38 Super Loads: We Like Buffalo Bore’s Jacketed HPs
In what some would consider to be a boutique round for self-defense, these loads performed really well, offering top-line accuracy, deep penetration in water, and excellent expansion.
The 38 Automatic Colt Pistol Super cartridge isn’t our most popular handgun cartridge, but in the loyalty of a small following it is unique. The 38 ACP Super must be understood as to its potential. All modern loads are marked 38 ACP Super +P, but all loads are in the same pressure range of safety demanded by the SAAMI, despite very different performance. Many are loaded below the potential of the cartridge. The 38 ACP, introduced in 1900, is no longer in regular production. This is because the original 38 ACP, introduced in 1899, was later upgraded to the powerful 38 ACP Super. Though the cartridge-case dimensions are identical, the Super is the much hotter cartridge. Modern SAAMI standards called for the 38 Super to be labeled 38 ACP Super +P, which is confusing. While some of the modern loads are hotter than others, all are safe for a 38 ACP Super handgun in good condition. The old double-link Colt 38 ACP self loaders should never be fired with Super loads. The 38 Super was once a handloading proposition for maximum performance. Using 9mm JHP bullets and sometimes heavy hard-cast 38 Special lead bullets, handloaders upgraded the 38 Super. The 115-grain JHP was jolted to 1400 fps or beyond. Today Cor-Bon, Buffalo Bore, and Double Tap offer high-performance loads rivaling some of the hotter handloads of yore. The 38 Super may be enjoying an upsurge in popularity as both Federal Cartridge Company and SIG Sauer have introduced new JHP loads for it. We were able to find 12 personal-defense loads and four FMJ loads. For all the testing, we fired the rounds out of a Rock Island Armory 1911, a reliable and affordable 38 Super launchpad. It’s a standard Government Model steel-frame pistol with 5-inch barrel.
First, we tested the full-metal-jacket loads for use in competition and general shooting. We recorded basic accuracy, velocity, and energy for these rounds, but as you’ll see in the accompanying table, their widths, weights, and penetration readings are all the same. The FMJs didn’t expand, didn’t shed weight, and shot through our water-jug lineup, putting them at +24 inches, penetration beyond what we recommend for self-defense.
The Fiocchi 129-grain FMJ proved to be the most accurate by a margin, with a clean burn and excellent overall performance. It is the Best Buy for accuracy and economy. The SIG Sauer 125-grain FMJ loading was close behind the Fiocchi loading, with little real difference other than price. While the Prvi Partizan 130-grain FMJ was less expensive, it did not burn as cleanly nor was it as accurate. The Winchester 130-grain FMJ was the most expensive, and it was middle of the pack in terms of performance. Accordingly, we’d rate the Fiocchi as an A, the SIG an A-, the Prvi Partizan a B, and the Winchester a B-.
We looked for what we always look for in personal-defense loads. This is reliability first, then accuracy, a clean powder burn, and a good balance of penetration and expansion. We prefer a load that penetrates and expands over a load that fragments. In the 38 Super, there were loads that penetrated well but also fragmented, and we had to give them a passing grade based on penetration. The full-power 38 Super is similar to the 357 Magnum with 110- to 125-grain bullets, but the Super is much more controllable and has less muzzle blast and recoil. Relatively small charges of fast-burning powder create less recoil energy than larger charges of slow-burning powder. Even the fastest loads did not create muzzle flash and blast as sometimes seen with the 357 Magnum. The 38 Super isn’t in the class with the 357 Magnum as far as heavy hunting loads, and the Magnum at its best will beat the 38 Super, but with factory defense loads, the two are comparable, with the 38 Super having the advantage in some cases. For your convenience, we have added the 357 Magnum results panel from earlier this year so you can compare the loads.
We were able to test three loads from Buffalo Bore. These included 115-, 124-, and 147-grain loads. All of these used the Hornady XTP bullet, a proven projectile for obtaining excellent penetration and expansion. These bullets were designed for the 9mm Luger, and things get interesting when the bullet is supercharged by 200 fps. As an example, one rater noted he was no enthusiast concerning the 147-grain load, but that was before it was tested. Here are the results round by round.