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The Best .357 Ammo for Hunting, Target Practice, and Self Defense

The versatile .357 Magnum remains relevant and popular today. Here are my picks for the best .357 ammo for every task
buffalo bore

Buffalo Bore makes excellent bullets for bear defense. Michael Dickerson

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Best for Hunting

The Federal HammerDown .357 Magnum 170 Grain is best for hunting.

Federal HammerDown 170 Grain

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Best for Backcountry Defense

Buffalo Bore Heavy .357 Mag Outdoorsman 180 Grain is best for bear.

Buffalo Bore Heavy Outdoorsman 180 Grain

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Best for Self-Defense

Speer Gold Dot Personal Protection 125 Grain is best for bears.

Speer Gold Dot Personal Protection 125 Grain

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Following its introduction in 1935, there was a long period of time when .357 Magnum ruled over the other handgun cartridges. The .357 earned an impressive reputation for “one-shot stops” when used by police officers. Sportsmen used it to take virtually every species of North American game animal, including moose and grizzlies, plus other big critters across the world.

The king of handgun cartridges was dethroned in the 1950s with the arrival of the .44 Magnum, which was followed by a succession of increasingly powerful handgun cartridges, including some which produce a level of recoil that many shooters do not well tolerate.

However, a diverse offering of the best .357 ammo keeps this cartridge relevant and useful today. With guns of reasonable weight, most shooters can handle the .357’s recoil. The cartridge is also highly versatile. With the right loads, it performs well for hunting and self-defense. You’ll likely be able to trigger follow-up shots more quickly with a .357 Mag. than you can with more potent cartridges, and you can also shoot milder .38 Special loads in guns chambered for .357 Mag. (but not vice versa). A few specialized semi-auto pistols, such as the Coonan and Desert Eagle, have been chambered in .357 Mag. There are a variety of lever-action rifles chambered in .357 for deer hunting in high-wall cartridge states—the round is even more capable for hunting purposes in those lever guns. There are even .357 Mag. rounds loaded with birdshot for killing snakes and pests. 

So here’s my list for the best .357 ammo for a variety of applications:

Things to Consider Before Buying the Best .357 Ammo

Application and Availability

Whether you’re buying ammunition for practice, hunting, or self-defense, it’s important to match your ammo to the task at hand. You shouldn’t use cheap practice ammo on the hunt of a lifetime, and it would be unwise to carry a self-defense load with a light, rapidly expanding bullet in grizzly country. Fortunately, there are plenty of .357 Mag. loads to choose from. Availability is another matter. Demand for ammunition remains high and supplies remain tight. Some of the loads on this list are in limited supply or out of stock, so it may take some persistence to find the load you’re looking for.

Cost

The best .357 ammo isn’t cheap, but let’s get one thing straight: It’s a genuinely bad idea to try to save a few dollars on ammo that you may be betting your life on. The best self-defense ammo costs about $1.40 to $2.25 per round, while good hunting ammo will cost between $1.15 to $1.70 per round. I’m a firm believer in practicing with the same ammo you’re going to use for hunting and self-defense, but that can quickly become cost prohibitive. It’s a good idea to at least practice with bullets of the same weight that you intend to use in a hunting or self-defense scenario. Our top practice ammo selections cost $1.00 (or a bit less) per round. You can find even cheaper ammo, but my practice ammo list notably excludes rounds with all-lead bullets because I loathe spending my time scrubbing lead build-up from barrels. 

Best .357 Ammo for Hunting: Reviews & Recommendations

Federal HammerDown .357 Magnum 170 Grain

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Key Features

  • Heavy-for-caliber, 170-grain bonded hollow point
  • Velocity: 1,610 fps (rifle)
  • Nickel-plated brass
  • Jacket molecularly bonded to core
  • $33.99 for 20 rounds

Pros

  • Reliable feeding
  • Optimized for lever-action rifles
  • Good penetration, expansion and weight retention

Cons

  • Available in only one .357 Mag. bullet weight

HammerDown .357 Mag. load is designed to function flawlessly in lever-action rifles and deliver superior terminal performance. Federal partnered with Henry Repeating Arms to design HammerDown ammunition for lever-action rifles and those who like to hunt with them. This nickel-plated, modified, and chamfered case allows easy and reliable feeding from side-gate and tubular feeding systems. Federal designed the round’s heavy-for-caliber, 170-grain bonded bullet to deliver good terminal performance when launched at higher velocities in lever guns. While Federal accomplished that goal, the round performs surprisingly well in handguns, too. If you’re looking for one .357 Mag. hunting cartridge to feed your revolver as well as your lever-action rifle, HammerDown is an excellent option.

Hornady FTX LEVERevolution 140 Grain

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Key Features

  • 140-grain Flex Tip bullet
  • Velocity: 1,800 fps (rifle)
  • $28.99 for 25 rounds

Pros

  • High velocity
  • Flat trajectory
  • Good penetration, expansion and weight retention
  • Affordable

Cons

  • Some rifles may need a newer magazine follower for best feeding of the last round in a magazine.

Hornady’s LEVERevolution ammo was a game changer. Designed specifically for use in lever-action rifles, it allowed shooters to use pointed, ballistically efficient FTX bullets which have a flexible elastomer tip that can safely rest against the primer of another bullet stacked in a tubular magazine. The bullet’s design results in a flatter trajectory and extended range over traditional .357 Mag. ammo thanks to its relatively high ballistic coefficient and use of a slower-burning powder to maximize velocity out of lever-action barrels. 

Read Next: Best Lever Action Rifles

Barnes Pioneer 180 Grain JHP

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Key Features

  • Velocity: 1,665 fps (rifle)
  • Heavy-for-caliber Barnes original bullet
  • Also available with a 140-grain copper XPB bullet
  • $29.99 for 20 rounds

Pros

  • Optimized for lever-action rifles
  • Good penetration, expansion and weight retention
  • Price

Cons

  • Brass cases only

Barnes Ammunition is famous for its monolithic, all-copper bullets, but the firm went a bit old-school with its Pioneer .357 Mag. load. This load uses a heavy-for-caliber, jacketed lead core Barnes Original JHP Bullet. Designed to cycle smoothly in lever-action guns, the round has plenty of power to take deer and hogs cleanly within reasonable ranges. If you prefer an all-copper bullet, Barnes also loads a .357 Mag. Pioneer load with a 140-grain XPB bullet.

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Best .357 Ammo for Backcountry Defense: Reviews & Recommendations

Buffalo Bore Heavy .357 Mag Outdoorsman 180 Grain

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Key Features

  • Velocity: 1,400 fps
  • Heavy-for-caliber hard cast, flat nose 180-grain bullet
  • $40.17 for 20 rounds

Pros

  • Excellent straight-line penetration
  • Field proven
  • Safe for any all-steel revolvers, including J Frames

Cons

  • Not recommended in super light alloy frame revolvers as bullets may jump crimp under recoil

My number one pick for backcountry defense is Buffalo Bore’s Heavy .357 Mag. load, which employs a hard cast lead bullet that has proven effective on the biggest North American animals like moose and grizzlies. Effective defense against large, hairy critters that are trying to kill you is all about penetration (and shot placement). This load delivers unparalleled straight-line penetration with its flat nose, hard cast lead bullet. Sure, there are more potent options for bear country than the .357 Mag, like the .44 Mag. And nowadays, many experienced backcountry hunters say a 10mm semi-auto is a better choice for bear defense because of their ability to put more rounds down range, faster. 

Read Next: Best Bear Defense Handguns

But ultimately, choosing how much gun you want to pack for bear defense comes down to personal preference. If you doubt the effectiveness of Buffalo Bore’s hard cast bullets, consider the experience of long-time Alaska guide Phil Shoemaker. He stopped and killed a brown bear in 2016 when it charged his fishing clients. He did so using Buffalo Bore hard cast bullets in a 9 mm semi-auto, which is not at the top of anyone’s list of effective bear stoppers.

Doubletap 200 Grain Hardcast Solid

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Key Features

  • Heavy-for-caliber 200-grain hard cast bullet
  • Velocity: 1,315 fps
  • Sealed primers
  • $27.27 for 20 cartridges

Pros

  • Excellent penetration
  • Field proven
  • Cost

Cons

  • Stout recoil

Doubletap’s 200-grain Hardcast Solid delivers very good penetration with a hard cast bullet at an affordable price. Priced affordably compared to other cartridges in this category, the Doubletap 200-grain Hardcast Solid penetrated more than 33 inches in gelatin testing. The bullet has a wide, 80 percent meplat, or flat nose, for maximum tissue disruption, and has proven effective on elk and black bears weighing up to 500 pounds.

Federal 180 Grain Swift A-Frame

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Key Features

  • Heavy-for-caliber 180-grain Swift A-Frame jacketed hollow point bullet
  • Nickel-plated cases and sealed primers
  • Velocity: 1,130 fps
  • $63.99 for 20 cartridges

Pros

  • Controlled expansion with deep penetration
  • Field proven

Cons

  • Price

Launching a heavy Swift A-Frame bullet, this load delivers balanced performance with good expansion, penetration and weight retention. Federal’s 180-grain Swift A-Frame load places about 80 percent of its weight behind a partition while the front section of the bullet uses soft lead bonded to a copper jacket that’s thinned and skived at the nose. This allows the wide hollow point of the bullet to expand at a range of velocities while retaining much of its weight, and the mass of the rear portion of the bullet ensures good penetration. If you’re in areas where black bears are at the top of the food chain and you don’t need the maximum penetration of hard cast bullets, this load is a good choice.

More .357 ammo for Backcountry Defense

Best .357 Ammo for Self-Defense: Reviews & Recommendations

Speer Gold Dot Personal Protection 125 Grain

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Key Features

  • 125-grain Gold Dot jacketed hollow point
  • Pressure-formed lead core molecularly bonded to the jacket
  • Nickel-plated cases and sealed primers
  • Velocity: 1,450 fps
  • $44.99 for 20 cartridges

Pros

  • Barrier-blind performance
  • Excellent penetration, expansion and weight retention
  • Field-proven

Cons

  • Price

Speer Gold Dot ammunition is my top choice in the self-defense category because it has a proven track record and qualities that have long made Gold Dot a gold standard in law enforcement. Revolvers haven’t been the duty gun of choice since high-capacity semi-auto pistols took over in the 1980s, but this Gold Dot .357 Mag. load remains a stellar performer. 

More than 3,000 law enforcement agencies worldwide rely on Gold Dot ammunition. In common law enforcement cartridges, it meets or exceeds the FBI test protocol in terms of barrier penetration with uniform expansion, good penetration, and excellent retained weight for reliable terminal performance. Reliability is ensured with the use of sealed primers.

Read Next: Best Revolvers for Hunters and Personal Protection

Federal Premium Personal Defense 154 Grain HST

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Key Features

  • 154-grain HST jacketed hollow point
  • Nickel-plated cases and sealed primers
  • Velocity: 1,340 fps
  • $44.99 for 20 cartridges

Pros

  • Barrier-blind performance
  • Heavier weight makes it a capable hunting load
  • Field-proven

Cons

  • Price

Federal Premium Personal Defense HST ammunition is also commonly used by law enforcement. It shines in the FBI test protocol, and has a proven record of delivering optimal performance when it counts. HST ammunition features a jacketed hollow point design that will expand reliably and not plug when passing through barriers or clothing. The round delivers great penetration and holds together well with a high retained weight. The heavier weight of this load makes it a good choice for hunting as well as self-defense.

Hornady Critical Duty 135 Grain FlexLock

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Key Features

  • 135-grain FlexLock
  • Velocity: 1,275 fps
  • InterLock band
  • Nickel-plated cases and sealed primers
  • $34.99 for 25 cartridges

Pros

  • Barrier-blind performance
  • Good penetration and expansion with full-size handguns
  • Field proven
  • Price

Cons

  • May not expand well with handguns with 2-inch barrels

The Hornady Critical Duty line of ammunition meets FBI protocols and is also popular with law enforcement. The Critical Duty 135-grain FlexLock load was designed specifically to meet law enforcement needs with tough bullets that deliver good barrier penetration, expansion, and penetration. Critical Duty ammo does not use traditional jacketed hollow point bullets. Rather, it employs Hornady’s elastomer Flex Tip nose to eliminate clogging and help initiate expansion. A large jacket-to-core InterLock band ensures the bullet will hold together for good weight retention.

More .357 Ammo for Self-Defense

Best .357 Ammo for Practice: Reviews & Recommendations

Federal American Eagle 158 Grain JSP

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Key Features

  • 158-grain jacketed soft point bullet
  • Velocity: 1,240 fps
  • $45.99 for 50 rounds

Pros

  • Good practice substitute for 158-grain hunting or defensive ammo
  • Ideal for target shooting, training, and practice

Cons

  • Only ideal for practice and plinking

Federal American Eagle ammunition is produced to the same stringent requirements as Federal Premium ammunition, but at a much more affordable price. Federal’s American Eagle line is specifically made for practice and target shooting. It’s not the cheapest practice ammo out there, but it provides similar ballistics and feel as same-weight bullets in hunting or defense loads. This is a straightforward handgun load with jacketed soft point bullet, basic truncated cone, brass case, and Federal primer. 

Hornady American Gunner 125 Grain XTP

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Key Features

  • 125-grain Hornady eXtreme Terminal Performance JHP bullet
  • Velocity: 1,500 fps
  • Controlled expansion
  • $19.99 for 25 cartridges

Pros

  • Versatile, multi-purpose cartridge
  • Mimics performance of 125-grain self-defense loads
  • Price

Cons

  • Not ideal for animals larger than deer

Priced in the practice ammunition category, the Hornady American Gunner 125-grain XTP cartridge is also capable for self-defense and hunting medium-sized game. Hornady’s American Gunner 125-grain XTP .357 Mag. load is a more affordable alternative to pricier top-of-the-line options and is more versatile than many other .357 Mag. loads commonly used for practice. The varying thickness of the drawn metal gilding jacket of the eXtreme Terminal Performance bullet results in uniform, controlled expansion. Jacket serrations help initiate expansion.

Winchester Super X 125 Grain WinClean

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Key Features

  • Brass-enclosed base
  • Lead and heavy metal-free primer
  • Velocity: 1,370 fps
  • $52.81 for 50 cartridges

Pros

  • Mimics performance of 125-grain self-defense loads
  • Helps eliminate airborne lead at shooter’s station

Cons

  • Only ideal for practice

Winchester’s Super X 125-grain WinClean load makes our list because it’s a great option for minimizing airborne lead. The WinClean load is designed primarily to eliminate airborne lead, making it a great choice for indoor shooting ranges. In addition to a lead-free and heavy metal-free primer, the bullet’s base is enclosed in brass, preventing vaporization of lead from the base.

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Best .357 Ammo for Snub-Nosed Revolvers: Reviews & Recommendations

Winchester Elite Defender 125 Grain

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Key Features

  • Bonded 125-grain jacketed hollow point
  • Velocity: 1,180 fps
  • Sealed primer
  • $32.81 for 20 cartridges

Pros

  • Excellent expansion
  • Good penetration
  • Good weight retention

Cons

  • Considerable muzzle flash

Winchester’s Elite Defender 125-grain .357 Mag load isn’t intended for shorter barrels only, but it delivers excellent terminal ballistics out of snubbies. ThenElite Defender 125-grain load launches from 2-inch barrels considerably faster than the .357 Mag. loads designed for use in such barrels. That results in a fair amount of muzzle flash, but it also helps the jacketed hollow point bullet achieve impressive expansion with good penetration and weight retention. Winchester claims 1.5 times expansion, but I’ve seen the round do even better than that in gelatin tests. Terminal performance is, in a word, impressive.

Speer Gold Dot Short Barrel Personal Protection 135 Grain JHP

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Key Features

  • 135-grain Gold Dot hollow point bullet
  • Pressure-formed lead core molecularly bonded to jacket
  • Nickel-plated cases and sealed primers
  • Velocity: 990 fps
  • $44.99 for 20 cartridges

Pros

  • Consistent expansion
  • Good penetration

Cons

  • Price

This Speer Gold Dot Short Barrel .357 Mag. load delivers all you could ever ask for from a snub-nosed revolver. Optimized for performance from short-barreled revolvers, Speer’s Gold Dot Short Barrel Personal Protection 135-grain JHP load delivers surprisingly good penetration and expansion from barrels as short as 2 inches while producing less recoil.

Remington Golden Saber Defense Compact 38 Special +P 125 Grain

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Key Features

  • 125-grain jacketed hollow point bullet
  • Nickel-plated cases and sealed primers
  • Velocity: 895 fps
  • Reduced-flash powder
  • $35.99 for 20 cartridges

Pros

  • Price

Cons

  • Lacking .357 Mag. velocity

This Golden Saber Defense Compact load—the only 38 Special on our list—offers good terminal performance with milder recoil. Remington’s Golden Saber Defense Compact 38 Special +P 125-grain load is engineered to produce optimal penetration and expansion from short-barrels, even after passing through heavy clothing. It does so with less recoil than full-power .357 Mag. loads.

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FAQs

Q: Is the .357 Mag. a good whitetail cartridge?

The best .357 ammo will handily take whitetail deer and other medium-sized game. The keys to success are proper bullet selection, good shot placement, and keeping shots close. While it has been eclipsed by more powerful big-bore handgun cartridges, the .357 Mag. was, for several decades, the most popular handgun hunting cartridge in America. For handgun hunters, it offers the advantage of reduced recoil. Performance kicks up a notch when the cartridge is used in lever-action rifles. 

Q: Is the .357 Mag. a good choice for self-defense?

Since it is chambered primarily in revolvers, the .357 Mag. has given up some popularity to cartridges used in higher-capacity semi-auto handguns, which are what most folks choose to carry these days. For those who opt for a revolver, the .357 Mag. has a long and proven record of excellent performance in a self-defense role. All of our recommended self-defense loads have proven effective, but like most popular handgun cartridges launching solid projectiles, they may pose an over-penetration concern in a home-defense scenario. Only you can determine what ammunition best suits your needs for concealed carry and home defense.

Final Thoughts on the Best .357 Ammo

In a defensive role, the .357 Mag. can be a lot easier to control than the heavier magnums, potentially enabling you to fire more shots at a time when your fine motor skills are stressed. With the right bullet and proper shot placement, there’s not much the .357 Mag. can’t do. And the fact that it remains popular seven decades after its introduction is solid testimony to the round’s versatility.