The SIG Sauer line of ammo continues to expand, demonstrating SIG’s commitment to providing shooters with a quality selection of self-defense, target and hunting loads for handguns and rifles. So I felt that an “apples-to-apples” comparison of the SIG .357 Magnum V-Crown load and SIG .38 Special V-Crown was warranted.

SIG Sauer’s .357 Magnum Ammo

One of the newer additions to SIG’s line is the 125-grain Elite Performance V-Crown .357 Magnum round. Without going into the .357 Magnum’s history, the .357 has been delivering fearsomely effective stopping power since 1935. It is regarded as one of the finest self-defense handgun rounds available. It has a muzzle velocity of 1,450 feet per second.

The V-Crown bullet topping the .357 Magnum round deserves some description. It is designed to meet or exceed the FBI’s rigorous testing protocols for law enforcement defensive ammunition and features some special engineering to ensure excellent performance. Starting from the top, its V-shaped jacket skives and scores help provide controlled, uniform expansion. Beneath the V-Crown is the stacked hollow-point bullet with an additional hollow-point cavity. Toward the base of the bullet is a unique toothed cannelure which ensures maximum weight retention and terminal expansion. If this sounds complicated, it is — and there’s a reason for it.

Defensive ammunition designed for use against dangerous human targets is a balancing act of the highest degree. Ammo must penetrate deeply enough into an average-sized human body to cause damage to organs and bone structure. But it needs to do so without over-penetrating the body and exiting on the other side (potentially causing damage to an innocent bystander). This may occur after the bullet first penetrates any clothing or intermediate barrier between the defending shooter and the dangerous threat. If the bullet plugs up with material and doesn’t expand, it over-penetrates. That tendency must be avoided. With modern ammo, it often is.

Differences Between .357 Magnum and .38 Special

Although both the .357 Magnum and .38 Special loads are topped off with a 125-grain V-Crown bullet, those bullets aren’t exactly the same. The cavity of the .38 Special’s bullet is wider and deeper than the .357 Magnum version. This is because of the velocity differential between the two rounds.

The factory listed muzzle velocity for the .38 Special 125-grain V-Crown loading is 965 feet per second, with a resultant 258 foot-pounds of energy. The difference between the .38 Special and the .357 Magnum is significant. The 1,450 feet per second of the .357 produces 583 foot-pounds of energy. So if the .357 Magnum round was loaded with the .38 Special bullet (which is designed for optimum performance at some 485 feet per second less than the .357 Magnum produces), the impact results would be explosive, but penetration would be shallow—likely too shallow to reach vital structures within the average-sized human opponent.

To maintain un-biased results, I tested both loads from the same gun: the Smith & Wesson Model 65 I received from Century Arms. Its 4-inch barrel is the most commonly encountered length in full-sized .357 Magnum/.38 Special defensive or service revolvers.

In firing both loads from the Model 65, I found that the .38 Special had very light recoil. It was extremely controllable. The .357 Magnum’s recoil was more noticeable but in no way uncomfortable. Muzzle flash was low. Group sizes were consistent with both loads. Firing two-handed standing (double-action) at 30 feet produced groups that ranged from 2¾ inches to 3 inches. That is excellent combat accuracy in my book, and it gives an idea of the manageability of the SIG Elite Performance .357 Magnum rounds.

Testing the Velocities of the Ammo

In running the velocities of both loads over my chronograph, I found that velocities were a bit less than the factory-quoted ballistics but not so much as to cause undue concern. The V-Crown .38 Special averaged 942 feet per second for a muzzle energy of 246 foot-pounds of energy. The .357 V-Crown averaged 1,374 feet per second, which was a greater velocity loss than the .38 Special. However, it still produced an ample 524 foot-pounds of energy. That’s improved manageability over .357s running more than 1,400 feet per second.

So on paper, the .357 Magnum produces twice the kinetic energy as the .38 Special when fired from the same gun, using the same brand of ammo and the same type and weight of bullet. But twice the power was apparent when each round was fired on a separate 10.5- x 8-inch block of moist modeling clay.

I shot the first block with the .357 Magnum load at 15 feet. The result was spectacular! A chunk of clay likely about an inch or more in diameter blew straight back, hitting my safety glasses. I was fine, but such a forceful blowback was unexpected. The .357 Magnum V-Crown penetrated the entire 10.5-inch length of block and created a maximum diameter cavity of 6 ¾ inches. The block itself had expanded at the maximum cavity point from 8 inches to more than 9, representing potentially outstanding performance against a human target.


SIG’s .38 Special V-Crown performed very well but was not as spectacular. The .38 did not penetrate the block. It created a cone-shaped, 4.5-inch-diameter maximum cavity with no clay blowback. The depth of penetration was approximately 9 inches.

The clay test proved that while the .38 Special is an effective defense round that is easier to control than the .357 Magnum, it is nowhere near its equal when compared in an apples-to-apples test such as this.

Not all .357 Magnum ammunition is equal. Based on my performance tests, the SIG Sauer V-Crown Elite Performance load is among the very best. Accurate and relatively easy to control in a full-sized revolver, it represents a very balanced approach to maximizing the effectiveness of this timeless caliber.


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