I have a .357 revolver. The rounds have a significant amount of kick. When I go out target shooting the kick makes it unpleasant to shoot before I have gone through a full box of ammunition.

Someone told me you can fire 38 caliber rounds in a 357, but I am not sure that is a good idea. Is it safe to fire 38 caliber rounds in a 357 magnum pistol?

  • They are apparently the same size. WP says 'Handgun cartridges known as "38" are .357 caliber.' en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caliber But that doesn't necessarily mean they're compatible. If your 357 is not fun to shoot, why not get a 22?
    – user2169
    Commented May 22, 2016 at 18:36
  • yes you can, but not the other way around. however, since i based this from results of my google-fu, i won't post this as an answer, but a comment instead. you might want to google and check the internet for more input regarding this topic, unless someone more educated actually answers to your question. stay safe!
    – Peter1807
    Commented May 23, 2016 at 7:15

4 Answers 4


Absolutely safe. The .357 Magnum cartridge was literally designed as a high-pressure .38 Special:

  • Max pressure on a .38 Special is 17kpsi (with the +P specification allowing for 18.5kpsi).
  • Max pressure on a .357 Magnum is basically double: 35kpsi.

In order to prevent people from putting the high-pressure rounds in a gun not designed for them, the cartridge case was lengthened just enough (0.135") that, properly loaded, it would not fit in the cylinder or chamber of a gun designed only for .38 Special. But take a .357 Magnum round, dump a bit of powder* (or use the same charge as you load in .38 Special), and you're essentially back to a .38 Special in a slightly longer case.

Shooting .38 Specials in a .357 Magnum can lead to one small problem: Because the .38 case is slightly shorter, you'll get chamber or cylinder fouling a little further back. If you shoot a lot of dirty ammo and then, without cleaning, try to feed .357 Magnum back into the same gun, you might find rounds getting stuck on that ring of fouling.

Another tiny caveat: There are some .357 Magnum autoloaders out there. If they're tuned for the recoil impulse of the magnum they may fail to cycle on the lower recoil of the .38 Special. Of course, as with any gun you intend to use for hunting or defense, you should test fire the gun with the ammo you intend to carry to ensure they work together without malfunctions before taking them into the field.

* Don't literally "dump a bit of powder." Significantly downloading rounds can cause very serious – even catastrophic – problems! Only mess with loads if you are a competent reloader.

  • 2
    +1. IIRC 0.357" for jacketed rounds (often 0.358" for unjacketed cast lead) is the actual physical diameter of the bullet in both. The outside diameter of the case is 0.379", but ".38" probably sounded catchier to whoever named the .38 Short Colt round. Rather like .32 S&W and .327 Fed Mag are both .312" bullets in a .337" case, and the Ducati 848 has an 849cc engine. Commented Jun 15, 2016 at 14:57

A .357 Magnum can safely and readily shoot the following rounds: .38 Short Colt, .38 Long Colt, .38 Special, .357 Magnum. Your big problem in the short-near term is that shooting shorter cases will foul cylinders further back in the chamber and if not cleaned thoroughly after shooting, you may not be able to seat longer rounds from baked on carbon build up. Clean soon as possible and do a good job to prevent it. Additionally, in the long term, over years of shooting shorter cartridges in your .357, you will tend to get erosion further back in the cylinder, much like what happens to muzzle breaks/flash hiders on an AR platform, for example.

Some folks even stuff .38 S&W and .38 S&W Short in older models that will take them, but don't do this--they are a different case diameter and should only be shot in pistols designed for them. If you do, in any case, they usually expand and become a pain to reload. Just don't do this. If for no other reason than if you keep/shoot them in a pistol you're using for self defense, and need to reload, one or more stuck casings means that if you're using a speed loader, you just hit a stoppage point that if you haven't trained to deal with may cost you your life. And even if you have, it may still, because it will take additional time to deal with. Again, stay away from .38 S&W/S&W Short in a .38 SPL or .357 Magnum.

Additionally, if you decide to buy a companion lever action rifle, keep in mind that if you wanted to shoot .38 Special out of them, you should buy one designed to shoot .38 SPL and .357 Mag--some that will chamber and shoot .357 Mag will also chamber and fire a .38 SPL, but will not extract or eject it, and/or they will be problematic cycling .38 SPL rounds.

I've dealt with both the shooting of the smaller rounds (very popular in SA/Cowboy shooting) in .357 Mag pistols, and the .38 SPL chambering, extracting, and ejecting issues in rifles while working in the firearms industry. One additional and nice reason to actually shoot .38 SPL loads in a .357 Mag is the lower recoil and pressures. In fact, it's a popular setup among those who like to carry a snub-nosed revolver, to buy a .357 Mag with the intention of shooting .38 SPL because the .357 Mag is typically made with thicker cylinder walls (and usually frames and barrels) to withstand higher pressures.

This means there's more metal/weight to most .357 Mag snubs than a .38 SPL of a similar barrel length and frame size--which helps offset muzzle rise due to recoil. Thus, time back on target for follow-up shots is quicker. Most recoil sensitive shooters are better off with a semi-auto than a revolver, but if a recoil sensitive shooter wants a snub nosed revolver which is much harder to shoot accurately than just about anything but a derringer, the smart move is to get a Magnum and shoot shorter rounds. You'll find people buy .44 Mag snubs and shoot .44 Special or .44 Russian in them, or they'll buy a .327 Federal Magnum and shoot .32 H&R Magnum or .32 Long Colt.

More weight + less powder = lower felt recoil and faster follow up shots.

As an aside, most often, the above scenario is due to a husband or boyfriend thinking the best handgun for a wife, girlfriend, mother, sister, daughter was a revolver, when it's usually the hardest for them to learn with, shoot accurately, and become comfortable and proficient with simply because the recoil is so unpleasant. Always did everything to steer them away from it when I could, and a great many snub nosed revolvers purchased usually came back within days to be traded on something else, even with reduced recoil loads. Occasionally, it is a guy or gal who knows how to shoot revolvers, and they're looking specifically for the added weight and controllability in a snub nosed pistol.

A final note, you can also shoot .38 SPL+P in your .357 Mag...but you might as well just shoot .357 Mag rounds if you're going to do that. You can even get low recoil/low flash .357 Mag rounds and avoid the chamber fouling/erosion issues that come from prolonged use of .38 SPL or .38 Long Colts. If you reload, just reload them light. The .357 Magnum is incredibly versatile. There are even high pressure .357 Magnum loads using heavier than normal bullets (180 grains as opposed to the more common 158 and 125 grain bullets) which make fantastic hunting rounds.

Check out buffalobore.com for a great example of a variety of high performance and specialty .38 SPL/.357 Mag rounds. Check out buffaloarms.com for a variety of.38 LC, as well as .38 SPL/.357 Mag ammo, including blackpowder rounds.


I own a S&W Model 19-6 and I fire 130 grain .38SPL ammunition out of the revolver and find that it's easier for me to control the recoil and maintain accuracy at 25+ yards than I can the same grain .357 MAG rounds due to the recoil differences. I feel less confident and even dread using the .357 due to the high pressure rounds and the recoil that accompany said ammo. There are traditionalists that claim you only fire the round marked on the gun because it's "unsafe", when in reality specialty rounds like the .38 SPL, .44 SPL, and rounds that interchange such as the .223 and 5.56x45 NATO, offer different pros and cons that can make or break the performance of the weapon for certain shooter. The pros of having a rifle chambered in .223 is that the .223 is a high pressure round designed for small to medium game and therefore offers a higher pressure tolerance and feeds and cycles the 5.56 well, if not better than some 5.56 configurations due to gas systems and the like. Same concept for the .38 SPL and .357 MAG, except in revolvers, there is no automatic extraction to remove the cassing before it can expand inside the shell housing, in this case the cylinders. So, in my opinion it's about proper research and weapon handling and performance results that should determine whether or not you should run specific ammunition types in your weapon.

  • 1
    The info about 223 is backwards. You can safely fire 223 in a gun chambered for 5.56 but firing 5.56 in a gun chambered for 223 can and will eventually damage the gun. 5.56 generates 1.5 times the pressure of 223 when fired in a 223 chambered gun.
    – David King
    Commented Aug 7, 2017 at 23:28

NEVER, EVER fire a round in your pistol that it was not designed for! The only caliber that you should be using is the one that is written on the frame of the weapon. If your issues are rooted in how the gun makes you feel, then the answer is to consider buying a firearm with a different caliber.

  • 1
    Do you have any references to support the 357 not being designed to fire 38 rounds? Both existing answers differ significantly from your answer. Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 10:30
  • @JamesJenkins Please feel free to reference any gun safety course training materials or any manufacturer info or any other official documentation that says you should do this. EVERY piece of literature out there stresses using the right caliber for the right gun. Just because a bunch of yuk-yuks on the internet says its "safe" doesnt mean that you should do it. Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 17:47
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    I am feeling free to reference a manufacturers info that says you should do this: "Notes on .357 Magnum caliber:This revolver is designed to fire factory loaded 357 Mag, 38 Spl and 38 Spl +P ammunition." ruger-docs.s3.amazonaws.com/_manuals/sp101.pdf page 11
    – J Kimball
    Commented Jun 17, 2016 at 16:18
  • 1
    There's a difference between between those who have worked in the firearms industry and have been paid to build, repair, and shoot firearms and train others to do so...and yuk-yuks on the internet suggesting you shouldn't do something manufacturers and engineers designed for, versus what lawyers tell the media folks to put in disclaimers for people who don't know any better. I suppose those manufacturers building and selling firearms and telling you to shoot .410 shotgun shells and .45 Long Colt in the same firearms don't know anything about pressures, design, structural/material stresses? Commented Jun 27, 2016 at 23:24
  • 2
    Further, shooting 5.56 NATO and .233, and 7.62NATO and .308 Winchester present similar issues and problems of pressure. Most people don't understand the differences, which you can shoot in which and why. There chamber tolerances, case thicknesses, SAMI specs, metallurgical/engineering issues to take into account. As a general rule, shoot what your firearm is designed for. That IS safe. It does not mean the laws of physics, engineering, common sense, or reality come to a halt because of ignorance of how firearms work--or disclaimers designed to avoid liability for the actions of the ignorant. Commented Jun 27, 2016 at 23:29

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