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Old June 30, 2012, 08:34 PM   #26
Webleymkv
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While I prefer larger and more powerful cartridges like .357 Magnum and .44 Magnum myself, I think that a medium-frame .38 Special revolver is a highly underrated self-defense weapon and would not feel at all uncomfortable if it was all I had to defend myself with.

In a medium-frame, all steel revolver, the recoil of a .38 Special, even with +P ammunition, is mild enough that I've yet to meet anyone who couldn't handle it after a moderate amount of training and familiarization. In its better loadings such as Remington 158gr LSWCHP +P or Speer 135gr +P Gold Dot, the .38 Special gives comparable performance to some of the better 9mm loadings and is more than enough gun for most situations if the shooter can do his/her part. The simplicity of a DA revolver is, in my mind, very advantageous to inexperienced or "casual" shooters not only because of the absence of a manual safety, but also because of the longer, heavier yet smooth trigger which takes a deliberate effort to pull and the ease of verifying whether the gun is loaded or not. Finally, while not available at the bargain basement prices they used to be, a good medium frame .38 Special such as a S&W K-Frame, Ruger Security Six, or Colt Official Police is not particularly difficult to find in the $300-400 range and sometimes less if one happens upon a good deal.
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Old June 30, 2012, 10:02 PM   #27
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The .38 Special can be a fun plinking round and I would not want to get shot with one.

It does not do well at stopping drug-crazed Phillipino Moros. Hence, the M1911 in .45ACP.

Edit: Was just thinking about my SA XD9 Service. Maybe some 9mm loads have comparable ballistics to some .38 Spl loadings. But even if I had to deal out 3 shot "Mozambiques" with a 9mm I could theoretically take out 5 attackers to a .38 Spl's 1 attacker (and some change). I see value in a lightweight .38 Spl to carry when you don't want to carry your main gun, but if I only have 5 or 6 shots let them be .357 Magnum so I don't need 3 shot kills. That is why I carried a S&W 686 4" for many years. Maybe too heavy or large for some, but it worked for me when it had to.
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Old June 30, 2012, 10:08 PM   #28
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I think it was the .38 Long Colt that was the one the GIs used in the Phillipines. The .38 Special was designed (and is more powerful) to overcome the weaknesses of it.
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Old June 30, 2012, 10:11 PM   #29
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Thanks for the correction. I believe you are right about that.
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Old July 2, 2012, 11:25 AM   #30
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What can't a .38special do? It can't keep a band going for three decades!

Ok, I'm a dork. I liked that band though.

Seriously, I prefer a .38special (lswc) to a .357mag for nightstand duty: less over penetration and less deafness after the fact, while still being a life saver.

My pop-in-law passes a .38sp to me and it is a nice little shooter. I admit I am more into bottom-feeders, as I shoot them better, and I prefer 9mm or .45acp for personal carry or home defense: same or more power with 2x the capacity. My wife has the .38sp and a phone on her side.

I wouldn't feel unprepared with a .38sp. But I won't carry a smaller pistol for defense.

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Old July 2, 2012, 02:13 PM   #31
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It lost favor mainly because the cops started facing multiple assailants with hi-cap semi-autos. Bad guys don't worry about hitting innocent bystanders, so they could "spray and pray" and achieve fire superiority against the 6-shot police revolvers. Some departments (Chicago PD for one) actually adopted what amounted to a hi-cap .38 Special in the form of the Beretta 92 DA only gun. 9MM eventually replaced the .38 Special because you could carry 15+ rounds in it and it was much quicker to reload. Then people started realizing that 9MM wasn't all that effective and it was (and is) being replaced by .40 S&W.
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Old July 2, 2012, 04:23 PM   #32
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I get confused when I read statements that cops carried the .38 special in crime-ridden cities like New York and Los Angeles (you missed Chicago)...when cops rarely drew their gun.

The fact is, the .38 special was a relatively powerful cartridge. In fact, it still is. The magnums are certainly more powerful, provided you actually shoot them in your gun. I rarely did when I owned revolvers. Likewise, practically all handgun cartridges came with round nose bullets. Hollow points, referred to as "trick bullets" by some, came rather later. The same sort of writers also referred to any particularly powerful cartridge as a "freak load." Maybe he didn't like guns.

I might also point out that my comments here are based on published data from an old book from before the ammo companies started loading weaker ammunition, when the .38 ACP was a real man's cartridge. But I sometimes wonder if those figures were truthful.
I always thought it odd that people love the .45 ACP (I'm one of them) but yet recommend using anything but the old full metal jacket 230 grain load, the one load that made it's reputation. It'll knock you down if it hits you in your little finger, I've been told, whereas the .38 special will only give you a sore finger for a few days, or something like that. These days a .357 magnum is the absolute bottom for a serious self-defense cartridge and then only if you have weak hands. That's what Elmer Keith said and you can trust him.
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Old July 2, 2012, 06:28 PM   #33
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I read this thread hoping someone had some actual experences with the round. Since shootin 2 legged vermin seldom actually happens, the shooting of game animals will surfice. Only one person mentioned they actually shot anything breathing with a 38 special, and that was small game. When I was a deer and elk guide I would test out handgun bullets in recently dead animals. I recorded most of these results but lost most in my move. Last year I used a 2" model 36 using Cor-Bon 110 grn DPX bullets on an antelope that had died minutes before. I always shoot behind the last rib and angle the shot for the off shoulder, thus maximizing penatration and replicating torso shots. The 2 shots I took penatrated the entire lung cavity at it deepest point and the bullets were recovered deep in the meat of the off shoulder after penatrating the shoulder blade. Just one test. Anyone else with big game experence?
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Old July 2, 2012, 08:00 PM   #34
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"The fact is, the .38 special was a relatively powerful cartridge."

I guess you could say that when you compare it to cartridges like the .38 S&W or .32 Long. But it depends on how you define "powerful".
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Old July 2, 2012, 11:05 PM   #35
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I was in Law Enforcement for 17 years off and on. I carried a revolver most of that time. I never felt under gunned with a revolver, or I would have carried something else. I carried a S&W Model 28 loaded with 357 Magnum to start with, and a 4" 610 10mm with Full House Corbon last. All my gunfights were with deer hit by vehicles and one mean dog.

I personally think the change to semi autos was more driven by the perceived need to be better armed, than it was a true need. You have a high round count gun fight now and again, like the North Holywood Bank Robbery, and the Miami FBI Shoot Out. In both of these situations a Patrol Carbine was needed, and not a Hi Cap auto.

I would guarantee in most situations where a Hi Cap semi auto pistol is better than a revolver, the officer would really rather have an AR15 at his disposal.

I am now retired and have a Concealed Carry permit, and I carry almost daily. I carry an 442 Pro Moonclip Airweight J Frame 38 Special quite often. In it 125 Grain +P is a handful for me, and I shoot a lot. I would guess that a 340 M&P with 135 Short Barrel 357 would be about my limit of enjoyment.
The 135 Short Barrel 357 shot in an LCR-357 is plenty serious, but doable.

I also have a 2-1/2" and a 3" Model 66. Both are very shootable platforms.

My most shot 38 would be my Model 64-2 SSR Gun. A 158 RN over 4.7 grains of Unique is a very accurate and shootable load for IDPA Silhouettes as well as Steel.
My 686-5 is a work or art. I cannot imagine a 357 any better.

As was mentioned several times above. A 4" K Frame loaded with Full Power 158 grain 38 Special HP ammo is about all the recoil the average shooter can control well. That being 30 years ago Full Power ammo, which is probably 100 fps faster than today. For me a 13/65 or a 19/66 loaded with Full House 158 grain 357 Magnum is no fun to shoot at all. I can shoot it, and I can hit with it, but it is no fun to shoot at all.

I have worked with several Lady shooters over the years. I have gotten every one to shoot a 4" K or L frame with standard 38 Special accurately without much effort.

We have a Lady Shooter who shoots at the range almost every week with a 9mm. I had the Plate Rack set up for some BSA vendors a while back. I was taking everything down when the lady shooter showed up. I asker her if she wanted to try the plate rack while I had it out. She made a couple runs with her 9mm. I let her try my 4" HB Model 64 a couple runs. She shot it much more accurately than her 9mm. You can take it to the bank, she would be better armed with a 3" Model 65 LadySmith.

We took the daughter-in-law to the range a while back with a large assortment of handguns for her to try out, and see what she liked best. She shot something like 12 handguns. What did she like,and shoot the best. My 4" HB Model 64 that has been worked on my Ron Power.
The youngest Son got her an as new 4" HB Model 64-1, and I had Ron Power make it perfect. She now has a 4" K Frame Swiss Watch for a House Gun. And a couple Safariland Comp III Speedloaders incase 6 is not enough.

I have been on the Board at the Gun Club for 31 years. I see and work with lots of shooters. I always recommend a 4" K or L Frame revolver for Lady Shooters for a house gun. Same goes for new Men Shooters.
A DA Revolver is much easier to operate than a semi auto.
Nothing to worry about to make it work, just pull the trigger. A very simple safety, take your finger off the trigger. It will go bang 6 times without fail. It won't short cycle if you limp wrist it. Easy to load and unload. Normally more accurate than an average semi auto.
Did I mention 38 Shotshells for snakes?

I have a 45 acp Revolver, and a couple that shoot 40 S&W and 10mm. I have a couple that shoot 22 ammo for practice. I have 6 that shoot either 38 Special or 357 Magnum. You have to love those 38's.

Bob

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Old July 2, 2012, 11:24 PM   #36
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The 38 special was never known as a manstopper. My grandfather was a cop in Milwaukee, WI during the 1920' and 1930's. He walked in to the chief one day, plopped his 38 on the chiefs desk and said " They are shooting at my with 45's I am shooting back with one". And began carrying his 1917 Colt, 45 Colt. He had a pouch full of 1/3 moon clips loaded with 45 ACP's for reloads.
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Old July 3, 2012, 04:36 AM   #37
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I personally think the change to semi autos was more driven by the perceived need to be better armed, than it was a true need. You have a high round count gun fight now and again, like the North Holywood Bank Robbery, and the Miami FBI Shoot Out. In both of these situations a Patrol Carbine was needed, and not a Hi Cap auto.
Didn't a ,38 end the Miami shootout?
And you're exactly right. A .223 or better yet, a .308 would have been perfect against riflemen in a car or bank robbers with body armor. Or a good shot with a Colt Python able to hit their face or neck.
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Old July 3, 2012, 04:53 AM   #38
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What I meant by relatively powerful, Mr. Deputy276, and relative to other handgun rounds only, was that in absolute terms of muzzle energy, some .38 special loads were as powerful as a .45 auto. You can argue all day if you want if one were as effective as the other. No statistic can convince anyone one way or the other. I've learned that much here. It is more perception than anything else and after all, a man has to be confident in his weapon. But the .45 auto was not the only cartridge that was held to be super-powerful. Bill Jordan wrote that he never discovered where the bullet went the first time he fired a .357 magnum because he was sure the gun was pointed at the target when he closed his eyes and pulled the trigger.
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Old July 3, 2012, 04:58 AM   #39
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The .38 Special can kill you.
It can kill the person next to you.
It can kill anyone attacking you.

It cannot protect you unless you pull the trigger.
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Old July 3, 2012, 06:41 AM   #40
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38 Special has put countless bad guys in the ground. Six feet under ground.

Jack
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Old July 3, 2012, 07:21 AM   #41
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My standared answer, whenever this discussion comes up, is to quote my first firearms instructor when I went on the job. My duty gun was a Smith Mod. 10, bull barrel, in .38 Spl.
In his first lecture to us at the range, he explained that there are more powerful guns out there, and some day we might have to face one of them in the hands of someone out to do us harm. He then came out with the following statement, which I have remembered to this day.
He said,
"If you doubt the ability of the service load to protect you, it is relatively easy to double its stopping power. All you have to do is pull the trigger again. If your life is on the line, never rely on just one shot."
I have never had any problem with carrying a .38Spl., and I worked in some of the toughest neighborhoods, in one of the toughest citys in the world.
I still carry a .38 Spl. (642) on a daily basis, and do not feel, in any way, that I am, or have ever been, undergunned.
Just my opinion.
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Old July 3, 2012, 07:29 AM   #42
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A 38 spcl can be shot fast in a small pistol by most people. That is what it does best. 357, 40 and 45 are too much for a lot of people to shoot fast, even with training.
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Old July 3, 2012, 08:08 AM   #43
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It was politically acceptable. It also got a lot of cops killed because the bullets of the day (round nose lead) were dismal failures.
Mostly it was a failure because most cops could not hit their target. Big city police departments with a training program still have a dismal hit rate of anywhere from 17% to 40%, small departments where most officers have had minimal training and that only at the academy are worse unless they were gun people before they became officers. Switching from 38 spcl LRN to 9MM JRN only meant you had more bullets to miss with.

I am confident enough in my 38 spcl 158 gr LSWC that it is my home defense load in my night stand gun for that dark thirty at night Bozo who wants to get hurt. It is good enough that I have hunted and shot rabbits at 7 yds to 50+ yards using both SWC and LRN. I wouldn't want to hunt deer with it but I can guarantee a small 4 legged critter with teeth and bad intentions like a feral dog, coyote or wolf would not want to get shot with it.
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Old July 3, 2012, 08:23 AM   #44
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"What I meant by relatively powerful, Mr. Deputy276, and relative to other handgun rounds only, was that in absolute terms of muzzle energy, some .38 special loads were as powerful as a .45 auto. You can argue all day if you want if one were as effective as the other. No statistic can convince anyone one way or the other. I've learned that much here. It is more perception than anything else and after all, a man has to be confident in his weapon. But the .45 auto was not the only cartridge that was held to be super-powerful. Bill Jordan wrote that he never discovered where the bullet went the first time he fired a .357 magnum because he was sure the gun was pointed at the target when he closed his eyes and pulled the trigger."

Muzzle energy doesn't kill people. And the reason Uncle Sammie went with the .45ACP was because the .38 couldn't get the job done. That's enough argument for me. The training methods for the .357 (shoot wimpy wadcutters and carry super-max loads) as well as the ammo of the day guaranteed that unless you got the BG with the first shot, you wouldn't get him with the remaining 5. As we entered the 80s, bad guys were carrying much more manageable 9MM with a lot more ammo if they missed. Police WERE outgunned, unless you lived in East Podunk, Missouri.
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Old July 3, 2012, 09:34 AM   #45
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I love the .38 Special.

The variety of loads mean you can do just about anything with it. 148-gr. wadcutter Target loads, 158-gr. LRN or SWC hunting loads for small game or varmints, either for self-defense loads.
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Old July 3, 2012, 09:41 AM   #46
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And the reason Uncle Sammie went with the .45ACP was because the .38 couldn't get the job done.
Do you have a source for that? Last time I checked, Uncle Sam was issuing .38's to pilots until the middle of the 1980's.

Quote:
the ammo of the day guaranteed that unless you got the BG with the first shot, you wouldn't get him with the remaining 5.
Also inaccurate. While some officers did have trouble with the recoil of .357 loadings, that's a training issue, not the fault of the load. Furthermore, few departments actually issued .357 Magnum loads for general field use. Most officers, even on the federal level, carried .38's, even if the gun was chambered for .357.

The .38 isn't a barn-burner. It's not much of a hunting load for things over 80lbs or so. Those are its deficiencies.

Its merits are that it's accurate, easy to control, and very effective with modern loadings. It certainly has its place, even among newer developments.
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Old July 3, 2012, 10:01 AM   #47
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Do you have a source for that? Last time I checked, Uncle Sam was issuing .38's to pilots until the middle of the 1980's.
I think he's referring to the Phillipine-American War, when the local Moro tribesman were fighting through injuries sustained from the then-standard .38 Long Colt pistols, with the help of some "performance-enhancing" drugs. The U.S. forces temporarily switched to .45 Colt revolvers, and found the heavier bullets to be more effective. This prompted the search for a new service pistol, and the criteria of "not less than .45 caliber" was put forth, along with a preference for a semi-automatic design, if possible.

As for the fact that American aviators were issued .38 revolvers until fairly recently, that doesn't say much for their suitability as a combat weapon. I'm a flight officer in the Navy, and the pistol I'm given when I go flying is strictly a last-ditch survival tool - effectiveness and stopping power aren't primary considerations. If I have to bail out, my new mission becomes getting myself back to friendly forces, hopefully without encountering any enemies at all. I don't transform into a ground soldier and start looking for bad guys to kill.
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Old July 3, 2012, 10:16 AM   #48
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I prefer 357 but the 38 is a fun round to shoot and in a pinch is fine for self defense. I would have no qualms about carrying it as an leo.
Agree
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Old July 3, 2012, 10:37 AM   #49
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Just this past Sunday morning,,,

I had a guy shooting next to me with a Glock in .40,,,
I was popping away with my model 18 in .22 LR,,,
Then I changed up to my Model 15 in .38.

He asked what I just fired and I said .38 Special,,,
His snarky comment was, "I guess it's better than .22".

He was shooting a man sized silhouette and his shots were all over the place,,,
I fired and knocked over five 20-ounce water bottler with five shots

My reply was "Yep, especially when I hit what I aim for".

But seriously now,,,
We Americans have always believed that bigger is better,,,
It's a fallacy we embraced and grew to love right after we finished with World War Two.

Modern designs have replaced the ineffective lead round nose bullet,,,
Load up with HP's, SWCFP's, or even just wad-cutters,,,
The .38 special will do the job very nicely.

Aarond

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Old July 3, 2012, 10:46 AM   #50
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Exactly right ScottRiqui
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