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38 special = defensive round?

Discussion in 'Handguns: Revolvers' started by aerod1, Feb 1, 2008.

  1. aerod1

    aerod1 Active Member

    Feb 26, 2003
    Garland, TX
    This may have already been discussed but....What is the opinion of the hive mind regarding the credibility of the 38 special as a defensive round. Is it a good round for a CCW? Is there sufficient stopping power for a person to have confidence in a crisis? Also, what about the 38 sp.+P and +P+?
    Is the 9mm a better defensive round thab a 38 special and if so, why?
    Thanks for the info.
  2. RNB65

    RNB65 Senior Member

    Apr 19, 2006
    Richmond, VA
    38 Special is an excellent defensive round. There once was a time when just about every LEO in the country was armed with a 38 Special revolver. Most probably didn't feel outgunned until the bad guys started carrying semi-autos that hold a gazillion rounds.

    +P is even better if the gun can handle it. I carry 158gr +P ammo in my Mod 60.

    I wouldn't touch +P+ with a 20ft pole. You push the pressure curve too much, you may wind up wearing a topstrap embedded in your forehead.

    Lee Harvey Oswald can tell you all about the effectiveness of the .38 Special. :D
  3. 2TransAms

    2TransAms Active Member

    Feb 26, 2006
    Illinois,by St. Louis MO
    The semi-wadcutter hollowpoint,aka "FBI load",did the job for years. I keep the Federal Nyclad in my wife's revolver.

    Here's a link to a good read about the .38 Special.
  4. DougDubya

    DougDubya Participating Member

    Jan 25, 2008
    The People's Republic of Cook County.
    It's a fine cartridge for self defense. There are newer rounds designed around the airweight that combine peppy speed, soft jacketing and/or lead and lighter weight for good recoil to damage, but the 158 grain +P lead hollowpoint semiwadcutter is still the king of the hill.
  5. foghornl

    foghornl Mentor

    Dec 27, 2002
    The .38Spl was THE choice of The Good Guys (and some Bad Guys) for many years. Some Military folks (WWII time frame) had them, too. Do sort of very vaguely remember my long-deceased dad telling of some PT Boat officers having snubby .38Spl revolvers.

    I would much rather have a good .38Spl all-steel revolver than the .380 auto and smaller handguns. Don't care for the ultra-light-tanium alloy frame .38Spl guns out there.

    The .38Spl is more than adequate when you do your part...a .500S&W round is no good for self-defense if it slams into the ceiling instead of the Bad Guy.
  6. OregonJohnny

    OregonJohnny Participating Member

    Jan 25, 2008
    Are you thinking of this gun for concealed carry? If so, I think one of the main things to consider on this topic is the list of very small guns on the market that shoot 9mm versus the number that shoot .38. I just bought a S&W 642 Airweight (5-shot snub-nose .38 special +P) for pocket carry. I own a Springfield XD-40 Subcompact that is just too thick and heavy for me to comfortably conceal in all situations. The 642 feels like half the weight of the XD and easily slips in a pocket. It seems like the "micro" 9mms on the market are either VERY expensive (Rohrbaugh - $900) or have caught criticism for being slightly less than reliable (Kel-Tec, Kahr, etc.). Of course, I'm sure people who own these pocket autos will chime in to say that their's is always reliable. I digress...

    As stated in some above posts, the .38 special has been around for a long time and I'll bet that in the overall history of the U.S., more police officers have been armed with .38 special revolvers than any other firearm. Many still carry one as a back-up, and when I took a trip to Washington D.C. last year, I noticed about 90% of the security gaurds at the museums carried .38 revolvers (some may have been .357, but they mostly looked like S&W .38s). My point is the .38 special has been proven. In most imaginable self-defense situations, a "hot" .38 special +P hollow point is an excellent round. So is the 9mm. They both have their strong points and their weak points, but if price, reliability, and concealment are issues, I would say the .38 special gives you some better options for firearms currently on the market than 9mm.
  7. Fred Fuller

    Fred Fuller Moderator Emeritus

    Mar 26, 2004
    AL, NC
    It's good enough for me- OPMMV (other peoples' mileage may vary). Five CorBon DPXs in the +P capable 642 and five more in a Safariland speedloader in my pocket is EDC for me. If my pants have a watch pocket I usually tuck a SpeedStrip with five 158 gr. Nyclads (still got a box and a half left) and one Speer shot cartridge in there.

  8. armoredman

    armoredman Elder

    Nov 19, 2003
    proud to be in AZ
  9. Eagle103

    Eagle103 Member

    Dec 8, 2006
    I think you've gotten lots of good advice.
    I saw some Dept. of Justice data a while back that showed the .38 Special was by far the most common cartridge involved in cop deaths. The data cutoff was somewhere in the early 90's if I recall correctly.
    I really wouldn't want to shoot anything more powerful out of a gun like my 642 than the 135g +P Gold Dots anyway. They're painful enough thank you.:D
  10. 1966SW37

    1966SW37 New Member

    Jan 31, 2008
    .38 Special is an accurate round

    I carry a S&W model 37 loaded with Federal's low recoil 110 grain hollow points. It's a terrific defensive round! :)
  11. ArmedBear

    ArmedBear Senior Elder

    Sep 8, 2005
    What are they? (Just picked up my new Airweight yesterday; haven't shot it yet.:) )
  12. DMZ

    DMZ Member

    Mar 7, 2007
    E. Oregon
    Good post OJ!

    I bought a Kel Tec PF-9 thinking the little 9mm would be a better comfort choice compared to my 605. Had some problems with it I think I have sorted out, but...I don't totally trust it. It is now relegated to the top drawer of my desk and my snub got promoted again.
  13. jad0110

    jad0110 Senior Member

    Feb 28, 2006
    Somewhere between the Eastern Block states and Flo
    Don't get hung up on foot lbs of energy, energy dump/transfer and other such theories. A 38 load that penetrates deeply enough, can be placed on target, and is fired from a reliable platform will work just as well as any other medium or large bore handgun round can be expected to. Meaning that shotguns and rifles work a heck of a lot better.

    For HD, I certainly prefer my shottie. But my favorite handgun rounds are 22 LR for practice and 38 Special for defense. 38 +P in an all steel revolver has mild recoil, making follow-up shots a snap. And with the right ammo, it will meet and exceed the FBI minimum 12" penetration requirement. I don't even mind the recoil of the airweight S&W 642.

    Yeah, 38 will do the job. So will 9mm, 45 ACP, 380 Auto, and heck, even 32 ACP given good ammo.

    But again, a long gun is preferred. ;)
  14. Storm

    Storm Senior Member

    Nov 28, 2006
    While I've always been a semi-auto guy for self-defense I'm really beginning to see the light as to a revolver, and .38 special seems more than adequate to me. Just the thought of not having to worry about an FTF is very desirable, and if there is a bad round just squeeze the trigger again and you're good to go. With most gunfights over within five rounds a revolver fills the bill nicely, and with getting good with speed strips or a speedloader the round gap closes. To me round placement and quick follow-up are the most important and the .38 special seems more than adequate for the task.
  15. mnw42

    mnw42 Member

    Aug 27, 2007
    Bucks County, PA
    Here is a thread with several links to brassfetcher's billistic tests.
  16. 6_gunner

    6_gunner Active Member

    Dec 4, 2006
    The .38 special is perfectly adequate. I'm currently debating whether I should get another .38 special revolver or if I should get a .45 auto to go with my 1917 revolver. I feel perfectly confident carrying either caliber.
  17. Timthinker

    Timthinker Active Member

    Sep 3, 2006
    In the past, I stated that a handguns chambered for the .38 Special/.357 Magnum/9mm rounds are fine for self-defense. I see no reason to change that opinion. Now, shotguns and centerfire rifles provide more power than the average handgun can deliver. This is something all of us will agreed upon. But if you exclude longarms such as the 12 gauge shotgun and .223 rifles from consideration, then a revolver chambered for the .38 Special cartridge is more than adequate.

    In the future, I hope to write a self-defense book that expresses my thoughts on armed and unarmed self-defense measures. In that work, I intend to mention handguns and discuss calibers such as the .38 Special. Trust me, the .38 will receive a "thumbs up".

  18. woad_yurt

    woad_yurt Senior Member

    Aug 23, 2007
    36° 31' 47.1742" X -87° 21' 34.0301"
    Once, back a loooong time ago, my friend cut his hand & needed stiches, so we went to Bellevue, the city hospital in NYC. As usual, it was crowded like crazy and in the hall was a guy on a gurney who had been shot by a cop. Cops used .38s back then. He had been shot in his wrist and in his calf. That kid was a mess. After seeing him and what that gun did to him, I confidently feel that a .38 SPL is plenty for self-defense. His calf was destroyed and the wound to the wrist would make most people hurl, too. The .38 SPL seemed like a decent manstopper to me.
  19. jaydubya

    jaydubya Active Member

    Nov 20, 2005
    Sandy Eggo
    My 637 Airweight is loaded with +p 158gr LSWCHPs -- the FBI load. Three manufacturers make them, Winchester, Federal and Remington. I use the Remington version because the bullet is softer than that of the other two manufacturers, and will therefore expand more reliably out of a snubby barrel. Check Stephen Camp's website on this. Also BrassFetcher, for gobs of jello tests.

    Cordially, Jack
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2008
  20. NGIB

    NGIB Active Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Hinesville, GA
    I practice a lot with a lot of different calibers as I'm a fan of shot placement and putting multiple shots on target. I'm comfortable with quality SD ammo in anything .380 and up - including .38 special. My main carries will be a .380 Sig and a 9mm Kahr...

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