The .38 Super was introduced in the 1911 handgun in 1929 to arm peace officers with a hard-hitting handgun that offered good penetration against the new breed of mechanized thug. The .38 Super saw extensive use in the hands of the FBI and figured into the demise of dangerous fugitives such as Baby Face Nelson.
The .38 Super is dimensionally identical to the .38 ACP of 1900. The .38 ACP fired a 130-grain bullet at 1,100 fps. The .38 Super was a sensation, noted for its high velocity of 1300 fps and nine fast shots. Colt upped the power of the cartridge but used the same length cartridge case and chambered the .38 Super in the 1911 when it dropped production of the .38 ACP pistols. At the time, you had to know not to fire a .38 Super in older Colt 1903 pistols.
The effectiveness of the .38 Super cannot be argued. The penetration of the cartridge and reliability of the 1911 gave law officers a great advantage. However, the .38 Super suffered in popularity after the introduction of the .357 Magnum. In those days, the lawmen were revolver men. The question is this. Is the .38 Super a viable personal defense and tactical combination today?
|Federal American Eagle 115-grain JHP||1190 fps|
|SIG Sauer Elite 125-grain V Crown||1211 fps|
|Double Tap 115-grain JHP||1419 fps|
|Double Tap 115-grain TAC||1366 fps|
|Double Tap 125-grain JHP||1402 fps|
The answer would be yes. By any standard, the .38 Super cartridge and the Super .38 handgun are excellent defensive or tactical choices. Ammunition development continues. Federal Cartridge recently introduced a 115-grain JHP load in the American Eagle Line, and Double Tap ammunition offers excellent tactical grade loads. SIG Sauer has also introduced a new .38 Super load.
The Super .38
The 1911 is a good home for the .38 Super. The 1911 features straight-to-the-rear trigger compression, a low bore axis, a grip that fits most hands well, and excellent speed into action. There is no pistol faster to an accurate first shot than a 1911 handgun properly carried cocked and locked. The .38 Super is an easier cartridge to master than the .45. The .38 Super has two more rounds of magazine capacity. The platform allows good control for those who practice.
Long-range practical shooting is possible with the 1911/.38 Super format. Rock Island Armory offers a GI type 1911 chambered in .38 Super. The pistol is well finished, offers a smooth trigger compression at 5.5 pounds, and the safety is well fitted. The beavertail grip safety releases its grip on the trigger midway into compression.
Federal offers a 115-grain JHP in the American Eagle line that breaks almost 1200 fps. This is a good practice load and is just a bit hotter than most 9mm loads. The SIG Sauer Elite 125-grain V Crown JHP breaks just over 1200 fps. Either is a good defense load for most situations.
For loads mimicking the .357 Magnum consider this, the .38 Super uses relatively fast-burning powder that produces less recoil energy than the slow-burning powder used in the .357 Magnum. The recoil spring captures much of the recoil energy as well.
There are loads available that maximize the caliber. If you wish a rapidly expanding load for use in an urban situation the Double Tap 115-grain Controlled Expansion JHP offers that option. For those preferring an all-copper bullet, the Barnes TAC XP load is an option with greater penetration.
At over 1400 fps, the 125-grain JHP Double Tap would be an excellent all around service load. I normally load my .38 Super with the 115-grain load for home defense. If using the pistol for tactical use, I would deploy the 125-grain bonded core loading. The following table outlines the load’s performance. The Rock Island Armory 1911 .38 Super offers good accuracy with each loading.
|9mm Luger Federal 124-grain HST||1160 fps||333 ft lbs.|
|9mm Luger Federal 115-grain +P+ LEO||1320 fps||444 ft lbs.|
|.38 Super Double Tap 115-grain JHP||1419 fps||514 ft lbs.|
|.38 Super Double Tap 125-grain JHP||1402 fps||545 ft lbs.|
|.45 ACP Federal 230-grain Hydra Shock||860 fps||377 ft lbs.|
|.45 ACP Speer 200-grain Gold Dot +P||1050 fps||489 ft lbs.|
|.357 Magnum Federal 130-grain Hydra Shock||1489 fps||(4-inch barrel Ruger GP100) 630 ft lbs.|
|.357 Magnum Federal 158-grain JHP||1215 fps||517 ft lbs.|
The .38 Super fits my needs well. Modern loads put the .38 Super just where it needs to be—a high velocity loading with good performance, excellent penetration and governable recoil.
Do you own or have experience with the .38 Super? How do you view it as a self-defense cartridge? Share your answers in the comment section.
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