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.38 Special vs. .44 Special

Discussion in 'Handguns: Revolvers' started by peacebutready, Feb 4, 2017.

  1. peacebutready

    peacebutready Member

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    Thanks for your post.

    I guess the weight of those N-frame guns hurt the popularity of the .44 special. If so, that's unfortunate as there's the K-frame in .357 mag. Therefore, a K-frame would handle the .44 Special. There's also the L-frame.

    My hunch is the specialty ammo makers have .44 Special loads that are the .44 version of the .38 +P if there was a .44 +P.

    Update: There's a fairly new S&W L frame for the .44 mag and .44 Special. It's a 5 shot, though. It's a little heavy at 37 oz. Ruger came out with a .44 Special, though I don't know anything about it. Taurus may have a lightweight .44 mag/special.
     
  2. peacebutready

    peacebutready Member

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    I recall the Taylor knockout theory and calculator. According to that, the .44 and .38 above get scores of 10 and 7, respectively.
     
  3. Legionnaire
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    Legionnaire Member

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    There are a couple of good threads on the new Ruger GP100. I have one, and really like it (see my current avatar). But Ruger had some QC issues with this first run, so mine will probably go back to the factory for a retrofit. Love my 3" GP in .357 mag, and looking forward to getting the .44 spl in the same shape.
     
  4. tipoc

    tipoc Member

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    Well let's look...the Taylor Knock Out (TKO) formula doesn't take into account bullet types. It begins with a solid ball round. John "Pondoro" Taylor figured it as bullet weight in pds. x velocity (fps) x bullet diameter (in inches). It's actually a way of allowing for momentum.

    If you have a copy of Bob Forker's book on hand then this is easy, if not here's a couple of things for comparison;

    38Spl.

    A famous load, Remington 158 gr. LSWCHP +P, from a 4" barrel 890 fps at the muzzle Energy 278 ft. pds. TKO 7.2
    Winchester and Magtech have a similar bullet and claim the same.

    Cor-Bon 147 gr. FMJ 900 fps, energy-264 ft. pds., TKO 6.7
    Hornady 125 gr. JHP 900 fps, energy-225 ft. pds. TKO 5.7

    44 Spl.

    Winchester 246 gr. LRN 755 fps, 310 energy, TKO 11.4
    Speer 200 gr. GDHP, 875 fps, 340 energy, TKO 10.8
    Cor-Bon 200 gr. DPX, 950 fps, 401 ft pds of energy, TKO 11.7
    Hornady 165 gr. FTX 900 fps, 297 ft. pds. energy, TKO 9.2

    We could look at a good many loads for both but in general the 44 Spl. has both more energy and more momentum.

    This is with commercial loads and only a few. Buffalo Bore offer some impressive loadings in both.

    But, as someone else said, It's what you shoot well, from a gun you shoot well, with the best bullet you shoot well from that gun, that is the most important factor. If a person can't shoot the more powerful 44 Spl. well, in the job you want it to do, it's not the "best" for you. And you shooting the gun, not any of us here.

    tipoc
     
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  5. zb338

    zb338 Member

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    The .38 Special is an awful accurate caliber and will do a lot of things.
    The .44 Special is; well, kind of Special.

    Zeke
     
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  6. joneb

    joneb Member

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    So crazies on drugs? Make mine a big bore please.
     
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  7. RealGun

    RealGun Member

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    Not a valid comparison to a reloader unless equal velocities and agreeing on nominal bullet weights. Comparing what one can buy off the shelf is certainly not a science. Mass and velocity are both variables that determine energy of the projectile. Effectiveness is an abstraction often measured by wound cavity and penetration, but there is still the shock of the initial impact, as energy is passed to the target.

    Effectiveness has everything to do with the gun as well. If holding both calibers to black powder pressure standards, you have a better comparison than introducing 38 Special guns certified for +p ammo. In 44 Special, only the Ruger Blackhawk and similar guns, of which I am not aware, can certifiably handle a boost in 44 Special performance. Most modern double actions in 44, 5-shot concealable guns are compromised by thin forcing cones and chamber walls. We know that not just any 38 Special can or should be trusted to shoot +p ammo.
     
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2017
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  8. Tallball

    Tallball Member

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    44 special is a low-pressure load. The recoil is quite moderate. The CA Bulldog isn't as easy to carry as an alloy j-frame, but it's not a lot harder, either.
     
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  9. Michael Tinker Pearce

    Michael Tinker Pearce Member

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    OK, I know this thread is about the relative effectiveness of the two calibers but I have to point out that if one does not reload .44 special ammunition is easily 2-3 times as expensive as .38 Special. It's much easier to practice with .38, and practice is the best force multiplier out there...
     
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  10. cfullgraf

    cfullgraf Member

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    When you toss economics into an equation, the outcome will always be altered one way or another.
     
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  11. Cocked & Locked
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    Cocked & Locked Member

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    Got that right!

    I carry my 2.5" barrel Bulldog in a Galco holster that is made for a J-frame. Fits good rides great.

    [​IMG]
     
  12. Sunray

    Sunray Member

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    In terms of ending the threat, neither gives a 100% guarantee with one shot. Neither will a hot loaded .44 Mag or a .45 ACP. Physics doesn't allow it.
     
  13. entropy

    entropy Member

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    Ballistically, the .44 Spl. In reality, I agree with Sunray.
     
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  14. chanroc

    chanroc Member

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    .44 Special may be bigger, more powerful, but I enjoy shooting my .38 Spl more than the .44 Spl (out of a Charter Arms Bulldog). Plus .38s are cheaper to shoot, which allows more practice for more practice/fun time.
     
  15. Lone Star

    Lone Star Member

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    What I've never seen discussed on a gun board is that gunfighters like the celebrated "Jelly" Bryce used .44's that probably had factory ammo with 246 grain bullets. That was what was sold in stores, and if he handloaded, I've never seen that mentioned
    .
    Elmer Keith and others used hot .44 loads but few cops bought ammo from them. (Keith did sell his reloads to a limited clientele.)

    Bryce killed a number of men, some with .44 Special M-1926 S&W revolvers, I think. But Bryce was a very fast and accurate shot, which no doubt says a lot for his survival. The bullets were big and had the mass to penetrate to vital organs on men, and he was at close range and fired multiple times.

    Unlike Keith, Bryce didn't seem concerned with killing bears, angry cattle, or deer. I guess his marksmanship and the big bullets worked.

    The man I know who has killed more people with a handgun than anyone else I've met said 9mm NATO ball from a Beretta -M9 and a Browning Hi-Power worked pretty well, but he usually fired twice at human targets. He'd have preferred Speer Gold Dot or Federal 124 grain HST Plus P ammo, but it was forbidden in warfare. BTW, I knew a former Rhodesian cop who headed activities against Commie terrorists in that country, now Zimbabwe. He saw after action reports and talked with men who'd shot others with 9mm handguns. He told me that 9mm usually worked, if shots were well placed. This fellow, David W. Arnold, preferred the Colt .45 auto, but carried a P-38 due to regulations. He felt pretty confident with a 9mm. But he was a superb marksman, I think on the national team in IPSC events.

    The 9mm has less mass than a lead .44 but the jacket and high velocity provide penetration. I knew a cop who shot some old auto bodies wth Remington's 125 grain .38 JHP. He said that bullets penetrated "until next payday." I presume they'd easily reach the vital organs on humans. Bullet placement is king, although added power and expansion are nice to have, and I think can be crucial in marginal cases.

    Keith respected the penetration of a full jacketed 9mm, but not the stopping power. He cited the case of a man who killed a black bear with a P-38, so again, placement was the the vital factor.

    The bottom line is, if I had Buffalo Bore ammo, I'd probably rely on a .44 Special. If not, I'd prefer a good .38 Plus P and the .38 is handier to wear.

    I do not use small .44's like the Charter Arms guns, or snub S&W N-frames. I think the best .44 Soecials for routine carry for defense are the S&W M-1950 Target and .44 Military and the stainless version of the former, Model 624, with four-inch to 6.5-inch barrels. In a gun with three-inch barrel, I use ether a Ruger SP-101 .357 or a S&W M-60-4 .38 with Plus P loads in .the .38. Actually, if I anticipated strong likelihood of a pistol fight that day I'd probably carry my Beretta M-92FS with Federal 124 grain HST rounds and spare magazines.
     
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2017
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  16. gun_with_a_view

    gun_with_a_view Member

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    Under those circumstances, I'd prefer to stay home that day.
     
  17. Crowman

    Crowman Member

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    In fall and winter months, I carry a 3" classic Charter Bulldog 44 loaded with 200 grain full wadcutter Buffalo Bore "Manstoppers", a load they developed specifically for the Charter 44 Bulldog (920 fps from 3" Bulldog). They make big hole, penetrate deeply.

    During spring and summer months, I carry a J-Frame S&W 640 Pro Series .357 magnum loaded with .38 special +P 158 grain hardcast SWC Buffalo Bore "Outdoorsman" loads (1048 fps from 2-1/2" bbl) that approximate the old classic high pressure .38/.44 woodsman pre-magnum transition loads S&W developed for N-Frames back before the registered magnums were made. They are stout but more comfortable to shoot accurately in J-Frames. Not quite a wadcutter, but will penetrate like no tomorrow nonetheless.

    Basically, the 44 WC has a bunch more frontal area and will cookie cut a bigger hole in tissue than a 38.
     
  18. jimbo555

    jimbo555 Member

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    Equally effective if placed correctly.
     
  19. MaxP

    MaxP Member

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    Even if the .38 is loaded to slightly higher velocities I would opt for the larger pill. To suggest (all other things being equal like nose profile, bullet alloy, velocity) that the smaller bullet will be more effective is not realistic IMHO. Again, all else equal, the .44 Special has a leg up on the .38. Both are low-recoiling, easy to shoot rounds. Muzzle Energy is not a good measure of lethality.
     
  20. strambo

    strambo Member

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    The OP specified semi-wadcutters. Either will likely pass through a human torso, that makes any talk of "energy" or "power" irrelevant. Neither has anywhere near the velocity for the temporary cavity to cause tissue damage. That just leaves the permanent cavity.

    So, with the .44 SPL, we get a .429" dia. hole clean through 'em. With the .38 SPL we get a .357" dia. hole clean through 'em. The larger hole will result in more permanent cavity volume which should equate to greater blood loss. However, I bet if you shot 100 people in the heart with a .38 wadcutter and another hundred with the .44 and measured avg. time to incapacitation, I wouldn't be surprised at no statistically significant difference.

    Of course, no such experiment can ever be done and controlling all the variables would be nigh impossible anyway, so just pick a good performing HP from a reputable ammo manufacturer in at least .380 (auto) or .38 Spl (revolver) up to .45 ACP and .357 Mag and don't worry about it.
     
  21. Robert101

    Robert101 Member

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    For me the answer is the 44 Special round is far superior than the 38 Special. I know the numbers on knock down power and velocity. Just shoot different objects and you quickly see the effective difference in the two rounds. Mass has its advantages and so does bullet diameter. The 44 Special round is an excellent self defense round.
     
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  22. Kleanbore

    Kleanbore Moderator

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    "Knock down power" means something when shooting at hinged steel plates or bricks. It is the additional momentum (mass times velocity) of larger rounds that provides the difference.

    But for self defense, it is close to meaningless. A handgun bullet cannot "knock down" a human target.

    What is important is what parts of the body of an assailant are damaged.

    That depends upon three things:
    1. Penetration
    2. The lotion of entry wounds
    3. The angles at which bullet enter the body.
    Assuming that penetration is adequate, the defender must rely on the second and third items. But when an assailant is moving at fifteen feet per second and is closing in fast, that is not a fusion of marksmanship. Rather, ir is largely a function of chance, and the likelihood of effective hits is increased by firing more rounds more quickly.

    That retires two things: Capacity and a high rate of controlled fire.

    The latter requires lower recoil and a trigger pull that does not cause the gun to move excessively.

    All in all, the .38 will perform better in terms of capacity and rate of fire than a .44 of the same general size. An autoloader will usually serve even better.
     
  23. Kendal Black

    Kendal Black Member

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    That seems like it is asking for a number not an adjective.

    The .07 difference in caliber (.36 vs. .43) is rather larger than it looks, since the frontal area of the bullet and the volume of the wound channel increase according to the square of the diameter of the bullet.

    Plug in the bullet diameter and the depth of penetration in a cylinder volume calculator like this one to find out how much tissue is struck by either bullet.

    volume of a .36 x 12 hole: 1.22
    volume of a .43 x 12 hole: 1.75
     
  24. gspn

    gspn Member

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    The problem with the question is it doesn't address what is perhaps the most important factor at work in such a scenario...the target. A person with a long history of violent anti-social behavior and who may be on drugs/alcohol might not be stopped effectively with either cartridge.

    There are many examples, one of which is George Temple of East Baton Rouge Louisiana. He started a fight with a police officer in a parking lot and was beating the officer badly. He was shot once in the abdomen by the officer, but continued to beat on him until a passerby intervened. The passerby shot Mr. Temple four times in the upper torso with a .45 ACP and it did not stop his actions. The beating continued. The fifth shot was to Mr. Temples head, that is the one that ended the incident.

    I bring this incident up because it highlights the fact that the target has a vote too. Not everyone stops fighting simply because they get shot. Some will continue out of rage alone. Mix in some drugs, alcohol, and psychological factors and you might get someone who can absorb a lot of bullets before stopping.

    Given the variable nature of the factors involved I'd always err toward the largest and most powerful cartridge I can shoot well, and relatively quickly. You also have to factor in the size and weight of the gun and it's impact on whether it's convenient enough that you'd actually carry it. After that it's a crap shoot...no guarantees for anything, but you've done what you can do.
     
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  25. Kleanbore

    Kleanbore Moderator

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    Dimensional comparisons are virtually meaningless as measures of "effectiveness".

    "How much tissue is struck" is irrelevant.

    The average adult human body has a volume of about 70 liters. It is not the tiny fraction of that volume that is "struck" that counts. It is what is struck. And in an effective stop, that important "what" is very small indeed.

    But of course that post was surely intended tongue in cheek.
     

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