What Is a 38 Special?

The term “38 Special” can refer to either a particular family of firearms or the type of ammunition designed for use in such weapons. Known for its effective combination of accuracy and stopping power, combined with a manageable recoil, the 38 Special is still one of the most used revolver cartridges over 100 years after it first hit the market. It derives its name from the fact that the brass casing of the cartridge is roughly 38/100ths of an inch in diameter (.357, to be exact). The 38 Special cartridge was standard issue in most U.S. police departments from the 1920s through the 1990s, and has reached icon status due to the ubiquity of the 38 Smith & Wesson revolver in movies and popular culture. For millions of people, when they think of a gun, they think of a 38 Special.

What’s so “special” about the 38 Special?

The 38 Special holds a revered place in the history of American ammunition design. This is true for three reasons:

  1. Reliability – 38 Special ammunition was developed way back in the late 1890s as a replacement for the Old West-style 38 Long Colt cartridge, which by that point had become obsolete. Because it was originally designed for military use, 38 Special ammo had to be extremely reliable, a goal which the manufacturers achieved admirably.
  2. Versatility – 38 Special ammunition is a great choice for shooters who are interested in owning a firearm for multiple purposes, including self-defense, target shooting, and small game hunting. In fact, 38 Special ammo is still a serviceable choice for most police and military applications.
  3. Power – even in the 21st century, 38 Special ammunition is powerful enough to incapacitate the average assailant. This is especially true with +P forms of the ammo, which we’ll discuss in a bit.

. 38 Special Ammunition: +P vs. non +P

The term “+ P” refers to a type of 38 Special ammunition that holds a more potent gunpowder charge than non +P ammo. To understand why this is important, we must take a moment to explore the concept of “stopping power” and its relationship to defensive shooting situations.

Put simply, the purpose of a self-defense weapon is to stop an attack on an intended victim immediately. This is not the same as injuring or killing the assailant. All properly functioning firearms have the potential to wound or kill. The question is how long it will take to put the attacker out of action. The commonly used term for this variable is stopping power.

All else being equal, a 38 Special round rated as +P will generate greater stopping power than a non +P round. This is why most self-defense experts recommend keeping a 38 Special firearm loaded with +P ammunition when it’s carried for personal defense.

However, there are important exceptions to this rule. These include:

  • When the firearm in question was not designed for +P rounds – the weapons manufacturer can give you this information.
  • When the owner of the weapon is not proficient in firing +P ammunition – either due to lack of training or physical limitations.
  • When the added expense of +P ammunition is financially prohibitive – +P rounds can cost significantly more than non +P alternatives, putting them out of the reach of some firearms owners. However, these costs can be largely mitigated by reloading +P casings.

The Benefits of Reloading 38 Special Ammunition

Reloading 38 Special brass can help you to hone your shooting skills while saving money at the same time. It’s also a great way to become more familiar with firearms in general. Our ammo guide can give you more information.

For many gun owners, 38 Special ammunition is a sound all-purpose choice, due to its combination of reliability, versatility, and stopping power. This time-honored design continues to do good service more than a century after its invention. Buy 38 Special ammo at Powder Valley, a one-stop online superstore for ammo reloading and more. Remember, we can help you to shoot more and pay less.