Skip to main content

Why Not Use a .357 Mag Rifle for Whitetails?

An unusual deer hunting rifle: A good bullet placed properly is really all that's needed.

Why Not Use a .357 Mag Rifle for Whitetails?

Photo by Richard Mann

Deer hunters have been brainwashed by gun writers. Many almost believe that if their cartridge cannot push bullets to 3,000 fps or ring steel at 1,000 yards, their bullets will bounce off deer. It may come as a surprise, but deer are just not that hard to kill. A good bullet placed properly is really all that’s needed.

Hunters have been successfully taking deer with .357 Mag. revolvers for a long time, but for some reason a .357 Mag. rifle is considered less than adequate. This is ludicrous; if a deer can be killed with a .357 Mag. handgun, a .357 Mag. rifle—with an additional 300 to 600 fps behind the bullet—should be more effective. Indeed, it can be. However, the hunter must use the right ammunition.

The problem is most .357 Mag. ammunition is intended for revolvers, which means the bullets are designed to perform best at velocities generated in barrels that are about 2 to 8 inches long. Push these bullets faster out of longer rifle barrels, and most of them will fragment. This can drastically limit penetration and the amount of tissue damaged at vital-organ depth.

Fortunately, there is a new .357 Mag. load that is compatible with both revolvers and rifles. Working with Henry Repeating Arms, Federal developed a line of ammunition called HammerDown, which was engineered from the ground up to work in lever-action rifles. In addition to corrosion-resistant nickel-plated cases and a chamfer on the leading edge of the case rim to make loading the cartridges in lever-action rifles easier, the bonded bullets are tuned to optimally perform over a broad range of impact velocities. For example, the 170-grain bullet in the .357 Mag. HammerDown load will expand to a frontal diameter of about 1/2 inch if it impacts a deer at a velocity anywhere between 1,100 and 1,800 fps.

If you have a lever-action .357 Mag. rifle, you now have an excellent big-game load capable of taking deer past 200 yards. It also means the unique little Ruger 77/357 bolt-action rifle is now a prime candidate for deer. No, you will not be shooting across canyons or flattening cornfields with it, but at the distances most deer are killed—inside 200 yards—this is all the gun you need.

Ruger’s 77/357 is available in two versions. Both have a black synthetic stock, and feature a stainless steel action, barrel and bolt. One has a 1/2-28 threaded muzzle.

I installed a Leupold VX-3i 1.5-5x20 mm riflescope in medium Ruger rings on a 77/357, and it brought the total weight to only 6 1/2 pounds. The 77/357 comes with high (.565-inch) Ruger rings, but these are too high to allow for a good cheek weld when shooting. Unless you are foolish enough to mount some sort of moon scope on this rifle, medium (.435-inch) rings are a better choice. Spend the extra $60 for them.

With the scope zeroed at 150 yards, the HammerDown load’s bullet strikes about 3 1/2 inches high at 100 yards and about 9 inches low at 200 yards. This allows for a dead-on hold on a deer’s vital zone out to 175 yards. At 200 yards I held the scope’s horizontal reticle wire on the top of a 12-inch plate and managed a nice 3-inch, three-shot group almost dead center.

No, it’s not a 6.5 Creedmoor. It’s not even a .30-30. But the Ruger 77/357 paired with HammerDown is plenty for deer. It would also make a great ranch or camp rifle, and the recoil is so gentle it’s ideal for new or young hunters. If you like a lightweight, sweet-handling rifle, you’re apt to fall in love with it.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

Recent Videos

Sometimes you have to fish a bait that allows you to cover a lot of water efficiently. When you're on the search for bass that have moved into deeper water off the bank and away from obvious holding spots, a swimbait can locate them.

On the Search with Swimbaits

One of the best imitations of a wounded baitfish is the soft-plastic jerkbait, or fluke. A fluke darting just beneath the surface can be too much for a bass to resist. Rig it and fish it according to water conditions and cover to make this great bait even more effective.

Fun with Flukes

There are three models in SPRO's Outsider crankbait series: 55 (runs 3-4 feet), 60 (7-9) and 80 (19-21). Professional bass angler Jonathan Kelley goes over the specifics at ICAST 2022 in Orlando.

SPRO's New Outsider Crankbait Series: First Look

Professional bass angler Jonathan Kelley highlights the features of SPRO's new lures at ICAST 2022 in Orlando.

New Essential Series Spinnerbaits and Buzzbaits from SPRO

Syd Ribes with Sea Falcon highlights four new lures for saltwater fishing. At ICAST 2022 in Orlando.

New Lineup of Lures from Sea Falcon

Syd Ribes highlights two new saltwater lures from SPRO: Flutter Tail Shrimp and Cannon Ball Jig. At ICAST 2022 in Orlando.

New Saltwater Lures from SPRO

AFTCO's Matt Florentino highlights the features of the new Barricade cold-weather suit, a Best of Category winner at ICAST 2022 in Orlando. With Game & Fish's Adam Heggenstaller.

New from AFTCO: Barricade Cold Weather Tactical Gear

Three-time ICAST Best of Category winner Bubba covers it all with new knives set. With Bubba's Matt Kinamore and Game & Fish's  Adam Heggenstaller at ICAST 2022 in Orlando.

4-in-1 Bubba Multi Flex Cutlery Kit

The innovative landing net will weigh and measure your catch while it's still in the net. Best of Category winner at ICAST 2022. With Game & Fish's Adam Heggenstaller.

Award-Winning Frabill Witness Net 'Keeps You Honest'

Game & Fish Magazine Covers Print and Tablet Versions

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


Buy Digital Single Issues

Magazine App Logo

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Game & Fish App

Other Magazines

See All Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Game & Fish stories delivered right to your inbox every week.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Game & Fish subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Enjoying What You're Reading?

Get a Full Year
of Guns & Ammo
& Digital Access.

Offer only for new subscribers.

Subscribe Now