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Old July 6, 2009, 11:39 PM   #1
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38 special vs .40 S&W?

I have been trying to decide between a Stoeger Cougar in .40 S&W and a Ruger GP-100 .357.

The question came up when I considered my wife using the gin for SD in the home (we do not carry).

I like the idea of a versatile .357 which can shoot magnums and also 38 special rounds, since my wife does not like the recoil of the .357's

I know how these threads go, and I guess I'm hoping for some direction.

I have found a lot of info comparing the 38 special to the 9mm rounds, but none comparing it to the .40 (talking standard loads not +P or anything special)

If I get the Ruger, it will likely be loaded with 38 specials for my wife to use in an emergency.

So, if you were going to reach for either the Stoeger loaded with .40 or the Ruger with 38 special to stop an intruder, which would you go for and why?

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Old July 6, 2009, 11:48 PM   #2
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.38 Spl ballistics:

.40 S&W ballistics:

Print these tables and take a look at them.

Generally speaking (and you know about generalities,) .40 S&W offers higher velocities, higher energy levels, using heavier projectiles (in grains), than .38 Spl.

There is a reason why the FBI studies in the wake of the April 1986 shootout between Platt and Matix and eight FBI agents resulted in the Bureau selecting initially the 10mm cartridge, and then the .40 S&W - rather than the .38 Spl.

All of which says exactly nothing about which round your wife would better be able to handle, and whether or not you want to provide her with a revolver rather than a semi-automatic pistol.

Many authorities, however, generally agree that when discussing "stopping intruders", variables such as bullet weight, velocity, and energy (and energy transferrence) play key roles.

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Old July 6, 2009, 11:54 PM   #3
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The .40 has a heavier projectile (155gr-200gr in standard loadings) with more frontal area, moving at higher speed than the .38 special. Ballistically, it is better in all ways.

The .357 outperforms the .40, but you asked about .38 special.

I would reach for a GP100 loaded with .357 before I would reach for a Cougar .40, but that has more to do with the fact that I like GP100's and shoot them well, and I don't have adequate background with the Cougar (I tried a rental .40 once, when it was still a Beretta - I don't consider 2 boxes of ammo at the range to be a valid point of reference).

For the same reason, I'd be torn between the GP100 with .38s as opposed to the Cougar .40 - I'm instinctive with the GP, and would have to think about the Cougar. OTOH, the Cougar would offer a lot more rounds, and each round would have better stopping power than the .38's in the GP.

Ah, looks like Doc Intrepid beat me to the punch.

My ultimate answer was going to be to let your wife shoot each, and see which one feels better to her.
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Old July 7, 2009, 01:55 AM   #4
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.40 S&W

The only thing the .38 really has going for it over the .40 is concealability in snub nosed j-frames.
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Old July 7, 2009, 04:02 AM   #5
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So, if you were going to reach for either the Stoeger loaded with .40 or the Ruger with 38 special to stop an intruder, which would you go for and why?
I'd reach for the one that was closest because it is most convienent.

IMHO .38 special 158gr LSWCHP is "good enough". Is better than "good enough" really better?
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Old July 7, 2009, 05:53 AM   #6
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I really think your wife could handle the 40. It may take a little longer for her to master it than a 38, but the 40 is not bad. It has also been my observation that women seem to prefer revolvers. There are some reduced power 357 loads out there that split the difference petween 38+P and full power 357 loads that are not bad recoil and muzzle blast wise.

Another option would be to go 9mm. The better 9mm loads are right up there with the 40 and not that far behind 357 mag. A 125gr. 9mm +P is around 1200fps. A 125gr. 357 mag from a 3-4" revolver will struggle to get over 1300fps. Most ballistics charts show faster, but from 6" barrels. The 357 is much more versatile because it will shoot much heavier bullets than the 9mm.
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Old July 7, 2009, 06:24 AM   #7
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Familiarity is the key. I have and feel familiar with both; - feel more so with the .357/.38--having been around that format all my life. I would keep the .40 handy, but would and do choose the .357 loaded with +P .38s (or reduced load magnums as one suggested) as #1 go-to, because of the "going bang every time" factor,... with little thought needed in an adrenaline-packed, hectic situation-- coupled with the idea of near-complete (as possible) reliability.
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Old July 7, 2009, 06:32 AM   #8
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A .40 certainly offers more than a .38 spcl round including a snappier recoil. All things being equal, I'd prefer using a .40 in a SD situation over a .38.

With that said, a Ruger GP offers a lot of options for your wife if she is recoil shy. Start shooting .38s. When she is comfortable with those, move up to .38+P. From there, you might be able to work her into .357 loads for SD.

Additionally, if she isn't willing to shoot a lot, a revolver is a simple point and click firearm.
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Old July 7, 2009, 07:39 AM   #9
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The FBI shootout was ended with a 3" S&W M13/ 158gr LSWCHP, its what was used to kill both Platt, and Maddox.
My own Brother has killed 2 people in on duty shootouts while armed with a lowly Model 10(all were one shot kills). The .38 special was the most used Police cartridge for over 70 years. And that is because it worked, and it was accurate.
If all one had to do was look at charts all day, there would be no reason not to go with a .500 S&W, as the charts show its clearly better than the .38,.40,.41,.45
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Old July 7, 2009, 10:23 AM   #10
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38 Spec vs 40 S&W

Neither of these calibers are any good if your wife doesn't practice shooting her weapon. If she does get a fair amount of practice she should be able to handle the 40 S&W just fine. That said, a revolver doesn't have all the safeties and buttons on it that most semi auto's have, so sometimes it is easier for a woman (or anyone that doesn't use a handgun) to use. Semi Auto's are sometines hard for a woman to 'rack the slide' on to load the first round. I don't care that much for Glocks, altho I have one in 10 MM. Glock is a semi auto that should be easy for a non-shooter to learn to use, like a revolver would be, but you still have the slide to rack to load the first round. No matter what you get, practice is neccesary to be even half way good with a handgun, it's use has got to be second nature if you are going to use it to defend your life.
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Old July 7, 2009, 10:27 AM   #11
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Practice Practice Practice, I thought I knew it all till I shot next to a firearms instructor, needless to say now I am relearning it all right down to the grip on the gun LOL
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Old July 7, 2009, 10:42 AM   #12
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The .38 special was the most used Police cartridge for over 70 years. And that is because it worked, and it was accurate.
I couldnt have put it better.

I have several .38's and one .40. Every .38 I carry is loaded with the Remington +P 158gr LSWCHP. I carry it because it has adequate horsepower, acceptable recoil and is spot on accurate in ALL of my .38's. That said, when I carry my CZ40b, I dont feel undergunned in the least

I think this really boils down to a revolver vs pistol debate. If you do your job and put the bullets into the bad guys COM, they will do their job!

My wife DOES NOT like any pistols. When she carries, it is either a .38 S&W J frame or a .357 Ruger Security Six snub. She like the simple manuel of arms that a revolver has. Revolvers are in her comfort zone, pistols are not.
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Old July 7, 2009, 10:49 AM   #13
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38 special vs .40 S&W?

This is the KEY point to consider in your situation: have your wife fire both guns and let HER decide which she'd prefer to have if the occasion ever arises.

In my own experience, I've found that female shooters who balk at a 1911 in 45 acp almost feel warm and cuddly with a 30spl revolver. I'm not familiar with the Stoeger .40, but I'd imagine it recoils somewhat like a 1911.
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Old July 7, 2009, 10:50 AM   #14
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I don't think there is any way you can compare .38 and .40. Just like you can't compare the GP100 to the Stoeger Cougar two completely different firearms. The GP100 is heavy and bulky the Cougar is lighter the thing is can the wife handle any of the two I own both if I had to chose for my wife it would be S&W K frame shooting .38
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Old July 7, 2009, 10:51 AM   #15
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It was an "either/or" question.

Originally Posted by cbuchanan87
"if you were going to reach for either the Stoeger loaded with .40 or the Ruger with 38 special to stop an intruder, which would you go for and why?"
Your response appears to be "...the .38 because it has historically worked".

Empirical data certainly isn't everything.

But handgun ammunition performance on humans is inconsistent at best.

Often, assuming you can hit what you aim at, a more effective round may be a better choice.

The OP titled his thread ".38 Spl versus .40 S&W".

Setting aside for the moment the revolver versus auto issue, and the 'capacity of rounds' issue, (and the 'which gun my wife finds preferable' issue,) the charts provide useful data regarding the rounds themselves.

Thats why, if you're looking to determine 'which of those two rounds may be a more effective round', looking at the charts can influence your selection.

By the way, congrats to your brother.

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Old July 7, 2009, 10:57 AM   #16
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This boils down to choice of actions...

Round for round, the 40 S&W outperforms the .38 Special, although both are fine for SD.

To me, this decision boils down to whether you want a self-shucker or a wheelgun.
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Old July 7, 2009, 04:45 PM   #17
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Is it really your gun, but you just want her to be able to fire it if she has to? Do you both plan to practice a lot? Not really? Do both guns fit her hand? Yours, also? Is hand strength an issue for racking the slide?

Both are credible calibers, and I know Rugers are credible firearms (I'm not personally aware of the Cougar), so you'll find your real answer may lie in the questions I asked above. If one fits and the other doesn't, there's your answer. But if she can't rack the slide, there's your answer. If practice time will be minimal, it's probably revolver over auto.

My wife lacks hand strength and hand size, and shoots well but rarely, so autos and K-frame revolvers are out. Solution: she can handle J-frame Smiths, D-frame Colts, or Ruger SP-101s. We own all because I like them; the D-frame .38 Police Positive Special with standard-pressure .38s is by her bedside.
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Old July 7, 2009, 04:52 PM   #18
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The Stoger Cougar is a solid pistol (designed by Beretta originally, so it is the same gun as a Beretta Cougar). The 40 will have snappier recoil, but your wife may prefer the extra capacity or the feel of the Cougar. Let her hold each gun (shoot them if possible) and let her choose if she will be the primary user of said gun. Both are fine weapons, go with whichever one makes your wife more comfortable.
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Old July 7, 2009, 04:57 PM   #19
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better to have a .38 you are confident and accurate with than a .40 that you cant shoot as well. However, for me personally, I would take the cougar over the GP any day!
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Old July 9, 2009, 01:01 AM   #20
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When selling guns for a living I saw a lot of frustration on both sides when men were trying to buy their wives a gun. The men "knew" which were the better guns (usually high-cap semi-autos), but the women just didn't have the arm strength to operate the slide. (Very frustrating to most males.) Some women hated the idea of loading magazines (couldn't figure out which was the front, for example--which way the bullets go), inserting magazines, and you could forget clearing a jam. So don't buy what you think she needs, but rather what she thinks is the best for her.

Some women have no problem with automatics at all. My wife loves shooting my Glock 21 (.45 ACP), however, she likes the feel and carries a Ruger SP101. (There is no magazine running through the grip making it bigger than it has to be.) She has dropped down to 110-gr Winchester .357 loads in her old age, which I like in my S&W K-frame snubbies as well.

The point: as several folks have pointed out, let your wife decide.

1. Let her handle different guns at your favorite dealer, and see what is comfortable in her hand.
2. Let her shoot different guns at the range. Find a place that will rent guns and let her shoot them. Again, find out what is comfortable to her. (And what she can easily operate.)
Anyone who has been married for any length of time knows his wife will not do anything, including practice with a gun, if it is uncomfortable, hurts her, or just plain doesn't like it. (Do i hear an Amen there?!?)

3. Don't worry about recoil. That is a guy thing. Most women know nothing about it and it usually isn't a factor. My wife's training instructor told her to focus on the front sight, and that's what she did. She didn't focus on recoil.
Paxton Quigley has/had a firearms training school for women, and the two guns her students liked the best were the Ruger GP100 (a .357 with plenty of recoil), and the 1911 (.45 ACP), not exactly "something small for the little lady."

A .357 (GP100 or SP101) will give you/her the versatility of 3-4 different load levels: .38 Special, .38+P, light .357 loads, and knock-em-on-their-ass .357 loads. The .40 is an excellent man-stopping round. Any of these will do the job. However, the key to any round you choose is bullet placement. And that takes practice. She can't go to the range two or three times and quit. Make it an enjoyable time so she will keep going and practice, practice, practice. Again, she will practice more if the gun is comfortable in her hand. Don't limit the selection to just two guns yet.

I hope I haven't rambled too much. Let us know what you, . . . ah, I mean she decides on.
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Old July 11, 2009, 05:24 PM   #21
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Which gun does she have more experience shooting?....that should be the main determination.....

...and, if she hasn't shot either, you need to correct that immediately....
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Old July 11, 2009, 06:51 PM   #22
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I'll pitch in what I know....

Can your wife work the slide? Can she clear a jam? If the answer to either of those is no than the .38/.357 is an easy choice.

Want even better....Good doors and locks, an alarm and a dog.

I've never shot a .40. But looking at the data.... the .40 won't have any less recoil than the .357. Both are comparbale in powder charge given similer bullet weights and the .40 normally uses heavier bullet which will increase recoil. Also the GP100 will more than likely be heavier and lesson recoil. I will say this, the recoil in my .357 Security Six is no worse than, and in many cases better than, the recoil of the .45 acps I've owned/shot. 125gr. standard pressure .357's are a pu$$y cat (very mild). I'm sure standard pressure 158's will be tame too.

Bottom line, IMO if she can't handle .357 in a GP100 she can't handle the .40.
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Old July 11, 2009, 07:30 PM   #23
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Comparing the cartridges and comparing the two guns are separate exercises.

I'd say the .357 magnum and the .40 S&W are comparable in effectiveness in stopping human threats. One might have some advantages over the other in some areas and the reverse is true of the other in some other areas. So on balance I'd not decide based on the cartridge; but the platform which launches the bullet. [However, both the .357 magnum and the .40 S&W are significantly more effective than the .38 Special.]

Generally speaking, it takes more training to reach the same level of competence with an auto as compared to a revolver. You must practice manipulating more things to be sufficiently skilled with an auto as compared with a revolver.

The basic failure drill on a revolver is to pull the trigger again (unless you suspect a squib load discharged).
The basic failure drill on a auto is "tap, rack, bang". A double feed or failure to eject is a bit different. So you can see the auto is more complex.

On the revolver you must manipulate the trigger, the thumbpiece (cylinder latch), the extractor rod, and possibly the hammer.

With the auto you must manipulate the trigger, the slide release, the magazine release, the magazine, the slide, the safety, the decocking lever and possibly the hammer. The auto is more complex and takes more training.

So actually shoot both and see how you like them. Consider how much training you are willing to invest for both you and your wife.
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Last edited by Mello2u; July 11, 2009 at 07:37 PM.
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Old July 11, 2009, 09:32 PM   #24
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The .40 is a damned good round, period. But smaller and/or female cops have been having problems with it on occasion.

The 38 and 357 together in the same gun offer a very flexible package, with the ability to run "enough power but not huge recoil" early on even for the smallest shooter, up through stomper-loads that leave the .40 for dead.

One point to consider: there are now some very good milder-end-of-the-357-spectrum loads that work well, almost match the best .40s for effectiveness and are very controllable in a gun the size of a GP100, S&W 686 or the like. The Cor-Bon 125gr DPX is among the very best of this class, pulling around 1,250fps from a 4" barrel and has proven to be a very reliable expander.

In regards to:

A 125gr. 357 mag from a 3-4" revolver will struggle to get over 1300fps.
I suggest you look at what DoubleTap Ammo and Buffalo Bore are doing. Buffalo Bore's 125gr Gold Dot-based high-end slug has been clocked at over 1,600fps (independently!) from a 4" barrel Ruger. That leaves the .40 for dead, it even spanks most 10mm rounds and sends 'em running home to mama. Doubletap is almost as hot and I used one of those with the same Gold Dot projectile to blow a bowling ball clean in half at 20 paces, sending fist-size pieces of the concrete core back past my feet. That stuff is NO JOKE whatsoever and it's controllable (barely!) from a GP100-class gun.

What people forget about autoloader pistols is that they have to have a minimum energy level to operate the gun mechanically. So you can't go all that light on the ammo or it'll jam up. With a 357 revolver you can use energy levels from about 150ft/lbs energy (148gr target wadcutter at 700fps) up through 180gr "stompers" doing more than 1,200fps and some hitting almost 800ft/lbs energy from a 4" tube. You get all that flexibility with no changes to the gun, it won't jam if you limp-wrist it or fire while injured, and it can't go out of battery on a close-range muzzle press.

And it's got six shots, when most gunfights end in less than two...
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Old July 11, 2009, 10:07 PM   #25
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The much more important question is which pistol can your wife handle better?

Both calibers will do the job but can she? Does she have the hand strength to clear a jam? Does the flash from the cylinder gap cause her to flinch?

Caliber is seldom the deciding factor in a SD use. Having the gun and the confidence and skills to use it are much more important.

Take her to the range, let her shoot both and let her pick.
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