The common internet myth is that there is no discernible difference in velocity between the 38 special +p and the 357 magnum out of a sub 2″ revolver.

The late, great, Stephen A. Camp addressed this with authority here:  .38 Snub Vs. .357 Snub and this writeup would not be complete without including it.

I would like to rehash it from a personal experience standpoint with an emphasis on reloading self defense rounds for the snub nose revolver.

In summary to address this myth from the data you will see below, you will see that the 357 magnum indeed packs more of a punch out of a snub nose. I will also address some other myths before I jump into reloading for the snub nose revolver.

MYTH: 38 Special +P vs. 357 Magnum Out Of A Snub Nose Has No Difference In Velocity

Hand loads  using an F-1 Shooting Chrony at 10 feet

135gr Speer GDHP Short Barrel 9.6gr Power Pistol 357 Magnum

Speer’s Advertised factory velocities are 990 fps.

The book has this load at 1137 fps out of a 2.5″

Ruger LCR with 1.875″ barrel
High – 1269
Low – 1221
Avg – 1252 FPS – 470 ft lbs energy

135gr Speer GDHP Short Barrel 6.0 gr Power Pistol 38 +P

Speer’s Advertised factory velocities are 860 fps

The book has this load at 983 fps out of a 2.5″

Ruger LCR with 1.875″ barrel
High – 908.7
Low – 830
Avg – 875 FPS – 230 ft lbs energy

Out of the Colt Cobra 2″ Barrel ( which is what I specifically loaded these for)
High – 931.2
Low – 876.2
Avg – 897 FPS – 241 ft lbs energy

135gr Speer GDHP Short Barrel 6.4 gr Power Pistol 38 +P

Speer’s Advertised factory velocities are 860 fps

The book has this load at 1065 fps out of a 2.5″

Ruger LCR with 1.875″ barrel
High – 1108
Low – 1031
Avg – 1066 FPS – 341 ft lbs energy

So in conclusion, Using the Ruger LCR with 1.875″ barrel as a baseline….

The difference between the low end 38+p and the 357 magnum:

473 fps 315 ft lbs energy

The difference between the high end 38+p and the 357 magnum:

282 fps 204 ft lbs of energy

That is a big difference.

Now the truth of the matter is,  the 38+p is much easier to shoot as the 357 truly is a handful. It borderline hurts. More-so with the boot grip than the tamer grip on my LCR. But it is controllable as I have demonstrated in my videos on my Ruger LCR reviews by drawing and quick firing five shots on target. The 357 definitely packs more punch. There is a definite difference out of a snub nose. If you can handle it one handed on the move, then you should carry them. Some people can’t handle the recoil though. That is understandable, so they should stick to the lighter loads. As for me, I will carry the most powerful load I can accurately handle. That is the 357 Magnum loads.

MYTH: 1.875″ vs 4″ Barrel Velocity Loss Is Too Much

I also did a direct comparison of ammo with my 4″ K Frame Model 19 to document the velocity loss. Here is what I found:

158gr Speer GDHP 14.3gr 2400

Ruger LCR 1.875″ Barrel vs. Smith Model 19 4″ Barrel

Model 19 – 1316 fps 608 ft lbs
LCR – 1084 fps 412 ft lbs

232 fps difference 2.125″ barrel difference = 109 fps per inch

135gr Speer GDHP Short Barrel 9.6gr Power Pistol 357 Magnum

Model 19 – 1497 fps 672 ft lbs
LCR – 1252 fps 470 ft lbs

245 fps difference 2.125″ barrel difference = 115 fps per inch

Yes, there is a velocity loss, but not enough to consider the rounds inadequate for self defense purposes.  Both of the above loads are more than adequate for carry in a sub nose.

MYTH: 357 Will Cause Hearing Damage So I Use 38 Special

Short and sweet…..

I understand the hearing issue but I want to point out that immediate hearing damage starts at about 140db so the 38 special is still going to cause damage.

.25 ACP 155.0 dB
.32 LONG 152.4 dB
.32 ACP 153.5 dB
.380 157.7 dB
9mm 159.8 dB
.38 S&W 153.5 dB
.38 Spl 156.3 dB
.357 Magnum 164.3 dB
.41 Magnum 163.2 dB
.44 Spl 155.9 dB
.45 ACP 157.0 dB
.45 COLT 154.7 dB

Every handgun caliber above can and will cause immediate hearing loss. So worrying about it and choosing a lesser caliber based upon this myth is ridiculous to say the least.

Now into the meat and potatoes, reloading for the snub nose…

I will not get into legality debates of reloading my own self defense ammo. I feel that I have a right to reload my own self defense ammunition, and I document it and reload to the same standards as factory ammunition. Some people like to decry the legality of it all, saying it can cause me more issues in court if I ever have to use it. I simply do it to save money and allow for more training and control over the ammunition I fire out of my firearms. I feel there is no legal issue with this and I am loading to factory book specs.

Reloading For The Snub Nosed Revolver

I decided to go with the 135gr Speer Gold Dots for Short barrel as opposed to the 125 grain bullets. Recoil is more manageable and the expansion and penetration on these things are consistent. factors to keep in mind if you live in a populated area and still wish to meet the FBI Standard minimum requirements for penetration.

They have 7 petals instead of the standard 6 on gold dots.

The factory loads are tested/advertised by Speer as:

990 fps in 357
860fps in 38+P

Here are what others have gotten with 357 magnum reloads and factory ammo from their snubs:

factory 135 gr GDSB 357 Mag=952 fps from my 2.125″ model 60
S&W model 60,.357 Mag. Gold Dot Factory 135 gr. 1387fps
3” barrel
.357 Mag. Reloads, 9.6 gr. Power Pistol, GD 135 gr. 1222fps, 1226S&W model 60, 3” bbl. with .38 SPL reload 894fps
6.4 gr. Power Pistol
I loaded the 135-gr Speer short barrel GDHP over AA#7 and Power Pistol for the .357 for my 2″ Rhino a few years back. Here’s the data:AA#7 12.1 gr under 135-gr Speer short barrel GDHP:First six: M 1012/ES 39.88/SD 17.66
Second six: M 1022/ES 69.85/SD 25.96Power Pistol 9.6 gr under same bullet:First six: M 1013/ES 37.42/SD 16.24
Second six: M 1025/ES 46.83/SD 16.03
From the 2.25″ SP101 the 5 shot average was 1103 FPS with the high end being 1129 and the low end 1088.From the 3″ GP100 the 6 shot average was 1159 with the high end being 1170 and the low end being 1145.Factory ammo
The handloads for the .357 Mag. with 135 gr. bullet with 9.6 grains of Power Pistol were consistently around 1,200 fps. This was out of a 3″ barrel S&W model 60-10
I load 7.2 grains Unique, Fed brass, WSP primers, and the speer 135 gr gd short barrel. They average 1029’/s from my 340. Sorry, I have never shot any factory loads to compare recoil. BTW 7.6 grains Unique moves the velocity up to 1090’/s, with quite a bit more recoil.
8.8gr Power Pistol seems to be the best replica load for the Speer 135gr SB .357 Magnum round.
The 135grGDSB makes 1125fps in my M66-21 /2″. I can duplicate that w/ 14.5gr of 2400 & the SpeerGDSB. GOing to 15gr gets me 1175fps, just a bit more.
Fired from my 3″681 PC……Temp.87…. Elev.98…CED M2 ChronoSpeer GoldDot SB 38+P 135gr.969 fps.
975 fps.
979 fps.
981 fps.
986 fps.
986 fps.
989 fps.Speer GoldDot SB 357mag. 135gr.1089 fps.
1095 fps.
1099 fps.
1107 fps.
1110 fps.
1115 fps.
1119 fps.Remington Golden Saber 357mag. 125gr.1164 fps.
1168 fps.
1172 fps.
1179 fps.
1183 fps.
1188 fps.
1191 fps.

The bullets are designed to work/expand from around 850 to 1200 fps optimally. The bullets work well in guns from 2 to 4 inch barrels, but when driven faster from longer barrels, the bullet will fragment after expansion and actually penetrate less.

Speer says this about the factory load:

To approximate the Speer 357 Magnum Gold Dot Short Barrel service load in a snub-nose revolver. Load the 135 grain bullet (Speer Part No. 4014) with 8.8 grs of Power Pistol, 8.4 grs of VihtaVuroi 3N37, or 7.6 grs of Unique. These loads should give you around 1000 fps from a 2″ 357 Magnum revolver. (COAL was listed as 1.590″)

My goal was to achieve 1100- 1200 FPS out of my 1.875″ LCR barrel.

I chose Power Pistol over 2400 out of the snub due to the burn rate and control ability. 2400 burns too slow for a short barrel just like H1110. Both give a real good flame though. More so than the Power Pistol. Others have chosen AA#5 and swear by it. I choose Power Pistol.

I decided to go with the 9.6 max load published to push it up over 1000 fps. I will be using Winchester primers. Once fired. Remington brass, and a COAL of 1.590. I cleaned them twice, and also cleaned the primer pockets.

Every case was carefully measured for consistency 1.280-1.285 and inspected with a loupe for imperfections both before and after. I do this with all my self defense hand loads. They were also test chambered in my case gauge as well as had the crimps inspected.

Here is some Gel testing  info on this round:

10% Ballistic Gelatin Tests for:
Speer .357 mag 135 gr GDHP Short BarrelTesting Platform:
S&W 340 PD 1.875″Barrier:
Four Layers of DenimTEST RESULTS:Round # 1:
Penetration: 13.375”
Recovered Weight: 133.7 gr.
Expansion*: .562 cal.
Velocity: 980.0 fps* Expansion measured at widest point.10% Ballistic Gelatin Tests for:
Speer .357 mag 135 gr GDHP Short BarrelTesting Platform:
S&W 649 2.125″

Four Layers of Denim


Round # 1:
Penetration: 16.00”
Recovered Weight: 134.2 gr.
Expansion*: .407 cal.
Velocity: 1002 fps

* Expansion measured at widest point.

10% Ballistic Gelatin Tests for:
Speer .357 mag 135 gr GDHP Short Barrel

Testing Platform:
Ruger SP101 2 ¼”

Four Layers of Denim


Round # 1:
Penetration: 15.00”
Recovered Weight: 136.2 gr.
Expansion*: .551 cal.
Velocity: 1046 fps

I really like the performance of these bullets out at the 1000-1200 fps range. I feel it is a great mix of penetration and expansion.

Here is my crimp next to some factory 135gr Speer gdsb 38+p

As far as performance of the rounds out of my Ruger LCR:

I fast fired four shots from draw at 12 yards one handed out of each cylinder. Took fifth out to inspect for crimp jump, then took an aimed shot. Those are the bulls eye top left shots.

I am very happy with the accuracy:

I then took the fired cases back home to inspect them for over pressure. I found no indications of over pressure.

I experienced no crimp jumps or bullet setbacks. Nor any bulging of the cases.

It was slightly booming when fired, and recoil was noticeable,  but they handled OK and were accurate.

I wouldn’t want to do a 50+ round range session with them however. These are self defense rounds, not range plinking rounds.

10-20 rounds was more than enough for a range session. I practice 1-2 times a week with whatever I carry, so 10-20 rounds a session is sufficient.

I weighed the LCR in with a full load of these. 19.3 ounces, or 1.21lbs loaded.

For those interested in duplicating the Speer 135gr Gold Dot Short Barrel 38+P load 6.4gr of Power Pistol was the best combination I found to match recoil and velocity.

For those interested in duplicating the Speer 135gr gold Dot Short Barrel 357 Magnum load, 8.8gr of Power Pistol was the best combination I found to match recoil and velocity.

As far as choosing a powder, below is a good burn rate chart. It helps with determining what powders to use for what barrels/bullet grain combo

Another chart without the numbers from fastest to slowest that is more linear

I personally  feel Unique and Power pistol are perfect for short barrels.

Typically, what i have found, is you can get better velocities with a slower powder than a faster one but with a snub, you will lose velocity due to the fact the bullet just runs out of barrel before the pressure curve builds up to peak so all of the powders get you the same velocities, however, if you load a faster powder it cuts down on the fireball effect. Which is my reasoning behind the faster powder. While the power pistol has a fireball, it is not bad for my application. I have also tested it at night.

In conclusion, everybody has their favorite powders and or recipes, the above are mine.  I found what works for me and my snub nose. I carry the most powerful load I can accurately shoot.  Self defense carry rounds can and are successfully loaded for the snub nose and frankly I will trust my personal attention and QC over a mass produced factory ammunition any day. As always please take care when reloading and start with the lowest published load and work your way up to maximum. Every firearm is different. Cheers!