Reconsidering The .357 SIG
Mas Wasn’t Crazy About This
Bottleneck Blazer At First,
But After A While…
Did you ever meet people you didn’t like at first, but after a while, you discovered they had redeeming qualities? Was there ever a job you disliked at first, but after a while you became comfortable with it and even enjoyed doing it? The same can happen with machines. Cars, for instance. Or handguns, or even handgun calibers.
I started reading the S&W catalog as a kid in the 1950’s. In their smallest .38 Special line, the conventionally styled outside hammer Chiefs Special made sense, and the Bodyguard with built in hammer shroud and a little nub you could still cock to single action made even more sense, but the “hammerless” double-action only Centennial struck my young self as clueless. What was the point of giving up a feature, when the Bodyguard was just as snag free and offered two modes of fire instead of one? I figured then only an idiot would buy one.
Passing decades taught me to appreciate the Centennial design. I learned in fast-breaking self-defense scenarios, a revolver would almost always be fired double action anyway. I saw cases where cocked revolvers were unintentionally discharged, sometimes with tragic results. And then, I saw cases where it was falsely alleged that such negligent “cocked gun” discharges had occurred, even when the officer had fired double action. I came to realize why LAPD, and later many other departments, had gone to double-action only (DAO) revolvers. The true “hair trigger negligent discharges” would have been much less likely with the DAO, and the false allegations of same would have been impossible.
I also learned through experience the Centennial was more controllable than the other two formats. The higher backstrap of the “hammerless” design allowed a higher grasp, lowering the bore axis and reducing muzzle jump. Today, I own all three types, but almost always choose that once despised “hammerless” for my J-Frame needs.
Arrows show brass from double tap in the air, Mas’ .357 SIG P229 still on target.
Mas’ Scott Warren-sighted G31 is good for 1.5-inch 25-yard groups with
most any .357 SIG load, including this Winchester PDX1 125-grain load.
When the .357 SIG round was introduced, my first thought was, “What’s the point? An oddball bottleneck case, and a 125-grain 9mm bullet at 1,350 feet per second, when we’ve already got a CorBon load for .40 S&W with a 135-grain 10mm bullet at 1,300?” As time went on, .357 SIG’s started showing up in class, and we started seeing case-neck separations. These weren’t “catastrophic incidents” because the guns didn’t blow up or anything, but they were “tactically catastrophic” in that you had to disassemble the weapon and somehow get the sheared brass collar out of the chamber, and then reassemble before you could fire another shot. Back then, I wouldn’t give a .357 SIG houseroom.
By mid-first decade of the 21st century, ammo-makers had gotten the knack for this round, though, and I stopped seeing the case-neck separations. I won a Glock 31 in .357 SIG at a match, and got to really like it. It put five shots in 1-1/4 inches for me with 125-grain Golden Saber from 25 yards, and about 1-1/2 inches with Speer Gold Dot of the same weight. Both of those loads chronographed hotter than factory spec, around 1,430 fps, which absolutely did fulfill the .357 SIG’s promise of duplicating the ballistics of the most spectacularly effective .357 Magnum revolver load with much less recoil and with many more rounds on board. Soon my G31 had a little companion gun, a Glock 33 tuned by Dave Maglio, which launched the Golden Saber and Gold Dot .357 SIG rounds at a still impressive 1,340 fps or so from its stubby barrel. That was downright impressive.
It takes two J-Frame Magnums to equal on-board firepower of a 10-shot M&P357C
self-loader. Although the M&P357C has been discontinued, it is available on
special order. Five shots (below) from Steve Denney’s S&W M&P Compact in .357
SIG, from 25 yards shows stellar accuracy with power to spare.
When this S&W Centennial Airweight first came out, it seemed so stupid that the market
abandoned it and it was discontinued for years. Its descendants are now S&W’s most popular.
Later, Mas came to realize the frame shape of “hammerless” Centennial lets your hand ride
higher, lowering bore axis for better recoil control.
So was the .357 SIG cartridge’s performance in the field. Richmond Virginia Police and the Virginia State Police, after many shootings, reported spectacular performance with the Gold Dot load in the .357 SIG. So did the Texas Department of Public Safety, and other organizations. The round’s tactical penetration in auto bodies was particularly impressive. In Texas, the .357 out of a SIG P226 pierced a semi’s heavy truck body to kill a gunman when .45 slugs hadn’t gotten through. In New Mexico, a trooper dropped a rogue bear with an issue S&W M&P .357 SIG. A Tennessee trooper dumped a would-be cop-killer at spectacular range with his Glock 31. The reports were adding up around the country, and they were impressive.
Today, the .357 SIG’s performance has turned me from foe to fan. I don’t compete with it—there’s no pistol game I shoot where that load gives any advantage—and I don’t teach with it because when I travel, less popular ammo like .357 SIG, 10mm, or .45 GAP is hard to find on the road. When at home, though, on a rural property where a long shot is occasionally offered, my flat-shooting Glock 31 with 16 Gold Dot .357 SIG loads on board is often what’s on my hip. My S&W M&P357 Compact carries the same 10 .357 SIG rounds as two J-Frame .357 Magnums and is a lot sweeter to shoot. And if the SIG P229 .357 is good enough to protect the First Family in the holsters of Secret Service, my P229 .357 is certainly good enough to protect mine.
The lesson I learned here was a simple one. Sometimes, something we doubted proves itself over time, and becomes worthy of reconsideration.
By Massad Ayoob