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38 special vs. 44 special

Discussion in 'Handguns: Revolvers' started by Revolver Ocelot, Apr 24, 2008.

?

which do you think is better?

Poll closed May 1, 2008.
  1. .38 special

    65 vote(s)
    28.9%
  2. .44 special

    110 vote(s)
    48.9%
  3. neither, give me my 1911

    50 vote(s)
    22.2%
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  1. Revolver Ocelot

    Revolver Ocelot Member

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    which caliber is better in a revolver designed for combat? and for what reason?
     
  2. McCall911

    McCall911 Member

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    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.
     
    Last edited: Apr 24, 2008
  3. moxie

    moxie Member

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    Better for what? Out of what? Shot by whom? Etc.?
     
  4. Dismantler

    Dismantler Member

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    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.
     
  5. moph759fl

    moph759fl Member

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    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
     
  6. ldp4570

    ldp4570 Member

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    .38spl/.44spl

    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.
     
  7. SaxonPig

    SaxonPig Member

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  8. Erik

    Erik Member

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    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.

    Cont.
     
  9. Erik

    Erik Member

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    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
     
  10. Walkalong

    Walkalong Moderator

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    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.
     
  11. rcmodel

    rcmodel Member in memoriam

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    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.

    rcmodel
     
  12. TimboKhan

    TimboKhan Moderator

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    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.
     
  13. MortalWombat

    MortalWombat Member

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    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.
     
  14. walking arsenal

    walking arsenal Member

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    I like my .38

    I carry a +P Nyclad by federal in it.
     
  15. jgo296

    jgo296 member

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    my favorite handgun is my s&w 296
    aluminum titanium 5-shot concealed hammer 44spec
     
  16. Harve Curry

    Harve Curry Member

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    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.
     
  17. Steve C

    Steve C Member

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    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.
     
  18. mainmech48

    mainmech48 Member

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    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.
     
  19. grimjaw

    grimjaw Member

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    Designed for combat?

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

    jm
     
  20. Dismantler

    Dismantler Member

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    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?
     
  21. freakshow10mm

    freakshow10mm member

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    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.
     
  22. sixgunner455

    sixgunner455 Member

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    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.
     
  23. DMZ

    DMZ Member

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    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.
     
  24. Revolver Ocelot

    Revolver Ocelot Member

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

    TimboKhan Moderator

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    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?
     
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