User Tools

Site Tools

Snippet from Wikipedia: .38 Special

The .38 Smith & Wesson Special (commonly .38 Special, .38 Spl, or .38 Spc, pronounced "thirty-eight special") is a rimmed, centerfire cartridge designed by Smith & Wesson. It is most commonly used in revolvers, although some semi-automatic pistols and carbines also use this round. The .38 Special was the standard service cartridge of most police departments in the United States from the 1920s to 1990s, and was also a common sidearm cartridge used by soldiers in World War II. In other parts of the world, it is known by its metric designation of 9×29.5mmR or 9.1×29mmR.

Known for its accuracy and manageable recoil, the .38 Special remains one of the most popular revolver cartridges in the world more than a century after its introduction. It is used for target shooting, formal target competition, personal defense, and for hunting small game.


}} The .38 Smith & Wesson Special (commonly .38 Special, .38 Spl, or .38 Spc, pronounced “thirty-eight special”) is a rimmed, centerfire cartridge designed by Smith & Wesson. It is most commonly used in revolvers, although some semi-automatic pistols and carbines also use this round. The .38 Special was the standard service cartridge of most police departments in the United States from the 1920s to the early 1990s, and was also a common sidearm cartridge used by soldiers in World War I. In other parts of the world, it is known by its metric designation of 9×29.5mmR<ref>

</ref> or 9.1x29mmR.<ref name=“Jones”>


Noted for its fine accuracy and manageable recoil, it remains the most popular revolver cartridge in the world more than a century after its introduction.<ref>

</ref> It is used for target shooting, formal target competition, personal defense, and for hunting small game.


Despite its name, the caliber of the .38 Special cartridge is actually .357–.358&nbsp;inches (9.0678&nbsp;mm), with the “.38” referring to the approximate diameter of the loaded brass case. This came about because the original .38-caliber cartridge, the .38 Short Colt, was designed for use in converted .36-caliber cap-and-ball (muzzleloading) Navy revolvers, which had cylindrical firing chambers of approximately

diameter, requiring heeled bullets, the exposed portion of which was the same diameter as the cartridge case (see the section on the .38 Long Colt).

Except for case length, the .38 Special is identical to that of the .38 Short Colt, .38 Long Colt, and the .357 Magnum. This allows the .38 Special round to be safely fired in revolvers chambered for the .357 Magnum, and the .38 Long Colt to be fired in revolvers chambered for .38 Special, and the .38 Short Colt to fire in revolvers chambered for .38 Long Colt, increasing the versatility of this cartridge. However, the longer and more powerful .357 Magnum cartridge will usually not chamber and fire in weapons rated specifically for .38 Special (e.g. all versions of the Smith & Wesson Model 10), which are not designed for the greatly increased pressure of the magnum rounds. Both .38 Special and .357 Magnum will chamber in Colt New Army revolvers in .38 Long Colt, due to the straight walled chambers, but should not be done under any circumstances, due to dangerous pressure levels, up to three times what the New Army is designed for.


<!– Deleted image removed:


The .38 Special was introduced in 1898 as an improvement over the .38 Long Colt which, as a military service cartridge, was found to have inadequate stopping power against the frenzied charges of Moro warriors during the Philippine-American War.<ref name=“cotw”>Barnes, Frank C. Ken Warner, editor. Cartridges of the World, 6th Edition. Northbrook, Illinois: DBI Books, 1989. ISBN 978-0-87349-033-7. The failure of the .38 Long Colt as a service cartridge caused the U.S. Army to insist on a .45 chambering for the its 1907 pistol trials.</ref>

Upon its introduction, the .38 Special was originally loaded with black powder, but the cartridge's popularity caused manufacturers to offer smokeless powder loadings within a year of its introduction.<ref>


During the late 1920s, and in response to demands for a more effective law enforcement version of the cartridge, a new standard-velocity loading for the .38 Special was developed by Western Cartridge Company. This .38 Special variant incorporated a

round-nosed lead 'Lubaloy' bullet, the .38 Super Police.<ref>Sharpe, Phil, The New Smith & Wesson Heavy Duty .38, The American Rifleman, November 1931</ref> Remington-Peters also introduced a similar loading. Testing revealed that the longer, heavier

.38-calibre bullet fired at low velocity tended to 'keyhole' or tumble upon impact, providing more shock effect against unprotected personnel.<ref>Sharpe, Phil, The New Smith & Wesson Heavy Duty .38, The American Rifleman, November 1931: “..the destruction of this load was terrific…Every shot showed evidence of key-holing after the first half of the penetration had been accomplished.”</ref> At the same time, authorities in Great Britain, who had decided to adopt the .38 caliber revolver as a replacement for their existing .455 service cartridge, also tested the same

bullet in the smaller .38 S&W cartridge. This cartridge was called the .38 S&W Super Police or the .38/200. Britain would later adopt the .38/200 as its standard military handgun cartridge.

In 1930, Smith & Wesson introduced a large frame .38 Special revolver with a 5 inch barrel and fixed sights intended for police use, the Smith & Wesson .38/44 Heavy Duty.<ref>Shideler, Dan, Is This the Greatest .38 Ever, Gun Digest, 4 August 2008</ref><ref>Sharpe, Phil, The New Smith & Wesson Heavy Duty .38, The American Rifleman, November 1931: Chambered in .38 Special, the .38/44 was built on the old S&W .44-calibre Hand Ejector frame.</ref> The following year, a new high-power loading called the .38 Special Hi-Speed with a

metal-tip bullet was developed for these revolvers in response to requests from law enforcement agencies for a handgun bullet that could penetrate auto bodies and body armor.<ref>Shideler, Dan, Is This the Greatest .38 Ever, Gun Digest, 4 August 2008: The new .38/44 load developed a maximum allowable pressure of

, producing a velocity of about

from a

barrel with a

metal-tipped bullet.</ref> That same year, Colt Firearms announced that their Colt Official Police would also handle 'high-speed' .38 Special loadings.<ref name=“gcop”>Ayoob, Massad. "The Colt Official Police: 61 years of production, 99 years of service", Guns magazine. BNET Web site – Find articles. Accessed 2 April 2011: Because of their heavy frames, these revolvers could withstand the higher-pressures generated by the new loadings.</ref> The .38/44 high-speed cartridge came in three bullet weights:


, with either coated lead or steel jacket, metal-piercing bullets.<ref>The metal-penetrating bullets were often described as Highway Patrol loads.</ref> The media attention gathered by the .38/44 and its ammunition eventually led Smith & Wesson to develop a completely new cartridge with a longer case length in 1934—the .357 Magnum.

During World War II, some U.S. aircrew (primarily Navy and Marine Corps) were issued .38 Special S&W Victory revolvers as sidearms in the event of a forced landing. In May 1943, a new .38 Special cartridge with a

, full steel jacketed, copper flash-coated bullet meeting the requirements of the rules of land warfare was developed at Springfield Armory and adopted for the Smith & Wesson revolvers.<ref name=DCM>Brown Jr., Edwards, DCM Shopper's Guide, The American Rifleman, (April 1946), p. 18</ref> The new military .38 Special loading propelled its

bullet at a standard

from a

revolver barrel.<ref name=DCM/> During the war, many U.S. naval and marine aircrew were also issued red-tipped .38 Special tracer rounds using either a

bullet for emergency signaling purposes.<ref name=DCM/>

In 1956, the U.S. Air Force adopted the Cartridge, Caliber .38, Ball M41, a military variant of the .38 Special cartridge designed to conform to the rules of land warfare. The original .38 M41 ball cartridge used a 130-grain full metal jacketed bullet, and was loaded to an average pressure of only

, giving a muzzle velocity of approximately

from a

barrel.<ref>Scarlata, Paul, Smith & Wesson's Model 12 Airweight, Shooting Times . Retrieved 3 April 2011.

</ref><ref name=TM43>TM 43-0001-27, Army Ammunition Data Sheets - Small Caliber Ammunition, FSC 1305, Washington, D.C.: Dept. of the Army, 29 April 1994</ref> This ammunition was intended to prolong the life of S&W M12 and Colt Aircrewman revolvers equipped with aluminum cylinders and frames, which were prone to stress fractures when fired with standard .38 ammunition. By 1961, a slightly revised M41 .38 cartridge specification known as the Cartridge, Caliber .38 Ball, Special, M41 had been adopted for U.S. armed forces using .38 Special caliber handguns.<ref name=TM43/> The new M41 Special cartridge used a 130-grain FMJ bullet loaded to a maximum allowable pressure of

for a velocity of approximately

in a solid

test barrel, and about

from a

revolver barrel.<ref name=“autogenerated68”>Military .38 Special Ammunition, The American Rifleman (March 1982), p. 68</ref><ref name=“autogenerated1961”>TM 9-1305-200. Small Arms Ammunition, Washington, D.C.: Departments of the Army and the Air Force (June 1961)</ref> The M41 ball cartridge was first used in .38 revolvers carried by USAF aircrew and Strategic Air Command security police, and by 1961 was in use by the U.S. Army for security police, dog handlers, and other personnel equipped with .38 Special caliber revolvers.<ref name=“autogenerated1961”/> A variant of the standard M41 cartridge with a semi-pointed, unjacketed lead bullet was later adopted for CONUS (Continental United States) police and security personnel.<ref name=TM43/>

At the same time, .38 tracer cartridges were reintroduced by the US Navy, Marines, and Air Force to provide a means of emergency signaling by downed aircrew. Tracer cartridges in .38 Special caliber of different colors were issued, generally as part of a standard aircrew survival vest kit.

A request for more powerful .38 Special ammunition for use by Air Police and security personnel resulted in the Caliber .38 Special, Ball, PGU-12/B High Velocity cartridge.<ref name=“autogenerated68”/> Issued only by the U.S. Air Force, the PGU-12/B had a greatly increased maximum allowable pressure rating of 20,000 psi, sufficient to propel a 130-grain FMJ bullet at

from a solid

test barrel, and about 950–980&nbsp;ft/s from a

revolver barrel.<ref name=“autogenerated68”/> The PGU-12/B High Velocity cartridge differs from M41 Special ammunition in two important respects—the PGU-12/B is a much higher-pressure cartridge, with a bullet deeply set and crimped into the cartridge case.

In response to continued complaints over ineffectiveness of the standard .38 Special 158-grain cartridge in stopping assailants in numerous armed confrontations during the 1950s and 1960s, ammunition manufacturers began to experiment with higher-pressure (18,500 CUP) loadings of the .38 Special cartridge, known as .38 Special +P. In 1972, the Federal Bureau of Investigation introduced a new .38 +P loading that became known as the “FBI Load”.<ref name=“AMH”>Ayoob, Massad, “Why are We Still Using the .38 - It's Still A Good Cartridge”, American Handgunner, San Diego: Publishers Development Corp., Vol. 6, No. 30, September/October 1981, p. 64</ref> The FBI Load combined a more powerful powder charge with an 158-grain unjacketed soft lead<ref>Typically, the FBI Load utilized a very soft lead alloy of 5.5–6 as measured on the Brinell hardness scale to ensure reliable expansion.</ref> semi-wadcutter hollow-point bullet designed to readily expand at typical .38 Special velocities obtained in revolvers commonly used by law enforcement.<ref name=“AMH”/> The FBI Load proved very satisfactory in effectively stopping adversaries in numerous documented shootings using 2- to 4-inch barreled revolvers.<ref name=“AMH”/><ref>Ayoob, Massad, The Gun Digest Book of Combat Handgunnery, Iola, Wisconsin: Gun Digest Books, ISBN 0896895254, ISBN 9780896895256 (2011), p. 98</ref> The FBI Load was later adopted by the Chicago Police Department and numerous other law enforcement agencies.<ref name=“AMH”/>

round.]] Demand for a .38 cartridge with even greater performance for law enforcement led to the introduction of the +P+ .38 Special cartridge, first introduced by Federal and Winchester. Originally labeled “For Law Enforcement Only”,<ref></ref> +P+ ammunition is intended for heavier-duty .38 Special and .357 Magnum revolvers, as the increased pressure levels can result in accelerated wear and significant damage to firearms rated for lower-pressure .38 Special loadings (as with other .38 Special loadings, the .38 Special +P+ can also be fired safely in .357 revolvers).<ref>What is +P and +P+ ammunition?</ref>



Due to its black powder heritage, the .38 Special is a low pressure cartridge, one of the lowest in common use today at 17,000 PSI. By modern standards, the .38 Special fires a medium-sized bullet at rather low speeds. The closest comparisons are the .380 ACP, which fires much lighter bullets slightly faster than most .38 Special loads; the 9×19mm Parabellum, which fires a somewhat lighter bullet significantly faster; and the .38 Colt Super, which fires a comparable bullet significantly faster. All three of these are usually found in semi-automatic pistols.

The higher-pressure .38 +P loads at 20,000 PSI offer about 20% more muzzle energy than standard-pressure loads and places between the .380 ACP and the 9&nbsp;mm Parabellum; similar to that of the 9×18mm Makarov. A few specialty manufacturers' +P loads for this cartridge can attain even higher energies that, especially when fired from longer barrels, produce energies in the range of the 9mm Parabellum. It should be noted these loads are generally not recommend for older revolvers or ones not specifically “+P” rated.

It is important to recognize that SAAMI changed the specifications for the .38 Special in 1972. Prior to that time the standard .38 Special was very close to today's “+P” cartridges.<ref>


.38 Comparisons
Cartridge Bullet weight Muzzle velocity Muzzle energy Max pressure
.38 Short Colt

181&nbsp;ft•lbf (245 J) 7,500 CUP
.38 Long Colt

201&nbsp;ft•lbf (273 J) 12,000 CUP
.38 S&W

206&nbsp;ft•lbf (279 J) 14,500 PSI
.38 S&W Special

310&nbsp;ft•lbf (420 J) 17,000 PSI
.38 Special +P

351&nbsp;ft•lbf (476 J) 20,000 PSI
.38 Special +P+

295&nbsp;ft•lbf (400 J) 22,000 PSI <ref>What is +P and +P+ ammunition?</ref>
.380 ACP

178&nbsp;ft•lbf (241 J) 21,500 PSI
9x19mm Parabellum

420&nbsp;ft•lbf (570 J) 39,200 PSI
9x19mm Parabellum

383&nbsp;ft•lbf (520 J) 39,200 PSI
9x18mm Makarov

231&nbsp;ft•lbf (313 J) 23,206 PSI
.38 Super

468&nbsp;ft•lbf (634 J) 36,500 PSI
.357 Magnum

639&nbsp;ft•lbf (866 J) 35,000 PSI
.357 SIG

506&nbsp;ft•lbf (686 J) 40,000 PSI

All of the above specifications for .38 loadings, and the .357 Magnum, are applicable when fired from a

barreled revolver. The velocity is reduced when using the more standard

barreled guns.<ref>Ballistics By The Inch .38 special results.</ref> Power (muzzle energy) will, of course, decrease accordingly.

Although few, if any US police departments now issue or authorize use of the .38 Special revolver as a standard duty weapon, the caliber remains popular with some police officers for use in short-barreled revolvers carried when off-duty or for undercover police investigations. It is also widely used in revolvers purchased for civilian home defense or for concealed carry by individuals with a CCW permit.

Terminal performance and expansion

bullet viewed from the side, showing the intended terminal ballistics sometimes referred to as “mushrooming”.]] There are many companies that manufacture .38 Special ammunition. It can range from light target loads to more powerful defensive ammunition. Because of the relatively low pressure that the .38 Special cartridge and even its more powerful +P version can be loaded to, most .38 Special bullets do not expand reliably, even when using hollow-point designs, especially if fired from a short-barreled or 'snub-nose' revolver. In 2004, Speer Bullets introduced the Gold Dot jacketed hollow-point .38 Special cartridge in an attempt to solve this very problem. Another solution is to use an unjacketed soft lead hollow-point bullet as found in the FBI Load.<ref name=“AMH”/> The latter's 158-grain soft lead hollow point is loaded to +P pressures and velocity, which ensures more reliable expansion in unprotected flesh, even when fired in a 2-inch short-barreled revolver.<ref name=“AMH”/>


The .38 Special is particularly popular among handloaders. The cartridge's straight walls, headspacing on the rim, ready availability of previously-fired cases, and ability to be fired in .357 Magnum firearms, all contribute to this popularity. Additionally, the .38 Special's heritage as a black powder cartridge gives it a case size capable of accommodating many types of powders, from slower-burning (e.g. Hodgdon H-110 or Hercules 2400) to fast-burning (e.g. Alliant Bullseye, the traditional smokeless powder for this cartridge). This flexibility in powders translates directly to versatility in muzzle energy that a handloader can achieve. Thus, with proper care, a suitably-strong revolver, and adherence to safe handloading practices, the .38 Special can accommodate ammunition ranging from light-recoiling target loads to +P+ self-defense rounds.<ref name=“Handloads”>The .38-44 HV - The Original Magnum</ref>


See also

38_special.txt · Last modified: 2020/03/12 18:31 (external edit)