A few years ago American defense shooters had only two practical caliber choices. These were the 9mm Luger and the .45 ACP. Jeff Cooper noted that most shooters bought the 9mm for the pistol and the .45 for the cartridge. The 9mm represented fine European craftsmanship and a lot of firepowers. Today, fine weapons are offered in .45 ACP, and there are also .45’s with a high magazine capacity. The basic laws of physics still apply, the .45 kicks more than the 9mm, and the .900 long case limits the maximum downsizing a pistol can be subject to.
My favorite pistol is the Colt 1911, and my favorite defense cartridge is the .45 ACP. The past few years have been very interesting to those of us who are fascinated by handguns and their practical aspects.
Some of these developments have centered upon improving the performance of the 9mm Luger cartridge. The 9mm as commonly issued has a serious power deficit. The .45 isn’t a deathray or a poleaxe, but it is a much more effective cartridge.
Human beings tend to fix what isn’t broke and tried to spin a silk purse from a sow’s ear.
Some false starts have occurred in police weaponry. Arguably, the working copy had all he needed in 1960 in the form of the Colt .45, Combat Magnum .357 and perhaps the Smith and Wesson Chief’s Special. The .41 Magnum was introduced to a resounding lack of interest. Part of the problem was the issuing of full Magnum loads that scared the hell out of many officers. The standard 210 grain semi-wadcutter .41 load was mild to fire yet effective, but it was far from the perfect cop load. Much later, the 10mm auto would fall by the wayside as well. Acceptance was limited. As far as I am aware, only the Kentucky State Patrol still issues the 10mm Smith and Wesson auto. An overlooked factor resulted in the downfall of the .41 and the 10mm. Most working cops are not comfortable carrying a weapon that weighs over 35 ounces. This point was first brought to my attention by the late Tom Ferguson. He explained that while he liked the .41, a few shifts in his sticky hot native Texas carrying that hogleg sent him back to the light, slick K-frame revolver. Tom considered the Model 10 the ‘gunfighters gun of the twentieth century.’
I have experienced a bit of drag when carrying the Colt 1911, especially when looking for lost children or outlaws hiding deep in the woods surrounding my rural jurisdiction. That is one reason you now see more Glocks on our gunbelts than the previous Colts, Springfields and Para Ordnance .45’s. (We don’t authorize the 9mm-our Glocks are .40’s)
A few years ago, Smith and Wesson and Winchester introduced the cartridge of the next century. The .40 caliber Smith and Wesson cartridge was predicted to be everything to everybody. In some ways it is. But the .40 wasn’t designed to replace the .45. It was designed to give cops a more effective cartridge in a light, easy to handle the weapon. The .40 can be chambered in 9mm Luger sized pistols. Unlike the .41 and the 10mm, the .40 has prospered. This is somewhat of an understatement. The .40 has gathered the lion’s share of police orders for new guns. More than a few .45 carrying cops have replaced their weapons with .40’s, usually the Glock. My research shows the .45 has a considerable edge over the .40, but I still feel comfortable enough with the .40 to carry the new cartridge quite often. There just isn’t a .45 as compact as the .40 caliber Kahr!
The .40 was criticized by some when first introduced as inaccurate. This criticism may have been premature. I own some .40’s that are as accurate as any production service pistol. They aren’t as accurate as a custom 1911 but are excellent defense weapons. Just as important, the .40 is a well-balanced cartridge. It is the first auto pistol cartridge specifically designed to feed hollowpoint bullets, which all .40’s do very well. The .40 was loaded from the first for optimum performance from short barrel weap
Most .40 caliber loads show a full powder burn, resulting in little unburned powder and low muzzle flash.
Cops in the late nineties are much, much better off than they were a few years ago. Instead of a heavy underpowered 9mm we now have the option of carrying a .40 caliber pistol that weighs less than thirty ounces.
The .40 is an excellent duty weapon that doesn’t limit the experienced shooter or overly stress the novice. There are a few die-hard cops who won’t give up their revolvers. The reason is there is not a cartridge as proven in the anti personnel role as the .357 Magnum. The .357 Magnum in general and the 125 grain load in particular is a load to conjure by. Wounds to the human body resemble high power rifle strikes when this load is used. The magic ballistics are 125 grains, .357 inch bullet, 1390-1450 feet per second velocity.
I’ve personally observed the effects of this load and it works.
The revolver has more than a few drawbacks, not all relating to its six shot cylinder capacity. The revolver has a high bore axis, which results in more muzzle flip than the autopistol. Recoil and muzzle blast are severe; difficult to control without extensive training. Autopistols exhibit far less blast, recoil, and muzzle flip than the revolver for several reasons. Most autopistols have a low bore axis. The weapon sets low in the hand, leaving little leverage for the weapon to rise in recoil. Recoil is less in autopistols for two reasons. The locked breech action absorbs some of the recoil as it functions. The slow burning powder used in revolvers produces more recoil than the faster burning powder used in autopistols. It seems to be easier to achieve a full powder burn in autopistols, which results in far less muzzle blast.
With this in mind, SIG SAUER took a hard look at the handgun market and decided to introduce a cartridge to take the .357 market away from revolvers. The solution was simple. SIG simply necked the .40 caliber Smith and Wesson down to .357 diameter. There would have been little point in calling the new cartridge a 9mm/40 or 9mm SIG-there is a lot in the name. .357 SIG denotes real power. Like new cars the first year out, the .357 had a few bugs. Early loading did not reach the desired velocity. Instead of the target of 125 grains at 1350 fps, the first loads only broke 1260 to 1290 fps. In the interim since the introduction of the .357 SIG, we have seen the cartridge tweaked to 125 grains at 1350 to 1400 fps. We have also seen 115 grain loads at 1500 fps. The argument may be made that the .357 revolver is much more powerful if 140 to 180 grain loads are considered. When police loadings fired from four inch barrels are considered, the .357 SIG is close enough for government work. The .357 SIG has been adopted by agencies replacing both the 9mm auto and the .357 Magnum revolver. At least one agency has dropped the .45 caliber SIG P 220 in favor of the P 229 .357 SIG!
The SIG P 229 has been adopted by the Maryland State Patrol among others. The weapon has proven accurate and easy to shoot well. Most shooters find the .357 SIG easier to shoot well than the .40 caliber Smith and Wesson. The P 229 is a slick handling, accurate 30.5 ounce package.
Gaston Glock isn’t one to set on his laurels. Glock has recently introduced .357 SIG chambered pistols into the lineup. The full size Glock with it’s longer polygonal rifled barrel–4.5 vs. 3.8 inches in the SIG–will produce even more velocity than the SIG P 229 pistol. The Glock is lighter than the SIG, but seems to be easier to shoot. The polymer frame absorbs some recoil as it gives a bit during cycling, and the Glock gripframe is very comfortable. The Glocks low bore axis results in minimal muzzle flip. The Glock has a simple manual of arms with only one trigger action to master. The best .357 SIG just became a Glock.
We were able to test the .357 SIG long before the Glock pistols were available in factory chambers for this cartridge. We tried the .357 SIG in our four barreled Glock pistol. Yep, we have one Glock 22 with four barrels. These are:
- 1. Factory Glock .40 barrel–never used
- 2. Jarvis .40 barrel–most used
- 3. Bar Sto .357 barrel–excellent barrel
- 4. Federal Arms .357 SIG barrel with vents–in testing stage
The Jarvis barrel was ordered mainly to allow the use of lead bullet reloads. Polygonal rifling isn’t compatible with lead bullets. The fitted match grade Jarvis barrel is more accurate than any factory barrel. It is especially fitted to the Glock slide (drop-ins are available). A fitted barrel has less slop in the action, resulting in less wear and battering. The Jarvis barrel is brilliantly accurate, maximizing the .40 caliber cartridge. The Bar Sto barrel was my first .357 barrel. Bar Sto barrels are legendary. I have used a one previously in my .38 Super Commander with excellent results.
The Federal Arms barrel is a new product designed as an affordable option for the sport shooter. It very neatly converts the .40 caliber to .357 with a simple barrel change. This barrel sports a couple of vents that extend past the slide, lengthening the barrel slightly (Use only open bottom holsters please). When using this barrel with the hottest .357 SIG loads we experienced recoil no greater than that felt when firing a 9mm Glock. Yet, velocity was right in line with the Bar Sto barrel. Accuracy results were not quite as gilt edged as that experienced with the Bar Sto. They were superior to the results from our factory .40 caliber barrel. In other words, very good and well worth the reasonable price.
If accuracy is your game, the Bar Sto may win the deal; if control is your game, choose the Federal Arms. The Federal Arms barrel is flashing, of polished stainless steel. The Bar Sto is a bit more subdued, but the Jarvis is completely non-reflective; downright purposeful in appearance.
Reliability with all barrels has been excellent. A quick round count shows 450 rounds through the Bar Sto barrel and 225 through the Federal Arms with no malfunctions of any kind. We are at an enjoyable 1,100 rounds with the Jarvis barrel. We have many more .40 caliber cases and we sill tend to favor the .40. We have four failures to go into battery in the first 50 rounds after fitting the new Jarvis barrel. They were my handloads, so the case could be argued. Let’s say we have had 1,050 trouble free rounds from Jarvis with excellent accuracy improvement. We had also experienced a feeding problem with one particular brand and load, with a malfunction rate of about 10 percent. Pulling the slide to the rear and releasing had cleared this malfunction with the old barrel. With the Jarvis barrel, we experienced perfect feeding with this load. We’re glad, because the load has one endearing quality. It is cheap.
These barrels do not decrease the functional reliability of the Glock at all, and that is good.
In firing the Glock extensively with all three custom barrels, the story is getting pretty much the same. The Glock is very easy to use well. There is only one trigger action to learn; no manual safety, no decocker. This makes training simple and the Glock a superior combat weapon, and accuracy is good to excellent with all loads.
We’ve been testing the .357 SIG for well over a year as of this date. While we aren’t sure we are willing to give up the .40 caliber, the .357 SIG is dynamite!
Penetrations tests on junked vehicles pointed out the superiority of the .357 SIG against light cover. This is despite the fact that the .40 S & W is one of our finest all around performers. Expansion and in some cases fragmentation in test media was dramatic. Police oriented loads showed good penetration with excellent weight retention. With careful load selection, practically any legitimate self-defense need can be met by the .357 SIG.
An urban dweller might opt for COR-BON’s hot 115 gr. load. A highway patrol officer would be better served with the original Federal load. Both are excellent loads.
When firing the new .357 round, pressure signs were normal and functioning was perfect. Felt recoil was less than that experienced with the .40 caliber, especially with the Federal Arms barrel.
We found this weapon and load combination one of the best available to the modern shooter. The .357 SIG may not be for everyone, but for the dedicated handgunner it is a viable choice.
We compared the .40 caliber and the .357 SIG in a series of combat drills. First, we fired six rounds at seven yards as quickly as possible. The .357 was slightly faster, with a smaller group. The difference was small but evident. This is true in the case of either .357 barrel–but again, the vented barrel exhibited superior control.
There just may be something to this .357 SIG. I’m not quite ready to concede that it is superior overall to the .40. It does have good penetration and is easy to control, but the same could be said of the 9mm Luger.
In a few months when I have a few hundred cases built up for reloading, I’ll know more about the .357 SIG. You may wish to try it for yourself. It is certainly a capable and interesting cartridge.
|7 Yards, 6 Shots|
|Glock M 22 Average/.40||6 Center Hits||2.3|
|6 Center Hits||2.2|
|6 Center Hits||2.0|
|Loads used/ Remington UNC 180 gr. .40 and 125 gr. .357|
|ALL GROUPS AT 25 YARDS|
|COR BON 135 gr. JHP|
|FEDERAL 155 gr. JHP|
|FEDERAL ARMS .357 BARREL|
|CORBON 115 gr. JHP|
|FEDERAL 125 gr. JHP|
|SPEER 125 gr. GOLD DOT|
|REMINGTON UMC 125 gr.|
|BAR STO BARREL|
|CORBON 115 gr. JHP|
|CORBON 124 gr. JHP|
|FEDERAL 125 gr. JHP|
|SPEER 125 gr. GOLD DOT|