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GUNS Magazine July 2010 - Page 52
Taffin shooting his longbarreled Smith & Wesson 8-3/8" .357 Magnum. Happy Diamond Jubilee .357 Magnum o come up with a better revolver for city, county and state police officers, Smith & Wesson took their 3rd Model Hand Ejector .44 Special and chambered it for .38 Special in 1930. This was no ordinary .38. It was loaded heavier and renamed the .38/44 with a muzzle velocity of around 300 fps more than the standard .38 Special. Smith & Wesson offered two basic models of the .38/44, the fix-sighted Heavy Duty for law enforcement use and the adjustable-sighted Outdoorsman for hunters and target shooters. It wasn’t long before experimenters came up with even heavier loads for the .38/44. In 1932, Ed McGivern had high praise for both the revolvers and the new cartridge. He spoke of shooting the Outdoorsman out to 500 yards and called it the finest gun ever turned out by anybody at any time. The .38/44 Heavy Duty was considered “… the finest, strongest, all around general-purpose gun, coming from all angles, that has ever been given to the shooting public.” Experimenters like Elmer Keith and Phil Sharpe came up with much heavier loads and Keith’s .38/44 load is still a standard today among sixgunners. The S&W .38/44 Outdoorsman made the .357 Magnum possible and the latter really started in the hunting fields. Sharpe, in his monumental work, Complete Guide To Handloading, published in 1937, said, “The .357 Magnum cartridge was born in the mind of the author several years ago. On a hunting trip with Col. D.B. Wesson, Vice-President of Smith & Wesson, a 52 T John Taffin The Beginning pair of heavy framed Outdoorsman revolvers was used with a large assortment of handloads developed and previously tested by the author. In the field they proved entirely practical, but Col. Wesson was not content to attempt the development of a Magnum .38 Special cartridge for ordinary revolvers, and set to work on a new gun planned in the field.” In 1935 their work with the .38/44, as well as, by ammunition companies, resulted in a new cartridge. The .38 Special case was lengthened and a new name was needed. Wesson, of Smith & Wesson, used the diameter of the bullet, .357" and the French word for a large bottle of champagne, Magnum, and the .357 Magnum arrived. The original load was 15.4 grains of Hercules 2400 under a 158-grain lead bullet and ignited by a large—not small—primer. The first Magnum sixgun, known appropriately as “The .357 Magnum” was born. The .357 Magnum sixguns were more than simply production guns. Each of the new .357s were specially fitted and finished, and given a registration number in addition to a serial number. In 1935, in the midst of the Great Depression, the new sixgun and cartridge were so popular Smith & Wesson soon dropped the special registration, as they could not keep up with the demand. Back then, $60 was a lot of money, but many shooters were more than willing to pay it to get the finest revolver ever made up to that point. Remember, 1935 was long before the age of instant communication or even gun magazines, except the American Rifleman. Elmer Keith wrote up the .357 for the latter, but opined the barrel was too long and he still preferred the .44 Special. Wesson promoted the new gun and cartridge using both a 6-1/2" and 8-3/4" .357 Magnum-taking elk, antelope and black bear. He even went to Alaska with the hopes of taking a brown bear, but was unable to find one. After contemplation, he felt it was a good thing he had not done so. In later years both of WWW.GUNSMAGAZINE.COM • JULY 2010