by Richard Mann - Sunday, September 30, 2018
Impressive .357 Mag. performance from a semi-automatic pistol is possible with the .357 Ring of Fire.
Sometimes called the circum-Pacific belt, the “Ring of Fire” is an area in the Pacific Ocean where numerous earthquakes and major volcanic eruptions occur. Most will remember it as a song, recorded in 1963 by the late Johnny Cash, that stayed at number one on the charts for seven straight weeks. Jokingly referred to as a ballad about confusing Aspercreme Heat Pain-Relieving Gel with Preparation H—cue the trumpet music—the tune is actually about falling in love. As far as Virginian Dave Elliott is concerned, it refers to a wildcat cartridge with which he’s become smitten.
I tend to avoid much discussion of wildcat cartridges in this column, partly because too many wildcatters work on or beyond the edge of the safety envelope, and partly because wildcats have limited practicality in the real world. Yes, they can be devilishly effective and fun, but at the same time—due to the logistics surrounding their creation—they’re not a real practical alternative for conventional use. Still, it’s sometimes interesting to explore what’s out there.
NRA member and Marine Corps veteran Dave Elliott was a fan of the 1911 chambered in .45 ACP, but dreamed of .357 Mag. performance and greater capacity from a semi-automatic handgun. In the early 1980s, John Ricco developed the 9x23 mm, which came close to the .357 Mag., but it could not accommodate heavier bullets. It also operated at high pressures.
Elliot decided to cut some 9 mm Win. Mag. cases to the length of the 10 mm Auto and load them with .357—not .355 (9 mm)—diameter, 140-, 158- and 170-grain bullets. He then designed a chamber around these cartridges. To test the concept, he cut some .357 Mag. cases to the same length, and starting with 60-percent .357 Mag. loads and the QuickLoad program, slowly worked his way up. Elliot figured his new cartridge (the .357 Ring of Fire) would be excellent for police, combat and hunting—especially with its potential for added capacity. You can actually cram 18 rounds of .357 Ring of Fire into a Glock G20, 10 mm magazine.
Based on the real-world performance of the .357 Mag., I was intrigued. Regardless of which so-called stopping-power theory you subscribe to, the effectiveness of the .357 Mag. on the street cannot be denied. Elliott had created a semi-auto-pistol cartridge nearing that level of performance. So, I asked him to send me a gun and some ammunition for further investigation.
I received a Glock G20 with a ported 5.5-inch barrel and 100 rounds of ammo. The ammunition was comprised of five different loads, using bullets between 125 and 200 grains in weight. I found I could indeed get 18 rounds into a Glock G20 magazine, which, when fully loaded, weighed almost 1 pound. This brought the gun’s total weight to 2 pounds, 12 ounces, with a round in the chamber.
I started with the 200-grain, lead-round-nose loads. At 920 fps, they replicate 200-grain .45 ACP external ballistics and were very comfortable to shoot. Up next was the 170-grain Sierra FMJ loads at 1,060 fps. These were just as comfortable and quite similar to common.40 S&W 180-grain loads. Yet, the first round of the 125-grain Nosler load really got my attention. It was not the recoil that surprised me; it was the ring of fire that appeared in front of my face when the pistol went off. (Now I know where Elliott got the name.) At 1,335 fps this load duplicates the best .357 SIG offerings.
That same fireball was present with the 140-grain Hornady XTP and 158-grain hollow-point loads. At 1,430 fps the lighter load is indeed the equivalent of a .357 Mag. As for the 158-grain hollow point, the hottest .357 Mag. loads will exceed 1,400 fps, but 1,200 to 1,300 fps is much more common. Surprisingly, recoil with both was still extremely manageable. I’m sure this was due, in no small part, to the ported barrel.
So, where does that put this wildly named wildcat with regard to conventional defensive handguns? Well, the hottest .45 ACP factory loads will push a 185-grain bullet to about 1,150 fps, generating around 543 ft.-lbs. of energy. What Tim Sundles at Buffalo Bore likes to call “heavy 10 mm loads” will drive a 180-grain bullet to 1,300 or more fps, and exceed 650 ft.-lbs. of energy. Furthermore, the .357 Mag. can spit 158-grain bullets from a 5.5-inch barrel as fast as 1,400 fps. They will hit even harder. The .357 Ring of Fire falls right in this power range, but it offers higher capacity.
The major difference between the .357 Ring of Fire and other high-velocity cartridges of the same caliber is that, based on Elliott’s QuickLoad calculations, his cartridge is operating at between 37,000 and 45,000 psi. This is important as 9 mm +P ammo has a maximum average pressure (MAP) of 38,500 psi and maximum for the .357 Mag. is 35,000 psi. Yet, the 9 mm Win. Mag. edges 45,000 psi and 9x23 Win. Mag. bumps 55,000 psi when at peak performance. The .357 Ring of Fire outperforms both, with heavier bullets and less pressure.
If you’re a handloader looking for ballistic wickedness, give Elliott a call. You never know, we may see a major ammunition company create something similar, sometime soon. After all, that’s how we frequently end up with new factory cartridges; it often starts with a guy like Elliott looking for a fiery edge.
If you’d like more information about this fascinating cartridge, visit ringoffiremfg.com or call Dave Elliott at (804) 617-9288.