The best 38 Special ammo for self-defense

Despite the fact that the majority of CCW holders carry a small 9mm pistol for self defense, 38 Special is still popular. But picking a 38 round for concealed carry or self defense is a little more complicated than you’d think. So we’re here to help you figure out what is the best 38 Special ammo for self-defense.

What are you packing?

The first part of finding the best 38 Special ammo for self-defense is to answer a simple question: what kind of gun are you carrying? Because that’s going to affect your choice pretty significantly. Out of smaller guns, like J-frames and LCRs, most modern jacketed hollow-point rounds aren’t going to have sufficient velocity to expand, so they’ll hit and act like an FMJ, but with more recoil and muzzle flash. However, out of full size guns with around 4-ish or greater barrels, 38 Special +P rounds can come alive.

I have a big gun like a big boy

Other than being a degenerate revolver enthusiast like me, I can’t imagine a reason someone would carry a 4-inch revolver as their primary in 2021. But hey, there’s probably that one guy, and he deserves to know what the best 38 Special ammo for self-defense is out of his gun. In this case, a modern JHP design like the Speer Gold Dot 135 grain +P or the Federal HST Micro will work great. In independent testing, both of those projectiles showed sufficient penetration and expansion out of full size revolvers. Another great choice is the old school load known as the “FBI load.” This is a 158 grain lead semi-wadcutter hollow-point that makes about 900 FPS. Out of 3 and 4 inch guns, this round gives great expansion and penetration; while it won’t go through auto glass or defeat other intermediate barriers like a modern JHP, it will certainly get the job done.

I like small guns and I cannot lie

If we face facts, the vast majority of people who care about the best 38 Special ammo for self-defense are carrying small guns. For those guns, I toss JHP and any +P round in the trash, because the simple physics say that it’s not going to do anything. Out of those tiny little guns, the JHP won’t expand, so you’re just getting extra recoil and noise for no ballistic benefit. The absolute most important thing you do with a fixed sight small revolver is find a load that hits to where the sights are regulated. Maybe that’s 158 grain lead round nose, maybe it’s 130 grain FMJ. Hopefully, it’s what the experts recommend: 148 grain lead full wadcutters. This target projectile shoots straight to the sights on most little guns, and because it’s loaded light won’t beat up shooters with recoil. Plus, it will shoot clean through 4 layer denim and penetrate like 16 inches. If your primary goal is to get rounds on target, 148 grain lead full wadcutters are your round of choice.

The ammo crisis

Unfortunately in 2021 ammo is still rough to find, and 38 Special is especially hard to find. Getting your hands on any of the rounds listed likely means scouring Gunbroker and paying scalper’s prices for them. Still, if you’re picking a bullet to bet your life on, isn’t that worth it?

Caleb Giddings
Caleb Giddings is a scotch enthusiast with a writing problem, which is apparently common for writers. He also shoots some guns or something, and is a Master Class shooter in IDPA and NRA Action Pistol. You should definitely follow him on instagram