//FBI Tests the 357SIG Caliber

FBI Tests the 357SIG Caliber


The April 1996 issue of Handguns had an excellent article about the FBI testing the 357SIG. The same article has been re-published several times in various magazines. Although this article is somewhat dated now, a little birdie told me that the FBI has done some very recent 357 SIG tests and have some very positive feedback concerning this cartridge. I’ll keep my eyes and ears open for the results. Let me know if you find out before I do.

The original 357Sig Federal 125 grain JHP with a nominal velocity of 1350 fps, was developed to reach a decent level of penetration, with ample expansion, and to work well after passing through initial barriers such as glass, metal, wood, etc. From my own experience shooting the Sig229 in both 40S&W and 357SIG, the perceived recoil appears to be somewhat similar between the two calibers, which I class as a bit more jolt than a 9mm, but very pleasant to shoot considering the high pressure magnum rounds. This article is based on this original 357 SIG Federal bullet. The author, Dr Topper, received assistance for the development of the article from the FBI Firearms Training Unit; But the opinions in the article belong solely to Dr Topper. Note: I have summarized many areas in the article for the sake of brevity.

The purpose of the FBI tests is to evaluate how ammunition will perform in all situations that agents may find themselves in. These tests were developed and formalized after the famous Miami incident.

The author said that out of the 8 testing categories of the 40 round evaluation, tests 6 and 8 are the acid tests. These two tests involve shooting at lightly clothed gelatin through automobile glass.

Besides the 40-round test, every load is checked for pressure, velocity, and accuracy.

Another important emphasis by the FBI besides penetration, is bullet placement.

The 357SIG performance is equivalent to a 125 grain 357 Magnum with a 2 1/2″ to 4″ barrel length.

One complaint about the 357 and 9 ammo in similar grain loads, is that they have limited penetration, especially after going through glass. The 357SIG is designed to have controlled expansion and excellent penetration.

The 357SIG held up as advertised. It exceeded 12 inches in all eight tests.

Dr Topper stated: “Average velocity from the SIG229 used in the gelatin tests was 1309 fps, and velocity from the test barrel was 1364 fps. Extreme velocity spread was only 55 fps from the SIG pistol and 47 fps from the test barrel, indicating excellent consistency in performance from both the ammo and the test gun. A 10-shot group from the test pistol averaged just 1.89 inches at 25 yards. The test barrel’s group was only 1.14 inches, again indicating excellent performance from both the gun and the cartridge.”

The pressure of the 357SIG, 40,000 psi, puts it into the magnum category, which means it can generate a greater felt recoil, especially in smaller, and/or lighter pistols. Since the SIG229 was designed as a magnum semi-auto, recoil is very controllable and it kicks less than a medium weight 3″ 357 revolver. It also holds 13 rounds compared to six rounds in a revolver.

The FBI tests showed that the 357SIG round out-performed the 357 Magnum revolver and the very popular 9mm Luger semi-autos.

Comparing the 357SIG with the .40S&W

The author compared the standard 357SIG round, Federal 125 grain JHP, with a .40 S&W round, Hornady 155 grain JHP. The Sig229 was used with the 357SIG round, and a Glock 22 was used by the FBI to test the 40S&W round. Note: the Glock 22 has a barrel roughly 6/10″ longer than the Sig229, so the test comparison is slightly flawed.

The results were very close. The Hornady .40 S&W bullet expanded more than the 357SIG bullet did. The SIG pistol performed much more accurately than the Glock 22 at 25 yards, 1.89″ as compared to 3.49″ from the Glock.

Dr Topper states:

“With respect to performance in gelatin, all rounds from both test loads shed their jackets after penetrating the glass in tests 6 and 8. However, the .357SIG showed better penetration, going an average of 13 inches into the gelatin in test 6 as opposed to 10 inches for the .40. The Federal .357SIG also out-penetrated the Hornady .40 by one to four inches in tests 2, 4, 5 and 7.

“The maximum pressure of the .40 load was 37,400 psi, so one can expect that the .40 will be just about as hard on a gun of similar construction as the .357SIG.”

Both the 357SIG and the 40S&W beat the 9mm by a wide margin, as well as having very similar exterior ballistics out to 100 yards.

The author said the results show that the 357SIG has about the same energy of a 155 grain 2nd generation .40 S&W round, along with the penetration capacity of a 180 again .40 S&W hydra-shok.

Dr Topper said, “However, for the shooter who wants it all (high energy, flat trajectory, high velocity, extreme accuracy, high firepower and deep penetration) in a single cartridge that fits in a concealable, shootablehandgun, the .357SIG is just the ticket.” The author then went on to say that the Federal 125 grain round might have a problem of over-penetration in certain urban environments. So the implication is to use the right kind of ammo for your intended application.

Dr Topper then said, “On the other hand, it would be an excellent caliber for a trail gun, and its effect on javelina and even small whitetails at ranges under 40 yards would be outstanding. If I were living back at my house in Northern Arizona, I imagine that a SIG229 in .357SIG might soon replace both my .357 wheelgun and my .45 Gold Cup as the sidearm I’d carry when out in the backcountry.”

FBI Eight Step Test Results: (Penetration in inches)

(357 SIG barrel: 3.86″; .40 S&W barrel: 4.49″)

Cartridge 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
357 SIG 125 gr Federal 14.0 20.1 22.9 17.1 19.5 13.8 20.5 12.1
.40S&W 155gr HornadyXTP 14.5 18.1 23.0 14.0 18.3 10.7 15.9 12.1
115gr 9mm Win Silvertip 10.0 11.8 12.7 12.9 13.1 9.2 10.5 10.5

test1: Shooting into bare gelatin at 10 feet.

test2: Uses several layers of clothing over the gelatin at same distance.

test7: Same as test2, except at 20 yards.

test3: Simulates shooting through a automobile door.

test4 & 5: Simulates shooting through common building materials.

test6 & test8: The acid tests: Shooting at lightly clothed gelatin through automobile glass, which is extremely tough on hollow points.

Test6: shooting at gelatin through a piece of glass that is angled 45 degrees to the rear and 15 degrees to the left and simulates an oblique shot at an automobile windshield from the driver’s side.

Test8: shooting straight on through a piece of glass that is angled backward at 45 degrees. This simulates a head-on shot at an approaching vehicle.