.38 ammo question - from my mom.


March 21, 2009, 01:37 AM
I know the whole "best ammo for self defense" thing gets discussed often. I have searched, but my criteria is making it a little bit more difficult to find answers.

Almost all the recommendations on the forum suggest something "+P" for .38 special.

The issue is, that my mom was wanting a small and simple revolver for concealed carry. I got her a S&W 642, which she likes very much. However, being a small gal the +p rounds are a little sharp in terms of recoil. She is not recoil sensitive at all, but her follow up shots are impaired.

Thoughts or suggestions? Of course, I probably wont be able to find any of the ammo you suggest, but that's another issue.

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March 21, 2009, 01:41 AM
there is nothing wrong with standard load .38 special.. they are going to make a hole, hollow points will expand on impact... combine that with accurate and faster follow up shots, and you have a combination that is far deadlier than a .38 +p that misses its target... it isnt all about FPS...

March 21, 2009, 01:44 AM
Thanks for the quick reply. What would you recommend in standard load, by way of bullet weight? Any company producing particularly good ammo for .38? I assume any of the reputable brands do a great job.

March 21, 2009, 01:48 AM
any reputables... hard to say beyond that as some guns shoot different ammo better... same with the bullet weight... it all depends on what the gun likes... 125 grains do the trick for me... as do the 158's though they are a bit stouter...for follow up accuracy, I would go with the lighter bullet weight.... in the end, it isnt going to make a whole lot of difference... what you give up in bullet wieght, you gain in speed... if you get a good hollow point personal defense load, it will do the trick, I dont care if it is a .22... (not my first choice). I suggest buying a few boxes with different bullet weights and letting her try them out...find what the gun likes and what she handles the best.

March 21, 2009, 02:21 AM
Two rounds for self defense I like in the .38 special are below. I normally like heavy bullets (158gr in this case), but I really like Speer products, so would have no problem with this one:

1) The speer Gold Dot short-barrel


2) The Hornady XTP


Two other things that might help her:

1) Check her grip. Make sure she's taking a proper two-hand Weaver grip, with both fore-aft tension in her grip as it is supposed to work. This can help her reduce perceived recoil, control it better.

2) Have her practice dry-firing. This will let her see if she is flinching, and train in a good grip and trigger action without guesswork.

March 21, 2009, 06:31 AM
An often overlooked milder .38 Special load thatwould be a great defender is a 148gr full wadcutter normally sold as target ammo. It starts at a full .357" OD - and has a great enough mass to make a substantial wound channel while not slapping the stew out of your hand. It likely won't shatter a shoulder or pelvis - or exit your home's wallboard and siding to offer coollateral damage to your neighbors.

Of course, I keep my 642 Airweight CCW and 2" 10 and 4" 64 house guns loaded with the most effective defensive rounds, the Remington R38S12 158gr LHPSWC +P rated rounds. My wife is 5'10" - and, even in the 4" 64, she isn't fond of that round. As it is a SHTF round, we keep it. If she would carry a 642, I'd likely load those 148gr wadcutters, which, in Remingtons, were ~$31/50 the last time I looked.


March 21, 2009, 07:28 AM
Instead of going with another type of ammo, try putting larger grips on the 642/442. Using larger grips will take away "some" of the concealablity, but with mine I can still hide it in the front pocket of my jeans. With larger grips the recoil is tamed and follow up shots are very reasonable. Good luck in your quest.

March 21, 2009, 08:41 AM
Magsafe Defender is made in non +P 38 Spec. and is supposedly a good self defense load. It does hit a little low compared to standard ammunition and it's expensive. However it also has less recoil than standard ammo.

I had my snubbie Mag-na-ported ($95) and the recoil reduction was noticeable.

March 21, 2009, 12:48 PM
You make no mention what ammo that you have tried nor the bullet weight.

+P is a good round with a 158 grain bullet. Keep in mind that I've little exerience with various factory loaded ammo products as I cast and load all of my ammo. I do have a few onhand factory jacketed bullets (NOS & Win) in 158 and 125 grain that I use for CCW use, sometimes.

But for instance if recoil is too harsh using a 158 gr bullet then try a 125 gr or even 110. Naturally as the bullet weight decreases felt recoil will decrease as well. Also keep in mind that as bullet weight decreases velocity increases so its not a bad trade off.

Do keep in mind that Point-of-Impact/PO Aim was designed around the 158g bullet. However since most confrontations happen within 15 feet, POA/POI shouldn't be a hugh factor for CCW, but on paper.

As was mentioned above, a lead SWC or WC is a good CCW load if not better IMO when it comes to expansion @ 7-800 fps.

Myself I do prefer the 158g over the lighter weights.

Nice choice for a CCW revolver.

Good Luck

March 21, 2009, 01:31 PM
I normally like a heavy bullet in all calibers but for a reduced recoil 38SP +p the corbon DPX seems to be a very good round. My wife shoots them in her 642 without any problems which is not true for most other +P loads. Penetration for this light bullet at least in testing is very good as well.


The Lone Haranguer
March 21, 2009, 02:26 PM
She is not recoil sensitive at all, but her follow up shots are impaired.
This is very important, as you should never count on one shot to stop an attack. A lower-powered load that hits the target is better than a 20mm cannon shell that misses. If +P recoil in the little revolver is excessive, by all means find something more comfortable to shoot. Even Dirty Harry admitted to using "light specials" in his .44 Magnum. :p

March 21, 2009, 02:47 PM
As a SD load, the Corbon DPX for 38 has the Barnes expanding copper bullets might be a good carry choice:


They're as expensive as heck, but make for a nice high velocity bullet and only 110 grains. I practice with a few (usually in the 357 variety) every time I go to the range just to make sure I feel comfortable with them. I have them in a speed loader in my pistol box (in both 357 and 38).

I would also suggest she practice a lot to improve on follow up shots.

March 21, 2009, 03:00 PM
Yet one more option, and one that I've been looking at closely of late, is the new Hornady Critical Defense ammo.


110 grain bullet, but you won't ge the advertised velocity out of a 642, but these are guaranteed to mushroom, and they're available in +P and non-+P variants for .38 Special.

I have yet to see them anywhere, so I have no idea of cost, but they are intriguing.

March 21, 2009, 08:32 PM
+1 on the WC suggestion. I loaded my wifes 638 with the 148gr TCJ/DEWC from mastercast. here is a link for the ammo http://mastercast.net/amo.htm

March 22, 2009, 12:06 AM
I have an old 1950s S&W Model 37 snubbie that I'll only use std 38 Spl loads in.

There are some very effective rounds still available:

Federal Personal Defense 110gr Hydra-Shock

Hornady JHP/XTP

Buffalo Bore (two loads):

158gr Lead Hollow Point - good expander

150gr Hardcast Wadcutter - good penetrator

Any of these would work well in a self-defense situation and their standard pressure powder charges will keep recoil very reasonable.

March 22, 2009, 02:47 AM
A heavy bullet will add to the felt recoil. I would suggest the newly re-released standard pressure 125gr Federal Nycad (http://www.federalpremium.com/products/details/handgun.aspx?id=828) .38 Special round. It is one of the best non+P SD rounds available anywhere on the planet.

March 22, 2009, 10:48 AM

The advice and recommendations are appreciated. It's nice to get a good running list to evaluate. I'll be picking up a few different boxes to let her test out.


March 22, 2009, 11:15 AM
Aguila 158-grain lead hollowpoint. Very nice shooting in a 642 (well, relatively).

March 23, 2009, 10:17 AM
Try Gold Dot Short Barrel. It is designed for snubbies.

March 23, 2009, 10:38 AM
I would add the Crimson Trace Grips to the J frame for your mom. I will help with dry fireing as it will show her how the gun moves when she pulls the trigger. I a defensive mode she may not have time to line up the sights. See the video on the Crimson Trace web site.

March 23, 2009, 04:36 PM
Guys, the OP specifically asked for recommendations for ammo that wasn't rated +P yet you are telling him to buy +P ammo. Come on now... Help the OP out with what he asked about... :uhoh:

The Lone Haranguer
March 23, 2009, 07:04 PM
If Federal is still making the "Personal Defense" standard pressure 110-gr. HydraShok load, this was quite mild to shoot in my Colt Agent. Expensive to practice with, though.

March 23, 2009, 07:37 PM
007BondJamesBond007, we were at one of the local gun shops the other day and a fella in their had a 642 with the Crimson trace grips. My mom really like them. He said he found them online for $150.00. I'll be keeping my eye out.

Thanks to everyone else for the ammo recommendations.

My mom really likes shooting my CZ P-01, and my S&W .40, she just isn't comfortable with the manual of arms. It became obvious that clearing jams etc was gonna be a bit of a curve. Especially with the slide on the CZ. She is really liking the little, easy to carry and use 642.

March 24, 2009, 12:56 PM
Definitely use the lighter bullets in standard pressure.

Federal Personal Defense H-S 110gr
Winchester Silvertip 110gr
Federal Personal Defense Nyclad 125gr
Speer Gold Dot 125gr
Federal Gold Match Wadcutter 148gr

Also, a larger, three finger grip will go a long way toward reducing felt recoil.

March 24, 2009, 02:20 PM
Also, a larger, three finger grip will go a long way toward reducing felt recoil.
That's a very good point. There are suitable inexpensive grips available from Pachmayr, Hogue and a few others if you want to stick with rubber.

March 24, 2009, 04:42 PM
A heavy bullet will add to the felt recoil. I would suggest the newly re-released standard pressure 125gr Federal Nycad .38 Special round. It is one of the best non+P SD rounds available anywhere on the planet.

I second the 125 grn std pressure Federal Nyclad, which just hit the market again after a long hiatus. If I were recoil sensitive to 38+P in my 642, the Nyclad would be my top pick.

An even lighter recoiling load that would have no problem with penetration would be a high quality 148 grain wadcutter load. Fairly light recoil and more than adequate penetration. No expansion, but penetration is the more important of those two factors anyway.

March 24, 2009, 06:15 PM
I reload only one load, a .38 SPL LHBWC with 4 grains* of W231 or HP38. I could do a little more without leading but this one feels very good. The fast wadcutter is the way to go. It makes a big, long cannula.** It's damaging every time. I'm not comfortable with hollowpoints' reliability when moving in these slower velocities.

* That's what my powder feeder calls it but it actually weighs out to 3.9 gr.

** Neat word, huh? I always learn something here.

March 25, 2009, 06:47 PM
or the inexpensive, one-time-expense grip option:

Hogue Monogrip

Since it's for your mom and concealment isn't a primary issue, you might consider the big, cushy Monogrip.

OR....do both: low pressure/standard .38's and a Monogrip

I got that tee shirt and went through four sets of grips for my wife's M36.

Here's the Bantam's:

the Bantam's let the cylinder release bite her thumb

AND the showoff rosewood's
(not comfy w/+P's)

March 26, 2009, 12:54 AM
I am also going to 2nd the 148 grain WADCUTTER. It doesn't get the respect it should. I just received in the mail today another batch of 500 that I ordered. They are one of the most accurate and effective rounds out there. Here's a great link all about the 38 special and 148 grain wadcutter. You may be surprised at how good this round is. Even as a man stopper. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0BQY/is_3_49/ai_97170894

March 26, 2009, 09:02 AM
Not mentioned has been Hornady's new Critical defense ammo in 110gr and I think 125gr standard and plus p.
These rounds have amazing expansion and retention. For a low recoil snub they should be ideal.

March 26, 2009, 06:45 PM
Buffalo Bore makes good low-recoil .38 ammo:


I agree with the Pachamyrs - they make a huge difference.

March 27, 2009, 02:57 AM
That Buffalo Bore ammo isn't low recoil, it's standard pressure for non+P revolvers. I've found BB ammo to have a fairly stout recoil.

Revolver Ocelot
March 27, 2009, 04:35 AM
I would recommend the 135gr speer gold dots, but thats just based on what I have heard, I also have a question, I have a 2.5" .38, should I get the short barreled loads or would I be just as well of getting whatever for it?

March 27, 2009, 10:39 PM
As noted above:

1. Buffalo Bore is "lower pressure", not "lower recoil"

2. Speer Gold Dot's are hot, +P loads (I carry them, but wouldn't recommend them for the purposes of the OP.)

Ocelot, the short-barrel Gold Dot's will work just fine.

March 27, 2009, 11:14 PM
My snubbie gets loaded with 158 Grn LSWC and 4.2 Grns of tightgroup. I just don't trust a hollowpoint to work at low speed.

March 28, 2009, 04:00 PM
well, I bought my little lady a Charter arms off duty 38 special, snub nosed, 5-shot blued revolver a while ago, and a few boxes of 158 grain lead round nosed standard pressure ammo by Magtech, she can shoot it well, and I feel it's plenty enough gun with that load to do the trick if she ever needs to call on it for self defense. You don't need anything special, that 38 load has been around for a long time, and served it's purpose well.

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