38 special vs. 44 special


Revolver Ocelot
April 24, 2008, 05:40 AM
which caliber is better in a revolver designed for combat? and for what reason?

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April 24, 2008, 05:52 AM
I think there are some modern loadings of the .38 Special which suffice, but I can't get over its previous reputation of being a "Widowmaker" (for those who use it for self-defense.) So IMO the .44 Special wins by default, but mainly with modern loadings that give adequate penetration and expansion.

April 24, 2008, 06:37 AM
Better for what? Out of what? Shot by whom? Etc.?

April 24, 2008, 06:57 AM
I like my .38's. That said...I do not believe that you are going to find that one or the other is better, but that people like one or the other better.

I looked at one chart that had .38+p one stop shots at something like 83%. That is not like the old round nosed lead bullets.

April 24, 2008, 09:08 AM
In general, for me I favor the .38SPL and all the varieties +P etc. This is not to say that is the only caliber for my conceal carry. I at times carry a Taurus Tracker Snub M44C or a Beretta 9000S 9mm down to the KelTec P3AT and PF9.

I select the .38SPL for cost (reloads & factory) and avallability.

My favorite carry piece is my snub Taurus all Titaniun Model 605/.357/Magnum, loaded with .38SPL, 125gr., +P

April 24, 2008, 09:43 AM
I have both, an love both. I will not choose between the two cause they are two of the most accurate revolver cartridges I have, and with the proper loads will do anything I need them to. I'm not really a fan of magnum calibers, and now that I have sever CTS, its just to painful. Besides both these old cartridges are just to much fun.

April 24, 2008, 09:52 AM

April 24, 2008, 10:32 AM
The .44 Special offeres the abilty to comfortably push larger, heavier bullets sufficiently to achieve any reasonable anti-bipedal parameters, and is thus "better."

I've got a .38 on me as I type this. *Ahem*

For you "the Devil's in the details" types, John Taffin article is a good place to start:

The .44 Special Cartridge of the Century? Accurate, Powerful and Reliable, the .44 Special Really is Special.

American Handgunner, Sept/Oct 2004, by John Taffin

The .45 has been Number One at Colt for more than 125 years with hundreds of thousands of sixguns and semi automatics being produced in .45 Colt and .45ACP. However over at Smith & Wesson, .44 has been the top big bore caliber for even longer. For the first half of the 20th century, at least among sixgunners in the know, the .44 Special was it. Period. The coming of the .44 Magnum in 1955-1956 almost killed the .44 Special, but only almost. Many of those buying those first .44 Magnums soon discovered they had more than they wanted and eagerly returned to the .44 Special.

Skeeter Skelton was one of those who traded his 4" .44 Special for a 4" .44 Magnum for law enforcement work and discovered the .44 Special was much better suited for his duties as sheriff and promptly went back to the gentler .44. A 250 grain bullet at 950 fps was much easier to control than the same weight bullet at 1,400 fps, and the comparable lighter weight sixgun carried much easier.

In my first book, Big Bore Sixguns, I raised the question as to whether or not the .44 Special was the Cartridge of The Century--the 20th century, that is, since the .44 Special was the first new cartridge to arrive at the beginning of the last century. Actually the .44 Special began before the Civil War. Smith & Wesson had introduced the first American Cartridge firing revolver with their seven-shot, tip-up single action Model #1 chambered in .22 Short. Subsequent models were chambered in .32 and Smith & Wesson had plans for a big bore single action, however the Civil War put those plans on the back burner.

In 1869, Smith & Wesson introduced their first big bore single action sixgun, the S&W Model #3 American chambered in .44 S&W American. This cartridge was a true .44 caliber with, according to which source is to be believed, either a .43 or .44 caliber bullet with a .423" heel which snapped into the case. Lubrication was on the portion of the bullet outside the brass case and cylinders were bored straight through to accept a cartridge case and bullet of the same diameter.

Enter the Russians. The Russian military placed a large order for Smith & Wesson Model #3s, however they insisted on an ammunition change that resulted in the basic configuration we still use today. Instead of an outside-lubricated, heel-type bullet, the Russians wanted a bullet of uniform diameter with the lubrication grooves inside the case. This, of course, reduced the diameter of the bullet and also required cylinder chambers be of two inside diameters, one to accept the case, and the other to accept the slightly smaller bullet. The result was the .44 Russian, which early-on exhibited exceptional accuracy especially when chambered in the S&W New Model #3, which arrived a few years later. The .44 Russian cartridge case was just under 1" in length at .97" and used a round-nosed bullet of approximately 245 grains, at a muzzle velocity of 750 fps. At that time, Colt's .45 was loaded with a bullet of 250-255 grains at a muzzle velocity 150-200 fps faster. This, of course, resulted in much less recoil when shooting the .44 Russian.

Modern Old Days

The dawning of the new century found the United States in a remarkable position. We had flexed our muscles, were now regarded as a powerful force in the world, Theodore Roosevelt was soon catapulted into the presidency, and a new age had arrived. To commemorate the new spirit, Smith & Wesson introduced the New Century revolver. This sixgun was also known as the Model of 1908, the .44 Hand Ejector 1st Model, and more widely known among collectors and shooters as the Triple-Lock. Smith & Wesson had modernized the double action revolver with their mid-framed Military & Police .38 Special in 1899, and now they expanded the M&P to a large framed revolver chambered in .44. This magnificent sixgun also featured an enclosed ejector rod housing and the cylinder locked in three places, at the rear, at the front of the ejector rod, and with a beautifully machined third locking feature at the front of the cylinder on the frame.

Even today this S&W is regarded by many as the finest double action revolver ever produced, perhaps the finest revolver period. Smith & Wesson could easily have chambered their new creation for the .44 Russian, however, they instead lengthened the case to 1.16" and introduced a new cartridge, the .44 Special. They were on the brink of perfection. They had a superb sixgun and a cartridge, which could be safely loaded to eclipse the .45 Colt. Instead of going forward, they hesitated, and backed up. The .44 Special was loaded to the exact same specifications as the .44 Russian using the same round-nosed bullet. Instead of a 250 grain bullet at 900-1,000 fps, which both cartridge case and sixgun were certainly capable of, the .44 Special stayed at 750 fps. But not for long.

During the late 1920s the true capabilities of the .44 Special were discovered, not by ammunition factories but by handloaders. Over the next three decades men like Elmer Keith, Gordon Boser, Ray Thompson, John Lachuk, and a group known as the .44 Associates experimented and traded information on the .44 Special. Anyone well acquainted with the .44 Special knows of the "Keith Load." Using balloon head brass, Keith first loaded #80 powder under several bullet designs, and finally settled on 18.5 grains of #2400 under his semi-wadcutter bullet, the #429421. Keith did not design the original SWC bullet but he certainly perfected it realizing early the semi-wadcutter is much superior to the round-nosed bullet as far as shocking power is concerned.


April 24, 2008, 10:33 AM
With the arrival of solid head brass around 1950, Keith dropped his load back to 17.0 grains. In either case, this is a very powerful load giving approximately 1,200 fps at the muzzle. It's not a load to be taken lightly! With today's primers and the current production of #2400, the same results can be achieved with 16.0-16.5 grains and SHOULD ONLY BE USED in modern large frame revolvers produced after World War II. I do not use "Keith" in Italian replicas. For my own use it's confined to the Smith & Wesson Model 24 and Model 624 sixguns manufactured in the early 1980s, the Colt New Frontier, the .44 Specials of Texas Longhorn Arms, and, of course, in any .44 Magnum sixgun.

There was a time in which I thought all .44 Specials had to be loaded to the full power level. I knew only one load the Keith Load. I ordered .44 Special brass by the case lot and cast my own #429421 bullets. Cartridge boxes did not need to be labeled as they were all full power. I've grown older and wiser. Yes, I do keep heavy loads on hand, however they are no longer my everyday loads. The beauty of the .44 Special is how much you can accomplish with relatively easy shooting loads.

Why do I consider the .44 Special to be The Cartridge of the Century? There are many reasons. One is not only what it was but what it caused to be. The .44 Special and the Triple-Lock revolver followed a two-pronged evolutionary path. The Triple-Lock was dropped in 1915 as being too expensive to produce. How ever, it became the 3rd Model Hand Ejector in 1926, the 4th Model in 1950, and it was this 4th Model, which was used as the platform for the .44 Magnum. That's one path. The other direction saw the Model of 1926 fitted with a .38 Special barrel and cylinder in 1930 resulting in the Heavy Duty, which five years later became the .357 Magnum. So we can easily say the .44 Special was responsible for both the .357 Magnum and the .44 Magnum.

The .44 Special with heavy loads in the Triple-Lock and subsequent Colt revolvers was the first true hunting sixgun cartridge and remains an excellent choice today for deer sized game at reasonable ranges. For this I prefer Speer's copper-cupped, lead-com hollow-point 225 grain bullet over 16.5 grains of #2400 in lane frame sixguns only. As an everyday working load, my standard choice is now a 240-250 grain SWC bullet over 7.5 grains of Unique for around 950 fps. To duplicate the original .44 Russian/.44 Special load for an easy shooting 750 fps, I use 6.0 grains of Unique, 5.5 grains of WW231, or 4.5 grains of Red Dot or Tite Group. The more I shoot, the more I enjoy this original load.

Like a Laser

All of these loads are both accurate and exceptionally economical. A pound of Unique will yield nearly 1,200 rounds of easy-shooting .44 Specials. The .44 Special, as well as the .44 Russian before it, have long held the reputation as being among the most accurate of sixgun cartridges. Accuracy seems to be more a function of the quality of the sixgun being used as well as the ammunition than the particular cartridge. Most large frame .44 Special sixguns have been exceptional revolvers and it also remains very easy to produce quality ammunition in brass marked .44 Special.

As a self-defense proposition it would be hard to find a better cartridge than a properly loaded .44 Special, and therein lies the rub. The Keith load is definitely not the best choice nor is the 246 grain round-nosed bulleted load which has been the standard for nearly 100 years. Alas, life can be cruel. Now that we have suitable factory defensive .44 Special loads such as the Cor-Bon 165 grain JHP and the Speer 200 grain Gold Dot HP, no one is manufacturing a large frame double action .44 Special revolver!

Freedom Arms offers what may very well be the finest .44 Special sixgun ever, their single action Model 97 five-shooter, while USFA produces a traditional single action that is as good as it gets. However, the only double action revolver currently available is the Charco Bulldog, a five-shot pocket pistol. In the early 1980s, Smith & Wesson offered the six-shot Models 24 and 624 and then followed in the late 1990s with the five-shot Models 696 and 296 all chambered in .44 Special. None of these are currently cataloged and we will probably never see their likes again. With their adjustable sights they are very versatile sixguns.

If Only

Two of the best combat revolvers ever offered were Smith & Wesson's Model 1926 and Model 1950 Military, later known as the Model 21, with fixed sights and 4" barrels. These were true combat revolvers. Several of us like-minded gun writers have gently lobbied Smith & Wesson for several years to produce fixed-sighted, traditionally enclosed ejector, big bore combat revolvers again. Perhaps someday, when we least expect it, someone will punch the right computer buttons and we will see a heavy duty, no-nonsense, .44 Special carry gun once again.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Publishers' Development Corporation
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

April 24, 2008, 10:38 AM
I have both and love both as well, if I was recommending one for someone to start with, I would have to say .38.

It comes in a smaller easier to conceal package, mostly. Ammo is more available etc., but the OP said "Combat" so I would say .44 Special for that, but how many of us are going to combat?

I voted 1911, because it is the ultimate combat gun.

April 24, 2008, 11:12 AM
If you reload, .44 Spl. by far.

If you don't, .38 Spl. by about the same amount.

There are only a few good commercial SD loads available in .44 Spl. and they are both very expensive and hard to find.

You can still get good .38 Spl. SD ammo at Wal-Mart or Corner Gas in many places.


April 24, 2008, 12:23 PM
Discounting the 1911 option entirely, I would have to say that it would be hard to defend the .38 as being "better" if you can only choose between the two. I personally don't have anything against the .38 special, but the .44 is just a better defensive round, if for no other reason than that it makes a bigger hole.

That being said, like a couple of the other guys, I have a .38 that I am perfectly comfortable with, and I often carry .38 in my .357's. I think the .38 special has gotten something of a bad rap over the years, but I would (and, to an extent, do) feel perfectly well-armed with one.

As should be obvious, I am ignoring a lot of factors with this answer, opting instead to just answer the question at it's face value.

April 24, 2008, 01:25 PM
In general, a bigger bullet will do more damage than a smaller one if they're going the same speed. However, with regards to one being "better", if you can shoot a .38 spl more accurately and more consistently than a .44 spl, then a .38 spl is better for you. And vice versa.

walking arsenal
April 24, 2008, 01:32 PM
I like my .38

I carry a +P Nyclad by federal in it.

April 24, 2008, 01:34 PM
my favorite handgun is my s&w 296
aluminum titanium 5-shot concealed hammer 44spec

Harve Curry
April 24, 2008, 01:48 PM
which caliber is better in a revolver designed for combat? and for what reason?

If ammo is not an issue and I can get plenty of my reloads then it would be the 44spl. It shoots heavy fat bullets in a flatter trajectory then a 45acp.

Steve C
April 24, 2008, 01:51 PM
In a snub nose CCW I'd choose a .38 spl due to the lighter weight, more controllability and availability of good pistols chambered for the round. In service size revolvers the .44 would be a good choice as weight and size isn't as big an issue.

April 24, 2008, 01:56 PM
IMO, when we're talking non-expanding projectiles bigger holes are better and more mass is, too.

With any handgun it's also my opinion that accurate delivery is most important. It doesn't much matter how big the hole is or what the bullet masses if it doesn't go where it'll do the most good.

April 24, 2008, 02:03 PM
Designed for combat?

Lengthen/strengthen that cylinder and make mine a 686+ .357 Magnum, thanks.


April 24, 2008, 02:11 PM
I am going out on a limb by saying this, as I cannot document it. (I need to start saving these magazine articles/quotes.)

But it seems to me that I remember Jeff Cooper once writing that he recommended .44 revolvers for the average LEO, and the .45 auto only for specially trained personnel.

That floored me, as I thought that the 1911 was everything to the Colonel. Does anybody else remember reading that?

April 24, 2008, 02:15 PM
Tough choice for sure. Both cartridges are classics with lead bullets and both are offered in various Keith type SWC bullets for target work. Would make a hell of a hole in a BG though.

I would pick the 44, provided you can shoot it well.

April 24, 2008, 02:39 PM
Hard to get a .44 into the same package as a .38. If you are more likely to be carrying the .38 when you need a gun, then the .38 is the better round.

If it's to be a belt gun, then again, you have to judge size, weight, and fit. .38s fit more people.

I don't own a .44 Special or Magnum. I do own one large bore, antique double action revolver. It's chambered for one of the really big Eley, low pressure cartridges. .455 or .476, as near as I can tell. I don't shoot it, it's just something I have. I carry a .38 almost every day.

April 24, 2008, 03:06 PM
If I was knowingly walking into a dangerous situation and had a choice, I got to go with the .44 Spl. At ~800 fps I would rather launch a 220 grainer than a 158 grainer.

Revolver Ocelot
April 24, 2008, 04:42 PM
Better for what? Out of what? Shot by whom? Etc.?

combat. out of a revolver designed for such. by anyone.

April 24, 2008, 05:51 PM
But it seems to me that I remember Jeff Cooper once writing that he recommended .44 revolvers for the average LEO, and the .45 auto only for specially trained personnel

I am no Cooper historian, but I have read most of his books and a good deal of his G&A stuff, and that doesn't sound right to me at all. Perhaps you are remembering it out of it's context?

April 24, 2008, 06:15 PM
.38s are superior for concealment. It'll be there when I need it. And, it's plenty. Also, there is a superior variety of loads and bullet types and weights available in .38 special.

If I'm going to get a gun as bulky as a 5 shot .44, I'll carry my SP101 with 140 grain full house JHPs and beat the .44 hands down, no questions. In fact, the SP101 has a slimmer cylinder, though it weighs a bit more than some .44s like the bull dog. It's only 27 ounces, though.

April 24, 2008, 06:18 PM
Does anybody else remember reading that?

Maybe not the quote you were thinking of, but pertinent. The Col was talking about the 696.

"We are not generally impressed by innovative handgun designs, but Smith & Wesson has come up now with a fairly compact 5-shot wheel-gun in caliber 44 Special. Toward the beginning of the handgun revolution, in which we bore a hand, we professed that the optimum personal defensive sidearm was a major caliber self-loading pistol. The second choice was a major caliber revolver; the third a minor caliber self-loader, and in last place the minor caliber revolver. This new Smith will fit nicely into certain marketing niches, if we bear in mind that one need not use only factory ammunition in 44 Special. This cartridge can be loaded up, without overstressing it, to very respectable stopping levels. A 240-grain Keith-form lead bullet at about 900f/s is both controllable and decisive. This can be put down as a Good Thing."

April 24, 2008, 07:02 PM
I am satisfied with my .38 special but a .44 special is probably a better defense round but its more expensive and harder to find locally then .38 special.

April 24, 2008, 07:08 PM
But it seems to me that I remember Jeff Cooper once writing that he recommended .44 revolvers for the average LEO, and the .45 auto only for specially trained personnel.

That floored me, as I thought that the 1911 was everything to the Colonel. Does anybody else remember reading that?

Oh boy! You've got to be as old as I am, Dismantler! :D Sorry, TimboKahn, but I'm backing Dismantler up on this, though I can't locate the reference with what I have on hand. (We old guys have got to stick together). :evil:

The Colonel did indeed write that about the .44 Special. I'm pretty sure it was in his Guns & Ammo column in the late 1970s or early 1980s. The context, as I recall, was in a discussion about police wanting greater power in their service weapons than the .38 Special offered, who therefore went to the .357. When they did so they developed fears about over-penetration, and and had difficulty with controllability. This was especially true in .38-framed DAs like the S&W M13/19/66, which were mainstays before the universal transition to the 9mm DA automatic began in the 1980s. Before that transition, most police departments remained wedded to the concept of the DA revolver. His perception was that departments were not willing to adequately train their police in the service automatic, so a more powerful DA revolver made more sense for their officers.

Cooper offered in that context that he did not understand why the answer for those police departments unhappy with the .38 Special, but who wanted to maintain the DA revolver and its perceived simplicity of operation, was not the DA revolver in .44 Special. His argument was that the .44 Special was more powerful than the .38, but more controllable than the .357, and was without the over-penetration issue.

Cooper was always an advocate of big bullets with good shape at controllable velocities. Cooper wrote more than once about the efficacy of good DA revolvers, and the only things he apparently had against them were that they were about 25-30% harder to shoot well than a good SA automatic (his figures), bulkier for the power they provided, and took much more practice to learn to shoot well. He never criticized their combat effectiveness in the hands of a skilled operator.

I was a young and impressionable military officer then, and was trying to develop a meaningful level of skill with a sidearm. I paid very close attention to what the big guys were writing then. Cooper, Keith, Askins and Skelton all liked big bullets, and I came to have faith in that. Anyway, that's why I remember the reference.

April 24, 2008, 07:59 PM
Despite what I'm certain is relative babe status, ;) I have read that quote myself somewhere, and heard something remarkably similar to your recollection before.

April 24, 2008, 08:12 PM
Well, I DO have gray hair!

Thanks for the input on that subject from all of you. As I said, the reason that I remember it is because it floored me to see the Colonel recommend a revolver.

If I remember it correctly, it was on his page in the back of Guns and Ammo magazine. (Coopers Corner?) I used to read it on the news stand, and then put the magazine back. Say...is that theft of intellectual property? :)

Bullet Bob
April 24, 2008, 09:06 PM
I like them both, but for general fun shooting, I like the .38 the best. I only have one .44 Special:


I have few .44 magnums which of course fire the Special, but the above is the only "Special Only" gun I have.

Without going and looking, I'm not exactly sure how many .38's I have. Here's a couple:





And my favorite, the S&W K38 Target Masterpiece. I have at least three, here's one from 1952:


Revolver Ocelot
April 24, 2008, 11:47 PM
I am ignoring a lot of factors with this answer, opting instead to just answer the question at it's face value.

Feel free to elaborate if you like, I was just trying to keep the question somewhat vague for the sake of everyone drawing their own conclusions while still keeping on the subject of which would be better for combat, thus far it seems to have worked rather well. :D

On another note however a couple of the posts on here not only have me considering picking up a da 44 special but picking up a sa and all the stuff to load it as well.

Snapping Twig
April 25, 2008, 02:57 AM
I have all three and I reload for them. That said, I prefer the .44spl by a large margin over the 38spl. Bigger holes are always more effective and out of a 3" 629, you have a versatile delivery system that's easily controlled.

I load a 250g Keith (Lyman #429421) over 7g W231 for @ 900fps with accuracy and impact. I load these round in magnum brass to avoid carbon build-up in the cylinder and the simple fact that I don't like to reset my dies. :)

I wouldn't hesitate to hunt with this round.

April 25, 2008, 03:38 AM
I like .38 because I can fire it faster.

April 25, 2008, 06:03 AM
If memory serves me correctly, Cooper also thought the .41 Magnum, using "special" loads, was an outstanding DA revolver for police usage. This is something the "mature" THR members may recall.

Both the .38 and .44 are very accurate target cartridges in my experience. I would prefer the .44 Special because I believe the heavier frames upon which it is built provides for faster followup shots over lighter frame .38 Specials using "hotter" loads. To be honest, a small .38 is easier to conceal.


April 25, 2008, 02:30 PM
I didn't mean to imply that Cooper didn't like revolvers, I just don't think the part about the 1911 requiring special training sounds right, hence my comment about context.

Cooper evidently was a big fan of revolvers, which makes sense to me because how can't one be? In one of the eulogys written about him in G&A after he died, someone told a story about how he had an accidental discharge with one, which ended up with him shooting a hole through the gas meter in his yard. Apparently, the guy took it and had it gold plated and presented it to Cooper as a trophy...

April 25, 2008, 03:46 PM
I love the 44 special and my opinion is in my signature. When it comes to a defense round its hard to beat a Keith Bullet over 7.5 gr of Unique at 900 FPS

Twin Smith 696's


Smith Model 24


April 25, 2008, 03:56 PM
Well, there are advantages and disadvantages to both but in the end I would opt for the 1911.

The 38 has the advantage of carrying easier. It is smaller/lighter. None are any good if you don't have them with you.

The 44 is more powerful. Sometimes this is an advantage and sometimes a disadvantage due to over penatration.....and need I say weight/ergonomics.

The 1911 is large and heavy but it carries 8 plus 1 round (more than either of the other two). In dire circumstances more is better. It does not carry a reputation of over penetration but does for one shot stops.

You have named my three favorite rounds. I like them all. Different rounds for different situations and at different times. But wherever you are.......a .45 will help you make it through the night!


April 25, 2008, 04:01 PM
I agree... all are good choices, but when you run low/out of ammo 38's will always be the easiest to find @ the corner gunshop.

April 25, 2008, 05:52 PM
uh kinda like both just like my 38+p in magnum form

April 25, 2008, 06:01 PM
357 is much better combo IMHO for a wheel gun.

April 25, 2008, 08:52 PM
I can't see picking .38 Special for a "combat" revolver. That suggests, to me, that this isn't a concealed carry piece but an offensive handgun or backup to a rifle/shotgun. In which case I don't want a revolver. ;) But let's say I did.

If so, concealment is no longer a real factor. That means a decent sized handgun. You need something that can stand up to abuse and makes a decent club. This makes me think of an N-frame in .44. It packs a punch and overpenetration isn't a concern (I think it's overly emphasized to begin with but hey, what do I know?). Plus, it's easier to jiggle .44 rounds into a cylinder than it is to get those hard .38s in place.

April 25, 2008, 10:09 PM
357 is much better combo IMHO for a wheel gun.

Yessir, I agree but that would've made the choice way too easy for us. :D

It's a good poll, though.

April 25, 2008, 10:38 PM
Those that own them tend to be a little snobbish. Ammo is too expensive if you go factory. Elmer Keith did all his work up that proved the feasability of the .44 Magnum with the Special. A very underappreciated cartridge.

For self defense I'd rather have the bigger bullet of the .44

Revolver Ocelot
April 26, 2008, 08:40 PM
Yessir, I agree but that would've made the choice way too easy for us.

It's a good poll, though.

I almost added .357 as an option but realized immediately realized how that would have gone so I just added the 1911 as a joke knowing someone would have asked where the option was anyway

April 26, 2008, 08:51 PM
If I had to choose one gun and one load to go into trouble with it would be my Model 10 with +p's in it. It fits my hand, I can hit with it, and the round is really the hottest that I can handle accurately. I do not have any forty caliber guns, and I do not like the recoil and blast of a .357 magnum. Give me a K-Frame loaded with +p's and I am a happy sixgunner!

April 26, 2008, 08:55 PM
I do not have a 44 special, but have several 38's. 38 should be much better as a small concealable carry gun. As a "man stopper" or hunting round the 44 should be the better.

I do load my 44 mag to 44 special levels for most of my shooting, primarily for lower recoil levels.

April 26, 2008, 09:16 PM
Hey there :
You question was about a "combat gun" If you meant self defence , Then the .44 would do better. But If you really meant Combat then I may have to say the .38. Faster recovery and maybe more accurate. In the right wheel gun. One made for combat.
A wheel gun would not be my way for any combat ordeal. The .45 acp in a 1911 would be.
IMO there is a big difference between Combat and self defence.

Brian Williams
April 26, 2008, 09:35 PM
Fully loaded 38s in a good solid gun is my choice, a smaller gun makes for an easier carry. A S&W model round butt 10-5 with a 3" intermediate barrel would be a great gun with heavy loaded 38s, it is fairly lightweight and easy on the hip.

April 26, 2008, 10:04 PM
I voted for .38spl even though I will admit that the .44spl is probably a more effective round given same shot placement and all else being equal. I'd pick it for either SD or "combat" over the .44. This is why.

For SD/CCW, it's darn easy to conceal a 642/442/638/637...any j frame, than it is to carry a .44spl. Even something like the CA Bulldog, or the S&W 696 have medium sized frames. The tiny J frames are just that much smaller, and easier to carry (therefore more likely to be on me when I need it!)

On the other hand, there is "combat." The most capacity I can think of in a .44mag/spl revolver is 6 rounds. However S&W's 627, and Taurus' 608 are 8-shot guns. Forgetting their capacity to load .357mag, let's only look at .38 since that is the topic. The .38spl is going to have almost no recoil in those large frames so follow up shots will be easy, and for the same sized frame that would give me 6 shots of .44spl, I can get 8 shots of Buffalo Bore's 158gr. SWCHP that leave a 4"bbl pulling 1162 fps.

Is the .44spl more effective? probably.
But to me, that difference is counterbalanced by the concealability/weight of a .38spl for CCW, and the capacity of the large framed .357/.38 guns for combat.

All this is also compounded by the fact that since I am not a reloader I have to consider that I can shoot nearly 2 boxes of .38 for every one box of .44. That means better shot-placement on my part which as far as I'm concerned, is going to make the difference in the fight a whole hell of a lot more than the .072 caliber difference between the two.

April 26, 2008, 10:11 PM
I almost added .357 as an option but realized immediately realized how that would have gone so I just added the 1911 as a joke knowing someone would have asked where the option was anyway

That's what I figured. :cool:
If you'd given the choice of .357 Mag, the little bar next to the .44 Spl would have been much shorter IMO.


April 26, 2008, 10:34 PM
I almost added .357 as an option
I think you forgot another option, I mean I got two hands

Revolver Ocelot
April 26, 2008, 11:14 PM
I think you forgot another option, I mean I got two hands

thats a very strong point you have there.

April 27, 2008, 09:23 AM
That also solves the capacity issue I mentioned above.

Mavracer wins!!!

April 27, 2008, 03:15 PM
Both! The .38 is cheaper and faster to shoot (notice 7 shots) The .44 has more smack and is slower to shoot.


Revolver Ocelot
April 28, 2008, 03:45 AM
Both! The .38 is cheaper and faster to shoot (notice 7 shots) The .44 has more smack and is slower to shoot.

what models are those gordon?

April 28, 2008, 09:45 AM
357 is much better combo IMHO for a wheel gun.

Yeah, like I said, I wouldn't buy a big N frame in .44 when I have a little SP101 in .357 Magnum, much easier to carry and with more "stopping power" than PigPin's .45. :D And, it don't jam on hollowpoints.

Harley Quinn
April 28, 2008, 12:24 PM
I have noticed a return to the 44 spl. seems like the Charter arms 44 is one that is around more and more. Not a bad ankle gun. I know a guy who uses it as his back up. Likes it, ammo is scarce compared to other stuff. But he is happy with it. :uhoh:


April 28, 2008, 01:14 PM
I have a Bulldog .44 and I can honestly say that despite having 14 various handguns in our home, when I've truly felt that I NEEDED a gun, the Bulldog was always what I reached for.

It's very light and concealable, with a potent manstopping round on tap. It fits my hand and aims well. I could sit here for an hour and critique it on all kinds of technical grounds, and my criticisms of it would be valid - but I won't. The truth is, despite it's many shortcomings, I do have confidence in it to get the job done. The money I saved on the gun (it cost me $250 new about 4 years ago) I have easily spent on ammo. I'm partial to the Speer 200 gr HP's and I have about 1000 of them waiting to be reloaded, so I'm set there.

Even though I "know" that .38 special has served a lot of people very well, I just don't have the level of confidence in that round that I have in the beefy .44 special. I do like this round, and the Bulldog, despite it's many shortcomings, has been there when I needed it. That's a combination that I have grown very fond of.

April 28, 2008, 05:31 PM
Those are 18oz unloaded Scandium 296 (.44spl) and 242 (38+p) guns thatt are based on the S&W L frame. They have no locks. I preferfer to carry them hooked into pants top with the attached clips to save holster weight and bulk. They are the only guns I carry in that style.

April 28, 2008, 05:35 PM
I voted for .44 special; have a Charter 2000 Pug but generally carry a S&W 637 for ease of carry

Dave Baird
April 28, 2008, 06:40 PM
This has been a very informative and supportive thread for a fella that just purchased a vintage Charter Arms 1st variation 3" Bulldog .44.:) I have carried many calibers over the years, even in my short stint in law enforcement, including the .357 125gr. JHP. Yesterday, I took my new purchase to the range for the first time and WOW :what: ! It's a cannon!:D I find the .44 200gr. JHP just a little harder to handle than the .357, but pretty close. If my Bulldog was as heavy as the S&W 587 I used, the recoil would have been about the same, in my opinion.

As far as stopping power, I prefer a larger bullet so I voted forthe .44. We have talked about this before, but I envision a large low power cartridge great for self defense. For offensive work, say in the military, I would opt for something with more penetration like the .357 or even the 7.62x25 Tok.

JMHO! Dave

Revolver Ocelot
April 28, 2008, 08:29 PM
This has been a very informative and supportive

I agree 110%, the people of the highroad have collectively more information pertaining to firearms then can be found anywhere else on the web.

Evyl Robot
April 28, 2008, 09:51 PM
Can I say that I love both? .44 Spl is about 1/3 CUP as .44 Mag, as I recall. Anybody reload and split the difference? I think that would be one BA round. Still VERY controllable, but more speed than factory specials. I love my M&P, and I love shooting .38 Spl from the wife's N-frame, and my L-comp. :D Granted, I like Magnum loads, but as far as Specials are concerned, this is like apples and oranges.

Hey there :
You question was about a "combat gun" If you meant self defence , Then the .44 would do better. But If you really meant Combat then I may have to say the .38. Faster recovery and maybe more accurate. In the right wheel gun. One made for combat.
A wheel gun would not be my way for any combat ordeal. The .45 acp in a 1911 would be.
IMO there is a big difference between Combat and self defence.

This is what I'm talking about. Defense? .38, because it's more concealable. Combat? .44, because it's bigger and heavier. Granted, .38 Special was good enough for law enforcement for how many decades? Still, I like full-sized bullets like .44's.

All this is also compounded by the fact that since I am not a reloader I have to consider that I can shoot nearly 2 boxes of .38 for every one box of .44. That means better shot-placement on my part which as far as I'm concerned, is going to make the difference in the fight a whole hell of a lot more than the .072 caliber difference between the two.

Last time I bought ammo, "nearly" was not part of this sentance. I would substitute that for "at least." It's breaking my heart not to be shooting the big-bore as much as I would like, but I suppose that it's more important to eat than to shoot. Unless, I'm shooting at what I'm going to eat...

April 28, 2008, 11:51 PM
Hey again:
I read most all of these and must agree with all of these. But , I had a Bull Dog and will admit it felt great and made me feel very safe. But then I got the silly idea of firing it. 240 grainers coming out of that thing are absolutly no fun at all and to be right up front I would have had a hard time getting off a "good" second shot. Even the smaller .38s will jump around some but nowhere near what that crazy Bull Dog would. It was a good gun but is long gone. I carry a Kimber Ultra carry . Have for 10 years now. I love it.
Good luck.

April 29, 2008, 09:26 AM
I carry a 296 (See Gordon's picture.) with Speer 200gr Gold Dots (Georgia Arms) some days, a 642 with Remington R38S12 +P 158gr LHPSWC (aka the 'FBI' load) the rest of the time. As shown below in Mikas' pocket holsters, the 296 fits ~75% of my britches front pocket, while the 642 so holstered will fit everything. Both say 'Howdy!' when shot from those AirLite/AirWeight revolvers.

Now, the only .44 Special round available locally from something other than a gunstore is the Blazer Al-cased 200gr GDJHP (Academy Sports/Outdoors), and they are off my 296's Ti cylinder's diet after one split in my 696. Those hotter than usual .38's are around - and not a bad choice for a man-stopper. I'd opt for either an 8-shooter 627 Pro or 7-shot 620, 4"-ers in SS both, as a better combat gun, of course. Effective, available, and easily obtained decent ammo. I may not always have my basement ammo factory!

Of course, for any likely 'combat' I may need as a civilian, these should suffice:



April 29, 2008, 06:08 PM
seriously.....I carry a 38 90% of the time,but also have a Bulldog that a carry too....I like them both....now if I KNEW I was gonna have to shoot a bad guy..the 44spl.....but the 642 is lighter and smaller.
Of course in reality if I KNEW i was gonna have to shoot a BG..I'd stay home.
So can I vote twice?Like I'm from Chicago??:uhoh:

Tropical Buzz
April 29, 2008, 08:41 PM
From Brass Fetcher:


Cartridge : CCI Blazer 200 grain Gold Dot hollowpoint (part # 03556)

Firearm : 44 Magnum revolver with 4.0" barrel.

Bullet impacted at 905 ± 0.500 ft/sec. Expanded diameter was 0.671 ± 0.0005".
Bullet penetrated to 13.75 ± 0.031". Pictured at far left in photo.


Firearm : .357 Magnum revolver with 4.0" barrel length

Shot 1 : Remington 158gr +P LHP ("FBI load" Part #R38S12) impacted at 932 ft/sec and penetrated to 15.6". Bullet was recovered at 0.636".

Cartridges - Various .38 Special from a 4" revolver

Firearm - Smith and Wesson revolver with 4" barrel length

Block calibration - All depths corrected (From 10.3cm @ 605 ft/sec)

Shot 1 - Buffalo Bore 125gr +P (Part # 20B). Impacted the block at 1287 ft/sec, penetrated to 15.8" and was recovered at 0.593" average diameter...

Various other .38spl rounds were tested - some penetrated more and expanded less. Performance looks pretty close to me.
Both .38spl rounds penetrated deeper than the .44.

The .44 has more kinetic energy, you say?
Well, no handgun has enough energy to even push a man backwards, let alone knock him down; and forget about hydrostatic shock. So, other than bragging rights, what does it really matter?

The .44 makes a bigger hole, you shout?
The difference in out of the box bullet diameter between .38 (.357") and .44" is .083" folks! That's EIGHT HUNDREDTHS OF AN INCH!! The expanded .44 at .671" is .035" bigger than the expanded .38 FBI round and .078" bigger than the Buffalo Bore 125gr. round. LESS THAN EIGHT HUNDREDTHS OF AN INCH!
How much more tissue is being destroyed? How much faster will blood loss occur? Very, very little; and variables like actual location of the wound and physiological differences from one shootee to the next reduce these differences to effectively zero.

Am I saying that the .38 is better? Not at all. What I am saying is that when you look at the terminal performance, one will kill a BG just as dead as the other. The effective bullet size (caliber) difference is way less than most think and kinetic energy is not a huge factor.

With handguns, it seems that once you surpass a certain, basic performance threshold (.380?), what really matters is how well a particular platform works for you (configuration, concealability, recoil levels), how well you choose your ammo for that caliber and how well you ultimately use the gun.

Just for fun, here are some figures for the venerable .45ACP from a 5" barrel. Penetration is generally less with equal or slightly greater expansion. Looks like the ol' .38spl can hold it's own here too!:D

Cartridge : Various .45ACP JHPs

Firearm : Recoil-operated handgun with 5.0" barrel length

Shot 1 : Federal Personal Defense Hydra-Shok, 230 grain JHP, 13.3" penetration, 0.711" average diameter.

Shot 2 : Speer GoldDot, 200 grain +P JHP, 14.0" penetration, 0.675" average diameter.

Shot 3 : Speer GoldDot, 230 grain JHP, 12.9" penetration, 0.704" average diameter

Shot 4 : Hornady XTP, 230 grain +P JHP, 12.6" penetration, 0.770" average diameter

April 29, 2008, 08:56 PM
Am I saying that the .38 is better? Not at all. What I am saying is that when you look at the terminal performance, one will kill a BG just as dead as the other. The effective bullet size (caliber) difference is way less than most think and kinetic energy is not a huge factor.
so I was right!!!!

Revolver Ocelot
April 29, 2008, 11:24 PM
so I was right!!!!

I guess you could say that, but then again I'd imagine shooting both would be better then just the one....to bad we don't have a 3rd hand to hold the 1911 :scrutiny:

Revolver Ocelot
April 30, 2008, 04:21 AM
just curious everybody, if I were to go in search of a 44 special for ccw would I be better off picking up a 296 or one of the current production 396 night guards, or is there something better I should look into?

April 30, 2008, 04:38 AM

Also, note the time stamp.

April 30, 2008, 04:44 AM
The 11% greater wound channel area of the 200gr GD .44 Special simply implies more rapid blood, etc, loss - while the greater kinetic energy helps break/sever bones. Of course, the greater penetration of the 'FBI' .38 Spcl load means a higher likelihood for an exit wound - and another hole. My money is still on the .38 Special... but I'll still carry that 296 .44 Special with the 200gr GDs when I can. I am one of the few who in the last 101 years still like the .44 Special, despite it's less than stellar capabilities.

I still say that the new 627 Pro, a 4" 8-shooter, would be a great sidearm. As to relative sizes of it vs a 686, compare them closely. There really isn't that much difference - especially with Ahrends stocks on both. For home use, etc, those FBI loads are fine. If you expect body armor or fleeing felons hiding behind metal car doors, use .357Ms for what J. Edgar wanted them for!


April 30, 2008, 04:49 AM
So now, I have to wait until 3:57 am
to make the next trump. :rolleyes:

Naw, not worth it.

I'm going to bed.


I'll sleep with a .38 spl,
and comfortably so. ;)


April 30, 2008, 05:22 AM
That's EIGHT HUNDREDTHS OF AN INCH!! Not to nitpick, but it's only about 7 hundredths, since the .44 Spl is actually only about a .43 caliber. But I understand your argument, because I've made a similar one myself. It's not really a lot of extra surface area to get excited about between the two calibers, only about 4 hundredths of a square inch.

I recognize that modern .38 Specials can give performance approaching that of the .357 Magnum. (FWIW the FBI actually preferred the .38 Spl. over the .357 Magnum, citing few appreciable differences.) If I owned a handgun in .38 Special caliber, my prejudices about it would probably disappear.

Dave Baird
April 30, 2008, 10:06 AM
I certainly agree that shot placement is your number one stopper. Heck, even a .22 kills in the right spot. Problem is, on a moving target and under severe stress, perfect shot placement is difficult. So, ballistics then, is the next best man stopper.

The facts given on size/diameter are all true, but it is energy displacement that stops a target. The most energy displaced within a target WITHOUT GOING THROUGH, defines the best performance for a self-defense shot. Just looking at the small size/caliber difference in two cartridges is not realistic/accurate when looking at target-stopping ballistics. Much more goes into the equation to reach energy displacement goals than size. Charge, angle, AND impact diameter work together to get the desired results. And, what is most important is realizing that it doesn't take a whole lot of difference at that precise moment of impact to make drastic differences in results. A .22 short will bounce off a groundhog but a .22 mag will destroy it into pieces.

It is like making adjustments on an artilliary piece. The movement of the gun longetudinally may be inches, but the impact result of the shell can be changed thousands of feet by just those couple of inch adjustments.

So, the size/diameter differences may be very small between a .44 special and a .38 special. But, I'll take that small difference where it counts and go with the .44 for a better result ballistically, that is if I cannot be exact in shot placement.

Tropical Buzz
April 30, 2008, 11:52 AM
Where exactly is the better ballistic result? Tests show that the "smaller" .38spl penetrates deeper with a similar sized expanded bullet. If the energy advantage of the .44 was applicable, shouldn't it then push the similar sized expanded slug deeper?

If not then, the implication is that the surplus energy has been transferred into the target. I understand the rationale: Its like pressing your open hand slowly down through the surface of a body of water - there is little resistance or disturbance and you can press as deep as you can reach; as opposed to slapping through the surface as fast and hard as possible. Big impact, big splash - much more "energy transfer", if you will.

The problem with that analogy for the purpose of this comparison is that when slapping your hand through the water, you'll feel the difference too. It will hurt a lot more, meaning that the harder impact affects the projectile (hand) as well. This is what results in the deformation or expansion of the bullet. If the bullet resists expansion or deformation due to it's hardness (or a more slippery shape), that energy still has to go somewhere should result therefore in deeper penetration. The .44 expanded very slightly more (proportionately way less, actually) and penetrated a lot less than the .38. Why??

By your argument, the .44 "hits harder" - transferring more of that energy into the target. But we know that even a .44 magnum cannot impart enough energy into a human target to throw it backwards. That's simply because of the difference in mass between bullet and target - even when you factor in the kinetic energy of the relatively tiny projectile. Another factor that limits the real world effect of the largely mythical "energy dump" into the target is the relative softness of the human body and the small frontal area of the bullet. Like poking a pin into a marshmallow, no matter how hard you do it, the hole will still be the same size and the amount of damage will hardly change.

Modern expanding bullets create a parachute effect that results in a bigger hole and more energy absorbed by the target *AND THE BULLET* but at handgun velocities, the effect is simply not significant enough to be deservedly referred to as "stopping power".

As far as the 11% (?) greater surface area of the .44 goes, my calculations show that the hole made by the .38 FBI round - .636" X 15.6" deep is actually a bigger hole than the .671" X 13.75" deep .44spl hole. (4.95 cu.in. vs. 4.86 cu.in. - talk about splitting hairs!:D) That is assuming all 15.6" of the .38's hole remains inside the target. If it doesn't, as was pointed out, there's going to be an exit hole.

The point of all this? It just leads me to maintain that within a reasonable range of mainstream handgun calibers, the differences in bullet size and kinetic energy relative to terminal ballistic performance in a personal defense scenario are miniscule, subjective and more pertinent to bragging rights and arguments than real world effectiveness.

More powerful rounds can penetrate hard barriers more effectively but that capability does not make them significantly more effective at "stopping" a living, hostile, 180lb-plus aggressor. Once you have 12" or more of penetration and anything thicker than an ice pick, adding more in factors of a few hundredths of an inch will make little difference.

Carry what floats your boat, learn to use it well and never assume that the caliber of your handgun by some potent "over .40" magic will make you any safer or more lethal than the guy with a .38 Special (let alone a .38 Super:D).

April 30, 2008, 12:07 PM
this one puts me on the fence...I am a big fan of medium bore calibers (.38 spl, .38 spl +p, and .357 mag up front with 9mm & 9mm +p bringing up a close 2nd place) and the majority of my handguns encompass those calibers; I am starting to dabble in the .44 family a bit & see the potential of the .44 spl as a defensive load; out of my big S&W 629 PowerPort, the cowboy loads & various defensive hollowpoint loads are nice & serene to shoot;

my friend inherited his grandpa's Magna-Ported Ruger Super Redhawk & a bunch of reloaded ammo; among the handloads were some Elmer Keith replicas; he was working part time at a golf course & was asked to dispatch a wounded deer that crossed the road and fell on the greens after being hit by a car; he took a head shot & described the entry hole as typical and the exit hole @ 1.75" diameter (bullet & skull fragments exiting); made me stand up & respect the potential of the .44 spl

I'm still on the fence...38 spl +p for CCW & intermittent HD; .357 mag for walking the hunting grounds; 9mm for HD & car; .44 mag for hunting; .44 spl fo intermittent HD & sleepovers at hunting camp...I guess that I like them both :evil:

Dave Baird
April 30, 2008, 12:17 PM
I do need to get back to work :barf:; but, if you are comparing .38 FBI loads to a simple .44 Special load, no wonder your results are so close.;)

There is no magic standard handgun bullet except for a perfect placement hit, whether it is a .22 or a .45. So, I certainly agree with you 100% on that.:D AND, ballistics has been debated for many years and no one was ever happy,:banghead: hence the numerous calibers we have currently and the new ones popping-up every so often. But, comparing a simple .38 load with a simple .44 load with the same bullet design on the same target, the .44 unloads more energy displacement. It has to, it's bigger with more propellant. If you want to use an FBI load on the .38 for comparison, then use a major load (no FBI load that I am aware of for the .44 special) on the .44. A true comparison should be apples to apples, shouldn't it?

I have learned from your discussion that we now have very effective .38 loads for self-defense that closely resemble the .44. But, they had to beef them up to get there, didn't they?

April 30, 2008, 01:07 PM
Great White Hunter John “Pondoro” Taylor suggested the Taylor Knockdown formula (TKO), sometimes called “Taylor Index”, which integrates calibre and momentum to generate a relative value that is a guide to the potential of a round to incapacite a target.

TKO value = [ Weight (gr) x Terminal Velocity (fps) x calibre (in) ] ÷ 7000

This obviously does not take into account any factors such a bullet shape, construction, design or tendency to tumble, mushroom or fragment. In this respect the basic TKO offers a indication of the minimal performance one could expect from a round. It is, however, still a useful tool for comparing loads and gaining some idea how a round may perform if it fails to mushroom. I don't think the TKO is exact enough to let you say that, for example, a round with a TKO of 15 has twice the likelihood of stopping someone as a round with a TKO of 7, but a load with a higher TKO will usually be a better choice for defensive applications.

158X900X.357 DIVIDED BY 7000 = 7.25
240X900X.430 DIVIDED BY 7000 = 13.27

Give me a .44 special over a .38 with comparable bullet type any day.

April 30, 2008, 01:18 PM
I'm not really sure why anyone even feels this is up for debate.

It's easier to pack 5 .38s into a package that can be easily carried and concealed than it is to pack 5 .44s. That's why there's a 642 in my pocket today.

The rule of thumb for defensive pieces, is to carry as much gun as you can handle and conceal. Since I don't have to worry about concealing it, the handgun in my between-seats console in my car is a .44 special.

More is, um, more. Duh.


April 30, 2008, 01:31 PM
"which caliber is better in a revolver designed for combat? and for what reason?"
This was the orginial question, which is why I picked the .44, it mentioned nothing regarding concealment.

"It's easier to pack 5 .38s into a package that can be easily carried and concealed than it is to pack 5 .44s. That's why there's a 642 in my pocket today."

There is no argument that a j frame 5 shot .38 is easier to carry concealed that a 5 shot L frame or Bulldog .44 spl.

April 30, 2008, 02:21 PM
Yep. So, if you can reasonably carry more, do so.

OTOH, if one were choosing between 6 .357 Mag rounds and 5 .44 Special rounds, that would be a harder choice. In that case, I'd go with the .357 if hunting, and the .44 if defense was my mission.


Tropical Buzz
April 30, 2008, 02:22 PM
Not to prolong the debate (it is an interesting topic, though, if we can remain calm and objective), but TKO values and other measurements of "stopping power" in handguns look good on paper to show how much more powerful one round is vs. another. It tells you how hard the projectile will smack a hard target like a bowling pin or a steel plate. Living targets are soft and tissue is quite elastic, so while some of these differences look good on paper, they make little difference in the actual impact on an assailant.

No handgun round can knock a man off his feet by sheer force of impact!

While some sissies will collapse at the slightest graze or flesh wound, the only real way to physically stop an attacker instantly is with a CNS hit. Once your caliber is capable of that, nothing bigger or faster (handgun-wise, of course) will make much difference - the rest is all up to you. Failing a hit to the CNS, the other variables like bullet sectional density, shot placement, physiology of the assailant and the speed/accuracy of your follow-up shots have a far, far greater impact on the outcome of the encounter.

This is not as simplistic as repeating the old "a hit with a .22 is better than a miss with a .45". The point I am making is that the differences in size, velocity and kinetic energy of the rounds being discussed are far more impressive on paper and in our minds than in real world terminal effectiveness against human assailants.

More is more, yes - but more of what and how much more? The Remington 158gr. FBI round is not the hottest +P load available for the .38spl, yet it still out performs the 200gr. .44 in ballistic gel. Superior sectional density, maybe?

April 30, 2008, 02:35 PM
TKO values

As originally used by John "Pondoro" Taylor, these were actually intended to apply to the potential knockout of a big/dangerous game cartridge against big/dangerous game. If you try to use TKO for any other applications, you find that it "goes South" very quickly. Namely the suitability of different cartridges for lesser game, plus the fact that a 5-ounce (2200 grain), 2 3/4 inch baseball thrown at 100 mph (147 fps) trumps just about every cartridge you can come up with. :o

Revolver Ocelot
April 30, 2008, 06:28 PM
I'm not really sure why anyone even feels this is up for debate.

It's easier to pack 5 .38s into a package that can be easily carried and concealed than it is to pack 5 .44s. That's why there's a 642 in my pocket today.

very true but thats not what is under debate but rather which of the guns would be more effective in your hand should the need to use it arise.

April 30, 2008, 06:40 PM
The Remington 158gr. FBI round is not the hottest +P load available for the .38spl, yet it still out performs the 200gr. .44 in ballistic gel.actually the remmi +p load is one of the best performing 38 loads in jello.and do I get to use +p 44 specials.

Claude Clay
April 30, 2008, 07:30 PM
when jello is drafted into combat i will vote for the .38. otherwise i vote 1911 for the properly trained. than either 44spc or 357-- facts support both. it comes down to preference. though if combat means dressed for battle type clothing, i may go for the penetration of the 357.

Tropical Buzz
April 30, 2008, 07:35 PM
actually the remmi +p load is one of the best performing 38 loads in jello.and do I get to use +p 44 specials.

My point exactly. It is not the hottest, doesn't pack the most kinetic energy, yet it expands well and goes deep in the dessert. Deeper than many bigger, faster, hotter rounds out of some .40+ caliber guns. Don't have figures for .44sp +P but if you need more oomph and size to stack up against the FBI .38spl, here again are the results for 200gr. +P Gold Dots out of the "untouchable" .45ACP:

Cartridge : .45ACP Speer Gold Dot 200gr +P (Load # 23969)

Firearm : Recoil-operated semi-auto with 3.8" barrel length.

Calibration : '591' ± 0.500 ft/sec at 8.7 ± 0.05cm BB penetration.

Velocities not recorded due to failing light (chronograph malfunctioned on calibration shot).

Shot 1 penetrated to 12.3 ± 0.031” and expanded to 0.668 ± 0.0005”

Shot 2 penetrated to 12.4 ± 0.031” and expanded to 0.665 ± 0.0005”

Shot 3 penetrated to 12.1 ± 0.031” and expanded to 0.659 ± 0.0005”

Shot 4 penetrated to 12.3 ± 0.031” and expanded to 0.667 ± 0.0005”

Shot 5 penetrated to 13.0 ± 0.031” and expanded to 0.661 ± 0.0005”

I'll remind you that the humble little .38 expanded to .636" and penetrated 15.6"

Tropical Buzz
April 30, 2008, 07:42 PM
Claude, if you mix the lemon and banana and grape jellos just right, you can get a nice "jungle camo" look that ought to make it more "palatable" for use in ballistic testing. Tastes great too!

April 30, 2008, 09:32 PM
the only real way to physically stop an attacker instantly is with a CNS hit

Well, that's true, but let's just go the distance.

There are three ways to stop any machine. There are:

Structural failure
Hydraulic failure
Electrical failure

Relating these to humans, you can break stuff till they can't move, poke holes till there's more red out than in, or turn out the lights. Turning out the lights can be hard, because the head is armored and will probably be moving, so mostly we try to poke big holes and break stuff.

Mr. Ocelot, what the OP actually said was "which caliber is better in a revolver designed for combat? and for what reason?"

To which I replied (if you look at my original post (http://www.thehighroad.org/showpost.php?p=4456757&postcount=82)) that the .38 was easier to conceal, but if concealment wasn't an issue, the .44 was better at stopping people. Y'all let me know if you need additional clarification.


Tom Servo
April 30, 2008, 10:35 PM
I carry and shoot both. I trust either to save my bacon.

Both are plenty effective, as long as I can place my shots. I've never seen any research on the (dubious) study of "stopping power" that leads me to believe I wouldn't be protected with either.

That said, the .44spl is FUN to shoot out of a steel frame, and I find it just a hair more accurate (though not enough to make a difference in combat) than the .38. It's got an entertaining "thump" without being abusive, and muzzle rise is negligible.

Oh, and it costs roughly twice what .38 does for practice ammo :eek:

Also, bear in mind that in smaller and lighter guns, the .44 can get a little fierce, more so than the .38.

If I have the option of carrying a medium-to-full size framed gun, I'll go with .44. If I need something concealable, I'll stick with the .38.

I'll stir the pot by noting that .44spl and .38S&W were Elmer Keith's favorite cartridges.

Revolver Ocelot
May 1, 2008, 12:40 AM
when jello is drafted into combat i will vote for the .38

that made my day lol

May 1, 2008, 03:10 AM
In similar sized guns, it comes down to 6 38's VS 5 44's. Gun weight and handling qualities are pretty much the same. I carry Gold Dots in both guns, both have 3" barrels. My philosophy is pretty basic......I think bullet placement matters more than anything else, but I also know in a "Dynamic Critical Incident" :what: my fine motor control is going to leap out a window and leave me behind. Based on that, I'll take a bullet with a little more thump. I have a little more confidence in it, and sometimes that's enough.

BTW, for practice, I'm using a 200-grain Laser-Cast .431 over a full case of Trail Boss, and it's PERFECT. I never have/never will play Cowboy Games, but this powder is perfect for the low-pressure big-bores. It's accurate, hits hard, and yet it's still mild enough (in my Rossi 720, seen here with my other carry revolver, a Smith 65-5) to shoot all day. http://i96.photobucket.com/albums/l195/papajohn428/44SplWithM-65.jpg

I like them both, though carrying the Rossi in summer is going to be tough, it's a bit bigger. I bet I carry it anyway!


May 1, 2008, 03:32 AM
My philosophy is pretty basic......I think bullet placement matters more than anything else ... Ah, grasshoppa, you speak wisdom.

(And are also obviously working da' night shift again in coastal MO. ;) )

May 1, 2008, 03:34 AM
I thought you were goin' ta bed, Mr Desert Biologist...................


Harley Quinn
May 1, 2008, 10:18 AM
I knew (he is dead now) "a legend of a LEO", he switched to the 44 spl and reloaded his own stuff (was in many shootings while a LEO) He really preferred the 44 spl to the 38.

The 44 spl is/was what brought the 44 mag around because of the hot loads that were made up for them in the big double action revolvers back then.


Elmer Keith was on the leading edge and a person that impressed "A legend of a LEO" The little short barreled light guns are hard to hold onto and don't last long with the stuff he was shooting ;)

So back to the 44 spl vs the 38 in the short barreled hide outs. I still think the 44 has the advantage. Good discussion thanks.


May 2, 2008, 04:36 AM
The rule of thumb for defensive pieces,
is to carry as much gun as you can handle and conceal.That's it, right there.
End of story. Nuff said.

I thought you were goin' ta bed, Mr Desert Biologist...................That's Dr. Desert Biologist to you, Dr. PJ. :neener:

And, yes, bed cometh within minutes, .38 spl near the pillow ... :cool:

May 2, 2008, 05:37 AM
There once was a true story published in a magazine, about a NY cop, who shot a bad guy with his service 38, and was himself shot by the bad guy's 9mm. He recanted how he vividly remembered laying on the floor and the bad guy stepping right on him as he walked down the aisle and exited the convenience store. He couldn't believe it - he knew he had hit the bad guy.
It turns out he was right. He killed the bad guy with 3 hits right in the chest, and 2 others in shoulder and lower abdomen if I recall, and his partner had also hit the bad guy like twice, and the guy dropped dead... after walking out of the store, across the street and about 200 yards further. He was full of drugs. Both cops lived and praised bulletproof gear.
And said they never felt safe carrying 38s again.
The U.S. Army had some similar experiences with the Moros in the Phillipines. They found the 45 Colt to be an answer. The 44 Spl is a whole lot closer to the Colt than the 38 is.
Certainly there are more effective rounds than the old round nose 38 police load. But like they say in football, a very very good big guy, is going to beat a very very good little guy.
Me, I just like throwing something bigger. Even thought the odds are real heavy I will never have to face down anything more intimidating than a feral cat or maybe a coyote. In fact I hope I don't.

May 2, 2008, 06:11 AM
Certainly there are more effective rounds than the old round nose 38 police load.Yep. 135 - 158 gr +P.

Me, I just like throwing something bigger. Me, I remember that second law: f = ma.

Force = mass times acceleration.

It's not just about mass.
Acceleration magnifies mass.

And put a sharp edge on that leading edge,
and it'll cut through deep vessels.

Why, I'd say even a lowly .38 spl
clocking > 950/sec will ruin a predator's day ...

All in a small, light-weight controllable (*) package.

(* Controllable: I'll take a double tap over mass any day.)

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