Shooting Mystery is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

38 Super vs 38 Special: Which One Is the Better Choice?

38 Super vs 38 Special

Some classic cartridges still remain popular long after their introduction. Among them are the 38 Super and 38 Special.

I’ve used both for target shooting, personal defense, and small-game hunting!

If I were to stick with just one, which would it be?

The 38 Super is often used in magazine-fed pistols while the .38 Special is commonly employed in revolvers.

If you want to learn more about these cartridges, you’ve come to the right place!

Allow me to provide you with detailed specifications and characteristics of the .38 Super and .38 Special.

38 Super vs. 38 Special Overview

38 super and 38 special comparison with other bullets

First appearing in the late 1920s, the .38 Super retains the profile of the 38 ACP / Auto albeit with a higher pressure loading. 

Using the latest ammunition, the .38 ACP / Auto velocity can reach roughly 1,040 – 1,150 feet per second.

On the other hand, the .38 Super can push the velocity to around 1,215 – 1,450 feet per second.

That would’ve been strong enough to pierce through body armor and automobiles!

Introduced in 1898, the .38 Special was supposed to be a replacement for the military 38 Long Colt due to the latter’s inadequate stopping power in combat. 

It initially utilized black powder but the manufacturer promptly offered a smokeless loading within a year of its release.

Though its name is .38, the precise caliber of the 38 Special is .357. The “.38” is actually referring to the case approximate diameter.

Because of the round dimensions, revolvers chambered in .357 Magnum, .38 Short Colt, and .38 Long Colt can accept the .38 Special without any problems.

Not gonna lie, these types of guns make me feel like a cowboy when using them.

Overview of the Colt .38 Super

Colt .38 Super

» Best Price on OpticsPlanet «

  • Parent case: .38 ACP / Auto
  • Case type: Semi-rimmed or nearly rimless, straight
  • Case length: 0.900 Inch
  • Case capacity: 1.14 Cubic Centimeters
  • Overall length: 1.280 Inches
  • Bullet diameter: 0.356 Inch
  • Neck diameter: 0.384 Inch
  • Base diameter: 0.384 Inch
  • Rim diameter: 0.406 Inch
  • Rim thickness: 0.050 Inch
  • Maximum pressure: 36,500 Pounds per square inch

Overview of the .38 Smith & Wesson Special

.38 Smith _ Wesson Special

» Best Price on OpticsPlanet «
» Check Price on Cabelas «

  • Parent case: .38 Long Colt
  • Case type: Rimmed, straight
  • Case length: 1.155 Inches
  • Case capacity: 1.52 Cubic Centimeters
  • Overall length: 1.55 Inches
  • Bullet diameter: 0.357 Inch
  • Neck diameter: 0.379 Inch
  • Base diameter: 0.379 Inch
  • Rim diameter: 0.44 Inch
  • Rim thickness: 0.058 Inch
  • Maximum pressure: 22,000 Pounds per square inch

38 Super vs 38 Special: Comparison of Features



Due to the large case volume, the .38 Super packs a good amount of smokeless powder, resulting in a higher muzzle velocity.

As a whole, the .38 Super is considered to be a good, ALL-AROUND accurate round with high energy, nice accuracy, and a flat trajectory.

In fact, the .38 Super is one of the dominant calibers used in competitions hosted by IPSC.

With one hand on this kind of gun, I could well defend myself or win myself a medal.

Even I keep a gun chambered in .38 for personal defense!

Meanwhile, the .38 Special is often perceived as a low-pressure cartridge because of its original black powder loading.

Nowadays, its pressure is among the LOWEST at around 17,000 Pounds per square inch.

There is new 38 Special ammunition that can increase the muzzle energy but not all revolvers can use them.

The 38 Special +P with a 20,000 Pounds per square inch pressure load delivers a 20% rise in velocity.

If I want something stronger, the 38 Special +P+ with 22,000 Pounds per square inch pressure load can achieve a 1,100 Feet Per Second velocity. 

Again, make sure that your revolver, and your wrist, is able to handle them.

Attempting to fire these bullets in old or “P+” rated guns is greatly discouraged so be careful. I’d advise not even trying for your own safety.

Application and Interchangeability

Revolver chamber

As stated above, the .38 Super is usually found on pistols, while the .38 Special is mostly a revolver round.

However, there are indeed some semi-automatic pistols chambered in .38 Special on the market.

In terms of interchangeability, I’d advise NOT using the .38 Super on a 38 Special firearm and vice versa.

While the profile may fit, it’s dangerous to use certain ammunition on guns that they’re not designed for.

The difference in the cartridges’ pressure loads can easily lead to a variety of shooting failures.

Use the right round at all times!

When I was a newbie, my gun didn’t shoot bullets because I put in the wrong cartridge. I’m lucky no other serious problems came of it.

The shooting of incorrect ammunition will expose you and your gun to unnecessary risks. I wouldn’t do it if I were you.


Bullet casings

Having much more manageable recoil compared to the .45 ACP, the .38 Super is a favorite caliber for competitive shootings.

A combination of a lightweight bullet grain and compensator greatly REDUCES the recoil.

Thanks to that, I can deliver follow-up shots more accurately!

I can’t count how many times competitions have boiled down to who can handle their recoil better.

The restriction of military-grade cartridges like the .45 ACP in some regions also significantly enhances the popularity of the .38 Super.

Thanks to the introduction of the improved ammunition, the .38 Super can achieve some parity with later rounds such as the .357 SIG.

The .38 Special is well-liked by shooters that prefer hand-loaded ammunition over factory-loaded ones.

The excellent availability, straight wall, and ability to be fired through .357 Magnum firearms all add to the popularity of the .38 Special to handloaders.

The case of the 38 Special is capable of supporting a variety of powders from Hercules 2400 to Alliant Bullseye.

With plenty of powder choices, handloaders can customize the velocity and energy of the rounds to better match individual demands.

I personally like it because it allows me to recycle brass and reuse bullets.

As a last and final bonus, here’s a quick overview video comparing the two:

Frequently Asked Questions

Can You Shoot 38 Super in a 38 Special Revolver?

It is possible, but I WOULD NOT recommend it.

The two rounds are not interchangeable as 38 Super has a higher recoil and can hold more rounds.

The 38 Super and 38 Special are built for their own firearms, and interchanging them will only result in damage.

Which Round Is More Expensive?

The price can depend on various factors, but the 38 Super is harder to find, so it will likely come at a higher price.

Meanwhile, the 38 Special is more popular and common (both firearms and ammunition), so you will likely find them at affordable prices.


And that is most of what you should know about these cartridges, not too hard to take in, right?

The 38 Super vs. 38 Special’s qualities make it quite hard to decide which one is more suitable for you, especially when considering your shooting style and other preferences.

But I still hope that the information above has helped you have a better understanding of the cartridges.

Compare their characteristics to your preferences and you shall know what round you need.

FINAL TIP: If you’re interested in more reviews, I also have a comparison review about the 6.5 Creedmoor and 7mm-09 Remington.

About the author