Question about .38 Special ammo

This is a discussion on Question about .38 Special ammo within the Defensive Ammunition & Ballistics forums, part of the Defensive Carry Discussions category; All I carry are 38 specials, I have two that I rotate, a 1974 Colt Det Spl nickel plated and a new S&W 637. Right ...

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Thread: Question about .38 Special ammo

  1. #1
    Member Array tawcat's Avatar
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    Question about .38 Special ammo

    All I carry are 38 specials, I have two that I rotate, a 1974 Colt Det Spl nickel plated and a new S&W 637. Right now I am using Winchester 130gr JHP +P.

    My question (concern) is about over penetration. I've read volumes about the 158gr semi wad cutter being probably the best round for a 38 special. My greatest fear in a SD scenario is the impacting round penetrating through the BG and hitting an innocent bystander.

    Your thoughts????

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    .38 Specials, leaving aside the old lead roundnose or the FMJ practice rounds, are not known for over-penetration, so I think you can set that concern aside.

    The "FBI" or "Chicago" round - 158 grain, semi-wadcutter hollowpoint in +P flavor - has a fine track record of stopping fights. But the more modern JHPs are well-designed and apparently effective as well. I carry both... the lead SWC-HP in the gun and JHPs as spare ammo.

    I think in a self-defense shooting the rounds that don't hit the intended target are a far greater risk than rounds that penetrate the BG. Just use good defensive ammo (such as you are) and practice lots.
    Smitty
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    I've related the story here before but have seen the results of a 158 grain jacketed soft point Federal factory .357 Magnum load that struck a wall after penetrating an assailant through the heart. The bullet left a deep dent in the sheet rock but didn't penetrated it. The bullet itself was scarcely damaged, the soft nose only being slightly deformed. Dimensionally, it could have almost been handloaded and fired again. My lawman friend later gave me some of the ammo from the box used and it chronographed 1306 fps from a 6-inch barrel so probably was going 1250-1275 fps from the 4-inch barrel from which it was fired. This bullet was of a design to be a fairly good candidate for excessive power after over-penetration. Despite the lack of expansion the assailant was DRT.

    This is only one example and would not necessarily hold true for each instance. A much greater concern would have to be the missed shot. In this incident, the woman firing the revolver missed her assailant with the first shot. That bullet traveled unimpeded through a opened kitchen door and the long length of the living/dining room to exit the front of the house above a living room window after completely penetrating interior sheet rock and exterior wood siding.

    I've both taken a deer and finished off one that was severely injured when hung in a fence with .38 Special +P 158 grain factory loads. The load gave complete broadside penetration in both instances.

    While over-penetration has to be a concern, too much is made of it in forum discussions in my view. Unfortunately, one must be aware and responsible for each bullet fired, even if shooting is justified, so must consider the area down range from the assailant in addition to the other concerns thrust upon him in an attack. There's a lot to think about in the crowded moment of an attack.

    Personally, I'm not going to compromise penetration performance out of fears of over-penetration.
    “No possible rapidity of fire can atone for habitual carelessness of aim with the first shot.”

    Theodore Roosevelt, The Wilderness Hunter, 1893

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    Member Array AZ Infidel's Avatar
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    Give the new Hornady CRITICAL DEFENSE 110gr +P a try. I carry it in all my BUG's now.

    A few months ago I shot a coyote on my property and it worked fantastically well. It expanded visciously, and didn't over penetrate.

    I like the CorBon 110gr JHP +P also.

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    VIP Member Array dawei's Avatar
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    I carry THIS in my Airweight® and Ultra-Lite™ 38 special guns. In my steel J frame size guns THIS LOAD gets carried. IMHO Buffalo Bore® produces THE BEST 38 Special defensive ammunition there is.

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    Member Array tawcat's Avatar
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    Thanks so much to all for that info. I think I will go with a non +P load. And y'all are so correct, when you squeeze the trigger, you are taking full responsibilty for the projectile. I am not sure there is any justification for harming an innocent bystander, regardless of situation. It's very easy for one to claim collateral effects in a SD scenario, however, for me, I'm more concerned about the safety of others that might be in the area than I am about the BG. Hopefully I never get placed in the situation.

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    VIP Member Array zacii's Avatar
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    I tried that BB 158 grain +P stuff. I only shot one, that's right, one round through my 442, and that was enough

    Call me a pansy, but I can't shoot that stuff. After my dismal failure, I promptly ordered the low flash, short barrel 158s. They're plenty stiff, too.

    Let us know what you end up with; I'm definitely gonna try some of these lighter suggestions.
    Trust in God and keep your powder dry

    "A heavily armed citizenry is not about overthrowing the government; it is about preventing the government from overthrowing liberty. A people stripped of their right of self defense is defenseless against their own government." -source

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    FWIW, I agree (as usual :-) with bmcgilvray, even though I don't have his experience level nor any such illustrative anecdotal evidence. But I just have to believe that a close-range gunfight is liable to be so very, very chaotic, and experience shows that lots of shots miss altogether under such stress. These misses are far more dangerous than pass-throughs could be. I'd avoid any old metal-piercing ammo you might find :-) Also avoid 158g LRN target ammo, which used to be a police & SD standby. Otherwise, any hollowpoint should prove a responsible choice that appropriately addresses your concern. Lightweights such as 110g bullets are VERY unlikely to overpenetrate, but for my money they are also too likely to underpenetrate. I feel comfortable with 158g factory or 200g handloaded LSWC, but not everybody does because they penetrate very well but don't expand. For most scenarios, I think the 158g LSWCHP +P is the most well-balanced choice.

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    VIP Member Array dawei's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tawcat View Post
    All I carry are 38 specials, I have two that I rotate, a 1974 Colt Det Spl nickel plated and a new S&W 637. Right now I am using Winchester 130gr JHP +P.

    My question (concern) is about over penetration. I've read volumes about the 158gr semi wad cutter being probably the best round for a 38 special. My greatest fear in a SD scenario is the impacting round penetrating through the BG and hitting an innocent bystander.

    Your thoughts????
    Well First Sergeant, this old Chief Warrant Officer has carried a J frame of some sort for 40 years. In all those years I've probably shot every iteration of 38 Special ammunition known to man. My advice to you would be to carry the most accurate JHP or LSWCHP you can find. For the last four years I've used the Buffalo Bore® 158gr LSWCHPGC as my carry load. It is highly accurate and has the energy to do the job. I use the standard pressure load in my Airweight® and Ultra-Lite™ guns. In my steel frame snubbies I use the +P version. Buffalo Bore® makes the very best 38 Special defensive ammo there is IMHO.
    crabbys44 likes this.

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    Can I just ask what is a "semi" wadcutter?? The quick answer for the layperson.

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    VIP Member Array AZ Husker's Avatar
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    It's a load old guys use.
    Actually, it's a lead bullet with a square shoulder above the rim, leading up to a round nose. "Wadcutters" are used primarily for target practice. The semi was designed many years ago and is still considered one of the best non-JHP rounds to carry.
    Treat me good, I'll treat you better. Treat me bad, I'll treat you worse.

  13. #12
    VIP Member Array dawei's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cammo girl View Post
    Can I just ask what is a "semi" wadcutter?? The quick answer for the layperson.
    Here is a photo Click It

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    Quote Originally Posted by cammo girl View Post
    Can I just ask what is a "semi" wadcutter?? The quick answer for the layperson.
    Here is an article that shows the different bullet types. http://firearmsid.com/Bullets/bullet2.htm
    When you have to shoot, shoot. Don't talk.
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    Member Array tkirk's Avatar
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    I have found that both CorBon & Hornady factory 110 Grain + P in SP or HP will do the trick and expend all its energy in the intended target, without overpenetration. If you are a handloader, any 110 grain in JHP or SP, with the proper charge (please consult reloaders manual) of Blue Dot or Unique, will duplicate the velocity & energy of the original Lee Juras Super Vel factory loads of the '70s, with groups of under 2 inches at 15 yards, even with "snubbies".

  16. #15
    Distinguished Member Array Madcap_Magician's Avatar
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    Hey there Top, the round you selected is Winchester's take on the Chicago load, originally Speer's Gold Dot 135-gr. +P. I would not worry over much about overpenetration with the Winchester Ranger 130-gr +P. Penetration according to Winchester was 11-12", IIRC. I posted a thread with the data somewhere.
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