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The .38 Super: this depression-era hotshot handgun cartridge has been rediscovered--and reinvigorated--by a new generation of action shooters.

IN 1900 JOHN M. BROWNING DESIGNED THE .38 ACP CARTRIDGE, AND COLT introduced it in their new Model 1900 pistol. The combo was developed for the military trials to replace the wimpy .38 Long Colt, but both lost out to the .45 ACP and the Colt 1911.

In 1929 the .38 ACP was made obsolete when Colt introduced the .38 Super in the much stronger 1911 design. Its virtues were higher velocity than the .38 ACP and less recoil than the .45 ACP.

Dimensionally, the .38 Super is exactly the same as the .38 ACP but operates at much higher pressures (33,000 vs. 17,000 CUP). Under no circumstances should the Super cartridge be fired in older guns chambered for the .38 ACP. In 1974 ammo manufacturers started using the +P headstamp for cartridges with two pressure limits, and +P was added to the .38 Super to differentiate it from the older cartridge.

The .38 Super has a semi-rimmed case with a rim diameter of .406 inch, only .022 inch larger than the case body, and Colt M-1911s have a narrow barrel extension that engages only a small portion of this small rim. This really didn't work all that well, and inconsistent headspacing and poor accuracy were often the result. No more.

This problem was solved many years ago when pistol manufacturers started chambering Super barrels so the case headspaces on the mouth, just like most other semiauto rounds, with much improved accuracy and reliability. In fact, the Super has become the darling of action-pistol shooters and is used extensively in USPAC/IPSC matches in highly specialized pistols and revolvers that have been developed for these pursuits.

We tested two versions of the .38 Super this month. My elk-hunting partner Jan Larson loaned me his Smith & Wesson Model 627-4 revolver. It has a 51/2-inch barrel, a compensator and is fitted with an optical sight (thus qualifying for Open Class competition). This M627 was made by S&W's Performance Center in 2002 and is so accurate it's scary. It has an eight-round cylinder and loads in a flash with full-moon clips. Although no longer made, they are highly coveted by those who participate in these armed track meets. This gun was used for cast-bullet loads.

The European American Armory Witness semiauto is the Match Elite model I bought new in 2007. It sports a 4 3/4-inch barrel and a 17-round magazine. It, too, is very accurate and was used primarily for the jacketed-bullet loads. I've shot it in matches for years with nary a bobble.

Loading the .38 Super requires attention to a few details. First are the cases. Winchester, Remington, Federal and other factory loads maintain the semi-rimmed configuration and work fine in almost all .38 Supers.

Some shooters think that a true rimless case feeds better in the high-cap autos, and for them Starline makes the .38 Super Comp case. These are top-notch cases, but the smaller rim may require a different shellholder, so be sure and check this out before stocking up. Starline also makes standard .38 Super cases, and they were used for several of the test loads.

One of the intricacies of IPSC shooting is the Power Factor, which varies somewhat, depending on the sanctioning organization. Hits in the "B-C" and "D" zones of the target get more points with more powerful ammo, so many shooters try to "make Major" PF with the .38 Super. While this is sometimes feasible with heavy bullets in highly specialized custom pistols with fully supported chambers, we would caution against this. There are plenty of high-cap .40- and .45-caliber pistols available for such applications.

Standard small pistol primers are just the ticket for the Super, although magnum caps might be worth a look for spherical powders and/or cold-weather shooting or to try to reduce a load's Standard Deviation. Some folks who try to squeeze the last drop of velocity out of the Super use rifle primers to contain the very high pressures. Must we point out here that that's why they make pistol primers?

Modern-day guns headspace ammo on the case mouth, so keep cases trimmed to a uniform .890 inch, and use a light taper crimp.

Bullet diameter is a concern. The .38 Super is a 9mm and, as such, uses traditional .355-inch jacketed and .367-inch cast bullets--usually. Some top shooters swear that the Super dotes on fatter slugs and use .357- and .358-inch bullets intended for the .38 Special/.357 Magnum. To each his own, but the standard 9mm bullets used in test loads worked to perfection in the test guns.

The cartridge overall length (COL) for each load is listed in the table. Some autos (like my Witness) function better with longer ammo, so if you have any functioning problems, that's a factor to consider. Also make sure the expander die is not too big. A firm bullet pull is essential for reliable functioning and ballistics. Plus you don't want the bullet to be pushed deeper into the case when hitting the feed ramp, as this can cause pressures to spike.


          COL                                   (GR.)     (FPS)  DEV.

                               EAA WITNESS MATCH ELITE

SIERRA       115  R-P    Fed-100  SR-7625         7.0     1,285    12

NOSLER       115  R-P    WSP      Viht.           6.5     1,290    11
JHP                               N-340

HORNADY      124  S-L    WSP      Power           6.6     1,202     7
XTP                               Pistol

SIERRA       125  R-P    Fed-100  Viht. 3N37      7.0     1,220    10

SPEER        125  R-P    Fed-100  Blue Dot        8.0     1,216    22

SPEER        125  S-V    Fed-100  AutoComp.       6.0     1,161    11

SPEER        147  S-L    WSP      Viht.           6.0     1,111    10
GDHP                              N-350

SPEER        147  S - L  WSP      HS - 6          7.0     1,024    11

                                  SGW M-627

CAST SWC     115  R-P    Fed-100  W-540           8.7     1,361    13

CAST FP      122  R-P    Fed-100  Universal       4.6      1136    10

CAST RN      125  R-P    Fed-100  TiteGroup       4.4     1,125     9

CAST SWC     125  S-V    WSP      Viht.           6.4     1,239     8

CAST RN      145  R-P    Fed-100  HP-38           3.5       838    10

CAST FN      147  S-L    Fed-100  WSF             5.2     1,076    12

CAST RN      158  S-L    WSP      Blue Dot        7.7     1,210    19

CAST RN      158  S-L    WSP      W-571           7.5     1,102    15

          (IN.) FACTOR  (IN.)

SIERRA     0.98  159.3  1.275

NOSLER     1.00  161.3  1.215

HORNADY    0.95  150.3  1.210

SIERRA      112  152.5  1.215

SPEER      1.18  178.8  1.275

SPEER      0.93  170.7  1.221

SPEER      0.90  163.3  1.265

SPEER      1.02  150.5  1.275

CAST SWC   1.20  156.5  1.200

CAST FP    0.99  138.6   1161

CAST RN    0.80  140.6  1.262

CAST SWC   1.10  154.9  1.225

CAST RN    1.34  121.5  1.280

CAST FN    1.30  158.2  1.197

CAST RN    0.98  191.2  1.241

CAST RN    1.48  174.1  1.241

Notes: An EAA Witness Match Elite semiauto with a 4.75-inch barrel
and open sights was used for all jacketed bullet loads. A Smith &
Wesson M-627 revolver with an 5.5-inch barrel and a Tasco PDP-3
red dot sight was used for all cast bullet loads. Accuracy is
the average of three five-shot groups at 25 yards from a sandbag
rest. Abreviations: FMJ, Full Metal jacket; JHP, jacketed Hollow
Point; XTP, eXtreme Terminal Performance; TMJ, Total Metal jacket;
GDHP, Gold Dot Hollow Point; FN, Flat Nose; SWC. semi-wadcutter;
FR Flat Point; R-P, Remington-Peters; S-L, Starline; 5-V, Super
Vet OL, Cartridge Overall Length.

I used Lee dies for all loads and taper-crimped with the Lee Carbide Factory Crimp Die.

Of the dozens of loads tested, those shown in the table are the most uniform, accurate and reliable in the test guns and represent the broad swath cut by the Super. The Power Factor of most loads ranged in the 140s to 160s. If your particular game requires a PF of 160, several fill the bill. If it's 175, only two loads tested made the grade (see the table).

Virtually all of the bullets performed well, and the cartridge is so versatile that a host of powders work well in it. For lighter practice or plinking loads, SR-7625, TiteGroup, W-231 and HP-38 are dandy. Slower pistol powders give higher velocities with both cast and jacketed bullets. Hodgdon Universal, Vihtavuori 3N37, N-430 and N-350, Blue dot and AA-7 were top performers. Power Pistol and Winchester's W-540 and W-571 worked well, too. For guns with comps, Hodgdon Auto Comp is designed to keep pressure up at the muzzle for optimum efficiency.

Favorite loads? There are lots. Jan uses 3.5 grains of HP-38 with the 145-grain RN in his M627. In the Witness, I use the 125-grain Sierra JHP over 7.0 grains of Vihtavuori 3N37.

In both revolvers and autos, the .38 Super can hold its own with most gun/cartridge combos on the match circuit. With today's high-tech bullets and modern powders and any of the jacketed hollow-point bullets listed, it makes a formidable self-defense round.

The .38 Super is rewarding to reload and a delight to shoot. And it is a great choice for an afternoon of plinking.


The loads shown here are safe only in the guns for which they were developed. Neither the author nor InterMedia Outdoors Inc. assumes any liability for accidents or injury resulting from the use or misuse of this data
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Title Annotation:G&A RELOADS
Author:Gash, Steve
Publication:Guns & Ammo
Date:Jan 1, 2013
Previous Article:Cycling back in style: S&W's original L-frame revolver--the blued and always-cool M586--is once again available.
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