.357 Magnum Revolver and Lever-Rifle Combo
My most-used center-fire rifle is a Marlin 1894 in .357 Magnum. It is manageable by females and youngsters, has low recoil and is fairly quiet when used with standard velocity lead .38 Special ammo. It is a fun camp gun with good small game utility. Its potential for home defense with .357 ammunition, is nothing to sneeze at, either.
A .357 levergun is adequate for deer within 100 yards or so. Leverguns are familiar and nonthreatening in appearance, so they "don't scare the natives" as a "black rifle" often does. When firing .38 Special lead bullet ammo from a rifle, velocity remains subsonic, having a mild report little louder than a .22, which has advantages for discreet suburban garden varminting.
New leverguns cost less than so-called "black rifles." Used .357 leverguns sell for about 60% in stores of what a similar rifle costs new. The frontier concept of having a rifle and revolver both using the same common ammunition still makes sense.
While the .38 Special is no longer the duty gun of choice for police or military use, it enjoys great popularity in states where civilian concealed carry is permitted. A great variety of well developed factory personal protection loads are available, brass and bullets are common, the cartridge is one of the most widely reloaded amd is inherently accurate.
The .357 Magnum shares these attributes. While it is also true that compact revolvers are readily available chambered for in .357 Magnum, using .38 Special ammunition in them most of the time makes more sense. You will probably use your .357 rifle mostly for hunting small game. To reduce meat damage on edible game, and for ease of use, reduced recoil and lower noise you will find yourself using .38 Specials in it most of the time.
Think of .357 magnums as "rifle ammo," not as "revolver ammo." For while a sturdy .357 revolver handles them just fine, they aren't "fun" to shoot. Reserve their use for when more power and greater range is needed. In a rifle .357 magnums shoot "on" at 100 yards when your sights are zeroed at 50 yards with 158-gr. lead bullet .38 Specials.
The non-enthusiast seeking "one handgun-bigger than a .22" should select a "police-service-type," double-action .38 Special suitable for use with +P ammunition, or a similar gun chamvbered in .357 with 4" barrel In states where concealed carry is legal a 4-inch " gun is about $100 cheaper than a 2" snubbie of similar model. But a 4" barrel can be readily concealed in a proper IWB holster, is easier to shoot accurately and gives higher velocity which ensures good expanding bullet performance. Any sound .357 Magnum revolver of these general specifications can use .38 Special ammunition, but being more durably constructed, it won't loosen up with frequent use of .38 +P loads, as a light frame .38 Special might. And a .357 revolver has the advantage of being ablt to use more powerful magnum ammo if needed.
As recently as ten years ago the market was flooded with police turn-in .38 and .357 revolvers in good condition for around $200. These days you must shop carefully to find a used "cop" revolver which isn't worn out. Expect to pay $350 for a sound, used fixed-sight S&W .38 Special Model 10, 13, or 64 and $450 for an adjustable sight S&W Model 15, 19, or 66or Ruger GP100. If you don't know revolvers take someone with you to shop who is. Avoid buying a "gunsmithing project," because fixing a broken used gun costs more than it is worth.
If you don't currently own a gun, but have been thinking about getting both a handgun and a rifle, you can't go wrong with a sturdy 4" .38 Special or .357 revolver and a Marlin 1894C carbine in .357 to go along with it.