Friday, November 20, 2009

.38 Supah fo-evah!

Caleb has a post up on the .38 Super for self-defense.

The obvious comparison is to .357SIG, which is a fine and reliable cartridge in guns designed around the shorter 9mm/.40 platform, but is a bear to get running in a 1911 action, which is designed around a longer cartridge and has a two-piece feed ramp in its unmodified form.

The .38 Super is merely a higher-pressure loading of the old Colt .38 Automatic round, which dates back to some of John Browning's earliest autopistol work, 'way back in 1897; the two cartridges are dimensionally identical (which is why all .38 Super is technically "+P" according to SAAMI.) The advantages it has over the .357SIG are fairly esoteric and mostly center around the bottleneck: The short neck makes the SIG cartridge difficult to reload, and limits the range of bullet weights the cartridge can handle easily.

I've always hoped for a .38 Super revival, even if one attempted resurrection in rimless form has already failed (the "9x23 Winchester".) The reason is that the longer case can handle 147gr .355" bullets with ease, which offer the same sectional density as 180gr .40 or 230gr .45 and more sectional density is more penetration. In the shorter 9x19 case, these heavy bullets are going to be traveling at under 1100fps, but in the longer .38 Super with its greater powder capacity, ~1200fps is not out of reach. 147gr@1200 is getting into low-end magnum revolver ballistics.

In a single-stack gun like a 1911 or SIG P-220, you could get ten rounds easy; a double stack 1911 or Glock 20-sized gun would be serving up 18-20 rounds of low-end-.357-Magnum-level whupass. I'd be lying if I said the thought didn't intrigue me every now and again.

48 comments:

TD said...

And Double Tap has a .38 Super load with the 115-gr Barnes bullet coming out soon. Oughta be interesting...

WV: chizabic. Is Steven Den Beste a .38 Super fan?!?

Caleb said...

The DoubleTap load is out, actually. But I'll be damned if I can find it anywhere. I want to try one in my comped gun.

jimbob86 said...

"147gr@1200 is getting into low-end magnum revolver ballistics."

That'd be ....... Super!


wv: "sonnic" ....... as in..... wait for it...... Super...

Tam said...

"And Double Tap has a .38 Super load with the 115-gr Barnes bullet coming out soon. Oughta be interesting..."

I know these homogeneous bullets are supposed to penetrate like no tomorrow, but I still put my faith in sectional density, all else being equal. I'd like to see a 147gr Ranger Talon optimized for .357SIG/.38 Super velocities. I'd also like a gold house and a rocket car.

perlhaqr said...

Do you think .38 Super is better than 10mm?

(I realize that could be a very loaded question and also the prelude to a stupid flame war, but honestly, I'm actually curious. I mean, I'm not going to stand downrange and offer to catch either one of 'em...)

Is .357 Magnum actually running .357" bullets? I know 10mm is .400 bullets instead of the more accurate conversion of .393".

Turk Turon said...

A Glock in 38-Super? Yum!

Caleb said...

If Glock made a .38 Super for the latin america market, I'd buy 5.

Jay G said...

Bah. .45ACP. There is no other than G-d's own caliber.

(hides)

What? Someone was gonna say it...

bedlamite said...

"I'd also like a gold house and a rocket car."

And a jetpack. We're supposed to have those already!

Anonymous said...

Is .38 Super better than 10mm? IMHO, no, but I think that once you get over the "floor" of a 9mm JHP, you've got yourself a serious cartridge for self-defense. For engaging four legged oxygen users, bigger is usually better and the higher the section density (every thing else being equal), the better. Caveat - you do actually have to hit the critter - recoil may not be your friend after a certain point.

Funny .38 Super story - years ago, New Guy watching Old Guy load his .38 Super 1911 after a match for the ride home. NG - you loading that with JHP's? OG - momentary puzzled look on face - nope, I figger these lead bullets at 1350 will work fine, if not, slide lock's your friend. NG - kicks rocks and wander's off. :D

staghounds said...

There are worse self defense guns than the old 1902 Colt "pocket" in the original .38 auto, too.

Anonymous said...

I was briefly intrigued with the .38 Super EAA Witness (I think) in the 90's. I liked the idea of (IIRC) 18 round magazines.

Al T.

Homer said...

Hmmm.....Other than observing my Race-Gunning IPSC comrades who are addicted to 38 Super to make Major, I haven't given much thought to the caliber.

I do see some advantages, though, thanks to the current discussion. IIRC, the XD holds 18+1 of 9MM, so it could do the same with Super. And, as Tam pointed out, sectional density is not to be ignored; 147 at 1250, assuming the right bullet design to handle the velocity, would just about get us a semi-auto 357 magnum.

An IPSC-legal 170MM magazine holds 27 rounds of 38 Super; not exactly good concealment material, but it does point out the potential. I wouldn't think there's much advantage in building compact or sub-compact blasters around the round, but large mid- to full-size (1911 and Glock 17 size) has possibilities. I can easily see a 10+1 1911 being a pretty good choice.

OK, I'm in. Who's got the guns and the right ammo for them?

Anonymous said...

Al:

I just bought an Elite Match in Super. It is a sweet combination of 18+1 and a crisp SA trigger. Reliability and accuracy are excellent so far (especially for the five bills I paid).

SADShooter

Matt G said...

Although I haven't mastered reloading the .357 Sig, I would note that it is available from Hornady with their excellent 147g XTP bullet. Hornady claims 1225 fps. That's hard to beat, and the .357 caliber is inherently very accurate.

The grand old .38 Super cartride, on the other hand, has long suffered from its semi-rim, and the fact that Colt originally headspaced on that, rather than on the case mouth like with the 1911, or the 9mm. Some old .38 Supers shoot great; some don't shoot accurately at all until you change out for a custom barrel.

Look, I love the old round, and WANT to find a reason for it over the .357 Sig cartridge.

Weer'd Beard said...

Honestly I like how lower-pressure cartridges feel while shooting, so I'll stick to .45 for serious business.

Still with the number of S&W/Ruger/Taurus revolvers coming out in .700 Donkey-Punch calibers (Ok .500 S&W Mag and .460 S&W Mag...as well as .454 Casull, and the idea of packing more bang into small revolvers with .327 Federal mag...I just liked the sound of ".700 Donkey-Punch") You'd think the market might have a LITTLE interest in some of the "Magnum" semi-auto loads like 10mm Auto or .38 Super ect.

It's not like there's a shortage of .45 ACP handguns to work them into.

Rabbit said...

I'm in general agreement with Matt G. I've seen some beautiful 1911s that suffered from 'rimitis' and wouldn't cluster as well as they should.

I've owned a P229 in 357sig for about the last 10 years as my daily carry. I find no fault with the mechanical accuracy of the round or platform, and it would feed corncobs if they were short enough. It does like Gold Dots, and I'm going to root around and see if I can find Matt's Hornady 147s to get a feel for them. I bet it'll like them too.

I did own a BDA/P220 in .38Super many years ago. Should have kept it. It was a great shooter, but most assuredly not at the level of a good 1911 in that chambering. I do have a P220 in .45acp.

Regards,
Rabbit.

Stuart the Viking said...

I have always wanted a nickle plated 1911 in .38sup with perl or ivory grips, and some engraving, a la the steriotypical "Mexican" gun. I don't know why. I am a tall white guy. I was married to a Mexican woman for a while many years ago, I don't think that has anything to do with it. Could it?

Does something like that... you know... like... rub off onto someone?

(For those without a funny bone, that was a joke)

s

aczarnowski said...

I'd also like a gold house and a rocket car.

I bet the terminal ballistics of a rocket car would spectacular.

Tam said...

Matt,

"Although I haven't mastered reloading the .357 Sig, I would note that it is available from Hornady with their excellent 147g XTP bullet."

Yup, and in the closing days of my affinity with both Glocks and the .357SIG cartridge, that was how I rolled.

The problem for me was bullet setback; that teeny neck combined with the heavy bullet to cause distressing amounts of setback after only a couple chamberings. Given the pressures of the round and the tendency of .40/.357 Glocks to turn into pipe bombs with little provocation, this kinda put me off my feed WRT the combination.

staghounds said...

I once read an article that suggested rechambering a S&W model 52 to 38 Super.

Hmmm....

Ed Foster said...

"Slide lock's your friend". God I love that!

With, as Tam has mentioned, a propely designed bullet, I doubt there is much of a difference between the Super and the .40S&W, but for practicality I'd give the Super the edge, if only for the occasional longer shot.

Been beating up the boss for a .38Super in the line, but he wants me to get all the .45ACP's sold first.

February or March at the earliest. Sad, because Kart will have the barrels up in a week or two, and McCormick has the mags in stock now.

Sectional density gets you penetration, and perhaps a bit higher hit probability at distance, but there's something to be said for lousy S.D. up close, if there's enough bullet mass to screw the little darling into the target deep enough.

Back during the Moro wars in Mindanao, the British .455 had as good a reputation as our .45 Colt, despite a hundred feet less velocity, give or take.

Larger diameter for weight translates into faster energy transference, with all the goodness staying inside the target instead of being wasted on the scenery behind it.

I'm kind of wondering what a truncated cone bullet cast out of ZEMAK and weighing about 150 grains would do in a .45ACP at about 1,600 fps.

The comments on pressures and setback were so very right on concerning the .357SIG. Been there/done that.

Kinda makes you want a large diameter cartridge with operating pressures in the teens instead of the thirtys, with lots of space for the neck to grab the bullet.

Oh wait, Saint John did that about a hundred years ago.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure how important sectional density really is when it comes to pistol bullets (it does matter in rifles though). From all that I have read and witnessed (not much compared to experts but enough to help me form an opinion), it seems to me that bullet design matters much more. The efficiency in flesh of let's say a Gold Dot at all bullet weights compared to an average JHP in all the same bullet weights is definitely superior.

The Barnes pistol bullets are surprisingly efficient at least against hard materials. I have seen a 38 Special DPX bullet (regular pressure) penetrate steel, glass and plywood that defeated various 45 ACP JHPs (even the bonded ones) and 55 gr FMJ 5.56 NATO. From what I've been told, they work great on people too.

RHT447 said...

Rainy day project # 943….I remember seeing somewhere in the past that someone was making 9mm barrels for the CZ-52. That by itself is kinda ho-hum. Just turns your 52 into an over-size clunky 9mm. However, what if you could get one of those barrels chambered in 38 super? Starline makes 38 super comp, which is a true rimless case. I have loaded 38 super rounds into a CZ-52 mag and they fit nicely. Only un-resolved question I had was would the ejection port have to be lengthened to allow the ejection of a loaded round when clearing the weapon?

WV---relushly = How I eat my hot dogs.

Hypnagogue said...

A Glock 20 or 29 rebarreled in 9x25 Dillon will do exactly what you want, only it would be at high-end .357 magnum performance. If you are fantasizing about obscure race gun calibers, go for the gusto.

Weer'd Beard said...

"Only un-resolved question I had was would the ejection port have to be lengthened to allow the ejection of a loaded round when clearing the weapon?"

I dunno about you but I gently rack the slide and let the live round drop out of the mag well onto a table or a waiting hand/lap.

.38 Super/comp CZ-52 sounds like a neat idea!

Oh and since we're talking about thumping semi-autos, How about the slow but heavy .50 GI.

Man that's a sexy round!

Tam said...

"I'm not sure how important sectional density really is when it comes to pistol bullets (it does matter in rifles though)."

Well, it's one of those "all other things being equal" type questions. Assuming appropriate bullet construction and proper shape of the hollowpoint cavity for the projectile's velocity, the heavier bullet will get to the vitals more reliably. This is one of the big problems with boutique ammo: The small ammo company that buys .355" bullets to load into their 9x25 Dillon loads when the bullets in question were designed for optimum function at 9x19 velocities is going to wonder why their uberloading gives a wound profile like a nasty hickey.

Anonymous said...

I guess I'm just too simple. My Glock 20 with 16 rounds seems like a good swing at your goal. 180gr. hp's at 1350 for 2 legged predators, with 200 gr. truncated cone fmj's at 1200 if your goal is penetration against 4 legged critters or people behind cover.

Pistol, 4 spare mags, leather and ammo can be had all-new and all-up ready to go out the door for less than a grand. Add to this the advantage of not having to deal with getting a custom project out of a gunsmith, and I'd be hard pressed to move on the other. Of course, I'm a little weird. I carry stock Glocks in plastic holsters and think that simplicity and reliability is of greater value than perfection.

I love my $3,000 1911, but I never carry the bloody thing. Sidearms are truly a matter of personal preference, though, and without people going for the strange and unusual, we'd still be sitting in caves pounding on rocks.

Word Verification: mashmo: What happens to my fingers when I'm the one pounding on the rocks.

Formerflyer

James E. Griffin said...

"The small ammo company that buys .355" bullets to load into their 9x25 Dillon loads when the bullets in question were designed for optimum function at 9x19 velocities is going to wonder why their uberloading gives a wound profile like a nasty hickey."

EXACTLY! He, He, He, after a day like today, I NEEDED that!

reflectoscope said...

I bet the terminal ballistics of a rocket car would spectacular.

Takes its mass and velocity and scale up from .318 Dodge :P

Jim

Anonymous said...

"terminal ballistics of a rocket car"

Would suck for double taps or hammers though. Sort of the NEF of the transportation world. ;)

Al T.

Adam said...

Don't forget 9mm Largo, My Star Super is chambered for it and I modified it to also take .38 super. Works wonderfully and puts out an awesome fireball!

Kristopher said...

I used to fire .38 Super through my Astra 400 when I was young and stupid ... major calibre in a simple blowback pistol ... Whoo-Hoo!

I's like to see a Suomi or a PPSH-41 in .38 Super ... Shouldn't require more than a barrel change.

Anonymous said...

*Well, it's one of those "all other things being equal" type questions. Assuming appropriate bullet construction and proper shape of the hollowpoint cavity for the projectile's velocity, the heavier bullet will get to the vitals more reliably. This is one of the big problems with boutique ammo: The small ammo company that buys .355" bullets to load into their 9x25 Dillon loads when the bullets in question were designed for optimum function at 9x19 velocities is going to wonder why their uberloading gives a wound profile like a nasty hickey.*


With the quality of defensive pistol bullets nowadays (which all seem to have more or less the same effect), I'm still not convinced about the value of sectional density but that's just one guy's opinion while you make a very good point.

You are dead on about the misuse of bullets designed for one set of ballistics and trying to make them something else. While Buffalo Bore and Double Tap do some quite interesting things with the various ammo they load, I'd rather keep to what the original manufacturer intended.

Still, a real high speed controllable .355/38/.357/9mm load with an appropriate bullet does, as you say, "intrigue me now and again"

Gewehr98 said...

Not me. During my IPSC/USPSA days, I saw too many 38 Soopers stumble and hiccup as their owners tried to stay on the far side of the Major Power Factor with lightweight bullets and compensators for rapid taps. The ejected brass looked like death warmed over, too.

It put me off on building my Caspian Officer's ACP into a .38 Sooper, and I went ahead with a Kart ramped barrel in .45 ACP instead. Since I live in 'Merka, I'm not restricted to .38 Sooper like our southern neighbors.

WV = Costo (yeah, that's another factor, once you either buy brass and boolits or factory defensive loads)

Frank W. James said...

There has to be one in every group who is the ODD MAN OUT, so I'll be it on this subject.

I don't like the .38 Stupid and it's because the damn thing in my experience is a poor stopper, killer, whatever... It doesn't do a damn thing more than a "+P+ 9x19mm" will. Accuracy as previously mentioned has always been a 'custom-built-only' thing.

It is a great square range cartridge and a GREAT game pistol cartridge, but in my experience it doesn't compare to the .357 Magnum for actual 'in field' use where people always try to place it.

I suspect it has something to do with the available bullets and the rifling twist of .38 Stupid barrels.

My turn to be the pariah...

All The Best,
Frank W. James

staghounds said...

"I'm kind of wondering what a truncated cone bullet cast out of ZEMAK and weighing about 150 grains would do in a .45ACP at about 1,600 fps."

Jens Schouboe was almost there, 1600+ but with a 66 grain wood core aluminum bullet.

Maybe the 15o idea has some merit.

Les Jones said...

I'm too lazy to look it up in Cartridges of the World, but how does .38 Super compare to 9mm +P?

Sez the cheap guy who loves commoditized guns and ammo.

ray said...

Mexicans love em too. Really...

Cybrludite said...

RHT447, I've been thinking the same thing. I need to find a 9mm barrel for my CZ, and start pestering the smith at my local House o' Boom about rechambering it to .38 Super.

WV: artur ♫ "When you get caught between the Moon and New York City..." ♫

James said...

Just what I need, the desire to play with another caliber. I've stayed away from the .357 Sig because I reload and I don't need the joy of reloading a bottleneck pistol cartridge. Those who think that the .38 super is only marginally better than a +P+ 9mm are probably right, but when has that ever stopped anyone from jumping on a band wagon.
Let's see RIA makes very reasonable price 1911s in .38 Super and I could sell the car and get some brass.

Ed Foster said...

"Oh and since we're talking about thumping semi-autos, How about the slow but heavy .50 GI".

"Man that's a sexy round"!

Working on a .50BMG Semi with a neat new patent applied, can't talk too much until the paper with ribbon shows up. Springtime, we hope.

Hardly a sidearm round, but trying to jazz it up with the option of it's little brother, the .460 Steyr.

Neck the .50BMG down to .458, and stuff a 600 gr. boattail in it, nifty.

Dickering with Steyr for proper chamber/freebore/lead dimensions, to prevent an "our" .460 vs. "their" .460 situation.

None of which has anything to do with the .38 Super, but Weer'd Beard's digression reminded me of how stoked I am over the whole project. A half inch bore is all the Feds will let us play with, so that's where the fun is.

Now if I can only talk the boss into letting me reverse engineer that Chiang Mai Mauser "machine pistol" and offer it in something like the .38 Super/9mmLargo/9mmMauser, we would have something fun.

The neat thing about the .45acp Chinese Mauser pistol (which is suprisingly well made) is that Springfield '03 and Mauser 8mm stripper clips work nicely.

I never could understand why stripper clip loading wasn't more common in semi-auto pistols. Mill the feedlips in place like on the Tokarev, and reliability should go up quite a bit, and it's cheap.

Hypnagogue said...

Tam,

They've actually gelatin tested the 9x25 Dillon loads, including the 147 grain loading you were talking about. 17 inches of penetration ain't no hickey, although the hollow points definitely fold back farther. The terminal ballistics look a lot like (*gasp*) .357 magnum.

From Mike McNett:

DoubleTap 9X25
115gr Gold Dot JHP @ 1800fps - 10.0" / .64" frag nasty
125gr Gold DOt JHP @ 1725fps - 15.0" / .74"
147gr Gold Dot JHP @ 1550fps - 17.5" / .68

(Next time, try google.)

Hypnagogue said...

I just did a double take: 115 grain, open tip bullet at around 2000 feet per second. Severe fragmentation with around 10 inches of penetration. Worthless, right?

Here's the question: Am I talking about 6.8 SPC OTM performance from an SBR, or 9x25 Dillon from a Glock 20?

Beaumont said...

Personally, I long for a .38 Super barrel bored to .3575. Revolver slugs would seem to offer more versatility for the handloader, and possibly offer better terminal performance than 9mm bullets.

And the true rimless cases such as the .38 TJ appear to be stronger than Super cases. From what I understand, though, no manufacturer
currently uses barrels made to headspace on the rim.

Will said...

Tam,
The bullet setback I have measured from my G27 is, in some cases, frightening. I would say multiple chambering of a .40 round is contraindicated. I now drop the first round in by hand, and let the slide drop about an inch to snap the extractor over the rim. Factory loads move almost every time. Commercial reloads I've seen move more than .060 on the first chambering. Don't have access to the bigger model Glocks to compare setback.
Wonder if anyone has come up with a yardstick to compare setback to pressure rise/spike?
Also wonder if this problem is part of the basis for Glock's ban on lead and reloads?

Matt G said...

"I'm not sure how important sectional density really is when it comes to pistol bullets (it does matter in rifles though)."

If anything, sectional density is more important in pistol bullets than in rifle bullets. It means penetration. I wonder if you're confusing S.D. with Ballistic Coefficient?

Ross said...

Mexicans love the .38 Super because they can't have military caliber guns... and the .38 Super was never adopted by a military anywhere.

Colt still makes plenty of .38 Supers, and Lew Horton distributes a bunch of very fancy Colt .38 Supers. Case in point: http://lewhorton.com/elcaballodeoro.html