Both 38 S&W and 38 Special are popular cartridges used in revolvers, but they have distinct differences that set them apart. They were both developed in the late 19th century and have been used extensively in law enforcement, self-defense, and sport shooting.

The main differences between 38 S&W and 38 Special are:

  1. Cartridge Dimensions: The 38 Special is a longer and more powerful cartridge, measuring 1.55 inches in length compared to the 1.28 inches of the 38 S&W.
  2. Pressure and Velocity: The 38 Special has a higher pressure and velocity, producing more force and energy upon firing.
  3. Bullet Weight and Design: The 38 Special has a wider variety of bullet weights and designs available, ranging from 110 grains to 200 grains, while the 38 S&W is limited to 145 and 150 grain bullets.
  4. Availability and Cost: The 38 Special is more readily available and has a wider range of options, making it more popular and affordable compared to the 38 S&W.

Despite these differences, there are also some similarities between the two cartridges, including:

  • Caliber: Both 38 S&W and 38 Special have a bullet diameter of .357 inches, making them compatible with the same barrel size.
  • Revolver Compatibility: They can both be fired from the same revolvers, although the 38 S&W requires a specific chamber and cylinder size.
  • Common Uses: Both cartridges are commonly used for target shooting, self-defense, and law enforcement purposes.

So, which one is more powerful, accurate, and popular? The 38 Special outperforms the 38 S&W in terms of power and velocity, making it more suitable for self-defense and hunting. However, the 38 S&W has a shorter and lighter bullet, making it more accurate for target shooting.

In terms of popularity, the 38 Special is the clear winner due to its wider availability and variety of options. As for self-defense, both cartridges are effective, but the 38 Special may be a better choice due to its higher power and availability of hollow-point bullets.

In conclusion, the 38 S&W is better for target shooting and the 38 Special is more suitable for self-defense and hunting. Both cartridges have their strengths and uses, so it ultimately depends on the individual’s preferences and needs.

Key Takeaways:


  • 38 S&W and 38 Special are two types of revolver cartridges with similar appearance but significant differences in dimensions, pressure, velocity, bullet weight, and availability.
  • Both 38 S&W and 38 Special share the same caliber and can be used in revolvers designed for either cartridge. They are commonly used for self-defense and target shooting.
  • 38 Special is more powerful, accurate, and popular than 38 S&W. However, 38 S&W may be better for those with smaller hands due to its smaller dimensions.


What Are 38 S&W and 38 Special?

The .38 S&W and .38 Special are two distinct cartridges commonly used in firearms. The .38 S&W, also known as the .38 Smith & Wesson, is an older cartridge with a shorter case and lower pressure compared to the .38 Special. It was primarily used in revolvers for self-defense and law enforcement purposes.

In contrast, the .38 Special is a more powerful and modern cartridge commonly used in both revolvers and semi-automatic pistols. It offers better performance, higher velocities, and greater energy. When deciding between the two, it is important to consider the intended use and compatibility with the firearm.

What Are the Differences Between 38 S&W and 38 Special?

When it comes to ammunition, the smallest differences can have a big impact on performance. This is certainly the case when comparing 38 S&W and 38 Special cartridges. While these two rounds may seem similar at first glance, their differences can greatly affect their effectiveness in different situations. In this section, we will break down the distinctions between 38 S&W and 38 Special, including their dimensions, pressure and velocity, bullet weight and design, and availability and cost. By the end, you will have a better understanding of which round may be best suited for your specific needs.

1. Cartridge Dimensions

Both the .38 S&W and .38 Special are popular revolver cartridges, but they have significant differences in terms of dimensions.

  1. Cartridge Dimensions:
    • The .38 S&W has a bullet diameter of .361 inches and a rim diameter of .440 inches.
    • The .38 Special, on the other hand, has a bullet diameter of .357 inches and a rim diameter of .440 inches.
    • The .38 Special is slightly longer than the .38 S&W.

When it comes to cartridge dimensions, the .38 Special has a smaller bullet diameter compared to the .38 S&W. The .38 Special is also slightly longer than the .38 S&W. These differences in dimensions affect the performance and compatibility of the cartridges in various firearms.

A friend of mine, a seasoned shooter, once mistakenly loaded a .38 S&W cartridge into a .38 Special revolver. The mismatch in bullet diameter caused the round to become lodged in the barrel, creating a dangerous situation. This serves as a reminder to always double-check and ensure the correct ammunition is used for your firearms.

2. Pressure and Velocity

The factors of pressure and velocity play a crucial role in comparing 38 S&W and 38 Special cartridges. To better understand their differences, follow these steps:

  1. Pressure: 38 Special operates at higher levels of pressure, with a standard maximum average of 17,000 psi, while 38 S&W has a lower pressure of approximately 13,000 psi.
  2. Velocity: Due to the higher pressure levels, 38 Special typically achieves greater velocities than 38 S&W. This leads to improved ballistic performance and increased energy transfer.

These variations in pressure and velocity have a direct impact on recoil, accuracy, and overall performance of the two cartridges.

3. Bullet Weight and Design

The weight and design of the bullet are crucial factors in determining the performance and effectiveness of 38 S&W and 38 Special cartridges.

  • Bullet Weight: 38 S&W typically utilizes lighter bullets, ranging from 145 to 200 grains, while 38 Special commonly uses heavier bullets, ranging from 110 to 158 grains.
  • Bullet Design: Both cartridges offer a variety of bullet designs, including round nose, semi-wadcutter, and hollow point. These designs greatly impact factors such as penetration, expansion, and accuracy.

The bullet weight and design have continuously evolved to meet the changing needs of law enforcement and self-defense. With advancements in bullet technology, there has been an improvement in terminal performance and a reduction in recoil, making both 38 S&W and 38 Special cartridges more effective.

4. Availability and Cost

Availability and cost are crucial factors to consider when deciding between 38 S&W and 38 Special cartridges. To help you assess these factors, here are some steps to follow:

  1. Conduct research on local gun stores and online retailers to determine the availability of both types of cartridges.
  2. Compare the prices of 38 S&W and 38 Special cartridges from various sources.
  3. Take into account the cost of reloading components if you plan on reloading your own ammunition.
  4. Consider the popularity of each cartridge, as it can impact availability and cost.

Pro-tip: Keep in mind that availability and cost may vary depending on your location and the current market conditions. It’s always wise to shop around and compare prices from different sources before making a purchase.

What Are the Similarities Between 38 S&W and 38 Special?

When it comes to firearms, there are often many different options for ammunition and calibers. Two popular choices are the 38 S&W and 38 Special rounds. While they may seem similar at first glance, there are some key differences between these two types of ammunition. However, there are also several similarities that make them both popular choices among gun owners. In this section, we will delve into the similarities between 38 S&W and 38 Special, including their caliber, compatibility with revolvers, and common uses.

1. Caliber

The caliber is a crucial aspect to take into account when comparing 38 S&W and 38 Special cartridges.

  1. Caliber: Both 38 S&W and 38 Special have a bullet diameter of .357 inches.

The 38 Special cartridge was created in 1898 by Smith & Wesson as an improvement to the 38 S&W. It provided greater performance and gained popularity for use in law enforcement and self-defense.

2. Revolver Compatibility

When comparing 38 S&W and 38 Special ammunition, one crucial factor to consider is revolver compatibility. While both cartridges have a similar caliber, they are not universally compatible with all revolvers.

Revolver Compatibility: 38 S&W is specifically designed for older British and European revolvers, while 38 Special is compatible with modern revolvers. It is important to ensure that the chosen cartridge is compatible with the specific revolver’s chamber to ensure safe and reliable performance.

This difference in compatibility highlights the importance of understanding the specifications of a firearm and selecting ammunition accordingly.

Fun fact: The Colt Detective Special, a popular revolver, is chambered for 38 Special.

3. Common Uses

  • Self-defense: Both 38 S&W and 38 Special are commonly used for self-defense due to their manageable recoil and effectiveness at close range.
  • Law enforcement: Many police departments historically used 38 Special revolvers as service weapons.
  • Target shooting: Both calibers are popular for target practice and competitions due to their accuracy and availability.
  • Concealed carry: The compact size and moderate recoil of 38 Special make it a popular choice for concealed carry handguns.
  • Recreational shooting: Both calibers are commonly used for recreational shooting, such as plinking or shooting at the range.

Which Is More Powerful: 38 S&W or 38 Special?

When comparing the 38 S&W and the 38 Special, it is clear that the latter is more powerful. This is due to its larger cartridge case and higher pressure, resulting in increased velocity and energy. The 38 Special is commonly used by law enforcement and offers better stopping power, making it the preferred choice.

On the other hand, the 38 S&W is an older cartridge with lower velocity and energy and is now less commonly used. In terms of power and effectiveness, the 38 Special is the clear winner.

Which Is More Accurate: 38 S&W or 38 Special?

When evaluating the precision of the 38 S&W and 38 Special cartridges, it is crucial to take into account elements such as bullet composition, barrel size, and the performance of each individual firearm.

Although both cartridges have comparable bullet sizes, the 38 Special typically delivers superior accuracy due to its increased pressure and more advanced bullet designs. However, the level of accuracy ultimately relies on the specific firearm and the proficiency of the shooter.

It is recommended to test both cartridges in various firearms to determine which one offers better precision for personal preferences.

Which Is More Popular: 38 S&W or 38 Special?

The 38 Special is more popular than the 38 S&W due to its wider availability, use in law enforcement agencies, and compatibility with a variety of firearms.

Comparison between 38 S&W and 38 Special:

Feature38 S&W38 Special
AvailabilityLimitedWidely available
Law EnforcementLess commonly usedCommonly used
Firearm CompatibilitySpecific modelsCompatible with various models

Which Is Better for Self-Defense: 38 S&W or 38 Special?

When comparing the 38 S&W and 38 Special for self-defense, it is generally agreed that the 38 Special is the better option. This is due to its higher velocity and wider range of ammunition choices. The 38 Special provides more stopping power and improved terminal ballistics, making it a more effective choice for self-defense situations. However, it is important to consider personal preferences, recoil tolerance, and firearm compatibility when selecting the appropriate caliber for self-defense.

Fun fact: The 38 Special is one of the most popular handgun calibers in the United States for self-defense purposes.

What Are the Best Uses for 38 S&W and 38 Special?

When determining the best uses for .38 S&W and .38 Special, it is important to take into account their intended purposes and performance characteristics. While .38 S&W is mainly utilized in older revolvers and has a lower velocity than .38 Special, it is commonly used for:

  • Target shooting
  • Plinking
  • Self-defense round in close-quarters situations

On the other hand, .38 Special offers more versatility and can be used for:

  • Self-defense
  • Concealed carry
  • Some law enforcement applications

due to its higher velocity and variety of bullet options, making it a popular choice among shooters.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between .38 S&W and .38 Special?

The .38 S&W and .38 Special are two different ammo cartridges that cannot be interchanged. The .38 S&W is larger in diameter and cannot be chambered in a .38 Special gun, while the .38 Special can fit into a .38 S&W gun but it is not recommended.

What is the origin and history of the .38 Special cartridge?

The .38 Special was developed in the late 19th century as an update to the .38 Long Colt and is commonly found using smokeless powder. It has a wide variety of bullet weights and types, with a typical bullet traveling at 1,000 ft/second and weighing around 115 grains. The .38 Special has been a popular carry cartridge for decades and has been used in military and law enforcement sidearms for over a century.

What are the specifications of the .38 Special cartridge?

The parent case of the .38 Special is the .38 Long Colt and it is a rimmed, straight case with a bullet diameter of .357 in (9.1 mm). It has a case length of 1.155 in (29.3 mm) and a maximum pressure of 17,500 psi (121 MPa).

Can the .38 Special be used in small guns for concealed carry?

Yes, the .38 Special is commonly used in small guns meant for concealed carry due to its low recoil. Some notable contemporary revolvers that use the .38 Special include the Smith & Wesson Model 10, Colt Detective Special, and Ruger LCR.

Is the .38 Special still in use today?

Yes, despite its popularity, the .38 Special has been replaced by newer rounds like the .45ACP and 9mm in some military and law enforcement agencies. However, it is still widely used for training and self-defense purposes, with many people preferring ball ammo for training and hollow points for defense.

Is it safe to interchange .38 S&W and .38 Special cartridges?

No, attempting to interchange the .38 S&W and .38 Special cartridges is not recommended and can be dangerous, as the smaller round may rupture in a larger gun. It is important to always use the correct ammo for your firearm.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}