Ammunition

Throwback Thursday: A History of the .38 Special

After ruling the Philippines for almost half a millennium, Spain ceded control to the United States. The result? By 1899, the U.S. military was facing an armed rebellion in the Philippines that lead to the development of the .38 Special cartridge (and .45 ACP).

Thanks to this, we now have one of the most popular and versatile rounds ever made. But how did all this happen? First, here’s an infographic that summarizes the .38 Special timeline.

history of the .38 special

.38 Special Origins

Manufactured by Colt, the .38 Long Colt and the related pistol line were insanely popular. In fact, it was so popular that rival manufacturers such as Winchester offered its firearms chambered in the .38 Long Colt. However, there was one problem with the .38 Long Colt: It lacked velocity.

During the Philippine War, American soldiers would fire several .38 Long Colt bullets to take down ONE Moro Jihadi (the enemy). Seriously… the round was that weak. If they had any hope to compete on the world stage, the U.S. military would have to do something drastic. It would have to create a new cartridge. A round that would fire faster, hit harder, and penetrate further.

Stainless .38 Special Revolver

A Lethal Design

In 1898, the U.S. military developed and introduced the .38 Special cartridge, which was designed to overcome the underwhelming limitations of the .38 Long Colt. The resulting design was a miraculous round for the time — capable of fitting not only the old .38 Long (and .38 Short) Colt weapons, but the new .38 Special cartridge could be fired from the Navy’s old cap-and-ball revolvers and the soon-to-come .357 Magnum.

This ability to fit and fire in so many different firearms led the .38 Special to become massively popular among service members and the decision to create the versatile .38 Special cartridge revolutionized the military. By 1907 however, multiple innovations made by John Browning and Colt would make the .38 Special cartridge’s time short-lived in widespread military service.

Soon, the U.S. military would employ the very same program that brought the .38 Special into existence to replace the round with the .45 ACP. The love affair with the .38 Special, however, would continue in America for the thousands upon thousands of servicemen who fired it, setting the base for a long-lasting love affair with the .38 Special cartridge.

.38 Special Casings
.38 Special exhibits excellent accuracy and power in a light-recoiling platform.

Law Enforcement’s Best Friend

By the 1920s, a nation full of police officers was looking to replace their outdated, single-action revolvers with something new and more effective. Prohibition helped fuel an organized crime wave and many police officers found themselves routinely outgunned with their standard-issue, single-action revolvers.

Like the soldiers in the Philippines 30 years before them, police forces were looking for a more powerful round, and found a solution with the .38 Special cartridge. Eventually, the round would become so popular among U.S. police forces that it would be used for almost a century in departments across the country. The success did not go unnoticed.

Taking advantage of the ingenious design of the .38 Special cartridge, the FBI introduced the “FBI Load” in 1972 — known to most of us as the “+P” bullet. Loaded with more powder, more penetration, and more stopping power, this variation of the .38 Special round became the standard load for federal, state, and local law enforcement entities for decades — until more popular semi-automatic pistols began to replace the older-style revolvers.

Many, however, objected to the .38 Special cartridge. The reason? Some believed that since the .357 Magnum — a more powerful cartridge — existed, why not use that? There were a host of benefits to using a smaller cartridge, but first people had to understand it.

Blued .38 Special Revolver
A .38 Special revolver is an incredibly handy and maneuverable defensive firearm.

.38 SPL vs. .357 Mag

To start, the .357 Magnum is a larger, more powerful round, but that’s about where the advantages end, and where your difficulties are going to begin. If quickly grabbing an easy-to-wield pistol is your main concern, the .357 Magnum is not what you are looking for. The magnum round is very large. The pistols chambered for .357 Magnum are big and heavy. If you need the gun in a hurry, the difference in size is going to leave you struggling to handle the weapon when you need it the most.

With the .38 Special and the newer loads, you could get the best of both worlds. They could provide comparable stopping power and penetration to a .357 Magnum round, and the pistols that fire .38 Special are smaller and much easier to access. These advantages over the large, heavy, and often unwieldy .357 Magnum pistols have led to one burning question that must be answered.

 

The Most Popular Round in the World?

This cartridge is a uniquely American creation that has stood the test of time to remain one of the most popular pistol loads ever created. While that’s already saying a lot, the fact that it saw wide use by the police, military, and FBI is a testament to how practical, capable, and popular the .38 Special cartridge was — and still is today. It should be looked at as a champion example of design and engineering. The .38 Special is a utilitarian, all-in-one option round for target shooters, hand loaders, and home defense alike.

Have you ever fired a .38 Special cartridge? If so, what are your thoughts on it? Let us know in the comment section.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in April of 2020. It has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and clarity.

About the Author:

Richard Douglas

Richard Douglas is a firearms expert and educator. His work has appeared on large publications like The National Interest, Daily Caller, American Shooting Journal, and more. In his free time, he reviews optics on his Scopes Field blog.
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (52)

  1. Robert Heard, I read your posts with interest. I, too worked the trauma/surgical ICU for more than thirty years. Blessedly retired now. Id like to compare notes with you. I can tell you that in 32 years and across at least a few hundred or so GSW’s my experience with the “armed good guy shoots bad guy” scenario stands at zero. Never saw one, They were all suicides and ridiculous accidents. You couldn’t make up stupider stories than the real ones. I took care of a concealed carry instructor who let one go AT THE PODIUM during his seminar! The ortho and vascular guys saved his leg but it was difficult. I also was a reserve officer in the Navy. A range instructor at Camp Pendleton once told me that most handgun shooters would be far more lethal if they hurled the pistol itself at the enemy as opposed to aiming and firing it. Thanks for your thoughts my friend.

  2. @ ROBERT HEARD
    A couple of things to correct here. The first one is, as pointed out in the article, the .38 Special was not used by the Army in the Philippines, it was the .38 Long Colt. The .38 Special was created due to the lack of efficacy in battle of the .38 Long Colt. The .38 Long Colt was a dismal failure as a military round.

    Second, you seem to have a misunderstanding of how bullets kill people. I am speaking as a former Army Medic and retired ER nurse. In my career of more than 45 years in active health care delivery and teaching, I have seen hundreds, if not more, of GSW victims. In any trauma patient, be it gunshot wound or other trauma, what kills the patient is at least one of two things. In GSWs, patients die because there is inadequate blood reaching the brain, or there has been devastating neurological damage from which there can be no recovery. Just those two things will kill you.

    The brain only needs two things to function, oxygen and glucose. In the absence of major trauma, the brain will function as long as those two things are supplied. Remember that the heart is just a pump that perfuses the brain and other organs with blood. When people have heart surgery, the surgeons stop the heart and put it on bypass machine so the brain can get the blood that it needs while the operation is in progress. The heart is just a pump getting blood to the brain.

    The brain is what determines if they are alive. And after multiple GSW, the human body can continue to function, even in combat, as long as the brain is getting enough blood to direct the body to do its bidding. With drugs on board, when the brain is starved of oxygen and/or glucose, it will cease to function and shut down. All the drugs did to the Moros was keep them from feeling the effects of the bullets that were striking them. They were not killed until there was not enough blood reaching their brain for their body to continue to fight. They did not have enough blood loss to cause them to lose consciousness. When that happened, they were dead.

    As an aside, I have killed a number of deer with near textbook perfect heart shots where the deer’s heart was destroyed by my bullet and the deer ran anywhere from 80 to 150 yards before it went down. It ran until there was no more blood getting to its brain,

    Now, there is something about knockdown power but it is not what most people think. Would take to long to discuss that.

    The upshot of much of this is the .45 ACP is a much bigger round and it creates more tissue damage, not to mention, a much bigger hole from which the target will lose more blood and lead to inadequate blood reaching the brain much sooner than a round such as the .38 LC.

  3. To those of you interested in regards to the Mora Uprising in the Philippines: if my history serves me correct it wasn’t the lethality of the 38 special that was an issue. It was plenty lethal. It however lacked knock down power.
    The problem was that the the Mora Upriser’s would get stoned on a drug called “beetle nut” before going into battle. While stoned on that stuff they felt less or no pain. The 38 special would kill them but not knock them off their feet. They would continue forward in close battle and engage our GI’s many times injuring it killing them.
    The 45 acp was adopted because the heavy slow slug would not only kill but would knock them off their feet. Whereby being mortally injured, and high on beetle nut, were unable to regain their feet and carry on in battle. They would then flop around on the ground bleed out and die.
    The 38 special with the newly developed ammo is quite lethal and a decent choice for self protection.

  4. I like and use the .38 Special, and .357 Cartridges. While the author seeks to discuss the history of the .38 Special Cartridge, he skips one important note, it’s a misnomer. The .38 Special is actually a .36 Caliber, a popular caliber until the mid 19th century, and goes back through the cap and ball configurations. There was a marketing decision to give it the .38 Special name to sell it in a world where .44-40 was subsuming, and .44 and .45 Long Colt Calibers were taking center stage. Also, I don’t think that the author was careful with his language when he said, “…the .357 Magnum is a larger, more powerful round…”; larger NO, both are .357 inch, but more powerful YES, simply with a 1/4 inch longer case. To make a blanket statement that .357 Magnum is unwieldy is a bit too cavalier, as there are individual characteristics of each shooter and a wide array of products to match them with. But a serious conversation must be had about .357 Magnum over penetration in defensive situations.

  5. My uncle was a Louisiana State Trooper. He was killed on duty in 1959. I have his S&W 38 service revolver, which is on a K frame with a 2 inch barrel, and his holster. He got that gun in 1950. In September of 2021, I used his gun, then 71 years old and in excellent condition, to qualify for my Texas License To Carry using 158 grain round nose ammo. 20 rounds from 3 yards, 20 from 7 yards, and 10 from 15 yards. All save 3 were in or inside the 9 ring. The 3 strays were in the 8 ring. My score with that 2 inch barrel was 250/250. I was in my early 70’s.

  6. I sure got an education from all these comments thanx to all you knowledgeable folks….I have a little Rossi that I bought used for cheap money (legally)….re-blued , tight as a banjo string….juries out on whether it’ll take +Ps,some say yes, some say no….got a Hip-Grip and a Oklahoma Special finger grip onto it…ammo in the cylinder cost more than the piece….

  7. I would like to see some documentation that the U.S. Army developed the .38 Spl. cartridge. Smith&Wesson has been credited with developing the .38 S&W Spl. cartridge for their, as we know it today, K-Frame revolver Just prior the the beginning of the 20th Century I am not aware that the U.S. Army had anything to do with developing the .38 S&W Spl. Seems to me that the U.S Army took Colt SSA revolvers in .45 Colt caliber out of mothball storage to assist in the Moro revolt in the Philippines. If my history is correct, this eventually left to the U.S. Army adopting the Browning designed Model 1911 model semi-auto pistol chambered in the new .45 ACP cartridge.
    Please feel free to correct me is my memory of firearms history is incorrect.

  8. I’ve had my Taurus Ultralight .38 special for 23 years now and I love it. It’s my go to for concealed carry over any other revolver or pistol that I own.

  9. when I turned 18 I went to my favorite gun shop and bought my first center fire handgun.
    had a limited amount of money, my favorite gun shop owner had just what I needed a
    used Model 15 S&W . I bought it and still have the gun along with many other .38’s.
    Always has been one of my favorite calibers and one of the first that I started reloading.
    Shot competition with the caliber and carried for self defense too. Will always be a
    go to gun for me.

  10. I don’t want to be too critical of the article because I am glad something was written focusing on the 38 Special cartridge. I found it confusing when the author said that 357 magnum’s rounds are very large and the revolvers are large and heavy; I wasn’t sure if the author meant the S&W model 27 was large and heavy compared to something like a S&W model 10 or 15. I hate to be nit picky, but the use of the term pistol usually refers to semi-automatic pistols, not revolvers. I own many 38 special and 357 magnum revolvers, and the size of the weapons and their ammunition is near identical. I own S&W models 19, 585, 66, 687, 60, 642, 12, 37, 15, and 10, with barrels ranging from 2 inch, 4 inch, and 6 inch and have both 38 special and 357 magnum ammunition in 110 gr, 125 gr, 145 gr, and 158 gr and most people would not be able to tell the difference between them except that the 357 magnum ammunition will not fit into the 38 special handguns. BTW, in the 1970s the standard police load (158 gr lead round nose) was nicknamed the “widow maker”. Once rounds like those produced by Super Vel with increased velocities and hollow point ammunition became accepted did the 38 special really become something special IMO, with today’s ammunition choices this round and its handguns really give gun owners some incredible options. I am currently loading my nightstand model 19 with Buffalo Bores take on the FBI load (158 gr LSWCHP +P with a gas check).

  11. Peter, the 38 Super cartridge is loaded to higher pressure than the 9mm Largo. I hope you are using a stronger recoil spring in the Llama.

  12. Terry, the naming of calibers can be very confusing because the nomenclature often carries over from earlier guns such as cap & ball pistols (yes, a revolver is a pistol). In a nutshell, the caliber can be determined by a number of means. Since a rifled bore has spiraling grooves to impart spin on the projectile, the manufacturer can determine the caliber by measuring the diameter across the grooves, the diameter across the lands (the parts that are not grooved), the diameter across a land and a groove, the actual diameter of the projectile, use an older number that has marketing appeal, or he can round off the number. This is how we end up with 36 & 44 caliber Civil War era handguns that actually fire .375-.380″ diameter and .454″ diameter balls, respectively. After the unCivil War the Army switched to a more modern metallic cartridge we know as the 45 Colt (later called 45 Long Colt by many folks to distinguish it from the shorter 45 S&W Schofield also used by the Army). Adding further confusion, during this period it was common to see metallic cases loaded with two different kinds of projectiles (bullets), heeled and non-heeled. A heeled bullet has a portion that matches the outside diameter of the case, while a non-heeled bullet sits fully inside the case. Today heeled bullets are rare, but one family that remains popular is the 22 Short, Long, and Long Rifle. When Colt came out with their 38 Colt cartridge, it was originally intended for use in converted 36 Navy revolvers. The 38 nomenclature was used to distinguish it from the original cap & ball load and because it used a heeled bullet of .375-.380″ diameter. When they later developed the 38 Long Colt, they did so by stretching this case and using a smaller diameter non-heeled bullet. This raises the question, can the 38 Short Colt (as the former round was renamed) be fired in a 38 Long Colt? The answer is – it depends. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. If you can get the cartridge into the cylinder, it should safely fire, but it may lead up the barrel over time. Confused yet?

  13. I have a Spanish llama that will take .38 Super as well and that round was not included. It also will fire 9mm largo (no longer produced) rounds.

  14. Does anybody know why Colt named their .38 Long Colt, the basis for the .38 Special, a .38 caliber bullet when it is, in fact, .35 caliber.

  15. I was once a die hard 357 fan, but the older I get, the more I would just rather range shoot 38 special from a 38 special only revolver. My retired LEO SW 10 handles this task fine for me.
    I’ve recently begun reloading 38 short Colt which I also really like! I trim 38 spc neck split cases down to make these cases
    Of all the center fire cartridges I reload and shoot, I rank the 38 spc at the top of the list.

  16. My wife’s arthritis made it hard for her to load her Browning 380 Black. We bought her a Taurus 856 which she really likes. We got the model with Cerakote finish and it looks great. I have shot it a few times and the recoil is negligible compared to my Beretta 40 FS96. It is a good weapon for women who might has issues loading a semiautomatic.

  17. Became a Naval aviator and helicopter pilot in 1962.We were issued the 38 revolver as our personal weapon. We loaded with tracer rounds in case of ditching the aircraft at night over water.

  18. Lake County Examiner, Lakeview, Oregon: Wednesday, March 24th, 2021/Letters To The Editor

    Best general-purpose handgun

    For a general-purpose handgun consider Ruger’s SP-101 .357 Magnum revolver: “stainless steel”, 5 shot swing out cylinder (double-action), with 4.2” barrel and target sights for the citizen owning only one handgun. Versatile for “self-defense/house protection/concealed carry”, as a kit and trail gun for the outdoorsman/ sportsman, and for urban metro vs. wilderness rural use. At 30 oz. unloaded lightweight (for the hiker, backpacker, trapper), yet heavy enough to handle the .357 Magnum. Loaded with .38 Special 148 grain lead target wad-cutter ammo (next to a .22 or .32) practical for hunting small game: rabbit, squirrel, and grouse (for the campfire skillet), for dispatching vermin such as raccoon, skunk, possum, etc. Even for butchering livestock such as cattle with a head shot. Loaded with CCI’s classic .38 Special shot or snake load of No. 9 shot highly effective in killing rattlesnakes. Readily and instantly accessible in reach via a nightstand, dresser or bureau drawer, or next to a sleeping bag inside a tent is very comforting armed security to have, especially at night!

    This handgun would also be great for a long-haul trucker, or hay hauler, to carry. Even for the motorist traveling on a road trip. Yes, bear in mind being broken down, stranded, and having to spend the night alone in your vehicle. This .38/.357 revolver combination along with an Atomic Beam Flashlight, survival knife, fresh drinking water, food, toilet paper, shovel, matches, wool blanket, etc. could certainly take back the night.

    Even for a woman it’s smaller frame and size would still fit her smaller hands. And firing.38 Special ammo in this .*357 Magnum could still be handled by a female. Double action revolvers can be improved with aftermarket combat rubber grips.

    I recommend reading, “Meet Ruger’s SP-101 Revolver: The Ideal Gun For Self Defense”, by Kyle Mizokan via the April 2019 issue of The National Interest.

    -James A. Farmer
    Merrill, Oregon (Klamath County)
    Long Live The State of Jefferson~

    *.357 Magnum revolvers will chamber and fire .38 Special ammo, but not the reverse.
    Also….”SP-101 Like Physics, Only Practical” by Law Officer for January 3, 2009 is
    well worth reading.

  19. Revolvers are mostly what the .38 special round is used in is a revolver not a pistol. There is only one pistol that .38 special is used in that I know and that is the s&w model 52. A pistol is any hand firearm that does not have the ammo in a revolving cylinder. I don’t know why I feel the need to correct people when I see this and I am pretty sure no one cares. I am not gun expert and no where near it. I guess it is just one of those things.

  20. Regarding the Moros – I had read an article back in the 70’s that not only did they use stimulants, but that they tied up their testicles to induce such a level of pain that it overloaded the body’s natural pain receptors so they didn’t react to wounding but continued to advance. The only stopping option was additional well placed shots in pelvis, legs, etc, that dropped them to the ground from which they could not rise to continue the attack.

  21. Recoil control is easier with the 38 spcl. Using my favorite Ruger Speed Six with 38’s at six paces, I can place 6 shots on a paper plate in .74 seconds total using an electronic timer to measure time taken between the first through sixth shots. Lack of serious recoil makes the 38 even more pleasurable to shoot and the revolvers are also more accurate at longer distances than the 9mm pistols.

  22. I have a Ruger LCR, a compact revolver that shoots 38and 357. It hurts to shoot 20 rounds of 357, but for self-defense purposes I would use it in a heartbeat over the 38.

  23. I always buy a .357 but shoot .38 special or +P for regular practice. Better to have the magnum capability than not at all. Even belly guns come in magnum now – but I would still shoot hollow point +P in it, even for self protection. The magnum I save for hunting something bigger than a human; and really the +P is as far as I am willing to use in self defense. I’ve seen the wounds that the magnum causes, and I’m afraid I’d hesitate that split second to fire on an assailant; and that is time I just don’t want to chance. Better to run a little weaker cartridge and be assured I’d have the guts to pull the trigger, and also maintain control.

  24. After owning a single action Ruger Blackhawk .357 for a few years I bought a S&W model 19 in 1980. After a box or two of .357 rounds through it I got used to the recoil. Then one day a friend suggested that I try shooting .38 rounds in it to save money on ammo costs. I was pleasantly surprised that along with the lighter recoil my point of aim didn’t change much at all. Recently bought a 5 shot Ruger SP101 in .357. It is right at home with the .38+P. While I use a semi-auto as my EDC like rest of the world, the .38 is far from dead. It is a great around the house defense gun that my wife enjoys.

  25. I have 2 .357s. A Smith & Wesson 686 and a Ruger LCR. I love the 686 and I was most accurate with it over any handgun I owned until I bought my M&P 2.0 in .40 with a 5″ barrel. The 686 is still my go to for home defense (I always keep a long gun nearby too). The LCR is quite punishing in .357 so when I go to the range i shoot .38s then a cylinder or .357s. I alwas keep it loaded with .357 for defense. The round is superior for defense and the adrenaline surge during a self defence incident will keep the recoil manageable.

  26. My father was a competition/trick shooter. He had an 1876 Colt SAA that was originally chambered for .44-40. Since he did all his own reloading, and with a family to feed, it made more sense for him to use .38 spl.. that made him convert the Colt frame with barrel and cylinder. I still have that weapon with both configurations. Although now I load the .44-40 in a JRP for both the Colt and my Henry.

  27. I have a S&W model 12, and is a good little gun, but I prefer my Taurus 605 poly-protector in
    .357 magnum. It is smaller and way easier to carry.

  28. 38s and 357s both come in the same sizes to say the 38 Is smaller is silly. While 357 does have more recoil the size of the firearm and round are exactly the same.

  29. My daily carry is a S&W 642 Airweight with all lead FBI loads. Fact is, it’s easy to carry and it goes bang. For a defensive concealed carry gun, it’s going to make the bad person stop doing bad things. There’s limitations to the .38 just like any other round. I find it manageable and easy to reload.

  30. I own a Colt Classic Cobra chambered in .38 Special as one of my CCW’s. Not only is it reliable and accurate, I’m confident it will put down the assailant. The revolver is also beautiful and I look forward to handing it down to my son.

  31. I made a 200 yard shot with a pink lady snub nose 38 special it’s on my YouTube channel if anyone what’s to check it out. The 38 special is just that SPECIAL

  32. Interesting article. I would take exception to the statement that .357 revolvers are bigger and heavier than those chambered in .38 Spl. For the most part they are the same. Most models are capable of firing either round. Even small frame 2” revolvers have been chambered in .357 for some time now. No argument about the recoil though, the magnum loads are a handful and for the most part not reaching their potential in barrels less than six inches. With currently available cartridges the .38 Spl is a much more effective self defense round than the old 158 gr RNL. For practice and teaching new shooters I’ve used 130 gr FMJ loads. They are clean and easy to handle. With the variety of loads and guns chambered for it the .38/.357 is a must have.

  33. As a police officer for 28 years with the Nassau County Police Department, New York, we used the .38 special the entire time I was there (1966-1994). The round was updated several times from standard round nose to flat point lead to hollow point. But always the .38 special.

    I carried a Smith & Wesson Combat Masterpiece that cost me $65.00 in 1966. My Smith & Wesson Chief Special cost me $52,00.

    As I was retiring, the department was moving to a semi-auto Sig Sauer in ,40 caliber. I retired before they were issued to the entire department. Never did get to fire one.

  34. Cap and ball revolvers are very capable in firing center fire rounds, the cylinder is bore through for the round, or buy a new cylinder for any make and dia. 36,(38 Spc)44,(45 spc.)45(45LC), seriously some Italian makers I’ve never heard of! The new cylinders come with , for lack of a better term, backing plate that holds individual firing pins for each chamber, think that you’re replacing the nipples with stubby firing pins, hard to reload fast, but so are single actions. Pricey is an understatement 400-600 USD each cylinder. Pressure is super low on all 38/44 Spc and 45 LC. Not the new high pressure ++p stuff, old fashion original 250grains @ 675 FPS for 45 Lc.

  35. I’m always amused when people claim the Philippine Insurrection prompted the development of the .38 Special cartridge, due to the short comings of the .38 Long Colt. That’s not strictly true.

    The .38 S&W Special cartridge was released in 1898, prior to the 1898 Treaty of Paris in which the Spanish government ceded control of the Philippines to the United States. So the cartridge was not developed as a result of experiences in the Philippine Insurrection (1899-1902) at all.

    In reality, the weakness of the .38 Long Colt was established before the Philippine war. The .38 Long Colt debuted in 1872 and became the Army’s cartridge in 1892. Smith & Wesson was convinced that a better, more powerful cartridge would gain approval from the Army. During this time, tensions with Spain were rising in early 1898 with the sinking of the USS Maine in February. The Spanish-American War began in April, staring in the Caribbean and expanding to the Philippines.

    The .38 S&W Special cartridge was still too new and few guns were available for it when the war came, so it was never adopted as a service revolver. The US Army substituted .45 Colt SAA’s in the Philippines and later a the double-action .45 Colt New Service revolver was adopted in 1909.

    Because Colt’s .38 Long Colt revolvers had chambers that were bored straight through, the .38 Special could be chambered if the cylinder was long enough (some were). The results, however, could end badly as the Colt operated with a lower-pressure, black-powder cartridge and the .38 Special moved quickly to smokeless powder around 1900.

  36. I’ve had a S&W Chief Special (model 36) since age 16 (long time ago). Although it was manufactured before the +P ammo design consideration, it can handle it; but, it is not recommended, especially for prolonged use. I did use it to qualify for my CWP, shooting FBI loads: .38 Special 158 gr +P semi-wadcutters. After 50 rounds, my thumb knuckle was cut to the bone by the knurled hammer raking it due to the recoil of each round (which also gave my wrist a workout). Since I have a lot of the +P ammo, I bought the Taurus model 617, .357 revolver to shoot those higher power rounds.

  37. i have been researching all things handgun for a long time, and the authors assumption of the cap and balls being converted to 38 spl is wrong. all of them were either out of service by the time of the philipine problem, or they were converted to lower power black powder loads. the 38 special loads were also not in any way shape of form used in 38 colt chambered guns unless converted by a gunsmith with a desire for a lawsuit. the 45 colts were the stopgap untill the 45 acp was developed,and the colt new service in 45 colt was also another issue stopgap. not to be picky but the timeline and information is available to those actually taking the time to look. by the way the colt and remingtom black powder revolvers were never converted to anything but black powder loads back in the day. those that were using smokless were deleiberatly loaded down for safety sake

  38. I’ve recently learned that the Moros were wearing ‘armor’ using woven tubes of Jute fiber filled with rock salt, when wrapped around the torso and the upper limbs multiple time this tubing would stop low power rounds and acted as a compression dressing to aid in hemorrhage control.

  39. FYI – Modern Cap & Ball revolvers can be converted just kike was done in the 1870’s. Buy a conversion cylinder from Midway, etc. Conversion can be only for STEEL frames, and should only be used with “COWBOY” loads. Just make sure you get a cylinder that fits the model/manufacturer that you want to convert. Get either the .38 spl. or .45 “long Colt” cylinder for ~$275.

  40. I have a Ruger GP100 .357 6″barrel. I wear in a chest rig while hunting. It’s my back up gun against a hog charge.
    I load it with 200 gr CorBon’s. Tis a hand cannon for sure. I target practice with .38 special +P. A lot quieter, less recoil, and way cheaper to shoot. Actually found some frangible ammo for shooting steel. Makes the gun more versatile and fun. Yes, it’s a stout and impressive revolver but my choice for home defense is my old 9mm Glock 17. My carry gun is a .380 Ruger LCP. Very discreet but not that accurate at a distance. Different guns for different occasions.

  41. I’m not sure how the .38 Special could be fired in the old cap and ball revolvers. I don’t have anything chambered in .38 Long Colt handy, but I’m not convinced that it would fit either. And if it did, I’d be very concerned because of the higher pressures in the Special.

  42. One fact that is left out of a lot of historical accounts is that the Moro jihadis were all hopped up on stimulants which was one reason the .38 caliber round was ineffective. Once the Army started re-arming the troops with mothballed .45 Cold single actions the stopping power problems were somewhat alleviated. This led to the development of the .45 ACP / M1911 combo and the rest, as is said, is history.

    A modern corollary to this exists in our recent wars in the Middle East. Modern jihadis are also all hopped up on stimulants which makes them harder to stop. Of course, JDAMs are very effective. The troops in the Philippines could have used a few of those…

  43. I own a S&W Model 10 .38 Special revolver, and have fired it many times. I have to take issue, though with the contention that an old Navy cap & ball revolver could fire it. I suppose a few were converted to fire the .38 special, but it would have required extensive modifications to the cap & ball revolver, and there would be questions as to whether the black powder revolver could withstand the extra pressure from smokeless powder. The .38 Special, even the +P version produces rather little recoil, making it easy for anyone to shoot, but does not come close to the power of the .357 magnum, or the .44 special. The .38 special replaced the olb black powder .38 long but was itself replaced in just a few years by the .45 ACP for military use. When I served in the Army in the 1950s, the MPs still carried .45 ACP M1911 pistols.

  44. .38 was a great blend of power versus gun weight. Was not until the development of modern steel was the famous .357 possible. Most folks can’t handle a full .357 load, so the current .38 +P loads are about the most that can be handled by your average shooter.

    I like a 3″ J Frame in .357, but normally load a “.357 lite/.38 +P+” hand load (in .357 brass) to keep from getting too much recoil to handle. With practice, and some training, most folks can learn to handle a .357, but if a 9mm appears to work, why re invent the .38???

  45. I owned a S&W Model 60, Model 13-3 and Model 65. While two were technically .357s, they all enjoyed a diet of .38 Specials most of the time. The .38 Special is inexpensive to reload and can be quite accurate. Each will hit standing clay pigeons at 25 yards. The recoil of a Special or even the +P isn’t bad, even in the lightweight Model 60. The only one I have left now is the Model 60, my father has the Model 13-3 and my kid sister uses the Model 65 as her EDC. Excellent guns and an excellent cartridge.

  46. 38 Special is cheaper and has much less recoil through my S&W 586. That being said, for handgun hunting or self defense situation I would still go with 357 magnum.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Your discussions, feedback and comments are welcome here as long as they are relevant and insightful. Please be respectful of others. We reserve the right to edit as appropriate, delete profane, harassing, abusive and spam comments or posts, and block repeat offenders. All comments are held for moderation and will appear after approval.

Discover more from The Shooter's Log

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading