There is much to be said for the effectiveness of both the .357 magnum and the .45 ACP. While the .357 has served lawmen and handgun hunters in countless encounters with two-legged and four-legged targets, the .45 ACP has served U.S. soldiers through four wars and numerous armed conflicts. Both cartridges are iconic, American-made, time-tested and useful. The question becomes, is one superior to the other? If so, which one?
Designed by the legendary firearms engineer John Browning, in 1905, the .45 ACP was created in efforts to put a powerful, man-stopping round in the hands of U.S. soldiers on the frontline. The notion of large, slow-moving bullets being more effective than faster, high-velocity bullets is precisely why the cartridge came to be. The .45 ACP, 230-grain bullet was even used in the Thompson submachine gun, as the cartridge permitted the friction-delayed blowback action required to get the job done.
The .45 ACP produces moderate recoil and as a result is easy to handle. The large bullet makes for excellent one-shot stopping power. The .45 ACP works well in semi-automatic pistols, and its large diameter creates greater wound channels. The slightly smaller grained .45 ACP bullets are also something to be reckoned with. A 185-grain .45 ACP round travels at 1,150 feet per second, carrying 543 foot-pounds of force. Up close in a self-defense situation, the round is devastating. On the other hand, while this ammunition is easy to find, it tends to be rather expensive. The size of the .45 ACP also limits the carrying capacity of the round in a single-stack magazine.
Created in the 1930s, the .357 Magnum was designed as the lawman’s answer to automobiles and early bulletproof vests being used by bootleggers and gangsters of the era. The .38 Super Automatics weren’t getting the job done, and the boys in blue needed something with a little more punch to it. While the cartridge’s early stages of design are accredited to a man named Elmer Kieth, it was Smith and Wesson who really put the .357 Magnum on the map. The company’s goal was to assert themselves as the premier armament providers for U.S. law enforcement agencies.
In comparison to larger revolver-based magnums, the .357 Magnum has less energy behind it, however it’s smaller size and high velocity load results in excellent penetration. It is an accurate round that is sometimes used to take down medium-sized game such as deer. When you do the math, a 125-grain, .357 Magnum hollow point traveling at 1,600 feet per second, delivers 711 foot-pounds of force. That’s some pretty serious medicine. Revolvers that are chambered in .357 Magnum are also capable of firing the .38 Special round, which makes for cheaper plinking and permits more trigger time for the average novice shooter.
Some drawbacks of the .357 Magnum are heavy recoil, heavy muzzle blast, and low carrying capacity of the (mostly) revolver-based platform.
As with any cartridge debate, there are bound to be die-hard supporters and fanboys who simply swear by their bullet of choice. With regard to this face off, the .45 ACP vs. the .357 Magnum, both cartridges are winners, hands down. If you’re looking for versatility and a budget-savvy round, the .357 Magnum is the way to go. In long-barreled revolvers it can be effective as a hunting round and a self-defense load. But if you are prepping for a defensive standoff in a survival situation, the .45 ACP would be the better choice. Its man-stopping power, slightly larger magazine capacity (in comparison to most .357 revolvers) and battle-tested capabilities make it a go-to.
From the perspective of a target, the difference between the two calibers can be summed up in “old-timer speak.” Would you rather be hit by a motorcycle going 100mph, or a semi-truck going 65mph? The end result will be relatively similar, in different ways.