Is .38 Special Sufficient for SD ?

Discussion in 'Handguns: Revolvers' started by Gun Master, Mar 23, 2017.

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  1. grampajack

    grampajack AR Junkie

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    The stretch cavity from a 357 would blow a squirrel apart. A human has enough mass to absorb the energy.

    Look, imagine it this way. You shoot a 2'' cube of ballistic gel with a 357 and it blows it into little pieces strewn about the countryside. Now take that same 357 and shoot a 12'' cube of gel. The 12'' block will have enough mass to contain the stretch cavity, which will then collapse back in on itself, leaving you with a nice pencil sized hole drilled through the entire block.

    Now shoot another 12'' square block with a .38 Special. You'll see a smaller stretch cavity on high speed video, BUT...the resulting permanent wound track will be indistinguishable from the 357: a nice, pencil-sized hole drilled through the entire block.

    So what's the advantage of the 357 over the 38? Imagine that you have both in a modern, barrier blind hollow point. Let's say both bullets get 18'' in gel because the 357 bullet is made to expand more aggressively, thereby limiting its penetration, whereas the 38 expands less aggressively, allowing it to penetrate further. Now shoot both rounds through a car door. The 357, even though it technically penetrates the same distance through bare gel as the 38, will stand a much better chance of making it through the door, and with enough energy to do damage on the other side.

    If all bad guys ran around shirtless and never used cover then .32 ACP would be adequate for just about all but the biggest, most muscular humans. Or certainly .380 would be. The reason for duty caliber and magnum cartridges is because bad guys wear clothes and typically try to get behind stuff when you shoot at them. Let's say you have a big bad guy wearing a leather jacket hiding behind a car door with the window rolled down. A .380 probably isn't going to get the job done. A 9mm might. A 10mm is a safer bet. Well, hope that's clear as mud. All these bullets are going to leave very similar permanent wound tracks in real human flesh, with similar amounts of trauma, blood loss, and resulting drop in blood pressure. But the bigger, more powerful rounds stand a better chance of making it to the vitals in all circumstances.
     
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2017
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  2. ilbob

    ilbob Member

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    The way I see it is that the 38 special round was considered quite adequate for a long time. It is clear to me that shooting someone with a solid hit with a 38 special a couple of times will stop most attackers.

    However, for the most part, 38 special is only available in revolvers. These days most of us consider revolvers to be less than ideal for self defense. I think that is a more important issue than whether 38 special is "good enough" for self defense.
     
  3. Kendal Black

    Kendal Black Member

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    It is a case where 'the tail goes with the hide.' In the long era when the .38 Special was found generally adequate, it was being fired from revolvers. If the bullet worked that shows its launcher worked.

    Is the revolver inadequate today? It could be argued that that was then, this is now, and times have changed. But I think many defense needs still are adequately met by the revolver. You can think of scenarios where an 18-shooter is better than a 6-shooter, but that is not all scenarios. In what I take to be the typical scenario, it makes no difference. A possibly trite way of putting this is you will run out of time before you run out of ammunition.
     
  4. ilbob

    ilbob Member

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    I think a 38 special revolver is likely a better option for SD in many cases than a 25ACP semi auto. or some kind of Deringer.

    Some think a revolver is simpler so has advantages to those with little training, but it is no easier than a Glock to shoot. Both require a little more skill to load and unload but the critical thing is aiming and pulling the trigger and having a chunk of lead come out the muzzle reliably.

    I have never had a semi auto jam on me to the point that it was unusable. Usually a quick yank on the slide and it is ready to go. personally not a fan of tap-rack-bang.

    I did have a DA revolver jam on me once and it took me several minutes to figure out how to unjam it.
     
  5. RealGun

    RealGun Member

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    Are we talking what revolver cartridge is best or what type of gun? I thought one was already among the faithful, if participating in this revolver forum. First, I think the need to conserve ammo makes one a more careful shot. Secondly, how we want to dress has more to do with what we carry, not as much the logic of how effective our weapon might be. Little guns are limited in what they can shoot in what I think would be most people's hands.
     
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  6. Tallball

    Tallball Member

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    I like my Glock, but I prefer my revolvers. I'm not saying anything is "better", I'm just an older guy who is more used to certain things

    I used to hunt deer in the brush with my 7.62mm SKS. If the morning was moving on and I was seeing no deer, I would shoot squirrels out of the oak trees with it. It left tidy little holes and ruined no meat. I take it that they didn't have enough mass to make the bullet even slow down. As far as my experience goes, the "blowing the animal apart" stuff just doesn't pan out. I ate a lot more squirrels than I did deer.

    I am comfortable with a 38 special at hand, but I am even more comfortable with a 44 special.
     
  7. Vern Humphrey

    Vern Humphrey Member

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    The proper role for the .38 Special nowadays is in a snub-nosed revolver. As some gun writer whose name escapes me at the moment wrote, "Light weight revolvers have changed the recoil of the .357 from merely unpleasant to downright painful." If shooting is painful, you will either not practice, or will develop flinching and jerking habits. That's why most people use the .38 Special as a defensive round.

    I have tested .38 Specials fired from my Colt Detective Special in a Fackler Box. They penetrated well, and those designed to expand did expand.
     
  8. RealGun

    RealGun Member

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    The desire for comfort and light weight, virtually no price to pay for carrying a gun, has led to those 38 snubs being so light that they too can hurt you. You pick your ammo or now wish it was a 32.
     
  9. jad0110

    jad0110 Member

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    I don't mind shooting my S&W 642 air weight, to me, it is a good compromise between weight and controllability. Not as pleasant as say my 4" Model 15, but doable.

    38 special is still my favorite handgun cartridge for self defense. It looks weak on paper, but if you select match up the right ammo for your barrel length, you can get good penetration and expansion out of it. All of the major service calibers perform very similarly, and I especially appreciate the fact that the .38 is easy to control (even in an airweight J frame, for me) but it is still capable of doing the job if I do mine.

    My two favorite SD ammo choices are the 158 grain LSWCHP +P and the Speer Gold Dot 135 +P. I typically load the gun with the 158s and carry the 135s in a speedloader - the Speers seem to be easier to insert into the chambers with the speedloader than the LSWCHP.
     
  10. grampajack

    grampajack AR Junkie

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    I'm a little surprised no one has brought up hydrostatic shock yet. This would probably be the time since we've explored the less controversial and more scientifically verifiable aspects of the cartridge. If you're not aware of the theory of hydrostatic shock, it's basically a fancy term for stopping power, or more eloquently put, the purported ability of a bullet to remotely damage the nervous system and blood vessels via its shock wave. Under this theory, it is indeed possible to incapacitate and even kill someone without hitting a vital organ directly.

    Army researchers in WWII confirmed the phenomenon, researchers in Vietnam questioned it, and studies out of Iraq then reconfirmed it, noting that remote wounding was significant in all cases of rifle wounds at close range.

    Here's the thing: the researchers who believe in it say that remote wounding effects are measured as significant (i.e. capable of producing life threatening injuries to the nervous system and organs) at around 500 ft/lbs of energy. As we all know, .38 Special falls in around 200-250 ft/lbs, whereas duty calibers fall right at around 500 ft/lbs or more on average. Thus, there may in fact be a tangible reason to choose 9mm, .45, .40, etc. over .38 Special.

    I would be interested to know how many people here believe in hydrostatic shock, and out of those how many believe it's a significant factor in stopping threats with standard pistol caliber cartridges. I myself do believe in it, but do not believe it's a big part of the equation in "stopping power" until you get to rifle calibers, or magnum pistol calibers at the very least. I've just seen too many videos of people being drilled repeatedly with everything from 9mm to .45 and seeming to be unaffected by it. Were hydrostatic shock a big part of the equation for pistol calibers, I would have to think that five rounds of 9mm to the chest would produce the desired result. I've come to believe that 99% of the time the only way to stop someone using a pistol is to hit them in the heart or the head, or in a large enough blood vessel that the sudden drop in blood pressure will cause them to lose consciousness, at least momentarily.

    I would be interested to hear everyone's thoughts.
     
  11. RealGun

    RealGun Member

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    There is some hair-splitting one can do in terms of guns and cartridges small enough to be practical for concealed carry with a heavily compromised mode of dress, but I am reminded about what cartridge and gun one might choose to be competitive in a bowling pin match. There has to be something said for that ability to "whack" something with real authority, and then not necessarily a dead-on, perfect shot.

    Scored about a hundred 10mm cases last time at the range. Been thinking about trying one of those guns.
     
  12. Sistema1927

    Sistema1927 Member

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    I think that you were arguing with yourself.

    You state the importance of hydrostatic shock, and then conclude that you need to step up to a rifle in order to obtain it, and rightly so.

    If I knew that I was going to get into a gun fight, I would get a rifle. However, I can't go about my life carrying one all the time, so I am limited to a handgun. All commonly carried handguns are a compromise, so the need for good hits to the CNS or cardiovascular systems.

    That said, I feel confident that a .38 Special will do what is needed, assuming that I do my job.
     
  13. RealGun

    RealGun Member

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    Don't go too far with the shot placement platitude, else we'd all be carrying 22s.
     
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  14. ilbob

    ilbob Member

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    I would go somewhere else and avoid the gun fight all together.
     
  15. ilbob

    ilbob Member

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    somewhere I once read that 22s cause the most fatalities of all gun shots. don't know if it is true, but given how common they are it would not surprise me any.
     
  16. grampajack

    grampajack AR Junkie

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    I summarized the history of the research, then gave MY opinion. I wanted everyone to know what I was talking about so we could have a genuine scientific discussion on the merits of .38 from that perspective. My opinion is that the difference between .38 and 9mm (or whatever your personal "minimum standard" is) in terms of hydrostatic shock isn't great enough to be significant, but there are Army doctors who made it their life's work to study this elusive animal and would vehemently disagree with me.
     
  17. Sistema1927

    Sistema1927 Member

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    Good point. Life is too short to make it any shorter.
     
  18. pezo

    pezo Member

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    The pressure of the .38 round dropped over the years but bullet design greatly improved. Back then I think they just tried to make more effective by just running it faster. Either way a good .38 round hangs with the rest of the duty calibers for handgun defense and will knock one stone cold if placed in the right spot. Let's not kid ourselves.
     
  19. Gun Master

    Gun Master Member

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    I think a facet (just one) of the OP is :
    What are you carrying your .38 Special ammo in ? Oppps, I ended that sentence with a preposition !
    I have a S&W Model 10 by my bed (4" bull bl.).
    I usually carry a S&W Model 638 (2" bl.), outside my home.

    My Primary Instructor for CCW Permit didn't trust the 2" snub nosed .38 Specials. He said you need at least 4'' to burn all the powder, and therefore have sufficient power for SD.

    I'm not likely to carry a 4", but think a 2" is better than a 0" !

    What thinkest thou ?
     
  20. dickydalton

    dickydalton Member

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    I thinkest that fast burning powder in a 2" barrel will send a 38 Special 125 grain hollow point bullet out at close to 1200 FPS. Your Primary instructor needs more training in ballistics!
     
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  21. Vern Humphrey

    Vern Humphrey Member

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    Hodgdon does list a +P load (14.0 grains of H4227) for a 125 grain bullet at 1277 fps -- but that's from a 7-inch barrel.
     
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  22. .308 Norma

    .308 Norma Member

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    Speer lists a few +P 125gr "Short Barrel" (2") .38 Special loads that get close to 1,000fps. However, I'm not sure as I've never fired my 3.4" barreled 9mm over a chronograph, but I suspect about 1,000fps is about all I'm getting out of it with 124gr bullets. Maybe someone who actually has fired a little 9mm over a chronograph could chime in here?:)
    One thing I am pretty sure about is that a 125gr bullet at 1,000fps from a .38 Special is as "adequate" for self defense as a 95gr bullet at the same speed from a .380 Auto. 1,000fps (chronographed) with 95gr bullets is about all I've been able to get out of my wife's little Glock 42. Yet from what I've heard, a lot of people think .380s are adequate for self defense.
     
    Last edited: Apr 4, 2017
  23. .308 Norma

    .308 Norma Member

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    Maybe, but I kinda doubt it. As I stated in my previous post, around 1,000fps is the best Speer lists for .38 Special, 125gr "Short Barrel" loads. IMO though, that's still not shabby.:)

    Some people are obtuse no matter how much training they've had.:)
     
  24. RealGun

    RealGun Member

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    I am not seeing numbers like that in a cursory check of Speer and Hornady. Also the moderate powders like Unique and Power Pistol outperform the faster powders like Bullseye.One thing I would note is that a max load in a 2" barrel 38, especially of a light weight alloy, will hurt you. The 4" gun rule has as much to do with what kind of loads it will handle.
     
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  25. Hanshi

    Hanshi Member

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    The .38spl is, IMHO, the best of the best for all but the seasoned magnum shooters; and it's probably the best for them, too. I like the .45 but for those who are not "pistoleros", it can prove a daunting caliber. I'll often carry a small .45acp but also can be found with a S&W M60 or a PPK .380acp or the 7.65.
     
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