Ammo Test: Remington’s Ultimate Defense 38 Special +P

Ammo Tests Authors Tom McHale
The Great GunsAmerica Ammo Adventure

For the first couple episodes of the Great GunsAmerica Ammo Adventure, we looked at some interesting rifle rounds: the new Sig Sauer 300 Blackout Match Subsonic and Doubletap’s new 6.8 Remington SPC 90 grain Bonded Defense. They’re both really interesting, and if you consider the results, high-performance rifle cartridges. Now it’s time to drift into every day carry territory. For the next few episodes, we’ll take a close look at really common caliber options that make up a large proportion of concealed carry firearms.

This week’s feature is the Remington Ultimate Defense 38 Special +P 125 grain. If you look at the new Ultimate Defense bullets, they might seem familiar. They share the design of the famous Golden Saber projectiles. One difference you may encounter in the product family is that Remington is developing some loads optimized for short barrel handguns. Projectiles for the Compact Handgun loads are intended to expand more easily at lower velocities generated from shorter barrel guns.

I’ve got a number of calibers in the Remington Ultimate Defense lineup ready for testing, and from my observation, the product line seems to focus primarily on standard weight and standard pressure loads. This one is a +P, but all the others I have so far are normal pressure. Why? I would presume controllability. Standard pressure rounds will offer less recoil snap, less muzzle rise, and the ability to get back on target more quickly after each shot.

For this test, I decided to use a snub-nose revolver, a Ruger LCR 357.

For this test, I decided to use a snub-nose revolver, a Ruger LCR 357.

Shootin’ the Jello

Before I talk about gelatin test results, I need to do some housekeeping for the Great GunsAmerica Ammo Adventure Series. We’ll test everything for velocity, function, accuracy, and performance in ballistic gelatin. When it comes to gelatin testing, we’re going to establish some testing rules for every load. The idea is to offer a consistent load to load comparison based on anticipated real world defensive scenarios. When the FBI or police departments test ammo, they test lots of scenarios that are far less likely to be used in a self-defense situation. While it’s possible that self-defense shots may need to go through a car window, door or other barrier, we’re going to focus on the most common situation: shooting through clothing barriers.

I used the FBI heavy fabric barrier in front of fresh Clear Ballistics 10% gel blocks.

I used the FBI heavy fabric barrier in front of fresh Clear Ballistics 10% gel blocks.

With that said, the most consistent way to do this is to use the exact FBI testing scenario for fabric layers. The new “heavy clothing” protocol is:

1 layer of cotton t-shirt material (approximately 5.25 ounces per yard, 48 threads per inch)
1 layer of cotton shirt material (approximately 3.5 ounces per yard, 80 threads per inch)
1 layer of Malden Mills Polartec 200 fleece
1 layer of cotton denim (approximately 14.4 ounces per yard, 50 threads per inch).

For evaluation of personal defense ammunition, I like this medium. While nothing in the lab can replicate real world variables, this is a pretty likely scenario for the armed civilian market. Over years of testing, I’ve also found that medium to heavy fabric barriers like this can make all the difference. Virtually any projectile will penetrate and expand properly in bare, uncovered ballistic gelatin. When you add a clothing barrier, things tend to get inconsistent quickly.

Most rounds expanded, leaving a visibly dramatic wound channel.

Most rounds expanded, leaving a visibly dramatic wound channel.

For these tests, I’m using Clear Ballistics 10% gelatin packaged in 6” x 6” x 16” blocks and shooting at them from a distance of ten feet. The heavy fabric clothing barrier is wrapped around the front of the block, but not stretched.

At the time of this test, there was no Compact Handgun version of the .38 Special +P load on the market. I’m not yet sure if Remington will produce one or not. Most boxes in the Ultimate Defense line have no marking indicating intended use, but I’m starting to see some marked with “Full-Size Handgun” or “Compact Handgun.” We’ll have to see, but right now, it’s a little confusing with three different package labels floating around the retail shelves.

One of the rounds fired into bare gelatin.

One of the rounds fired into bare gelatin.

I first fired five shots into a fresh gelatin block covered with the four-layer heavy fabric. Three of the five rounds expanded while two showed minimal expansion. Note the dramatic wound tracks in the photos. All five rounds passed completely through the 16” gelatin block, so if anything, penetration might have been a little more than expected.

Just for fun, I fired five more shots into a fresh bare gelatin block. All of the rounds expanded in this scenario, and four of the five exited the back of the block. The fifth penetrated about 15 ½ inches.

I didn’t bother to place a second block behind the first to measure exact penetration depth because, quite frankly, I didn’t expect more than 16 inches of penetration if expansion occurred. However, the rounds that passed through were mostly spent so you might assume average penetration in the 17-inch range, give or take.

I weighed the expanded bullet here and it kept the vast majority of its pre-shot weight with 124.3 grains.

Velocity and accuracy

Doing formal accuracy testing with .38 Special ammo that would likely be used from a snub-nosed revolver at a distance measured in feet is a bit silly. But just for fun, I set up a target and 15 yards down range and fired some groups from a sandbag rest using the Ruger LCR 357 revolver shown in the pictures here. Even with a very rough sight picture with the LCR’s channel rear sight, I shot fired some 5-shot accuracy groups. To reduce the effect of sight picture and user error, I measured the best 3 in a number of 5-shot groups. Bottom line? This ammo, fired from the Ruger LCR 357, hits right at the point of aim and grouped into a hair less than one-inch. Excellent. I’m not making claims here about the mechanical accuracy of this ammo or the gun that fired it. Rather, I’m verifying that shots are going to go right where you would expect on a consistent basis.

Even as a +P loading, the was a tame round to shoot. As I mentioned earlier, I think that’s part of Remington’s strategy with this series.

At 15 yards, point of impact was perfectly consistent with point of aim.

At 15 yards, point of impact was perfectly consistent with point of aim.

I set up a Shooting Chrony Beta Master chronograph 15 feet downrange and fired 10-shot strings to capture velocity and get some indication of variance between rounds.

Average Velocity: 878 feet per second
Slowest: 833.9 fps
Fastest: 916.9 fps
Extreme Spread: 83 fps
Standard Deviation: 30.34

Velocity was right what I expected. The Remington website claims 975 feet per second, but it also derives that measurement using a 4-inch barrel. Lose two inches of barrel length, with about a 50 feet per second velocity reduction per inch, and we’re right on target.

This round worked well in a snub-nose revolver. Based on its performance in a 1 ⅞” barrel, I would expect even better performance in a home defense gun with a 3 or 4-inch barrel.

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  • ejharb April 25, 2015, 2:10 pm

    my wife is a snub lover to the exclusion of all other weapons(which I like lol) she is also petite and recoil sensitive so I handload a 115 grain lead hollowpoint from hunters supply and it runs about 950 and will stop threats with her shot placement

    • Gorge December 10, 2019, 4:28 am

      Who care that’s no relevant to this

  • Magic Rooster March 30, 2015, 8:42 pm

    At distances of 10 feet or less, my S&W J frame Model 36 is my choice. A while back, I found a box of Winchester 158 gr soft nose 38 specials, and they my choice for carry.

  • Dr. Josiah Stephenson March 30, 2015, 12:29 pm

    All good comments. My father used to own an old S & W 38 and a much younger brother has it now. I bought me a c.c. 38 not long ago, and a short barrel, and I like it find using target loads. I am just now honing in the lazer. I am 75 and eye sight with open sights are not good enough any more. But lets face it ok, up close and personal and if your a good point and shoot guy you wont miss. But at night you need the extra help of a lazer lite,at my age.

  • Wilson March 30, 2015, 12:07 pm

    For steel frame revolvers, I wonder how these modern loads compare to the old 158 grain lead SWC hollow point?
    And for alloy frame revolvers, I wonder how the old method of using 148 grain lead hollow base wad cutters reloaded backwards (with the hollow part showing out) compares?

    • Martin B April 4, 2015, 6:33 pm

      An authority on bullet effectiveness was a NYC cop who was a member of the robbery squad, Jim Cirillo. His job was to hide behind a wall at a frequently robbed convenience store, and come out armed when a robber struck. Most robbers failed to comply when ordered to drop their weapons, and many “two way firing range” battles ensued. Cirillo found the fastest way to stop a gunfight was a head shot. At first this was difficult with the issued round nosed lead bullets. Many rounds bounced off the skulls of miscreants, who were able to continue the gunfight. When he changed to semi wadcutters, the bullets went in, and it got quieter sooner. When asked “Did you read him his rights?”, he made his boss spill his coffee when he replied “Yeah but I couldn’t hear his answer because of all the shooting!”. He eventually changed to an M1 carbine or a shotgun firing slugs, as these were more effective than handguns. But he noted the ineffectiveness of round nosed bullets, and this presumably also applies to the ammunition soldiers are required to carry into combat. Makes you think. BTW, the Police chiefs decided it was poor politics to kill thieves, so the robbery rate increased back to high levels again. Again, none of the thieves had a license to carry…

  • Vanns40 March 30, 2015, 10:28 am

    The closest object we have to a human target is a pig carcass dressed in either a tee shirt or jacket. Why do the powers that be continue to use ballistic gelatin?

    • michael March 30, 2015, 10:44 am

      I’m a complete noob when it comes to guns, but my guess is that ballistic gelatin is much easier to find in most places (and can ship anywhere), has a longer shelf life, and lets you see wound tracks from all angles.

    • Blasted Cap March 30, 2015, 10:56 am

      No bullet fragments in the BBQ.

  • Hans Fischer March 30, 2015, 9:51 am

    A couple months ago….I found and purchased Mint Smith & Wesson Victory Model .38 Special….4″barrel….I would like to carry it hiking…but have heard all sorts of warnings about shooting “modern ammunition” “older pistols”…..would you anticipate any problems in shooting and carrying the .38 Special JHP in 125 grain.?….I appreciate anyone taking the time to answer……By the way…I wrote to Smith & Wesson and got the Official Letter back stating the Pistol was shipped to a War Plant in Texas in 1944….Its a Gorgeous pistol with Lanyard Ring…….brings back memories of when I was a kid and Sergeant Preston of the Yukon carried a similar pistol………..Regards……Hans Fischer

    • Vanns40 March 30, 2015, 10:32 am

      I would not shoot modern defensive ammo in a Victory Model and would NEVER fire +P or +P+. Those guns were not designed to take the pressures. Stick with target practice and target loads.

    • Nathan Lambshead March 30, 2015, 12:25 pm

      I agree totally with Vanns40. If you are prepared to do a little research though, find out what actual pressures the gun was rated for, and make sure your ammunition is a little under that for defense loads, and well under for practice loads.

    • David S April 2, 2015, 6:21 am

      I bought my S&W Victory model in 1968 and it is a great shooter, but I shoot low-end loads behind 140 gain semi-wadcutters. I still have the original grips, but I put a pair of S&W K-frame target grips on it and it is very comfortable to shoot. Good luck with yours.

    • Al April 10, 2015, 8:03 pm

      If the gun is from 1944 my advice is to take it to a gunsmith to play it safe. He’ll tell you the best ammo for it. Standard pressure .38 spl will probably be OK for target. For defensive carry, Buffalo Bore ammo .38 (flatnose) perform pretty well in these older guns and produce a good wound cavity on impact without being overpowered. If you want a bigger safety margin you can use .38 S&W (short cartridges) loaded in black powder like the top break H&R revolvers used – they still make them. Stay away from .38 +P, +P+!!…They are best for magnum revolvers where you don’t want too much recoil between shots disturbing a good sight picture and muzzle flash compromising your night vision.

      • Dave September 23, 2017, 2:27 am

        .38 S&W and .38 Special are not interchangeable!

  • Barry March 30, 2015, 9:43 am

    Thanks for the informative report. I’ve been using the Hornady Critical Defense .38 Spl. +P (110gr. FTX) in both my Ruger .38 Special LCR and .357 SP101. Accuracy in both is excellent. While you know you’re shooting +P in the LCR it is controllable but, the additional weight of the SP101 makes it very controllable. I’d like to see your tests of this and other Critical Defense and Critical Duty rounds for comparison. I also use the Critical Defense ammo in .45ACP (full size, commander size and Defender) and the Critical Duty 9mm 135gr. +P in a full size S&W M&P. I’ve been very pleased with accuracy, reliability and controllability with all of it.

    • Tom April 6, 2015, 10:18 am

      I’ve also had great success with various Hornady Critical Defense and Critical Duty rounds. We’ve got some in depth looks at some of those coming up soon 🙂

  • William March 30, 2015, 8:52 am

    Why haven’t manufactures made the ultimate carry gun for the front Jean Pockit, in a real caliber; like 10mm, or .357 mag.? They could sell millions!!

    • Nathan Lambshead March 30, 2015, 8:57 am

      I have a Ruger sp101 that fits in the pocket just fine. I use the Taurus because it is a bit lighter. Besides, shooting full power .357 out of a snubbie barrel is not a lot of fun. +P 38’s are more than good enough, with better follow up shots. -Just My opinion.

      • Nathan Lambshead March 30, 2015, 11:20 am

        And by the way William, .38 is the same caliber as .357. (same as 9mm also) With a short barrel you are not gaining much using .357 with it’s extra pressure anyway. But i can promise you many people have wished they were not on the receiving end of a .38 special. Even regular powered, never mind +P.
        It is not all about the size and bang. The energy transferred from an efficient bullet has the same killing power, and stopping power from a 35 cal as it does from 45. Shot placement is far more important than shot size or loudness of bang. And follow up shots center mass is a far better skill to focus on. Just my opinion after 5 decades of shooting and taking note of real life facts.

        • Betsie Leahy March 30, 2015, 3:25 pm

          I learned alot from reading your article and comments. I tried it out this past weekend at the range! I am almost 67, female, with awful arthritis especially in the thumbs. This works great! I hit the bulls eye over and over! Can’t wait to go back with this ammo and shoot again!

        • Dave September 23, 2017, 2:29 am

          9mm is .355 not .357

    • Blasted Cap March 30, 2015, 9:59 am

      They also had a Scandium framed 44 mag that wasn’t much bigger, and even less pleasant to shoot. They do have the 329 backpacker that you can have the hammer bobbed on.

    • Tom K March 31, 2015, 11:36 am

      I carry a S&W 340 PD in my front pocket, and it’s just 11.5 oz.. Buffalo Bore low flash, low recoil 357 rounds are stout, but manageable in it.. Their .38+P HP rounds are the same velocity and energy as the 357 low flash rounds out of a 340PD.. About 1000-1015 fps, and 350-360 lbs. energy.. The revolver isn’t cheap, nor is the ammo, but for carry it’s worth it..

      • Al April 10, 2015, 7:50 pm

        Ahhhhh!!…draws from an Uncle Mike’s holster like a rabbit out of a hat! I have to agree .357 rounds are really a waste IMHO due to short barrel length. A lot of flash, bang, and recoil. But the gun weighs like a pack of cigarettes and delivers a wallop as a belly gun. My favorite CCW.

  • Nathan Lambshead March 30, 2015, 7:47 am

    I carry a Taurus 85SS snubby, loaded with 129 Gr Fed Hydro-shok +p’s. I would love to know how they compare ballistically. I find +P’s easy to handle with this gun since it is not a light weight alloy. A touch heavy though, but fits in the front jeans pocket nicely.

  • PA revolver guy March 30, 2015, 7:34 am

    fwiw…Remington is currently manufacturing a 38 spl +P “compact handgun” load. Found it on the shelves at the BassPro store during fall 2014. According to the information provided on the box, Remington’s product code for this ammo is CHD38SBN and it is identified as a 125 gr BJHP. The wording on the box goes on to say “developed and optimized to perform in your short barrel compact handgun.” The Speer 135 gr +P GDHP “short barrel” load gets rave reviews, although it is pricey if you can find it. The new Remington “compact handgun” load is comparably priced or somewhat less expensive than the Gold Dot. More options for the defensive handgunner is a positive thing and Remington is to be applauded for recognizing this market niche and responding to demand.

  • Guy March 30, 2015, 6:52 am

    Be interesting to see the difference of the same bullet type from a rifle.

  • Dr. Strangelove March 30, 2015, 6:36 am

    Speer makes a 135 gr. +P .38 short barrel round in their great Gold Dot series. I don’t use .38 Special myself, but the 124 gr. +P 9mm short barrel is a good performing cartridge.

  • James H. March 30, 2015, 3:47 am

    Neat ^^

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