S&w 38/44


pale horse
January 10, 2003, 12:48 PM
Does anyone have any info on these?

I guess the better question is Has anyone any personal experience with them?

I have been reading about them and they sound really neet.

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January 10, 2003, 02:03 PM
these are a fised sight N frame designed for a special hi power loading of the 38 special that slightly predates the 357 magnum (and some say open the way for the 357 by expermenters like Phil Sharp and Elmer Keith and the loads they used in their example of these fine examples of the gunmakers art. the heavy duty was the fixed sight version the Outdoorsman was the adjustable version. heavy workhorse of a gun. similar to a current model 28 S&W. Excellent value these days if a bit oversized for a 38.

Mike Irwin
January 10, 2003, 02:46 PM
Which .38/44?

The .38/44 target model, built on break-top New Model No. 3s in the 1880s/90s, or the swing-cylinder hand ejectors?

There's a HUGE power difference between the cartridges of the two guns.

Not really sure that the .38/44 Hand Ejectors were issued in response to Colt's .38 Super given that both were announced to police within a few months of each other.

Both were developed to address pretty constant police calls at that point for more powerful handguns firing cartridges capable of penetrating car bodies.

It's likely that both companies were working on solutions at the same time, only in different ways.

At the same time Remington and Winchester both were working with Colt and S&W on ammo solutions to the problem. Both introduced lines of metal piercing ammo in .38 Super, .38/44, and .45 ACP.

January 10, 2003, 03:03 PM
They are are a really B-I-G 38 Special. Elmer Keith used them to develop his powerful loads while lobbying S&W to put out a true Magnum which became the 357 in 1935.

BTW, the Colt Super 38 was the MOST POWERFUL handgun in the world up until the 357 Magnum was introduced.

Mike Irwin
January 10, 2003, 04:30 PM
"BTW, the Colt Super 38 was the MOST POWERFUL handgun in the world up until the 357 Magnum was introduced."

Not too sure about that either, G.

Traditional Colt ballistics for the .38 Super were a 130-gr. bullet at around 1,250 fps, IIRC, or about 450 ft. lbs. of energy.

Traditional ballistics for the.38/44 HD round was a 158-gr. bullet nominally at roughly 1400 fps. At the upper end that's almost 700 ft. lbs. of energy.

Some of the first .357 Magnum loads broke the 1,000 ft. lb. barrier.

pale horse
January 10, 2003, 05:43 PM
Thanks guys just the kind of info I was looking for.

Mike Irwin
January 10, 2003, 08:17 PM

A little more research now that I'm home.

The .38 Super was the most powerful SEMI-AUTO cartridge regularly loaded and chambered in the United States until the 1960s or so.

Other, European rounds, such as the 9mm Mauser, generated more power, but were virtually unknown here.

Mike Irwin
January 10, 2003, 08:42 PM
.38 SuperVel was a brand name from the 1950s/60s, wasn't it?

I don't think it was collected with Smith & Wesson at all.

January 10, 2003, 09:46 PM
Sorry, Mike. I had a brain fart. I meant auto pistol round, I'm sure.

Mike Irwin
January 11, 2003, 02:16 AM

I've heard what you're mentioning argued before, regarding the HD being a direct response to Colt's .38 Super, but I'm just not sure that it really fits with what was going on at the time.

Different police agencies and groups had been approaching both Colt and S&W at the same time trying to get them to offer more powerful handguns. Given that the two companies are located in cities less than 30 miles apart, I don't think it's too much to imagine that these people were at Colt in the morning and S&W in the afternoon.

I really think that you've got a situation where both companies were responding to a known need by a third party, but one got to the finish line first.

There was never really any true competition between the two companies on this subject above and beyond what already existed over the entire semi-auto/revolver thing. Even more interestingly, to the best of my knowledge Colt never actively promoted their New Service as being suitable for use with the .38/44 Heavy Duty, even though most police in the United States carried revolvers and not semi-autos.

Then we've also got the interesting situation as to the ammo.

I'm pretty sure that Winchester developed BOTH the .38 Super and the .38/44, which meant that the projects were essentially on-going at roughly the same time.

More tellingly, though, is the apparent lack of a Colt initiatitive to develop a similar cartridge for a revolver. Why?

At the time, Colt had a pretty substantial chunk of the police revolver market, as much as, or even more, than S&W's market share in this area.

Yet, it would appear that Colt pretty much surrendered the revolver market to Colt.

Throw in one final bit of interesting trivia, and you've got a real head scratcher...

S&W introduced the .357 Magnum in 1935. The Colt New Service was chambered in .357 Magnum within 2 years. Colt's actions don't mesh with it's apparent previous actions.

There's something in this equasion that's missing -- for some reason Colt didn't step into a very logical product area in 1929/30. I don't think anyone will ever know for sure, but to me all of this REALLY smacks of the possibility for a Gentleman's agreement between S&W and Colt, that they would each concentrate R&D on a specific item so that they could meet the customer's needs as quickly as possible.

That's my reasoning for believing that S&W wasn't reacting to Colt's .38 Super when they brought out the the .38/44 HD.

As for the velocity on the .38/44 rounds, I'm trying to find it, but I'm sure that I've got a Winchester catelog around here from around 1933 that states the velocity of the round as being close to 1,400 fps. from a 6.5" barrel.

January 11, 2003, 11:30 AM
SuperVel was a brand name of handgun ammunition in the 1960s and 1970s championed by Lee Jurras. Basically it's philosophy was a lighter weight bullet than normal loaded to what we today would call "plus P". The .38Auto (.38acp) was a round invented by John Moses Browning for his .38 automatic handgun. Later on a much hotter load for the same case and bullet (much like a .454Casull is to a .45Colt) was brought out and called the .38 Super. Quantrill

Mike Irwin
January 11, 2003, 03:42 PM
"Colt took a short-cut and simply loaded an existing cartridge to higher pressure and performance levels."

See, that's where I'm not certain I buy the argument that S&W was simply reacting to Colt at all.

Why didn't Colt do this with the .38 Super AND the .38 Spl.? That's the huge cognative gap here. Colt had already shown itself to be more than willing to take an S&W developed cartridge and change it to make it better -- the .32 New Police and .38 New and Super Police cartridges come immediately to mind.

The New Service was already chambered for .38 Spl., the N-frame at the time wasn't.

Colt supposedly had Winchester working on the .38 Super project at the time, it wouldn't have been a stretch at all to get them working on a .38 Super Special project at the same time.

"As you know, tooling up for a new and innovative cartridge takes a little time..."

Yes, it does, but here another problem raises its head...

S&W had retained the services of Phil Sharpe to develop the loads for the .38/44. Roy Jinks book doesn't come out and say how long it took, but it sounds as if it took quite a bit of time, perhaps a year or longer, to actually develop the loads that went into the gun. Sharpe also pushed S&W to develop the .357 Mag., but it would seem that S&W didn't even begin serious development of the round with Winchester until sometime in 1932 or even 1933.

I've not been able to tack it down definitively, but my research so far indicates that the Colt .38 Super went public sometime in the summer to early fall of 1929 -- less than a year before S&W began offering the .38/44 for sale to police.

Right there the apparent facts don't match the supposition that S&W was reacting to Colt. The timeline is completely wrong.

There's just something else going on here, Saxon, and I think only extensive reviews each company's archives, along with a review of the Winchester archives, would really give the whole picture.

But I'm certain that Smith didn't simply wake up to the fact that Colt had a .38 Super, and decide that it needed a revolver to somehow reply to that. Colt's actions in this area simply don't make sense.

There's no way that could would have willingly left S&W to poach it's police market at this time. Colt was still one of the most innovative firearms companies in the nation and had maintained its police revolver contracts rigorously.

And yet Colt didn't. That's the most baffling thing here. Colt didn't do what you would expect them to do, and the only reason I can come up with for it is that Colt and S&W reached some sort of agreement. Perhaps Colt had large revolver contracts at the time and simply didn't feel that it could develop a new revolver round. Perhaps it was a concession to keep S&W out of the semi-auto market. I really don't know, but I do know that the "conventional wisdom" on this scenario simply doesn't add it.

Finally, Colt's loss of the police market post WW II wasn't an act of complacency, it was a calculated, reasoned decision -- Colt went after large military contracts and surrendered the civilian and police revolver markets. S&W simply walked in and took what Colt didn't want anymore.

Mike Irwin
January 11, 2003, 03:44 PM
Another question I've pondered over the years...

Colt did have decent market share for the .45 auto in the US police market in the 1920s.

Why didn't Colt develop a .45 Super cartridge to go along with the .38 Super?

January 11, 2003, 06:05 PM
Could the Depression have had anything to do with difficulty in introducing new calibers?

January 11, 2003, 06:15 PM
was chambered in 38 Special, also. I don't know if it was labeled as being a high level revolver, but the cylinder has enough metal to make a railroad wheel. Most of the shooters new it, too.
One of my old Border 'Trol buddies had a New Service in 38 Spec ISSUED to him as a duty gun. He said he loaded it hot, and Danforth was no shrinking violet.

So Colt didn't need to "develop" a new revolver for the 38/44 round, they already had one.

The 45 Super concept is not a defense or police round. In terms of self-defense (which is what police guns are for), the only difference is in recovery time. The extra power is more useful in hunting applications, and "everybody knows" hunters use revolvers anyway.
They probably figured they were taking enough risk with the Super 38.

Lone Star
January 11, 2003, 06:36 PM
I've been so disappointed that no one knew the ballistics for the .38/44 that I decided to log in and post it.

The 150-158 grain bullet moved at 1100-1150 FPS, depending on the time frame in which it was listed. It was loaded from 1930- at least the late 1950's, and specs varied a little, depending on the maker and the date.

Skeeter Skelton's HANDLOAD in .38 Special cases was about like Elmer Keith's .38/44 load: 13.5 grains of no. 2400 and a 358156 lead gascheck bullet at a realistic 1200 FPS; it was a low-end .357 round.

Lone Star

January 11, 2003, 06:38 PM
Charley Askins got NS 38 Specials issued to the BP in the '30s, replacing the older 45 ACP versions.

Lone Star
January 11, 2003, 06:51 PM
Big G: True, and he told me that the main reason why he didn't like S&W products is that the Colt people at that time were much nicer to deal with. The S&W guys were too snobby and acted like they were doing the customer a favor to deal with them.

However, Colts tend to need the barrels rotated slightly to get them sighted-in, so the Border Patrol had to turn the barrels of most of those guns to get them shooting right. I noticed the same thing, a prime reason why I quit buying fixed-sight Colt guns. I've had much better luck with Ruger, Webley, and S&W fixed sights.

I think the Texas Highway Patrol also used New Service .38's in the 1940's and '50's, but that was before my time. I think Skelton said that.

Lone Star

Mike Irwin
January 11, 2003, 07:37 PM

You're missing my point. I know the New Service was chambered for .38 Spl., I noted that.

What Colt apparently did NOT do, however, was market the New Service as being suitable for use with the .38/44 HD round, or develop their own round in response to law enforcement requests BEFORE S&W hit the market with their .38/44 revolver round.

As I noted, Colt had no problems taking an S&W developed round and putting their name on it. There are a lot of Colt revolvers chambered for .38 Colt Special...

And that's the quandry. Colt took the initiative in developing a semi-auto round to meet police requests, but why didn't they run a project for revolvers at the same time? Colt already owned the lion's share of the police revolver market, while the semi-auto was not a really big player in police hands.

WHY did Colt defer to S&W? That's what I can't figure out.

"The 45 Super concept is not a defense or police round. In terms of self-defense (which is what police guns are for), the only difference is in recovery time. The extra power is more useful in hunting applications, and "everybody knows" hunters use revolvers anyway."

Absolute non sequitor to the reasons why these rounds were developed -- to give police MORE powerful weapons capable of greater offensive power.

Colt wasn't going out on a limb in developing the .38 Super any more than S&W was in developing the .38/44. Again, both of those rounds were developed SPECIFICALLY at the request of law-enforcement agencies.

Also note that the reason for these rounds wasn't strictly self-defense, it was mainly OFFENSIVE. Punching through car bodies when you're chasing a criminal is an offensive use of a handgun, and police were finding that the typical .38 Spl. of the day simply wouldn't get through a car body.

Developing a .45 Super would have been in keeping with these requests for offensive firepower.

Perhaps police found that the metal piercing ammunition that Remington and Winchester brought out for the .45 (along with similar bullets for the .38 Super and .38/44) was sufficient and that an up-powered .45 round wasn't necessary. I don't know for certain, but it does seem to me to be a gray area.

Quite frankly, this is the first time in Colt's history that I really see them acting in a manner in which they've never really acted before. They've walked away from an obvious market dominance position.

By allowing S&W to come out with the round AND the handgun, Colt allowed S&W to position themselves well and you start seeing a change in company attitudes where Colt starts reacting to S&W instead of the other way around.

Again, though, I simply don't buy the "conventional wisdom" that states that S&W was reacting to Colt when it introducted the .38/44 Heavy Duty. Had Colt introduced an uploaded .38 Spl. round and marketed the New Service to police in conjunction with this round, then I'd say yes, it would have been a case of S&W reacting.

But police in the United States had already proven that they weren't going to rearm wholesale with semi-automatics -- Colt had been trying that for years with its automatics, and never got much headway into the market.

Mike Irwin
January 11, 2003, 07:45 PM

Don't be too disappointed. I'm still looking for it, but I'm CERTAIN that I have a 1930s Winchester catalog around here that lists the velocity out of a 6.5" barrel as being right around 1,400 fps.

Where did you come by your information?

I think, but I'm not certain, that the revolvers that Askins replaced with the Border Patrol were a combination of Colt and S&W Model 1917 .45 ACPs, military cast-offs that were surplussed from WW I.

As for turning the barrels, I don't recall that. I do, however, remember Askins saying in an article he wrote for American Rifleman that he sighted in every gun for the standard BP issue ammo (which I believe was standard velocity .38 Spl. ammo, not the .38/44 HD ammo) by filing the front sight or rear notch and by bending the front sight with a device he made.

He then crated the guns back up and shipped them on for distribution. What he didn't include, though, was a note saying WHY the front sights were bent, and someone at the Border Patrol ended up calling Colt, VERY pissed off, demanding to know why the front sights were bent on so many of their new handguns. :)

January 11, 2003, 09:52 PM
police were finding that the typical .38 Spl. of the day simply wouldn't get through a car body.

The typical 38 Specials of today still won't get thru a car body, Mike. :eek:

Also, no offense but the quoted bullistics of the 38/44 sound a mite optimistic. ;)

January 12, 2003, 11:01 AM
Thanks for the input and the Askins lore, Lone Star.

Mike - you have the honor of being the first guy I can remember championing the 38 Special as a serious handgun round. Marginally effective, yes, I've read that; the smallest somebody should consider, yes I've read that too; but never have I read somebody opine it had some kinda lightning bolt performance like you wrote. :cool:

NOTE: This should appear after Lone Star's post giving the references to Keith's Sixguns but the server's time stamp was goofed up.

Lone Star
January 12, 2003, 12:08 PM

I got the .38/44 data from ballistics charts and articles that I've read over the years. I remember things!

Two quick sources that I just dug out are the very obvious source Keith's, "Sixguns", which has a manufacturers' ballistics list showing the .38 Special Super-X (the 1950's name for the .38/44) at 1175FPS with 150 grain bullet. You could get it in metal point or Lubaloy, and the tested bbl. length was five inches, the most common length for the .38/44 Heavy Duty S&W. However, that was probably a solid test bbl. they used.

I aso have a Remington catalog from 1963 and it shows the ".38 Special High Velocity" at 1090 FPS. The highest velocity for any .38 special round that I've seen is here, too, with a 110 grain bullet, Metal Penetrating, at 1320 FPS.

S&W advised me when I was still in high school in the early 1960's that these high velocity loads wouldn't blow up a M&P (Model 10), but that if very many would be fired, their .38/44 Heavy Duty or Outdoorsman were the appropriate guns to use.

I have never seen a .38/44 load at 1400 FPS; that's .357 Magnum territory. It is possible that certain writers may have developed handloads that would reach that velocity, but today, that would be considered overpressure for the round. There are certain men whose published handloads I just don't use!

By the way, anyone interested in the .38/44 should beat feet over to www.smith-wessonforum.com They publish quite often on it there, and have shown some fine photos.
Lone Star

January 12, 2003, 03:29 PM
Mike & SaxonPig,

This isn't strictly germane to the police market, but the 1933 ad reproduced in Belden & Haven for the Shooting Master specifically lists this revolver as being suitable for use with the 38-44. I simply don't know if the New Service was listed by Colt as being fit for use with this cartridge, though doubtless it was used with this cartridge.

I've read somewhere that during this time period Colt had Remington produce for test purposes three lots of a cartridge remarkably similar to what today we call the 41 Special. I can find the references you'd like.


Mike Irwin
January 12, 2003, 04:00 PM
I've not found my 1933 Winchester catalog, but I did find a pretty neat 1943-published book talking about civilian firearms that are suitable for use by essentiall the militia during WW II.

It gives Remington ballistics for the .38/44 at 1150 fps. It looks like I am wrong on the ballistics for this cartridge.

I'd love, however, to find some original Winchester .38/44 and chronograph it. I did that with some original Winchester .357 Mag. and got nearly 1,700 fps. out of a 6" barrel.


The shooting master was the high end version of the New Service, wasn't it? Sort of like what the Model 27 became when the .357 Mag. round came out.

As for references on the .41 Special, yes, I'd love to know where there's some printed information. I've heard about this cartridge, but never seen anything in print.

I'd be very curious on knowing whether it was an up-powered .41 Long Colt round, or whether it was dimensionally different from the .41 Long Colt to give a true .41-caliber bullet as opposed to the .41 LC's .387 bullet (after it was changed to inside lubricated).


"Mike - you have the honor of being the first guy I can remember championing the 38 Special as a serious handgun round."

I beg your pardon? Where have I been "championing" the round any more or less than the other people here and at TFL who carry .38 Spl. revolvers?


Why? Don't you occasionally like to challenge the "conventional wisdom," or are you content to believe everything that you're told?

If the latter, why are you here on a firearms forum instead of on an anti website? After all, the "conventional wisdom" is that guns are bad, guns are evil, guns in the house will result your immediately being murdered, raped, murdered again, and then decapitated.

Conventional wisdom is a wonderful thing. Until it turns out to be conventional legend. But of course, George Washington chopped down a cherry tree, Betsy Ross sewed the first American flag, and the first English settlement in the US was Plymouth, where men and women wearing wide brimmed hats with big buckles on their shoes stepped onto a big rock that already had 1620 chiseled on it...

January 12, 2003, 05:59 PM
Those 38/44's were tough. I've seen conversions to make a 38/44 into a 45 LC or 45 acp.

By today's standards the 38/44 is a BIG gun for a 38, ditto with the New Service Colt.

The 38/44 was a stop-gap until the 357 was popularized. Same tooling, bigger gun, hotter ammo.

I'd bet somewhere there is a Colt brochure claiming the New Service could handle 38/44 loads.

Lone Star
January 12, 2003, 06:40 PM
Dr. Rob-

Certainly. Haven and Belden's, "History of the Colt Revolver, 1836-1940" reprints several Colt catalog pages, and I've seen others elsewhere.

If memory serves, ALL Colt .38's in the 1930's were "listed" for Hi-Speed ammo, but I'd hate to shoot much of it in a Detective Special!

It's generally accepted that only the Shooting Master, New Service, and SAA should be fired with this hot ammo.

Of course, when Plus P rounds were standardized in the 1970's, Colt wimped out about using it in their smaller guns, advising that the Det. Spcl. be checked after after 3,000 shots and the Cobra and Agent needed to be inspected (for such things as frame stretching) after only 1,000 shots. Plus P isn't as hot as was true .38/44 ammo. Balanced against this is that relatively few people will fire many such hot rounds in their snubs. (The Police Positive Special had longer barrels, but is otherwise the same as the Det. Spcl.)

Lone Star

January 12, 2003, 06:44 PM

From John Taffin, Big Bore Sixguns, Krause, Iola, Wisconson, 1997:

After a discussion of Pop Eimer's work in the '20's...

"Colt must have been somewhat interested because in 1932, Remington ran some special loads for Colt. The boxes were marked 41 Special. Fred Moore was the factory superintendent at Colt and was interested in producing a new sixgun cartridge with a 210 grain bullet at 900 feet per second. Again, this was 1932. Three different variations on this theme were tried, with the final version chambered in a New Service, achieving 1150 feet per second."

"In these pre magnum days Colt had the cartridge and it had the sixgun to go forward and it shelved the project. The .41 Colt Special had a case length of 1.260 inches, or 1/10 inch longer than the .38 Special or .44 Special case. When the .357 Magnum arrived three years later it would utilize a cartridge case length of 1.290 inches. Colt could have chambered the Colt Single Action Army and the big New Service double action in a powderful .41 three years before the .357 Magnum brought us into the Magnum era. Colt had the ball and fumbled."

Oddly enough Suydam's U.S. Cartridges and their Handguns, an unusually comprehensive work, does not list this cartridge, though it does, show the older 41 S&W.

I don't know whether the bullet used in the .41 Colt Special was 0.386-0.388" diameter, an upgraded .41 Long Colt (D.A.), or whether it was a true .41 Calibre. The .41 Long Colt (D.A., inside lubricated), case length was 1.130, SAAMI maximum, so that the .41 Colt Special was some 0.130" longer.

The Shooting Master was a variant of the New Service Target, itself a variant of the New Service.


Jim March
January 12, 2003, 08:07 PM
Mike, your theory that S&W and Colt had an "agreement" of some sort is interesting, in that Colt and Winchester seemed to have an identical arrangement a generation before.




"Made from 1883 to 1885, this levergun was part of Colt's plan to provide a well-rounded complement of firearms to the shooting public.

Produced in caliber .44-40 in both carbine and rifle form, just a little over 6,000 were ever produced.

According to stories when Colt tooled up to produce this levergun, Winchester tooled up and made a few revolvers. Winchester then told Colt they were thinking of going into the handgun business, especially if Colt was going to go into the levergun business! Shortly thereafter Colt dropped the Burgess and Winchester made no more handguns."

Mike Irwin
January 12, 2003, 10:55 PM
I didn't invite you to join an anti-gun forum. I just questioned why you'd be here if you take conventional wisdom at face value.

I don't look at it as minutae. I look at it as a window into the times, the companies, and the people making the decisions. Why someone did something is so often so much more interested than what they did.

That's all.

"There. I am pretty sure I got it right at least once."

You get a Gold Dot and a cookie. :)

Jim March,

Yep, I had that scenario in mind. Supposedly Winchester's revolvers were designed by Hugo Borchardt, and when Colt got a look at them, they knew they were in SERIOUS trouble if they didn't cut a deal.


Hum.... Very interesting... I wonder if Smith & Wesson's .41 Mag. was in any way influenced by the Colt effort? S&W turned to Remington to develop the round instead of Winchester... It would be interesting to know if the Remington people dusted off the Colt round as a starting point. The case length difference is only .03...

As for Suydam's book... Speak not to me about that... Someone swiped my copy, with all of my notes, from my office at American Rifleman when I was working for NRA. I've been looking for a replacement copy ever since, but everyone always wants way too much money for them.

January 19, 2003, 03:12 PM
Here's a quick scan of my 4" Heavy Duty from the mid 1950's.

Johnny Guest
October 9, 2003, 12:11 PM
Ran across this thread while researching the .41 Mag and particularly the M58 revolver.

Great discussion, so I thought I'd just pop it to the top. :p


October 9, 2003, 12:39 PM
The frame size above the diminutive Detective Special/Police Positive size is often called the .41 Frame in the literature. Must be a reason...

Mike Irwin
October 9, 2003, 12:41 PM
I have to admit, Johnny, I was quite surprised to see this one floating to the top of the bowl again. :D

Old Fuff
October 9, 2003, 01:43 PM
Colt was well aware of the .38/44 loading and the S&W Heavy Duty/Outdoorsman revolvers. The didn't go out of their way to push a Smith & Wesson development, but they advertised that their Detective Special, Police Positive Special, Official Police and Single Action Army revolvers - as well as the New Service and Shooting Master could ALL use .... mid-range, regular, and high-speed, INCLUDING 38-44 ammunition. Smith & Wesson on the other hand did not sanction the use of .38-44 loads in their Military & Police model.

Clearly, Colt didn't have to introduce any special models to use the hotter loading, while S&W did. I'm sure that Colt's sales reps made this clear to law enforcement customers. When S&W introduced the .357 Magnum that was a different story - Colt only chambered the .357 into the New Service/Shooting Master and Single Action Army. These cost far less during the later years of the Great Depression then a "registered," custom built S&W.

By the middle-1920's Colt wanted to replace the old 1900 through 1908 series of .38 automatics, which were obviously obsolete and sales were dropping. By coming up with a .38 pistol built on the Government model design the solved a number of sales and production problems - and while at it they increased the performance of the cartridge for even more advertising clout. This left S&W without a competitive alternative - but it didn't take them long to come up with an answer.

October 9, 2003, 05:49 PM
Can this gun handle a 200 grain bullet? I found some .38 spl with a 200 grain load.

Wil Terry
October 9, 2003, 09:37 PM
38/44 handloads I use, 358156 [ .358" ], 13.5gr of 2400, 38SPL brass cases, CCI 500 primers, are right at 1400FPS and are hardly a bit slower from a 4 5/8" OM Ruger or the S+W M19 6" 357MAG sixgun.
From my old M19 4" they set right at 1300FPS all day long.
PS: the 2400 is from 15lb kegs I bought in the last 1/3 of the last century.

Lone Star
October 9, 2003, 09:50 PM
Fed 168-

I assume that you AREN'T joking. Yes, a .38/44 S&W will handle the 200 grain Super Police load. In fact, Tom Ferguson (now deceased) wrote years ago in, "Gun World", that he used that load in M10's while with the San Antonio PD.

He also mentioned that it killed no better than the standard 158-grain load. What was needed was a reliably expanding bullet. The concensus seems to be that the lead HP Plus P is the best, but the Winchester 130-grain SXT, the Speer Gold Dot 125-grain, and the Federal 129-grain Hydra-Shok are also well thought of.

Velocity of that 200 grain load is pretty slow by modern standards. If memory serves, I've seen it clocked at less than 700 FPS. I'd forget it, at least for self defense.

Lone Star

October 10, 2003, 03:46 AM
Gun Digest Corp published a book many years ago titled "The Law Enforcement handgun Digest".

In it they were testing police handguns & ammunition on automobiles and they found that the W-W .38 spl 200gr "Super Police" load that had been touted as a great snub nosed load would simply bounce off the side windows of a car.
This led one of the shooters to quip, "Halt or I'll scratch your paint!"

Mike Irwin
October 10, 2003, 10:57 AM
Out of a snubbie that Super Police load was about as powerful as the British .380-200 round...

October 10, 2003, 11:15 AM
Early 70s...
Tested some police issue 200gr RNL for penetration.
They didn't.


October 11, 2003, 02:00 AM
I simply cannot express how much I love my 38/44 Outdoorsman.

5 screw gun that has likely had a pretty hard life. My grandfather had it before I did and who knows how many rounds it's had through it but in the 12 or so years that I've had it I have probably put a good 5k rounds through it. It's fairly loose now and could stand to be tightened up/retimed but if I were to ever do it I would absolutely have to have the original parts back and in unaltered condition. Still though, this gun shoots like the dickens with 130grn USA FMJ being one of it's favorite loads. I've run some HOT 148grn WC handloads through it back in the day, I wanna say it was like 11.5-12.0 grns of 2400. At the local indoor range there was a goofball that stopped shooting to look over and ask me if I was shooting a 44Magnum.

I've got an old reloading manual that was my grandfather's but I can't seem to locate the stupid thing right now, has loads for all kinds of cartridges that you don't see anymore like the 22 Zipper and a couple others.

My 45LC along side my 38/44 Outdoorsman(45LC top, 38/44 bottom).

Bout 2 years back I ran into a model 28-2 that had a bluing job VERY similar to my 38/44 but I was too slow to hop on it, usually 28-2s have a much more matte bluing but the one I saw had a sort of semi-polished bluing job. Was stupid for not getting it, would have been nice to have a pair of virtual twins and to have the 28-2 to take the brunt of most of my shooting while relegating the 38/44 to an occasional use gun.

October 11, 2003, 07:50 AM
Yes, a local shop had two in stock recently, both original. Very different finishes. The S-numbered gun had an almost 27-like finish, the N-numbered gun was much less polished, almost as matte as the triggerguard/topstrap areas.

October 12, 2003, 01:26 PM
police were finding that the typical .38 Spl. of the day simply wouldn't get through a car body.

The typical 38 Specials of today still won't get thru a car body, Mike.

Car bodies weren't as tough back in the '20's & '30's as they are today. Rounds like the .38/44 & .38Super could cut through the traditional Model A Fords like a hot knife through butter.

Today--with safety glass, stronger alloys, & all the devices (electric window motors & locks, side impact beams, mouldings, etc) found in a modern car door--you'd need AP rifle rounds to reliably penetrate.

I'd love to find a .38/44 & work up my own "Keith loads" or even the mythical .41 Special. I might be reinventing the wheel, but that makes reloading FUN....:D

January 29, 2007, 09:14 PM
Smith & Wesson 38/44 and it's sisters of bigger calibers but lets not forget the 1926 HE 44spl. this is a true gun for home or defense. I have one and bigger caliber handguns and I truely think it is the best f them all.

January 29, 2007, 09:37 PM
I picked up a S&W Outdoorsman with a 6.5" barrel about five months ago. The factory tells me that it was shipped in August of 1953 to the Rex Gun Company in New York City. After that it is never heard from again until I came across it. It's seem some hard use in the past fifty-three years, but it still shoots true. It did require some work and it still needs some more, but it's mine.

How much did I pay? I paid $50.00 - honest.

Considering what I paid I don't mind spending more money bring it up to speed. I might even have it re-finished, but I haven't decided.

Never though that I would find one of these. I'm happy. Now I need to find some actual 38/44 HV rounds. Until then I'll just shoot some old Winchester 38 +P+ 110 grain SJHP that I've had for a few years.

January 30, 2007, 10:15 AM
Wow. You dug this up from over three years ago.

And Mike can argue all he wants. It is and was common kowledge that the .38/44 was S&W's response to the Colt Super. The Super came out first and S&W scrambled to match the higher velocity and penetration capabilities of the new auto cartridge by chambering the N frame for the .38 Special and then hot-rodding the loading.

January 30, 2007, 11:13 AM
Wow. You dug this up from over three years ago.

Actually this was dug up by hacker51. But it's always fun to dig up the dead.

Yeah that's how I understand it to be. The 38/44 was Smith's response to the Super 38. I alwasy figured that Colt went with the Super 38 in the 1911 because some cops were starting to use the auto and it had become one of Colt's stars along with the SAA. How many cops, young urban cops, were carrying the SAA though? Smart business.

On the other hand S&W was a revolver company. With the exception of that little 32 auto the company was all about wheelies. Just makes sense that they developed a round for the 44 frame.

January 30, 2007, 11:35 AM
But it's always fun to dig up the dead.

Ed Gein would agree with you. :eek:

Old Fuff
January 30, 2007, 11:42 AM
After it came out the Super .38 Colt was tremendously popular with law enforcement officers and agents that could carry an automatic pistol. It didn't take long before Depression era gangsters caught on too. Smith & Wesson first experimented with an N-frame revolver chambered to use the .38 Super cartridge but quickly changed focus toward a hotter .38 Special.

To a degree this worked. Prior to World War Two the .38/44 revolvers far outsold any other N-frame revolvers, including the .357 Magnum. But it wasn't a perfect solution because Colt quickly chambered their New Service model to use the same round.

S&W responded again with the ultimate .357 Magnum, but again Colt chambered both their New Service and Single Action Army revolvers for the newer cartridge. Sometimes y' can't win... :(

Regarding car bodies. In those days cars were built out of real steel, not plastic, but more to the point gangsters often put heavy seel plate behind the back seat to get some extra protection. Winchester came out with a 150 grain steel-core load that would go through most any informal armor the bad guys could come up with.

January 31, 2007, 11:59 AM
I read about a Armor (tank) company commander in WW2 (I believe it was the 5th Armor Division) who was fairly wealthy. He purchased Parkarized S&W Heavy Dutys for all his tank commanders,both officers and sergeants, and supplied them with the ammo and shoulder holsters. Tankers are one of the few front line ground soldiers who are equipped with handguns for obvious reasons. He felt that the 38/44 was just a harder hitting round and superior to the 45 acp.

At first glance it seems stupid that he equipped his men with a weapon that was outside of the Army logistical network, but the 38 special round wasn't. So in a pinch they could use .38. I suppose he provided them with a couple boxes of ammo and the understanding that the ammo was for combat. Perhaps they used plain old 38 special ammo for practice.

Things were different in WW2 and I suppose that he was given permission by the chain of command. The writer dosen't cover that in his book.

I've also read that the Marines in Korea used the .357 magnum. Apparently the heavy padded winter uniforms that the North Koreans and Chinese wore were very effective against the 45 round. In the trench and hill warfare that characterized the last couple years of fighting in Korea and handgun was a very effective weapon. See WW1 as well for the use of handguns in combat.

As a consequence the Marines (who seem to have more liberal weapon policies than the Army) had magnums shipped over. Don't know if they used Colts, Smith & Wessons or both. Reports are that the magnum round was very effective. Nothing about the 38/44, but perhaps it to was used in Korea as well.

Old Fuff
January 31, 2007, 02:12 PM
I can't confirm your story, but during World War Two the Navy did ask Smith & Wesson to supply them with .38/44 Heavy Duty revolvers in place of the K-frame Victory models. S&W declined, saying that they were set up to make Victory or .38-200 revolvers exclusively.

January 31, 2007, 02:58 PM
There was a really neat book I read by a Cavalry Scout in WW2 where he complained about getting issued a pistol (back when the army still had horses, he slopped a lot of horse manure in basic) the Officers got first pick and took all the Colt revolvers, most of the enlisted men were unfamiliar with automatics. Revolvers, it seems, to some GIs were prized posessions. And they got them where ever they could.

I have never seen a 38/44 with US Ordnance marks, but I've seen a number of parkerized New Service 38's with 4 inch barrels that were NOT "Commandos" or marked with British proofs. My guess is these were air crew weapons or unissued lend/lease models.

Back to the hi-speed topic. in the years since this thread has been around I am POSITIVE I've seen an old Colt ad where the New Servie was listed as "proofed for .38 Special Hi-Speed" cartridges.

Old Fuff
January 31, 2007, 03:22 PM
Back to the hi-speed topic. in the years since this thread has been around I am POSITIVE I've seen an old Colt ad where the New Servie was listed as "proofed for .38 Special Hi-Speed" cartridges.

I'm sure you did. They were regularly advertised for ".38 Special, Regular or Hi Speed." (No reference to S&W though). :D

In 1934 the Army bought a handful of .38/44 Heavy Duty revolvers and tested them. The results were positive, but no production order was issued because they had no particular reason.... and no money.

In 1942 the Army again inquired about the availability of .38/44 revolvers, but were told that the factory had been retooled to exclusively make K-frame Military & Police (aka "Victory Model") revolvers. In 1944 it was the Navy's turn, and they were ready to place firm orders. In addition they wanted all pending deliveries changed from Victory Models to .38/44 Heavy Duty's. They got the same answer that the Army had received earlier.

I suspect that the total number of .38/44 S&W revolvers actually ordered and delivered to the armed forces is well under 100. Those would have been made before the war, or out of parts made bfore 1940.

January 31, 2007, 08:00 PM
Well back then ,just like today, lots of money can move mountains. I remember very clearly that the guns were parkarized and that the commanding officer had ordered the twenty plus revolvers with the parkarized finish and the holsters. Who knows, maybe S&W had a bunch sitting in a warehouse or one of their distributers?

Imagine if the Army had gone with the Heavy Duty in the early Thirties. That's an intersting idea.

Old Fuff
January 31, 2007, 08:10 PM
I'm sure they would have had no problem putting 20-odd revolvers together. Post-war production started using pre-war parts. Now 2000 would have been another matter... ;)

January 31, 2007, 08:16 PM
Very true.Smith has alwasy been good about helping out those customers who have the cash, but then so is Ruger, Colt, Remington etc.And, in all fairness, all those companies have a pretty good track record when it comes to helping out cops, soldiers etc.

Imagine if the HD had been selected. Very implausiable in the middle of the depression, but imagine anyway. Thomas Magnum carrying his old HD while tooling around Hawaii working cases or the battalion sergeant major in We Were Soldier using his revolver instead of a 45. :cool:

Okay I'll let it go now. :o

February 1, 2007, 08:11 AM
I hate to burst your bubble, guys, but these guns are .38 Specials; a very wimpy cartridge even at its top loadings, and the 38/44 is an N frame revolver, suitable for the big 44 Magnum, although it was a few years in the future. The 38 in the big N frame is almost ludicrous, unless you are a S&W fanatic (like me) :D There are plenty of good reasons why people didn't get all steamed up about a huge cannon with such a mild cartridge.

February 2, 2007, 09:25 AM
The round was stll hotter than the 38 special. The load is over 1,100 FPS - average. Not much different(ballistically) than the 110 grain .357 magnum load. In the early 30's that was a big deal.

February 3, 2007, 03:16 AM
Remington's factory loads were like 158gr @ 1175. Nothing to sneeze at.

September 18, 2009, 01:21 PM
Originally posted by BigG
Ed Gein would agree with you.

who's Ed Gein?

Old Fuff
September 18, 2009, 05:28 PM
Imagine if the Army had gone with the Heavy Duty in the early Thirties. That's an intersting idea.

In 1944, after a K-frame Victory Model was dropped from a considerable height on a battleship and went off, killing a sailor; the Navy pleaded with S&W to replace the revolvers they had with .38/44 Heavy Duty models. S&W couldn't do it because they were tooled to exclusively make the Military & Police model. The Navy then turned to Colt for Official Police revolvers, but they couldn’t make them in the quantity that was need. Meanwhile S&W developed that hammer block they still use today, and after testing it the Navy was satisfied.

But if Smith & Wesson had enough capacity to make those .38/44 revolvers some firearms history would be a lot different today.

Peter M. Eick
September 19, 2009, 06:02 PM

As a died in wool 38/44 fan (this picture is about 8 or 9 short) I have learned a bit about the 38/44.

To answer some of the older questions. Roy Jinks and I traded some emails about how long it took to develop the round. It was around 3 years from concept to first production guns in April of 1930. For the collectors, the topmost revolver at 1 oclock is the lowest known serial numbered 38/44 made. It is actually a week 3 delivery, just the lowest serial number. The one a 2 oclock is actually a first week delivery gun, my personal oldest. The serial numbers by the way are about 300 different.

Out of my guns, with a 5" barrel, original 38/44 HS ammo does about 1100 to 1150 with 158's and with the 6.5" barrel I get about 1150 to 1175 fps. I have another stash of about 200 rnds of original ammo, so some day I will shoot them off and chrono more of it.

I think S&W got on the 38/44 project pretty quickly after the Super was introduced.

Personally, I think the 38/44 is just the right size for the 38 special casing. I load mine to 38/44 HS power levels, 38 +p and 38 special target loads. I pretty much buy everyone I see now just to add to the stash. They are pretty darn rare so prices have really driven up lately.

September 19, 2009, 08:42 PM
Picture this user verdant with envy.

September 20, 2009, 11:22 PM
Out of my guns, with a 5" barrel, original 38/44 HS ammo does about 1100 to 1150 with 158's and with the 6.5" barrel I get about 1150 to 1175 fps. I have another stash of about 200 rnds of original ammo, so some day I will shoot them off and chrono more of it.

Thanks for posting some real information about real velocities using real original factory .38-44 ammo. Some of the information (or more correctly, mis-information) seen in this and other threads on this subject is based on nothing but hearsay.

Peter M. Eick
September 25, 2009, 03:39 PM
I will get out and blast off all of that 38/44 ammo in November sometime. I want the temps to drop a bit before I do it. It is just not fun to do chrono work in the 90's when I don't HAVE to.

March 14, 2010, 12:25 AM
Peter, did you ever test the original 38/44 ammo you were going to chronograph.

Dave T
March 14, 2010, 11:38 PM
For those who don't reload, or who don't want to mess with working up a load just to see what the 38/44 was all about, try a box of Buffalo Bore's heavy 38 Special +P 158g SWCHP-GC. They gave 1142 fps from a 4" barrel according to BB, duplicating the original performance. And, they are quite impressive and great fun to shoot in one of the originals. I have nothing like Mr. Eick's fine collection but these two are good examples of the genre. The blued 5" is a pre-War from 1938 and the nickeled 4" is a short action from 1953. And for the purists out there, the stocks on both guns are neither original nor correct.


I've heard people wonder why the 38/44 didn't disappear after 1935 and the introduction of the 357 Magnum. Consider the early Magnum was the highest dollar gun S&W made and was a rare thing in the depression era 1930s. The 38/44 was a working man's gun and carried on even past WWII. It's demise was probably marked by the introduction of the Highway Patrolman (Model 28), another working man's gun and the model I went through the academy with and carried my first year in law enforcement.


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