Ask any person from the United States who is involved with the shooting sports and they will tell you that the very first Magnum handgun put into general production is the .357 Magnum revolver.
The three-fifty-seven has long been admired, and for good reason. It is an extremely powerful handgun, certainly powerful enough to harvest all but the largest game in North America. So far as self defense goes, it has a proven track record of effectiveness. One could do worse when choosing a caliber to fit a wide variety of roles.
But there is a problem with the claim that the .357 Magnum, introduced in 1934, was the first handgun of its type to be manufactured in great numbers. That honor goes to the Russian military handgun most commonly known as the Tokarev, which was issued to the troops beginning in 1931.
Also known by the official name as the TT-30, this military handgun was developed to replace the rather odd revolver that the Russian armed forces had been relying upon since 1895. It is certainly emblematic of Soviet design philosophy in that it is robust, powerful, ugly as sin, and uncomfortable to use.
The TT-30 was chambered for the 7.62x25mm Tokarev cartridge, a bottleneck design that was loaded to some very high pressures.
The most powerful loadings offered by the Soviet war machine launched a teensy tiny .30 bullet at a blistering 1600 fps, which is just as fast as some of the modern defensive loads available for the .357 Magnum. Such high velocity, with such a small bullet, meant that penetration is extremely good. The bottleneck design also has another advantage in that it is very friendly to autoloading mechanisms, with the chances of fail-to-feed jams much less likely than with straight wall cartridges. The gun itself is well designed for ruggedness, with the improved TT-33 withstanding extreme abuse during WWII and still functioning.
But that pretty much is all the good points for the design I can find, as there are some serious drawbacks to the gun as well.
There was no trigger block safety or safety catch in the original design, making the gun unsafe to carry with a round in the chamber. Magazines had a tendency to drop free without warning if there were damaged in any way. The sights were very dark, and hard to make out in anything other than well lit conditions. The simple grips, as well as the squared off beavertail, meant that many shooters find it to be uncomfortable when firing.
But there is one overriding advantage, and that is the very low price asked for fully functional versions on the surplus handgun market. One can find a perfectly good gun for about 20% to 30% of what it would take to buy a shiny new .357 Magnum from one of the better known manufacturers.
Can I recommend a Tokarev for concealed carry? Not really, as the lack of what I consider to be adequate safety features in original models from Communist countries gives me pause. Guns imported into the United States are required to have a trigger block safety installed, but crappy workmanship in the extra parts means that many collectors disassemble their guns and return the guns to their original condition in the interest of improving reliability. In other words, you won’t know if you bought a gun which can safely be carried with a round in the chamber unless you know how to pull it apart and check to make sure the extra parts have been correctly installed.
The reason why I am mentioning this particular gun is because a Tokarev might just be the perfect handgun for those looking to enjoy the vast wilderness areas in North America. They are rugged enough to be reliable in extreme conditions, as well as have the punch to deter most aggressive animals. The small bullet is a concern, but it shouldn’t be a problem as long as bears or moose are avoided. If you should find that your Tokarev has developed some rusty spots while you were backpacking in the Rocky Mountains, who cares? Just sand it down and apply some oil. It looked like a piece of Soviet era crap before you left, the shiny spots just lend it some character.
Ed Harris was kind enough to share his experiences with the 7.62x25mm Tokarev round, and he also sent us some pictures! Thanks, Ed!