Skip to content

38 Special Ammo

The Best 38 Special Ammunition

For modern revolvers, the .38 Special caliber is almost certainly the quintessential choice.   It was once widely used because of its reliability and durability. Even though the 9x19mm Parabellum, which is nearly the same diameter, may be more powerful in terms of ballistic performance, the .38 Special is still very popular amongst EDC (Everyday Carry) gun owners. More than a century after its inception, it continues to enjoy widespread acclaim. For decades, this was the go-to caliber for police revolvers, including the regular issue "snubby" or snub nose and "Chief's Special" models. It has stood the test of time in terms of being an effective caliber for EDC use and overall mainly for revolvers with short barrels or snub nose characteristics, which is easy to conceal. 

To address the shortcomings of the .38 Long Colt, the U.S. military created and released the .38 Special cartridge in 1898. The resulting .38 Special cartridge fit not only the older .38 Long (and .38 Short) Colt firearms but also the older cap-and-ball revolvers used by the Navy and the soon-to-be-released .357 Magnum. 

From the 1920s through the 1990s, the .38 Special ammo was the go-to service round for the vast majority of police agencies across the United States. It was also widely utilized by American servicemen in the sidearms they carried throughout World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. It is also commonly referred to as 929.5mmR or 9.129mmR in various regions of the world. 

More than a century after its debut, the .38 Special remains one of the most popular revolver cartridges in the world due to its accuracy and controllable recoil. Its many applications include sport shooting, competitive target shooting, self-defense, and hunting for small game.

Smith & Wesson's rimmed, centerfire .38 Special cartridge is also known as the 9x29mmR or .38 S&W Special (not to be confused with .38 S&W), .38 Spl, .38 Spc, (pronounced "thirty-eight special"), or .38 Spl. When put next to a 9mm Luger, the 38mm Special's reduced recoil is a clear advantage. When compared to other cartridges, such as the .40 S&W, the recoil of both of these is far smaller.

The ".38" in .38 Special refers to the approximate diameter of the loaded brass case, not the cartridge's actual caliber of .357 inches (36 caliber/9.07 mm). This was necessary because the original 38-caliber cartridge, the .38 Short Colt, was intended for converting .36-caliber cap-and-ball Navy revolvers, which had untapered cylindrical firing chambers of approximately 0.374-inch (9.5 mm) diameter and thus required heeled bullets, the exposed portion of which was the same diameter as the cartridge case.

The .38 Special is similar to the .38 Short Colt, the .38 Long Colt, and the .357 Magnum save for the length of the cartridge's casing. Due to the similarity between the  .38 Special and the .357 Magnum, either can be used in a revolver designed for the larger cartridge. It also makes it possible to use .38 Short Colt and .38 Long Colt ammunition in revolvers designed for .38 Special. This means that .38 Special ammunition and revolvers are exceptionally flexible. However, firearms rated for .38 Special (such as all variants of the Smith & Wesson Model 10) are typically not compatible with the longer and more powerful .357 Magnum cartridge since they are not built to handle the significantly higher pressure of the magnum cartridges. Colt New Army revolvers chambered for 38 Long Colt will also accept .38 Special and .357 Magnum due to their straight-walled chambers, however, this is not recommended under any circumstances since the resulting pressures can be up to three times higher than the New Army was meant to handle.

The .38 Special has about two to three major types of ammunition that the majority of the market use. The first is the Wadcutter type of ammunition available in the .38 special. The wadcutter is a slow, blunt bullet that is meant to be seated flush with the top of the bullet case and is a fan favorite among revolver shooters. These are designed for short-distance target shooting where bullet drop and trajectory are not likely to be a concern. The flat snout of the bullet serves to punch out nearly perfect circles in paper targets, making hits easy to recognize visually. In competitive and cowboy action shooting, the clean holes also improve the accuracy of scoring. For a long time, "snubby" or short-nosed revolvers have favored wadcutters. These popular guns have extremely short barrels and are not capable of successfully utilizing higher-velocity ammo.

Shop at ClarkArmory.com and find a wide selection of your favorite .38 Special ammo now!

Previous article Cheap 9mm Ammo
Next article Clark Armory is Expanding Again!