Magtech .38 Special 125 gr
Hornady .38 Special 158 gr
Hornady .38 Special 158 gr
Federal .38 Special 158 gr

Conclusion

There you have it.  

My thoughts and recommendations for picking the very best .357 Magnum or .38 Special ammo for your firearm.

Follow these tips, get in some trigger time with a few different rounds, and you’ll be just fine.  Any other ammo suggestions for home defense, plinking, or hunting?

25 Leave a Reply

  • Francisco

    Good article. Very straightforward and minus all the caveats and disclaimers. Just a picky technical point though. Bullet drop is really based on the range a projectile has travelled according to it's velocity Gravity acts on all bullets the same, regardless of mass or "weight". All objects like bullets with neglible air drag coefficients, "drop" at the rate of 32 ft/sec². Again that's regardless of whether the bullet weighs 110 grain or 158gr.

    1 month ago
  • Richard Hyman

    Great read! Thanks for putting this together. I just bought myself a couple of Ruger Vaqueros and a Henry rifle all in .357 and was looking for good bullet info. You delivered! Thanks again!

    2 months ago
  • Matt B

    Hello I have a question about ammo. I am newer to shooting, I recently purchased a smith and Wesson model 627 pc with a 2.6 inch barrel (snub nose) I took it to the range and am wondering if a lower grain .357 round would be best to practice with? The gun seems to handle the various loads I ran threw it but I’d like a professionals opinion of what round works best in a snub nose for accuracy and recoil control? Thank You

    2 months ago
  • Alex

    Excellent article. The only other thing I would add is that to train with 357 imho you typically need a N Frame pistol because only that size pistol frame will have enough heft to absorb most of the recoil so as not to abuse your hand. Sure you can shoot 357 from a sub 30 oz pistol rated for it but you're gonna feel it and you will not want to train with 357 using that pistol. If you're lucky you'll be able to fire 18-20 rounds of 357 and then you're done.... for the day! So imho for sub 30oz pistols train with 38 special +P or try a lightweight 357 grain and see if your hand can handle the recoil. But if you want to train with any magnum load then do your hand a favor and get a N Frame .

    3 months ago
    • JOSEPH CORROA

      So training with an L frame and 158 is I'll advised?

      2 weeks ago
  • KJMagnum

    Heavy Bullet Characteristics • The heavier the bullet, the slower the velocity (load dependent). The speed/velocity at which it hits the ground is SLOWER than for a light bullet. The distance it travels before hitting the ground is less than a light bullet. Lightweight Bullet Characteristics • The lighter the bullet, the faster it will travel (load dependent). FASTER bullets have LESS bullet drop, which can increase accuracy over long distances. Galileo proved all objects drop at the same rate. Given the same flight time, the only difference is the distance covered before hitting the target/ground.

    5 months ago
    • Francisco

      Sorry for making a similar comment. I must have missed yours first time through.

      1 month ago
  • bigsean247

    you do a pretty good job at explaining all this. but i was always taught that heavier bullets penetrate deeper as the mass retains speed better than lighter weight rounds. faster lighter rounds make a big hit with a shallow hole. not saying like only 2-3 inches but in the 6-9 range, while heavier rounds tend to go 12+ inches. i was also taught heavier rounds kick more as it takes more powder to get the heavy lead moving even if it not as fast as the lighter round. i know there is a point where the speed will have the lighter round having more kick but if the rounds are close in speed the heavy will have more of a kick. like here i think you had a 110gr at 1300 fps and a 158gr at 1250. the 158gr will kick harder than the 110gr same with the 125gr at 1220 and the 158 at 1250. my point is it take more power to move a heavier round than a lighter one at close to the same speeds

    5 months ago
    • Francisco

      I agree with more penetration with heavier bullets. More energy retention.

      1 month ago
  • Mark

    Nice write-up Fred. Curious what you think of the gel testing that's been done out there? https://www.ammunitiontogo.com/index.php/cName/pistol-ammo-357-magnum https://www.luckygunner.com/labs/revolver-ballistics-test/ I was pretty surprised that barrel length didn't play as big of a role as I imagined it would. It looks like some of the smaller shops like Buffalo Bore are doing pretty well in those tests.

    8 months ago
    • David L

      Barrel length can either make very little difference or make a huge amount of difference, it's odd. For something already a little underpower, such as .380 Auto, an extra inch on the barrel can be huge for expansion. Buffalo Bore is well known for loading hot rounds, it's great if that's what you're looking for but be careful if it isn't!

      8 months ago
  • Commander Beeflips

    I shot up two boxes of the Fiocchi 142gr FMJ .357 rounds this weekend. Wouldn't cycle through my lever action worth a flip. Upon closer inspection, it appears as though Fiocchi didn't crimp these rounds, not even a taper crimp. I'm going to try some Prvi Partizan 158 gr SJSP next for inexpensive range rounds.

    1 year ago
  • Jim

    I bought my first revolver (GP100) and came here first. I needed this article. PewPew articles are a great place to start. Thanks team!

    1 year ago
  • Gil

    As a past gun dealer who also supplied the local police department and a gun owner and user since age 5 My experience has shown that the best all around bullet and weight for a .38/.357 mag is a 125 gr. SJHP which I have used in situations of dire straights at 1250 ft. per second with very good terminal performance and minimal penetration as expected was enough to do the job without over penetration. But this is my choice for many different situations including self , or home defense, but I do not hunt with a hand gun from personal choice. As I stated I have been a gun dealer as well as a gun owner since age 5 and I still own my .357 Ruger New Model Blackhawk, and my wife has her 6 inch Smith and Wesson Model 28 .357 mag Highway Patrolman she picked out for her self which I had sold out of my gun shop in 1979 and bought back here in Oregon in 1989 for $25.00 more than I sold it for, and I had personally done the trigger work on this revolver before I sold it, My wife is not a big woman and shoots her Magnum with one hand and at 40 paces she puts 3 round in the size of a fifty cent piece using my hand loads which come out of a 4 inch barrel at 1650 and that is my load for my stainless steel 6 inch revolver which I carry for a possible run in with a Bear when I go hunting alone in the mountains of southern Oregon with a 158 gr. sj bullet. So you have given a very good cross section of ammo and the expected results of each and I have to say that it was very well explained and put in to words that any beginner or experienced owner could under stand Good Job..

    1 year ago
  • Heather

    Thank you, I learned a lot. I’m a beginner and was sold wrong ammo for my 357 magnum handgun ( still learning). I was sold 357 jsp and It didn’t fit the handgun. I am assuming that the jsp is meant for rifle and not handgun from reading your article.. please correct me if I’m wrong. It wouldn’t fit and close. Thanks again.

    1 year ago
    • LouisianaMan

      Heather, my guess is that your difficulty lies in the difference between .357 Magnum revolver ammo and .357 Sig semi-auto pistol ammo. I'm not sure if you have a revolver or an automatic pistol, but that's a simple mistake for a new shooter or a big box store clerk to make. Since you refer to your ".357 Magnum handgun," it sounds like you have a revolver, thus the problem ammo is probably .357 Sig. Zippy is correct: commercially available ammunition is made to strict standards, as are quality firearms. If your gun and ammo are both labeled as being the same caliber, the ammo will fit. If it doesn't, something major is wrong. (Perhaps a simple error, but a crucial one!) Look at the bottom of your cartridges, as the correct caliber is stamped in the brass of every single round of ammunition. Match that to what's stamped on your gun--probably on the barrel of a revolver, and on the frame of a semi-auto. Rarely, a gun manufacturer ships a gun in a box with an incorrect label. Ammo companies can possibly put ammo in a box marked for a different caliber--again, that's extremely rare, but it can happen.

      6 months ago
    • Zippy2003

      Silly question, but are absolutely sure your revolver is a .357 magnum and not a .38 special or something else? Somewhere on the firearm will say what it can safely shoot. Any .357 magnum and .38 special ammo will work in both revolvers and rifles. JSP will work in anything as long as it's the correct loading for the gun. Ammunition is made to certain specifications, size and pressure. Firearms are made around those specifications and will safely chamber and shoot any ammo that it was specifically designed for. Disregard what Eric Hung said. A revolver will load any ammo it was made for. If the ammo doesn’t fit, it’s either the wrong ammo or the manufacturer of the ammo didn’t properly make the ammo. If it is the right ammo and won’t fit a revolver then something is wrong with the ammo. Unless your revolver doesn’t work with ammo from different companies then it’s a problem with the gun; which is rare but can happen. (Always double check the markings on the gun/barrel) Now, if we were talking about semi automatics than Eric would/could be right. But semi automatics are quite different then revolvers. Semi automatics can be picky sometimes but not revolvers when it comes to loading them. Stick to well known, large and trusted companies that produce ammunition. Very rarely will you go wrong. You can run into problems when dealing with small companies, boutique manufacturers and handloaders.

      10 months ago
    • Eric Hung

      Hi Heather, your handgun might just not like the profile of the JSP bullet.

      1 year ago
  • Richard A. Freeman

    Regarding Heavy Bullets, you say: "The speed at which [a heavy bullet] hits the ground or “bullet drop” is faster than for a light bullet." From a Physics point of view, bullets drop at the same rate if they are shot parallel to the ground, whether they are heavy or light. A lighter bullet may travel farther than a heavy bullet, but it drops at the same rate as heavier bullets. Also, you say that heavier bullets have greater recoil, and lighter bullets have less recoil. There is a debate on this point. Some say that heavier bullets, because they travel more slowly, have less recoil and less muzzle flip than lighter bullets, everything else being equal. I know that for every action there is an equal but opposite reaction, but when it comes to bullets, there is a combination of recoil and muzzle flip at play. There is less muzzle flip with heavier guns and slower (i.e. heavier) bullets. This is often confused with recoil. I'm not sure whether heavier bullets result in greater recoil or not. It is still unproven, so far as I know.

    1 year ago
    • Curt Thomas

      +1 on this point - to a point... I refer to my .454 Casull (hand cannon) with a 9.5" barrel. I chose the 24o grain for its long range accuracy, however it is a 'wow" experience to shoot. The recoil of this lighter weight round is almost intolerable and the muzzle flips up dangerously. (you cannot port the Casull pistol to negate this force, as it will generate more harmful db levels than hearing protection can protect against. This is somewhat of a unique characteristic to just .454 Casull revolvers..) When I don't need the range & accuracy at distance, I shoot 300 gr or larger round and the lesser recoil of the heaver loads is significantly lower. I think this starts to reverse as you decrease in caliber. For instance many ultra light & hyper velocity .22 caliber rounds don't even generate enough recoil to cycle the action of many semi-auto weapons.

      1 year ago
  • Ryan

    Any thoughts on Ruger ARX ammo for self-defense? I bought a box after reading several reviews speaking in its favor. If you have never heard of this round; its an 86gr. 357 Mag. round (ARX is made in several other calibers too, both for revolvers as well as semi-autos) which fires at a very high velocity of 1,620 fps, I believe, and employs an expanding copper-polymer matrix projectile. According to Ruger, this creates a maximum lethal hydraulic displacement in human tissue upon impact by the way the flutes in the projectile expand outward, delivering energy laterally in surrounding tissue, in addition to head-on. Anyway, I just wanted to know if you knew anything about these rounds. They run at a pricey $25-30 for a box of 20 rounds, and so far are the only ammo on the market to bear the Ruger name. I currently carry these daily in my S&W J-frame, and feel all-around confident that they would perform well should I god-forbid, ever need to actually count on their service. Naturally, I do have a few natural concerns however; A) They are a youngster on the market, having only been released around late 2016. B) Although I get it that in the case of these rounds, weight is being traded in favor of max. velocity (copper-polymer is going to be light either way I suppose). But other than these, I've never even seen anything come close to 86gr. I just wonder if that may be too light for a .357 round? C) Lastly, Ruger describes the rounds as having high-penetration of soft-targets, but also a shattering effect on hard surfaces. I see how this may be desirable in a self-defense situation. Penetrating deep, but also fragmenting at certain harder internals like bone, to create max. internal damage. But what I also wonder is if this also may cause an undesirable effect of shattering when passing through hard backdrops such as glass windows, if say perhaps given circumstances required such a shot? Any thoughts from anybody would be greatly appreciated. Thanks, Ryan

    1 year ago
    • Howdy dowdy

      The literature that came with my j frame specifically states not to run any 357 loss under 120 grains as it will prematurely wear the cylinder. Just a thought.

      6 months ago
    • Eric Hung

      Hi Ryan, I've shot them at range days but it wasn't at gelatin or anything. I still like to steer towards standard law enforcement rounds for self defense.

      1 year ago
  • Bob

    Was the dog really rabid, or did you just not want to get bitten...?..a sharp kick in the jaw, if possible, turns most "rabid" dogs away...not saying you shouldn't protect yourself, but I've been bitten a couple times by dogs that were stirred up by adverse circumstances that had the dog protecting his turf, that did not need a lethal reaction..just sayin'...

    2 years ago
    • Doc

      Only way to know if a dog is rabid is to have it tested (head sent off to state lab). That's something required in many areas if a bite has occurred (depends on if it's vaccinated or not). If you have a concern (even if it's remote) make sure head is preserved and the authorities notified.

      2 years ago
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