Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Bring back the .357 Maximum!

This was an awesome cartridge. It was cooked up as a cooperative effort between Ruger, who made the sixguns, and Remington, who made the ammunition. It was a lengthened .357 Magnum with much higher velocity and a SAAMI pressure limit of 48,000 CUP. It was introduced in the early eighties and the guns didn't hold up. There were problems with flame cutting.

Essentially, the high pressure firing gases acted like a cutting torch and went to work on the revolvers' top straps, chewing them up something fierce. Ruger, and the Dan Wesson company, who were also building revolvers for it, withdrew their guns from the market. The cartridge now sees only limited use, mostly in break action pistols and carbines.

It is now more than a quarter century later and we know much more about super magnum revolvers and their cartridges. We have seen development since then of the .460 Smith & Wesson, .500 Smith & Wesson and other brontosaurus class wheelgun ammunition. Gun metallurgy has advanced a bit generally. It is now possible to build a high pressure revolver that will not self-immolate.

It's time to bring back the .357 Maximum in a double action revolver built to stand up to the cartridge. The industry today knows enough to do that. Such a gun would suit me better than the big bores. It would offer excellent penetration on tough targets afield and kick less.

It might be a good idea to use the old Dan Wesson idea and have interchangeable barrels so barrels can be easily replaced if the forcing cones become eroded. It would be a good idea to use a replaceable top strap shield at the point where the flame cutting occurs and--I think this is obvious--a generous bit of clearance between the chamber and the top strap, to attenuate the cutting effect of high pressure powder gases. In other words, don't try to make the frame as compact as possible, leave a bit of room in there.

Something also worth looking into is the flame shield incorporated in the Taurus Circuit Judge carbine, which limits side flash. This part, too, should be replaceable.

The worst erosion effects on the .357 Max revolvers were associated with using lightweight bullets driven to the highest possible velocities. Shooters are seeing that also in the newer super magnums. Here too the solution is obvious--don't use the lightest bullets if you want your gun to last.

A handgun that will serve the purpose of a game rifle is an idea that many shooters like very much. I like it all the more as I get older and my rifle feels heavier. The .357 Maximum cartridge is one of the best solutions possible, but it was ahead of its time. A revolver that will stand up to it  is overdue.

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