Buffalo Bore’s Heavy .357 Magnum

 

A joint conspiracy of Miles Fortis &
A K  Church

Updated May 17, 2004

 

 

 

In 2003, Buffalo Bore announced their development of a new 180 penetrator load for the .357 Magnum. Running at standard pressure, it is advertised as launching a hard cast 180 grain SWC at 1400 ft/sec out of a revolver.       

Discussion with Buffalo Bore’s owner Tim Sundles disclosed his intention in releasing this ammunition. Persons living in bear country, while no doubt better served for personal protection by handguns larger than .357, frequently carry these light and convenient handguns - a Smith & Wesson Model 19 is certainly more packable than a .45 Ruger Redhawk. Add to this a huge number of leverguns in the same caliber, and it becomes apparent that lots of people in bear country are carrying .357s, adequate or not.

So Tim set out to develop the most effective bear ammo possible for these guns. He was able to accomplish this primarily because of an undisclosed new, non-canister powder. Whatever it is, we also found it to be quite clean burning.

Reason enough, but those of us living in the Midwest couldn’t help but also think of the further possibilities a really heavy, tough bullet offered wild pig hunters.  Plus, being a standard pressure load, it shouldn’t excessively beat up those smaller guns-like  those K frames.

The Heavy .357 Magnum

Offered in 20 round packaging, the ammunition is loaded into unplated Starline cases. The bullets are very clean, sharp pieces of casting, and are deeply crimped - and with good reason. These things kick in revolvers.

The heavy .357s are offered direct from Buffalo Bore, and with considerable recoil for the caliber, and a cost before shipping of around a dollar a round, it would do well to examine the performance of the cartridge.

We took 3 guns to the range with 60 rounds of ammunition, and on a bright but chilly February morning, we did some testing of the stuff. The first 2, a single action revolver common on the used market, and a new and compact lever action carbine, we felt represented the sorts of guns backpackers and fly fishermen in bear country might be expected to carry. The third, a single shot, was chosen for a more thorough evaluation of the velocity and accuracy potential of the load.

Hawes (J P Sauer) Western Marshall Single Action Revolver

A late ’60s import, this is dimensionally about equal in size to a 5 ˝ inch Ruger Vaquero. With a 6" barrel, it weighs in at a full 46 ounces. The test gun has rather loose, sloppy chambers, and an equally loose firing pin bushing. Firing pin strikes on Winchester 125 grain ammo shows large deep strikes. For some reason, likely either softer primer cups or higher pressure, the Buffalo Bore ammo, tended to flow primers somewhat around the firing pin, and this occasionally tied the revolver up. Since neither of two newer long guns showed any similar problems, we chalk this up to a failing of the gun. Nonetheless, we wouldn’t use this gun with this ammo.

That aside, firing the Heavy stuff also yielded a heavier recoil than expected with .357. You forget with this load you have BOTH bullet weight and velocity. This load produces similar velocities to 125 grain Winchester, but with a 180 grain payload.

WINCHESTER 125-grain .357 Magnum, Hawes revolver

Velocity (fps)
1533 1587 1575 1536 1570

 

Buffalo Bore 180-grain .357 Magnum, Hawes revolver

Velocity (fps)
1510 1504 1536 1485 1506

Average 1508 fps - Standard Deviation 18.4


This revolver was never zeroed for any load by previous owners. The front sight is massively tall, and the targets showed groups 8 inches low at 50 yards. Correcting this would be matter of carefully filing the top of the front sight. It printed almost exactly on for deflection, and grouping was a really satisfying 1.6 inches.

This test revealed 3 things. Older guns should be tested for reliability with any high performance ammo-this one didn’t do well. Second, be advised that Newton’s Laws have not been repealed, and this gun produced .44 Magnum-like recoil, controllable but more than with any previous factory ammunition. Third, accuracy was much better than needed for the last ditch application envisioned. This accuracy showed up with every gun we tried it in.

Winchester ‘94 Ranger Compact

Representative of a multitude of Winchester, Marlin and Rossi guns in this caliber, the no-frills 16" barreled Trapper-length levergun was a real surprise. Well made, finished, and good feeling, it shows reassuring feedback that Americans are building quality guns in 2004.

A new gun, Buffalo Bore was the second load ever fired in this little carbine. By no means even broken in, the Buffalo Bore fed, ejected, and other wise functioned perfectly.

A 5 round chronograph string produced the following velocities:

Buffalo Bore 180-grain .357 Magnum, Winchester '94 Ranger Compact

Velocity (fps)
1848 1725 1876 1879 1908

Average 1847 fps - Standard Deviation 71.6

Grouping over buckhorn iron sights was a surprising 1.25" inches, again for a 5-shot group. What this little levergun would do with a low powered scope or aperture sights is open to conjecture, but what it did, as is, impresses well enough. Recoil was certainly higher than with other ammunition, but entirely tolerable for most shooters.

New England Firearms Handi-Rifle

Author Church hauled out his 22" barreled single shot, partly because it had grouped well in the past with Winchester’s 180 grain .357, the Partition Gold, and partly to get chronograph readings out of a longer barrel.

The velocity readings were surprising in that they were not much faster than the Winchester with almost 6 inches less barrel.

Buffalo Bore 180-grain .357 Magnum, New England Firearms Handi-Rifle

Velocity (fps)
1888 1879 1812 1897 1943

Average 1884 fps - Standard Deviation 47.2

This barrel long ago showed a liking for heavier .357 bullets with the 180 Winchester load. It will group, over good aperture sights, to 1.5 inches at 100 yards. This one won’t equal that out of this gun, but still will cluster 5 rounds at 50 yards an inch apart. This is more than is needed for the purpose, much more.

Long ago Author Fortis’ father, and author Church attempted to improvise a load to serve the same purpose as the Buffalo Bore load. Over a stiff charge of 2400, we loaded a 180 Speer semi-spitzer intended for the .35 Remington T/C Contender. We got a  very long loaded round suitable only for single shot guns, and giving middlin’ accuracy at best.

180-grain Handload, T/C Contender

Velocity (fps)
1561 1560 1576 1478 1497

Average 1535 fps - Standard Deviation 43.7

Clearly this is no competition for Buffalo Bore’s off-the-shelf load.

Penetration Performance

Folk wisdom has long equated bone as being about as tough as seasoned hardwood. Lacking a bear to shoot, we resorted to this old test medium, and fired at 15 feet or so into year old dried oak firewood. Not much difference here, despite velocity. Not an inch in overall penetration separated the guns. The bullets were grossly deformed, but deflected fairly little, and did not fragment. This gives us fair confidence about what it would do, if need be, to the skull of a brown bear.

Conclusions

The Buffalo Bore heavy .357 is high quality, high performance ammo. We were highly impressed by the velocities (exceeding claims, even out of a handgun), the accuracy (far more than needed for close in bear defense) and cleanliness of the cartridges. It should be born in mind that this ammunition is for modern guns in fine mechanical order, and handgun shooters should be prepared for a new class of .357 recoil.

Check out Buffalo Bore on the Web at: www.buffalobore.com.

Miles Fortis & A K Church

Follow-up: Buffalo Bore 180 .357 Heavy in the Hawes Revolver

by Miles Fortis and A K Church

17th May 2004

In our earlier Gunblast workup on the 180 grain heavy .357 magnum load, we reported really good accuracy and iffy reliability out of the Hawes (J P Sauer made) single action revolver.

These reliability problems were pretty specific. Primers pushed into the firing pin bushings on the venerable import, and this tied up rotation. This problem was not present in any other gun, and subsequently Church's Herter's Powermag .357, another ageable J P Sauer item, has duplicated this once with Winchester 125 grain ammo.

In Email conversation with Buffalo Bore ramrod Tim Sundles, he revealed that he'd already had second thoughts about primer toughness. So, subsequent lots of the 180 grain penetrator have a new, silver colored primer.

Many delays prevented timely follow-up after receipt of the newer ammo, but today we were finally able to retest it in the same gun.

Basically, it is more efficient to state what didn't happen: the primers did nothing but ignite the powder, the accuracy didn't come to any less than the really good previous experience, and reliability failed to disappoint. It just went off, still with impressive recoil, but no hang-ups whatsoever.

It was good ammo before, with this one odd exception. It would appear it is now better ammo.

Miles Fortis & A K Church

 

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Click pictures for a larger version.

 

Buffalo Bore's new 180-grain .357 loads make the .357 Magnum a viable proposition against bear & boar.

 

Hawes Western Marshall SA revolver proved to be very accurate with the Buffalo Bore load, but reliability was a concern.