Q. I inherited a .38 Special S&W Model 10 that my dad bought for home defense back in the mid-1960s. I’ve used it as my home-defense gun, but I’m wondering if I should trade it in for the more powerful 9mm semi-auto that our local police carry. Is the .38 Special obsolete?

– Steve Redding, Fort Smith, AR


.38 Special

The .38 Special has evolved quite a bit over the last 50 years. The Remington 130-grain ball load was the defensive round of choice the Air Force and “Tunnel Rats” during the Vietnam War. It’s still a good practice load, but today, we have more effective +P loads, such as (left to right) the Federal 158-grain SWCHP, 129-grain Federal Hydra-Shok, 110-grain Cor-Bon DPX and Winchester 130-grain PDX-1.


A. Not exactly. Law enforcement agencies began switching to 9mm semi-autos back in the early 1970s as gangs and drug dealers began to increasingly use high-capacity firearms. In addition, a 9mm +P load does deliver about 36 percent more energy than a .38 Special +P when both are fired from a 4-inch barrel. When a friend asks my advice for personal protection, I often suggest a 9mm, as long as he is willing to practice enough to master the more complex manual of arms required to use a semi-auto.

On the other hand, a large number of .38 Special revolvers are sold every year. They are easy to operate, have a good record on the street when loaded with +P JHP ammunition and can be used with speedloaders. Small-frame .38s are also very good for concealed carry.


So for many people, the .38 Special is definitely not obsolete. If you live in a relatively quiet neighborhood or find that operating a semi-auto is a bit too complicated, the .38 Special may be as good a choice for you as it was for your father.

Dr. Martin D. Topper



One thought on “Is .38 SPECIAL OBSOLETE?

  1. I myself like the .38special and the .38+p , I believe them to be a very good self defense round. I reload my own rounds in the .38special I use a 158 gr. swc , in front of 2.5 grs. Bullseye powder which gives me about 650 Fps , enough to put the hurt on someone if need be . In the .38+p I use the same swc with a hotter 4.5 grs. Of bullseye which is above the factory spec but I only shoot these in a Ruger Gp-100 , this load is closer to .38+p+ or lower end .357 magnum loads , also I load my .38 special loads in yellow brass and the hotter loads in nickel brass so there is no mix up.I carry a Charter Arms .38 undercover for my ccw , in this I load Federal .38special 110gr. Hydra-shocks , and a speed strip of the same in the pocket , when I worked as a Deputy I carried either an auto or a revolver so I am accustomed to both . I think the big deal about autos Versis revolvers goes back to gun snobs that work at gun magizines that push people to buy autos due to the fact of the amount of advertising dollars spent by the gun manufacturers in these magizines . Be prepared and ready. Keep your powder dry.

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