If I were going to be limited to one handgun period, I'd choose a midsize framed .357 magnum with a 3"-4" barrel. To me, it's the closest thing to a "one size fits all" defensive/survival handgun. Short and light enough for concealed carry, yet powerful enough to handle just about any chore.
It can be loaded from "mild to wild" and take down darn near any critter on the planet.
I wouldn't recommend it as "bear medicine" but the late Doug Wesson of S&W fame did take down a 1,300 lb Polar Bear with one as some folks says "as a publicity stunt". But never the less, it worked. :thumb:
I was originally looking for a .357 since I could use both .357 and .38spl in it. However, at the end of the day, I bought a M856SS2. After thinking about it for a while, I decided I'd never be shooting a .357 from my snubnose. If I was never going to shoot .357, then why pay the difference in money.
As is usually the case for me, I will probably rue the day I decided on .38 spl only.
.357 mags out of a 1.5" barrel is really a waste. Lots of noise and flash from the unburnt power compared to the .38 special. With the hot +P loads from Buffalo Bore and Underwood Ammo the .38 is all you need really.
With that said I carry a M&P 360 .357 mag. But I either shoot shoot .38's or special mag loads designed for short barrel pistols.
I buck the trend on the .357 vs. 38 debate. Especially concerning snubnose revolvers. I much prefer a .38.
I have basically three snubnoses that I can use for concealed carry. One is a .357 Ruger sp101. I definitely carry it less than the other two, because it's slightly greater size and weight make it far less comfortable to carry over long periods of time. If you carry only to and from work or during your daily 30 minute walk, then a slightly larger gun is fine. And if you can only afford a single handgun and you want a one-size-fits-all approach, get the .357 - it's not a bad choice.
But if you'll carry a lot, and you already have some handgun calibers that are larger than .38 (.45acp, .40S&W) then I'd definitely go with the .38 IF it's physically smaller than the .357. My Smith and Wesson classic model 37 literally disappears in the front pocket of my loose fit jeans, and my slightly larger Rossi M88 is more comfortable in the waist than the Ruger.
It's almost not worth it putting .357 rounds in a smaller snubnose magnum. Why? The tame .357 loads don't seem to be that much more than higher level +P .38's, and the powerful .357 loads have very intense recoil in lightweight guns. Hence, most people pay 100-200 bucks more for the .357 revolver, yet shoot .38's out of it most the time.
If the .357 is the obvious choice that many shooters claim it is, then the gun makers would've stopped making .38 Special revolvers a long time ago. But check out the number of alloy j - frames that S&W makes nowadays. That's a lot of .38's! Just my opinion.
Whenever that choice comes up I always saw go for the .357, more options are always better and like others have said, well worth an extra 100 bucks. I have a SS605 and would never look back. As far as the size difference it's almost so small that you would not notice it.
No matter what decision you make you are likely to regret it! If this is your first gun then look at this decision as the beginning of your gun collection. You will be buying more. I doubt that there are more than 5% of the members of this forum that have only one handgun (just a guess).
For CC with a snubby the 38+ makes more sense...weight (comfort and controllability). For dual purpose as home defense and carry...edge to .357 if you get a 3 or 4 inch barrel.
Charter Arms makes revolvers in 38 and .357 as well as 9mm, 40, and 44. The 9, 40, and 44 are all better loads than the 38 and tend to split the difference, energy wise, between the 38+ and .357. Welcome to Charter Arms
I can not speak to the quality of these guns but if you include Charter's guns you have a lot of choices.
If your going to stick with snubby 38 look at Ruger's LCR rated 38+ ...a nice little gun, very light weight.
I will mention one thing that never seems to come up. With a .357 you can shoot .38 "shot shells" with no issues. When shooting the CCI shot shells with the blue plastic tops they tend to get hung up after shooting them in the shorter .38 cylinders while they have extra room in the larger .357 cylinders.