Reloading the .357 Magnum Levergun

Versatility Personified
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A series of targets John shot with the Marlin 1894, proving the accuracy
of what some consider a “forgotten” Magnum!

In 1935, Smith & Wesson introduced the .357 Magnum. It was not long before Winchester Model 1892s originally in .32-20 were converted to .357 Magnum. The same thing happened 20 years later with the new .44 Magnum and the Winchester Model 1892, which had originally been chambered in .44-40. Surprisingly, or not so surprisingly depending upon your point of view, factory chambered leverguns for the .44 Magnum were offered more than 15 years before arriving in .357 Magnum.

Two guns, one cartridge: The Marlin 1894 and the Ruger Old Model.

Rifle Or Not?

Is the .357 Magnum a rifle cartridge? My friend the late John Wootters raised this question in an article from 1983 and even before this, in November 1982, Ken Waters published “Pet Loads for the .357 Magnum Carbine.”

In the late 1970s, leverguns chambered in .357 Magnum began appearing. Both the Browning B92 and the Rossi Model 92 were based on the Winchester 1892, while the Marlin used a modernized version of their original 1894 levergun. The Browning was dropped in 1986 but the Marlin and Rossi remain and we also have the .357 Magnum available in both 1873 and 1892 Winchesters, the Henry Big Boy and for a while, Ruger even offered their bolt action, five-shot, stainless steel Model 77/357.

For the most part, I use the same loads in .357 Magnum leverguns as I do in sixguns chambered for the same cartridge. In developing a load to use for both, a lot of trouble can be avoided if one finds a good load for the rifle first instead of the other way around. Most loads will work fine in a sixgun as long as they chamber in the cylinder, however the levergun can be pickier. If the loads work in the rifle barrel it’s almost a sure thing they will do fine in the sixgun, however it is almost imperative one uses either jacketed or hard cast gas-checked bullets in the rifle barrel. The big advantage with the rifle is the fact it is not only easier to shoot at longer ranges but it also picks up significant muzzle velocity over a sixgun barrel.

Some of the components John uses for the .357 Magnum for leverguns.

Load One, Shoot Two

The reason my loads for the .357 Magnum levergun are the same as they are for the .357 Magnum sixgun is simply because the whole point is to be able to use the same load in both. My most-used load these days in a .357 Magnum sixgun is the Lyman #358156GC bullet over 14.0 grains of #2400. This load in a 5-1/2" Ruger New Model Flat-Top clocks out at 1,333 fps. However, it gains right at 400 fps from the 18-1/2" Marlin 1894 and puts three shots in 3/4" at 45 yards. Not only is this excellent accuracy, it is a significant increase in muzzle velocity. One of my favorite heavy bullets is the 200-gr. NEI #200.358GC. I load this bullet over 13.0 grains of H110 and 12.0 grains of #2400. Muzzle velocity from a 4-5/8" Ruger Old Model Flat-Top are 1,050 fps and 1,150 feet per second respectively. However, load them in the Henry Big Boy and we pick up 375 fps and 250 fps respectively.

Switch to jacketed bullets in the .357 Magnum levergun and things get really interesting. The Hornady 158 XTP-JHP over 15.5 grains of H110 is just under 1,600 fps in the Marlin and Rossi .357 leverguns. We don’t always need full power loads and my more pleasant shooting loads are assembled with H4227. With Sierra’s 158 JSP, 15.5 grains of H4227 is right at 1,380 fps and groups three shots well under 1" at 45 yards.

Shooters have been arguing for nearly 85 years as to whether the .357 Magnum is suitable for use on deer. There certainly is no argument when using a .357 Magnum levergun.

John Wootters questions as to whether or not the .357 Magnum was a rifle cartridge is pretty much the same conclusion I came to many years ago. John said in 1983, “All in all, I wound up this research project considerably more impressed with the .357 Magnum as a rifle cartridge than I expected to be when I started out … the little pistol round can deliver the goods in a rifle … and more importantly, provide an awful lot of shooting fun per penny in the process. These days, that’s saying quite a lot!” This was written nearly 40 years ago and not much has changed.

All of these bullets (below) can be used successfully in the .357 Magnum rifle
but only the gas check versions will normally work with the heavier loads.

A Magnum Choice

From my perspective in this stage of my life if I could have only one centerfire rifle, it would be a .357 Magnum levergun, with my first choice being the Marlin 1894. I purchased my first when they first came out and our family has added three more since then. The last one, a brand-new Remington/Marlin, came from my local gun shop a couple months back.

It is a good solid gun but I made a few personal changes. The action was not as smooth as I would like and the trigger pull was much too heavy at 8-1/2 lbs. I had Milt Morrison slick up the action and take the trigger back to 3-1/2 lbs. I also wanted a better finish than the plain stained buttstock and forearm so I had Milt put a real finish on the wood. Now this rifle is ready for use by several generations of our family.

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