Terminal Performance: The .357 mag Carbine at 50 Yards

June 7, 2010
By Jason Wimbiscus
One of the most valid pieces of criticism I’ve received about my ballistics tests is that I’m making the distances too short.  Fair enough.  After all, most big game is shot at distances greater than 20 yards.  The reason I have previously been testing at a distance of less than 20 yards is simply because I’m not that great a shot.  The Bullet Test Tubes I use are six inches in diameter, but I have to hit them within 2 inches of their exact center.  Often, a peripheral hit will cause the bullet to deflect enough to leave the test material, making it useless until it can be recast.  I found that at 20 yards, even I could consistently make dead center hits.  That being said, it’s only fair to test hunting bullets at hunting distances, so I have restarted my testing process anew.Once again, the first rifle up to bat is my personal favorite, the Marlin model 1894C chambered in .357 mag.  I can’t say enough good things about this particular carbine.  It’s light, handy, easy on the shoulder and incredibly versatile.  Loaded with full power rounds, it can turn a water jug inside out or kill a deer at reasonable ranges, or it can be loaded with lower power .38 spl rounds for small game hunting or inexpensive plinking.  I’ve topped mine with a full sized scope for the purpose of the tests, but I find a peep site or red dot site to be a little less ungainly on this particular rifle.

180 Grain Remington Semi-Jacketed Hollowpoint

The first load I tested consisted of a 180 grain Remington jacketed hollow point pushed by 15 grains of H-Lil’Gun.  These leave the 18.5″ barrel of the carbine at an average velocity of 1714 f/s.  According to a ballistics calculator found HERE, the bullet should have a velocity of 1574 f/s at 50 yards.  As is indicated by the photos Below, the bullet penetrated 6 inches into the test medium and expanded to a diameter of .55″.  Retained weight was 120 grains or roughly 67%.  The front section of the bullet clearly fragmented, sending chards of lead perpendicular to the path of the bullet.  I’m guessing these lead slivers would cause extensive laceration in animal tissue.

158 Grain Remington Jacketed Soft Point

The Remington 158 grain jacketed soft point barely edged out the 180 grain in terms of penetration.  The bullet was pushed by 17 grains of H-Lil’Gun for a muzzle velocity of 1900 f/s.  Estimated 50 yard velocity is 1656 f/s.  The bullet penetrated nearly 7 inches into the test media and expanded into a near perfect mushroom with a diameter of .61″.  Retained weight was actually 158 grains or 100%.  While this bullet created a nice even cavity in the test media and expanded into a mushroom worthy of a place in an advertisement, it would be interesting to see how well this bullet performs as velocity continues to dwindle.  I may revisit this one in another test.

158 Grain Speer Gold Dot Hollowpoint

Next up was a 158 grain Speer Gold Dot hollow point pushed, once again, by 17.0 grains of H-Lil’gun for a muzzle velocity of 1885 f/s.  Estimated 50 yard velocity is 1667 f/s.  The bullet penetrated nearly 7″ into the test material and left a cavity that was slightly larger than the one left by the Remington bullet.  The expanded diameter was .49″ and it retained 120 grains or about 76% of its original weight.  It shed more fragments on its trip, but penetrated almost as deeply as the Remington bullet.  I may have to square the 158 grainers off at low velocity to determine which one would be the better performer at 100 yards.
140 Grain Hornady Leverevolution

The 140 grain Hornady Leverevolution round is an interesting new bullet design that incorporates a flexible polymer ballistic tip.  This enables the rounds to be safely loaded into to tube magazines such as those found on lever action rifles.  To date, these are the only pointed bullets safe for tube mags.  The factory loaded bullet left the muzzle at 1758 f/s and had an estimated 50 yard velocity of 1662 f/s.  Penetration was 4.5″, the bullet expanded to .615″ and retained 127 grains or 91%.  It would be interesting to see what these bullets would do if loaded to a higher velocity.  Maybe as they become available as reloading components, I’ll be able to find out.
140 Grain Barnes XPB

The Barnes 140 grain XPB all copper hollow point provided the greatest amount of penetration so far.  Pushed by 15.0 grains of Accurate #9, the average muzzle velocity was 1800 f/s making for an estimated 50 yard impact velocity of 1566 f/s.  The bullet penetrated almost a foot of the test material, but did not create a very wide cavity.  The copper petals that composed the tip either broke off completely or folded almost flat against the stem.  Retained weight was 136 grains (97%) and the expanded diameter was .473″.
158 Grain Hornady XTP-FP

The Hornady XTP-FP pushed by 17.0 grains of Lil’gun left the muzzle at an average velocity of 1864 f/s.  Estimated 50 yard impact velocity is 1681 f/s.  Penetration was decent at about 7″ and the bullet carved a wide channel throughout the duration of its journey through the material.  The bullet expanded to a diameter of .665″ and retained 136 grains (86%).
180 Grain Hard Cast-Gas Check

These rounds were generously donated by a member at the Leverguns.com discussion forums and consist of a 180 grain home cast flat nose bullet over 15.8 grains of H-Lil’Gun.  The loading is a little on the hot side and should be worked up to very slowly and carefully.  They showed no signs of excessive pressure in my Marlin, but your mileage may vary.  I was testing at a different location and the distance to the target was slightly greater than during the previous tests (approximately 70 yards), so this must be taken into account when comparing results, which in this case are quite impressive.  The bullets left the muzzle at 1800 f/s meaning an approximate 50 yard velocity of 1624 f/s and an impact velocity of 1559 f/s.  Penetration, cavity, expansion, and weight retention were all exemplary.  The bullet defeated 7.5″ of test material, expanded to a diameter of .615″, and retained 185 grains of weight (the actual starting weight of the bullet was therefore slightly more than the listed 180 grains).  In terms of penetration, this bullet did more at 70 yards than the jacketed Remington 180 grain bullet did at 50 yards.
200 grain Cast Performance Lead Flat Point, Gas Check

This is the heaviest bullet I know of that can be seated in a .357 magnum case.  With 13.0 grains of H-Lil’Gun, I was getting a muzzle velocity of around 1500 f/s from my 18.5″ carbine (this is not factory data, so anyone attempting this loading is doing so at their own risk).  50 yard impact velocity should be around 1350 and energy should be 809 ft/lbs.  The amount of penetration I got from this round was surprising, but may have been due to warm temperatures making the test material softer than usual.  Still, at 50 yards, this bullet went right through a 10″ test block and another 5″ of paraffin blocks.  I was not able to recover the bullet, but I’m guessing by the diameter of the cavity that expansion was minimal and weight retention high.

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