Know Your Cartridge: The Dependable .38 Special

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At more than a century old, the .38 Special is still one of the most ubiquitous and well-rounded handgun cartridges available.

  • The .38 Special was developed in 1902 by S&W for its Military & Police Model revolver.
  • It is known as one of the best-balanced, all-round handgun cartridges ever devised.
  • The .38 Special can be loaded with a wide range of bullet weights (95 to 200 grain).

.38 Special Cartridge
Also known as the .38 Colt Special and, more generally, as simply the .38 Special, this cartridge was developed by S&W and introduced with its Military & Police Model revolver, in 1902. This was originally a military cartridge meant to replace the unsatisfactory .38 Long Colt then in use by the Army. Colt brought out its version in 1909, which differs from the original only in bullet shape, the Colt being a flat-point style. Colt, Smith & Wesson, and others make revolvers specifically for this cartridge.


More .38 Special Information:


The .38 Special is considered one of the best-balanced, all-round handgun cartridges ever designed. It is also one of the most accurate and is very widely used for match shooting. Any .357 Magnum revolver will also shoot the .38 Special. It was once the standard police cartridge here and largely in Mexico and Canada. The .38 Special is also a popular sporting cartridge for small to medium game and varmints. With modern hunting bullets, it is effective for this purpose. Because of its moderate recoil, the average person can learn to shoot well with it in a short time, something not true of the .357 or .44 Magnums. The .38 Special is loaded by all major commercial ammunition manufacturers. Bullet weights from 95 to 200 grains have been available.

.38 Special Ballistic Specs

Editor's Note: This brief is an excerpt from Cartridges of the World 14th Edition.


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