38 Special Ammo for Snubbie Carry
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GUN TESTS GRADE: A
Loads: Cor-Bon DPX Self Defense +P 110-grain DPX HP DPX38110/20, Winchester Super-X Ammunition 158-grain Lead Hollow Point Semi-Wadcutter +P X38SPD, Cor-Bon Self-Defense +P JHP 110-grain 38110, Buffalo Bore Standard Pressure Short Barrel 125-grain Gold Dot HP, Speer Gold Dot Short-Barrel 135-grain JHP +P 23921, Black Hills Ammunition 125-grain JHP +P M38N2, Hornady Critical Defense 110-grain FTX JHP 90310, Remington UMC 125-grain JHP L38S2.
Caliber Plus Cartridge
Cor-Bon's DPX Self Defense +P 110-grain DPX HP DPX38110/20, $25.80/20 (CTD #2-CORDPX38110). This is a top performer with an excellent balance of expansion and penetration. This load used the all-copper Barnes bullet, the advantages of which have been proven in heavier calibers. The all-copper bullet, it is claimed, is soft in the nose for expansion while the shank holds together for penetration. It was troubling that the petals on about one in five DPX bullets would not unfold, but then this is 17⁄8-inch-barrel performance. The DPX is not only reliable in expansion with a power factor of 114, this load is controllable. For our use, the raters seemed split among the X bullets - the Cor-Bon DPX and the Hornady FTX. But one just laughed and patted his well-worn 3-inch-barrel Model 36. He will deploy the Winchester FBI load for the foreseeable future.
Winchester Super-X Ammunition 158-grain Lead Hollow Point Semi-Wadcutter +P X38SPD $38.99/50 (MidwayUSA #765718). This load is among the most respected personal defense loads in 38 Special. The soft lead hollowpoint often expands well, even when fired from a short barrel, and generally the load has never received the complaints other 38 Special loads sometimes do. This load was once the standard issue of dozens of agencies, including the FBI. The soft lead hollowpoint is not always the most accurate loading, but it usually expands well, and our water tests bore this out. It is not loaded too heavy for good control, and the round is accurate enough for personal defense. This load remains a solid choice well worth its price. The total wound value as the FBI calls it, with the soft lead bullet traveling 15 inches and expanding to .66 inches, is impressive.
Cor-Bon Self-Defense +P JHP 110-grain 38110, $18.69/20 (CTD # 2-COR38110). This was another case of the Gold Dot bullet giving excellent performance. Of course, the way the bullet is loaded and the powder charge mean a lot. Actually bumping a bullet up to over 1,000 fps in a 2-inch barrel takes some doing. The balance of expansion and penetration in this loading is ideal, with 12 inches penetration and .64-inch expansion.
Left, Buffalo Bore Standard Pressure Short Barrel 125-grain Gold Dot HP, $22.64/20 (CTD #82107). This load is made possible by the availability of the Speer Gold Dot short-barrel jacketed hollowpoint bullet. The bullet is loaded to higher velocity than most (factory velocity of 900 fps), and it expanded at 38 snubnose velocity. It exhibited both low flash and high velocity, even though it isn't rated as a +P. This Buffalo Bore load offered an excellent balance of expansion and penetration with 13 inches of penetration and .62 inch expansion. Right, Buffalo Bore Lead SWC Hollow Cavity Bullet 158-grain +P, $22.64/20 (CTD #80751). Several generations ago the lead hollowpoint was developed to allow consistent expansion with the 38 Special. When properly cast, lead HPs expanded well. But if cast too brittle, they broke up. If cast too hard, they did not expand. This Buffalo Bore load uses a lead bullet that does not have to defeat a gilding metal jacket to expand. I am certain someone will question our B rating, but here is the logic. This round kicked too much for most of us to use well in a snubnose revolver. It is safe, loaded to acceptable pressure, quite accurate, and performs as advertised. While the bullet penetrated to the greatest depth, the bullet nose blew off at some point. This is common with cast hollowpoints. This load would be ideal for general-purpose use in a steel-frame 4-inch-barrel 38 Special, but for most of us, this load was simply is too much.
Speer Gold Dot Short-Barrel 135-grain JHP +P 23921, $21.57/20 (CTD #2-CCI23921). This load provides a quality jacketed hollowpoint for the new breed of lightweight handguns that could not use the lead hollowpoint. We liked this load a lot. While the performance of the load mirrors some of the 110- and 125-grain bullets, the 135-grain bullet offers greater mass. Produced 13 inches of penetration and .62-inch expansion. This load and the Buffalo Bore 125 are practically identical in performance.
Black Hills Ammunition 125-grain JHP +P M38N2 $33.86/50 (MidwayUSA #659687). Black Hills chose the Hornady XTP bullet for this load. The XTP demonstrates a good balance of expansion and penetration, but penetration is always favored. This was among the most economical loads tested. The Black Hills load was the most accurate loading tested. Also had the greatest penetration among the 100- to 125-grain JHPs and the least expansion. Expansion was less than the other loads, but the bullet did expand reliably. Shooting control was good because it was not loaded as hot as the others. This would be a good choice for those areas in which attackers might be bundled up for the winter.
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