Comments on the .357 SIG


by R.K. Campbell

photography by R.K. Campbell

July 10th, 2007




After forty years of firing handguns I sometimes wonder when common sense will prevail. Small bores such as the .38 and 9mm will not do the work of the .45 no matter how we try to compel them to do so. But there are small bores and then there is the .38 Super and the .357 Magnum. The .357 Magnum revolver cartridge has earned a great reputation in police work not only in America but in France and Germany as well. Anti terror units in France deploy the Magnum for use against vehicles and even in precision optical sighted revolvers. While we are not happy with the previous regime in France, any nation that produces an elite unit capable of dealing with terrorists in the manner of the French must be respected. On one occasion in France, six special officers stormed a plane filled with hostages. Five of the first six officers on board the plane were shot and knocked down but not killed while the last officer began to take out the terrorists. In short, 1,100 rounds were fired and a half dozen terrorists killed without the loss of life of a single hostage. The French have the cran if only their leaders could supply the élan!

Back to the .357 SIG - let me make a point before we go any further - none of the other small bores approach the real power of the Magnum. Sure, gun writers in the popular press have done cute tricks such as comparing a three inch barrel Magnum with mid range loads to a 9mm Luger with +P+ loads and five inch barrel and declaring the 9mm a pocket Magnum. In the real world, in service grade handguns, the .357 Magnum outstrips not only the 9mm but the .357 SIG and .38 Super as well. The automatic pistol is easier to use well in a personal defense situation, however. The reciprocating action of the automatic soaks up a portion of recoil and the relatively fast burning cartridges used in the smaller capacity automatic pistol cartridge generates less recoil energy. The Magnum is harder to handle but for generations cops regarded the Magnum as a real problem solver.

Producing Magnum ballistics in an automatic pistol is a desirable thing. High velocity, penetration, and wound effect are desirable in a service pistol in view of the percentage of felons encountered in vehicles and behind light cover. There are situations in which greater penetration than the .45 auto may deliver is warranted. As an example, I have in my files a case in which Texas officers at a roadblock hit a 1930s style vehicle seventeen times with the .45 auto (from a Thompson submachinegun) but failed to neutralize the criminal gang in the vehicle. This was one reason for the .38 Super pistol's popularity.

The .357 Magnum has produced results on motivated felons similar to high power rifle hits. I observed a felon who had been struck by a .357 Magnum 125 grain JHP.  The felon had been running and firing over his shoulder at the officer. The officer had returned fire at fifteen yards, on the run. The bullet had struck the point of the jaw where it meets the skull. The offender’s eyeballs were blown out by hydrostatic pressure and the top row of teeth taken out by the exiting bullet. On another occasion I chased a large angry mongrel that had bitten the end of a citizens finger off. I fired a single 125 grain JHP at about ten yards. The effect was immediate: the chest wall where the bullet impacted actually caved in and on the opposite side, blood and lung tissue were strewn for six feet or more. There have been any number of failures to quickly drop felons or to euthanize dangerous animals with small bore cartridges. I am aware of another case in which an officer fired fourteen rounds of 147 grain 9mm into the back of a pit bull that had clomped onto a child and refused to let go. The dog sagged to the ground as the Glock slide locked back on the last round. In fairness, even the .45 doesn’t always do the job with one round. On another occasion in dealing with dangerous animals, I was charged by a drug dealer's guard dog. My .45 spoke twice before the job was done. The second did the job, and none too soon.

One of the attempts to equal the .357 Magnum in an automatic pistol is the .357 SIG. There are hurdles, but the necked down .40 S & W round seems to have made the hurdle. A problem with automatic pistol cartridges is the bullet design. Revolvers may use bullets with plenty of exposed lead on the tip, resulting in good expansion. The automatic must use a bullet with a rolled over ogive. This ensures feed reliability. The .357 SIG is a bottlenecked round that offers excellent feed reliability. Intelligent bullet design is a key. For the most part 357 SIG rounds do not expand as aggressively as the .357 Magnum. They seem more designed to penetrate deeply on light cover.

The .357 SIG is simply a .40 caliber Smith and Wesson necked down to 9mm. I think that 9mm SIG would have went over like a lead Zeppelin so the .357 SIG moniker was chosen, obviously to play upon the legendary .357 Magnum. My first experience with the .357 SIG was very positive. At the time I owned a Glock M 22 in .40 Smith and Wesson. The pistol was reliable but nothing to brag about in terms of accuracy. I added Novak sights and replaced the cheap plastic Glock sights and enjoyed better practical accuracy. But the best the pistol did was a three and one half inch group at 25 yards with Winchester 180 grain JHP. When the .357 SIG was introduced I had an assignment to do an in depth review. I ordered a Bar Sto Precision barrel for the Glock in .357 SIg. That is all that is required to convert between calibers, a new barrel. Bar Sto is a precision match grade barrel but just the same I was surprised by the accuracy potential. On occasion I fired a 75 foot five shot group of 1.25 inches with the then new 125 grain Cor Bon loading. This experience has followed true, with the .357 SIG usually proving out more accurate than the .40 in quality pistols. This is even true of the SIG P 229 although the P 229 is very accurate in either caliber. another advantage of the .357 SIG is that it is a short case cartridge. It may be chambered in basic 9mm/40 size pistols. The .38 Super and 10mm require .45 frame pistols.

Does the .357 SIG equal the .357 Magnum? Yes and no. The bullets used in the .357 SIG do not expand and fragment as dynamically as the .357 Magnum. In personal defense, the 115 to 124 grain .357 SIG bullets are fine but as we move to the 140 grain weight the .357 Magnum's greater case capacity shows much greater power. In the real world, the .357 SIG has as much punch with comparable 125 gain loads as the .357 Magnum. the long suit of the .357 SIG is penetration. As an example, a few years ago I conducted a major test of the popular handgun service cartridges against vehicles. I used actual vehicles and some sheet metal, and included windshields and door glass. The single most effective loading proved to be the Hornady 124 grain XTP in .357 SIG caliber. It was not the fastest but it was among the most accurate and clearly the single cartridge with the greatest penetration. On the basic premise of the cartridge, penetration, the .357 SIG meets its design specifications. As for effect on flesh and blood targets, I have seen mixed results. While overall more effective than the 9mm +P, I have used the .357 SIG on small game and pests and found the cartridge not as instantly effective as the .357 Magnum. A cartridge that does not reliable anchor a 35 pound animal may prove distressing in police work. An exception has been the 115 grain Cor Bon. This load uses a bullet that expands and fragments dynamically at the expense of penetration. The verdict?

Penetration and reliability are there. Accuracy is excellent, and the cartridge shoots flat. If you deploy the .357 SIG, the Cor Bon line deserves a hard look. The 115 grain load exits my Glock at well over 1500 fps and a bit less from the SIG. This is a load that expands and fragments and definitely has potential. The 125 grain JHP is a little slower, fragments a little less, and has a bit more penetration. It may just be the ideal compromise load with very little in the way of compromise. For police service the new DPX load bears some discussion. This is a 125 grain DPX (Barnes) bullet at 1300 fps. There is little point in driving this bullet faster, and with its long for the caliber profile case capacity does not allow greater velocity. But the DPX load produces unfailing good results on light cover and in gelatin testing. I am continually impressed by the balance of penetration and expansion and excellent accuracy demonstrated by the Cor Bon DPX line. This is simply a great loading.

Overall, I find the .357 SIG an  interesting loading. While I am fond of the .38 Super the .357 SIG does much the same thing in a lighter platform and with absolute reliability. Accuracy is good, and the SIG P 229 is a wonderful all around handgun. I think that you will find the .357 SIG a cartridge of interest.

R.K. Campbell

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Click pictures for a larger version.


There are a greater variety of loads available for the .357 SIG than ever before, enough to fill most needs.



The author is not easily impressed, but the DPX load from Cor Bon is among the most impressive additions to the line in some time.



Control means a lot. Here, the author's young friend takes on Law Enforcement Incorporated targets with this 9mm --- the .357 SIG will give a greater measure of confidence.



The author's favorite .38 Super is certainly viable, but a 30 ounce .357 SIG has much to recommend.



This is the author’s Crimson Trace equipped SIG P 229, originally a .40 now with a spare barrel in .357 SIG. This is a sweet, sweet shooting piece.