.38 S&W (The Other .38)

Today we have a guest post on the .38 S&W cartridge written by Aaron Brudenell – thanks, Aaron!

.38 S&W (The Other .38)

Aaron Brudenell

If you’ve ever paged through a reloading manual or a copy of Cartridges of the World, you’ll find a lot of the smaller non-mainstream handgun cartridges described as useful for “taking small game” but little is said about their potential effectiveness in an anti-personnel role. Like most of these cartridges, they exist in the twilight between “insufficient” and “suitable” when considering their self-defense utility. The reasons for using them in that role are often based on some kind of trade off between size or cost but in the case of the .38 Smith and Wesson, it may simply be that the gun in question is available as a relic from some former life and other better options are not (or would require money that’s not) available.

.38 S&W 178gr FMJ and 190gr LRN
The .38 Smith and Wesson cartridge enjoyed a respectable 100 year service life as it evolved from the weaker black powder pocket pistol cartridge to a more potent military round in its day using heavy bullets and smokeless powder. Other names for the cartridge exist like “.38 Colt New Police”, “.380 Rim”, and “.380-200” depending on the market and manufacturer.

The .38 Smith and Wesson cartridge enjoyed a respectable 100 year service life as it evolved from the weaker black powder pocket pistol cartridge to a more potent military round in its day using heavy bullets and smokeless powder. Other names for the cartridge exist like “.38 Colt New Police”, “.380 Rim”, and “.380-200” depending on the market and manufacturer.

While the guns slowly fade into obscurity, so many have been made and remain serviceable that new ammunition can still be found if you look hard enough. This author is aware of no firearms currently produced in this caliber and the few sources of factory ammunition available can universally be counted on to be of the type safe enough for use in the least common denominator of those guns. Fragile break top revolvers from the end of the black powder era were often made by companies that did NOT make a name for themselves in the pages of gun-making history and the phrase “wall hanger” is frequently applied to them if they show functional imperfections.

When it can be found, expect to pay a lot for new factory ammunition which will consist of a ~146 grain lead round nose with muzzle velocities in the 600-700 feet per second range. Such rounds will be accurate, have low recoil, and tend to cause a report that’s very mild, even if the shooter forgets their ear protection. While these may perform on par with modern cartridges like .380 ACP or 9x18mm Makarov, reloading is essential if affordability or enhanced performance is desired. I’ll set aside the oft’ stated concerns over using hand-loaded ammunition for self defense except to say that I am aware of more cases where a particular choice of a powerful caliber/cartridge (such as 10mm Auto or “Magnum”) was an issue in a shooting incident. In any case, the gun you have when you need it is still better than the best gun that’s not at your disposal!

While care is indicated in reloading for any firearm that is particularly old or of some type of fragile design (such as a break-action), extending the capabilities of an old cartridge through reloading is best left to solid framed guns of excellent quality. The predecessor to the J-frame is the I-frame and, like the early Colts, is shorter than and not as sturdy as those later designs intended to handle the .38 Special. My preference is K or J framed Smith and Wesson revolvers that were eventually adapted to handle .38 Special, +P, and even .357 Magnum chambering, although other promising candidates can be found like the Colt Police Positive for example. Perhaps the most commonly available of these is the Smith and Wesson Victory model, based on the K-frame and made in large numbers to handle the WW2 British military load which was originally a 200 grain Lead Round Nose but ultimately deployed as a 178 grain full metal jacket. Whether as issued or rebuilt for post-war use, these guns will handle any published load for the .38 S&W and can be expected to give continued faithful service to the shooter.

.38 S&W Victory Model revolver
The S&W Victory Model is the author’s choice of test guns if wanting to handload the .38 S&W to its (safe) potential.

Technically, the .38 S&W bore diameter is slightly larger than that of .38 Special and .357 Magnum but in practice, components intended for the latter will work well enough. Some of these early guns were actually re-chambered for .38 Special after the war, although the practice is no longer considered appropriate and guns with this modification may be less desirable. Because the .38 Special cartridge is longer but not quite as “fat” as the .38 Smith & Wesson, cases fired in these modified chambers tend to show a characteristic bulge in the middle. When reloading for the .38 Smith and Wesson, using a hollow based wad cutter bullet is an excellent place to start because any potential loss in accuracy from bore/bullet dimensions will be mitigated by the swelling of the open bullet base to take up the slack. Also, typical wad cutter bullets are in the same weight range as the 146 grain factory bullets so they can be expected to give similar performance. The one caveat is seating dept; fully seating wad cutters into a short .38 S&W case can cause a number of problems best avoided by duplicating the original cartridge over-all length.

.38 S&W LRN and wadcutter loads
The full wad cutter (left) and the round nose are loaded to the same OAL

Among reloading manuals, the wad cutter loads described are also accompanied by heavier (158 grain) semi-wad cutter loadings. As with many of these lower powered cartridges, the .38 S&W may not ever achieve enough velocity to reliably expand modern hollow point bullets. As such, it’s often best to improve performance by going the other direction and getting heavier solid projectiles that will at least maximize penetration and possibly increase their effect by tumbling as they lose their in-flight stability on impact with the target. Published loads for the original 175-200 grain military loads are as hard to come by as the bullets; however, I’ve had some success with a 190 grain flat point loaded over a published charge of powder intended for a 200 grain bullet. This particular round sailed directly through tissue simulant without the slightest deflection and could be counted on to be the most effective against larger animals than the round was ever intended. I wouldn’t take it into bear country but a feral dog or hog might be suitably handled with one or more of these if properly placed by the shooter. As was said before, this level of ballistic experimentation should NOT be done with older, weaker, break top or smaller frame guns.

.38 S&W and 9x19 cartridges

Here we see the 9x19mm (right) next to the handloaded .38 S&W with a 190-gr. LFP. Though similar in size, the 9x19mm is loaded to considerably higher pressures and data for it must never be thought of as a substitute for the other!

.38 S&W bullets in ballistic tisue simulant
.38 S&W penetration results in tissue stimulant

One final observation that bears mentioning if one is in the habit of reloading commingled brass; the .38 S&W cartridge is very close in size and shape to the 9mm Luger which, because they are rimless, can become stuck in the resizing die quite easily if not properly sorted. Along with this caveat, I’m ever hopeful that someday the I-frame revolver might be resurrected with modern materials and engineering to accommodate the modern 9mm Luger in a smaller/lighter revolver than the current crop of available .38 Special offerings. Some kind of “smaller than Chief’s Special” in a more up to date cartridge like the 9mm +P could become the new ultimate backup wheel-gun in this era dominated by smaller semiautomatic pocket pistols.


  1. The 38 S&W is almost identical to the 9mm Federal. If I recall correctly, Charter Arms chambered a revolver for 9mm Federal. It was not a success.

    • 9mm Federal was not a success because it would fit and could be inadvertently fired in older .38 S&W revolvers and would have blown up guns. A liability issue.

    • How about a short cylinder I frame sized S&W chambered for .38 special wadcutter only?

    • I have a SW 940 and moon clips are a PIA. I use The .38 SC cases sized and reloaded in 9mm dies and the gun functions and ejects just like a .38 revolver.

  2. You can ‘bump up’ 0.358 inch diameter .38 S&W Special cast bullets to 0.363 inch diameter for .38 S&W by squeezing them – nose to base – in a flat faced vise. About a quarter turn in my vise works nicely. You are left with a flat nose bullet, but 0.363 inch bullets are hard to find these days. Accuracy is significantly improved in many guns by this diameter increase. This trick does not work well with jacketed bullets.

    9x18mm Makarov carbide sizing dies can be used with a .38 S&W Special shell holder to make a modern die set for .38 S&W. This ‘mix and match’ arrangement is particularly well adapted to automated reloading machines such as the Dillon RL550.

    Makarov bullets and loading data work in better quality guns, but tend to shoot low due to the higher velocities and lighter bullet weights. Unique seems to produce the best velocities at acceptable pressures in 4 inch barreled guns. 160 grain and heavier bullets can be made to shoot to the sights on .38-200 regulated fixed sight guns using Unique.

    The 9mm Federal revolver cartridge was withdrawn after several top-break .38 S&W revolvers were blown up using 9mm Federal ammunition. Empty 9mm Federal cases can be used to make acceptable .38 S&W reloads, just use .38 S&W load data.

    • I am a Smith and Wesson collector and most of my Lyman (and some Lee) molds
      will drop a bullet at .361/ .3615″. I size and lube them .361″ and these seem
      to shoot fine from my .38S&W revolvers. Several S&W Victory models and a rare
      almost unknown .38S&W M&P Target (pre WWII) as well as a Singapore P.D. Webley
      and a Toronto P.D. Webley. I measured the throats of these revolvers and they
      all seem to run .361/ .362″ so shoot .361″ diameter bullets just fine. Not sure what size the barrel bores are.

  3. I used to own a pair of .38 S&W revolvers, a Victory and a Webley MK IV. I used the standard 146-grain factory loads in them, mainly for target shooting and instruction; they were excellent “first” centerfire revolvers for people used to the weight, recoil, and report of a .22.

    I noted that 9 x 19mm rounds would drop in and “sit” perfectly against the shoulder of the chambers in either revolver. No excessive headspace.

    During WW2, French resistance personnel armed with the Victory, Webley, or Enfield “0.380in” revolvers would use a hammer and nail to peen out “dots on the rims of 9mm rounds to use them in the revolvers. While not needed for headspacing, they did allow the rounds to be ejected by the extractor star.

    Naturally, this isn’t the sort of stunt you’d want to try in peacetime.



  4. Was at a gun shop a few years ago when a guy showed up with a break-top revolver he had just acquired. He said that he had heard that 38’s could fire 357’s and wanted to know if the gun could be so modified. The guy working there tried to explain that 38 S&W wasn’t 38 SPL and that a gun chambered in either could not handle 357. I don’t think he convinced the customer.

    For reloading the 38 S&W there have been a couple of articles the last few years in Handloading magazine. One of the regular writers went on a WWII gun binge and then wrote on reloading for each of them, including the 38-200.

    Anyway, S&W made 9mm revolvers for the French police back in the 1980’s (unique in that it ejected without moon clips), and for the US market off and on since then. Taurus and Charter Arms also make them. But they are all J frame or larger.

    There is also the 327 magnum (a longer 32 magnum) that boosts ballistics, but the idea was to put 6 rounds into a J frame size gun. It would indeed be very interesting if someone made either a 9mm or 327 magnum as a 5 shot I frame. The problem in hiding snub nose revolvers is the width of the cylinder. If it was 9mm (more available, no risk of being orphaned) and used half moon clips (carry one 2 round clip and one three round clip) I’d be very interested. It would be a viable and more reliable option to carrying a 380 in hot weather climates where it is challenge to conceal anything.

    • The half-moon clips are useful but not absolute necessary for revolver chambered for rimless round. See for example Medusa Model 47 revolver. If you want more popular cartridge similar dimensionally to .327 Federal consider .32-20 WCF.

      • About 9mm Luger in revolvers: how would that significantly reduce the width of the cylinder over .38 Special? I am no small frame revolver expert, since small concealable handguns are practically illegal where I live, but it does not make sense to me.

        In any case, since .327 Federal revolvers can also fire .32 H&R and .32 S&W Long, I would say .327 Federal would make more sense than .32-20 WCF.

        • They both make quite a bit of sense… if it wasn’t for ammo availability I’d take a .32-20 Smith Model 10 or Colt Police Positive over a .38 Special. It’s just a really enjoyable and accurate revolver round with downrange “whump” way beyond what most folks think of when they say “just a .32.” There’s several versions of the Colt single-action reproductions available in .32-20; because of its carbine heritage it’s a round that would be really interesting out of a 7 1/2 barrel.

          That said, I’ve got a longstanding fondness for the .32 Long that carries over to interest in the .327. I had a 3″ fixed-sight J-frame Smith .32 that was much more enjoyable to shoot than similar pistols in .38 and held an extra round. And just once I got to shoot a (fairly rare) K-32 Smith Target Masterpiece. I’ve got a LOT of experience with both the K-22 and K-38 6-inchers but that long-barrel target-sight .32 was a real treat. Having the .327 option of a 125-grain bullet at .357 velocities has a lot of defense potential, but if I had one I suspect the vast majority of shooting I would do would be plinking with the wimpy ol’ pleasant, accurate .32 S&W Long.

          • Yeah buddy luv that model 1905 S&W. 32WCF
            Revolver people dont understand what it’s like to let a K frame 32-20 rip down range..
            Its great for accuracy recoil is not bad definitely better than the 38special I would put it on par with the 327fed mag.. I have not had to much experience with the 327 but from what I do remember when I used a friends it was right about the same with velocity,accuracy, and recoil.. I do like the 32H&R aswell but I do believe 32WCF is still loaded hotter than it… I’m extremely surprised that the 32cal versions of wheelguns have been continually losing interest from shooters.. though it seems like all wheelguns have lost the interest of people who are looking to buy 9mm semiautos because of the capacity and price of ammo. I like them all.. and every single one has its place and purpose well atleast for me they do..

          • Popularity of the .32 revolvers is a regional and cultural thing. From 1882 through the 1930s, the .32-20 was THE “agricultural utility” gun of choice in rural America. NRA Contributing Editor William C. Davis, Jr. grew up in Tioga County, PA during the Great Depression. He used a 6-inch Colt Army Special in .32-20 to hunt both small game and deer. Local hunters who could afford only one gun often used .32-20s for everything during those hard times.

            In rural northern PA of the 1930s few farms had electricity. Everyday tasks took longer using only human or animal muscle power. People got up at dawn and went to bed shortly after sundown because lamp oil cost money. Leisure time was a few hours after church on Sunday afternoon. Hunters needed to be efficient. Boys developed their field craft to stalk deer within short range to be sure of clean kills. Scopes were too expensive and too fragile for field use. Open sights were most common. Lyman receiver sights were preferred among the most serious hunters. Farmers usually owned only one rifle as a work tool. Hunting and shooting were not hobbies, but life skills. Economy and utility were valued.

            Simple ammunition reloaded economically using bullets cast over the kitchen stove, lubed with cup grease and assembled on the Ideal tong tool was the norm. The .32-20 proved effective against common farm predators. Revolver loads at 850-900 fps provided a flat enough trajectory to enable 100 yard hits on groundhogs, which in the 1930s were an important rural food source, given then-depleted deer populations. In rifles, velocities ran 1200-1300 fps, which enabled some expansion of cast, soft scrap lead bullets if large bones were struck. The .32-20 offered the best combination of economy and utility for its era, being inexpensive to load, providing 1700-2000 rounds per pound of expensive and scarce powder in those hard times.

            A revolver was almost never fired at game beyond 20-25 yards. The traditional hunting ethic was very strong. Hunters would not risk a shot unless a clean kill was certain, or if the family were desperate for meat. No one would consider taking a shot which would likely result in a wounded animal, because such stupidity was a “thief of time” in tracking down to bring back a wounded animal when chores were waiting on the farm.

          • I am a Smith and Wesson collector that shoots his collection. I have a number of S&W .32-20 M&P and rare .32-20 M&P Target revolvers, 4, 5 and 6 inch barrels. These were made before 1940; chambering was discontinued in 1939. The M&P fixed sight ones shoot almost exactly
            to the sights point of impact at 50 ft. with a 115gr. Lyman 3118 bullet sized to .313/ .314″ with 4.5 gr of Unique (usually not recommended in todays loading manuals). Velocity is about 900+ FPS from the 5″ bbl. Cases extract with the push of one finger (no pressure issues). A very soft and accurate load but certainly not
            in the same ball game as a .38 special with anything other than a
            round nose bullet. I do have a smokeless powder era single action
            Colt, which due to the much larger cylinder diameter, will safely
            fire .32-20 loads that were made for rifles. They would wreck a
            K frame S&W with one shot. There is a reason that ammo companies
            discontinued the High Velocity .32-20 loading (.38-40, .44-40 also)
            People can’t read and put rifle (HV)in smaller cylindered Colt and
            S&W revolvers.
            I also have a very rare S&W .32 regulation police TARGET with the
            4″ bbl. This is a post war I frame. With a Lyman 95gr. SWC and 4.5gr of unique (again a load not listed since about 1964)this 4″ gun will
            chronograph just above 1000fps and the cases can, once again, be extracted with the push of a finger; no pressure issues in this revolver; a .32 S&W long. Hotter than any Federal .32 H&R magnum load. So imagine what can be done with a S&W model 16 .32 Magnum.
            And yes, I do know. Love the K-32 Magnum Masterpiece.

        • When I first entered the police force in 1968 my Brother gave me a ‘new’, (meaning unused) S&W Victory Special which for some reason could shoot both the S&W .38 as well as .38 S&W Special although the barrel was stamped on the right side of the barrel as simply:
          S&W .38 ctg.; I was given a couple of wallet type cartridge cases which contained thirty-six .38 Special cartridges and four boxes of S&W .38 for familiarizing myself with it’s capability, the .38 Spcl cartridges had been developed the Air Force but do not know anything more than that due to the ‘passage of time’.

          I later retired it in favor of a .357 Colt Trooper which I carried for a little over a year and a half until I bought an S&W K-38 IN .38 S&W Spcl which I carried for another five years until I left police work, but still have it till this day and carry in a specialized shoulder holster for my’primary’ CCW weapon.

          Also, I’ve had a Davis D32 Derringer in .32 H&R Mag for about thirty-five years which I carry as a ‘secondary’ backup and have often thought about picking up another J frame S&W in .32 H&R Mag primarily for the smaller diameter of the cylinder when carrying concealed, since this cartridge is right up there with the .38 Spcl or the 9mm for self defense against an aggressor.

          Currently my primary CCW pistols are a Llama .380 ACP auto and a S&W Chiefs
          Special in .38 Spcl.; both are close to fifty plus years old and very accurate out to 15/20 yards consistently with “out of the box” ammo.; but I carry the Super Vel in both when used for CCW purposes or as my back up when I was still a police officer, plus I might I began carrying the Super Vels in 110 gr. SJHP .38 Spcl in my S&W K-38 Service Revolver after seeing first hand how it could put down an aggressor.

          • I was a municipal police officer for 23 years and a railroad policeman for 10 years after that. There were a number of was time S&W “M&P” revolvers chambered for .38 S&W
            cartridge that we import from Canada and the U.K.. They were often re-chambered to .38
            special which was a somewhat sad mistake. The .38 S&W case is larger in diameter than
            the .38 special and the .38 S&W bullet is .361″ diameter so both the cylinder throats
            and the barrel are somewhat oversize. I have a pre-WWII S&W M&P target (no rib on barrel and the pre-war “loosen a screw tighten a screw” factory rear sight with the
            usual “partridge” target front sight. A very rare and unusual revolver. No lanyard
            mount hole is the bottom of the butt. It shot”OK” with .357/ .358″projectiles but
            when I cast/ sized them to .361″ diameter the accuracy notably improved. Power wise
            even with the British 200 gr. bullet the .38 S&W in under powered compared to the
            .38 Special. They can be equally accurate however with the correct diameter bullet.
            It’s a shame so many of these surplus revolvers were ruined

  5. I have a pair of I Frame Terrier snubby revolvers chambered for this cartridge, originally purchased by the same grandfather mentioned here before in late 1939 or early 1940 (according to Smith & Wesson). The serial numbers are just two apart (almost sequential).

    My Dad got one and my Uncle the other when their father died. I wound up with both, along with several holsters. Some of the latter are in matching left and right pairs. (They’re from places such as El Paso Saddlery, and some are worth more than the revolvers.) I’m told my Grandfather used to wear them in parades.

    I’ve fired both, and have a die set and proper bullets for reloading. Due to the short barrels they’re not very accurate past about fifteen yards, though that’s plenty adequate for their intended use. One was modified with replacement grips and a larger cylinder release and has a lighter, smoother action than the other. It also shows more wear.

    I want to note that some .38 S&W cartridges will fit in some .38 Special and .357 Magnum chambers. By which I mean that in my experience some chambers in a cylinder for the newer cartridges may chamber some .38 S&W cartridges. The older cartridge is shorter and wider, but the difference is a matter of thousandths of an inch and depending on tolerances you can shoot .38 S&W in the newer guns.

  6. Re: modern revolvers, apparently the Chinese 9mm police revolver has a cartridge based on the old .38 S&W. Of course, “based on” could mean it’s the same case with a different bullet or it could mean that it was merely “inspired by” the original. Who knows?

    • According to what I’ve read, the “9mm Chinese Police” is ballistically identical to the old .38 S&W for the following reason: handguns and ammunition are so proscribed in the PRC that the main source of weapons for criminals is stolen police weapons. So the police adopted a cartridge that is so anemic that it cannot penetrate a bullet-proof vest, keeping the cops safe from their own stolen weapons.

  7. The 9mm Chinese Police is almost exactly an English .380. Yet the Chinese load a rubber bullet and a pepper/ teargas projectile. China may not care if it murders a few thousands Muslims but if one member of the new elite (who tend to act like nobility) there is hell to pay. The 9mm Chinese revolver is a mix of J frame Smith & Wesson and Colt with a 2 inch and 3 inch barrels.
    It is also rumored that there are 150gr FMJ and a sabot loaded 9mm to 5.5mm for penetration. The Chinese police have a wide variety of weapons at their disposal. From 7.65mm small pistols (M64 & M77) to Tokarevs to the various submachine guns and impact weapons. They seem to be very professional and take pride in their weapons skills. If the .380 was fading into the past no one told the Chinese Militia (Police)

  8. I bought my dad a S&W I frame in .38 S&W for Christmas about 15 years ago. We found it to be nice round to reload and accurate. I wouldn’t mind having one for myself.

  9. An aside, over several years of Cow Boy Action shooting, I’ve had the pleasure of firing a good number of repro cartridge conversions…(51 Colt Navy, 60 Colt Army, 58 Remington) that were chambered in .38 S&W. Just DELIGHTFUL to shoot. Quite accurate, and NO recoil to speak of. I have an old .36 CVA Remington 58 BP Pecussion that is likely destined for this.

    • is it safe to shoot 110 grain win.silvertips in a pietta with a conversion cylinder—I have a converted pietta but the cylinder conversion say to use cowboy ammo. thanks for info.

  10. The Speer Manual #8 says that the low velocity factory loads are made that way so that the cartridges will be safe in the older topbreaks, and less expensive pistols, circa 1900. They have one page of ‘+P’ loads for the .38S&W with strong warnings that it is only for the newer solid frame revolvers, like the S&W J frames, and other modern pistols made with modern metals. H&R made them up until their closing. Always wanted one, but never had the money. Brass is available, if you know where to look. Neat guns, a bit different.

  11. One of my carry guns is a Colt Bankers Special- .38 S&W or more appropriately .38 New Police. My other carry gun is a Beretta-84 in .380. I prefer a revolver for a carry gun and the Bankers Special is perfect. Besides its a “Forgotten Weapon” !

  12. I have 7 or 8 guns in that caliber – mostly WW2 Commonwealth service revolvers (Webley, Enfield, S&W and Colt), in which it’s a very controllable and accurate round. That said I’ve never understood their justification of it being easier to train with than the .455, which is hardly a stoutly recoiling round either. I also have an old S&W Safety Hammerless with 5″ barrel, in which it feels a little snappier! However, although the ergonomics, trigger and sights leave a lot to be desired, if I do my part it’s a surprisingly accurate little gun!

    • From the fact that you own several handguns in the same caliber, I gather that you are a very experienced handgun shooter. You probably started with .22 LR and worked you way up to more stout cartridges. The British .38/200 revolvers was trained for people who in many cases had never fired a handgun in their lives. The recoil momentum for .455 was about 25% higher than for .38/200 (both with British military load) and if both were fired from a Webley, the difference in felt recoil would be proportionally smaller for the .38. It apparently was enough to make shooting the gun much more comfortable for novices. However, the Enfield No.2 was lighter than the Webley .38 Mk. IV , so if you compare the Webley in .455 to the former, the difference in felt recoil should theoretically be smaller.

  13. I have only seen pictures, but Ruger once made their Security-Six in .38 S&W.

    It would be difficult to wear one of those out!

    • Believe it or not, those were made for India’s national police. They wanted replacements for their .380in Webley and Enfield revolvers (which they could no longer get spares for), but wanted to keep using the cartridge their system was set up to produce.



      • “Believe it or not, those were made for India’s national police.”

        Didn’t the Brits (including Northern Ireland) buy some too?

        I seem to remember a British cop who wrote some pro-gun stuff for “Gun Digest”. If I recall correctly, there were a story or two by or about him that pictured the .38 S&W Rugers. I think he was named “Colin” something.

        • Chris:

          The Royal Ulster Constabulary bought .357 Magnum Rugers, certainly not .38 S&Ws. I recall the usual nonsense at the time about how they could shoot through an engine block, and also that certain pro-IRA US Representatives tried to stop the sale.

          The British writer you are thinking of is probably Colin Greenwood, who was the editor of our magazine Guns Review (now closed down) for many years, and wrote one of the earliest histories of the tangled web of lies, half-truths and deceptions which make up Britain’s gun control regime in a book called Firearms Control in 1972. Obviously, since then we have seen further waves of firearms confiscations, but it is still worth a read, if only to see how Britain went from near total firearms freedom to comprehensive and, it seems, irreversible firearms control in one fell swoop in 1920. Freedoms lost are not only never regained, but in Britain at least, within a few years are completely forgotten.

    • I believe the Ruger revolver made in .38 S&W was the Speed Six not the Security Six. The Speed Six didn’t have the adjustable sights of the Security Six.

    • I used to work for the company back in the 1980s and have one of the 4″ India Model Police Service Six revolvers in .380 Rimmed, which I bought as a blemished employee discount item. I load the same ammunition in the Ruger which I do for my Australian S&W Victory Model in this caliber, the Accurace 36-190T bullet cast of 1 to 30 tin-lead from Roto Metals with 2.5 grains of Bullseye or 3.5 grains of AutoComp for 640 fps, which is a “full-charge” load which shoots to the sights of these revolvers. I DO NOT recommend this load be used in the British Top-Breaks, but it works fine in my S&W Model 32-1 Terrier for 565 fps fron its 1-7/8″ barrel and in my 1937 Colt Police Positive with 2-1/2″ barrel.

    • The Ruger India Models were not adjustable-sight Security Six, but were mostly fixed-sight, square butt Police Services Sixes, although a few round-butt Speed Sixes were also produced for a UK government customer. I was QA manager at the Newport, NH facility during this contract and purchased one of the Service Six revolvers. Indeed a sturdy gun.

    • I was QA Manager for Ruger’s Newport, NH operation during production of the “India Model” Service Six in .380 Rimmed. I have one of the revolvers purchased as an employee sale in 1987. These are sturdy and accurate. In the Ruger and S&W Model 32-1 and later Terriers a charge of 2.5 grains of Bullseye with the NOE .362-204RN is a full charge load approximating the pre-WW2 Western Super Police.

  14. I found two S@W victory model revolvers while I was installing cable tv in the attic of my home. We had only been living here for a month or so and I was fishing a new cable line into the wall of our bedroom. When I was feeling around in the insulation I felt something heavy so I pulled it out of the insulation and they were both in an old zip lock baggy. The people who lived here before us had died out and so I figured finders keepers. The one that was in .38 special shows lots of holster wear and shoots butter smooth. I have never fired the one in .38S@W because I just haven’t looked for the ammo. I was so stoked that day.

    • Personally if I found two guns hidden in a house I just moved into, I would have them checked out to make sure they weren’t used in a crime. Be a real bummer if you found out the hard way that one or both had been used in a killing.

  15. I love shooting this round but wouldn’t use it for self-defense unless I had to. 2 of my fav’s from my gun room shot this. A S&W M&P Lend/lease and a Webley that had service with the Hong Kong Police. When ever I find quality ammo for sale I buy in bulk.

    • Well let’ put it in perspective with a currently popular defensive cal .

      Compact .380acp are highly popular , and well regarded enough for lots of people to actually carry , or otherwise put to defensive duty . More than a few carry and advocate FMJ for these , with reasoning a combination of feed reliability , and peformence . .380acp jhp have long been notorious for either not expanding , or conversely having very limited penetration when they do expand . So fmj is not uncommonly employed .

      A common factory load .38 S&W 145gr is at least as effective as .380 fmj .

      I’ll share an example of .38 S&W pocket pistol practical accuracy . My recently departed friend had a circa 1914 S&W Hammerless .38 S&W , and he did extensive experementation with it , including custom molds .

      Meanwhile on a visit , I tried it out with his carry load ( W-W RN ) . The literal first shot I fired from it made an offhand 1st shot hit on 6in steel plate , that I then paced off at 17yds .

      My point ? A S&W Breaktop .38 S&W has much better practical accuracy and control than a highly popular class of modern defensive pistol , with at least equivalent terminal effectiveness .

      • Not a gun .expert. I came across a 38 S & W CTGE top break. Serial number 127 441. Is this gun pre world war 1. Was it made for American use or foreign. Harrington & Richardson I on the barrell


  16. My first revolver was a Smith Victory. It was a VERY nice gun with a butter slick double action. Back in the early ’80s, ammunition wasn’t that expensive.

  17. “I love shooting this round but wouldn’t use it for self-defense unless I had to.”

    Given the choice between a .38 S&W Smith, Webley or Enfield and a Hi Point (in ANY caliber) for self-defense, I’ll take the .38 S&W any day.

    • Oh hell, I’d take a prewar (WW2) Iver Johnson breaktop (a much better gun than the reputation would indicate) or a 1960s H&R pull-pin-to-remove-cylinder in .38 S&W over a 9 or .45 Hi Point or any number of other wouldn’t-shoot-it-with-YOUR-hand budget autos I’ve seen over the years.

      And for the breaktops… even though they were made for black powder and aren’t safe with even mild modern loads, the hammerless S&W “lemon squeezer” .32 and .38 breaktops were some of the most ergonomic ambidextrous pistols ever made.

      • I agree Jim! I don’t know where these guys get that crap about,” Fragile” & “Anemic” with regard to Top Break revolvers! They did the job for a lot of years and continued well into the 1960’s to be used to ward off Punk’s Mugger’s, Thieve’s and Maniac’s…they Killed and Maimed just about as good as anyone would want too! It seems that the Younger Crowd hasbn’t got a clue about those Old Guns!

      • What is with all this HI Point hate mail?
        A 9mm or a 45 acp have always been, and will forever be a better round for self defense than any 38S&W out of any wheel gun, and if the Hi Point goes BANG every time and puts the bullet where it’s aimed, and does it for less cost, only a fool would act like it’s trash.

    • It is a bit of a quandary. My favorite sidearm is the SIG Sauer P220 in .45. When I look at Hi-Point’s .45 it looks like a handyman drill and I rather sneer, Zamak casting and all that, like a Hot Wheels toy car, but let us line up attributes. Is the Hi-Point

      1. Pretty? Uck.
      2. Svelte? Nope.
      3. Well engineered? Oddly, I have to say yes because it works.
      4. Loud? Exactly the same noise as my costly West German wundergun.

      It is point four that calls out for attention.

      • There’s a very good reason why there have been almost no commercially “successful” blowbacks in 9x19mm (or anything bigger).

        Physics doesn’t lie, and if you don’t want the action opening when the fired bullet’s still in the barrel you must have:

        * a slide/bolt that weighs as much as some entire pistols.
        * a recoil/hammer spring that wouldn’t be out of place in the suspension system of a Sherman tank.

        That generally makes for AT BEST a firearm of dubious utility, either clumsy to handle or hard to manipulate.

        There have been a few attempts to skirt these problems, such as:

        * the WWI era German Dreyse. The recoil spring could be disengaged from the breech mechanism so as to allow a round to be chambered (or ejected) without fighting the heavy recoil spring.
        * the French le Francais. It used a tipping barrel to avoid having to work the slide at all. It had a D/A only trigger.

        The Hi Point “solution” is of course the simplest. It’s essentially a closed bolt, semi-auto version of a generic submachine gun, with a separate firing pin versus API.

        The only ones I’ve ever seen were horribly unreliable. Combine that with their utter clumsiness and hideous looks and you have a firearm that does nothing I need done in any way in which I want it done.

        Would I ban them? No.

        Would I RECOMMEND them, ESPECIALLY when there are Helwans, P-1s, P-38s, P-6s, Makarovs, PA64s, Enfields, police surplus S&W M10s and M64s, and even Nagants available instead? NO.

        • I would like to point out at the Astra 400 (9 largo) and Astra 600 (9×19) both are successful blow back weapons that use ” modern ” ammunition.

  18. If you can get a 5 shot 9mm I frame, then I want a 4 shot 44 Russian I frame. After shooting some light 44 special reloads out of a Rossi 44 magnum snubbie with very light recoil, I realized that a 44 Russian would have a lot less recoil than a 38 special +p load and probably be just as good at stopping bad guys.

  19. Given the advances S&W has made in revolver metallurgy, an I frame New Terrier AirLite in 9mm +P is surely doable. While you are waiting for that they will sell you a J frame .357 Magnum that weighs twelve ounces. It is exciting to shoot once or twice.

    Interchangeable ammo with autoloaders is not yet driving revolver sales. People generally come in knowing what they want, and that is a .38 Special snubnose. Several efforts at 9mmP revolvers have proven less than wildly popular.

    • Maybe if the 9mm revolers were not the exact same size as the 38s the would be more popular. Taurus has even done a 380 acp revolver.

      • I’d like to have a small five or six shot .40 S&W revolver with a cylinder long enough to seat a 200gr. lead wadcutter or LSWC-HP with sufficient powder space in the case.

  20. I own two pistols that started life as 38 S&Ws. One is a Terrier [I-frame] and is a nice little revolver. Back in the 70s Israel ordered a bunch of ammunition from Remington then for whatever reason decided not to take delivery. For a few months one could get Remington green box ammunition [148 gr] with a over wrap in Hebrew. I don’t read Hebrew but it was marked 0.380 ” and 11/79. I bought four boxes and have fired off two of them. The other pistol is a Victory model S&W that was converted, sort of, to 38 special. The work was done in England and it has British markings. They bored out the chambers to 38 special, shortened the barrel to three inches and put on a new front sight. It was pretty well done and the piece shoots quite well. Yes the cases do bulge a bit but they extract with no problems. Historical note: Lee Harvey Oswalds “38 revolver” was a Victory model bored out to 38 special and the barrel cut to two inches which removed the front locking lug Its cylinder was just hanging by the rear pin. Over time this would have let the cylinder get out of index and made the pistol unsafe. Sadly it didn’t happen before Oswald encountered Dallas PD Officer Tippet. That would have been an excellent time and place for a pistol to blow up.

  21. I also like the 38S&W, and for a self defense load I use a 148gr Hollow based WAD CUTTER BULLET, thaat I upset using punch to increaese the diameter of the Hollow skirt of the bullet and thenload the bullet with the HOLLOW BASE as the nose of the bullet. Even with low velocity loads in the 38SW the bullet will open up to over .500″ Diameter when it hits a solid object of ballistic geletin block. It is almost like a good expanding bullet at higher velocities.

  22. I recently acquired a .38 S&W H&R top break. It’s post WWII and more solid than the earlier versions. I’ve reloaded .38 S&W using 9mm dies by backing the die out about 3-1/2 or 4 turns; similar to using .38 special dies to load .357 magnum. I’ve used a 130g LRN, and just bought some 148g HBWC to try also.

    Fun little gun – but aren’t they all? 😉

  23. Excellent article. Thank you. Looking for .38 S&W ammo can be frustrating, but sometimes funny. Several years ago, scanning the shelves of ammo for .38 S&W, I had a store clerk approach me and ask if I had found what I was looking for. I told him I had an old revolver that shot .38 Smith and Wesson and I was trying to find ammo for it. He snorted and said, “Our .38 ammunition will work in any brand.”

  24. I’ve got a post-WWII Singapore Police Force revolver made by Webley.

    I was surprised how mild .38 S&W is. It reminded me of shooting the Nagant 1895 revolver. Both are pretty quiet, low recoil and barely spin my spinner target even with a clean hit.

  25. Back in 1978 I purchased an Enfield No.2 Mk 1 revolver chambered for the .380/200 load. Finding ammunition could be a challenge so I bought a reloading press and got into the business of “rolling my own” for just about every caliber I shoot. While stationed in Germany with the U.S. Army back in the early 1980s I was able to purchase some British surplus ammunition for my revolver that featured a 178-grain FDMJ bullet. The ammo was produced in May 1952, making it one month older than me. I was amazed how well it shot even as recently as 2008. I still have 48 rounds of this ammunition.

    The Enfield and Webley to-break revolvers are pretty stoutly made. The fact that they automatically eject their empties leaving you with the fully unobstructed back of the cylinder makes using speed loaders incredibly easy. I have found reloading data that shows the possibility of exceeding 1,000 fps with 110-grain bullets. Even the 125s come in at close to 1,000 fps. With some of the newer bullets available today I think you could assemble some decent self-defense loads. My Enfield sports a 5-inch barrel and is relatively light when compared to K-frame .38 Special and .357 Magnum revolvers. If I can develop a good self-defense load I might carry it. It gives me 6 shots compared to the 5 in my 2-inch .38 Special “Snubby” and would be easy to reload, even under tense conditions. I really wish some manufacturer here would develop a modern top-break .38 Special revolver. I think there would be a market for it.

  26. You .38 Special reloaders:
    I located a big handful of these .38 S&W casings at an isolated desert shooting range. I ran them thru my carbide .38 Special resizing die, they chamber and shoot in my .357 !

    I’ve been having the time of my life shooting them in a 4″ Model 19. Very accurate and very mild. I would love to get more of this brass.

    Not having a .38 S&W die set, I belled the resized brass with a 9mm Parabellum die and seated the .358″ lead bullet also with the 9mm seating die. Load is .3cc of Alliant Bullseye, any old small pistol primer, and a 110 grain lead SWC. Pressures are way mild. Shoots right to point of aim.

    • Starline makes .38 short-colt and .38 long-colt brass that would work as short
      .38 special cases and are of the correct diameter.

  27. is it safe to shoot 110 grain win.silvertips in a pietta with a conversion cylinder—I have a converted pietta but the cylinder conversion say to use cowboy ammo. thanks for info.

  28. Used cast lead 35 Cal. Remington bullets (gas checks OK) Weight is from 190 to 200 grn. depending on material used. They size out to 358+ and work great in Victory model and better in Webley MK IV. In fact this bullet shot to the sights in the MK IV.

  29. What needs to be emphasized is that 38 Smith and Wesson is a Proprietary load developed by S&W back in the 1870’s, succeeded by the S&W 38 Police Special (38 Special).
    38 S&W was a black powder, then smokeless powder load designed to put out about 100 foot-lbs of energy, as opposed to ~ 300 ft-lbs for 38 special.
    Pistols designed for 38 S&W should NEVER be loaded up w/ cartridges w/ any sort of MODERN propellants, whether they will fit in the cylinder or not.
    I once owned an H&R breaktop 38 S&W that would ‘fit’ 38 Special into the cylinder, but would have exploded into pieces had I fired it loaded that way. Just because you can FIT the bullets in is no guide. Be CAREFUL.

    • I agree, that is why factory .38 S&W ammunition is loaded light; black powder
      pressures. However Webley Mk IV, S&W M&P and Colt D.A. revolvers are stronger.
      Even old S&W breaktops should be loaded with care. I am a Smith and Wesson
      collector and have a rare, almost unheard of pre WWII S&W .38 S&W Target
      (.38 S&W NOT .38 special); pre war S&W non-click (loosed a screw, tighten a screw, etc.) rear sight, patridge front sight. With .361″ bullets it will shoot
      as well as my K38 Masterpiece models will.

  30. I have H&R 38 s&w . serial # 365 . Only number on it . Any idea the manufacture date ?. He lived in Northern Wisconsin area

  31. Hi! I have an 1898 Harrington & Richardson, hammerless, Top Break, 5 shot S&W revolver with a 3 1/2 inch barrel. It is in excellent condition with a smooth bore…and with the lands and grooves smooth and visible. Can current, factory made, Remington 38 S&W 146 grain ammo safely be fired through it? Thanks for your help 🙂

  32. I first encountered the WW2 Enfield .38/200 when I was an Army officer exploring Cochise County, Arizona in 1971. Later on, I thought they were a wonderful buy at about $100 each, to include the S&W Victory in the same caliber. These revolvers are quite accurate enough for a hunting sidearm and have put recently paid to more than a few feral hogs in Texas, as well as many invading raccoons that my Catahoula Leopards found for me. I cast the Lyman 195 grain RN in front of 2.4 grains of Unique for about 600 feet/second. a quiet load that penetrates and then spins. Brass lasts forever and 9mm dies are fine. I often carried a .38/200 while exploring the Brazos River in south-central Texas and it solved a few problems. The key is to aim carefully.

  33. As FYI for the group, modern .38 S&W ammunition of R-P headstamp has a smaller body diameter and will chamber in many .38 Special revolvers band can be used successfully as “shorts”. My S&W Model 10-5, 37-1 and 28-2 all shoot OK with R-P .38 S&W.

    But Starline, Federal, Fiocchi, W-W, S-B are all too fat to chamber.

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