Since being introduced in 1898, the .38 Special cartridge has been a significant part of the world of firearms. This cartridge was designed to improve on the .38 Long Colt, which the U.S. military used at the time. The .38 Long Colt had limited stopping power and had proven ineffective against the wooden shields of the Moro tribesmen in the Philippines. More power was needed – enter the .38 Special.
The .38 Special grew from this need to become one of the most well-known and frequently used calibers in the world today. Discussions of the .38 Special will no doubt include references to the iconic .38 “Snubby” revolver. This pistol with a short barrel was often carried as a back-up gun in a pocket or calf holster by law enforcement and civilians alike. The .38 Special had a rich service life and was used by all branches of the military in the years between 1935 and 1985. Most frequently used as a self-defense and survival weapon by aircrew members, it was also issued as a duty sidearm to military police and security personnel.
The .38 Special is an accurate cartridge and has been popular among target shooters – with the revolver being the most common type of handgun for this cartridge. Another option is the Smith & Wesson Model 52, a semi-automatic pistol with a five-round magazine that can feed wadcutter bullets. The mild recoil of the .38 Special pleases practical pistol shooters, allowing shots to be fired in rapid succession.
Today, bullet weights for the .38 Special can be found ranging between 95 and 158 grains. Bullet types vary from wadcutter to round nose and hollow point. These cartridges generate between 150 foot pounds of muzzle energy on the low end, to almost 300 foot pounds at the high end. Commonly used for concealed carry, the .38 Special is available from many manufacturers in their premium self-protection lines. It is also worth noting that .38 Special cartridges can be used as a lighter recoiling, less expensive alternative to full-power magnum ammunition in .357 Magnum firearms.
The .38 Special has rightfully earned its place among the best firearms cartridges in the world through its qualities of accuracy, power, concealability and availability.