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IHMSA News Feature Article

Published in The IHMSA News, the Official Publication of The International Handgun Metallic Silhouette Association

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Dan Wesson 360 Revolver

  By Todd Spotti Load Data & Range Test Results
     The 360 was born at the 1999 Internationals at Ft. Stockton, and I think I might have been there when it happened. I remember I was talking to Bob Serva, owner and president of Wesson Arms, along with some of the other industry types when Bob asked "What's the most popular revolver and cartridge being used for silhouette these days?" I replied that the Freedom Arms chambered in 357 Mag was very likely the current #1 choice, with the Freedom Arms 44 in second place.

     Being in a loquacious mood, I went on to say that the 357 Mag was a very flexible cartridge to load for, was very accurate in the FA, and had the type of mild recoil which allowed a lot of people to shoot it more accurately than they would a more intimidating and harder recoiling gun. The disadvantage is that the 357 Mag is right on the ragged edge of reliability in taking down the rams. It works, but if the rams aren't set properly, there's not much of a power reserve there.

     I went I to say that the 357 Super Mag didn't suffer from this reliability problem and was a very good, accurate cartridge but did have one limitation in that it seemed to be a very twichy cartridge to load. There's only about two loads around that provide gilt edged performance and that was it. It also had to be loaded hot for the best accuracy and it also seemed to be more temperature sensitive than other cartridges. The current Sierra reloading manual even makes note of these characteristics. The Super Mag just doesn't have the reloading flexibility that it's little brother has.

     I went on to wonder whether a cartridge in-between the Mag and the Max in length could provide a combination of the good qualities of both. Now I know.

     Well, the conversation broke up and that was that. Some time early in the following year, I was talking to someone at the Wesson Arms factory and they mentioned something called the 360. 360? What's that? The 360 was a new revolver and cartridge that was in-between the 357 Mag and Max. Daja Vu?

     The standard 357 Mag is 1.29" in length and the 357 Super Mag/Maximum measures 1.6 " in length. The 360 Dan Wesson as you might guess comes in at 1.41 inches.

     Before I started this project, I was curious as to what kind of velocities one might reasonably expect from the new cartridge. A quick review of the various reloading manuals showed that the standard 357 Mag when loaded with a 180 gr bullet and shot out of a conventional revolver (not a Freedom Arms) would produce velocities just over 1200 fps. On the other hand, the 357 Max when shot out of a revolver would produce velocities just over 1500 fps at the top end with the same 180 gr bullet - a difference of 300 fps more or less. Theoretically then, the 360 should give us velocities around 1350 fps. An extra 150 fps with the same bullet is nothing to be sneezed at.

     Another consideration was the fact that the new cartridge would be producing less recoil and operating at lower operating pressures than the 357 Max. The whole thing was very intriguing. I then made arrangements to check out a test gun which arrived some weeks later.

     Dan Wesson has coupled the new cartridge to their heavy frame and their medium length cylinder - the same cylinder that would be used for the 44 Mag or the 45 Colt. Unlike the un-fluted cylinder on my 414 Super Mag SRS model Dan Wesson, this cylinder was of a standard fluted configuration. The gun also was equipped with the standard Millet rear sight versus the optional Bomar found on the more expensive Super Ram Silhouette (SRS). It also had the standard undercut Dan Wesson partridge removable front sight instead of the hooded front sight found on the SRS. It should be also noted that the standard configuration 360 also runs around 30% less in price than the Super Ram model.

     The gun was originally equipped with a 1:18.75 twist barrel, which is the standard for 357 caliber pistols. Later on in the evaluation, the factory provided me with a 1:14 twist barrel which is the same rate of twist as used on Freedom Arms 357 pistols.

     All Dan Wesson pistols are delivered with a 6 thousandths barrel/cylinder gap as that's what's specified by SAAMI standards. However, the first thing I do when I get a new Dan Wesson revolver, no matter what the chambering, is to disassemble the barrel/shroud assembly and set the barrel/cylinder gap as small as possible. By doing so, you'll be losing far less of the propellant gases out of the gap, and velocities will show a commensurate increase.

     To do so, just remove the barrel lock nut and remove the shroud. Then, screw down the barrel until it's just touching the face of the cylinder, and then back it off slightly. When holding the gun up to a strong light, I'll be looking for the finest of a sliver of light between the barrel and the cylinder. I'll then cycle the cylinder through all six chambers while still holding the gun up to the light to make sure the face of the cylinder isn't dragging on the barrel. If not, I'll put the shroud back on the gun and tighten the lock nut on the muzzle end of the barrel. When tightening the lock nut, I press my thumb or a patch of leather against the breech end to prevent it from slipping while I'm turning the nut at the other end.

     I don't know what the current barrel/cylinder gap is on my 360 is as I don't have a feeler gage that goes down that far. I would guess it's only around a thousandths or maybe a thousandths and a half. I have to take my hat off to the folks at Dan Wesson, because I don't know of any other double action revolver that has a cylinder so true and square in relation to the barrel that you can have a barrel/cylinder gap so small. This is a major leap in quality for a double action.

     One of the assumptions behind the original concept of the 360 was that standard 357 Max brass could be simply trimmed back to 1.41 inches and be used. As I got into my evaluation, I rapidly discovered that this wasn't a practical idea. The problem was that the cutback Maxi brass was too thick. When a 180 grain bullet was seated, the walls of the case were often bulged out to the point that the loaded cartridge either wouldn't fit into the Wesson's tight chambers, or would only fit with effort, which was unacceptable. Pressures could go out of sight in those kinds of situations. There was no alternative. New cases made specifically for the 360 would have to be designed and manufactured.

     After months of negotiations with Starline Brass and waiting for a production window to open up, a test run of prototype 360 cases was produced and I was provided a hundred of them for the evaluation. These prototype cases are kind of interesting in that they were stamped 357 Magnum on the head, but measured 1.41" in length. Who knows, those cases may become collector items one day. These are the cases which I used during my little evaluation. Anyway, I gave the prototypes a good wringing out and they worked perfectly. Consequently, a regular production run was made and 360 cases in any quantity are available from Dan Wesson as we speak.

     As usual, the quality of the new Wesson was first rate. Cylinder lock up was very tight when the hammer was pulled back. There was only the very slightest of side to side movement - hardly perceptible. I would venture to say that the Wesson's lockup is probably the tightest that you'll ever find on any double action revolver.

  The barrel shroud was also drilled and tapped for Burris's very rugged, all steel, dovetail scope mount system with windage adjustment ( a factory option). I also used Burris's very innovative posi-align scope rings. If you haven't tried these rings, you're missing a treat. No more having your scope gouged and marred by the rings. Aligning the scope to the centerline of the bore was also simple when using the plastic inserts furnished with system. My Simmons Presidential 2X7 pistol scope was also utilized during the evaluation and as usual, did yeoman service.

     Hornady titanium nitrite dies were used to reload the 360 cases. The dies are labeled as being suitable for reloading 38 Special, 357 Mag, and 357 Maximum. If they'll load the 357 Max, they're certainly suitable to reload the 360. No problems were encountered with the dies after they were set up and everything proceeded normally.

     For primers, I was in a bit of a dilemma. When loading for the Max, small rifle primers are mandatory for the best ignition and accuracy. However, I wasn't sure whether they would be necessary for the shorter 360. I ended up using both small rifle primers and two brands of small pistol mag primers. I got good groups will all three primers used, but the rifle primers probably had an edge in producing better velocities.

     Cast bullets worked well in the 360 including both 180's and 200 grain bullets. If you like heavy bullets, the longer case length provided by the 360 is a definite advantage as you can seat them far enough down into the case so they don't protrude too far out of the cylinder mouth and still have sufficient room down below for a reasonable amount of powder.

     For cast bullets, I used both Leadheads 200 grain, RCBS's 200 grainer, and SAECO'S 180. As I reported in a previous column SAECO'S 250 grain bullet also worked very well with the 360.

     The 360 worked best with our old familiar favorite magnum pistol powders such as H110, WWW296, H108, and Hodgdon's new LilGun, which is just a tad slower than H110. Accurate Arms #9 should also work well but was not available. I also tried slower powders such as H4227 (which works very well in the Max) and AA1680 with Hornady's 180 STP bullet. Accuracy was very good but velocity was down in the 357 Mag range. Consequently I didn't include those numbers in my results chart.

     Speaking of the XTP, I found it to be an excellent silhouette bullet. With its two crimping grooves, it's also a very flexible bullet. By crimping the case in its lower cannelure, additional room is made available in the case for 1-2 more grains of powder. Yet the bullet didn't protrude so far out that it hung up on the breech end of the barrel when the cylinder was rotated. Unfortunately I wasn't able to find the right powder/primer combination to take advantage of this feature in time for this story, but I eventually will. Never the less, the Hornady bullet produced the best group. When I get a chance, I'll try the same load with a small rifle primer and will see if there's an improvement in velocity.

     While we're on bullets of note. The Speer 200 grain Silhouette bullet is a natural for the 360. Lots of weight and excellent accuracy. This bullet also works very well in the Mag and the Max. It deserves more attention than it gets.

     In conclusion I can safely say that yes, the 360 is more flexible to load for than the 357 Max and with the right loads, it isn't that far off from approaching Maxi velocities. I'd say that the Wesson people achieved what they set out to do when they built this gun. It's a great piece of workmanship at a reasonable price, and in combination with the 360 cartridge, it works great.

Good luck and good shooting. Todd

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Warning: All technical data mentioned, especially handloading, reflect the limited experience of individuals using specific tools, products, equipment and components under specific conditions and circumstances not necessarily reported in the article or on this web site and over which IHMSA, The Los Angeles Silhouette Club (LASC), this web site or the author has no control. The above has no control over the condition of your firearms or your methods, components, tools, techniques or circumstances and disclaims all and any responsibility for any person using any data mentioned. Always consult recognized reloading manuals.

All Testing & Groups At 100 Yards

 Powder Primer Bullet Velocity Group
 18.0 Gr. H110 Win Sm Rifle 200 Gr. LH cast 1438 2.2"
 18.5 Win 296 Win Sm Rifle 200 Gr. LH cast 1316 1.5"
 16.4 Gr. H110 CCI Mag Pistol 200 Gr. LH cast 1249 1.9"
 16.7 Gr. H10 Win Sm Rifle 180 Gr. Speer Silh 1262 1.72"
 18.5 Gr. H108 Win Sm Rifle 180 Gr. Speer Silh 1432 1.60"
 18.3  Gr. H108 Win Sm Rifle 180 Gr. Nosler 1435 1.7"
 18.8 Gr. 296 Win Sm Rifle 180 Gr. Nosler 1316 2.2"
 19.0 Gr. H110 Win Sm Rifle 180 Gr. Sierra Silh 1385 2.2"
 16.4 Gr. 296 Fed Mag Pistol 180 Gr. SAECO 1291 1.75"
 15.9 Gr. LGn Fed Mag Pistol 250 Gr. SAECO 1336 1.7"
 17.2 Gr. LGn Fed Mag Pistol 200 Gr. RCBS 1371 1.7"
 19.7 Gr. LGn Fed Mag Pistol 200 Gr. RCBS 1433 2.2"
 16.5 Gr. H108 Win Sm Rifle 200 Gr. Speer Silh 1312 1.64"
 20.6 Gr. H110 Fed Mag Pistol 180 Gr. XTP 1352 1.42"
  21.0  Gr.  Lil Gun Fed  Mag  Pistol 180  Gr.  XTP 1317 1.4"

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