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Uses and History of 38 S&W Ammo

One of the most widely used revolver cartridges, the .38 Special is well balanced for both target shooting and defensive use. Introduced in 1898 to replace the inadequate .38 Long Colt, .38 Special ammo has seen significant military and law enforcement use but is primarily employed in personal defense or target shooting applications today. Although it was initially a black powder cartridge, the .38 Special was converted to smokeless form almost immediately. Overall, the .38 SPL is a well-balanced cartridge that is reasonably powerful, very accurate, and mild-recoiling.

Many different types of .38 Special ammo are available. Dedicated target loads firing wadcutter or semi wadcutter bullets are best for shooting paper, as they produce visible, clean holes that can be easily seen from the firing line. A typical target load fires a heavy 158 grain bullet at a muzzle velocity of about 700-800 feet per second. More powerful defensive ammunition fires lighter (110-130 grain) jacketed hollow point bullets at muzzle velocities of 850-1,000 feet per second. This higher velocity promotes more reliable expansion to stop a threat quickly in a self-defense emergency.

An important subcategory of .38 Special ammo is +P loads, which trade higher recoil and muzzle blast for better terminal ballistics. Such ammo should only be used in revolvers capable of withstanding the added pressures, and with the understanding that +P loads will accelerate general wear and tear on guns.

Revolvers chambered in .357 Magnum are capable of firing .38 Special ammunition safely. Many owners of such firearms use .38 SPL ammo extensively at the range, as it produces lower recoil and costs less than magnum ammo.