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I don't currently own any .38 special handguns. I do have three Colt Pythons in .357 magnum. I keep some boxes of .38 special in my ammo stash for plinking.
 

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a snapshot.....with a grain of salt......MIDWAYUSA is showing (when they have it) the factory loads offered....

of the centerfire handgun cartridges listed....the ranking in most numerous different factory loads are:
9mm...........227 loads
45 acp........129 loads
40 s&w.......121 loads
38 spl.........109 loads
357 mag......80 loads
380 acp.......74 loads
etc, etc, etc....it only goes downward from here.

that is just Midway.....could be more or less depending on where one looks and the format listed..could be bulk and duplication differences......but again....just a snapshot.

going to have to look at my poll and see if this mirrors it....?

not bad for the old 38 spl......4th over-all and actually 1st place in traditional revolver cartridges.

years back, i was under the impression that the smith 642 was their single most popular model by the numbers sold by Smith & Wesson....auto or revolver. Don't know if that is still the case today.....but the snub is what is driving the larger demand for the 38.....that and the ability to run 38's thru a 357 which vastly increases the number of guns that can handle the 38.

on a side note......38 brass can sure last a long, long time when reloading...but i am on the mild to moderate side when it comes to reloading.....no red-lining for me.
 

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I've carried 9mm, .40, .45 ACP, .357 magnum and even .44 Magnum on the streets over the las 38 years of professional gun-toting. Through them all though there has always been at least one .38 Special heavily in the mix with them.

The other day I went shoot my old Smith 4" Model 64 to test a few rounds I found when i was moving to my new house. The handling and accuracy was amazing, as usual, with DA revolvers for me). Makes me wonder sometimes why I'm not still carrying them on the streets.

BTW, if you don't think .38 Special is still popular. Try to find some .38 Special ammo right now compared to 9mm, .40, .45 ACP ..... Seems like when things got tough over the last year with rioting, covid and politics, everyone (probably especially non-gun folks) remembered Paw Paw's old .38 special that they had tucked away in the basement and ran out and got ammo for it !!

Either way, I have several .38's, and I'll never part with any of them. One rides in my pocket a lot. Sometimes even when I'm carrying other stuff.
 

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I think the biggest reason is the 38s versatility, you can punch some bullets from blocks of paraffin for some soft shooting cheap practice in the basement them load it up with some hard cast semi-wadcutters and take it hunting.
 

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Especially in the era of plastic and the 9mm cartridge.
What are your thoughts on it’s continued popularity despite the undisputed power and efficiency advantage of other cartridges?
Seems to me that a few decades back, 38 spl fell out of favor. Recently, bullet technology and the advent of +P cartridges have given it new life. It's my primary carry caliber and I have no qualms about its effectiveness as long as I'm effective.
 
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Especially in the era of plastic and the 9mm cartridge.
What are your thoughts on it’s continued popularity despite the undisputed power and efficiency advantage of other cartridges?
I carry a S&W 642 during the summer months. Lite weight and easy to conceal. I have no doubts it will do well, if need be. IMHO😄
 
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38 and 44 Special are my favorite cartridges to shoot and reload. They can both get the job done with less bark and bite than their magnum offspring. Both will stick around because of that. Don't get me wrong, I love touching off some of my teeth rattling 44 Magnum loads. But I have more appreciation for shooting my midrange Special loads because they are less abusive, very accurate and eat less powder.

I am a rarity that has multiple 38s but no 357 Magnum revolvers and don't plan on adding any unless a great deal comes my way. My 38s are for lightweight pocket carry or target shooting.
 

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The .38 Smith & Wesson Special was developed in response to general dissatisfaction with the .38 Long Colt revolvers used during the Spanish-American War and Phillipine Insurrection. Nothing more than a longer cartridge case based on the original .38 Colt dimensions. The longer case allowed a larger propellant charge of black powder to provide greater velocity and energy.

The original "test bed" revolver was the S&W Military & Police model, dating from the late 1890's and originally chambered in .38 S&W, .32 S&W, and others of that era. At the 1905 trials a newly developed pistol designed by J.M. Browning and produced by Colt was judged to be generally superior, but the Ordnance Board required some changes. A change from 200-grain bullet to 230-grain was specified, and a pistol having a positive manual safety was required. The result was the US Model 1911 pistol.

Meanwhile, smokeless powders were adapted to most handgun cartridges, and the .38 Special was included. While the increased cartridge capacity was no longer required for black powder use, the .38 Special was found to be a very effective round for revolver use. Later developments (1930's or so) included adaptations of the .38 Special case to large-framed revolvers with heavier powder charges than the M&P series could safely digest, commonly referred to as the .38-44 and .38 Special Hi-Velocity loads. By the mid-1930's this resulted in another development, again simply lengthening the .38 Special case to increase capacity and chambering in revolvers made of higher strength steels to accept higher pressures, and the result was the .357 Magnum cartridge.

By the late 1960's there was a market demand for .38 Special ammunition that provided greater performance (in suitable revolvers) and the .38 Special +P ammunition appeared on the market. During the same time period a general transition from lead round-nose bullets to jacketed soft-point and jacketed hollow-point bullets came into the new normal sphere.

Tens of millions of .38 Special revolvers have been manufactured by US and foreign companies, and the caliber was considered a standard by which all others were compared for most of the 20th Century. It remains an excellent choice for personal defense and other general uses. Not a "hot rod" caliber by today's standards, but a reliable selection for many uses, people, and agencies.

The .38 Special pre-dates my birth by nearly a half-century, and I am over 70 years of age. In addition to my military service and police career, I ran a holster company for 43 years until my final retirement in 2015. For many years new holster orders were over 60% for revolvers, and nearly 30% for J-frame S&W revolvers (Chief Special and variants). There are millions in the hands of people who rely on them every day, despite the latest and greatest plastic-fantastic load-it-on-Sunday-and-shoot-all-week stuff that appears every week or two.

I truly doubt that the .38 Special will ever retire from the scene. Over the past couple of years I have had serious difficulties with wrist, elbow, and shoulder surgeries and resulting loss of hand and arm strength that made me less capable of handling heavier calibers and semi-auto pistols. My response was a reach into the gun safe for a very good Smith & Wesson double-action .38 Special revolver.
 

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Just before Christmas, I bought a 1957 Colt Detective Special (a Dick Special) in .38. I bought it just because I wanted one and never seriously thought I'd carry it. After shooting it, however, this gun and its .38 caliber bullets is going to see some carrying time. The gun is a sweet shooter, and .38's are plenty potent.
 

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Doesn't matter - wood, polymer, metal, or something yet to come. They'll all outlast me.
 
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Doesn't matter - wood, polymer, metal, or something yet to come. They'll all outlast me.
I'm always worried the day may outlast me.
 

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I don't see it as going "strong", it is popular though.
 

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No way to prove it, but it is very possible that the .38 Special has stopped more bad guys in non-military settings in the US than any other caliber since its inception.
It may have shot more...... If it was that good the 38/44 and the 357 magnum would not be here.
 

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Especially in the era of plastic and the 9mm cartridge.
What are your thoughts on it’s continued popularity despite the undisputed power and efficiency advantage of other cartridges?
What I have always thought is that .38 snubbies are the most handy SD guns. Not the best, not the most powerful, not the most accurate, just the most handy. It is a great sweet spot for the trade-offs of size, weight, accuracy, reliability, recoil and performance. You can get more of some of those factors with other rounds, but you tend to lose in other factors.

You put rounds in the cylinder, put the gun in your pocket and you have a gun that will be safe, easy to carry and work as advertised 99.99% of the time. There is nothing to forget, no special manipulations to practice for either function or safety. A lot of people like that comfort.

Why .38 in snubbies?
  • Until recently, it's been very available in variety of loadings.
  • There is a huge variety of guns made for it across a very wide range of prices and features.
  • Until recently, it has been the most effective round that fits in a snubby that doesn't kick like a mule. I think .327 Federal has some promise at being a better round for snubbies, but we shall see if it catches on.
  • It has a long and well researched track record.
  • It has name recognition. Even people who don't know guns know about "38's."
 
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