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how does 38 special compare to 9mm?

Discussion in 'Handguns: General Discussion' started by Mooseman, Apr 2, 2007.

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  1. Mooseman

    Mooseman Member

    Aug 15, 2005
    Just outside of Philadelphia
    Assuming average target ammo in 38 special and 9mm which has more muzzle energy, penetration, etc. Just curious.
  2. Reddbecca

    Reddbecca Member

    Apr 1, 2007
    Well, comparing the standard 130 gr. FMJ .38 Special and the 115 gr. FMJ 9mm, the 9mm is better in terms of speed and penetration. HOWEVER the .38 Special is far from being a weakling.
  3. Nightcrawler

    Nightcrawler Member

    Dec 24, 2002
    Utah, inside the Terraformed Zone
    They're actually pretty close. .38 does heavier bullets better. Most .38SPL and +P is watered down, but not all. The Buffalo Bore .38 I carry in my snub will send a 158 grain lead hollow point to a thousand feet per second from a 2" barrel. 9mm 147 grain won't do that fast from a 5" barrel. .38 has more case capacity to play with.

    But for most standard loadings, the two are going to be fairly close. 9mm +P tends to be loaded faster than most comparable .38 loads (compare typical 125 grain velocities and you'll see what I mean).
  4. Cosmoline

    Cosmoline Member

    Dec 29, 2002
    Los Anchorage
    Comparing standard loads, the 9x19 is superior. But the .38's standard loads are quite light owing to the great number of vintage revolvers out there. In +p and +p+ it holds its own. And it can be loaded much heavier than a 9x19. It's also possible to load the .38 to near .357 Magnum levels, though this isn't safe for the obvious reasons.
  5. jad0110

    jad0110 Member

    Feb 28, 2006
    Somewhere between the Eastern Block states and Flo
    If you just look at the numbers on paper, the 9mm would generally appear to be stronger. But as others have indicated, there are lots of very light firing 38 target loads that probably aren't top choices for SD. Also, numbers don't tell everything. IMHO, with good SD ammo (the +P 158 grain FBI Load is my personal favorite), the 38 is as effective as any other medium or large bore handgun round, given proper placement of course. And if max expansion is something you are interested in, 38 Special ammo can have either very soft lead and/or aggressively cupped hollowpoint cavities, since they don't have to contend with the feed ramp of an automatic.

    Note that I'm not knocking 9mm, I personally like the caliber a lot, and I don't care to "volunteer" for a live ballistics test :D .

    True, and if you add 100 fps for a 4" barrel, that gets that 158 grainer up to 1100 fps. Not bad for the 'ole 38!

    I always like this article: http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0BQY/is_3_48/ai_82551648/pg_3 . Talks about the 38 Special, in addition to 4 other handgun calibers.
  6. Haycreek

    Haycreek Member

    Jan 4, 2003
    West Texas
    how does the 38 special comare to the 9mm

    Energy numbers are sometimes mislieading, look at heavy slow moving bullets in Africa on dangerous game. Handgun rounds being rather light, I believe in larger diameter, heavier bullets. How ever, using good bullets, there are not much difference between the 38 and 9mm, IMHO.
  7. Trumpetman

    Trumpetman Member

    Jul 13, 2005
    COMPARISON -- 158-grain bullets in 9mm and .38 special +P

    I carry a 4" barreled 9mm Double Action Only pistol and a 2" barreled .38 special Double Action revolver. We have all read numerous comparisons between these two platforms. I wondered if there might be a way to bring this comparison into the "apples-to-apples" category, so I did an informal experiment. I loaded some of the same lot of 158-grain SWC HP bullets for 9mm and for .38 special, and fired them from my respective handguns.

    Results? -- You judge for yourselves. It may be just another black hole of discussion fodder, but maybe we'll learn something from it, too. Here's what I did.

    As for the 9mm pistol load, I sized some Hornady .358" bullets down to .356" and loaded them on top of various amounts of Bullseye powder, from 2.9 grains to 3.2 grains. I test-fired them. They all shot to POA, and there were no high-pressure signs or feeding problems, with a big bonus -- I shot the best group of my life with the sample loads (1.5" @ 30 feet). I have since made the 3.2 grain version my go-to load for defense practice. I tried to fire each round one second apart. Recoil was light, and follow-up shots very easy to make. My primary carry magazine holds 17 rounds, and I keep one round in the chamber, as well, for a total of 18 shots before reloading. The only report I've read on this type of loading showed 925 fps out of a 5" Browning High Power with 3.0 grains of Bullseye. I figure my 3.2 grain load from a 4" barrel would be in the 850 fps range. I didn't have access to a chronograph, so I admit my experiment has no definite scientific value.

    Now, as for my snubnose .38 -- I used the same 158-grain Hornady SWC Hollow Point bullet as with the 9MM loads, with the factory sizing and dry lube. I loaded some samples with 3.8 grains of Bullseye, as per the latest Alliant data for +P .38 specials. I also loaded a few rounds slightly hotter (from an earlier manual). Recoil was so much greater than the 9MM loads, that I opted for the 3.8 grain +P .38 special loading for comparison. At the range I was able to keep all of the hits on a sheet of copy paper, with most of them inside a 6" circle -- certainly good enough for up-close civilian defense work.

    Apples-to-apples? Two things could be done with this experiment to even the platforms out a bit more. Since the velocity of my .38 special +P load would come up a little short compared to the 9mm load, maybe those Buffalo Bores (or other 900 fps loads) would make an even better "apples-to-apples" comparison. I don't think I could tolerate the recoil, nor could my Rossi handgun, even though it is an all-steel gun. The second thing might be to use a 9mm pistol that has a shorter barrel, bringing it closer to the .38 special in velocity and conceal-ability.

    My Opinion. I like both loads in both guns. I shoot the 9mm better, but there are some times and places that I cannot carry it with me. The .38 fits in the front pocket of any pair of pants. Ballistically, although I am not qualified to make too many judgments in this arena, I would say that any projectile hurled from any choice of platforms at a given velocity will produce the same expansion, penetration, permanent and temporary wound channels, and "shock value" as that same projectile hurled from any other platform at the same velocity. The main variable here is shot placement. I can shoot tighter groups at the range with the 9MM. I guess that would give it the advantage in a personal encounter with a bad guy. It is interesting that we would have to handicap the 9mm and push the .38 snub in order to get them into the same category of performance. Even then, each gun has merit. I am more accurate with the 9mm, but (from a civilian's perspective) an accurate 9mm is no good in the glove box of the car, so the snubnose .38 wins on conceal-ability.

    I really like these 158-grain bullets in both 9mm and .38 special. For now, I'll continue to Golden Saber +P 124's in my 9mm; and Gold Dot "short barrel" 135's in my snub .38 until something better is offered (and proven). My 4" barreled .357 magnum will be loaded Gold Dot 125 magnums when I carry it with me, and SWCHP 158's in the house. The shotgun sits by my bedside loaded with 000 buckshot.
  8. shooter429

    shooter429 Member

    Jul 18, 2005
    Washington State
    Apples to apples?

    Too many variables in the real world. If one controls for the vehicle, handloading and such, the standard pressure 9mm has more energy due to a higher operating pressure, than the .38. But I would feel just as comfortable carrying a modern .38 with +p+ loads as I would the 9mm given guns of similar size and purpose.

  9. SaxonPig

    SaxonPig Member

    Apr 11, 2006
    As Cosmoline noted, factory 38 loads are kept mild out of deference to the weak, imported guns out there in this caliber. The 9mm doesn't suffer this problem and the ammo is loaded to its full potential.

    My S&W 659 is loaded with Winchester 115 JHP "+P" that clocks 1250 FPS. My 38 load of choice is a 125 JHP at 1150. Take your choice.

    Loaded to its full potential (like the old 38/44 load of 158/1125) the 38 Special can best the 9mm by a tad. If restricted to factory fodder, the 9 wins.

    Most quality revolvers will shoot a little more accurately than most service grade auto pistols but most of us aren't skilled enough to notice the difference.

    Either will do the job.
  10. mavracer

    mavracer Member

    Jan 9, 2007
    standard to standard 9mm by a tad same with +p. 38+p~9mm standard
  11. obxned

    obxned Member

    Jan 28, 2007
    OBX, NC
    I like the ability of the .38 to handle heavy bullets.
  12. Onmilo

    Onmilo Member

    Jul 26, 2004
    What? You mean like the 9mm 147 and 158 grain loads?
    Both the .38 Special and the 9mm will push these bullet weights out at about 980 feet per second.

    Anything faster in a .38 special load is actually a +P+ or mild magnum load.

    I always found it somewhat humorous that the old 1100 feet per second 125 jacketed hollowpoint .38 special was talked up so highly as an ultimate man killer load when the 1100 feet per second 124 grain jacketed hollowpoint 9mm was pooh-poohed as as nothing more than a childs play toy.:D
  13. ZeSpectre

    ZeSpectre Member

    Oct 10, 2006
    Deep in the valley
    My own experience so far seems to indicate that a +P .38 Special load and a 9mm load tend to perform in a nearly identical fashion out of similar barrel lengths.
  14. New_geezer

    New_geezer Member

    Jun 22, 2005
    High Desert, California
    Since the "impact" qualities have been addressed already, I'll point out the other thing. 9mm means you can have ten shots or more in your gun. 38sp means a six shot revolver. Given that both rounds have been declared effective, is that a factor for you? Some people prefer revolvers for HD because the operation is simple, and if you have a misfire, just keep pulling the trigger. Others have enough faith in handling their autoloaders and want the extra capacity. I'm comfortable either way, but prefer the revolver.

    Discussions of this sort mainly just provide you with technical details. The practical answer is the round and handgun you can shoot most accurately and reliably because the most critical factor for ensuring a happy outcome is shot placement. Regardless of caliber.
  15. ArmedBear

    ArmedBear Member

    Sep 8, 2005

    By and large, the 9mm has more energy and velocity than the .38 Special ever did.

    Sure Buffalo Bore and handloaders can stuff a .38 case with a lot of powder and shoot it in a beefy revolver that's built over-spec.

    But for the purposes of your average person, buying mid-range defensive ammo at the store, a 9mm will push similar bullets at a higher velocity. If the .38 Special is an effective police round, then the 9mm is at least as good.

    The bad rap the 9mm gets has more to do with FMJ military rounds. Stats I've seen, though, suggest that a .45 ACP with FMJ's is not all that great of a stopper, either, though it's much better than 9mm. What puts everything from 9mm to .45 into a whole different class is when you stick a better bullet in the case.
  16. Checkman

    Checkman member

    Sep 23, 2003
    Well I like both of them and I own both 9mm Glocks and 38 Colts and S&W. So there you go.
  17. MassMan

    MassMan Member

    Mar 20, 2005
    38 vs 9mm

    Oh no! Does that mean my 38 is as wimpy as my 9mm. :eek: I find this humorous as the 9mm has so often been referred as the borderline defense gun.
  18. logical

    logical Member

    Mar 5, 2005
    Buy whatever suits you and carry some good hollowpoint .38+P or 9mm+P....what good is comparing average loads or standard loads? Nobody with any savvy would carry standard anything.
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