Best Defense Ammo In .38 Special (NON +P)?


September 22, 2005, 05:20 PM
It seems like almost all of the major ammunition manufacturers are offering their .38 Special defense ammunition in +P only . What is the best defense ammunition in .38 Special (Non +P) currently available? Thanks.


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September 22, 2005, 06:55 PM
Depends on the barrel length, I'd say. If it's a 4" or longer, then 158 gr LHPs might work, if they get up to 850-900 fps. Or if you reload, you could try buying some 135 gr short barrel Gold Dots and load them up to 860 fps out of your gun.

Though I'm guessing you're asking for something to use in a Dick Special. In shorter barrels, especially snubbies, I'd say you're best off with a plated or jacketed wadcutter, if you can find 'em. Don't try wadcutters loaded backwards, they don't expand well, and underpenetrate a bit when they do.

Safestops ( are supposed to be excellent, in the non V-notch "snubby" version. If those seem a little expensive, and you reload, both Rainier and Berry's Mfg. make plated wadcutters.

Check this link (;f=78;t=000963) for a comparison between 135 gr short barrel Gold Dots and 148 gr snubby Safestops, out of the intended platform.

September 22, 2005, 07:18 PM
I strongly agree with RyanM on the wad cutters for home defense. A retired LEO friend and I did some testing of the wet catalog type of home-grown tests. The wad cutters, from my wife's Colt stubby and his wife's S&W stubby, both seemed to deliver a good solid "blow-a-big-hole-in-an-MZB" and still not tend to over-penetrate.

We live in a nice retirement community. Regardless of being a nice and sort of up-scale place the park is made up of double wide and triple wide mobile homes with thin walls so the over-penetration question was important to my wife and I.

JMHO and YMMV, folks -


September 22, 2005, 08:53 PM
I'm not sure if there is a best. The 158 gr. lead semi-wadcutter is a good general purpose load. It is a heavy bullet that penetrates well. I'd use it or the Federal Nyclad 125 gr. lead hollowpoint. sells the Nyclad.

September 23, 2005, 01:32 AM
There is a non plus p lead hollowpoint in 38spl? I've never heard of one. For a non plus p load in alloy frames or old guns I've used the glaser, Winchester 110grain silvertip and I'd like to get my hands on the discontinued Fed nyclad load. Some non plus p from foreign sources like Fiocchi runs pretty hot too it seems.

I think Federal is now making their personal defense load in a non plus p 110 grain load too. I don't really like 110 grain loads though as they shoot low in fixed sight guns but at the ranges involved it's not a huge concern.

September 23, 2005, 07:15 AM
Be careful hot loading wadcutters.
NEVER hot load a hollow based wadcutter. They have a nasty tendency to shed their skirts. Often times leaving them inside the barrel!

Bevel based and double ended wadcutters are must better.
But be aware of diminishing returns. When you get them moving too fast they will keyhole.

September 23, 2005, 07:21 AM
When you get them moving too fast they will keyhole.

Depending on the circumstance, this is not really a bad thing. :D

September 23, 2005, 08:48 AM
Hornady has a 125gr and a 158gr
non +P load for 38spl's.They
both use the XTP bullet and
should be quite accurate.

September 23, 2005, 08:48 AM
I'd use a GA Arms plated semi-wadcutter. 158gr @ 800 fps.
Not a magnum load by any means, but I'd trust my life with it in a S&W model 10.

September 23, 2005, 10:03 AM
There is a non plus p lead hollowpoint in 38spl? I've never heard of one.

Winchester makes a SJHP in non +P, if I recall correctly the bullet weight is about 130gr. You can get 'em at Walmart.

September 23, 2005, 04:26 PM
IMI made or makes a 158gt jhp as well as the 158 gr Hornady XTP mentioned. However, at 38 spl velocities I can almost guarantee out of a snub barrel these type loads will have zero to very low expansion in tissue.

I tend to use +P LHP for this reason or if I can't use a plus pload, I use a light for caliber JHP like 110grain and hope for at least some expansion and adequate penetration.

September 23, 2005, 05:13 PM
Thanks for the helpful replies and info.

The Hornady 125gr JHP/XTP, and the Winchester 110gr Super-X Silvertip HP look good. Any opinions/info on which is the "better" (NON +P) defense cartridge for a S&W 640?

Also, I already have several boxes of Federal's 110gr "Low Recoil" Hydra-Shok JHP, how would these Federal cartridges compare with the Hornady and Winchester ammo?

Again, thanks.


September 23, 2005, 07:41 PM
Two comments, Nero:

First, a 640 will comfortably handle +p ammo from here to eternity; if your concern is the gun, you needn't be concerned.

Second: assuming your concern is something other than the gun, and assuming your 640 is a two-inch gun, it can be virtually guaranteed based on numerous independent tests that the hollowpoints listed here will not expand, but will plug up and create a relatively narrow wound--an innefficient wound.

For that reason, I would firmly concur with tbeb above, that the best standard pressure load for a short-barreled 38 is the 158 gr. SWC. The lead bullet will get a higher velocity per mass than any jacketed bullet; and the flat nose will transmit the load's limited energy better than a relatively rounded (and non-expanding) JHP.

September 24, 2005, 07:22 AM
"Low Recoil" is just Federal's way of saying Reduced Muzzle Velocity. :scrutiny:

September 24, 2005, 09:05 AM
There is a pretty good article in the Nov 2005 edition of Combat Handguns by Mike Boyle evaluating different .38 Special ammunition shot thru a S&W 640, thru 4 layers of denim and into ballistic gelatin.

My interpretation of some of the article's results: the Federal "Low Recoil" 110gr JHP seemed weak. The Federal Nyclad had rather poor-fair expansion and some over-penetration, and Federal's 158gr +P LSWC-HP had almost no expansion and alot of over-penetration. Speer's Gold Dot +P 135gr JHP, Remington's GoldenSaber +P 130gr JHP, and CorBon's DPX 110gr. HP, all did very good.

**I emailed CorBon and they informed me that their .38 Special DPX 110gr is now only available in +P.** :(

I'd really like to see how Hornady's 125gr JHP/XTP would do with the same test parameters.

I think I'm going to buy some of Speer's Gold Dot +P 135gr JHP and CorBon's 110gr DPX cartridges to see what the recoil from them feels like in my S&W 640. If it's not too much, I might start loading my 640 with one or the other. (I currently have my last few Nyclads loaded in my 640, with one speedloader of Federal's 110gr "Low Recoil" for a reload.)


September 24, 2005, 09:47 AM
Good choices. The Speer 135, in particular, is swiftly coming to be recognized as the best snub load available for a .38--probably ever.

The .38 snub is just at the threshold of what bullet-makers can do, as far as making an expanding bullet work--which is why ALL the premium defense loads push it to its limits in +p form. There's no good reason you shouldn't avail yourself of their hard-won advances.

September 24, 2005, 04:27 PM
The funny thing is that Ny-Clad was never meant to be carry ammo. It was introduced by Smith & Wesson (that's right Federal only started loading it after S&W stopped producing their own ammo) as practice ammo. Which is why the S&W made bullets were blue/purple.
All of the original S&W Ny-Clad loadings duplicated an existing lead bullet loading.
It was designed to be used on indoor ranges. It made gun cleaning easier since there was no leading and it also helped reduce airborne lead.

Ny-Clad was introduced at the same time OSHA was forcing many police departments to close or upgrade their antiquated ranges.

The nylon coating while eliminating the leadding problem also retarded expansion and deformation.

One trick us old timers tried was to use a properly sized hand held twist drill to break the edges of the coating inside the nose cavity. This helped somewhat but it still didn't expand as well as the standard bullets in the same loading.

Now 25 years later people are somehow thinking that Ny-Clad was somehow something special in high performance expanding bullets.

September 24, 2005, 05:50 PM
Interesting piece of background, BluesBear--thanks for sharing from your experience.

Johnny Guest
September 25, 2005, 11:47 AM
I have no reason to dispute any of what you wrote as pertains to the old S&W-Fiocchi and early Federal Nyclad ammo. I wonder, though, about this box o'ammo on my desk as I write this - - The end flap of the box shows:


SWC-HP . . P38G

Myself, I wouldn't think the +P would be needful or desirable except for serious use. OTOH, perhaps Federal perceived a market amongst those who would want to do indoor practice with fairly powerful ammo. That doesn't seem a very large market.

Who knows?


September 25, 2005, 08:45 PM
Aguila® & MagTech® both load 158gr JHP STD PRESSURE; 900 & 890fps respectively. The last 3 shootings in our Dept were with these rounds; two in snubbies. All 3 were one shot stops. These two loads are what I use, carry, & qualify with in my BUG/ODG; S&W Mdl 37 Airweight®.

Excellent ammunition & inexpensive to boot.

September 26, 2005, 04:36 AM
After Smith & Wesson bought out Alcan cartridge Company they loaded all of their own ammo in the US. Some of the S&W-Fiocchi was loaded in the US too.
In the 70s and 80s S&W was going after the police department market in a big way. Guns, ammo, holsters, shotguns, handcuffs, tear gas, lights and sirens the whole shebang.

I distributed a LOT of S&W ammo back then. The departmental price was astonishingly low.

You have to remember that this was the time period in which police departments were just finally grasping the concept of training with what you carry. The Nyclad +p was designed with this in mind.
Johnny are those the old blue/purple Ny-clads? That's why S&W made then that funky colour. So it would be easily distinguishable from the standard loadings. As I said each Ny-clad loading was a duplication of an existing standard lead bullet load.

Since 9mm was just starting to catch on for police use, S&W also loaded Ny-clad in 9mm in addition to .38 Special and .357 Magnum. They didn't bother with it in .380 auto, .44 magnum or .45ACP. Which were the only other center fire handgun cartridges they loaded.

September 29, 2005, 04:30 PM
Win silvertip 110gr proved most accurate in my 442. It probably expands about one third of the time.
Hornady 125 gr was accurate to ten yds. It expands less than most bullets but it will usually give a small consistent expansion.
The surprise load was Black Hills blue box 125 gr. Accurate reliable and will expand consistently in a snow bank. I know snow banks are not scientific but the jackets are very thin.

dawei - Thaks for the tip on Magtech and Aguila 158 gr jhp.
dawei means Lietenant?

September 29, 2005, 07:44 PM
Dawei, did these rounds actually show any expansion out of a snub barrel? And does your dept actually issue them?

September 30, 2005, 04:29 AM
106RR: dawei = David

moonclip: 1. They expand out of a snubnose. 2. They are Dept issue; for the range AND DUTY USE.

September 30, 2005, 09:58 AM
I took my new 442 to the range and shot 100 SWC cowboy loads through it. My hands hurt.

Then I loaded up 5 of the Federal Low Recoil JHPs... :what: An orange fireball a foot across and and a concussion that really surprised me! There are NOT +p loads... I fired the other 4 but I sure didn't enjoy it.

Four days later, the heels of both hands are still bruised and sore. :uhoh: The little 38 hurt me worse than my buddy's Taurus Tracker 44 mag with full-house hunting loads. (Not as loud, though...)

September 30, 2005, 10:26 AM
That's why my .38 spec/.357 Mag snub is an all steel S&W 640, and my alloy framed snub (432PD) is chambered in less recoil producing .32 H&R Magnum. :D ;)


September 30, 2005, 01:48 PM
When I load up my snubby with a "Personal Defense Load", my choice is the Fed 110-Gr JHP. Otherwise, I load wadcutters or one of the 125-135 Gr FMJ round.

It is a Non +P load, so I feel OK with shooting it in my cheapy .38 snubby (Rohm/RG)

Master Blaster
September 30, 2005, 02:05 PM
I still have half a box of the Corbon 110 jhp+p ammo, I would NEVER trust this ammo for self defense:

I fired 10 rounds of it in practice, the second cylinder full I stopped after firing two rounds, and inspected the rounds that were not fired and discovered that they had seriously jumped the crimp, to the point where they could have almost tied up the revolver by the last round. I was also firing some of the federal PD 110 non +p JHP, the blast and recoil from those was as great as the corbon. My phone book testing on both rounds showed that they had about the same penetration, two of the federal penetrated farther than the corbons did by a very small amount. The federals did not jump the Crimp like the corbons did. All rounds were fired in my smith 642.

The next day when I called Corbon to ask about the crimp jumping I was told that that was NORMAL, but they would send me two boxes for free If I shipped the remainder of my one box back to them. :rolleyes:

I started carrying the federals.

I have since switched to the Speer 135 GD hp +p which is the best round for a .38 spl snubbie IMHO.

September 30, 2005, 04:06 PM
I feel your pain with the Cor Bon. Many seem to like to think that they are the best thing since sliced bread but a couple of experiences I've had with their ammo or have seen others have on the internet FWIW, have been less than stellar.

I still like some of their loadings and concepts but I generally load up with ammo from the larger manufacturers. One PD in my area, a cop friend of someone I knew wanted me to get him some real hot 9x19 +p+ jhp for duty use for some reason.

I tried to do it the easy way and just get him Cor Bon +p but he told me his dept did not allow cor bon! Maybe they were on to something there.

Dawei, neat to see a jacketed round getting expansion at snub velocities, I'll have to see about trying some of those maybe. Interesting to see a USA PD issuing a foreign ammo for duty use. Is the ammo for the larger calibers also a foreign load?

September 30, 2005, 08:01 PM
Strictly for the 38 Special.

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