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38 special = defensive round?

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

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  1. aerod1

    aerod1 Member

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    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 Member

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    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 Member

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    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 Member

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    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 Member

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    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 Member

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    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

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    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.

    lpl/nc
     
  8. armoredman

    armoredman Member

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  9. Eagle103

    Eagle103 Member

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    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 Member

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    .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 Member

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

    DMZ Member

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    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 Member

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    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 Member

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    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

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    Here is a thread with several links to brassfetcher's billistic tests.
     
  16. 6_gunner

    6_gunner Member

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    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 Member

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    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".


    Timthinker
     
  18. woad_yurt

    woad_yurt Member

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    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 Member

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    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 Member

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    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...
     
  21. Dollar An Hour

    Dollar An Hour Member

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    Does shooting the 158gr LSWCHP Remington +P's cause leading in the barrel, or make cleaning the gun any more difficult?
     
  22. DougDubya

    DougDubya Member

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    Speer's Gold Dot 135-grain load, developed for the NYPD. Federal's 125-grain Nyclad load also does good service, I heard, as does Pro-Load's Tactical 125-grain load.
     
  23. BlindJustice

    BlindJustice Member

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    S & W Model 60-15 3" Bbl. .357 Mag or .38 Spcl +P
    Load for inside HD is going to be below the speed of sound
    my ears will thank me....
    .38 Spcl +P 125 gr. Speer Gold Dot JHP @ 950 fps ,
    as well as
    .38 Spcl 125 gr. Hornady XTP JHP @ 1,000 FPS
    I think those velocities are 4" Bbl.

    & There's the new 135 gr. Speer GD .38 +P for
    short snubbies with minimal muzzle blast but the
    Speer GD are spendy some sell for a $1 a round which
    is why I got the hornadys for practice.

    I also have 500 leahdead 168 gr. SWC I want to load
    in .357 Magnum cases at 1,000 fps / 4" bbl. for my
    model 60 and also use in my 686P - I have a bunch of full
    house .357 Magnum but wouldn't want to be blinded by
    the muzzle flash as well as deafeaned

    .38 SPcl I feel comfy with the above loads for HD/SD carry
    although for carry I'd probably have my 1911 but that's just me.
     
  24. dagger dog

    dagger dog Member

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    aerod1
    the male members of my family were men of few words, when i asked my grand father (born 1874) a similar question about the efectiveness of the .38 special he replied "there's many a dead SOB laying in the grave with a .38 bullet in him"!

    on the same thought, a western man of small stature was quoted, when being asked why he carried a large .45 cal side arm .

    " 'cause they don't make Fiftys" was his reply!

    have fun always dagger dog
     
  25. MCgunner

    MCgunner Member

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    It has superior penetration to the .380 I often feel compelled to carry. I've seen this penetration on hogs I've shot with it in a trap. That experience gave me a bit more confidence in the round as a "stopper", too. It puts down 100 lb hogs post haste with total penetration through a lot of meat, have no doubt it'd put the hurt on a BG with a proper bullet placement. That hog thing was anything, but scientific, but when you use a weapon to kill an animal, you gain confidence in it. No, it was not charging, it was in a trap. I had time to place the shot exactly at combat-like ranges, but still......

    I really see no need to carry a HUGE gun when a .38 is such a good caliber IMHO. Lots of guys carry nothing, but a 40 ounce .45 1911. They don't feel like anything less is going to work and they think the .45 "blows 'em off their feet" just like the movies. Well, sorry, but t'ain't so. Yeah, if I were going into battle I'd want more gun, like maybe a 12 gauge. But, for civilian carry, the .38 is plenty of gun and very concealable. We're talking self defense here, not assaulting the beaches of Iwo Jima. And, after all, Wild Bill (to use the old west for the answer) carried a brace of Colt Navies in .36 caliber. He knew how to shoot, of course.

    The 9mm +P is a good load, up over 400 ft lbs, considerably more energy than the .38. I love my Kel Tec P11 and carry it most. It's compact and powerful and offers a lot of firepower in the pocket. It's also quite accurate. That don't stop me from carrying the .38, though, when I feel like it.
     
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