The .357 Magnum Carbine, Perfected
Much has been written on the usefulness of the 357 Magnum in a lever action carbine. With apologies to the authors, I read most of it and yawned. I’d ‘outgrown’ the .357 as a handgun cartridge decades ago and I considered it pointless in a rifle.
If the ammo market hadn’t tanked and Obama’s EPA hadn’t declared war on the Lead Industry, I might never have tried it in a rifle all. The winds of misfortune blew me back to two old favorites; the 38 Special and 357 Magnum. I’ve got a Colt Lawman, an Armas de Garzantidas 38 (Spanish S&W) a new 16” Rossi 92 and Peggi just bought herself a new S&W 637. I have ample brass for them, they reload cheap (in fact cheaper than scalpers are asking for 22LR!) and they stretch the lead if you cast for them. The 357 Mag, particularly from a carbine, is powerful enough for 90% of what I’m going to do.
Primarily, this article concerns the Rossi R92 and a few comments are in order. I absolutely do NOT recommend that you buy one. These Taurus-Rossi 357’s are generating a lot of feeding complaints, often due to cartridges hanging up on their way into the chamber. Mine required chamber polishing, a total re-work of the sights, cartridge lifter and guides before it was shootable and remotely reliable. The trigger started at 7 pounds and now breaks at three. The magazine follower is plastic and must be replaced. The wood needs refinishing, right out of the box. Sight dovetail dimensions are all over the place. So are sharp edges, which require rounding off and rebluing. They are a PITA to work on, everything inside them is cast/MIM and Rossi will NOT sell you internal parts. So if you’re serious about investing in a 357 carbine- do yourself a favor and just get a Marlin 1894C.
That said, I have this Rossi working and I am happy with it. It is absurdly accurate with a 140 grain XTP, at top velocity, and it’s produced numerous 2”, three shot groups at 100 yards with the re-worked iron sights. It will hold that 2MOA to 200 yards, as good as or better than your typical 30-30. And this is as good a time as any to beat the ’30-30 vs .357 Mag Rifle’ dead horse.
In 20” barrels, the 30-30 is capable of making clean kills on deer to around 200 yards. I’ve chronographed Winchester’s Power Point and a number of other 150 grain factory loads. Most of them start around 2280 fps and at 200 yards, are down around 1600 fps. If you start a 140 grain XTP from a 16” .357 carbine at 2000 fps, your retained velocity at 200 will be around 1250- typical handgun muzzle velocity for today’s watered-down .357 factory loads. This is well within the expansion range of the slightly larger XTP. If you compare a 16” 30-30 to a 16” .357 Mag, the difference is even smaller. Careful load selection and good shot placement are far bigger factors, than any power difference between these cartridges.
I am a great proponent of the 30-30 Winchester, but it is nowhere near as versatile as the 357 Magnum in a rifle or pistol. The 357 round is substantially cheaper to buy, reload for and specialty loads abound. The ability to use 38 Specials adds another layer of versatility. 38/357 brass and bullets are widely available. The 357’s range of useful bullet weights is 90 to 200 grains; and loaded to about 1500 fps, that 200 penetrates like there’s no tomorrow.
The Rossi R92 .357
The 16” model was not my first choice. I hunted around for a 20” version, which my dealer’s distributor said they had, but could not deliver. The only example I found locally was retail- and then some. My preference for the longer barrel was based solely on ballistics and my opinion that the longer rifle might be a little more accurate. After some research I settled on a maximum load of 19.0 grains of Winchester 296 using CCI Magnum small primers and the menagerie of nickel .357 cases in my brass pile. So it was time to see how much I’d lost by settling for the 16” barrel. I set up the BetaMaster and checked a few loads from the Rossi and Colt Lawman.
Results were better than expected.
The aforementioned XTP load generated 2000 fps, +/- 5 fps depending on the brand of case used. The Colt averaged 1240 fps with this load.
Federal’s old 158 grain 357 jacketed softpoint averaged 1729 fps from the 16” Rossi and 1173 fps from the Colt.
My dwindling stash of Alaska Backpacker 200 grain LBT’s produced 1430 fps.
Remington’s 125 grain JHP averaged 2101 fps from the Rossi and 1418 fps from the Colt.
My current cast bullet .38 load uses a Missouri Bullet 125 grain RNFP and 5.3 grains of HP38, with a CCI standard small pistol primer. The Rossi 92 averaged 1065 fps with this load and the old Lawman spits them out at 815 fps. They are essentially a 36 caliber version of the 22 LR. Recoil with these loads was barely noticeable end even the hottest loads were a cake-walk in the Model 92.
How hard does it shoot? Everybody has fought a contrary stapler at one time or another. I execute the SOB’s.. This one took a 140 grain XTP at about 2000 fps. You are looking through exit hole at the entrance.
The issue sights on 16” Rossi 92’s consist of an odd semi-buckhorn rear and a large brass bead front sight. With the gun’s 12 ½” sight radius, the bead looks like a brass hubcap. At 0.650” high, it’s just waiting to get hooked on something. The rear sight’s horns interfere with your peripheral vision of the target. In short, they unnecessarily complicate precise shooting.
I’ve always liked the flat-top sights on pre-64, ‘94 Winchesters. Coupled with a fine bead, I shoot them better than any other iron sight. So I decided to modify the Rossi’s OEM rear sight with three goals in mind-
1. Simulate the Winchester sight picture.
2. Lower the sighting plane substantially.
3. Field visible yet unobtrusive sights, with no sharp edges.
Armed with a belt sander, files and a Dremel tool, I was a force to be reckoned with! I lowered the rear sight enough that it was necessary to cut a new notch with a cutoff wheel. After little dehorning and baptism in cold blue, it looks like this:
I had a spare Marbles 450W with the 1/16” white bead, which fits Rossi’s odd dovetail and is sturdier (and .200 shorter) than the factory offering.
The end result (alignment notwithstanding) looks something like this.
These sights were essentially ‘on’ where I centered them and using the 140 XTP 357 load, anything you put the bead over at 100 meters grows a 35 caliber hole through it. Low-effort, rested 3 shot groups hovered at two inches, a half inch better than I was doing with the OEM sights. Shooting unsupported at 25 paces, two of my 125 grain RNFP 38 loads made that many holes in an empty 12 gauge hull. This is a substantial improvement and I didn’t have to Send Money to anybody!
Taking it to 200 Yards…
I ordered a couple of spare sight elevators (one of the few parts Rossi will actually sell you) and carefully adjusted the lowest step to print the 140 XTP load about 3” high at 100 meters. This made it easy to hit a plastic 3# coffee can lid at that distance and I hoped the XTP’s .169 ballistic coefficient would keep it viable to the 196.5 yards that separates my logpile backstop and the line fence where my shooting table sits.
My old prescription glasses recently gave up the ghost and I haven’t replaced them yet. So I hung a big, red 150 oz. detergent jug in front of a reversed B27 and let fly a couple of the 140 XTP load. This thing shoots flatter than it has any right to. The first two shots were just off the edges…
I hit it with the 3rd shot, but I just clipped the bottom edge so I don’t have much of a ballistics report. You could sure hear the impact across the field and it shredded the plastic real good. Encouraged, I filled a standard window-wash jug and propped it up on the logpile. I got a peripheral hit on the first shot with visible water-works. Judging from the rips and holes above the impact, I don’t want to catch an XTP at 200 yards.
Satisfied with the XTP load, I set about developing a small game/pest load to be put up in several hundred yellow brass .357 cases at my disposal. Why not just shoot 38’s? This rifle simply feeds 357’s better and it precludes me having to scrub the chamber so much. I settled on an HS6 powder because it has given me excellent results and is still plentiful in my area. My old copy of Metallic Cartridge Reloading lists 7.0 of this powder, with a 158 grain SWC in .357 Magnum cases, as giving around 1100 fps. I’ve used that load for years and it is a nice all-around load that shoots well, doesn’t lead in good barrels and is a pleasure to shoot. But I wanted something a little lighter for the 125 grain RNFP’s I would be using. I called Hodgdon’s about down-loading HS6 with the 125 RNFP. Hodgdon’s will tell you they don’t publish lead bullet data for HS6, which essentially means they haven’t tested the powder–with lead bullets–to the extent they test their published loads. Summarized, the response I got was ‘If you go too low, you might stick a bullet, But if you’re getting the results you want, drive on’.
I settled on 6.5 grains of HS6 with Missouri Bullet’s 125 grain RNFP, in 357 cases. It does 840 fps from my old 4″ Colt, and 1160 from the 16″ Rossi. It shoots perfectly to the Colt’s fixed sights and doesn’t leave the ’38 ring’ in my magnums.
There’s no ammunition shortage here. I have a potent hunting load, an accurate small game load and a nice little carbine that handles them both well. The summer should provide opportunities for trying them on varmints- and I am sure looking forward to it.