So you want to carry a revolver. Good idea. It’s reliable as all get out. Revolvers have far fewer moving parts than a semi-automatic that could fail and leave you defenseless. It is easier to learn how to operate, relying on a single trigger pull to unleash its fury. A revolver’s inherent solidity also means it can pack greater firepower than a comparably sized semi-auto.

Sure, a revolver has a limited shot capacity. It typically takes longer to reload, and has a harder trigger pull too. But those shortcomings would sound pretty acceptable while you’re stuck holding a jammed semi-auto as an axe head plunges in and out of your bedroom door. “Here’s Johnny!”

There are many revolver cartridges to choose from: 38 Special, 44 Special, 454 Casull, 500 S&W Magnum, 45 Long Colt, 41 Magnum – even 22 LR and 22 WMR. But since two of the most popular revolver rounds are 357 Magnum and 44 Magnum, we decided to compare those two rather than write a book comparing every conceivable revolver round to each other. It’s 357 Magnum vs 44 Magnum time!

 357 Magnum44 Magnum
Parent case38 Special44 S&W Special
Case typeRimmed, straightRimmed, straight
Bullet diameter.357 in.429 in
Neck diameter.379 in.457 in
Base diameter.379 in.457 in
Rim diameter.440 in.514 in
Rim thickness.060 in.060 in
Case length1.29 in1.285 in
Overall length1.59 in1.61 in
Case capacity26.2 gr H2O37.9 gr H2O
Maximum pressure35,000 psi36,000 psi

Just a glance at the two rounds’ dimensions side by side illustrates the main thing you should take away from this extremely well-written article: The 44 Mag is the more powerful round. It was once the most powerful handgun cartridge in the world, as a matter of fact, even if it only held that title briefly.

The 44 Mag’s case is nearly the same length as the 357 Mag’s, but its greater diameter gives it approximately 45 percent more capacity for propellant. The 44 Mag’s wider case accordingly seats a broader and heavier bullet – two factors that contribute heavily to the greater damage it can inflict.

Ballistics Comparison

44 magnum ammo vs 357 magnum ammo

44 mag ammo on the left from Black Hills Ammunition. That’s Hornady 357 Magnum on the right.

Let’s be clear: The 357 Mag and 44 Mag offer as great a range of ballistics as there are cartridges to choose from. Each round is available with a variety of bullet weights (357 Mag = 110 to 180 grains; 44 Mag = 180 to 300 grains), which contributes heavily to muzzle velocity. Each manufacturer can load their rounds to different chamber pressures and resultant muzzle velocities. What’s more, the ballistics a round actually exhibits depends a great deal on a handgun’s barrel length.

That said, we can get some comparison of the 357 Mag and 44 Mag by putting a few representative manufacturers’ rounds side by side.

 357 Mag Hornady Custom 158gr XTP44 Mag Hornady Custom 240gr XTP
Muzzle velocity (fps)12501350
Velocity @ 50 yds11491230
Velocity @ 100 yds10721133
G1 ballistic coefficient0.2060.205
Drop @ 50 yds-2.67-2.3
Drop @ 100 yds-11.92-10.35
Muzzle energy (ft lbs)548639
Energy @ 50 yds463531
Energy @ 100 yds403451
357 Mag Prvi Partizan 158gr SJHP44 Mag Prvi Partizan 240gr JHP
Muzzle velocity (fps)16081542
Velocity @ 50 yds14201381
Velocity @ 100 yds12601243
G1 ballistic coefficient0.1640.184
Drop @ 50 yds-1.66-1.78
Drop @ 100 yds-7.65-8.14
Muzzle energy (ft lbs)9071267
Energy @ 50 yds7081016
Energy @ 100 yds557824
357 Mag American Eagle 158gr JSP44 Mag American Eagle 240gr JHP
Muzzle velocity (fps)12401230
Velocity @ 50 yds11411119
Velocity @ 100 yds10661038
G1 ballistic coefficient0.2060.175
Drop @ 50 yds-2.71-2.79
Drop @ 100 yds-12.09-12.51
Muzzle energy (ft lbs)540806
Energy @ 50 yds457667
Energy @ 100 yds398574

Declaring either round the victor in terms of its velocity, trajectory, or ballistic coefficient is to overlook the fact that there is just so much variety in what either one can offer. On average the 357 Mag does deliver a slightly faster muzzle velocity.

When accompanied by a higher ballistic coefficient contributes to less bullet drop and therefore a flatter trajectory. In general, however, neither round offers an inherently superior ballistic coefficient. Neither will give its shooter a marked accuracy advantage, either. Only training grants that perk.

To sum it all up, comparing these two rounds’ ballistic performances is useful for (A) starting arguments among gun nuts. Or, (B) padding out an article such as the one you are reading.

What’s most important is how these rounds compare to one another in terms of their suitability for self-defense, and that largely boils down to a discussion of stopping power and recoil.

Stopping Power – Self Defense Considerations

357 magnum vs 44 magnum ammo lined up on a table

357 magnum Hornady hollow point ammo on the left and Hornady 44 magnum hollow points on the right.

Now we’re talking. Unless you’re comparing an unusually weak 44 Mag to an absolute monster of a 357 Mag, the 44 Mag is always going to benefit from an energy advantage. Even at 100 yards the 44 Mag’s bigger, heavier bullet is going to transfer substantially more energy to its target than the 357 Mag could have at the same range.

Ruger 357 magnum revolver with Hornady ammo

But here’s the thing: The 357 Mag is no hot house flower. It too is a beast, consistently capable of transferring more than 500 ft lbs of energy at close range. That’s far more than the minimum typically recommended for self-defense, and it’s not as though substantially greater energy is going to make your target even “deader.”

44 Magnum ammunition also boasts superior penetration. This is the product of its bullet’s heavier weight, which grants it greater momentum and “sectional density” (basically a measure of how efficiently a projectile can penetrate its target). But again, unless you’re squaring off against a bear or hunting, the differences in the two rounds’ penetration depth is moot. In fact, the 44 Mag is more likely to overpenetrate a human-sized target, which is undesirable since that puts innocent bystanders at risk.

What About Recoil?

Shooting a revolver with a chronograph at a shooting range

Recoil is an important factor to consider. Heavier recoil doesn’t just make shooting less comfortable – it also lengthens the amount of time it takes to realign your aim for a follow-up shot. Both rounds are generous in the recoil department, but the 44 Mag certainly kicks more

Recoil is determined by four factors: bullet weight, bullet velocity, propellant charge weight, and firearm weight. Now, for our recoil comparison chart let’s just assume that all 357 Mag rounds have 10 grain propellant charges and 44 Mag rounds have 15 grains. Let us also assume we’re firing a 40 ounce 357 Mag Ruger GP100 and a 54 ounce 44 Magnum Redhawk. Given those data, the rounds we compared earlier would deliver the following recoil energies:

 Recoil Energy (ft lbs)
357 Mag Hornady Custom 158gr XTP7.77
357 Mag Prvi Partizan 158gr SJHP11.73
357 Mag American Eagle 158gr JSP7.67
44 Mag Hornady Custom 240gr XTP14.96
44 Mag Prvi Partizan 240gr JHP18.62
44 Mag American Eagle 240gr JHP12.88

As you can see, the 44 Mag can consistently deliver twice as much kick as the 357 Mag. This is the natural byproduct of its greater energy. You must either tolerate heavier recoil or get a heavier handgun. Either of these options may dissuade you from carrying a weapon chambered for the larger round.

357 Magnum vs 44 Magnum: Price

A Smith & Wesson 44 magnum revolver with Hornady ammunition

No groundbreaking revelation here: The smaller cartridge is also the more affordable one. 357 Magnum ammo is more readily available as well, a testament to its greater popularity.

357 Mag vs. 44 Mag: Takeaway

And why is the 357 Mag more popular? Not because it boasts superior ballistics or accuracy, or necessarily because it is less expensive. It’s because the 357 Mag lets you carry a lighter handgun. It generates less of the recoil that can make firing in self-defense more difficult, and still deals ample energy for neutralizing a human-sized threat. The 357 Mag has been on the market a little longer too. This gave firearm manufacturers more time to produce weapons chambered for it and shooters more time to fully embrace it.

When should you prefer a 44 Mag? It’s energy advantage certainly makes it more capable of taking down larger and dangerous game. Anyone traversing bear country would be well advised to choose a 44 Mag over a 357 Mag. And if you just want to deal as much damage as you can – you know, for fun – or live out your Dirty Harry fantasies, then the answer to the 357 Magnum vs 44 Magnum is the latter.