.38 Special: What I’ve Learned After 20,000 Rounds

HB4116

I make a habit of counting the number of reloads I make by keeping a tally of primer and bullet boxes. I’m not a hoarder and I don’t keep them, but I am detailed in my process. I reached an interesting number the other day. I realized that I had hit a very special count for a very special cartridge: 20,000 rounds of .38 Special.

I’ve done the majority of shooting in .38 Special in my Smith & Wesson 642. The gun has appeared on TTAG before and has remained unchanged as far as accessories. Unlike many other guns I’ve owned and carried, this little snubby really can’t be modified much beyond factory configuration. As a result, I’ve been able to spend far more time practicing with it rather than fussing with it.

But this piece isn’t about the gun, but rather the cartridge. I never really set my sights, in a manner of speaking, on the .38 cartridge like I did other rounds. There have been guns I’ve bought for the caliber, but the .38 wasn’t one of those. I wanted a good carry gun that was light and reliable, so I decided that the .38 would fit and I just went with it. Reloading for it came next and it has since become my favorite pistol cartridge.

The stuff you learn shooting 20,000 reloads (on top of thousands of rounds of factory ammo) can be pretty interesting and I feel that I’ve got a very good picture of what the .38 Special. looks like today.

The reason I love the .38 SPL so much is because it’s so elastic in function. Most people have one general power level for their semi-autos due to the fact that the guns won’t function with ammo that’s not energetic enough to cycle the slide. A revolver shooting .38 SPL only requires the power of your finger to make it fire and can thus be loaded with ammo that is extremely mild or hotter than hot.

1.)   The majority of my shooting with .38 has taken place with soft lead bullets. In my time with the cartridge, I have come to appreciate the mid to low end of the power spectrum and thus have made extensive use of Trail Boss powder and bullets such as Hornady’s .358” 158gr SWC. I load these bullets to the edge of the shoulder and use anywhere from 3-4 grains of TB. This produces about 550-650fps from a 1 7/8” barrel and feels like shooting a very powerful .22LR.

2.)   Over 20,000 rounds, I’ve found that there’s rarely a wrong way to do .38 SPL. I have used everything from simple lead to the most advanced machined copper bullets and found them all to be extraordinarily easy to load and shoot. When I say that there’s rarely a wrong way to do it, I really mean it. If you can follow simple instructions, you can safely load this cartridge.

3.)   When I teach other people the basics of reloading, I teach them on the .38 SPL. The cases are large enough that they can be easily manipulated by inexperienced hands and yet small enough to not require much force in the sizing stage.

4.)   The powder charges used for .38 are forgiving. Because we have no action to cycle, the novice reloader can afford to be off a bit if they have an entry-level scale or powder dispenser. Most modern revolvers chambered for .38 SPL are rated to +P, so there is room for error, but care must still be taken.

5.)   Anything goes with bullets. I routinely use only two powders: Trail Boss and Titegroup. These two can cover the entire performance spectrum up to .38+P. I really enjoy Trail Boss and use it extensively for plain lead and plated bullets. I have tested lots and lots of different bullet and found them all to be great. The beauty of shooting a .38 is that you can easily practice at the ranges you’d fight at using basically any cheap bullet at minimal expense.

6.)   Case life is excellent, especially for mild loads. I have tested both brass and nickel-plated cases using mild loadings and have not yet worn out a case. I have one that has been loaded about sixty times and it is still in use today. Using higher pressure loads will wear brass out faster and it will become brittle with time.

7.)   Bullet seating depth is very forgiving. Since we are working with a gun that doesn’t have a magazine, we can afford to mess with this dimension at will. I’ve loaded some wadcutters to the point of being flush with the case mouth and big lead bullets almost to the front of the cylinder.

8.)   Brass collection is easy since it doesn’t eject. The best part about this is that not only do you never really lose your fired cases, but you they are always in great condition. I don’t bother polishing my .38 brass because I just don’t let it fall in the mud or dirt.

9.)   Beginners to shooting can use a full size revolver or their carry gun with light to mild loads to become confident and familiar with marksmanship and trigger control. I love a nice, full-size .357 Magnum on the range because it is so easy to train new shooters on. There is almost no recoil and the student can increase power level when they feel ready using the same gun.

10.)Lastly, the .38 SPL has a very large following and materials can be had readily. It is easy to load in progressive presses and has commercially available options from virtually all modern manufacturers. Reloading supplies and load recipes are available everywhere.

If you haven’t taken a look at what the .38 Special offers, you are selling yourself short. The cartridge offers a great deal of zest and has thousands of possible load combinations. In my time spent with the .38, I have come to greatly appreciate it for what it is and does. Despite being well over one hundred years old, it still has perfect relevance for today’s shooters, both novice and advanced.

comments

  1. avatar kap says:

    The American Nine is a great cartridge, down load power for the ultra lights, and the big boys can go +P+ the 158 gr lead hollow point, works anywhere from tin cans too Black bear!

    1. avatar little horn says:

      same sized projectile, basically.

      1. avatar Kenneth says:

        True. .355 vs .357(.358 in lead bullets which shoot a little better if they are a tight fit and must swage down a little on the way up the bore). That is two thousandths of an inch, or one fifth of a caliber. Virtually the same, but a .355 bullet for a 9mm won’t engage the rifling, and a .357 in a 9mm is too tight and will overpressure to a potentially dangerous degree. So, almost identical diameters, but not close enough to interchange. Too bad. How convenient it would be to be able to use 9mm bullets in the .38.

        1. avatar Joel says:

          I have a friend who reloads 9mm and we spent 20 min measuring his bullets one day because my CZ didn’t like his reloads. we discovered his “124 grain, .355 inch” bullets varied from 121 to 127 grains and measured from .354 to .359 in diameter. More than half of them were .356

          My point is, unless it’s a match grade barrel, (or in the case of my barrel, a tight for caliber chamber) a few thousands of an inch isn’t going to make that big of difference.

          I don’t reload yet, but I have been saving brass for years. I have a 5 gallon water jug full of brass, and I do plan to start reloading one day.

          .38 special will be at the top of my list to reload. I love shooting my revolvers.

        2. avatar wolfee says:

          Kenneth, at least 2 wheelgun makers (Ruger and Freedom) offer 357 revolvers with optional extra 9mm cylinders. There is probably less depth to the engravement, but they shoot just fine. Lots of Blackhawk owners report excellent accuracy shooting 9mm rounds out of their 357 magnum guns.

        3. avatar Kenneth says:

          Such might be good enough for some, as 9mm bullets will certainly go bang and travel downrange. But I tried it both ways decades ago and the accuracy was poor. The same thing with the 9mm/.357 blackhawk convertible that I had years ago. The only convertible I have ever been happy with was the .22LR/.22mag Single Six that I had back in 1976. I shot that gun a lot over the decade and a half that I owned it. It shot magnums just as good as LRs even though the magnum bullet were just one thousandth oversize. However, I seldom used the magnum cylinder, because it shot to different point of aim with magnum rounds, which meant rezeroing the sights every time you switched calibers. That was a pain, so I just didn’t do it unless I really needed a .22 mag. Which, as it turned out, was very seldom.
          The other way(.357 in a .355 bore) might be just fine, but it WILL cause higher pressure, which can be compensated for, but the bullet designs do not feed well in most autos, and most of the round noses are so long that the bullet intrudes into the powder space, of which there is little enough to begin with. Too bad it doesn’t work better. It would sure be nice if they had made the 9mm bore .357 in the beginning. Or the .38 at .355. Either way, because as has already been said, the difference is too little to notice in the real world. Bullets of equal weights perform the same, if they are at similar velocity. Only at the microscopic level of interior ballistics does the difference become apparent.

        4. avatar RandallOfLegend says:

          As a reloader, I need to stop you right there. The 9mm groove diameter is anywhere from .354 to .357 in modern handgun barrels. The lands are even smaller (~0.347). The same spec goes for a 38/357 barrel, just a couple of thousandths bigger.

          A 9 mm bullet will always engage the rifling in a 357 mag/38 spl barrel. But there is possibility of getting some gas leakage (blow by) if the bullet doesn’t obturate (expand in the barrel). Slug your barrels if you are really concerned. That being said, I’d shoot 9mm bullets in a 357, but I’d be more caution the other way around without slugging first.

  2. avatar little horn says:

    actually it seems this would be a good article to point out why its better to start out teaching someone to reload shells for a revolver. which makes a lot of sense.

  3. avatar Geoff PR says:

    If worst comes to worst (eventually a ‘Progressive’ administration stacks SCOTUS), .38 spl can be loaded with black powder, no?

    1. avatar jwtaylor says:

      Yes, but so can the 45 ACP.

      1. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

        Why wouldn’t you be able to load any cart ridge with black pow der? Other than maybe the fouling would probably jam a semi-auto in pretty short order.

        Also, in what world are you going to be able to buy primers but not smokeless powd er?

        1. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

          Because the case might lack the volume necessary to achieve the velocities the shooter wants with black powder.

          The .38 Special, .45 Colt, etc – they have huge case capacities for modern smokeless powders, but would be loaded fairly full with black powder, were you so loading it.

          For modern smokeless ball or flake powders, cases like the .45 Colt are huge and it is possible to triple-charge a .45 Colt. A .45 Colt case has a case capacity on par with a .22-250 case.

          If you tried to load a 9×19 case with black powder, I think you’d find that you probably get muzzle velocities in the 650 to 750 fps range…

        2. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

          Yes, I knew it would be underpowered but I was probably underestimating by how much. Almost certainly wouldn’t have enough re coil to cycle the sl ide then. Still, in our ‘survival’ scenario it’s probably better than sharpening sticks.

        3. avatar Stinkeye says:

          “Also, in what world are you going to be able to buy primers but not smokeless powd er?”

          You can reload primers with match heads crushed into powder. It’s tedious but it works.

          But primers are cheap and last nearly forever if stored properly, so it’s probably easier to just store a long-term supply somewhere safe.

      2. avatar ACP_arms says:

        .45 ACP can be loaded with blackpowder? I know .45 Colt can, but .45 ACP?

        1. avatar jwtaylor says:

          Absolutely, and I can get through 2 full mags before the fouling stops my Colt Combat Elite from cycling.

        2. avatar ACP_arms says:

          Hmm… didn’t know that, now I do. Thanks.

    2. avatar LarryinTX says:

      Well, yeah, but … Has anybody here figured out how to manufacture a primer?

      1. avatar jwtaylor says:

        Yes.
        It is also possible to turn a 7.62NATO cartridge into a mild to mid powered 45acp. I have done it to prove that it can be done. I was going to do a whole article on it, but then I realized that people would screw it up and end up getting themselves hurt and then no more TTAG.
        There is an old Paladin Press booklet that describes the process perfectly.
        The scenario was that NATO or the UN takes over America and Patriots would need rounds for their pistols. They could be made from the linked rounds from the M60 or m240. Or any of the German G36 or the South American FALs.

        1. avatar Kenneth says:

          I thought I was the only one crazy enough to try that! I did it to get the super thick head area so I could experiment with ultra hot loads in the 1911, where the head area tends to blow out where it is left unsupported by the feed ramp. I figured the thick, rifle brass head would solve that, which it did, but it’s just not worth it. Too much work for too little benefit. It does make a 1911 suitable for hot loads with extra power springs and good buffers though. Not that I would build such a project for anyone but myself. As you said, too much chance for screwups to be suitable for the general public.

      2. avatar Geoff PR says:

        ” Has anybody here figured out how to manufacture a primer?”

        Re-manufacture, actually.

        Disassemble them, tamp out the firing pin dent, reassemble with the old ‘anvil’. Reload with new priming compound you mix up yourself.

        This company has a kit on reloading .22lr. The priming compound they sell separately will re-prime centerfire primers :

        https://sharpshooter-22lr-reloader.myshopify.com/products/prime-all-repriming-compound

        1. avatar Bob says:

          Strike anywhere matches, tap out the old primer dent, replace the anvil, use water to make a paste, refill, dry. They fire in a pinch.
          Tried it, works, very labor intensive.

        2. avatar Kenneth says:

          What Bob said. But methyl alcohol works better as the solvent over water.

        3. avatar Marshall says:

          See the “can you make primer compound” thread at the Castboolits forum under Special Projects. The answer is not just yes you can, but it can be done safely in multiple ways. Both corrosive (easiest) and non-corrosive (helps to be a chemist) solutions are possible. I currently make my own boxer and berdan primers that are essentially identical to commercial primers (but then again I am a chemist). Because I can make primer compounds, I have also dabbled in repriming and reloading 22LR. The latest 22LR test rounds I fired last week at the range worked 100% and cycled my pistol perfectly. I also have mastered recharging the 5mm berdan primers commonly used in Russian steel cased ammunition and reloading these cases as well. It is nice to turn what most folks consider “trash” into treasure.

    3. avatar Mad Max says:

      We’re gonna have to prevent that from happening.

      If all of the POTG make sure they get informed about the candidates and vote for their 2A rights and also try to gain converts by taking interested folks to the range, we’ll prevail.

  4. avatar Matt says:

    Great article and I love shooting and reloading for .38 Spl. The only thing I would tell a reloader is that it is easy to double charge .38 and difficult to verify a powder drop. 60 reloads out of one case is amazing!

    1. avatar J says:

      That’s why trail boss makes a great beginner powder. It has huge volume. I doubt you could get a kaboom with it even if you tried in a in a +p revolver.

    2. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

      Two words:

      “Trail Boss.”

      https://www.hodgdon.com/trail-boss/

      1. avatar Kenneth says:

        How does that compare with bullseye(my goto light load powder) in burn rate? I went to the link but no word there on speed. Only “low velocity”, which will mean fast, but faster or slower than bullseye?

        1. avatar Koolhed says:

          Powder POSITION
          is a definite factor in a cartridge designed for black powder. That’s where Trail Boss shines, again.

          http://www.handgunsandammunition.com/reloading/2532-powder-position-velocity.html

        2. avatar Kenneth says:

          Before special powders made to take up space in a large case appeared, we old timers used to use a bit of cotton as wadding on top of the powder before seating the bullet, to keep the powder in place. That works really well, but would sure be a pain in the rear quarters, in the quantity required for cowboy action shooting. No wonder the trail boss type is a hit. I’ve read about it, but never tried it out. Nowhere on line can I find any reference to the burning rate. It must be quite similar to bullseye but I cannot find out for sure. Does anyone hear know of the TB burn rate, or a link to such?

  5. avatar Art out West says:

    I also enjoy shooting and reloading .38sp. The round probably doesn’t get the credit it deserves, being eclipsed by 9mm for capacity, plus cheap factory ammo, and .357 mag for power in revolvers. I enjoy all three of those (38/9/357), but only reload for 38. I shoot the reloads out of my EDC AirWeight 642, and 4″ Security Six.

    1. avatar LarryinTX says:

      Interesting. When I was reloading, it was almost always .357, but since .38 uses all the same components and equipment other than cases, it surprises me that you reload ,38 but, what, discard .357 cases?

      1. avatar Art out West says:

        I save my .357 cases, and will probably start reloading that down the road too.

  6. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

    The only down side to shoo ting .38s out of your .357 is the bul lets will typically hit higher since the bull et stays in the ba rrel longer and will exit with more muzzle flip than the faster loads.

    1. avatar Matt says:

      I’ve never seen a point of impact shift from shooting 38 or 357.

  7. avatar Anner says:

    Out of a suppressed lever action or Ruger 77/357, 38Spec is whisper quiet. The 38/357 combo is easily the most flexible and adaptable combinations in the world, for everything from squirrels to bear, out of a handgun or rifle.

    1. avatar samuraichatter says:

      TTAG did a video related to this years ago:

      http://www.thetruthaboutguns.com/2011/07/foghorn/silenced-lever-action-marlin-1894c-38-special/

      Since, I have begged them to do some sound testing on .38 out a rifle: suppressed vs. unsuppressed.

      Legit, a pump or lever action .38/.357 is one of the most versatile guns out there.

      1. avatar Anner says:

        Hehe, back before Nick skimmed down. Now there’s an old memory.

  8. avatar pwrserge says:

    Meh… Wheel guns are the light sabers of 21st century small arms.

    “…elegant [weapons] of a “more civilized” age.”

    There’s a reason why I own exactly one wheel gun that’s not on my C&R books.

    Similarly, hand loading runs you a negative rate of return on most handgun and intermediate rifle cartridges. When I can get 10mm for $0.35 per round, the financial incentive to reload more or less disappears. (Especially when you consider the startup and opportunity cost of reloading.)

    1. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

      While I wouldn’t totally disagree with the li ght saber analogy, it should probably be pointed out that the ‘elegant weapon of a more civilized age’ with proper training was enough to take down an entire galactic empire.

      1. avatar pwrserge says:

        While we can have a long discussion about how Emperor Palpatine did nothing wrong, the real crux of the matter is that order 66 was a thing and all the light sabers in the Republic didn’t save the Jedi from getting gunned down by clone troopers.

      2. avatar pwrserge says:

        Stupid lack of an edit button…

        Ok…

        The point I’m trying to make is that if you objective it to cut the arm off of a criminal in a bar room brawl or to stop a mugger in a dark alley, you lightsaber will do the job just fine. (Just as a revolver makes a more than adequate self defense weapon in 99.9% of situations.)

        1. avatar Anner says:

          Serge, what 10mm platforms are your favorite? A G40 with Vortex Venom and G20 play duty for truck guns, hiking, etc. I haven’t ventured into 1911 platforms, since the capacity on Glocks are so much better.

        2. avatar pwrserge says:

          I have a Glock 40 MOS with a Surefire X300V and a Trijicon RMR. It’s the only 10mm platform I shot and comes in at about the same weight in that combo as a full-sized 1911 does naked. Still can’t find anybody who makes a level 1 retention holster for that gun/light combo. Right now, I’m schlepping a “universal” soft holster with a snapdown which really annoys me.

        3. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

          Yes, neither the rev olver nor the li ght saber would be considered sufficient as primary infantry weapons but both make excellent civilian self defense weapons. I have yet to hear/read a story of anyone who came to harm because 5 rou nds of .38 special weren’t sufficient for self defense and I’ve heard/read hundreds of stories where they were.

          Also, the first prequel was so bad I never watched the second two.

        4. avatar pwrserge says:

          The third prequel was pretty good. Not great, but definitely better than the new sequels.

    2. avatar Wiregrass says:

      If I couldn’t reload for less than $0.35/round I wouldn’t bother. I can reload .38 Special for 1/3 the cost of factory target loads. In fact I can load 62gr. .223 Remington for $0.23/round. Yes, I’m not counting my labor, but that’s because I consider it worth my time. Maybe yours is more valuable. Im not running a Dillon so I’ve long since recovered the cost of my setup.

      1. avatar pwrserge says:

        I count my labor at about 2/3 of my normal billable hours. If my choice is to spend 3 extra hours in the office per week and just buy the ammo or to spend 3 hours reloading, it would need to be .308 Gold Metal Match or something similarly pricy to make it worth my effort. Since I don’t shoot enough GMM to make an appreciable difference, the economics just don’t work. Then again, I work 55-60 hour weeks as a matter of course.

      2. avatar Kenneth says:

        For anyone demanding to be paid for the time, reloading is not for them. On the other hand, if one enjoys it then it’s not a job, it’s a pleasure. IOWs, a hobby, and one that saves money to boot. I reload .38s for a nickel apiece, but I cast my own projectiles also. That, too, is fun and relaxing. I’d far rather do that than watch a movie, and I would never bemoan not getting paid for watching a movie.

        1. avatar pwrserge says:

          I’d rather spend my very finite free time at the range.

  9. avatar Felixd says:

    Well, I’m impressed. This is an article of substance that didn’t rely on image or sensationalism to tell a complete story. It didn’t try to push me to buy anything or join an elite fraternity of “operators”. The story gave detail, with few technical particulars, that was a cogent reflection of experience. Actual experience mind you. Not what someone else said or believed on a forum or a blog from two years ago. The next thing you know names like Pope, Nonte, Whelen, Page, and Hatcher might show up. But, the uninformed will most likely relegate them to a FUDD status.

    1. avatar BehindEnemyLines says:

      Not FUDD. Fudd, as in Elmer Fudd. Somebody who appreciates old wood and steel guns is not a Fudd, unless they also believe in banning more modern guns. You know the “Nobody needs an AK-15 for hunting,” types. Those are Fudds.

  10. avatar New Continental Army says:

    I wish .38 super was more popular. I’d be all over that like Bill Cosby on… I’ll stop now…

  11. avatar PeterK says:

    Great. Like I actually needed more reason to want a good revolver. :p

    1. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

      There is at least one semi-auto that shoots the .38 Special: the S&W Model 52.

      The Model 52 shoots .38’s with 148gr wad cutters loaded flush with the case mouth. It’s an incredibly accurate pistol. When they left the S&W factory, they had been tested to shoot 5-round groups into a 2″ group or less at 50 yards.

      1. avatar Jeremy B. says:

        I’ve seen a 1911 that shot .38 Spl flush wadcutters.

        I greatly wish I had bought it, but didn’t understand the reasoning then. I probably thought, “why not chamber it in 38 Super or 9mm?”

  12. avatar Achmed says:

    Great article

    Started loading more 38 last year for use through a m14 for local ppc style match. Great usefull pleasurable round to shoot.

  13. avatar Hoddie Snitch says:

    You shot 20,000 rounds out of the 642? That’s impressive if you did. I too carry the 642 but only shoot factory ammo out of it. I save the reloads for the 686.

    1. avatar Jackass Jim says:

      QUOTE: “You shot 20,000 rounds out of the 642? That’s impressive if you did.”

      I’ve also shot thousands of rounds through similar snubbies – mostly Charter Arms Undercover and Taurus model 85. Both these guns are about the same size as the 642. The Undercover is only about an ounce heavier, .

      Over a hundred of rounds results in no discomfort with a mild reload a 642 size revolver – hence the benefit of home brew reloads.

      1. avatar Hodie Snitch says:

        I was more concerned about the aluminum frame and not the recoil. It seems like a high amount for a non-steel revolver. I would be worried about stress on the frame.

  14. avatar TheOtherDavid says:

    Rain or shine, whatever Glock I’m carrying as primary, my 642 is always in a pocket or a support side IWB.

    Amazing how accurate it is for its size.

  15. avatar Wiregrass says:

    The first cartridge I ever reloaded was .38 Special. It’s a great cartridge for learning the process. I use Titegroup for most of my pistol loading, but HP-38 and Bullseye work well too.

  16. avatar Rick says:

    .38 Special is great. I have an S&W 60 that is my sometimes carry gun. I teach a the NRA Basic Pistol course with 4 hours in the classroom and 8 on the range. We start with a Model 17 Smith in .22LR and move to the Smith Mod 66 with 38 Special loads, for those who might have a flinch issue, I have loaded Wadcutters (also work well in my Mod 52), if the student wants to move to higher power, we go to .357 Mag. Most want to move to a semi-auto in 9mm. I do point out that the revolver is simpler and more forgiving. I need to try some of the new powders, I’ve been using Bullseye.

  17. avatar Gun Free School Zones are a crime against humanity says:

    The .38 is very ignored these days. But it is still a versatile and useful round. And for those of us not infected by ‘operators disease’ it will do the job in so close to 100% of the times that the difference ain’t worth mentioning.

  18. avatar cisco kid says:

    For decades the .38 special was used with nothing more than lead round nosed bullets and it did just fine. Its curious to know that Pistolero Magazine in the 1980’s found no difference when killing barn yard pigs when they used the .357 Mag v/s the .38 special, 9mm, 45 acp etc.

    It should not come as a surprise that its shot placement and penetration that count the most not caliber.

    The .38 special has always been a very good caliber and it was only eclipsed by the 9mm because of lack of high capacity.

    It is also interesting to note that the much maligned .38 Long Colt was not the failure in the American Conquest of the Philippine Islands either as that story was a complete fabrication by prostitute Gun Writers. The real truth was that all the pistol calibers were pretty much a failure when it came to stopping someone all the time which included the 45 Long Colt and the much but wrongly worshiped .45 acp which did no better either.

  19. BATJAC J.W
    Published on May 23, 2016
    A high definition close up look at the Smith and Wesson K frame 38 special with adjustable sights known as the model 15. Some say it’s a improvement over the classic model 10. 76 Comments.

    I think so highly of the .38 Special here are my sentiments I posted back in May 2016
    on the venerable classic Smith and Wesson Model 15 (K-Frame) .38 Special Combat
    Masterpiece revolver (above). I decided to just copy and paste this as its much easier,
    quicker, and simpler to attempt to re-write it here. No, I person could do much worse
    than owning a .38 Special.

    James A. “Jim” Farmer
    Merrill, Oregon (Klamath County)

    For a .38 Special only revolver (not .357 Magnum) the classic, historical, and venerable Smith and Wesson Model 15 (K-Frame) .38 Special Combat Masterpiece would be my obvious and first choice. While I own both a Smith and Wesson Model 19 and
    66 “stainless” .357 Combat Magnum revolver: both with 4″ barrel, I likewise own an S&W Model 15 with same 4″ barrel length. My Model 15, 19, and 66 are all pre-1982 vintage: pinned barrel, counter shrunk chambers (Magnums), and factory Goncalo Alves target grips (Models 19 and 66). The only alteration to the Model 15 was replacing the original
    skimpy factory S&W “Magna grips” with a pair of Pachmayr hard rubber combat grips. Also, once having revolver detail stripped and cleaned by a competent gunsmith. I also own John Henwood’s 1997 book: “America’s Right Arm: Smith and Wesson Military and Police Revolver” which delves into considerable depth on these classic K-Frame Smith and Wesson revolvers. I realize the high capacity 9mm semi-automatic pistols such as the Glock, Sig-Sauer, Beretta, and Ruger all have over twice the ammo capacity of a six shot revolver. However, I have always felt well armed and protected with the traditional double-action police type service revolver with six shot swing out cylinder. Why? Because no substitute exists for accuracy. “Self defense/ house protection/concealed carry” is only half the reason for owning a .38 caliber revolver. The .38 Special 148 grain lead target wadcutter for instance, next to a .22 or .32, remains highly practical for small game hunting: rabbit, squirrel, and grouse in the woods. Even for dispatching vermin: raccoon, skunk, possum, etc. CCI’s classic .38 Special shot or “snake load”: No. 9 shot will shred a rattlesnake’s head at close range. The .38/.357 revolver remains highly practical, versatile, and useful for the home owner, apartment or duplex dweller, hiker, hunter, fisherman, back packer, camper, nature lover, bird watcher, or even for a person gathering wild berries or wild plums. For butchering livestock? Sure. A .38 Special
    wadcutter placed to the head of a steer or cow will drop it dead! For the outdoors person a revolver kept holstered on the person is always there, and is as readily available and accessible as it is inside a night stand, dresser, or bureau drawer. It may be the only firearm readily available and the obvious “first line of defense!” Yes….a .38 or .357 as “the first line of defense” as was the .75 caliber British Brown Bess Flintlock Smoothbore Musket to the Colonial Militiaman, Red Coat, or soldier from the past. Finally, owning a .38 or .357 today is morally and historically no different
    than the Pilgrim or Puritan in Plymouth, Massachusetts in Plymouth Colony during the 1600’s with their matchlock musket. As the saying goes, “the more things change, the more they remain the same.”

    Sentiments of James A. “Jim” Farmer
    Ashland, Oregon

    1. avatar cisco kid says:

      Just remember one thing the Smith & Wesson Model 19 was a complete failure as far as shooting .357’s out of it as it had only a frame life of about 2,000 rounds of full power heavy loads using the 158 grain bullets or heavier. Its a great gun to shoot hot .38 specials out of as long as you do not go really overboard on your hand loads.

      1. avatar cisco kid says:

        I would say I completely disagree with you on ever even contemplating using a revolver for self defense unless you are a person that has never owned a gun and not likely ever to practice with it. The average street punk today has more firepower than the Russian Army did in WWII and trying to re-load a revolver in a fire fight is the best way to commit suicide that I could ever think of.

        Yes I do have a few of the older high quality classic revolvers not the current made Cast Iron garbage that is being vomited out today. And yes I appreciate them for a hunting gun because of their fine accuracy and find trigger pulls (older classic guns). But I would only be caught dead with one in my hands if I had to use one for self defense (pun intended).

        1. avatar J says:

          You are so wise. tell me more.

      2. avatar Kenneth says:

        The model 19 was one of the most popular guns made for decades. The only failures were on a constant diet of .357s. It was designed to shoot .38s most of the time, and only occasionally .357s. That was the way most people shot anyway, back in the day. Cheap .38s for practice, with an occasional few cylinders of .357s for familiarity.
        Even then they held up pretty well. I had a customer back in the 90s that shot hot loads all the time through his M19, and he did wear the hand and cylinder stop out twice. The last time I told him he better start treating that gun right, because it wouldn’t be fixable the next time. There were only two oversize stops available. The third time it becomes a paperweight. He never brought it back again, so either he took the advice, or turned it into a doorstop. Either way the gun took 15K rounds or so of .357. Hardly a failure.
        BTW, revolvers are the perfect self defense firearm. If you shoot dry and still haven’t stopped the threat, and you think another mag full of 17+ rounds will finally get the job done, you’re deluding yourself. IF you should need to reload, for whatever reason, you should be under cover to do so. No matter the firearm in question.

        1. avatar cisco kid says:

          to Kenny quote——————BTW, revolvers are the perfect self defense firearm. If you shoot dry and still haven’t stopped the threat, and you think another mag full of 17+ rounds will finally get the job done, you’re deluding yourself. IF you should need to reload, for whatever reason, you should be under cover to do so. No matter the firearm in question————————————–quote

          Wrong: Your assuming 1. There is only on assailant and 2. You have enough cover to get behind and 3. You have no need to lay down cover fire while you run to cover and 4. You have enough time to fumble around trying to use a speed loader or ever worse stuff loose rounds in the cylinder one by one. All of the above have gotten civilian people killed and also especially cops.

          Now lets review reality and the reality of history. Cops went to high capacity 9mm pistols because just that happened to them in the above quote. Too many cops were being killed because they were outgunned and the civilians who used revolvers suffered the same exact fate.

          People who have been in real combat especially soldiers will all tell you the guy that has the most firepower and does not run out of ammo usually survives especially with multiple assailants attacking him. Even when moving to better cover or to “any cover” laying down a horrific barrage of firepower makes your opponent duck down damn quick which you could never accomplish with the revolver.

          Another real life example: In Nam one guy thought the Shotgun would be the ultimate weapon for jungle warfare because of its terrible lethality at close range jungle fighting. There was just one problem with this cockeyed philosophy which mimics the revolver and that is the shotgun had a magazine capacity of just a few rounds just like the revolver and the guy in question was shot and killed while desperately trying to reload it.

        2. avatar Kenneth says:

          Cisco: You are incorrect. You presuppose that civilians and police are soldiers. They are not. Police, and esp. civilians, have little need for fire suppression or even reloading. Your ‘facts’ are just flat out wrong. There was no spike in police deaths for any reason that led to the adoption of the semi auto. Very few cops ever needed to reload in a gunfight, just like civilian encounters. Almost never. It was just a case of administration wanting the newest and shiniest.
          Please note: none of this applies to soldiers. They, OF COURSE, need capacity and fire suppression. But civilians and police(hopefully…) have no need for such offensive firepower, as they are(supposedly) to be on the defense and not the offense. In fact, at least for the civilian, the law MANDATES that.
          You do understand the differences, yes?

        3. avatar cisco kid says:

          to Kenny

          quote————————-There was no spike in police deaths for any reason that led to the adoption of the semi auto.———————-quote

          Wrong. I am obviously a lot older than you are and I remember reading many times of shoot outs where the cops were blown away and found dead with empty revolvers in their hand and I remember one case where the cop used two revolvers and when they ran dry was gunned down while trying desperately to reload. Your statement is just plain untrue that cops were not outgunned and killed because of the low capacity of a revolver.

    2. avatar Kenneth says:

      And one could add:
      1. revolvers are simpler and more intuitive for the beginner.
      2. no stoppages to learn how to clear, or to clear under stress in a fight.
      3. can be fired from a pocket if it should become necessary.
      4. safe enough to carry loaded without holster, ready inside a pocket in hand if the situation seems dicey.
      5. no shooting yourself in gut like these guys!
      http://wjla.com/news/local/us-park-police-officer-shoots-himself-in-foot-after-being-attacked-by-raccoon-in-dc
      https://www.abcactionnews.com/news/region-sarasota-manatee/detectives-investigating-after-florida-police-officer-accidentally-shoots-himself
      https://www.local10.com/news/florida/coconut-creek/bso-deputy-accidentally-shoots-himself-while-responding-to-north-broward-preparatory-school-
      Since no one seems to notice, I will call attention to the fact that this virtually never happened, prior to the takeover of the LE market by the glock. The wages of transitioning to a much more complex firearm, while simultaneously demanding the lowest possible standards(meaning cheapest) of training, is the current plethora of LEO firearms ‘accidents'(meaning negligence).

      1. avatar cisco kid says:

        to Kenny Quote———————————-1. revolvers are simpler and more intuitive for the beginner.
        2. no stoppages to learn how to clear, or to clear under stress in a fight.

        Wrong. This is another great myth as Revolvers suffer all kinds of stoppages such as bullets moving forward out of their cases jamming up the rotation of the cylinder. Or dirt or wind blown dust or debris again jamming up the rotation of the cylinder, or interfering with the cocking or fall of the hammer.

        3. can be fired from a pocket if it should become necessary.

        Again a myth. The only revolver that was able to do this was the revolvers that either had a factory shroud installed over the hammer or no hammer. Otherwise they were only good for just one shot just like an automatic pistol because the revolvers hammer would invariable catch on the lining of ones coat pocket jamming it up. I once performed an experiment by standing behind a coat I hung up and then reaching into the pocket and firing off a pocket automatic, it actually fired off its magazine and did not jam. Now I am not saying it would do this every time but neither could you count on a revolver to do the same either.

        4. safe enough to carry loaded without holster, ready inside a pocket in hand if the situation seems dicey.

        Here again your assuming everyone carries a pre-loaded striker fired auto like a Glock which has no manual safety but in reality there are plenty of old and new automatics that have either long hard double action pulls just like a revolver and some even have a manual safety as well or in the case of some of the old fashioned striker fired pistols they had both grip and manual safeties and were designed to be carried in the pocket and originally without a holster. They performed this function very well and were and still are carried by millions of people including yours truly for over 50 years.

        5. no shooting yourself in gut like these guys!

        Again your assuming everyone carries an auto that does not have a manual safety or a grip safety. True the striker fired guns without a manual safety are suicidal to carry without a holster and even with a holster as plenty of Glocks have gone off when holstering them and some while they were actually in the holster because a fold of leather got caught in the trigger guard. But the other automatics with long hard double action pulls and or other automatics with the addition of a manual safety are much safer to carry.

        1. avatar kenneth says:

          Cisco: You badly need to learn the difference between a “stoppage” and a “jam”, (among many other things) because you misuse both terms continuously.

  20. avatar Matthew R Peacock says:

    Straight walled rimmed revolver cartridges are PERFECT for getting started at rolling your own ammo. 44 mag got me into reloading because I wasn’t willing to pay a buck each for revolver ammo. Everything you said about .38spl applies to 44 magnum. I love rolling ammo for those two.

    1. avatar Jeff O. says:

      That’s how I started, well, in reverse. .38SPL then .44 MAG.

      I absolutely still love shooting my .38 SPL Colt Police Positive and my .44 MAG Rossi 92 lever gun. And I get to on the cheap! I think I go through at least 200 rounds with them when I take either one out. It’s so easy to reload, there’s literally no excuse not to.

  21. avatar Phil LA says:

    I like this article. 45 Colt is my cartridge of choice.

  22. avatar Michael in AK says:

    Just rolled 3000 38 specials this winter (and 1000 357 mag and 4000 45 acp), a lot will be used for training new shooters. I took to heart the “you won’t save any money, but you will shoot more”. Living now in Alaska, that’s even more true than when I lived down below.

  23. avatar =BCE56= says:

    OK.
    But should I be packing my .38 Spl M 60 or my .380 PPK/s?

    1. avatar Gun Free School Zones are a crime against humanity says:

      Why not both?

      1. avatar =BCE56= says:

        Well, yeah, that’s an option. I couldn’t decide, so I split the difference and went with .45 ACP.

        But seriously.
        How does the .38 stack up against the .380? (I give the semiauto the edge due to higher capacity and faster reloads, and it conceals better.)

        And how about the newer gen. composite and solid copper bullets?

  24. avatar DaveDetroit says:

    Revolver is my first choice for cc or range shooting where I hold better groups with my 642 snubby than most do with their Glocks, and .38 special is a dream to shoot. ‘Easy to build up shooting skills while controlling the load. My most likely scenarios are at near contact distance. I want to be able to fire with the barrel pressed into a bad guy if necessary and operate the weapon with near full efficiency one-handed or off-handed. i definitely want the BD intimidated- which a revolver is quite capable of doing.

    IMO the only time a higher capacity pistol might be better for self defense is when you need a semi-auto rifle. 1 or 2 well placed shots are better than spraying several magazines worth and missing. In public my plan is to escape/evade. At home to retreat towards a shotgun. Worst case scenario in a self defense situation is a malfunctioning weapon- nearly unheard of in revolvers, lever action rifles and most shotguns.

  25. avatar I_Like_Pie says:

    I have never split a .38 case. The primer pockets wear loose before that happens. I have some cases I have been loading since the 1980’s

    Am guessing 80-100 times before the primer pocket becomes too loose.

    .38 special is an excellent caliber.

  26. avatar Andrew Lias says:

    Just wanted to say out of all the calibers that I load .38/.357 are probably my favorite. The press just runs so smooth with it, 9mm’s taper case makes it annoying to resize.

    That said, I typically use Bullseye, Titegroup, Unique or Blue Dot with the odd smattering of H110. Almost always home cast bullets although I’ve been known to toss some XTPs in some brass now and again for giggles.

  27. I have been shooting the 38 for a very long time. it is my favorite caliber. as mentioned before it is good for anything from hares to bears. a lot of people think that the 9mm is more powerfull but we got the 357 mag from the 38 spec, and buffalo bore would be very happy to sell you some of those 357mag-in-a-38specail case loads they have.

  28. avatar Bob says:

    Just one question. When did guns become “platforms?”

    1. avatar Fred says:

      Just about the same time people using them became “operators.”

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