38 Special

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38 Special

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Designed by Smith & Wesson, 38 Special ammo is a centerfire rimmed cartridge commonly used in handguns. It is also compatible with a few semi-automatic carbines and pistols. Also known as 38 S&W, .38 Smith & Wesson Special, or 38 Spl, this handgun cartridge is popular for its accuracy and manageable recoil. It was used as the main service cartridge for most US Police departments between the 1920s and the 1990s. 38 Special Specifications: Cartridge Case: .38 Long Colt Cartridge Case type: Rimmed, straight Diameter of Bullet: 9.1 mm (.357 in) Base diameter: 9.6 mm (.379 in) Neck diameter: 9.6 mm (.379 in) Rim thickness: 1.5 mm (.058 in) Rim diameter: .44 in (11 mm) Length of Case: 1.155 in (29.3 mm) Overall length: 1.550 in (39.4 mm) Case capacity: 1.52 cm3 (23.4 gr H2O) Max pressure: 17,500 psi (121 MPa) Smith & Wesson is the manufacturer of 38 Special Ammo. But now, several other companies are also manufacturing 38 Special Ammo. 38 Special Ammo is good for hand loaders. 38 Special Ammo is almost similar to 38 Short Colt, 38 Long Colt, and 357 Magnum, except for the difference in case length. As the construction is identical, 38 Special Ammo can be used in handguns chambered for 357 Magnum. 38 Short Colt and 38 Long Colt can be fired safely from handguns chambered for 38 Special. The straight walls of the cartridge, rim’s head spacing, accessibility of earlier fired cases, and the compatibility with 357 Magnum firearms made it much popular.

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38 Special Specs

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In 1898 the Government contracted Smith and Wesson to develop a new cartridge with better ballistics to replace the 38 Long Colt after the 38 Long Colt’s poor performance in the Philippines. It started as a black powder cartridge but is now loaded with smokeless propellants.  

38 Special History


38 Special Usage

The 38 Special’s low recoil and muzzle flash make it a good choice for small, lightweight revolvers for concealed carry. It is also used for target practice in firearms chambered in 38 Special and 357 Magnum. 
The 38 Special has one of the lowest chamber pressures in modern cartridges. Revolvers chambered in 38 Special can also fire 38 Short Colt and 38 Long Colt cartridges but cannot safely fire the higher pressure 357 magnum cartridges, which is why they lengthened the 357 magnum case to not fit 38 Special revolvers.

38 Special Trivia


38 Special Design

The 38 Special is a rimmed straight walled cartridge with an overall length of 1.55” and a capacity of 23.4 grains (H2O). It fires a .357” diameter bullet and uses small pistol primers with a maximum pressure of 17,500 PSI.
The 38 Special has several options of loads to choose from; cast lead or jacketed bullets in wadcutter, semi wadcutter, hollow point and soft point configurations and target loads to +P hot loads for firearms rated for the +P loads.

38 Special Types


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