38 vs 38 Special: Difference and Comparison

In firearms, caliber refers to the internal diameter of a gun barrel bore. It determines the type or size of cartridge that can be used with it, and largely impacts the effect of shooting.

Key Takeaways

  1. .38 Special ammunition provides more power and accuracy than standard .38 ammunition.
  2. .38 Special cartridges are longer than .38 cartridges, preventing their use in non-specialized firearms.
  3. .38 Special is suitable for self-defense, whereas .38 is better suited for target practice.

38 vs 38 Special

The difference between 38 and 38 special is that 38 is a caliber, i.e. the internal diameter of a gun barrel, and is used to refer to all cartridge variants that can be used in it, while 38 Special is a special cartridge variant of 38 caliber bullet.

38 vs 38 Special

38, also known as .38 is essentially the measure of the internal diameter of the bore and is used to refer to cartridge variants that can fire a bullet with a .357 inch diameter. It includes a variety of cartridges ranging from .38 Short Colt to .38 S&W. and is a medium-bore caliber.

38 Special refers to a specific .38 cartridge variant, having a case length of 1.155 inches. It is a rimmed and centerfire cartridge, which is famous for use in revolvers.

It was introduced as an improvement over .38 Long Colt in 1898, and came to serve as a service cartridge in the US. It is also preferred for recreational shooting.

Comparison Table

Parameters of Comparison3838 Special
Description38 is a caliber that is the internal diameter of the bore of the barrel of a gun. It is also used to refer to all cartridge variants under 38 caliber.38 Special is a cartridge variant, with a specific pressure chamber and case length, designed for a 38 caliber bullet.
Also known asIt is also referred to as .38 caliber.It is referred to as .38 Special, .38 S&W Special, .38 Spl, .38 Spc, etc.
DimensionsIt has 0.357 inch bullet diameter.Its bullet diameter is 0.357 inches, while its case length is 1.155 inches.
TypeIt is categorized as a medium-bore caliber since its diameter falls between .33 inches to .39 inches.It is a rimmed cartridge. It has a rim or flange, cast around its bottom, which provides a lip for the extractor and headspace to the cartridge.
History38 is a frequently used term for firearms, used by police in the US as standard sidearm revolvers till 1990.The 38 Special was designed as an improvement over .38 Long Colt cartridge, and been manufactured by Smith & Wesson since 1898.

What is 38?

38 or .38 is a caliber (also spelled as calibre), which is the diameter of the bore of guns that have rifled barrels like pistols, machine guns, rifles, artillery, etc. In common parlance, it can be understood as a category of cartridges that can fire .38 bullets.

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Many famous cartridges like 38 Super, .38 S&W, .38 Short Colt, .38SpecialSpecial, .38 Long Colt, .357 Magnum, etc. form a part of this category. However, .38 Special’s popularity has outdated all the other variants.

All these variants are mostly identical in dimensions, but differ in terms of their contents and case length.  

In the traditional Anglo-US system, the caliber is measured in inches, while in contemporary times; a metric system is in usage. Despite its name, a .38 refers to a caliber that is 0.357 inches in diameter (which is approximately 0.36 inches).

The nomenclature .38 is derived by approximating the diameter of the loaded brass case.

Since its diameter falls in the range of .33 to .39 inches, it is categorized as a medium-bore caliber. It was a frequently used firearm used by the police departments in the US, till the 1990s, and was replaced by a revolver firing .357 Magnum afterwards.

What is 38 Special?

38 Special is a cartridge variant under the 38 caliber category, which is designed by American firearms manufacturing company Smith and Wesson and is a rimmed and centerfire cartridge. It is a metallic cartridge, with its primer located at the middle of the base of its casing, cast with a rim or flange at its bottom, which gives it additional strength.

It was initially loaded with black powder but was later replaced by smokeless powder loadings due to its popularity.

It was introduced in 1898, by making improvements on its parent case .38 Long Colt. .38 Special was modeled to have higher velocity round and better penetration properties.

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It is nearly identical to other cartridge variants under .38 caliber except for its differential case length, which is 1.155 inches. It is known by a myriad variety of names like .38 Spc, .38 S&W Special, etc. in the US, whereas its famous as its metric designation 9.1×29mmR or 9×29.5mmR, in rest of the world.

It is notorious for its manageable recoil and accuracy and is used in semi-automatic pistols, carbines, and revolvers. It is a prominent revolver cartridge around the world and serves as a service cartridge in the US police departments.

Besides, it is used in target- shooting and small-game hunting, recreationally.

38 special

Main Differences Between 38 and 38 Special

  1. The term 38 refers to a gun caliber, and is employed to refer to cartridge variants that can be used in it. 38 Special, on the other hand, is a specific cartridge variant under the 38 caliber category.
  2. The 38 caliber is also known as 0.38, while 38 Special cartridge is known by a variety of names like .38 Special, .38 S&W Special, .38 Spl, .38 Spc, etc.
  3. 38 caliber refers to a bore whose diameter is .357 inches. The 38 Special cartridge has a diameter of .357 inches, and its case length is 1.155 inches. Its other dimensions like the Neck, Base, and Rim diameter are similar to other cartridges in the same category.
  4. 38 is categorized as a medium-bore caliber, whereas, 38 Special is categorized as a rimmed cartridge.
  5. 38 caliber revolvers were used by the United States Police as standard sidearms till the 1990s, while 38 Special cartridge was designed in 1898, by manufacturers Smith & Wesson, as an improved over the parent case .38 Long Colt.
Difference Between 38 and 38 Special
  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0026265X1400040X
  2. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&profile=ehost&scope=site&authtype=crawler&jrnl=0895173X&AN=127581876&h=Vgx5bNmuK5K2PHodANyRqOT%2FFy14JsvKs7na%2FSG0FTPYbRLSFtO83uem6rAX1SwoAHmYp8Bnav9Xql3GVXWA5w%3D%3D&crl=c

Last Updated : 12 July, 2023

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