Can .38 ammo be fired through a .357 (but not vice versa)?

Can .38 ammo be fired through a .357?

I remember being told that you could fire a .38 round through a .357 revolver without adverse affect (to the shooter).


Clearly you NEVER mix & match calibers since these tend to be “either/or” situations (“either” you use the correct load “or” the weapon will probably explode in your face).

In support of the “.38 through a .357” argument was: the standard .38 factory load, with a slug minutely larger than the .357 barrel, was significantly less powerful (produced lower compression and thus muzzel velocity) than the .357 factory load, thus firing a .38 round through a .357 revolver would result in the slug being “squeezed” by the .357 barrel thus producing higher compression (and muzzel velocity) than the same .38 round fired from a .38 revolver (but relatively lower pressure than a .357 round fired through the same .357).

HOWEVER, I was told you may NOT, EVER, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, fire a .357 round through a .38 because the .357 round produced much more compression behind the slug and the .38 COULD NOT HANDLE this compression.

Do I have my facts straight? Please be aware I am talking about .38 and .357 revolvers specifically, not a .380 auto or any other variation.

I am going to purchase a home defense handgun, one that 1) both I (6’00", 210 lbs, “firearms familiar”) and my wife (5’00", 115 lbs, “firearms challenged”) can handle, and 2) will have enough stopping power to make it worthwhile WITHOUT going through our walls. I don’t want some wimpy .25 or .32, and a large frame .45 or a 9mm will turn off the wife (she’s not 100% behind this initiative, so I don’t want to get some monster Desert Eagle and really scare her off the idea).

I thought a small frame .357 loaded with heavy, low-velocity (and maybe hollowpoint) .38 rounds would be a good compromise.

Please don’t post any replies that are illegal or would tick off the moderators.

Thanks all.

Yes, you can safely fire .38 and .38 Special out of a .357, but never .357 out of a .38 or a .38 Special. I have done this (.38 out of a .357) many times in the past. And IIRC, a .357 won’t load properly in a .38 or .38 Special because the case is too long, but I may be wrong about that, as I’ve only used .357’s, never .38’s.

Thanks Anthracite, remind me never to piss you off.

OK then, what’s the difference between .38 and .38Special?

a 357 is just a 38 with an extra long case that can hold extra powder. the bullets are the same. actually the only reason to have a 38 is weight of the frame. they are made lighter due to the lighter expected load. I would always buy a 357 pistol and just shoot 38s.

I shoot .38 wadcutter loads with my .357 Ruger GP-100 all the time. In fact, I rarely shoot magnum loads - they’re more expensive, and shooting three boxes of mags hurts my wrist. Shooting three boxes of wadcutters is a walk in the park.

  • Rick

There was a revolver called the Phillips and Rogers Medusa (since discontinued, I believe) designed to fire a whole range of calibers, .357 and .38 included. There are a lot of calibers that have the same basic case diameter.

Actually, it’s not the “compression” per se, but the much greater volume & pressure of gasses generated by the far larger ‘Magnum’ charge. Compression implies that you’re pushing a volume of gas into a cartridge, when, in fact, you’re burning a solid substance (gunpowder) which produces a large volume of gas.

Both the .38 Special and the .357 Magnum use the same bullet diameter (.356, IIRC) and, frequently, the exact same bullet. The reasons behind calling the .38 Special a “.38” escape me at the moment. The only physical difference between the cases is the length (and therefore volume) of the magnum cartridge is greater.

For many years, that was standard law enforcement practice: Issue Model 29 revolvers and .38 Special +P[sup]*[/sup] ammo.

[sup]*[/sup]("+P" == Higher pressure ammo for modern revolvers with high-quality metalurgy)

I was under the (mistaken?) impression that calibre = inch as far as bullet size goes.

In other words, .38 calibre = a bullet that is 38 one-hundredths of an inch, likewise a .357 is a bullet that is 357 one-thousandths of an inch… of course that means there’s only 23 one-thousandths of an inch between the two bullet diameters.

First of all is that correct or not?
Second of all, if those two bullets are that close to the same size, why would it matter if you switched bullets on either type of weapon? If anything, I would think that a .38 bullet wouldn’t fit in a gun designed for .357 bullets.

What gives?


Actually, you can’t shoot a .357 through a .38 revolver simply because [on most models] the .38 cylander won’t close because of the length of the .357 round.

When I was a full time cop we carried S&W .357 magnum revolvers, but our issue ammo was in fact 125gr. .38 jacketed hollow point.

I have a Ruger GP-100 .357 and fire .38+Ps through it all the time. It even says I can in the owners manual, IIRC.
BTW, Ruger makes an excellent small frame .357, their SP101, that you should look at. It’s extremely well made and relatively inexpensive. It only holds 5 rounds, though.

That being said, for a home defense pistol, let me be the first to recommend a .45. (There has been an over abundance of threads, many heated, here about the relative merits of various home-defense weaponry that I’m to lazy to look up right now.) Anyway, A large slug with low muzzle velocity = a lot of kinetic energy without the penetration of smaller, faster rounds. And there are a number of small, light .45 semi-autos available. Two that come to mind immediately are the Para-Ordinance P12 (pretty spendy), and the Taurus PT-145 (not so spendy). I’m sure S&W, Colt, and others have similar small .45 pistols, but I can’t think of their model numbers right now. (*Mods, if these links are a problem, just take them out and I apologize in advance.)
Please note, I have not personally used either of these pistols and am not qualified to comment on their quality, but I’ve heard good things about both these manufacturers.

FWIW, the same is true for the .44 Special and .44 Magnum.

Enright: A .38 bullet is really .357" diameter. It keeps the names from being confused. A .45 is really .444" or somesuch.

That was the idea behind it, But American manufactures eventually just started naming things for impressions rather than mathematical accuracy.

The reason for the .38 special being .357 that I’ve heard is just consistancy. People who depend on guns for a living(for example, Policeman) are very protective and and suspicious about their guns. When the .38 special was introduced they wanted to use a .357 calibre round, but were afraid that the users would not warm up to the idea of a new calibre gun since they knew the old one worked, and the new one was untested. So they simply called it a .38 special to give the impression that it was the exact same, only better. :slight_smile:

IIRC the .38 that they were using up till that point wasn’t even a .38 inch but .363(or something like that). having been a earlier redesign of the actual .38 that they didn’t bother to rename either.

Okay, here goes:

First came the .38 S&W, a short blackpowder cartridge made for the S&W “lemon squeezer” revolver in the late 1800’s.

Later, in the first few years of the 1900’s, the case was lengthened roughly an eighth of an inch to hold more powder, and also used the then-new “smokeless” powders. Both combined to make for a higher-pressure, more powerful cartridge. It was labeled the “.38 Special” to thus differentiate it from the previous .38’s.

Still later, around 1957, as I recall, S&W again added another eighth inch to the .38 Special case, and chambered it in a revolver built to take higher pressures and greater power, and called it the “.357 Magnum”. The designator .357 was used to help further differentiate the Magnum from the previous .38’s.

Bottom line, yes, you can shoot .38’s in .357’s, but not vice-versa.

The bullet diameter is about .356", and the barrel’s “land and groove” diameters are .357" and about .370" depending on manufacturer.

Bullet “calibers” are nominal, for the most part. A .22 LR is closer to .223. A .30-'06 (thirty-caliber adopted in 1906) has a .308" bore. A “.44 Magnum” actually has a .429" bullet. A .45 ACP uses a .454" bullet.

And the Medusa could actually shoot nearly any pistol caliber in the .350/9mm range: .38 Spl, .357M, .38 S&W, 9mm Para, 9mm Largo, 9mm Federal, and about a dozen other obscure and obsolete calibers… as I recall, they even managed to safely fire a couple of .32 cal cartridges like a 7.62 Parabellum (designed for the old German Luger.)

IANA bullet penetration expert, but I think EITHER ONE (.38/.357/.45) will go through your walls, unless they’re struck at a very shallow angle or long distance. (especially interior partition walls). Anybody care to comment?

I keep a S&W .38 Chief’s Special by my bed, unloaded, but with (2) speed loaders handy. If I’m gonna to use it, rounds going through the walls is a secondary concern. (I don’t have kids though…)

Bottom line is this. If you hit the bad guy, you won’t have to worry about the round going through the walls…

I owned a 45, and have shot quite a few different guns from .357 and .38 revolvers to rifles and assorted shotguns from family members and friends of the family at assorted yards/shooting ranges.

I think the .45s were my favorite guns which is why I purchased it. It just felt right to me… but really, if you expect the wife to use it… take her with you to a shooting range that will rent you guns to use. She needs to know which is most comfortable for her, and see if that works for you too.

Almost any gun is going to stop a person. Go for the feel is my advice.

Almost any pistol chambered for a round greater than .380, if placed well, will do. A .380 is marginal, but should do, in most cases. Anything less powerfull and you’re taking a serious risk of just pissing-off your intruder.

That said, “Go for the feel…” is good advice. If you’re not comfortable with a gun, you won’t be able to use it as effectively as you should, nor practice as much as you oughtta.

My gratuitious advice: Go to the range a lot, both of you. Practice until you’re sick to death of the smell of gunpowder. Then go back and practice some more, until the guys at the range know your aniversery date, and how you like your coffee. Then go back and practice still more.

Practice will produce the “muscle memory” that will alow you to handle your weapon properly in a crisis, when you’re under great stress and not on your best form.

Plan out and practice your home-defense scenarios, in every possible combination. Ask your friends to poke holes in your plans, then patch the holes and try again. Buy and read “Stressfire” by Massaad Ayoob. Read it to each other. Read it until you can quote it in your sleep. Then go back to the range and practice some more.

Caliber denotes the bullet diameter, usually expressed decimally in inches, but the metric system is also used.

“38’s” include rounds such as 9mm (diameter=.355"-.356"), .380 ACP (.356), 38 S&W (.359), .38 Super Auto (3.55-.3565), .38 Special (.355-.358), and .357 Magnum (.355-.358).

What is different in all of these rounds is the case shape (especially the “head”…i.e. rimmed, rimless, belted, and autopistol), and case length. The bore diameter of the firearm barrel is essentially the same, for all practical purposes. .357’s, 38 S&W’s, and .38 specials have similar “head” structures, and may be chambered and fired in revolvers that can accept their cartridge case lengths.

This means you can fire these “38"s” in a .357 wheelgun, but not vice versa. ACP’s and 9mm autopistol rounds have an entirely different head structure, and cannot be fired in .357/.38 revolvers.

Them’s is the facts.

You can shoot

Entirely true. In the case of the “medusa” pistol mentioned above, however, the innovative part was a unique spring-loaded extractor star in the cylinder that could hold both rimmed and rimless cartridges. In the case of firing the .30 Parabellum, the extractor held the cartridge firmly enough the firing pin got a good hit. Accuracy was, of course, horrible, and the case neck split and expanded on firing.

Let me add another one. The old british enfield revolver was chambered in 380/200(WWII vintage),(these were sold by the butload in the us as surplus, and are often mistaken for webleys). 380/200 is a 38 s&w with a 200 grain bullet. I use to hand load them for mine, and got into some interesting arguments with the folks at the reloading supply store who didnt believe me. It wouldnt shoot accurately with a standard 38 S&W load. The 200 grain loads were such low velocity I swear you could see them go down range. Damn I wish I still had that gun. It was an interesting conversation piece if nothing else. Double action only, and looked like it was designed by a machinist rather than a gunsmith.

And what about the .32/20 of Robert Johnson fame?