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.38 Special: Old Venerable
.38 Special: Old Venerable and Deadly Today
The double-action revolver is one of the most popular handguns in personal defense and is often overlooked by those new to the sport of shooting as most people are interested in something with a little more pizazz and flash. This oversight is often interesting to "The Minuteman" because the double action revolver is one of the best handguns to learn to shoot with; they're reliable, accurate and very easy to maintain. The most powerful handguns are revolvers because of this legendary strength and durability. They are viable self-defense arms and are most commonly encountered with rural police and the private security sector, and is probably the most encountered and carried arm amongst CCW holders. The .38 Special and its more powerful offspring the .357 Magnum are undoubtedly the most popular choice of caliber amongst revolvers.
The .38 Special is a rimmed cartridge first initially designed to use black powder as its primary propellant. It utilizes a .357 caliber bullet varying in weights from 115 grains to up to 158 with custom loads allowing for heavier bullets. The cartridge is rimmed like most revolver specific cartridges so that it will hold in its individual chamber inside the cylinder. Because of its initial use of black powder as a propellant (giving you an idea of how old the cartridge is) it is somewhat limited in powder charge using modern smokeless powder but it is still quite potent enough to stop all but the hardiest and armored opponents with relative easy. Because of its diminished charge its power is placed somewhat between .380 ACP and 9mm Luger though it performs very similarly to the latter as it doesn't have to use any of its power to cycle the action. Its recoil in a revolver of 4 inches is quite pleasurable but can be less comfortable being fired from a snub-nosed lightweight revolver. Utilizing a +P load its performance rivals that of a 9mm, though a .357 Magnum cartridge is much more potent. Because of this increased power, the developers of the .357 Magnum have made the cartridge for this magnum round longer so that it will not shoot through a .38 Special to keep mixing the two up less likely. However, a revolver chambered for the latter will shoot .38 Special with no problems as a reduced-recoil alternative.
The first popular .38 special is the Smith and Wesson MP aka Model 10. It has undoubtedly set the standard amongst revolvers and is currently the longest running double action revolver, still being made today. It has barrel lengths of 2 inches up to 6 (in old target models) and the defining side swinging cylinder most popular amongst modern revolvers. I am intimately familiar with the Model 10 as I have fired many different examples and carried one of its descendants (Model 67) for a good measure as an armored car crewman working for GARDA. It carries 6 shots and with a full length extractor and lots of practice reloads can be done quickly and efficiently though the average person will reload an automatic much more quickly. The Model 67 I carried is a stainless steel variant of the Model 10 and has adjustable rear sights, making it much easier to fine tune the accuracy for a specific load you'd like to carry. My personal carry gun had a standard 4 inch barrel and when clean and warmed up was capable of 4 inch groups with my preferred Hornady XTP +P cartridges at 15 yards from a draw, fired one-handed. I practiced like I'd have to have fought, holding a "coal sack" with a 35 pound weight in it and only shot double action as we were required to in the terms of our firearms certification. I practiced with the weight to simulate the load of a $500 box of quarters, though I often carried 2 or more of these boxes in my sack. From a bench and under optimum conditions I'm sure I could put the bullets in the target touching each other in the kill zone at that range but I'm quite satisfied with my burdened shooting.
When shooting a snub-nosed revolver, a few key components change that may and often does effect the accuracy of the handgun. The trade comes with the price of concealability; smaller is easier to hide. These handguns usually have 2" to 2 1/2" barrels. This effectively reduces the sight radius to 1/2 what it is with a 4 inch barrel, making fine tuned adjustments more difficult as a 1 millimeter change of direction laterally will yield a high degree change than it will on the longer barrel. If this doesn't make sense to you, try this little trick:
1) Stretch your right arm out fully and hold your index finger pointed upwards. This simulates the barrel (arm) and front sight (finger). Close your left eye and focus on your simulated "front sight" as if you were shooting.
2) Swing your whole arm and outstretched finger (maintaining the arm/finger position) 2 inches to the left. Note the position on the wall in front of you.
3) Now place your hand and outstretched finger 6 inches in front of your face. This simulates the shortened barrel of a snub-nosed revolver.
4) Move your "front sight" 2 inches to the left and note the difference of position on the wall.
If done properly the difference is phenomenal as on the wall (if its about 10 feet in front of you) you've moved about 1 foot with your arm at step 2. On step 4 you've moved about 4-5 feet to the left. It's simple geometry. Secondly regarding a snub-nosed revolver's accuracy is that often times these utilize smaller grips. This actually effects accuracy less than the sight radius but no doubt is a contributing factor as if you've got bear-paws like me most "snubbie" grips simply don't fill your hand properly. This can easily be rectified with installation of oversized grips but that cuts down on concealability but gives back a little bit more control. However despite these apparent shortcomings reasonable accuracy up to 15 yards can be attained with practice and these little babies pack enough whollop to make any man wish he hadn't attempted to mug the person carrying one.
A few reputable companies arms I have had the pleasure of shooting .38 Special ammunition through are Smith and Wesson, Taurus and a few others but I highly recommend both of these companies over any other. Colt no longer produces .38 Special double-actions but theirs are excellent though handle slightly differently than a "S&W" though a Taurus operates identically to the latter. Taurus builds fine copies of the Model 10 and many of my buddies carried Taurus at GARDA and achieved excellent accuracy. I highly recommend both.
If you've never cleaned a revolver you're in for a treat; disassembly is almost not required to achieve a good cleaning though a bit of patience is. I've written a tutorial on my wetpaint page (www.longrangetactical.wikifoundry.com) which is mostly targeted to neglected or heavily used revolvers but does apply to the thorough cleaning one should perform every so often.
If I had to rate the Smith and Wesson Model 67, 4 inch barrel, I would give it 4 of 5 stars:
Durability-5 Power-3 Accuracy-5 Reliability-5 Capacity-2
Like all articles crated by LittleJon126, please be courteous and please do not alter his work unless it is for the sake of spelling and grammar, as it infuriates Littlejon126 when his work is altered in any way. If you have a suggestion for something that should be added, please leave a PM or thread on the page and Littlejon126 will get back to you ASAP and we can discuss any changes to be made.
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