Any time we talk about handgun cartridge comparisons, the .357 magnum vs 9mm comes up and is a good talk. These two cartridges are very popular for personal defense. However, when debates are in motion within the two school of thoughts, objectivity isn’t always clear. In this segment we’ll compare the ballistics and performance of these two cartridges next to each other with an unbiased approach not on implying on one cartridge is better than the other.
When it comes time for you to choose which is the better, it’s all about picking the cartridge that is going to work for your and prepare for potential shooting scenarios. We’ll try to objectively present various scenarios both the .357 Magnum or the 9mm can serve you better. Lets start off with some numbers. For the number geeks here you go:
Max Pressure (SAAMI)
.357 Mag vs 9mm Average Bullet Velocity (ft.s)
There’s the numbers but theres more to it than just numbers. Its like saying my gun is bigger than yours. Between the .357 magnum and 9mm, unfortunately its more like comparing apples and oranges. The cartridge information gives us a general look at stopping power and the ability to get a bullet on target, but it is missing an essential component which is terminal performance. Also known as “terminal ballistics” which means seeing how a projectile behaves when it hit its target and transfer its kinetic energy to the target. This type of test is usually done on a ballistic gel.
9mm When you look at the paper figures, it would seem the shorter 9mm is far more efficient. This is true when bullets of 100 to 124 grains are considered. The 9mm gets plenty of velocity worked up in its short case. However, the short case does not allow the use of heavier bullets at high velocity. As such, 147 grains is the practical limit for 9mm defensive bullets. The maximum velocity with these bullets is generally regarded as about 1180 fps. Economically, 9mm’s are more readily available and affordable. .357 Magnum The 357 Magnum offers superior energy and velocity with heavy bullets at the expense of greater recoil. Muzzle blast is also a drawback. With a proper formulation and good powder technology, the 125- to 145-grain loads may be very efficient. There is also more leeway in the revolver cartridge to use bullets with an open nose.
Accuracy Yes there are more information on ballistics that we haven’t cover in this article. But when we talk about these cartridges for personal or home defense. At within 20 yards, there is no difference ballistically between these two rounds that would make us lean more one way or the other. In the hands of someone proficient with either type of handguns (.357 Mag or 9mm) making an accurate shot is easy. If an in-experienced user is shooting multiple shots with a .357 Mag, dealing with a bigger recoil can make it harder to shoot accurately. Shot placement is not part of ballistics but it can be the X factor in defending oneself.
In the End
If life is as easy as doing ballistics comparisons, then it would be a no-brainer to state that the .357 Magnum trumps the 9mm. The .357 Mag itself can send a same-size, same-weight bullet flying at much faster velocities which results to better terminal ballistics. Choosing a heavier cartridge isn’t going to be easier, and superior ballistics doesn’t necessarily mean a particular cartridge/caliber is better than another. The decision pretty much depends on how comfortable and experienced a shooter is willing to spend on the ammo and how much usage of the handgun. So for the power dominate focused and you don’t care how much to spend on ammo – go with the .357 Magnum. For the folks that want a more affordable ammo and have plenty to practice and shoot with. Plus the readily availability of this ammo is huge – go with the 9mm. Whatever you choose, one or the other or both, with some practice, you are going to have a cartridge that is going to serve you well for years to come.
Here’s a list of price for the .357 Mag and 9mm: These prices are in the ball park, you’ll have to shop around within your local stores or on the internet.