.357 Magnum vs. .45 ACP

Caliber Battles
.357 Magnum vs. .45 ACP

If you asked a random group of hunters to name big-bore handgun cartridges, I’d stake a not-insignificant amount of money that the .357 Magnum and the .45 ACP would be at the top of most people’s list. They aren’t the most powerful, but they’ve been around for a solid century and they remain widely popular today.

Rifle cartridges will always perform better in the field, but if you’d like to take up handgun hunting this fall, either of these options can get the job done. But which is better? Keep reading to find out.

caliber battle


This is another Caliber Battle that pits lighter bullets moving faster against heavier bullets moving slower. The .357 Mag. is usually loaded with bullets in the 125- to 158-grain range while the .45 Auto is usually loaded with bullets between 185 and 230 grains.

Despite its lighter bullets, the .357 Mag. usually produces more energy and offers a better trajectory. These 125-grain pills from Sig Sauer, for example, produce 583 foot-pounds (ft.-lbs.) of energy at the muzzle and only drop about five inches at 100 yards with a 50-yard zero. These 185-grain .45 ACP +P loads, on the other hand, hit with 506 ft.-lbs. of muzzle energy and drop about seven inches at 100 yards.

That .45-ACP load from Sig is a bit of an outlier. Most load data indicates that the .45 hits with about 350 ft.-lbs. of energy while the .357 Mag. produces something closer to 500 ft.-lbs. You can find .45 ACP +P loads that can compete with some .357 cartridges, but there are other .357 options that leave any .45 ACP in the dust. (+P indicates that the cartridge has been loaded to a higher pressure and will usually produce more velocity. Most modern handguns can handle +P loads, but some older ones cannot.)

To compare bullets of the same weight, these 185-grain +P .45 ACP rounds produce an impressive 583 ft.-lbs. of energy. But they can’t compete with these 180-grain .357 cartridges, which hit with about 900 ft.-lbs. of energy. The .357 Mag. was fired out of a six-inch barrel while the .45 ACP was fired from a five-inch barrel (according to the manufacturer’s website). But one more inch of barrel isn’t enough to make up a 317 ft.-lb. deficit and this energy differential holds up when comparing longer rifle-length barrels.

Winner: .357 Magnum


When it comes to handgun cartridges, recoil is both more important and more difficult to pin down. Firing a handgun with powerful recoil can significantly impact the accuracy of the shooter, but handgun weights can vary drastically, and a heavy handgun can virtually eliminate this concern. In other words, while recoil data indicates that the .357 Magnum produces more recoil than the .45 ACP with similarly weighted guns (9 ft.-lbs. vs. 7 ft.-lbs.), a heavy .357 Mag. revolver can be very pleasant to shoot.

The data also shows how much different loads can impact felt recoil. A 140-grain .357 bullet loaded to 1,323 feet-per-second (fps) produces about 8 ft.-lbs. of felt recoil while that same bullet loaded to 1,022 fps only produces 4 ft.-lbs. of recoil.

Both cartridges are incredibly common and relatively inexpensive. They can usually be found in stock at your local sporting goods store, though most ammo makers offer more options for the .45 than the .357.

If you’re looking for practice ammo, the .45 ACP can be bought in bulk for something just under $0.60 per round while the cheapest .357 is closer to $0.70 per round. Hollow-point options geared specifically for hunting or self-defense will run closer to $1.30 per round for both cartridges.

While the .357 is generally more expensive and less available, ammo companies tend to make more products geared toward hunting applications. These 140-grain loads from Federal would be great for deer, and these 180-grain cartridges from HSM are designed for bears.

Both recoil and ammo cost slightly favor the .45 ACP, but firearm availability is a mixed bag. Most gun stores offer a greater number of firearms in .45 ACP. Scheels, for example, lists 11 handguns chambered in .357 Magnum (all revolvers), but a whopping 53 options for .45 ACP.

However, while the sheer number of firearms available might favor the .45, it might be easier to find a .357 you can actually use to hunt. It’ll be easier to attach a scope to one of those .357 revolvers, and even though there are some semi-auto “pistol-caliber carbines” in the old .45, lever-action rifles chambered in .357 are more common.

Cheap ammo and light recoil won’t do you much good without a gun to shoot, which is why this round also goes to the .357 Magnum.

Winner: .357 Magnum


To answer this question, we’ll compare how Frank C. Barnes describes both cartridges in “Cartridges of the World.”

He notes that the .357 is “noted for its flat trajectory, deep penetration and great knockdown power” and that “it has been used successfully on deer, black bear, elk, and even grizzly bear.”

“However,” he continues, “it is not fully adequate for these larger animals unless used by an excellent marksman. It is considered the best all-around handgun hunting cartridge for small and medium game and, under proper conditions, for deer at short range.”

He doesn’t discount the .45 ACP as a hunting cartridge, but he notes that “its curved trajectory limits its effective range.”

“Despite this, it is quite adequate for any small or medium game. Like all the other semi-auto pistol cartridges, it is a better hunting round with soft-point and hollowpoint bullets,” he recommends.

I would generally agree with Barnes’ assessment. The .45 ACP is perfectly capable of taking down a coyote or even a deer at close distances, but the .357 is a far more effective hunting cartridge, especially in a rifle. Both can be used on small and medium game, but the .357 is more effective on deer-sized animals and can step up to larger animals like bears.

Winner: .357 Magnum

And the Winner Is…

Bullet energy is king in the handgun-hunting world, and there’s a reason the .45 ACP didn’t make our list of top handgun cartridges. It’s powerful enough to take down an animal, but if you can step up to something hotter without spending too much more money, breaking your shoulder, or sacrificing rifle availability, why wouldn’t you? The .357 checks all those boxes, and it can be had in attractive wood-stock lever action rifles, to boot.

Overall Winner: .357 Magnum

Feature Image: Justin Holt, @holtworks

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