Best 38 Special Ammo for Snubbies: Self-Defense and Range Day Ammo
Many shooters love the 38 Special because its accurate and low recoil defense rounds have been proven to stop threats at close range. Combine that with a snubnose revolver, and you have the recipe for an excellent concealed carry firearm.
So, what is the best 38 Special ammo for snubbies? I'm glad you asked!
Hornady Critical Defense 38 Special +P 110gr JHP is the best overall, thanks to the unique hollow point Hornday has developed.
If that defense load is a little pricey, don't worry; we will discuss many more options as you continue reading.
- Hornady Critical Defense 38 Special +P 110gr JHP - Best Overall
- Speer 38 Special +P 125gr JHP - Best Self-Defense
- Blazer 38 Special 125 Grain FMJ - Best Training
- Underwood 38 Special +P 125-Grain XTP - Best Hollow Point
- Black Hills Ammunition 38 Special 158gr CNL - Honorable Mention
- Casing: Brass
- Bullet Type: Jacketed Hollow Point (FTX)
- Bullet Weight: 110 grains
- Muzzle Velocity: 1,090 fps
- Muzzle Energy: 290 ft-lbs
- Trusted Brand
- Technologically advanced bullet design
- A little extra recoil with the + P load
Hornady Critical Defense 38 Special +P 110gr JHP is the best 38 Special ammo for snubbies overall because it's made by a trusted brand, uses a special bullet, and hits the target hard and fast.
The bad guys won't know what hit them!
I use Hornady Critical Defense in my Springfield 45 ACP, Smith & Wesson 9mm, and my wife's Ruger LCR. That's how much I trust this brand of ammo. It's never let me down and has remained incredibly accurate in various firearms.
That's thanks in part to the specialized FTX bullet that Hornady uses. A polymer tip sits inside the jacketed hollow point to increase accuracy and aid in expansion. This means you don't have to worry about over-penetration when engaging a threat.
The 110gr FTX bullet is also very fast when you pair it with + P ammo, which translates to more accuracy and energy to dump into the target when it hits. This gives the round more knockdown power than standard pressure self-defense ammo.
While I often sing the praises of Hornady Critical Defense, it has a couple of downfalls I must mention to be transparent.
The first is the cost. This + P round is expensive. It's not a round I take to the range and punch holes in paper with, that's for sure!
However, it's not even the most expensive 38 Special round on the market, Winchester PDX1 Defender 38 Special 130gr JHP is even more costly and doesn't come close to matching the muzzle velocity of Hornady Critical Defense.
The other thing is for those that are a bit recoil sensitive, this isn't the round for you. My wife found it to be too snappy, and she wasn't comfortable shooting it from her short-barrel handgun.
If that's you, I recommend trying Hornady 38 Special 125gr JHP. It doesn't have the ballistics of the increased pressure load, which means the recoil will be much more manageable.
Even with the drawbacks, Hornady Critical Defense 38 Special +P 110gr JHP is the best 38 Special ammo for snubbies overall because it's accurate, fast, and has the needed knockdown power to stop a dangerous threat.
- Casing: Nickel-plated Brass
- Bullet Type: Jacketed Hollow Point
- Bullet Weight: 125 grains
- Muzzle Velocity: 945 fps
- Muzzle Energy: 248 ft-lbs
- Trusted by law enforcement
- Speer uses high-quality materials
- Solid ballistics
- Reasonable price
- A little snappy due to the increased pressure
Speer Gold Dot 38 Special +P 125-grain JHP is the best 38 SPL self-defense ammo because it's trusted by law enforcement officers across the US. Whenever I ask a law enforcement buddy, "What ammo do you prefer to shoot?", Speer Gold Dot is at the top of the list.
Speer Gold Dot ammo is loaded with high-quality components. So, when you pull the trigger, you know it will go bang and hit where you're aiming—two fundamental aspects of self-defense.
Another reason Speer Gold Dot uses excellent materials is because it gives its ammo solid ballistics that meet or exceed the FBI load standards for bullet penetration into ballistics gelatin regarding personal defense ammunition.
For me, the most surprising thing about this Speer ammo is the price. It was incredibly low compared to Remington Golden Saber and Federal Hydra-Shok Deep 38 Special +P 130gr JHP, which replaced Federal HST in its lineup.
My biggest complaint about the Speer Gold Dot 38 SPL +P 125gr JHP rounds is that they're a little snappy (lots of recoil) when shot from a snub nose 38 Special revolver like a S&W J-frame. This is expected when you're shooting +P ammo, though.
Overall, I wouldn't hesitate to load Speer Gold Dot 38 SPL +P 125gr JHP into my grandpa's Ruger 357 Magnum or S&W 38 Special revolvers for self-defense purposes because it's accurate, hard-hitting, and ultra-reliable.
- Casing: Brass
- Bullet Type: Full Metal Jacket
- Bullet Weight: 125 grains
- Muzzle Velocity: 865 fps
- Muzzle Energy: 208 ft-lbs
- Reputable ammo brand
- Comparable ballistics to some carry ammo
- Low recoil
- Not the cheapest 38 SPL ammo
For the best .38 Special training ammo, choose Blazer 38 Special 125 Grain FMJ because the full metal jacket lead bullets have similar flight characteristics to hollow point bullets in similar weights, and they're inexpensive. That means you can spend all day at the range without selling your right arm.
CCI Blazer has a reputation for making quality ammunition for all scenarios at an affordable price, including training for self-defense situations.
Generally, I like to train with the ammo I plan to carry, but that gets expensive. So, I'll supplement my carry ammo with rounds that have similar ballistics, which is the case with this Blazer 125-grain bullet.
Another thing I love about these rounds is the low recoil, so your hands won't get sore after shooting hundreds of these rounds from a revolver with a short 2-inch barrel.
However, you must also deal with the drawbacks to get the benefits of these rounds. The biggest is that Blazer 38 Special 125 Grain FMJ costs more than Magtech 38 Special 158gr Lead Round Nose (LRN bullets) and Sellier and Bellot 38 Special 158gr, which has a flat nose soft lead bullet.
But it's still cheaper than the ever-popular Federal American Eagle 38 Special 158-Grain LRN.
So, the next time you're headed to the range to do some training, don't hesitate to pick up a few boxes of Blazer 38 Special 125 Grain FMJ because it's reasonably priced, shoots well, and has lower recoil than +P ammo.
- Casing: Nickel-plated Brass
- Bullet Type: Jacketed Hollow Point (XTP)
- Bullet Weight: 125 grains
- Muzzle Velocity: 1,250 fps
- Muzzle Energy: 434 ft-lbs
- Reasonably priced self-defense ammo
- High-quality components
- Newer/lesser-known ammo company
Underwood 38 Special +P 125-Grain XTP uses one of the best hollow point bullets on the market, the XTP. The eXtreme Terminal Performance bullets are one of the most popular handgun bullets because they offer target shooters, hunters, and concealed carriers top-notch performance.
Underwood Ammunition strives to keep its high-quality hunting and self-defense ammo as affordable as possible. They're doing a great job with the pricing of these rounds, considering they're using high-quality materials like the XTP bullets and nickel-plated brass casings.
Another great thing about Underwood using the best components is that its cases are reloadable. So, if you ever get the itch to reload a few rounds, you can with the nickel-plated brass casings and Boxer primers.
Honestly, the biggest downside to these rounds is that Underwood Ammo is still a baby ammo company by its competitor's standards. So, it hasn't had the time to build a positive reputation like Remington with its Remington HTP 38 Special +P 125gr SJHP or Winchester.
Even though it's a relatively new company, Underwood 38 Special +P 125-Grain XTP is worth ordering because it's reasonably priced with solid ballistics, and Underwood uses quality components, so you know you can count on these rounds if needed.
- Casing: Brass
- Bullet Type: Conical Nose Lead
- Bullet Weight: 158 grains
- Muzzle Velocity: 800 fps
- Muzzle Energy: 225 ft-lbs
- Trusted ammo brand
- Designed for target shooting and competition use, not self-defense
If you're into Cowboy Action Shooting with your Colt revolver, these are the rounds to stock up on since you're not likely to find a more accurate bullet than these. They also make excellent range day loads because they're reloadable, which helps reduce the overall cost in the end.
Since Black Hills Ammo uses the best materials for their rounds, you can count on them to go bang and hit the spot where you're aiming when you pull the trigger.
However, I wouldn't use them for home defense because they're intended for competition use, so the bullet is more prone to over-penetration.
Even though they're more expensive than many other Cowboy Action and target loads like Sellier and Bellot 38 Special 158-Grain LFN, which is the biggest con against these rounds; they're still cheaper than Winchester Super-X 38 Special 158gr Lead Semi-Wadcutter (LSWC, not to be confused with LSWCHP or Lead Semi-Wadcutter Hollow Point).
Considering all the benefits of Black Hills Ammunition 38 Special 158gr CNL, it's a no-brainer to grab a few boxes before you head to your next Cowboy Action Shoot because Black Hills is known for producing accurate and reliable ammo.
I have a straightforward process when choosing ammo for my firearms. It's always based on the intended use because it determines how you need your ammo to perform.
If you're having a fun day at the range, you don't need expensive hollow point bullets, but you do need those bullets in a home defense situation.
That's why I've taken the time to explain my thought process for choosing the best ammo for snubnose revolvers based on the scenarios below.
In a self-defense situation with a gun that has a short barrel length, two things matter most: accuracy and knockdown power. You have to be able to hit the threat, and you want your hits to be as effective as possible so you stop the bad guy quickly.
Price rarely comes into play when I'm buying self-defense ammo because I don't buy much of it or shoot a ton of it.
The price matters a lot more for training, but I also need a bullet that matches the ballistic performance of my carry ammo as closely as possible.
So, I often must compromise and get something close to what I carry but much cheaper to shoot regularly so my skills stay sharp.
Most competitions have limitations on the ammo you can use, so you'll need to consult the rule book to see which rounds are permitted.
When target shooting for fun, I go with the cheapest ammo I can find; that way, I can put more rounds downrange.
The team at Ammo.com has taken the time to gather and answer some of the most commonly asked questions regarding the best 38 Special ammo for snubnose revolvers.
The best ammo for a 38 snubbie is Hornady Critical Defense 38 Special +P 110gr JHP because it's accurate and packs a punch.
The best grain for .38 Special is 125-grain because it's in the middle of the other .38 Special bullet weights.
The best .38 Special defense ammo is Speer 38 Special +P 125gr JHP because it's fast, accurate, and capable of quickly taking down a bad guy.
Yes, .38 Special +P is good for self-defense, as long as you can handle the extra kick.
The best .38 Special ammo for a revolver is Hornady Critical Defense 38 Special +P 110gr JHP.
Now that you've finished reading the best 38 Special ammo for snubbies, you can grab a couple of boxes of Hornady Critical Defense 38 Special +P 110gr JHP from Ammo.com to use in your 38 SPL snubnose revolver.
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