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The infamous .38 round

Discussion in 'Handguns: General Discussion' started by 1911-A1, Apr 1, 2012.

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  1. 1911-A1

    1911-A1 Member

    Mar 24, 2012
    At a time when many people are considering a purchase of their first handgun for concealed carry, the most common question is, "What is the best gun for me".
    I agree with a previous statement on this subject, "The biggest one you can safely handle". But really, all facts considered, that's not a very good answer to give a first time gun owner.
    So the next question is always asked in our training classes. "What is best, .38 Special, 9mm, or .380, since they are all .38 thousands, right?
    One instructor i heard made this comment, "A .380 is nice to have, if you don't have a gun". Although James Bond did quite well with it, huh?

    So what does the group think about these three rounds, what's the best CCW round?
  2. beatledog7

    beatledog7 Member

    Jun 18, 2011
    First, they are not actually .38" rounds. The .38SPL is .357-6," and the 9mm and .380 are .355-6."

    Any of them can serve as an SD round as long as the bullets go where you aim them.

    The real differences are in the platforms designed to fire these rounds and in the bullet weights that each platform can accommodate. Do some study, then try some out.

    James Bond's writers did better with a .380 than a real person could have ever done.
  3. joed

    joed Member

    Sep 17, 2009
    For self defense I'm not a fan of either of these rounds. The .38 Spl used to be a good one years ago but SAAMI nutered it. The 9mm is OK with heavier bullets but the trend seems to light bullets for it, why I'll never know. The .380 is just to small.
  4. Loosedhorse

    Loosedhorse member

    Aug 4, 2008
    eastern Massachusetts
    JB's PPK was .32 ACP. :cool:

    He also used a .38 revolver.
  5. scaatylobo

    scaatylobo Member

    Oct 7, 2010
    Western NYS
    .38 just fine with S/D ammo

    As far as I have seen it is SHOT PLACEMENT and NOT caliber that makes THE difference in a S/D scenerio.

    I was LEO for 26 years and I saw a few KIA's from gunfire [ and knives etc ] and the area of the hit was THE deciding factor.

    SO, try to hook your mind around whatever gun you shoot REALLY well. and accurately .

    Not easy to ignore all the "caliber" snobs and know it alls.

    After all "Dirty Harry" was deadly witha .44 magnum,BUT if you listened to his speech at the range on the movie "Magnum Force" he stated his load was a .44 SPECIAL handload.

    And of course he did miss many shots too.Even though the gun SOUNDED like a .44 magnum and not a .44 special.

    I see NOTHING wrong with a .380 or especially a .38 modern expanding load [ made for snubbys ] as a S/D/ gun-load.

    Its how well you shoot that will matter THE most and shooting under stress is the key.
  6. Lawdawg45

    Lawdawg45 Member

    Jun 3, 2011
    Central Indiana
    While this general question has been asked a thousand times on here in the past, your particular slant is a good question ...."which is best for a new shooter". For me, this type of question automatically removes the .380 and 9mm, not for it's ballistic data, but for it's reliability and feeding issues. Some are shooter related to poor grip and wrist strength, but some are attributed to the weapon itself, case in point, the Kahr and Ruger LCP. The wide, jagged hollow point such as the Remington Ultimate Defense or Speer Gold Dot that potentially would jam a semi-auto, will perform flawlessly in a wheel gun, and when shot through a heavier frame .357 or S&W K frame, the perceived recoil is very manageable. The 649 I now carry daily in my front pocket replaced an LCP jammomattic!:rolleyes:

  7. RickMD

    RickMD Member

    May 19, 2011
    Anything that will shoot through two 2X4's is fine with me...
  8. heeler

    heeler Member

    Dec 18, 2007
    Well the other side of the coin Lawdog.
    My LCP or Kahr PM9 has never once jammed.
    This using a large variety of brands both fmj and hollowpoint.
    I sold a Smith M 37 because I never could shoot it worth a damn and the recoil of it was so bad I found it quite unpleasant to shoot.
    I can shoot my LCP,Diamondback 380,and my Kel-Tec P32 supremely better than that snub .38.
    And my PM9 is extremely accurate and a joy to shoot.
  9. Pilot

    Pilot Member

    Dec 29, 2002
    For home defense, you must also consider muzzle blast and deafening sound. While I know people will tell you the adrenaline will keep you from hearing it, your hearing will suffer, and it could distract you from follow up shots.

    As others have said, the "best" is the one you can hit with. For me, indoors I prefer 9MM, but if it were a revolver, I'd use .38 Spl +P which is pretty similar ballistically to 9MM.
  10. HGM22

    HGM22 Member

    Mar 11, 2010
    Like beatledog said, the real difference is the platform. If the new shooter wants a revolver go with one in .38 Special (or .357 Mag loaded with .38's) or maybe .327 Mag. If the shooter wants an auto obviously 9mm or .380 are probably better (though some say .45 is actually softer recoiling).

    I would recommend going with a 9mm in a larger framed handgun, but it might be too much in one of the subcompacts like the Ruger LC9 or Kel-tec Pf9. So I'd say have them try out a 9mm and if they can handle it great, if not, go down to the .380 and stress they now have a weaker round making shot placement even more critical. I haven't myself decided, but many recommend going with solid point bullets over hollow points in the .380 and below classes. I'd again make sure they know of the pros and cons of solid and hollow points as applicable to the .380 and below classes so they could make their own decision.
  11. loadedround

    loadedround Member

    Feb 18, 2006
    Valley Forge, Pa
    Ole James Bond really upgraded his fire power when "M" forced him to turn in his 25 ACP Beretta for a 32 ACP PPK. Of course 007 was a crack shot and almost never missed his target. I just loved Ian Fleming! :)
  12. eldon519

    eldon519 Member

    Jul 21, 2005
    For a new shooter, I would recommend the .38 of the three. It has never been a challenge to me, but some people just have trouble making sense of a semi-automatic. My parents have shot with me for years and never really got the hang of it (which lever does what, the loading/unloading sequence involving magazine and slide, etc). A revolver is pretty easy to use and grasp conceptually, and doesn't require much hand strength to operate.

    Were it me, I'd prefer the 9mm, .38+P (FBI load), or .357 magnum since it's basically the same diameter. I like a heavier bullet than the .380 tends to utilize.
  13. TarDevil

    TarDevil Member

    Dec 29, 2009
    NC Coast
    You are doing the right thing by asking questions. Don't stop asking, and read everything you can get your hands on. Your opinion about weapons/caliber will change many times as you acquire knowledge.

    I used to be a wheelgun fanatic, it was my first acquisition. My next purchase WAS going to be .45 of some type because believed in its "superior stopping capability."

    My carry choice, after a long time out to learn, was the culmination of a bunch of factors that all pointed to 9mm (not in any particular order):
    • Ability to make multiple accurate shots
    • Something I could afford to practice with OFTEN
    • A platform and caliber that wouldn't beat up an arthritic hand (see the first two)
    • A weapon that was big enough for good control, but still concealable.

    In other words, do your homework, don't take one person's word as gospel, and make a choice you are comfortable with.
  14. amprecon

    amprecon Member

    Dec 27, 2002
    For non-gun enthusiasts, those who won't go to the range regularly I usually always recommend a .38spl revolver. They are just the simplest firearm to operate.
    If someone is an enthusiast and goes to the range regularly and are interested in semi-auto's, I'd recommend always a 9mm over a .380. 9mm handguns are made small enough nowadays to trump the biggest quality of .380 handguns, their small size.
    .38 revolvers are also viable for enthusiasts as well, some people shoot revolvers better than autos.
  15. Big JJ

    Big JJ Member

    Nov 29, 2011
    For me only it is a 5 shot revolver in .357 mag. loaded with .38 special +P ammo.
    I prefer the Ruger LCR but there are other guns that fit this purpose.
    My reasons are:
    It is for self defense only.
    It fits the pocket in a holster without printing.
    It is light enough to carry all day.
    The caliber will do the job.
    Shoots every time with no jams,racking,safty, or any other problems a common citizen would find challenging in a stressful situation.
    I am not in a combat situation.
    If I was in combat I would only use this as a backup gun and I would go to a 40 or 45 caliber gun.
    This works for me and is just my opinion may not be right for everyone.
  16. Old Fuff

    Old Fuff Member

    Dec 24, 2002
    Well the first question to resolve is, "What handgun? Pistol or revolver?" If a revolver is chosen, particularly a small, easily carried and concealed one, the .38 Special cartridge is an excellent choice. It is available almost anywhere in a wide range of bullet weights, styles and loads.

    "Stopping power" might be better described as "incapacitate," which is mostly dependent on bullet placement in relation to a vital organ and not any particular bullet or cartridge. In this regard, none of the specified cartridges has a substantial advantage over the others - except possibly in penetration.

    The supposed advantages of high-performance ammunition loaded with hollow point bullets are mostly mythical, unless a vital organ is hit and damaged to the point where it becomes non-functional. A hit elsewhere else may or may not stop a determined attacker or one under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

    In advising a new shooter, determine what they can handle it terms of size, weight and recoil when picking out a gun. Then match the choice with an appropriate cartridge.
  17. Furncliff

    Furncliff Member

    Dec 10, 2005
    Western Slope of Colorado
    If you can't shoot your carry piece confidently and accurately it doesn't mater what it is. And, it doesn't matter which modern handgun you choose, so long as you can shoot it confidently and accurately. Best if you try a variety of guns until your hand says, " yes... this one".

    Regardless of caliber.

    Most modern calibers are available in improved velocity rounds. At close range a .380 or 9mm Mak using SD ammo is no love tap.
  18. CraigC
    • Contributing Member

    CraigC Member

    Jan 27, 2006
    West Tennessee
    I wouldn't recommend any centerfire for a new shooter, IF he wants to actually learn how to shoot proficiently. If all he wants is to make noise at the range every once in a while, impress his friends or just to say he has some "protection", then virtually anything will do. At the moment of truth, the cartridge of choice will be so far down the list of factors affecting the outcome, it does not even bear mentioning.

    If the shooter wants to actually learn how to shoot, then I will always recommend a .22LR.
  19. RickMD

    RickMD Member

    May 19, 2011
    Since when has the .38 Special become infamous? It's one of the best balanced, usable, and accurate cartridges ever developed. I think someone needs to look up the word "infamous" in the dictionary.
  20. TennJed

    TennJed Member

    Sep 26, 2010
    Unfotunaty, there are a lot of people that consider the 38 (and any round) evil. So the 38 has been considered infamous ever since it was introduced, although I think you were trying to point out in the context of this thread it might not be the best choice.
  21. SFsc616171

    SFsc616171 Member

    Jul 21, 2010
    "Best for the new shooter", eh?

    Ok, let's take it one more level:
    Young adult, adult, or senior citizen - able or disabled?
    Male or Female?
    'Gunning' family history, or of age to be, or have been, indoctrinated by that lovely Dept. of Education, born under Nixon?
    Military tradition family, or, 'crazy uncle Viet Vet'?

    "Best gun for the new shooter", and I INCLUDE myself, with a hiatus of many years due to the politics of former ex's families. ("Marry me, you marry the family".) I am 'getting senior' as we speak, and by health, do NOT have those swift kung-fu moves, anymore. Which makes me one of those: "too old to fight, but not too old to shoot", or some epithet like that.

    I own both semi- and revolvers. With a new gun, having that 'tap-rack-boom', sure does engrain the fact that there are a lot less possibilities of 'uh-oh's' with a revolver! With a new semi, you CAN forget just how many shots you have fired, even on the range. A revolver has 5, 6, or 7 shots, period, depending on the design. You learn quick to count them! In both designs, there CAN be trigger-hitting-primer-NO BANG's. There CAN be damaged-in-the-loading-process-cases. Revolvers teach better aiming discipline, and trigger patience. New Shooters using 'high-definition' loads, can pick up a flinch, which is a bugger to let go of! To New Shooters, ALL handguns are heavy. To New Shooters visiting an indoor range, it is a big noise environment.

    I would NOT shove a semi-automatic in the hand of a New Shooter. I would ask them to handle a revolver. Whether they have mental images of Tombstone, detectives, Edward G. Robinson on the late night cable movie, there is an almost genetic thing about revolvers. Then there those two outstanding photos of snubnose revolvers in use from the '60's: the South Vietnamese General snuffing out a Communist VietCong, or Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald. Still, powerful images that prove these things work.

    Yes, some New Shooters may have watched Sean Connery as James Bond, with his Walther PPK in 7.65mm. Yes, in his Bentley (in the books), he did keep a 'Fitz-style' .38 SW revolver. Instinctive aiming can be acquired, in time. But that can come, with a revolver, easier, once the basics are engrained.

    As a not-so-new shooter, I own Browning BHPs. I own SW M-15's. I carried an M-15 series, as part of my duties in Thailand and Cambodia.

    What do I suggest? What fills your hand best; What feels balanced when arms are extended; which action can you manipulate, with what body strength you have; what sight picture can you see best - with and without glasses; from table to arms length, can you get that thing to aim; finally, what do you think is too costly for a firearm, or it's ammunition? Then we start from there. ALL firearms are manufactured to shoot better than the human body can align. It is -we- who have more imperfections, than that manufactured piece of machinery called a firearm.

    Choose and Shoot well, New Shooter.
  22. mljdeckard

    mljdeckard Member

    Jun 5, 2006
    In a part of Utah that resembles Tattooine.
    James Bond is a fictional character.

    Why is "Shoot the biggest one you can safely handle" bad advice for anyone? If it's too big for them, then they can't safely handle it, can they? Even if they can't handle something big NOW, they will learn and possibly upgrade later.

    Just like .380 overlaps into 9mm effectiveness, a 9mm overlaps into .380 range for convenience. If they can handle a .380, they can handle a 9mm.

    As for a .38, its really more a question of if a revolver suits them than which cartridge suits them.
  23. ColtPythonElite

    ColtPythonElite Member

    Jan 8, 2011
    Any of the three will work just fine with proper shot placement. Sure, it might take two to the chest and one to the head, but it will do the job.
  24. tarosean

    tarosean Member

    Oct 22, 2010
    a fictional character probably would not be your best bet for a counter argument.
  25. 1858remington

    1858remington Member

    Oct 5, 2004
    The 38 family

    So why, if the 38 special is a .357 caliber is it called a 38 and not a 36?

    Back in the black powder days, There was 36 caliber revolvers. These guns utilized a .375 round ball that after firing was squashed down to 36 caliber.

    The gun manufacturers wanted to give there new round the impression of being more powerful, and also didn't want to confuse people with another 36, so they called it a 38.

    There were some rounds that were of the Heeled type, in that the bullet head was the same 38 diameter as the case. These were the "True" 38's. (Modern 22LR rounds are heeled bullets)

    The .356 to .357 family
    1. 38 Short Colt (like a wimpy 380)
    2. 38 Long Colt
    3. 38 Special
    4. 357 Magnum
    5. 357 Maximum (Dan Wesson Arms)
    6. 380 auto
    7. 9X18 Makarov
    8. 9mm auto
    9. 38 Largo
    10. 38 Super
    11. 357 Sig

    The .38 Family
    1. 38S&W

    I'm sure there are more to add, but I'm having a senior moment right now.:confused:
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