|June - July 2003
Volume 38, Number
The stainless steel Smith & Wesson Mountain Gun is chambered for the .44 magnum and features a 4-inch barrel with adjustable sights. The Springfield Armory XD-357 is chambered for the .357 Sig with a ported barrel. Alaskan Brown bear photo by Ron Spomer.
The .357 SIG is one of the newer and
more interesting 9mm cartridges on the market these days, and it is chambered in a good
selection of high-tech handguns. The round is basically just a necked-down .40 S&W,
although the .357 SIG case is .015 inch longer. There have been several handgun
cartridges, including not a few wildcats, based on a bottleneck case, but few have been a
The .357 SIG is a different story.
While I had previously tested other 9mm cartridges (the 9x23 Winchester, Handloader No.
215; and the 9x21, Handloader No. 221) with varying degrees of success, the results with
the .357 SIG indicate it is the pick of the litter. It is a very versatile round with the
potential to be as mild-mannered, or as hot, and about as accurate as one could want in a
The .357 SIG was developed in 1994,
a joint venture of Federal Cartridge and SIGARMS. The idea was to make a semiautomatic
pistol cartridge with performance similar to that of the .357 Magnum with a 125-grain
bullet in a 4-inch barreled revolver. This the .357 SIG does. With high-performance
factory loads 125-grain jacketed hollowpoints (JHP) reach velocities of 1,300 to 1,350
fps. The hot Cor-Bon 125-grain factory loads top over 1,400 fps - all of this out of a
semiautomatic pistol with a nominal 4-inch barrel. Many police agencies across the nation
now issue handguns chambered for the .357 SIG.
Another big advantage is that the
little bottleneck cartridge slides easily into the chamber. I have never had a single
failure to feed with any of the thousands of .357 SIG rounds Ive fired. It is
The primary test vehicle used to
evaluate the .357 SIG was the new Springfield Armory XD-357 semiautomatic pistol. The
other was a 1991-vintage Smith & Wesson Model 4006 with a custom Bar-Sto .357 SIG
The XD is made in Croatia and was
initially developed in the early 1990s for the potential military markets in that region.
The pistol was previously imported by HS America as the HS 2000, but the model never
caught on. The XD has been available from Springfield Armory since early 2002, and all
indications are that it is selling well. It is also offered in 9mm Luger and 40 S&W.
XD stands for X-Treme Duty, and my
XD certainly looks like it could go 10 rounds with Mr. T. It has a tough polymer frame
with robust frame rails that are pinned in and thus are replaceable, should the need
arise. The XD has a machined steel slide, a 3.9-inch barrel with a one-in-16-inch,
right-hand rifling twist and a sight radius of 5.9 inches. It is relatively lightweight,
checking in at 30.1 ounces on my postal scale. The XD comes in a lockable plastic case and
is supplied with two stainless steel 10-round magazines. I tote the XD in an Uncle Mikes
Sidekick Cordura size 16 holster with thumb break (Number 7116), and it fits like a glove.
The assortment of interesting
features found in the new XD includes something for everyone. The pistol has what
Springfield calls the Ultra Safety Assurance (USA) trigger system. Basically,
it consists of a now-familiar lever in the front of the trigger. Both it and the grip
safety have to be depressed before the gun will fire.
An indicator pin protrudes from the
rear of the slide when the striker is set, and a loaded chamber indicator sticks up from
the top of the slide at the rear of the chamber when there is a round in the chamber. At
first glance, one would think this part is the extractor, but its only function is as a
loaded chamber indicator; the extractor is a separate, slide-mounted part. Both of these
features are easy to see or feel, and one quickly learns to rely on them for feedback on
the status of the pistol. Another feature on the XD is the ambidextrous magazine release,
and the magazine drops out drag-free when the release is depressed.
The XD also has a grip safety that,
for some reason, has generated some controversy. Why, I cant imagine, since everyones
ne plus ultra of semiautomatic pistols, the
Model 1911 .45 ACP, has one. The XDs grip safety has to be depressed not only to
fire the pistol but also to retract the slide, as it locks the action. Since the grip
safety falls naturally under the web of the shooters hand, its use for either
function is about as natural as breathing.
The XD is my only polymer-frame
pistol; I call it my pseudo-Glock. The wonderfully innovative Glocks are fine
pistols and have taken the police market by storm. However, their grip angle is (to me)
different enough that when I grab one and point it, it is looking about 2 feet over the
top of the target. An early article stated the grip angle of the XD is exactly the same as
the Model 1911 Colt, and it certainly seems that way to me.
The XD is a short-recoil double
action only (DAO) pistol with locked breech. If its loaded, its ready to go -
just grip it and pull the trigger. When I first got the XD, after loading or firing, I
found myself looking for a safety to apply to make safe. Of
course, pistols like the XD (and the Glock) are safe - as long as you keep
your finger off the trigger until youre ready to fire.
Speaking of triggers, the XDs
trigger pull is a revelation. It is the best stock trigger I have ever used on any DAO
auto, bar none. The pull weight is about 6.5 pounds, uniform, and the trigger stroke is
short and very smooth; it makes good shooting easy. For those out there who (like me)
loath a heavy, rough trigger, I invite you to try an XD trigger. You will be surprised.
The XD comes with nice looking
three dot fixed sights, and both are in dovetails in the slide. The front
sight is a fat .145 inch wide, but the rear notch, at .150 inch, is wide enough to allow a
good view of the front sight over the XDs 5.9-inch sight radius.
The only glitch with the XD was with
the rear sight. As received, the point of impact was about 3 to 4 inches too
high. A quick call to Springfield Armory revealed (naturally) there were different rear
sight heights on the various calibers of XDs. Apparently, a rear sight for the .40 caliber
ended up on the .357 SIG I had received. Springfield forwarded a lower rear sight
appropriate for the caliber, which slid right into the dovetail. After installation, the
point of impact was dead-on with virtually all the 125-grain loads.
An excellent variety of factory
loads is available for the .357 SIG these days. When the cartridge was first introduced,
Federal was the only company making ammunition. Now, due to its popularity with law
enforcement and shooters in general, everybody who is anybody cranks out ammunition. There
are high-performance jacketed hollowpoints of several weights, full-metal-jacket (FMJ)
loads and non-toxic (lead free) loads; there is even budget ammunition.
The .357 SIG is an easy and fun
cartridge to reload. For most of the Model 4006 test loads, I used a Redding three-die set
(80434) with an RCBS shellholder number 27 in my ancient RCBS Rockchucker press. These
dies were moved over to a new Redding T-7 seven station turret press, and it was used for
the XD loads with great success.
About the only quirk is the cases
need to be lubricated for sizing in the steel dies. This is not the nightmare you might
think. All you need to do is lay out a passel of cleaned cases on a large rag or old towel
and give them a very light shot of one of the spray lubes from a distance of about 18
inches. Roll them over a bit and apply another very light spray of lube. Let the lube dry.
I use MidwayUSA Minute Lube, so named because you just let it dry for one minute and then
size away. This stuff dries with little residue; I sometimes dont even bother to
wipe it off, and the ammunition works to perfection.
Nowadays there is an abundance of
good reloading data for the .357 SIG. Accurate Arms was one of the first companies to
develop a comprehensive list of loads (see Handloader No. 181), and this effort is
continued in its latest manual (Number Two). Accurate states the .357 SIG is without
a doubt the most ballistically uniform cartridge we have ever worked with. The
average SD was 5 fps for 10-round samples. The average SD for all my handloads tested in
the XD (with five-round samples) was 15.9 fps. Hodgdons Manual No. 27 and its new
Annual Manual, Speer Reloading Manual No. 13, Alliants (free) Reloading Guide and
the fifth editions of the Nosler and Hornady reloading manuals also have a wealth of data.
Maximum overall loaded length (OAL)
for the .357 SIG is listed in most manuals as 1.140 inches. Several sources point out
that, due to its short neck (.015 inch), long, pointed 9mm bullets arent suitable
for the .357 SIG. Not to worry. Speer makes a shorter 125-grain Gold Dot hollowpoint
(4360) especially designed for this cartridge and lists an OAL for this bullet of 1.135
inches. Length concerns notwithstanding, there is a great selection of bullets suitable
that run the gamut from 88 to 147 grains. In addition to the 125-grain Gold Dot mentioned
above, Speer offers a 147-grain Gold Dot as well. From Hornady are the excellent 125- and
147-grain XTP bullets. Nosler lists only the 115-grain JHP in its data, but Sierra bullets
up to its 125-grain JHC should be suitable for the cartridge.
Thanks to all the factory loads out
there, fired cases abound. MidwayUSA has once-fired .357 SIG cases (product number
813-997) at a very good price. If memory serves, it was less than $35 per 1,000 delivered
to my door. When I opened the package, I expected to find the usual cartridge
collection of fired cases, but all were headstamped Speer and were in perfect
condition. These cases, I am told, are made by Starline. After a light tumbling, they were
ready to go.
Dillon Precision offers once-fired
nickel-plated .357 SIG cases (A96-10499), also at about $35 per 1,000. If you want
brand-new cases, Starline, Winchester and Remington produce them. While were on the
subject of cases, you may feel the temptation to neck down .40 S&W cases to use in the
.357 SIG. Resist it. Such cases will end up about .020 inch too short. The .357 SIG
headspaces on the case mouth, not the shoulder, as one might expect with a bottleneck
case. Proper length cases also allow a firm crimp, which helps keep jacketed bullets from
being pushed back into the cases when chambering from the magazine.
Despite its name, the .357 SIG is a
true 9mm cartridge, so .355-inch jacketed and .356-inch cast bullets are called for. I
tested the 9mm bullets that have always given good results in the past, namely the Hornady
XTPs in 124- and 147-grain weights, and the 125-grain Bushwacker Bullet Co. cast
semiwadcutter (SWC) bullet. I also tried the 100-grain Speer JHP and the aforementioned
125-grain Gold Dot in the XD. To keep the playing field level, I used standard Winchester
Small Pistol (WSP) primers and Starline cases for all handloads for both pistols.
Results of the load trials for the
XD are shown in Table I. It proved to be an accurate and reliable handgun, and there was
nary a bobble with any of the many test rounds fired in it.
A representative sampling of high
performance factory loads was tested in the XD, and it clearly liked Speers
125-grain Gold Dot hollowpoint. Velocity, 1,328 fps, was close to the advertised speed of
1,350 fps, and accuracy was outstanding at 1.23 inches. Muzzle energy was 490 foot-pounds
(ft-lbs). The Federal Classic 125-grain FMJ-FP was also accurate and fast. Its velocity of
1,300 fps translates into 469 ft-lbs of muzzle energy, and its group average
was 2.38 inches. Hornadys 124-grain XTP factory load was third in the accuracy race,
at 2.83 inches, and velocity was about on par with the other 125-grain loads at 1,331 fps.
For some reason, the XD didnt get along with the 147-grain Hornady XTP factory load.
Velocity (1,236 fps) and energy (499 ft-lbs) were excellent, but groups averaged only 3.80
inches. By contrast, the most accurate factory load in the Model 4006 was the 147-grain
Handloads in the XD easily
duplicated the accuracy and (with three powders) velocities of factory loads. The
125-grain Speer Gold Dot was the accuracy leader, with an overall group average of 1.34
inches. Two loads were standouts. With 8.7 grains of Longshot velocity was 1,384 fps - the
highest recorded with this bullet weight - and groups averaged 1.20 inches. Close behind
was 8.9 grains of Power Pistol at 1,371 fps with groups of 1.69 inches. For the power
hungry, these two loads deliver 532 and 522 ft-lbs, respectively.
Also good with the 125-grain Gold
Dot was 12.7 grains of AAC-9 at 1,262 fps and groups averaging a tiny 1.19 inches. Best of
all, this load hits right on point of aim in the XD. Some might think AAC-9 would be too
slow in the .357 SIG, but Accurate Arms and Nosler list data for the cartridge in their
manuals. Accurate notes that AAC-9 has proven to be well suited for this round,
and so it was in the XD with the 125-grain Gold Dot.
Close behind was the superb Hornady
124-grain XTP, averaging 1.48 inches for all loads tested. The best load overall was 8.7
grains of Hodgdons new Longshot shotgun powder at a velocity of 1,323 fps and 482
ft-lbs of muzzle energy for great groups averaging 1.10 inches. Second best was 8.9 grains
of Power Pistol with a velocity of 1,350 fps and a muzzle energy of 502 ft-lbs. While a
somewhat faster load, groups averaged 2.00 inches. Both AAC-7 and Blue Dot also did well
with the 124-grain XTPs. With 10.6 grains of AAC-7 velocity was a modest 1,266 fps, but
groups averaged one inch. Ten grains of Blue Dot pushed this bullet to 1,291 fps and
grouped well at 1.18 inches.
A surprise performer was Alliants
Herco powder, and it was one of only two powders to outpace factory load velocities with
this bullet. With the 124-grain XTP 8.0 grains produced a velocity of 1,344 fps. I should
mention this is a maximum load in my XD. Accuracy wasnt quite as good (at 2.03
inches) with numerous other powders, but it was fast and powerful (497 ft-lbs).
The heavier 147-grain Hornady XTPs
turned in good performance, as well, with all loads tested averaging 1.73 inches. I have
been impressed with Alliants Power Pistol, and it did a great job with this heavier
bullet. A charge of 7.8 grains produced one of the more accurate loads with a group
average of 1.57 inches, a velocity of 1,187 fps and a muzzle energy of 460 ft-lbs. A close
second was 9.4 grains of AAC-7 that churned up 1,150 fps, 432 ft-lbs of energy and groups
of 1.61 inches. Not to be sneezed at is 7.0 grains of Longshot, for a velocity of 1,128
fps and 415 ft-lbs.
My top velocities with the Speer
100-grain JHPs were about 1,450 fps. Recoil was relatively mild and accuracy was
acceptable, averaging 2.04 inches for all loads tested. If one needed a screamer
lightweight jacketed bullet load, a good candidate would be 9.0 grains of Power Pistol at
1,444 fps, groups of 1.38 inches and 463 ft-lbs of muzzle energy. As you might expect, the
100-grain JHPs hit a bit lower than the 124- and 147-grain bullets, so unless you have
adjustable sights, it would probably be tough to satisfactorily regulate the point of
impact with lighter bullets.
Like most of us, I shoot cast
bullets for everyday plinking and in local matches. My minor power match load
for the XD is 5.0 grains of W-231 and the Bushwacker 125-grain SWC .356-inch cast bullet.
Velocity is a modest 1,058 fps, recoil is almost nonexistent and the power factor is 132 -
plenty even for those cold, early-year matches. It also hits exactly at point of aim with
the XDs new rear sight (see photos). Accuracy averaged 1.39 inches, and it never
hiccuped. Another good cast bullet load was 4.8 grains of Winchester Super Lite (WSL).
Velocity was 1,081 fps, and groups averaged 1.50 inches. Hodgdons TiteGroup was a
contender with a 4.7-grain charge at a speed of 1,129 fps, and accuracy was very
acceptable at 1.42 inches. So, the handloader has plenty of good powders from which to
choose for mild loads.
Higher velocities with the 125-grain
cast bullets were obtained with 7.3 grains of Winchester Action Pistol (1,234 fps), 8.0
grains of AAC-5 (1,257 fps) and 6.2 grains of WSF (1,205 fps). Accuracy, however, was
unacceptably poor (averaging about 2.4 inches), and the recoil was unnecessarily high.
Such loads, even if accurate, still produce only a minor power factor, so they just dont
buy you anything in a match.
After its all said and done, I
really think 125-grain bullets - both jacketed and cast - are the most suitable for the
.357 SIG. If one needs a heavier bullet, there are plenty of larger calibers to use.
To put the XDs accuracy in
perspective, I compared group sizes fired with it to those shot with the Model 4006 at the
same range and under similar conditions. The results of the loads fired in the 4006 are
shown in Table II.
It is interesting to note that the
new XD was slightly more accurate than the 4006 with its lighter, single-action trigger
and custom barrel. The average group size for 32 loads that have been tested over the
years in the 4006 is 2.04 inches. That same statistic for 54 groups tested in the XD is
Nine-millimeter cartridges have a
long and colorful history in the shooting world. They have served for war, peace and
plinking. The popularity and versatility of the .357 SIG and innovative new pistols like
the Springfield X-Treme Duty can only increase this presence.