Do .40 S&W, .38 Super or .357 Sig cut the mustard as backup guns for the woods?
A lot of people carry backup guns in various situations, such as a pocket gun as backup for concealed carry or a backup handgun when in the woods. Large revolvers reign supreme, especially the .44 Magnum.
However, some people want an auto because it’s what they’re used to and the extra capacity has appeal. Outside of carrying a Coonan .357 Magnum, Wildey Magnum or a Desert Eagle, there aren’t too many viable autos as 9mm and .45 ACP just aren’t necessarily up to the task.
The 10mm is, but what about a few other auto-loading calibers? What about, say, the .40 S&W, .357 Sig or the oft-overlooked .38 Super?
Penetration is Good, But Energy is Just as Important
When it comes to ammunition to be used on animals, penetration has to be balanced with impact energy. Most animals that one would be concerned with – bears, mountain lion, wolves, moose and so on – are heavier-boned and muscled than humans. Sheer velocity has to be balanced with bullet weight, as the round has to arrive with as much destructive energy as possible.
All three above-mentioned rounds are capable of performance similar to light loads of .357 Magnum. The .38 Super was a direct competitor to the .357 Magnum when released and the .357 Sig was developed to replicate the performance of 125-grain .357 Magnum loads, a common duty load.
However, there are some shortcomings. The .38 Super is akin to a 9mm +P+ in many loadings, and isn’t commonly offered with a bullet larger than 147 grains. The same is true of the .357 Sig. The most load of .40 S&W bullets is 180 grains, though there are some larger loads such as Buffalo Bore’s 200-grain Woodsman load.
Shot Placement is More Vital Than Caliber
Though the caliber wars will probably never die, the truth is shot placement matters more than just about anything else. This is true for backup guns as much as any other.
As it happens, there are some limited instances of these rounds being used successfully on animals. Some police departments have noted the .357 Sig as being much more effective on dogs than 9mm Parabellum.
At least one black bear was dispatched via one round of .40 S&W during the Muskingum County Animal Farm incident. For those unaware, an owner of a private menagerie of dangerous animals (including lions, tigers, and bears black and brown) in Zanesville, Ohio, threw open the cages and killed himself in March of 2012. Most of the animals escaped and had to be put down by law enforcement.
However, these rounds would not likely be adequate against the largest bears in North America in all situations. In areas where black bears are prevalent, an auto load smaller than 10mm could be relied upon with good shot placement and the right loading. However, in grizzly country… just get a .44 Magnum or bigger. There is also some evidence that bear mace is more effective than even the larger handgun calibers.
Though the .40, the .357 Sig and .38 Super could be called upon to work in a pinch, they are far more successful on two-legged predators.