Whether you are new to shooting sports or have been in the game for a while, you have likely encountered the phrase “magnum” on boxes of ammunition. While magnum ammo is great for certain applications, the word gets tossed around quite a bit. This makes it difficult to discern the best magnum ammo from those that just use the word as a flashy sales tactic.
With that in mind, we briefly cover some popular magnum loads for handguns, rifles, and rimfire cartridges. After you are done, you will be able to find the perfect magnum ammo for your shooting goals. Whether you are looking to take down big game or just want a high-powered home defense round, you will find the answers you need below.
What Is Magnum Ammo?
First things first, let’s review what magnum ammo actually is. Simply put, a magnum cartridge will be longer and contain additional gun powder, which serves as the propellant. The diameter of the magnum round will be identical to its standard counterpart, but the projectile may be slightly heavier.
Magnum ammo creates a higher pressure when fired, which places additional stress on the internal components of your weapon. The goal of this ammo is to increase velocity and produce more kinetic energy. However, it is important to note that no one regulates the use of the term, which allows ammo manufacturers to throw the word magnum around a bit too loosely.
What About .38 vs .357 Magnum?
One of the best-known examples of magnum ammo is the infamous .357 cartridge. The .357 revolver was made famous by movies like Beverly Hills Cop II, Starsky & Hutch, and The Other Guys to name a few. But I digress.
As mentioned above, the diameter of magnum ammo is the same as its standard variant, but virtually all other factors are different. The additional length and pressure of the .357 round are of particular importance. Specifically, a .38 cartridge is 1.155 inches in length while the .357 magnum is 1.29 inches long.
If you compare a .38 caliber revolver and a .357 revolver side by side, you will notice that the wheel of the .357 is longer but the diameter of each slot is identical. This allows you to fire .38 caliber rounds out of a .357 revolver. However, you cannot fire the more powerful .357 rounds out of a standard .38. Even if the rounds fit, you would damage your weapon because it cannot handle the added pressure.
Magnum Handgun Ammo
There are roughly 10 different calibers of magnum pistol ammo, but we will stick to the most popular rounds to keep things simple. These are the .327 Federal Magnum, .357 magnum, 10mm Auto, .44 magnum, and .500 S&W magnum.
|Best Magnum Handgun Ammo||Bullet Type||Bullet Weight||Velocity||Energy|
|.327 Federal Magnum – Speer Gold Dot||JHP||100gr||1600||568|
|.357 Magnum – Winchester PDX1||BJHP||125gr||1325||487|
|10mm Auto – Federal Hydra-Shok||JHP||180gr||1030||424|
|.44 Magnum – Hornady Critical Defense||FTX||165gr||900||297|
|.500 S&W Magnum – Federal Premium||XPB-HP||275gr||1660||1682|
The 10mm is strictly used as a semi-auto pistol cartridge while the other rounds are primarily used with revolvers. With that said, Magnum Research does produce a variant of their popular Desert Eagle pistol that is chambered in .44 magnum. While they are a blast to shoot, the Desert Eagle is a bear of a handgun and is not very practical. If you are dead set on owning one, it is worth upgrading to the .50 AE model.
The appeal of magnum pistol ammo is two-fold. These rounds provide additional stopping power and can do more soft tissue damage than their standard counterparts. They are also useful sidearms when you are on a hunt. While they won’t stop a large animal dead in their tracks, they are a much better choice than standard load variants.
Magnum Rifle Ammo
There are approximately 2 dozen magnum rifle cartridges in production today. We will narrow our discussion to the most practical options. The primary purpose of magnum rifle ammo is big game hunting. However, it is important to separate fact from fiction due to the mass amount of misinformation out there.
Even with a magnum cartridge, you will still need a well-placed shot to take down a large game animal. These rounds will not send your target flying or tear their head clean off.
With that said, they will cause significantly more damage than traditional rifle cartridges and will pack a heck of a wallop. They will kick like a mule too, so make sure you have gotten some practice in before taking your new rifle out in the field.
Rifle Ammo, With A Kick
Some of the most prevalent magnum rifle calibers are 7mm Remington Ultra Magnum, .300 Win Mag, .338 Lapua Magnum, and .416 Remington Magnum. I’m also a big fan of the .375 H&H. It serves as a nice middle ground between the .300 and .416 cartridges.
|Best Magnum Rifle Ammo||Bullet Type||Bullet Weight||Velocity||Energy|
|7mm Remington Ultra Magnum – Federal Premium||Nosler||160gr||2950||3091|
|.300 Win Mag – Hornady Superformance||GMX||180gr||3070||3766|
|.338 Lapua Magnum -Prime Ammunition||HPBT||300gr||2740||4988|
|.375 H&H – Barnes Vor-TX||HP||300gr||2540||4299|
|.416 Remington Magnum – Hornady Dangerous Game||BFN||400gr||2400||5115|
The right round for you will largely depend on what you intend on hunting. If you want a versatile cartridge that will allow you to take down small to medium-sized game, then the .300 Win Mag is perfect. You will have no issues taking out good-sized deer and other popular targets. The .300 Win Mag is also the preferred cartridge for many branches of the military and law enforcement agencies across the country.
The .416 is on the exact opposite end of the spectrum. It should only be used for extremely large game, which is why it is popular in Africa. That round can easily put down trophy moose, bears, elephants, and the like. Knowing your goals as a shooter will help you make the right buy when it comes to magnum ammo.
Magnum Rimfire Ammo
Rimfire cartridges are typically pretty small in diameter, which may leave you wondering why anyone would want a magnum version of these rounds. As with any magnum cartridge, the goal of magnum rimfire ammo is to up the stopping power and kinetic energy.
The two magnum rounds in the rimfire class are the .22 Winchester magnum and the .17 Hornady magnum rimfire (HMR). These cartridges are great for taking down small game and are just plain fun to shoot. The .17 HMR is my personal favorite as these cartridges provide stellar muzzle velocity of approximately 2,650 ft/s.
|Best Magnum Rimfire Ammo||Bullet Type||Bullet Weight||Velocity||Energy|
|.17 Hornady Magnum||V-Max||17gr||2550||245|
|.22 WMR Hornady||V-Max||30gr||2200||67|
Benefits of Magnum Ammo
The primary goal of magnum ammo is to provide improved ballistics without having to redesign an entirely new line of firearms or cartridges. When used appropriately, these rounds can drastically improve your shooting experience and allow you to take down your targets with ease.
When it comes to magnum pistol ammo, I find that the .357 magnum gives you the best bang for your buck. This is more due to the handgun platform rather than the round itself. With that said, I find that the .357 magnum cartridge provides great stopping power while still being manageable.
As mentioned above, the .357 magnum revolver can also fire .38 ammo. This versatility allows you to buy cheap practice rounds when you want to hit the range.
When it comes to magnum rifle ammo, my go-to is the .300 Win Mag. It has a proven track record of performing when it matters most. I am also a huge fan of the .338 Lapua, but most shooters don’t need that extra oomph. Not to mention that the .338 Lapua is roughly 3 times as expensive per round as the .300 Win Mag.
As long as you avoid some of the gimmicky “magnum” cartridges and stick with proven rounds like the options listed in the article, you will be able to get the job done when it matters most.