Tuesday, February 06, 2024

Three-Eighty or Thiry-Eight?

L., S&W Model 60 Chief; R., SIG P238

 .38 Special versus .380 ACP.

Out of a full-sized sidearm, the .38 Special is the more effective round. The bullets are generally heavier than those of a .380 ACP, they are a little slower, but hit harder. 

It depends on the ammunition, of course. A hot .380 ACP round will keep up with a so-so .38 Special loading, but out of a service firearm, the .38 Special is, all things being equal, a more effective bullet. Recoil is not heavy in either round.

Overall, the average foot-pounds delivered are higher for the .38 Special than the .380 ACP, about forty to fifty f/p more per bullet.

When the guns used are short-barreled hideaways? The differences in punch and accuracy are not as great. The velocities drop in both calibers with snub-nose revolvers and pistols, they tend to be subsonic, and expansion of hollow-point ammo is iffy in both. They penetrate to about the same distances in ballistic gel. Neither is a rhino-stopper.

However, there are other factors to consider. Generally, pocket .380 ACP pistols have longer barrels than J-frame revolvers. Better sights on many of them, which offer a bit better accuracy. 

J-frames typically hold five rounds, and .380 ACP pocket pistols hold seven or eight cartridges. So a .38 Special might throw a total of 1250 f/p downrange with a cylinder’s worth; a .380 with one in the pipe and seven in the magazine will total 1520 f/p.

There is something to be said for eight instead of five.

Revolvers are mechanically easier to operate and less likely to malfunction than semi-automatic pistols, though with the proper load, that might not be a factor.

Concealability? The pistols have the edge. They tend to be shorter overall, and the cylinder of a revolver is thicker than any of the smaller pistols. Reloads are faster, though, again, most gunfights are over before either runs out of ammo.

I have carried both kinds. I am comfortable with either, though the revolver is harder to hide. My choice will usually depend on clothing I’d be wearing. A jacket, any belt-holster handgun is fine. T-shirt and shorts? The small pistol (or mousegun revolver -- the .22 Magnum Pug, say) -- is all that can be easily hidden.

I do like having those extra three shots as an option.