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The .38 Super packs a punch

September 26, 2009
By Kenneth Cobb

The .38 Super Automatic, introduced in 1929, was an improved version of the 38 Automatic or .38 ACP. The dimensions of this cartridge are identical to the older .38 ACP but loaded to higher pressures. The original loading of the Super was a 130-grain full-metal jacketed bullet with a velocity of 1,280 feet-per-second, from a pistol with a 5-inch barrel. The first pistol chambered for this cartridge was the Colt Government M1911.

For several years, Colt was the only American handgun manufacturer that chambered a pistol for this cartridge, but there were some European semiautomatics chambered for this round. At one time, the Thompson submachine gun was also chambered for the .38 Super. While the .38 ACP and the .38 Super are the same size, it is potentially dangerous to fire .38 Super ammunition in any firearm chambered for the .38 ACP. When in doubt, it is best not to fire suspicious cartridges at all.

In 1974, the ammunition industry added the +P headstamp to the .38 Super casing to distinguish it from the lower pressure .38 ACP. Currently, most ammunition manufacturers label the .38 Super Ammo as .38 Super +P. The cartridge, designed for the Colt M1911 semi-auto pistol, was capable of penetrating automobile bodies, at that time. One of the best features of the .38 Super is the fact that it is easier to shoot than the .45 ACP. The recoil is light, even though the muzzle blast is loud.

One problem with the model M1911 is the GI sights. While they are precise when properly lined up, they are too small for rapid firing. For shooters wearing bifocal or trifocal glasses, this can be a problem.

The .38 Super would be a good round for hunting small game, varmints and wild turkey in this area, using hollow point bullets. The ballistics is superior to such cartridges as the .380 Automatic, 9mm Parabellum and the popular .38 Special. In terms of muzzle energy using a barrel of equal length, the .38 Super will give the .357 Magnum a run for its money.

Today Colt, Kimber and Springfield produce good M1911's in .38 Super. These pistols however are difficult to obtain and are expensive.

Some people may ask, "why the .38 Super?" Simple: The high-speed jacketed bullets of the Super will cut through sheet metal much better than the 9mm Luger or the standard loadings the .45 ACP. The .38 Super has never achieved a reputation for accuracy as a target pistol. Skilled gunsmiths have customized .38 Super handguns, so the cartridge headspaces on the case mouth (like the .45 ACP) instead of the small rim at the rear of the casing. This has resulted in a big improvement in the accuracy of this cartridge.

While it is unlawful to hunt black bear, deer and wild boar in West Virginia with a pistol chambered for the .38 Super, I think that it would be an excellent cartridge for hunting groundhogs and wild turkey. It would also be good for coyotes and foxes if a hunter could get close enough to these varmints. The factory-loaded, 115-grain, jacketed hollow point leaves the muzzle at 1,300 feet-per-second, packing well over 400 pounds of energy.

While this cartridge never achieved the popularity of the 9mm Luger, .38 Special, or the .357 Magnum, it is still one good pistol cartridge. I remember reading in "Guns and Ammo" magazine years ago where a gun writer rated the .38 Super as one of the 10 most underrated cartridges manufactured in America.

Below are two handloads for the .38 Super that would be good for hunting and home defense:

1. Case - Remington

Primer - CCI 500 (Small Pistol)

Bullet - Sierra 100-grain Jacketed Hollow Point

Powder & Weight - Unique; 6.5 grains

2. Case - Winchester

Primer - CCI 500 (Small Pistol)

Bullet - Speer 115-grain Jacketed Hollow Point

Powder & Weight - IMR SR-4756; 8.5 grains



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