.38 Special & .38 Super | Why You Should Reload Your Own Handgun Ammo

For the longest time, I always thought a .38 Super and a .38 Special were the same round, with a slight difference in cartridge length. It wasn’t until I started reloading ammo that I realized how different these 2 calibers are.

The .38 Special was created around 1897, while the .38 Special Auto was made right after WWI in the early 1920s. I was searching for .38 Special ammo a couple of weeks ago and realized that .38 Special ammo is incredibly expensive and increasingly hard to find in most stores. 

For most gun owners with a .38 Special or .38 Super, practicing to efficiency is almost impossible, unless they have an unlimited budget for ammo. I, for one, don’t have that kind of fortune and need to save as much money as I can.

Frankford Arsenal Reloading Tools

at Frankford Arsenal
Prices accurate at time of writing

If you’re interested in learning about .38 Special, .38 Super, and how to save money by reloading your .38 caliber handgun… this one is for you. 

What is a .38 Special Bullet?

The .38 Special is one of the older cartridges that we still use in modern pistols and revolvers. If you’re curious about the name “.38 Special" it comes from the bullet diameter being right at .38" with a loaded brass case.

The .38 Special gave police officers more stopping power than the .38 Long Colt (standard issue for police and soldiers during the early 1900s).

American Eagle Handgun Ammunition .38 Spl 158 gr LRN (50 rounds)

at Natchez Shooting Supplies
Prices accurate at time of writing

The biggest problem with .38 Long Colt is the lack of power and velocity versus personal ballistic armor and thin vehicle doors. The .38 Long Colt has a top velocity of around 777 FT/S for a 150 Grain bullet, whereas a 155 Grain .38 Special travels at around 975 FT/S.

The difference in velocity has allowed the .38 Special to be used as a primary law enforcement caliber for many years until the 9mm and .357 Sig was invented. 

.38 Special Requirements for SAAMI specs
.38 Special SAAMI Specs

Which Gunpowder Can I Use for a .38 Special?

  1. Accurate No.2 Smokeless-$28.49
  2. Shooters World Clean Shot Pistol Powder-$27.49 
  3. Vihtavuori N320 Smokeless-$51.99 (1lb)
  4. Ramshot Zip-$23.99 (1lb)  
  5.  Hodgdon HP-38

 What is a .38 Super Bullet?

A .38 Super is a bullet that was made in the early 1920s to combat trafficking, bank robbers, and other criminals from using cars as a defense against police caliber bullets.

A .38 Super is a high-pressure cartridge that is probably more comparable to a 9mm than a .38 Special regarding performance. 

.38 Super SAAMI Spec
.38 Super SAAMI Specs


Which Gunpowder Can I Use for a .38 Super?

  1. Accurate No.2 Smokeless-$28.49
  2. Ramshot True Blue-$30.99 (1lb)
  3. Ramshot Zip-$23.99 (1lb)  
  4.  Hodgdon HP-38 (not in-stock)
  5. Ramshot Sillohoutte-$30.49 (1lb)
  6. Hodgdon HS-6-$38.99 (1lb)

Hodgdon HS-6 Smokeless Gunpowder for .38 Super

at Brownells.com
Prices accurate at time of writing

What Is The Difference Between a .38 Special and .38 Super?

There are many obvious differences between the 2 calibers, but I want to focus on the purpose of the calibers, pressure, type of guns, and velocity of the bullets.

For starters, the .38 Special is a rimmed case that is normally found in revolvers and not striker-fired pistols. The rim of the .38 Special would make it incredibly tough to reload a .38 Special in a pistol instead of a revolver. 





.38 Super

.38 Special

Parent case

38 ACP / Auto

.38 long colt

Case type

semi-rimmed or rimless, straight

Rimmed, straight

Case length

0.900 inch

1.155 inches

Case capacity

1.14 cubic cm

1.53 cubic cm

Overall length

1.280 inches

1.55 inches

Bullet diameter

0.356 inches

0.357 inches

Neck diameter

0.384 inches

0.379 inches

Base diameter

0.384 inches

0.370 inches

Rim diameter

0.406 inches

0.44 inches

Rim thickness

0.050 inches

0.058 inches

Maximum pressure

36,500 psi

22,000 psi

Average Velocity

1,250 FT/S

975 FT/S


I have never seen a .38 Special chambered in anything other than a revolver, but I’ve heard pistols chambered in a .38 Special. Regardless, the .38 Special is a limited bullet versus the .38 Super.

For example, the .38 Super is one of the most popular competition pistols in the International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC). The accuracy and performance of the .38 Super exceed that of most .38 Special pistols because of the significantly higher pressure and velocity. 

Hodgdon .38 Cal Reloading Data
.38 Special Reloading Data
Hodgdon .38 Cal Reloading Data
.38 Super Reloading Data

Reloading a .38 Super differs from loading a .38 Special because even with bullets close to the same weight and you’ll use close to double the gunpowder in a .38 Super case.

With double the gunpowder in a .38 Super, the bullet velocity improves by around 300 FT/S-500 FT/S. 

Frankford Arsenal Rotary Tumbler (7L)

at Amazon
Prices accurate at time of writing

Major Specification Differences Between .38 Special & .38 Super

  • Overall Length
  • Neck Diameter
  • Case Length. 
  • Parent Case
  • Case Capacity
  • Base Diameter
  • Rim Diameter
  • Rim Thickness
  • Max Pressure
  • Max Velocity
  • Case Type

Can 38 Super Be Used in a 38 Special?

Absolutely not! It’s important to know how much money you’ll save by reloading your own .38 ammo, but it’s also imperative to know and understand that you can’t use these bullets interchangeably.

The pressure of a .38 Special revolver is significantly lower than a .38 Super, so even if the cartridge fits in the chamber, you could have catastrophic damage to your gun and your hands by trying to use these bullets interchangeably with either pistol. 

What Do I Need to Reload .38 Caliber Ammo?

Each of the following items (1-12) can create an entire reloading kit for pistols, rifles, and shotguns.  For reloading and new hobbies, I’ve found it’s best to save as much money as I can and still get what I need.

This means buying universal products like the Intellidropper and the M-Press bullet seating press. These 2 items alone are the base of any reloading operation and are completely universal.

The M-Press has a floating shell plate that grips the casing of any caliber from a .17 cal-.338 Lapua Magnum case.  

Frankford Arsenal Digital Calipers

at Amazon
Prices accurate at time of writing

The Intellidropper has a scale sensitivity level that measures grain within 0.1 grain +/- versus the average of 0.5 grain +/-. That level of precision with reloading allows me to dial in any caliber from my 30-06 and 7mm Rem Mag down to my .45 ACP, 9mm, and .38 caliber loads. 

Hornady Lock n’ Load AP Bullet Feeder Die (.38/.357mm)

at Amazon
Prices accurate at time of writing

The 7L Frankford Arsenal Rotary Tumbler allows me to load at least 1,000 cases of 9mm, so it’s fair to assume that you can clean 1,500 pieces of .38 caliber brass in one load.

I look at the rotary tumbler as a recycling machine that takes some people’s trash and turns it into money in less than 3 hours. I recommend the brass cleaning media over any other type of media because it’s so much cleaner than wood or corn cob. 

The digital calipers allow me to measure each bullet, case, and the diameter of a primer if I wanted to. You can go with the mechanical calipers to avoid the inevitable of technology failing, but the level of convenience with the digital screen and price point is too good to pass up right now. Knowing the exact C.O.L. will help you dial in your hand loads to the optimal depth for optimal performance.

  1. Ammo Boxes/Reloading Trays-$4.95
  2. Rotary Tumbler 7L- $188.31
  3. Brass Cleaning Media-$25.49
  4. Brass Cleaning Solution-$16.15
  5. Single-Stage Reloading Press-$195.44
  6. Intellidropper Electronic Powder Measurer-$214.99
  7. Perfect Seat Hand Primer-$38.77
  8. Calipers-$27.99
  9. Case Trim & Prep Center-$189.95
  10. Case Prep Expansion Tools-$36.99
  11. Hornady Lock n’ Load AP Bullet Feeder Die (.38/.357mm)-$45.99
  12. Frankford Arsenal Aluminum Powder Funnel-$27.99

Why is there an Ammo Shortage on .38 Special Ammo?

According to SafeHome.org, the 2 highest annual gun sales in America have come in the past 2 years. 21 million people bought a gun in 2020 (up from 13 in 2019), and 19 million Americans bought guns in 2021.
A lot of different things cause the ammo shortage, including Covid, social unrest, wars in Europe, and manufacturing capabilities during the pandemic. As a former teacher and trained researcher, I’d be comfortable saying the biggest causes of the ammo shortage are the drastic increase in gun sales and more restrictions put on gun manufacturing

Which .38 Caliber Bullets Should I Buy?

The biggest difference in savings for any reloader is when you reload hollow points instead of FMJ bullets. If you can find the Hornady FTX bullets, you can save a tremendous amount of money by reloading.

For example, you can get a full box of 25 rounds of FTX ammo, ready to shoot for $31.99. This is around $1.28/bullet for 25 bullets or you can reload your own and spend a fraction of each component. 

Hornady .38 .358 LRN 158Gr (300 Per Box) Lead Pistol Bullets

at Gritr Sports
Prices accurate at time of writing

Where Can I Buy .38 Super Brass?

Ammo components for every caliber are really hard to find right now, but none more so than .38 Super. A .38 Super is already a rare caliber that is normally only used in competition shooting and some self-defense applications.

Gritr Sports and Sportsman’s Warehouse are the only places that I’ve found .38 Super brass available at the moment. Either way, 100 cases for $30.44 is around $.30 per case compared to the $.71 for an FMJ and $1.28 for an HP bullet.

Winchester .38 Super Auto Unprimed Brass Cases (100 cases)

at Gritr Sports
Prices accurate at time of writing

Is it cheaper to reload 38 Special?

Yes, reloading your .38 Special ammo is going to be much cheaper than buying commercial. I’ve included a chart to show you how much money you’ll save by reloading with your own components. 

.38 Bullet Component VolumePrice Per Unit ($)Total Price ($)
Brass Case100.3030.44
Powder1 lb0.02 (1,000 charges)23.99
Total Cost .48/bullet133

Why Reload .38 Super Ammo?

The cheapest price I’ve found for an FMJ in .38 Super is $0.88 per round for Winchester and $0.66 per round for PMC Bronze FMJ. Where you really save money is loading your own hollow points. HP .38 Super ammo is incredibly difficult to find, but even if you do, you’re going to spend over $1.20 per round.

By reloading your own .38 Super HP bullets, you could spend around $12.50 for a box of 25 rounds, whereas you’ll spend at least $30 for a commercial box of .38 Super

Can .38 Super Be Used As A CCW?

Many people ask if we can use a .38 Super pistol as a self-defense CCW pistol because they’re not sure about the ballistics. By reloading your own .38 Super ammo, you can dial in your bullet velocity to be higher or on par with almost any 9mm bullet.

For example, the average velocity of a 9mm 115 Grain bullet is around 1,200 FT/S, while the 115 Grain .38 Super is over 1,400 FT/S. Even more important, the force of a 115 grain 9mm bullet is around 355 FT-LBF and the .38 Super 115 Grain bullet is around 537 FT-LBF

Even though the lighter bullets favor the .38 Super, I don’t want to make it seem like a .38 caliber bullet is a better round than the 9mm. The max potential of a 9mm bullet is far superior to the max capability of a .38 caliber bullet. However, with your own reloaded ammo, you can crank up the velocity and power with a nice hp bullet to ensure that anything you hit will not be a threat to you or your family. 

How Much Money Will I Save By Reloading .38 Super Ammo?

My goal was to be conservative with the costs of each product because prices always fluctuate, but I’m confident that I’ve given enough evidence to show you how you could easily save $90 for a box of 100 .38 Super HP bullets.

Reloading with Frankford Arsenal has given me a level of independence that I never thought I’d get without professional help. Everything I use is easy to use, built to last years and is almost entirely universal for reloading any caliber I want. 

.38 Super SavingsBox of 25 ($)Box of 50 ($)Box of 100 ($)
Hand-loaded Ammo HP12.502550
Commercial Ammo HP$35 (average)70140

Frankford Arsenal M-Press Coaxial Reloading Press

at Amazon
Prices accurate at time of writing

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Table of Contents

  • What is a .38 Special Bullet?
  • Which Gunpowder Can I Use for a .38 Special?
  •  What is a .38 Super Bullet?
  • Which Gunpowder Can I Use for a .38 Super?
  • What Is The Difference Between a .38 Special and .38 Super?
  • Major Specification Differences Between .38 Special & .38 Super
  • Can 38 Super Be Used in a 38 Special?
  • What Do I Need to Reload .38 Caliber Ammo?
  • Why is there an Ammo Shortage on .38 Special Ammo?
  • Which .38 Caliber Bullets Should I Buy?
  • Where Can I Buy .38 Super Brass?
  • Why Reload .38 Super Ammo?
  • Can .38 Super Be Used As A CCW?
  • How Much Money Will I Save By Reloading .38 Super Ammo?
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