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The Best Grain for .38 Special

For most applications, the best grain for .38 special is between 130-150, but lighter and heavier bullets are also available. The best for you will depend on what you’re shooting. Lighter grains are more accurate at longer distances, while heavier bullets have more stopping power. 

Keep reading to find details on the best bullet grains for .38 special, as well as a breakdown of different .38 special grains and how they affect your shooting.

Selecting the Best Grain for .38 Special

Close up of .38 special Bullets in revolver gun

.38 special is a round designed for handguns in 1898 by Smith & Wesson. It was meant to be an upgrade to the .38 Long Colt cartridges used in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War. The .38 special has a higher muzzle velocity for higher penetration over the .38, which helped the Philippine government penetrate armor used by insurgents during the conflict. 

It was also used by many police forces across the US prior to the 1930s and was used by the US military for their sidearms during both World Wars, the Vietnam War, and the Korean War.

Today, the .38 special is a popular handgun caliber frequently used for self-defense. It has good accuracy and recoil for a high-powered handgun round, but selecting the right grain can make a huge difference depending on the situation.

When selecting a round for your .38 special, it’s important to consider how and where you are shooting your firearm. Bullet grain can have a lot of subtle effects on the way a projectile flies, so it pays to get the right bullet for the job. 135gr is considered a good middle-ground for self-defense.

Higher bullet grains will be resistant to wind, which makes them more suited to hunting or target shooting outdoors. Heavier bullets also travel slower and have less penetration. This means they have less potential to over-penetrate, which can cause collateral damage in a self-defense scenario.

  • 110-Grain: 110gr rounds have great accuracy at longer ranges. With a muzzle velocity of around 1295 feet per second (394.7 meters per second), they’re suitable for shooting at the range or hunting small game. 110gr might be a bit light for serious self-defense scenarios or hunting larger game.
  • 125-Grain: 125gr gives you a decent middle ground between the accuracy of lighter bullets and the power of heavier ones. This weight will perform better in windy conditions than 110gr bullets without giving you too much extra recoil like some of the heavier grains. 125gr bullets still have a relatively high muzzle velocity, and collateral damage may be a concern with over-penetration in self-defense scenarios.
  • 135-Grain: Going a bit heavier, 135gr is more of a good middle ground for general self-defense compared to the lighter bullets. They have more stopping power, and you won’t miss the reduced accuracy at closer distances.
  • 140-Grain: 140gr is also a good choice for general self-defense or hunting with a .38 special. 140gr bullets are suitable for hunting deer or other medium-sized game, as well as protecting yourself without too much risk of over-penetration depending on the type of bullet you’re using. 
A box of Hornady critical defense 38 special hollow point bullets
The box says “defense” but this is better suited for small game.

Using .38 Special for Self Defense

When using a .38 special for self-defense, it’s important to keep in mind that your engagement distance will be around 20 feet (about 6 meters) or less. This means using rounds with a high muzzle velocity could risk over penetration and potential collateral damage. Heavier bullets will also have more stopping power in general than lighter bullets.

For more considerations on this decision, check out this quick video on the best ammo for self-defense when using a .38 Special:

Using .38 Special for Hunting

When hunting small game, you’ll generally be shooting from farther away, making lighter bullets a good option. Lighter bullets are more accurate at longer distances and won’t do as much damage to a small animal compared to heavier bullets. However, the tradeoff is that lighter bullets are more susceptible to being blown off course by the wind.

Lastly, hunting medium-sized game such as deer will benefit from heavier bullets simply because lighter bullets have a higher risk of penetration and will generally do less damage internally.

Final Thoughts

When selecting a bullet grain for your .38 special, it’s important to find a good balance between accuracy, recoil, and stopping power. For plinking away at the range, a lighter bullet will shoot straighter for longer distances.

For defending yourself on the street, however, a heavier bullet will give you more power with less potential for collateral damage. It’s all about finding a good balance that fits your situation.

If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to fire away in the comments section.

For more, check out Bullet Grain Chart By Caliber.