Editor’s Note: The following is a post by Mark Kakkuri, a nationally published freelance writer who covers guns and gear, 2nd Amendment issues and the outdoors. His writing and photography have appeared in many firearms-related publications, including the USCCA’s Concealed Carry Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter @markkakkuri.
Read Mark’s previous articles in this “Top Five” series:
- Top Five Things I Wish I Knew Before Carrying a Concealed Handgun
- Top Five Pieces of Gear for an Individual First Aid Kit
- And Top Five Outside-the-Waistband Holsters
- Top Five Magazine Holsters
- Top Five Night Sights for Handguns
A .38 Special for self-defense? It’s not the fastest or most powerful round, but it is the best round if it meets two key criteria: It’s the one you’ll actually carry and you can shoot it accurately. So, yes, a .38 Special for self-defense.
By the way, have you noticed how there are more snub-nosed revolvers available today than ever? Clearly, the market thinks it is still a viable concealed carry gun – simple and effective, easily hidden, easily deployed. Yes, there are some wonderful auto-loading 9mm pistols and a wide range of choices in 9mm self-defense ammo today. If you’re a “slim 9” kind of person, no problem – 9mm is a great round that has enjoyed some significant technological advance in recent days. But so has .38 Special. In fact, I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorites from over the years. And with that, here’s my top five to stay alive.
1. Black Hills 125-Grain JHP +P
Black Hills makes great ammo and, by that, I mean it’s clean and consistent in its performance. That’s certainly true of this .38 Special cartridge as it’s often found not only my gun’s five chambers but also in a speedloader or speed strip when I’m carrying.
I like this mid-weight bullet backed with some +P punch as a way to inch a little closer to .357 Magnum performance minus all the fireworks and drama.
These rounds fire at a velocity of 1,050 FPS, delivering 306 foot-pounds of energy. You can also get it in a 100-grain HoneyBadger +P (1,275 FPS velocity, 361 foot-pounds of energy) and a 148-grain Match HBWC (700 FPS velocity, 161 foot-pounds of energy).
To learn more visit Black-Hills.com.
2. Creedmoor 125-Grain XTP +P
You might be more familiar with Creedmoor’s rifle rounds, but the company also makes a .38 Special round in one of my favorite recipes: 125 grains and +P. These, too, see regular duty in my snub-nosed revolvers.
Just like the Black Hills Ammo, these rounds fire at a velocity of 1,050 FPS, delivering 306 foot-pounds of energy. That’s at the muzzle, of course. At 50 yards, the bullets will be at 977 FPS and 265 foot-pounds. And then at 100 yards (who shoots a .38 from a snubbie out to 100 yards?), the bullet is at 921 FPS with 236 foot-pounds of energy.
To learn more visit CreedmoorSports.com.
3. HPR HyperClean 158-Grain JHP
Anyway, HPR’s .38 Special with the 158-grain JHP bullet is a classic load for snubbies. It packs a manageable punch that’s different from the lighter, faster +P rounds. In fact, when this heavier bullet hits a steel plate, you can hear it. HPR’s website is no more, but typical velocities for a round like this are between 700 and 900 FPS with energy around 200 to 270 foot-pounds.
4. Hornady Critical Defense Lite 90-Grain FTX
You might be tempted to dismiss this round offhand, but I don’t recommend you do so. At 1,200 FPS, it’s the fastest round of the bunch. And the round only slows to 938 FPS after 100 yards. So, if you prefer more velocity from your revolver, this might be a good round for you.
A 90-grain bullet is lighter than most, yes, and the result indeed is a lighter shooting round. But it delivers 288 foot-pounds of energy, which also ranks fairly high in this bunch. The key feature of this round is what Hornady refers to as a “soft polymer insert that delivers superior controlled expansion and large, deep wound cavities over a wide range of velocities.” That means the bullet will do its job all while resulting in less recoil and lower muzzle flash.
By the way, the pink tip and the pink ribbon signify Hornady’s commitment to donate a portion of the proceeds on the sale of this ammo to help fund breast cancer research.
To learn more visit Hornady.com.
5. Federal Hydra-Shok 129-Grain JHP
Federal Hydra-Shok ammo has been around and established itself as one of the top names in self-defense ammunition in a variety of calibers. Look into any Hydra-Shok bullet and you’ll see the familiar center-post, hollow-point design, which aids in penetration and expansion.
The .38 Special’s 129-grain bullet is an interesting weight, but it leaves the muzzle at 950 FPS and drops to 926 FPS after 25 yards. Energy at the muzzle is 258 foot-pounds, dropping to 246 after 25 yards. Few cartridges have the reputation of Hydra-Shoks and that’s not likely to change anytime soon.
To learn more visitFederalPremium.com.
Here’s everything in a nice, tidy chart:
If you want maximum energy, go for a +P round, such as the Black Hills or Creedmoor. If you want maximum velocity and low-recoil, the Hornady Critical Defense Lite will do nicely. Like a heavier, slower bullet? HPR or any other manufacturer with a 158-grain bullet will do. And, if you just want a classic, Federal Hydra-Shok’s are hard to beat.
These aren’t the only .38 Special self-defense rounds available today. These are just my top five. If you carry a revolver and prefer to shoot .38 Special, what ammo do you choose and why?
Discover how you can join more than 200,000 responsibly armed Americans who already rely on the USCCA to protect their families, futures and freedoms: USCCA.com/gunsamerica.