The .38 Super was introduced in the 1911 handgun in 1929 to arm peace officers with a hard-hitting handgun that offered good penetration against the new breed of mechanized thug. The .38 Super saw extensive use in the hands of the FBI and figured into the demise of dangerous fugitives such as Baby Face Nelson. The .38 Super is dimensionally identical to the .38 ACP of 1900.
The .38 ACP fired a 130-grain bullet at 1,100 fps. The .38 Super was a sensation, noted for its high velocity of 1,300 fps and nine fast shots. Colt upped the power of the cartridge but used the same length cartridge case and chambered the .38 Super in the 1911 when it dropped production of the .38 ACP pistols. At the time, you had to know not to fire a .38 Super in older Colt 1903 pistols.
|Federal American Eagle 115-grain JHP||1,190 fps|
|SIG Sauer Elite 125-grain V Crown||1,211 fps|
|Double Tap 115-grain JHP||1,419 fps|
|Double Tap 115-grain TAC||1,366 fps|
|Double Tap 125-grain JHP||1,402 fps|
The effectiveness of the .38 Super cannot be argued. The penetration of the cartridge and reliability of the 1911 gave law officers a great advantage. However, the .38 Super suffered in popularity after the introduction of the .357 Magnum. In those days, the lawmen were revolver men. The question is this. Is the .38 Super a viable personal defense and tactical combination today?
The answer would be yes. By any standard, the .38 Super cartridge and the Super .38 handgun are excellent defensive or tactical choices. Ammunition development continues. Federal Cartridge recently introduced a 115-grain JHP load in the American Eagle Line, and Double Tap ammunition offers excellent tactical grade loads. SIG Sauer has also introduced a new .38 Super load.
The Super .38
The 1911 is a good home for the .38 Super. The 1911 features straight-to-the-rear trigger compression, a low bore axis, a grip that fits most hands well, and excellent speed into action. There is no pistol faster to an accurate first shot than a 1911 handgun properly carried cocked and locked. The .38 Super is an easier cartridge to master than the .45. The .38 Super has two more rounds of magazine capacity. The platform allows good control for those who practice.
Long-range practical shooting is possible with the 1911/.38 Super format. Rock Island Armory offers a GI type 1911 chambered in .38 Super. The pistol is well finished, offers a smooth trigger compression at 5.5 pounds, and the safety is well fitted. The beavertail grip safety releases its grip on the trigger midway into compression.
Federal offers a 115-grain JHP in the American Eagle line that breaks almost 1,200 fps. This is a good practice load and is just a bit hotter than most 9mm loads. The SIG Sauer Elite 125-grain V Crown JHP breaks just over 1,200 fps. Either is a good defense load for most situations.
For loads mimicking the .357 Magnum, consider this: The .38 Super uses relatively fast-burning powder that produces less recoil energy than the slow-burning powder used in the .357 Magnum. The recoil spring captures much of the recoil energy as well.
There are loads available that maximize the caliber. If you wish a rapidly expanding load for use in an urban situation the Double Tap 115-grain Controlled Expansion JHP offers that option. For those preferring an all-copper bullet, the Barnes TAC XP load is an option with greater penetration.
|9mm Luger Federal 124-grain HST||1,160 fps||333 ft lbs.|
|9mm Luger Federal 115-grain +P+ LEO||1,320 fps||444 ft lbs.|
|.38 Super Double Tap 115-grain JHP||1,419 fps||514 ft lbs.|
|.38 Super Double Tap 125-grain JHP||1,402 fps||545 ft lbs.|
|.45 ACP Federal 230-grain Hydra-Shok||860 fps||377 ft lbs.|
|.45 ACP Speer 200-grain Gold Dot +P||1,050 fps||489 ft lbs.|
(4-inch Barrel Ruger GP100)
|.357 Magnum Federal 130-grain Hydra-Shok||1,489 fps||630 ft lbs.|
|.357 Magnum Federal 158-grain JHP||1,215 fps||517 ft lbs.|
At over 1,400 fps, the 125-grain JHP Double Tap would be an excellent all around service load. I normally load my .38 Super with the 115-grain load for home defense. If using the pistol for tactical use, I would deploy the 125-grain bonded core loading. The following table outlines the load’s performance. The Rock Island Armory 1911 .38 Super offers good accuracy with each loading.
The .38 Super fits my needs well. Modern loads put the .38 Super just where it needs to be—a high velocity loading with good performance, excellent penetration and governable recoil.
Do you own or have you fired the .38 Super? Was it for competition or home defense? Share your answers in the comment section.
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I own 11 Colt 1911’s in 38 Super, a Llama in 38 Super and a EAA Witness full size in 38 Super.
I have owned 38 Super pistol’s since 1980 and love to shoot them. I carry them for protection
and practice. I also carry 1911’s in 45 ACP, 40 S&W and 10 MM. The 1911 has never let me down
over the years. My oldest 1911 in 38 Super is a 1929 production and I also have one from WWII
made for the FBI. They both handle and perform flawless with modern loads.
Thomas E. Proctor says
I am confused as to what a .38 Super is. I have a Colt .38 Spl+ leg gun that carries 5 rounds. It is hammer less as well. Would it take the .38 Super bullet??
rk Campbell says
Sorry for the delay. Your revolver is a .38 Special.
The .38 Super is a rimless cartridge designed for self loading pistols.