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Effective .38 Spl Load That Doesn't Overpenetrate?

2729 Views 7 Replies 6 Participants Last post by  tpd223
Does anyone know of an effective .38 Spl load that will not overpenetrate? I live in an apartment and I don't want a stray shot to go through a wall and hurt or kill a neighbor. I've read that the Corbon 110 gr +P DPX will penetrate 1/4" of mild steel, which eliminates it from consideration (at least for me) for use in an apartment. Any suggestions?

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The Glaser load is designed specifically for your scenario. Some rate its effectiveness at close range as pretty good.


I understand what you are asking, but I am not sure if that magic bullet really exits. Let's be realistic, if the round will not penetrate a sheet rock wall, will it penetrate the bad gun threatening you inside your apartment?

As a LEO, I was a big fan of Glasers at one point. It was the round chambered in my BHP and the first two in my magazine. Then I talked to an Atlanta City PD narc who had been carrying a BHP with his loaded mag all Glasers. He was arresting a biker and deadly force became necessary when the biker drew and began shooting at him. The LEO hit him center mass but realized the loads were not penetrating the biker's colors, which he said shocked him totally. He dropped his mag and reloaded with JHPs and fired again. At that point I stopped carrying Glasers.

This was back in the mid 80s, and I have no exposure to them since then. They could be much more effective rounds now, I have no idea. Others may have much better situations where they were effective. But that was the only real life I have ever heard, and I was not impressed.

In you situation you seem to be asking about a reasonably effective 38 special load that will work up close but is not too hot so it will keep right on going. Here is a thought I just had, because I found a partial box back in an ammo cabinet.

I took some 38 spc hollow base wadcutters and loaded them at target velocity with the hollow base loaded out. It was designed as a house load for some cop buddies who wanted their wives to have a round they could keep in their nightstand revolvers and still not be overly dangerous to their kids. My best recollection was the MV was probably about 700 or 750 fps, certainly no more than 800. It was a nasty looking hollow cavity. We had not way to really test it, except to confirm they would still group well on paper.

Ok folks - any thoughts pro or con on that load for crash and others in his situation?

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Hello. I am just not aware of any load that will not be dangerous in the event of a miss. Any of them will penetrate sheet rock. Most will become plugged and act as a solid, but these bullets would still have deadly potential.

Probably the loads normally found to be popular with the 38 when not focusing on overpenetration concerns would be so here. Were this my situation, I'd probably go with either
Remington 158-gr. LSWCHP +P, Corbon 110-gr. DPX +P, or Speer's 135-gr. Gold Dot +P. Any of these would certainly punch the wall if a miss occurred, but these seem to be effective against aggressors compared to other 38 Specials and these usually stay within the torso. I just don't see much way to have a bullet that expands and penetrates deeply enough in a human but that
won't punch the building materials mentioned.

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crash, I think you have a problem trying to find anything that won't penetrate the walls. Check this link and pick from several wall board tests. Even 3/4"plywood didn't stop bullets.


I did extensive testing with a number of calibers and loads using a mock-up wall made of sheetrock and 2x4's. Every load/bullet tested penetrated at least 6" of wetpack on the other side of the wall. Even shotgun wads will penetrate 4-6" of wetpack after going through the sheetrock.

Glaser "safety slugs" perform very unreliably on gelatin and wetpack, in my experience. I think the name should be changed to "safety for criminals". Joe Zambone's MagSafe ammo is somewhat more reliable, but the only MagSafe I have dates from before he sold the company.

In other words: if you're going to use lethal force, be prepared for all contingencies. In a home defense situation, remember that it is YOUR home, so YOU know the ground, whereas a home intruder does not. You know where the best places to defend it are. Place furniture, mirrors, etc, in such a way that the intruder has to expose himself in an indefensible position. Make a home defense plan with alternate firing points and if possible safe backstops. For example, a set of bookshelves stacked tightly with old magazines is a great backstop.
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Regarding .38 ammo that's effective and doesn't over-penetrate:

In the current issue of GUNS & WEAPONS for Law Enforcement there is an article by a cop or ex-cop Mike Boyle, I believe, testing .38 Special loads in ballistic gelating from 2" snubs.

As I recall, the jist of it was that some HP ammo expanded well when shot directly into the gelatin, but when 4 layers of denim was layered in front of the gelatin blocks the HP cavities filled with the denim and there was absolute failure to expand ---- the bullets were completely undeformed and could be reloaded and shot again. He tested the "pre-fragmented" MagSafe ammo in two bullet weights ---- similar to the now-defunct (I think) Glaser ammo but using larger shot, arranged in a specific pattern in the projectile and encased in epoxy. This seemed to not be fazed by the denim and penetrated much better than the Glasers, but of course won't penetrate as much as a HP with the cavity chunked up with wall-board/sheet rock gypsum.

This is a bit fuzzy as I just skimmed the article as I don't carry either .38 Special or snub revolvers as CCW handguns. If you're really interested, hunt down the magazine.
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I'm my testing I found that the Cor Bon PowerBall expandeds even in hard barriers due to the plastic nose forcing the bullet to open up. The other .40 ammo I was testing at the time was both Gold Dot and Golden Saber, these loads penetrated much more plywood than the Powerball.
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