I bought a new 50th Anniversary .357 three weeks ago for a great price at a local gun show ($390 OTD). I've run about 200 125 JHP's through it for an average gp size of 2" at 25 yds. Today I tried some commercial cast 158 LSWC's at 900 fps for an average gp size of 1.75", again at 25 yds. Offhand I got six into just over an inch from the 50' line. It''s a good revolver, tight with a good finish.
Lifting one leg of the trigger return spring off the post reduced the trigger pull to a manageable 2-1/2 lbs, with just a bit of creep to it. The stocks were too thin so I've replaced them with some of my own making.
My only comment in a negative sense is that the front sight was way too high, especially with the 125's. My load for that bullet is well over 1250 fps and they shot very low. The rear sight had to be raised almost to the limit...like 3/32" before they would print 1" above the pt of aim at 25 yds. The fix of course was to file down the front sight height, then re-slope the back edge to get a pleasing contour. The only problem now is that the knurled surface is gone and even with a good cold blue job, it does reflect some light making sight alignment harder.
Mine has the 4-3/4" barrel of course and it's a good packin' pistol to use Taffin's term. I like it a lot. It would be a good intermediate choice between the .22's and your .44's. In the center-fires I also own and shoot one of the Lipsey's 4-3/4" barreled .44 Specials which is my personal favorite Ruger, as well as another .44 50th Anniversary Flat Top model, a "New" Vaquero in .45 Colt and a Bird's Head Single-Six in .32 H&R.
Your game, your choice, but I think, if it were me, I'd get the short barreled .357, either the standard BH or the 50th if you prefer the Flat Top look. I do note that in a belt holster, the flat top rear sight ears grab at my sleeve cuffs or occasionally scrape my forearm where the standard BH with it's protective sight ears only slides by with hardly a tug.
Just checked my loading notes for the Birds Head Single-Six in .32 H&R and it'll shoot sub 2" gps on demand with any of the six bullet types I"ve tried and that's with a hog wallow rear sight notch and 63 yo eyes doing the steering. It's very light so if you're thinking of using it with inexperienced shooters, it might make a good choice if you can find one though I suppose a .38 Spl with wad-cutters is about as recoil free as anything else you might try and far easier to find factory ammunition too.
That's my Lipsey's .44 Spl with the S-Six .32 but it's the same size as the .357 50th Anniversary and gives a good comparison of relative size. Love those hot cocobo stocks, just a bit oversize for better control.