A case for the .38 Special
Many people hold their nose up to the .38 Special. They see it as an inadequate firearm for personal defense and hunting. I however disagree. The .38 Special has a long and proud history. From being used by pilots during WW2 to Police pistols, the .38 Special has withstood the test of time and has remained one of the most popular revolver rounds in the United State (which in terms of firearms seems to be the only country that really matters).
No other device has shaped modern history to the extent that firearms have(well maybe the combustion engine). As such, to better understand the gun, is to better understand history, and the .38 Special is no exception. The .38 Special was introduced in 1898. Why is this historically significant you ask? The reason is that it was at this time that America was involved in the Philippine–American War where our troops were in constant combat with Moro warriors. You might think of the Filipino people as being somewhat small in stature. But what they lack in size they more than make up for in shear badassery.
My grandfather once took me to a museum in Seattle and on display were some of these big knives that that the Moro warriors used against American troop. I don’t remember much from that museum, but the one thing I do remember was this hug knife. I have heard that in an epic display of badassery the Moro warriors would tie tourniquets on their arms and legs before charging in so they wouldn’t bleed out after charging into a hail of led.
You see at the time the military was using the .38 Long Colt. However, the Moro warriors would routinely charge through a hail of bullets and thrusting themselves into close quarter combat where they would them use large knives to carve up the American troops.
It didn’t take long for the U.S. military to figure out that they needed something with a bit more “stopping power.” This war led to the U.S. Military adopting two major inventions that would change the course of history itself. These were of course the Colt 1911 in .45 and the .38 Special. Perfect timing for when America entered WW1 in 1917.
During WW1 the U.S. used both the 1911 and the Smith&Wesson model 10. However, the 1911 was clearly much more popular since I have had a hard time finding photos of information on the .38 Special being used in WW1. With that being said, the .38 Special was used with some regularity from WW2 to Vietnam.
The Model 10 (chambered in .38 Special) was so popular that over 6 million of them were produced. Making it one of the most popular handguns ever produced. The Model 10 also went on to see service in WW2 and was issued to some aircrews in case of forced landing. Some were also equipped with tracer rounds to be used for signaling. A military variant of the .38 Special continued to be used by military personal in one capacity to the other up until the 1960’s.
Check out this photo of WW2 pilots planning an operation. The guy with the pipe can be seen sporting a Model 10 chambered in .38 Special.
Here is another photo of some pilots during the Vietnam war. It looks like the pilot on the right is sporting a Smith&Wesson Victory model (early version of the Model 10 made between 1942-1944), and the guy on the right is caring a more modern Model 10. Both would have been chambered in .38 Special.
George Bush Sr. was a pilot in WW2 and was shot down. He was shortly thereafter picked up by a submarine. He gave some office his .38 Special revolver to hold onto for safe keeping. The revolver was eventually returned to him many years later and he donated it a museum.
Besides being used on the battlefield and as a survival tool/weapon for pilots, the .38 Special gained massive popularity with police departments around the United States and remained in service up until the late 80’s/early 90’s. It was also popularly used by the FBI.
During the 1920 up until today the .38 Special cartridge continues to change and evolve. During the 1920’s due to increased demand from law enforcement several ammo manufacturers stepped up their game and started producing “hotter” rounds with heaver bullets. The development of the .38 Special didn’t end there. In 1972, the Federal Bureau of Investigation introduced a new .38 +P loading that became known as the “FBI Load”.
The .38 Special remains a popular cartridge to this day with a large variety of loads. I have heard of some bullets trucking out of the barrel at speeds up words of 1,100 fps. There are also heavy grain .38 Special rounds that travel closer to 740-850 fps. The point is that there variety when it comes to .38 Special loads.
One common myth about the .38 Special is that it doesn’t have enough “stopping power.” A man named Greg Ellifritz recently wrote an article about fire arm stopping power (I will put a link to the full article bellow). He looked at thousands of shootings, involving many different cartridges, over the course of a decade. He came up with the following data involving the .38 Special (I will put a link to his article bellow):
# of people shot – 199
# of hits – 373
% of hits that were fatal – 29%
Average number of rounds until incapacitation – 1.87
% of people who were not incapacitated – 17%
One-shot-stop % – 39%
Accuracy (head and torso hits) – 76%