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What is .38 Special?

By 02/28/2019May 6th, 202438 SPL, Reviews

First introduced in 1898, the .38 Smith & Wesson Special was designed as an improvement over the government-issued .38 Long Colt, which had lackluster performance in combat. The .38 Special has enjoyed worldwide use ever since it was released and is one of today’s most popular self-defense cartridges.

The original loads for the .38 Special featured lead bullets and a charge of black powder, which is a very far cry from what is offered today by Steinel Ammunition. Despite the radical differences in bullet design, powder type, and intended end use, you could indeed load your own revolver with each type and fire them both interchangeably. The .38 Special has changed very little in the last 121 years in terms of physical dimensions.

The road from black powder and lead to purpose-made solid copper bullets like those used in the Snub Nose Pro crosses almost every significant historical event in the last century. The .38 Special did not have a major role in the First World War, but it did find a home in law enforcement circles in the 1920’s. The popularity it enjoyed with law enforcement carries on even today, where it is still used as a backup for many officers.

It was not until the Second World War that the .38 Special saw widespread acceptance and use. The ammunition used for combat in the war was underpowered by today’s standards, but it quickly saw improvements as a result of those experiences. This was the dawn of what would eventually become the popular ‘+P’ load type.

Steinel Ammo

The Snub Nose Pro from Steinel Ammunition is loaded to a higher pressure than standard .38 Special loads and should only be used in guns that have a +P rating. Most modern concealed carry revolvers are rated to +P limits. These include such popular guns as the Smith & Wesson 642 and variants and the Ruger LCR.

The journey to higher pressure .38 Special loads and greater bullet effectiveness culminated in the late 1960’s when the FBI introduced what is now called the ‘FBI Load’. This load featured a soft lead bullet similar in composition to the original .38 Special loads from the late 19th century. The idea behind this ammunition was to have a bullet that offered dramatic and rapid expansion from the short-barreled guns commonly used by law enforcement.

The FBI Load changed the way that people looked at the .38 Special. The round, while commonly available and in regular use, had a reputation for being anemic compared to cartridges like the .45 ACP, commonly fired from the 1911 Government pistol, and the .357 Magnum, which was itself something of a longer and improved .38 Special case.

While it was not capable of winning a speed challenge, the .38 Special +P with a soft, expanding bullet allowed the taming of small carry guns without sacrificing performance to other, larger calibers. The simple nature of a five-shot .38 is still very appealing today, and as a result we have options with advanced bullet technology like the Snub Nose Pro.

The Snub Nose Pro uses a solid copper projectile that offers mechanical expansion at just under 1,000 feet per second. The solid construction ensures reliable penetration in a self-defense or law enforcement scenario, but is specially designed to address the problems associated with overpenetration, which is a known problem in the .38 caliber family. The controlled expansion and solid construction ensure a bullet that will reliably open while not breaking apart.



Bullet construction was an important part of the design of the Snub Nose Pro, as it addresses a number of problems associated with not only the .38 Special, but the traditional jacketed bullets commonly used in it.

The issues faced by the .38 Special have usually been related to bullet construction and speed. Under some of the rules of warfare, expanding bullets are banned. This means that virtually all military .38 ammunition was fully jacketed. This was great for penetration at close range, but lacked terminal effectiveness due to low velocity and small bore diameter relative to other available handgun cartridges of the day. The poor reputation gained by the military .38 is long forgotten now, as its starring role has always been in the hands of civilians and police, who have almost always been able to use expanding projectiles.

The expanding projectiles have taken many forms over the years, but most were simply just compromises that made the best of either speed or expansion, often at the expense of bullet weight or construction. To have a heavy bullet that expands well, you must sacrifice speed, which in turn means your bullets need to be soft enough to expand at low velocity. If you have a fast bullet, you generally lose mass, which means that there is less retained energy and penetration.

Steinel 38 SPL

Steinel took these problems and addressed them with a fast, long-shanked copper solid that is both tough and fast, thus making it the best of both worlds in terms of speed and expansion. The modern .38 Special enthusiast has it all as a result. Just a few years ago the best ammunition available was still a compromise in terms of bullet type, but technology has marched on. The Snub Nose Pro is the most advanced, purpose-made .38 self-defense round on the market today.

The .38 Special has enjoyed a long and storied history that is woven into the American story. There are only a handful of rounds that have survived as long and have been relevant the entire time. The revolver is one of the most trusted and reliable weapons designed by man. The first revolver designs are nearly 200 years old and they show no signs of being less popular now as they were then.


About Steinel Ammunition Co.
We Make Hard Hitting and Hard-To-Find Premium Ammo For Discerning Shooters.
Finding ammunition that is painstakingly developed and meticulously tested is hard to find. When you use Steinel handgun or rifle ammo, you can be sure that countless hours of research, testing, and dedication have gone into every round to provide you with optimal performance.

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