I started with revolvers in the 1960s and especially enjoy and still carry .38 Specials.
An offshoot of the .38 Long Colt, the .38 Special has been “special” since 1898 and remains so today. I’m always eager to look at any kind of offerings for .38 Special revolvers.
Gun Talk gave me a chance to range-test two defensive .38 Special loads for comparison. First was a Black Hills Ammunition New Pistol round in 125-grain JHP (jacketed hollow point) +P. Second was the HSM 158-grain JHP-UHP.
Black Hills is out of Rapid City, SD, and I’ve shot its offerings in several calibers. For .38 Special, the company has loadings in New Pistol, Authentic Cowboy Action, and HoneyBadger configurations.
HSM is out of Stevensville, MT, and offers a wide range of ammo in pistol, revolver and rifle calibers, as does Black Hills. HSM’s 10 choices of 50-per-box .38 Specials run from 110-grain to 158-grain in frangible, self-defense, training and cowboy action rounds. There are four loadings for 158 grain.
For testing, I went to my Model 10 Smith & Wesson, bought new in 1970, and shot two-handed single-action, sending five rounds of each loading downrange at 21 feet. The 10 has a four-inch barrel and weighs 34.2 ounces.
Two starter rounds were Black Hills 148-grain Match HBWC (hollow base wadcutter). I ran an evaluation on that excellent target round in my Aug. 24, 2022 Gun Talk Black Hills Ammo in Three .38 Specials | Gun Talk Media.
The Black Hills 125-grain load specs call for 1,050 feet per second (fps) and 306 foot pounds at the muzzle. The ammo comes in 50-round boxes. The HSM 158-grain advertises 875 fps and 269 foot pounds. Both rounds are hard-hitting defensive loads. Recoil management in the Model 10 is easy.
I put all 10 rounds on one target with four of the HSMs falling within two inches just below center (blue marks on the target), and one flyer, operator error no doubt, to the lower left. All five of the New Pistol rounds (red marks) grouped at 1 5/8 inches lower center on the target, to be expected with a lighter bullet.
When I checked online availability and pricing, I could not find the HSM ammo I tested. For the Black Hills New Pistol I used, one vendor listed a box of 50 at $39.49, but Out of Stock. Another vendor showed the same message.
Looks as though the ammo shortage for some calibers and brands continues. Perhaps the .38 Special indeed is “special” in some loadings, providing another reason to stockpile a particular load when one can find it.
My range visit showed both the HSM and Black Hills defensive rounds to be good performers and worthy of carry. Availability of ammo for regular practice is a must, but more often than not, quality training and range ammo in many calibers is available and at a good price. There is good availability of .38 Special defensive rounds in several brands.
Know where your defensive round prints on target, especially if your firearm does not have adjustable sights.
Fortunately, using more expensive, and sometimes hard-to-find, defensive ammo regularly is not a must to Stay safe, be prepared. ~ Mike
Mike now calls Northwestern Arkansas home, but has lived and worked in several states and internationally. He has been an independent contractor and consultant since 2006 specializing in risk management, emergency management and training. In addition to work as a law-enforcement planner and technical writer with the Boise, Idaho, Police Department, he has experience in journalism, crop and animal agriculture, dryland farming for 20 years in western Kansas, plant and animal diseases, pandemic influenza, agroterrorism, bioterrorism, food safety and healthcare marketing.
He has a journalism degree from the University of Missouri and has newspaper and agency writing and editing experience. At Washington State University in Pullman, he earned a master’s degree emphasizing adult education and communications.
While living in Lander, WY, Mike provided photographic coverage of the One-Shot Antelope Hunt for three years, and got to meet and accompany folks such as Chuck Yeager, Carroll Shelby, Buzz Aldrin, Dale Robertson and Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf on their hunts. He also worked as an outfitter’s guide.