.357 Deer Hunting: Is My Trusty .357 Mag Enough?

As a handgun hunter for over 10 years, I’ve come to trust my .357 Magnum to take down deer effectively and ethically. 

But many fellow hunters question if it has enough power compared to larger calibers. From my experience, the .357 is perfect for typical handgun hunting scenarios within 50 yards. With proper shot placement, it has more than enough knockdown power to harvest whitetails.

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The Reality of Handgun Hunting Ranges

Unlike rifle hunting, most handgun hunters aren’t taking 200 yard shots across open fields. Typical handgun hunting involves:

  • Still hunting thick, wooded areas with limited visibility
  • Potentially hunting deer in rain, snow, or dense fog
  • Stands placed along deer trails and feeding areas
  • Most shots within 25-50 yards

In these close range situations, the .357 Magnum, especially when loaded properly, has proven to take down deer as effectively as larger calibers. And it does so with less punishing recoil.

The Hard Truths of Terminal Ballistics

There’s a persistent myth that only magnum calibers like .44 Magnum and larger impart enough energy to kill deer. This leads to beliefs that smaller rounds like .357 merely wound deer.

While energy and velocity matter for penetration, bullet construction and shot placement matter more for lethality:

  • Good bullet design ensures expansion for maximum tissue damage
  • Proper shot placement into vitals is what brings down deer quickest, regardless of energy figures on paper
  • A properly constructed .357 bullet at typical handgun hunting velocities, when placed through the lungs, heart or spine, is lethal medicine for deer, period.

Want to learn some tricks of the trade? Luke Clayton, Jeff Rice, and Larry Weishuhn break down the details of deer hunting with handguns in this video. 

True Deer Hunting Success Stories with the .357 Mag

Over the years, the trusty .357 Ruger GP100 with heavy 180-grain factory loads has put a bunch of tasty venison in the freezer.

Jeff Miller from Ace Hunts in Bradford County PA said:

“The first doe I took did the classic back leg kick on a heart shot at 40 yards and dropped on the spot. Another mature doe bolted 50 yards after a less-than-ideal lung shot before slowly tipping over.”

Greg Sanderson from White Lake, MI said:

“Buffalo Bore 180 gr out of a 357 is gonna carry whitetail energy (800 ftlbs) out to 125 yards and be just a hair louder and a touch more recoil than a 22 (seriously).

I’ve shot or been near almost 10 deer taken with the 357 and Buffalo Bore 180 JHP in the past few years and all have been dead within 100. All have been quality shots though.

Don’t expect sub MOA accuracy, exceptional blood trails and results from poor shots with a pistol caliber. They just don’t carry the “fudge factor” higher velocity, heavier rounds do, and aren’t as accurate. Softball group at 100? Absolutely, which IMO is fine for deer.”

The bottom line is that it comes down to proper load selection and precision because the .357 for deer is fine and offers reliable peneration and expansion. 

Real-World Accuracy Matters More Than Numbers

Paper ballistics often tempt hunters into believing they need a magnum cannon to hunt deer. Big energy and velocity numbers sell ammo and ego. But marksmanship matters much more than ballistics charts.

  • Consistent 1.5-2″ accuracy at typical ranges translates to reliable kill shots in the field
  • A poorly hit deer with a .44 isn’t better off than an expertly-placed round from a .357
  • My .357 shoots just as tight as many deer rifles. And it has always delivered that accuracy when it counted most under field conditions. In the end, achieving consistent accuracy trumps any theoretical ballistic advantage.

Lighter Recoil Means Better Marksmanship

While some enjoy the brutal punishment of magnum recoil, most shooters flinch to some degree when attempting fast follow-up shots. The .357 produces plenty of power while softening felt recoil.

  1. Less recoil allows better concentration for precise shot placement
  2. Faster recovery time improves chances for an immediate 2nd shot on deer that don’t immediately drop
  3. Being able to quickly yet accurately swing a scoped .357 back on target has enabled me to seal the deal on several heart-shot deer trying to run off. Lighter recoil leads to more precise shots under pressure.

Reasonable Expectations on Tracking Deer

No ethical hunter wants to lose any deer, but the sobering reality is that even with ideal shot placement, some end up lost now and then regardless of the firearm or caliber used. 

Like most handgun cartridges, the .357 Magnum does not typically leave the same obvious blood trails that a fast expanding, high velocity magnum rifle round would. As such, responsible handgun hunters must go into the field with reasonable expectations and appropriate diligence around tracking. 

It is best to limit shots to 25-50 yard distances whenever possible to avoid marginal bullet impacts that lead to lost deer. Choosing bullets specifically engineered for deep penetration, especially on quartering angles, also improves lethality. 

And mentally preparing for the potential of trailing a wounded deer 150 yards or more is advisable. In my experience, the .357 has left decent blood trails more often than not. 

This is also what makes rutting season a great time to use the .357 for deer. Since bucks become more active and roam more space in search of doe, there’s a higher chance of them coming closer to you.

But in any handgun hunting scenario, taking careful shots through vitals and readying yourself to diligently track and recover deer is part of the solemn contract we make with nature when we pull the trigger.

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Challenge Yourself with .357 Deer Hunting

In the end, the .357 Magnum is more than adequate medicine for whitetails from handgun hunting ranges. With some restraint on distance and smart shot placement, it harvests deer quickly and humanely.

The lighter recoil allows most shooters to achieve consistent accuracy for lethal hits. And there’s great pride in .357 deer hunting with an everyday self-defense round pushed to its reasonable limits. 

I wouldn’t trade my trusty .357 brush gun for any .357 magnum rifle or lever action.The thrill of close range hunting and mastery of marksmanship makes for the ultimate deer camp story.

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