Special

Topic

Handloading

This page was first published online 2-23-2012
This page was updated 5-22-2013
(Note: On this page, as throughout this website, the term "38 Super" refers to the 38 Super +P cartridge.)

Bullets. We love 'em, don't we? This sport is all about sending bullets downrange and on target. There are many different bullet designs available, and they continue to evolve, providing us with an ever-increasing selection of high performance projectiles. No matter what your goal, there is a bullet, or several, that will suit your needs.

One unfortunate fact about the 38 Super is that there is a limited selection of bullets available in factory ammunition compared to many other pistol cartridges. However, handloaders have a broad selection of bullets to choose from, and this is where the 38 Super really shines. With proper bullet and powder selection, the 38 Super is a superbly accurate and versatile cartridge.

Bullets for the 38 Super

Factory 38 Super ammunition is loaded with both .355 and .356 inch diameter bullets. Handloaders can choose either, and also .357 and .358 inch bullets for the Super. This is explained in more detail on the .355 vs .356 page, but in summary, the larger bullets work fine in the Super and some barrel manufacturers suggest using bullets with a diameter that is .001 to .002 inches larger than the barrels's groove diameter for best accuracy. Hornady lists .357 inch diameter bullets in their manual for the 38 Super in addition to their .355 and .356 product line. In short, handloaders have lots of bullets to choose from.

The traditional bullet weight for the 38 Super is 130 grains, but it is loaded with bullets from 115 to 147 grains (see Factory Ammunition page), and specialty loads like the offerings from CORBON expand the range even more. But anything of the 9mm/38 caliber realm will do, including 38 caliber revolver bullets. This gives a range of weights from 75 grain (Sinterfire's 380 Automatic bullet) to heavyweights up to 180 grains for revolvers. The figure below shows examples of bullets that can be loaded in the 38 Super.

Numbers indicate weight in grains. FMJ = full metal jacket; FNEB = flat nose encapsulated base; FP = flat point; GDHP = Gold Dot hollow point; GS = Golden Saber; HAP = Hornady Action Pistol; HP = hollow point; IFP = international full profile; JHP = jacketed hollow point; SJHP = semi-jacketed hollow point; SWC = semi-wadcutter; TMJ = total metal jacket (plated); XTP = extreme terminal performance.

380 Automatic bullets are often sized .356. They are light weight, but with appropriate powder charges they offer reduced recoil and can be quite speedy. Because of their low weight, there might be issues with producing enough recoil impulse to cycle the gun with the standard recoil spring. Using a lighter spring or a slower burning gunpowder that will produce more recoil impule (see Recoil) might be required.

Some revolver bullets might not be a good choice for use in semi-automatic pistols from the viewpoint of reliability. Some of the revolver bullets have a portion of soft lead exposed, such as the Remington 125 grain SJHP shown above. This exposed lead can cause feeding malfunctions. I've tried these bullets and my pistols don't feed them reliably. Soft lead has a high friction coefficient and they don't always slide along the feed ramp very well. Hard bullets, like jacketed and cast bullets usually feed best.

Information about bullet design and construction and how they affect feeding reliability can be found in the bullet design article.

Accuracy

Accuracy varies and some guns will shoot anything. Some bullet designs tend to be more inherently accurate than others. Flat nosed and hollow point bullets sometimes score better in the accuracy department than round nose bullets. One often cited reason for this is that the center of weight distribution is moved further to the rear of the bullet and this allows for more stable flight. But many folks get superb accuracy with round nose bullets, and so have I. Accuracy is a function of multiple factors and ultimately you have to test the loads in your gun to find out what it likes.

Longer bullets might also have an accuracy edge, all else being equal. The reasoning is that the longer bearing surface (region in contact with the bore) results in better stability. Again, testing is required.

 

Updates

1-10-2013 Added nose shape and feeding reliability sections.

5-22-2013 Moved sections to the Bullet Design and Feeding Reliability page.

Questions, comments, suggestions, hate mail? Feel free to email me. However, the probability of getting a response is low simply because I have a day job and a life and don't have the time to respond to all emails. It's nothing personal, really. Nevertheless, I do appreciate your thoughts. If you see an obvious error then please put the word ERROR in the title of your email. Thanks, and happy shooting.
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