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38 Super, why bother

4348 Views 17 Replies 5 Participants Last post by  weshowe
I currently own a 9mm/38 1911 4.25" slide with Nowlin 9mm unramped barrel. Gun would be for defensive use. I know the 38 Super has a bigger case and potentially more velocity but I am beginning to wonder if it is worth the bother when I have so many reasons to stay 9mm. With the readily available +p and +p+ 9mm ammo I really dont see any advantage. It seems like ammo makers are wringing every bit of performance they can out of factory 9mm while factory 38 Super ammo seems to be stuck in 38 ACP mode. Even the much touted Corbon only loads same bullets 75 fps faster. And I assume the fact that the data comes from a 4" 9mm and a 5" 38 would make the difference even smaller. So I guess my question is does anyone know of a reliable not overpriced readily available source for 38 Super full power defensive ammo ? Something that would justify the expense of a new barrel, maintaining another set of dies and components and dealing with brass ?
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Hi, Joe---
I posted a similar question a year or so back (it's now on page 4 of The Venerable 1911, ".38 Super vs. 9MM") and got good feedback. Without getting into caliber-war issues, I think your basic contention is correct, that a hot nine performs as well as or better than the generally available .38 Super factory load, 115 or 125-grain JHP. There is, however, the Winchester Super-X FMJ at 130 grains, which is a very good range round with a MV of about 1300 FPS. I was also happy with the Georgia Arms 147-grain round (ca. 1200 FPS), no longer made, but you could hot-load the cartridge yourself to higher pressures than factory ammo, which might persuade you the .38 Super was worth it. I happen to like the .38 Super a lot, but I admit it's a sentimental choice, and not necessarily a practical one. Take a look at the other thread, in The Venerable 1911, which also includes a link to the relative performance of both rounds, which appears about equivalent. (I might add that the reason I like the Super, for a range gun, and I'm repeating myself from another thread, is that the .38 Super in an alloy-frame gun has the same felt recoil as the .45 in steel. I put 100 rounds or so through the alloy gun, which is harder to control than a heavier weapon, and I find I can shoot a lot better afterwards with the .45 stainless.)
All the best, David
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PS. Check out the Georgia Arms website for reasonably priced ammo. http://www.georgia-arms.com

To me, the 38 Super is super with regard to the "power" one can get over 9mm using either Corbon or handloads. While I've seen the Super do a very nice "job" on coyotes with 115-gr. JHP's cranked up pretty fast, I am currently most interested in what can be done with a heavier bullet in this one.

I am aware of one shooting in my area in which a fellow used a Super (Colt Commander) to pop a miscreant. As I recall, the load was the Winchester 125-gr. STHP, not hot in Super but toward the warm side in velocity equivalent 9mm loads. It did the deal and the BG dropped like a shot goose on the spot (center hit in chest).

If interested, here are some observations on .38 Super, but keep in mind that I have not played with this one to the same extent as 9mm or .45 ACP:



Right now, my main .38 Super load is a 147-gr. JHP loaded to about 1200 ft/sec.

I would agree that the .38 Super doesn't offer better enough factory ballistics to bother with. But the 9x23 Winchester, designed to the M1911 platform, is available in two defensive loadings: http://www.winchester.com/products/catalog/handgunlist.aspx?cart=OXgyMyBXaW5jaGVzdGVy

Basically a .38 Super with a thicker-walled case that can be loaded to higher pressures, the 9x23 Winchester is a very significant step up from the 9mm. Bob Forker's Ammo & Ballistics 3 lists 1,450 fps for the 125 gr. Silvertip. The same publication, which lists 36 9mm 124/125 gr. factory loads, shows only a couple at 1,250 fps, one at 1,220 fps, and all the rest under 1,200 fps.

Whether the 200 fps is significant enough to bother with the extra hassle of the conversion is open to discussion, but it "papers out" to a difference of 434 ft-lbs vs. 583 ft-lbs (if you use one of the two 1,250 fps 9mm loads).

Google and Yahoo "9x23 Win" and you will have hours of reading on the item.
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I considered 9X23. I was also basing my decisionn on the Georgia Arms 147gr hollow point load but it is no longer offered . The Corbon load apears to be loaded to no advantage over their 9mm load. Currently I mass produce 9mm and .40. I lean towards factory ammo for carry but all my practice would be reloading. I just think 38 Super has more cool points. 9 X 23 is an option as I could simply ream the barrel I have and use the savings for a case of silvertips. I wonder what velocity I would get out of a 4.25 barrel
There have been many articles published in gun magazines over the decades comparing velocities with the same ammo out of different handguns with different barrel lengths, but because there are other factors (principally the barrel/cylinder gap in revolvers, and chamber and barrel dimensions and bore roughness in all handguns) that affect velocity in a given handgun, such comparisons are of very limited value.

Having said that, the only way to validly determine velocity vs. barrel length in a handgun is to progressively shorten the barrel of the same handgun while chronographing the effect. I only have references for such in .357 and .44 Magnum. For the former it was found that there was, on average, a 35 fps/inch velocity loss, and for the latter it was found that, for from a 5" to a 4" barrel (with a 240 gr. load) the difference was 58 fps/inch.

As far as I've been able to find out, the factory chamber pressures of the 9x23 Win run at about magnum-revolver levels. So this data is probably at least approximately appropo for a comparison: From Bob Forker's laboratory-derived ballistic data for the 9x23 Win from 5" barrel, you would have a velocity loss from your 4.25" barrel of probably 26 to 44 fps. Nearly inconsequential.

The 9x23 Win pushes the limits of the M1911 platform pressure-wise (the 10mm only runs 37,500 psi), so be sure and do your homework before, when and if you do the conversion. The reputable aftermarket barrel manufacturer and the info you can find on the internet --- especially the former --- would be a good place to start.

P.S. Do pardon the detail and verbosity of this posting, but I felt it necessary to qualify the protocol and source of data in providing an answer.
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Joe4d and all,

The .38 Super is a good round, but if the hot 9mm's didn't kill it the .357 SIG will. Probably the final nail in the coffin except for die-hard afficionado's. It's biggest burden is still being tied to the .38 ACP moniker.
Personally, they are all good calibers and will get the job done.

Hello Wes,

I don't really see anything killing the Super, especially, since it's just so perfect for The 1911.

I'd take a slim & sleek Government Model 1911 in Super.38 anyday over the .357 SIG round, regardless of it's launch pad.

It sure would be nice if all the major ammo makers offered a coupla differnt 147gr. loads for The Super.

Take Care.
I know I'm probably beating this to death, but I have to agree with Bob's last post. A) Competition shooters---read Doug Leatham---love the .38 Super because you can load it, or have it loaded, to your own particular specifications, and it qualifies for the "heavy" chambering category. B) It has sentimental value---correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe the original design, the 1911 prototype, was built around the Colt .38 auto. C) Although it's been outdistanced, or outdated, or outgunned, as an LE round, cops who gravitate toward the 1911 will still gravitate to the .38 Super in that platform, because of penetration. And, yes, in the best of all possible worlds, 147-grain ammo is IMHO the best load for the gun.
PS---I have never, as in NEVER, had a malfunction with my .38 Super alloy-frame Commander. In itself, this is a recommendation.
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The 38 Super has a larger case and can go faster than a 9mm at the same pressure. The problem I ran into is the lack of defensive 38 Super available factory ammo. From the numbers on Corbons websight it doesnt seem that they have loaded the Super any faster than their 9mm load. The 75fps differrence can atleast partly be atributed to the difference in test barrel length. I had decided on the Georgia Arms 147 load which is now not on there websight. Can allways just reload it to whatever I want I guess. I just really like the 38 Super lwt commanders colt has on the market now. May buy it anyway just because.
I dont think I can claim that the Super .38 (Colt never put the .38 first - at least until the "age of the common man") is a huge step up from the 9mm ballistically (especially if we count 9mm +P+). However it does have some nominal improvements and, as someone pointed out above, the 9X23 can offer some interesting options.

Right now, using some hard to get powder, I can safely get a 147gr JHP to 1400 fps from my 9X23 (and over 1600 with a 125 gr). I dont labor under the delusion that either is more effective for unarmored targets than a standard 230 gr .45 expanding bullet but they certainly have some benefits at long range at at chance barrier penetration.

I have found that the 135 gr bullets in a .356 TSW seem to work slightly better than a 125 in 9mm +P or even +P+ but it is just slightly. Probably has more to do with the bullet design than any power level.

Just ramblin

Jim H.
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I just really like the 38 Super lwt commanders colt has on the market now. May buy it anyway just because.
If you get one of these, really check it out when you get it home and on the range. The quality-control of Colt current-production handguns isn't nearly what it used to be, even compared to their 1970's and '80's-production handguns.

If you decide to go the 9x23 Win route, re-post here. There are other issues to be discussed.
I always thought a LW Commander in Super .38 would be really neat and have almost tumbled a couple of time.

I was picking up another gun last Sunday when I ran across a new one - Stainless LW no less. It had Novaks which was a plus, but it also had the undercut front strap which to me is a "gom". The weird drop in beavertail grip safety did not help but at least that is easily replaced.

It did have a good trigger and was well fitted. Colt qualtiy seems to change week to week - this one must have been made in a good week.

But if I fall for a LW Super it will probably be an older gun anyway.

Jim H.
The late Mel Tappan, gun and survivalist writer (somebody markets Tappan pistol sights that he designed), had a (lightweight) Commander in .38 Super that he absolutely raved about for delivering accurate first-shot hits at extended ranges. He considered this combination of pistol and caliber to be the ne-plus-ultra for an all-around carry handgun.

Have given the matter some more thought. My preferences would be .45 ACP, .40 S & W, and a hot 9mm to the "Super .38" the big drawback is the same as the .357 Sig round...lack of locally available defensive ammo. Probably not really a big issue as we tend to stock up on "the good stuff". Guess I'm looking at this from a bit of a survivalist standpoint...the more common calibers would be easier to get.
Having said that I must admit to being rather enthused about the .357 SIG and it suffers from the same shortcomings.
If I were to build another custom 1911 it would probably be in 10mm or Super .38...
Choices, ain't life grand?
All this pontification brings us full circle to "any gun will do, if you will do".


I certainly cannot argue with that logic (and I dont carry "sub caliber" guns as primaryies anyway ;) ).

I do like my Govt. Model in Super .38/9X23 as a field gun though and I often have it in a bag for the truck. In that bag is a nifty 9mm barrel - just in case I need to buy ammo - and it happens to shoot to the same POI as the Super within reason (close enough to hit an "ivan" target on the rifle range at 200 meters - of course that is rather generous target).

All ammo is going through the roof but a year ago I purchased a couple of cases of Aguila 130 gr Super .38 ammo (which shoots great and clocks 1295 fps) for $7 per 50 rnds. Not so bad.

Jim H.

I sometimes get a real chuckle out of the way we discuss things here and on other forums. Most of this stuff in interesting, but a great many will shoot the issue round and have no choice. Choice is good, but then I never had any issues with my old Remington-Rand and G.I. Ball... ;)
In spite of all this pontification I noted when I left for the range this morn my Stainless Combat Commander was strapped to my hip. Hmmm, methinks there may be a message there...

P.S. Of course my pistol was chambered in .45 ACP not the Super .38...does this mean I need to move the post?
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