.38 Super for self defense?

The short answer is “absolutely”, and the longer answer is “yes, think of it as a hot 9mm.”  Cor-Bon manufactures several different loads for the .38 Super as a defensive round, from standard jacketed hollow points in 115 and 125 grain weights all the way to a 100 grain Pow’RBall load.  DoubleTap also makes a 115 hollow point load for personal defense.  The thing to bear in mind is that the .38 Super projectile is the same as the projectile fired from the 9mm, it’s a .355 inch bullet, so any load that you could conceivably handload for the 9mm you could also work up for the .38 Super.

However, there are drawbacks.  Ammo isn’t nearly as widely available for the .38 Super as it is for 9mm, and it’s often more expensive in factory loadings.  Magazines and spare parts for guns are also more difficult to find, as the caliber has fallen from popularity in recent years.  I wouldn’t recommend to anyone who is specifically looking for a defensive firearm, because the ballistics are easily duplicated with 9mm loads.  The one caveat to that is for people married to the 1911 platform but not wanting a .45 ACP.  The .38 Super tends to be more reliable, as stubby cartridges such as the 9mm tend to be more prone to feed issues in 1911 style pistols; plus they make John Moses Browning weep.

I wouldn’t tell you to go out and buy a gun in .38 Super for concealed carry for the reasons mentioned above.  However, if you’ve got one sitting around and want to carry it, then it’s most certainly a viable choice.  But don’t think you’re getting anything better than a hotish 9mm, because that’s exactly what you’re getting.

FTC Disclaimer: I have not received any payment or compensation from any of the companies listed.


  1. Also one must note that .38 Super is semi-rimmed so you do have that small chance of your rims locking in the magazine, especially when using hollow points that will have a shorter OAL.

    I’d imagine being a bottleneck .357 Sig would feed just as well in a 1911.

  2. Come join the guys shooting IPSC … sorry, it’s called USPSA in your neck of the woods.

    The .38 Super is THE hot ticket for Open guns – higher capacity than the same 1911 platform in .40S&W or .45ACP, and lower pressure than a Major power factor 9 mm. Magazines and spares etc are no problem (at least for 1911 style guns).

    The cartridge is straight-walled and semi-rimmed (as Weer’d Beard notes) so it is really nothing like the .357SIG, which is a rimless .40S&W case necked down to take 9 mm projectiles. The resulting bottle-neck can make it difficult for ammo reloaders.

    For those concerned about possible stack-lock with the semi-rimmed .38 Super (which I have NEVER experienced in 20 years of shooting the round), switch to the rimless .38 Super Comp.

    My IPSC reloads run at around 1500 fps with a 125 grain coated lead projectile – nothing to sneeze at, and I won’t take the “Tam Challenge” and volunteer to catch one fired at me.

  3. So basically it’s like .357 SIG?

    No, .357SIG is like .38 Super. SIG was re-inventing a sixty year old wheel.

    (Except .38 Super feeds a whole lot better in un-ramped 1911s, and thanks to it not being bottlenecked silliness, it’s much easier to reload and works a ton better with heavier bullets.)

  4. I’d imagine being a bottleneck .357 Sig would feed just as well in a 1911.

    Nope. .357SIG is notoriously hard to get working in a 1911 platform, which is why no major manufacturer does one.

    And why would you, when .38 Super works just fine and is no harder to find?

  5. Sendarius – I deliberated neglected USPSA shooters in the post, specifically because I’m talking about the .38 Super as a defensive round. It has been and will remain the knees of the bees for competition guns, even though here in the States Open division is a slowly dying beast.

  6. Caleb, I figured you knew about the extensive use of .38 Super in competition, and I recognise that you were talking about its use as a defensive round.

    Guess what – here in Oz, pretty much the ONLY acceptable reason for being allowed to have a handgun is for competitive use. There are SOME handguns owned for agricultural use, but self-defence is EXPLICITLY EXCLUDED as a valid reason to own ANY gun.

    So I find myself in a quandary – compete in IPSC or similar in order to be ALLOWED to legally possess a handgun at all, and perforce that handgun becomes my (illegal) self-defence tool OR illegally possess a handgun in some other calibre for which I cannot buy ammunition because ammo sales are dependent on having a legal gun of that calibre on your firearms license.

    I suppose there is an alternative – don’t provide for my own defence, but I don’t like that option.

  7. The other long answer is, “It was good enough for a lot of Texas Rangers, other lawmen who wanted armor and car-punching capability, and quite a few bad men who had similar needs, including Baby Face Nelson.”

    Guns haven’t been around as long as sex, but I suspect every generation since the invention of the metallic cartridge will think they invented the idea of using a hot .355″ bullet for social purposes, the same way they think they invented sex.

  8. First of all – he states “the 38S projectile is the same as the projectile fired from a 9mm” but stupidly ignores or forgets or never did know about, the .38S ALSO using the 147gr projectile which is the same as what the cops use in their 9mm, but driving it a helluva lot faster!!!!

    Second – – “because the ballistics are easily duplicated with 9mm loads Has he EVER heard of Muzzle Energy??? Winchester 9mm factory 147 gr @950 ft/sec = 294 ft/lbs. .45 IPSC loads – 200 grs @ 900 ft/sec = 358 ft/lbs. .40S&W Federal 135 gr @ 1190 ft/sec = 424 ft/lbs. NOW for this dickhead’s information the “standard IPSC load” for the .38 Super 115 gr going 1580 ft/sec gives a ME of 637 ft/lbs!!!!!!!

    Third – you still thinks the 38S is nothing better than a “hottish” 9mm I dare him to put on set of ceramic body armour (the kind the cops use) and let someone shoot at him at 25yds with a 38S!!!! I’ve personally seen the results (fortunately no one was stupid enough) to be IN the body armour when the experiment was run!!!

    Fourth – “Magazines and spare parts for guns are also more difficult to find” ??????
    Anyone really serious about “self defense” is using a 1911 and those parts are MORE readily available than any other handgun.

    AND FIFTH!!! – “stubby cartridges such as the 9mm tend to be more prone to feed issues in 1911 style pistols”????? To quote the Speer loading handbook of COL – 40S&W – 1.135″, 9mm – 1.168″, .45 Auto 1.275″ .38 Super – 1.280″. So what qualifies as a “stubby cartridge”? Does he recognize the fact you get 10 rounds of 38S and 9mm in the 1911mag compared to 7(8) of the .45???

    This guy confirms his total ignorance of the 1911 and especially of the .38 Super!!!

  9. Gary, a couple of minor corrections.

    1. There are no commercially available 147 grain hollow point loads for the .38 Super. Believe me, I looked. The only mass produced commercial loads for the Super are in 100, 115, and 125 grain bullet weights.

    2. Muzzle energy is essentially meaningless as a measure of terminal performance in service cartridges. People bloviate all the time about it, but the fact is that 9mm and a .38 Super loaded with modern 125 hollow point bullets will both penetrate more than 12 inches and readily expand to a diameter of 0.50-0.60 inches. The extra FPS from the Super doesn’t give you any advantage in terminal performance over a 9mm.

    3. That’s just stupid for multiple reasons. Yes, early .38 Super rounds were designed to defeat hard armor, however personal ballistic vests have evolved considerably in the past 40 years. A commercially available .38 Super is not any more armor piercing than a 9mm or a .357 Sig.

    4. “Anyone serious about self defense is is using a 1911” is actually one of the silliest things anyone has written in these comments. I’m not trying to offend you or anything, but there are lots of very, very serious shooters that are using Glocks, Sigs, XDs, S&W M&Ps, and a whole host of other, not 1911 pattern pistols. Yes, I like 1911s and yes I think they’re great, but the simple fact of the matter is that .38 Super magazines for the 1911 are harder to find than .45 ACP magazines, and when you do find them they’re generally a couple of bucks more expensive than the ACP mags.

    5. .40 S&W and 9mm would qualify as “stubby” catridges. That extra 0.1 inch of OAL in the .45 and .38 Super cartridges makes a huge amount of difference in feeding reliability over 9mm and .40 rounds. But hey, what do I know? I mean last year, I only fired 5 or 6 thousand rounds of 9mm and .40 S&W out of 1911 pattern pistols.

    As “this guy” that actually wrote this, I’d suggest you go back and re-read the post. I’m saying that the Super is perfectly adequate for self defense, but cost issues and other non ballistic issues make it less than practical. Next time, pay attention when you read and you won’t make a fool of yourself.

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