Recoil comparison: 38 spl wadcutter vs. 38 S&W?


June 25, 2008, 01:58 AM
Bare with me fellas, got a quick question. My wife loves to shoot our little S&W Model 32, but I am convinced that the .38 S&W LRN is quite impotent as a self-defense round. Furthermore, she will be taking a concealed carry course with me soon and she feels that even the little Model 32 will be too heavy for her to carry concealed. She has seen and held the S&W Airweights and loves them. However, she has also shot my .38 Special revolvers and hates them. The rounds she's been firing out of the .38 S&W are some Magtech 146gr LRN. Can't remember what .38 specials we were shooting. Anyway, I have an opportunity to get a flat-latch Model 37 for $300, and while I may do it anyway, I asked her if she would be interested. Of course she is not interested in the recoil that the .38 special is going to have in such a small gun.

So, my question is this: what kind of recoil is the .38 special wadcutter going to have coming out of a Model 37? I was trying to explain to her the difference in recoil with some of these rounds, but I think she'll need to shoot it to understand. I know that all Airweights are going to kick like a mule. I know it's hard to be objective with recoil, but I would like to hear some subjective opinions on what one could expect shooting the Model 37 (or even another Airweight) with wadcutters. If she can practice with the wadcutters and not 'feel' the recoil too much then I can get her to throw a few hollowpoints in and maybe feel comfortable carrying a real self-defense round. The only other compromise I could think of would be to get an Airweight .32 - but it seems S&W only made those for a few years in the early 90s. If you guys can figure out what my question is from that rambling and give me some feedback, I would certainly appreciate it. Thanks in advance!

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June 25, 2008, 06:06 AM
What grips are you considering - that can make a big difference. In our NRA Basic/CCW classes I have novice students shoot my 637 and we are usually able to overcome any flinching issues, we use standard factory 158gr LRN (because its cheaper and more available than factory WC, can't use reloads for liability reasons). The revolver has CT grips on it that really help soak up recoil, the the laser provides the sort of immediate visual feedback, especially when used with ball & dummy exercises, to see the effect of flinching.

Good ear protection helps also, and if you can coach her to maintain a good, solid, consistent grip she should be able to handle the airweight. You could also start her, on the range, with a 36 or 60, and as she develops proficiency move her to an airweight. A Model 34, with a 4" barrel and standard velocity ammo, also makes a good training tool for recoil shy students that can help them to transition to a centerfire J frame once they have the basics down and their confidence built up.

One other thought - new shooters or those with flinching or other problems are best coached one on one with no one else on the firing line - a bunch of guns going off can be too distracting for some, they can't concentrate or get comfortable.

June 25, 2008, 07:06 AM
The .38 special wadcutter is not really any better than the .38 S & W in terms of recoil or stopping power. The British used the
.38 S & W in Webleys and Enfield revolvers in a 200 grain loading. I have heard and read that the round did a reasonable job of dispatching enemies of the Crown. I however would recommend you consider these;
or this which I just bought for my daughter.
or if she desires a .38 special lightweight revolver with a reduced recoil loading.
and these rounds;

June 25, 2008, 11:46 AM
Thanks for the input fellas.

She has had a lot of time firing the Model 32 (which is a J-frame), but has not yet fired a 38 special out of a J-frame. That is next on my to-do list.

Will5A1, she likes the feel of the Uncle Mike's rubber grips that come standard on Airweights. For now the best visual feedback she will be able to get are holes on the target - unfortuately I don't think we'll be able to afford the CT grips.

I plan on letting her shoot my other J-frames next time we go out. I also have a S&W pre-Model 34 on the way, but I don't think it will make a good trainer since she is not really a 'flincher' with the .22 or even the .38 S&W. We also always shoot with muffs.

metrotps, thanks for the links. I will check those out. I realize that the .38 special wadcutter is no better than a .38 S&W for self-defense, but my primary concern is using it as a tool to wean her off .38 S&W onto the .38 special. It will not be her SD load. So my question is what kind of recoil could one expect with a .38 special wadcutter in an Airweight?

My other concern is that some people complain of the Airweights actually 'hurting' during time at the range. While I understand that these guns are not meant for target work, it is necessary to practice with them enough to be good, and a gun that hurts to shoot is no fun to shoot.

I think I'll go ahead and purchase the 37. Frankly, for the kind of shape it's in, $300 is too good to pass up. I could always get my money back out of it, but frankly, I'll probably just end up keeping it even if she doesn't enjoy shooting it and she gets something else down the line.

June 25, 2008, 09:30 PM
The recoil should be close to the 38 S & W if the weight and the grips on the 37 are similar. Most loads for the 38 S & W are around 146gr and the velocity is close. The lighter weight of the 37 might increase the recoil slightly but good rubber grips that actually fit her hand will help greatly. I have a similar situation with my daughter.
From Remingtons website:
38 S&W
38 Spl Part number R38S3

That's a good buy on the 37.

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