The .38 Special cartridge is more relevant today than any other time in history.

Throughout history, .38 Special has been a popular cartridge for revolver shooters.

If you’re looking for a self-defense revolver, the .38 Special is one of the best ways to go.


What’s so special about the .38? Well, it came to be in 1898 as a powerful handgun during the Philippine insurrection. It’s fought many wars and served multiple generations of peace officers. It’s certainly done well for a 120-year-old duty sidearm cartridge.

1. Proven track record

Cartridges come and go. Many so called “perfect defense calibers” have disappeared over time. Well, with the right loads the .38 Special will still stop a fight in a hurry. Even the vintage old school police and military cartridges in plain lead round nose configuration would put an aggressor down with a well aimed shot. Of course now the self defense cartridges in these modern times are much more potent and highly recommended.

2. Modern ammunition has given the .38 Special more teeth.

Clark Armory

The old police standard was the 158-grain bullet loaded with black powder. That lead round-nose bullet load was a bit on the mild side compared to today’s cartridges. That quickly changed to a load with smokeless powder. The Super Police load was a 200-grain round-nose bullet with greater knockdown power due to the bullet’s tendency to keyhole. The tumbling bullet caused more damage and released more energy than a bullet following a straight line.

Now, let’s we fast-forward to modern times. The current +P ammunition (higher pressure) has created higher muzzle velocity loads with speed exceeding all loads before it. When topped with a high-quality Hornady or Speer hollow-point projectiles, the stopping power is quite impressive. A good hit with JHP or semi-wadcutter hollow-point rounds out of an old snub-nose revolver will get an attacker’s attention. Special loads are also made with a bigger powder charge that’ll really knock your socks off.

3. Great handguns chambered for the .38 Special


The Smith & Wesson Model 10 introduced in 1899 was a game-changer. This strong revolver became a favorite for police, the U.S. Army and civilians. Many great double-action revolvers and even a few semi-automatic pistols such as the S&W Model 52. That semi-auto was chambered for the very accurate wadcutter .38 Special cartridge. Most handgun makers, including Smith & Wesson, Ruger, Taurus and Charter Arms, along with others, make a number of revolvers in .38 Special to this day .

4. Is this the Holy Grail caliber of concealed-carry-size handguns?

Small-sized revolvers are made in large quantities for the conceal carry market. The caliber itself allows small six-shooters and even smaller-cylinder, five-shot revolvers perfect for concealing. Pocket revolvers in .38 Special still pack a punch and some will even when chambered the longer .357 Magnum rock your world with recoil and muzzle flash.

5. Cheaper practice


We’ve all heard the words, “practice makes perfect.” Well, that is certainly the case with handgun shooting. With budget-priced .38 Special target loads, a shooter can certainly hone their skills. Load up on hot personal-defense ammunition then for carry. They also are quite simple for the handloader at the home press.

6. Did you know some rifles shoot .38 Special handgun cartridges?


Popular rifles like Henry Arms Big Boy Series Lever-Action Rifles will shoot .357 Magnum and the shorter .38 Special rounds. The light-kicking .38 Special cartridges from a rifle really are pleasant to shoot. For recoil-sensitive shooters, or just plain-fun plinking time, the .38 Special has proven itself as a short- to medium-range rifle cartridge. For both vermin and targets, it just doesn’t get better than that.

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