Walther P-38 9mm Luger

Notwithstanding the heavy trigger and heel-type magazine release, the Walther P38 is an outstanding combat handgun, in our opinion. The P38 is easily the most modern handgun tested.



$800 to $1200

The Walther P38 is the most modern design of the pistols tested, a tremendously influential handgun. In most particulars, the long-serving Beretta Model 92 9mm is a modified high-capacity variant of the Walther P38. The Walther used the oscillating wedge lockup first used on the Mauser M96, setting the pistol apart from most handguns. The Walther uses an outside drawbar to transfer energy from the trigger to the hammer. The trigger is pressed and the hammer is drawn to the rear and the pistol fires. As the slide recoils, the hammer is cocked for subsequent single-action fire. The open-top slide recoils against twin frame-mounted recoil springs. The pistol features a heel-based magazine release, unique among the pistols tested. The magazine catch almost seems odd among the Walther’s modern features. The P38 features a slide-mounted decocking lever/safety similar to the one designed for the Walther PP series. This safety is pressed to lower the hammer safety from the cocked position. The pistol may be carried on Safe or on Fire, the latter simply relying on the long double-action trigger for safety. The safety lever is long and easily manipulated, far easier than the modern Beretta 92. The 92’s safety is a bit stubby, and the wider frame of the Beretta makes operating the safety a bit more difficult. The pistol features a loaded-chamber indicator in the form of a pin that extends from the rear of the slide just above the hammer.

Action TypeRecoil-operated semi-auto, DA to SA
Overall Length8.3 in.
Overall Height5.3 in.
Max. Width1.6 in.
Weight Unloaded38.0 oz.
Weight Loaded39.9 oz.
Slide MaterialForged Steel
Slide Retraction Effort19.0 lbs.
Receiver MaterialSteel
FinishBlued steel
Front Strap Height2.6 in.
Back Strap Height3.4 in.
Barrel Length4.5 in.
Grip Thickness Max.1.6 in.
Grip Circumference5.45 in.
Magazine Capacity8
Rear SightU notch
Front SightIntegral post
Sight Radius6.95 in.
Trigger Pull Weight Double Action17.0 lbs.
Trigger Pull Weight Single Action7.0 lbs.
Trigger Span2.4 in.
Made InGermany

The Walther tested is a Mauser variant in good working condition. It isn’t like new and shows signs of use. The pistol was carefully checked, paying close attention to the locking wedge and safety operation. The P38 seemed to be in good condition. Modern handguns of all types used in competition have proven to need spring replacement, magazine replacement, and even extractors replaced after five to eight thousand rounds. So, we were willing to make allowances with an 80-year-old handgun that might need respringing, but as it turned out, the Walther functioned flawlessly. The two original magazines were easy enough to load. The magazine catch was secure, if the slowest to operate.

Takedown of the P38 is simple. Lock the slide to the rear with the slide lock. Be certain the magazine is removed and the chamber is empty. Rotate the takedown assembly and release the slide to allow the slide to run forward. The barrel wedge is bumped out of battery to allow the barrel assembly to be moved out. The recoil springs are on each side of the frame.

When firing fast combat drills, we used the double-action trigger at 7 yards. It is heavy, considerably heavier than what we are used to in modern SIG and Beretta handguns. In single-action fire, the 4.25-pound trigger pull was another matter. We liked this trigger and found combat firing results were excellent. The double-action first-shot trigger was unnecessarily heavy, we felt, but the single-action trigger was best of the test. Compared to the need to cock the Luger before firing and cock the hammer of the Radom before firing, the P38 had the advantage. In bench accuracy, the P38 was the most accurate handgun tested. With the SIG Sauer FMJ load, the P38 turned in one exceptional 2.0-inch group. This is an accurate handgun. Reliability was 100% with all loads, including the Remington Golden Saber JHP.

Note the P38’s high-profile sights.

Our Team Said: The P38 is well proven and perhaps underrated. The steel-frame Walther P38’s performance surprised most of the raters. The pistol handles well. The limiting factor is a heavy double-action trigger. However, many of the raters noted that the pistol handles better than the modern Beretta 92 as far as grip size and safety manipulation. A good, solid P38 that is proofed for function might be a life saver.

9mm Luger Range Data

Remington Golden Saber 124-grain JHPBrowning Hi-PowerLuger P-08Radom Viz 35Walther P38
Average Velocity1170 fps1152 fps1160 fps1127 fps
Muzzle Energy377 ft.-lbs.365 ft.-lbs.370 ft.-lbs.350 ft.-lbs.
Small Group3.0 in.2.7 in.4.0 in.2.3 in.
Average Group3.6 in.3.5 in.4.6 in.2.9 in.
SIG Sauer Elite 115-grain FMJBrowning Hi-PowerLuger P-08Radom Viz 35Walther P38
Average Velocity1154 fps1140 fps1166 fps1130 fps
Muzzle Energy340 ft.-lbs.332 ft.-lbs.347 ft.-lbs.326 ft.-lbs.
Small Group3.4 in.2.8 in.2.2 in.2.0 in.
Average Group3.7 in.3.5 in.2.9 in.2.5 in.
Handload 124-grain Hornady FMJ/TitegroupBrowning Hi-PowerLuger P-08Radom Viz 35Walther P38
Average Velocity1179 fps1170 fps1160 fps1144 fps
Muzzle Energy383 ft.-lbs.377 ft.-lbs.370 ft.-lbs.360 ft.-lbs.
Small Group3.0 in.1.9 in.2.7 in.2.1 in.
Average Group3.5 in.2.6 in.3.5 in.2.7 in.


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