While growing up I read stories and articles written by the legendary Bob Milek, one of the first true pioneers in "specialty" handgun hunting. Before him hunters would carry a sidearm for dispatching wounded game but rarely relied on it as their primary weapon. With the advent "specialty" handguns like the XP-100 and Contender all that changed and Mr. Milek was one of the few that took the lead. Together with Steve Herrett they developed a pair of rounds that will live on, at least in memory, in handgun hunting history forever. They were the first rounds created especially for the new breed of handguns. Compared to calibers that these handguns were previously being chambered for, the Herrett rounds had less case capacity yet burned propellants that allowed them to match the velocity of the larger cased rounds.
357 Herrett case pre-fireform, 30-30 Winchester case, and fireformed 357 Herrett
About the time I began to really take an interest in the Herrett rounds was just about when I began shooting T/C Contenders almost exclusively. I wanted a .35 caliber Contender barrel bigger than the .357 Magnum but was afraid to take the jump into case forming so I opted for the .35 Remington. After shooting and reloading .35 Remington rounds for years I felt confident enough and wanted to try my hand at shooting the .357 Herrett. I think I was lured in by the mystique, the stories, and possibly wanting a little bit of history. There was only one problem, I had never formed cases for any wildcat cartridges. I had heard that if you had never formed cases for wildcat rounds before, the Herrett's were not the ones to start with. Before getting too far into this idea, I had read every piece of literature I could about forming these cases. I learned that the cases had to be trimmed, shoulder moved back, and necked up from .30 caliber to .35 caliber. From there they had to be fireformed and resized to prepare for testing full house loads. It didn't seem too awfully difficult so I figured what the heck! After briefly rolling the decision around I called T/C and ordered a 15" barrel from their official Custom Shop, Fox Ridge Outfitters. A few weeks later I took delivery of it, mounted the Burris Base with Leupold Rings, and clamped on a Tasco Pro Class 4X scope.
While waiting for the barrel to arrive I rounded up a set of Pacific Durachrome Dies that consisted of the standard full length sizing die and bullet seating die. Included with the set was a form/trim die. I planned on saving the case forming procedures until I received the barrel but couldn't resist the temptation of tinkering. Using some miscellaneous pieces of 30-30 Winchester brass, I attempted to form a few cases with the form/trim die. The operation seemed relatively simple. The first step is to install the die into the press so that the fully cycled ram contacts bottom of die when raised to its highest point. Next lube the case, push into the die, cut off the portion protruding from the top with a fine tooth hack saw, and lower the ram. While the ram is raised I was then supposed to file the case mouths smooth. I found this to be kinda tough so I employed the use of my Lyman Power Trimmer, which quickly squared and smoothed the mouths. After trimming the cases had to be run through the .357 Herrett full length sizing die to expand the case mouth to .35 caliber. I had heard that headspace was a very important step in forming Herrett brass so I was very careful in doing this. A new shoulder will be formed when run into the full length sizing die. It is vital that the reformed case shoulder fit snuggly against the chamber shoulder when the action is closed so I didn't push the case into the die to far as to create excess headspace. When formed properly, the action should lock up on a case when snapped shut firmly, this creates more uniform cases that will last longer. If the headspace is loose, the cases will prematurely at the web and accuracy will suffer. If too tight, the action won't lock up properly causing poor functioning and poor accuracy.
After the barrel had arrived I tested a few of the cases I had made for headspace. The action wouldn't fully close on the reformed case showing that the shoulder hadn't been moved far enough back. I re-installed the F/L die and sized the case carefully by turning the die into the press an additional quarter turn at a time until the frame would snap shut on a reformed case. At this point I tightened the lock ring for all future case forming and resizing operations. Using a new batch of Remington produced 30-30 Winchester cases I proceeded to make up a batch of 100 pieces and moved onto the next step, fireforming.
This step will expand the case walls to create the straighter bodylines as well as fully form the shoulder. I did this with a moderate load of Hodgdon H4227 that corresponded with a 158gr bullet. For just being assembled with no time taken to concentrate on tweaking for accuracy, these loads were amazingly accurate. Not only were the cases formed perfect, they also shots some great groups. At 100 yards, five shot clusters usually grouped in 1.5 inches. Moving to 200 yards the groups opened a bit but stayed under three inches. Impressive for forming loads. This gave me extremely high hopes for the full power loads.
When forming was completed the cases were sized with care taken not to bump the shoulder back, then primed with CCI 200 Large Rifle primers. Powder selection wasn't difficult at all. Referencing any of Mr. Milek's articles showed his preference for H4227 when using 180gr bullets. Because I had had great luck with Hornady's 180gr Single Shot Pistol Bullet (SSPB) in my Super 14 .35 Remington they were a shoe in for use in the .357 Herrett. I started at 24gr and worked in half-grain increments up to 27.5gr. The lighter loads grouped ok but didn't thrill me. Moving up to the more powerful charges, the groups started to close up somewhat. Ending with the max charge of 27.5gr, the five shot group measured 1.25". It ran over the Oehler 35P at a touch more than 2100 feet per second. This load would work well for deer, antelope, or just about any other medium-weight North American game animal out to 200 or so yards.
357 Herrett formed cases from 30-30 Winchester brass
For the shooter that doesn't really care for case forming, the .35 Remington will do all the .357 Herrett can. The Remington will propel bullets over 200gr faster than the Herrett due to its larger case capacity. For most handgun hunters basic requirements, the more efficient and shooter friendly (read as: less muzzle blast and significantly reduced recoil!) .357 Herrett round will do more than enough. Also, the .35 Remington uses a hefty charge of Hodgdon H335 to propel the 180gr Hornady SSPB at the same velocity as will the Herrett. From a short pistol barrel H335 makes enough muzzle blast to cook a Thanksgiving dinner! On the range with hearing and eye protection it isn't that bad but when in the woods it can be a real distraction.
Though the .357 Herrett was only ever manufactured in the T/C Contender as a factory offering, in its time it was very popular among both hunters and silhouette shooters. Nowadays shooters have mostly forgotten about it except for a few of us that like case forming and reloading, and perhaps just knowing that we are shooting one of the rounds that began the revolution of handgun hunting for big game.
Since getting my hands on the .357 Herrett I have obtained its smaller sibling, the .30 Herrett. As soon as load testing is completed for it I'll be posting the results for all to see.