Best .38 Special & .357 Magnum Ammo [2018]

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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 explination, 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
Sellier & Bellot .357 Mag 158 Grain FMJ

Sellier & Bellot .357 Mag 158 Grain FMJ

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.
Tula .357 Mag 158gr FMJ

Tula .357 Mag 158gr FMJ

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.
Fiocchi .357 Magnum 142 Grain FMJTC

Fiocchi .357 Magnum 142 Grain FMJTC

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
American Eagle .38 Spl 130 Grain FMJ

American Eagle .38 Spl 130 Grain FMJ

Prices accurate at time of writing

Remington .38 Special 158 Grain LRN

Remington .38 Special 158 Grain LRN

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.
Sellier & Bellot .38 Special 148 Grain WC

Sellier & Bellot .38 Special 148 Grain WC

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
Remington HTP .357 Magnum 110 Grain SJHP

Remington HTP .357 Magnum 110 Grain SJHP

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.
Blazer Brass .357 Magnum 158 Grain JHP

Blazer Brass .357 Magnum 158 Grain JHP

Prices accurate at time of writing

Remington Golden Saber .357 Magnum 125 Grain JHP

Remington Golden Saber .357 Magnum 125 Grain JHP

Prices accurate at time of writing

Best .38 Special Defensive Rounds

Remington HTP .38 Special+P 110 Grain SJHP

Remington HTP .38 Special+P 110 Grain SJHP

Prices accurate at time of writing

Best .38 Spl Home/Self-Defense Ammo
Hornady Critical Defense .38 Special +P 110 Grain JHP FTX.

Hornady Critical Defense .38 Special +P 110 Grain JHP FTX.

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

5/5 (125)

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?

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bigsean247
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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… Read more »

Mark
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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.

David, PPT Editor
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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!

Commander Beeflips
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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.

Jim
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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!

Gil
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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… Read more »