Best .38 Special Ammo for Snubbies [Training & Home Defense Rounds]

The .38 Special is a popular revolver caliber, available in almost any gun store. More than a hundred years after its creation, the caliber is still being used today, even though the similar 9x19mm Parabellum is considered more powerful and ballistically precise. So if you are curious about the Best .38 special ammo for snubbies that you can use, continue reading on for an in-depth guide to finding out.

History of the Ammunition

Back in 1898, the .38 Special had to replace the defunct .38 Long Colt as a standard-issue caliber. However, the ammo had low-performance characteristics and inadequate penetration.

A 150 round, produced 777ft. per second and 201ft/lbs of energy at the muzzle, which proved to be not enough power. At the time, it was a new introduction that was comparably better than other competitors, so it quickly gained popularity.

In 1930, Smith & Wesson introduced the 158gr. .38 Special hi-speed bullet and the desired outcome in ballistics was finally achieved. This allowed the round to produce 100-150 fps of improved muzzle velocity and the rest is history.

What is a Snubbie?

The snubby is a short-barrelled revolver made for concealed carry. They have a compact size that makes them as minimalistic as possible. These revolvers are powerful shooters, usually chambered in .38 Special, that has gained tremendous popularity because they can be carried anywhere with their 2-3 inch barrel.

Of course, they do not offer the same firepower as subcompact auto pistols, but they can be hidden everywhere. Plus, you have a magazine capacity of five to six shots, which is enough to terminate a potential threat of your safety.

So, now that you’re aware of the basics, we can continue by pointing out some of the best .38 special ammo for snubbies.

Best .38 Special Ammo for Snubbies Comparison Table

PhotoProductEditor's RatingPrice
Best .38 Special Ammo for SnubbiesFederal American Eagle .38 Special 130gr. FMJ5VIEW CURRENT PRICE
Fiocchi Pistol Shooting Dynamics .38 Special 130gr. FMJFiocchi Pistol Shooting Dynamics .38 Special 130gr. FMJ5VIEW CURRENT PRICE
Federal Law Enforcement 38 Special ammoFederal Law Enforcement 38 Special +P 158gr.5VIEW CURRENT PRICE
Hornady .38 Special 158gr. XTP JHPHornady .38 Special 158gr. XTP JHP5VIEW CURRENT PRICE
Best .38 Special Ammo for SnubbiesBlack Hills Honey Badger 100 gr.4VIEW CURRENT PRICE

Best .38 Rounds For The Range


#1: Federal American Eagle .38 Special 130gr. FMJ

Best .38 Special Ammo for Snubbies

Everybody knows about the American Eagle series of ammunition, which is available in almost any gun store for the past few years. It isn’t exactly a match grade round, but it is suitable for basic range shooting. The Federal American Eagle delivers ballistics of 890 fps and 229 ft/lbs of energy.


#2: Fiocchi Pistol Shooting Dynamics .38 Special 130gr. FMJ

Fiocchi Pistol Shooting Dynamics .38 Special 130gr. FMJ

With characteristics of 950 fps and 260 ft/lbs of energy, the Fiocchi ammunition shows great performance. It is a little hotter than the standard .38 Special FMJ bullet and provides a nice kick in shootings.


Best .38 Rounds For Home Defense


#3: Federal Law Enforcement 38 Special +P 158gr. LSWCHP

Federal Law Enforcement 38 Special ammo

These bullets have no copper jacketing and they have a cavity to the flat nose. The numbers are always solid: 900 fps and 284 ft/lbs of energy, which is relatively good, but still far from the average 9mm JHP.

The Federal Law Enforcement bullets are ideal for snubby revolvers, in which the heavy slug reduces the recoil considerably and genuinely struggles to expand due to reduced velocity and energy.


#4: Hornady .38 Special 158gr. XTP JHP

Hornady .38 Special 158gr. XTP JHP

If you’re looking for a heavier bullet, then the Hornady JHP is the right choice for you. It is one of the heaviest rounds, designed to produce maximum expansion, thanks to the gilded jacket and special serrations.

However, with a speed of 800 fps, it is not the fastest bullet, which means that you’ll need a quality projectile to receive maximum power.


#5: Black Hills Honey Badger 100 gr.

Best .38 Special Ammo for Snubbies

The Honey Badger is a copper, fluted bullet that delivers moderate recoil and proper performance as if it was made for the .38 Special. That said, this Black Hills bullet seems to be a perfect choice for a snubbie.


How to choose ammo?

First and foremost, you must determine what are your shooting needs and choose proper ammo accordingly.

  • How concealed should the gun be?
  • Is it the main firearm or a sidearm?
  • How well do you deal with recoil?

Be honest with these questions, because you will hold and operate the weapon and if you can’t use it properly, then what use do you have.

.38 Special Ammo Frequently Asked Questions

Before we continue with our list of best .38 special ammo for snubbies, we are going to answer some of the most common questions regarding .38 Specials.

Differences between .357 Magnum & .38 Special?

In terms of diameter size, both rounds share the same .357 cartridge. The difference comes in the length of the casing, whereas the Magnum has 1.29” in length, while the .38 Special offers 1.15 inches.

The cartridge of the magnum is made to fit pistols that are capable of handling high chamber pressure. That’s why the casing size differs so that the round can’t be chambered in a .38 Special.

Is a .38 caliber more powerful than 9mm?

The 9mm round is shorter than the .38 Special, but they have a similar diameter. The Luger is measured at .355 inches, while the Special ammo at .357.

However, the results of the ballistics vary greatly in terms of muzzle energy and velocity, even though they share similar sizes. The .38 special has a heavier max bullet weight of 158gr. compared to the 147gr. of 9mm Luger.

Is it possible to shoot .38 Special ammo with a .357 Magnum gun?

As we’ve mentioned above, you can’t shoot a .357 ammo in a .38 chambered gun. The opposite, however, is possible because the .38 cartridge has lower pressure and be easily handled by Magnum-chambered handguns.

Things to remember about the .38 Special ammo

  • Used as a law enforcement cartridge between the 1920s-1990s.
  • Popularity grew due to its use in small concealable revolvers.
  • Small revolvers or snubbies knock of about 100 fps of muzzle velocity.
  • They were developed more than 100 years ago (1898).
  • +P type of ammo doesn’t work properly with snubbies

.38 Special Bullet Types & Weights

What makes revolvers so popular amongst shooters is that they can process a large variety of bullet types and weights. This means that the .38 Special caliber can be used in different weights and types.


The wadcutter is a blunt, slow round, designed for short-range shooting, where the trajectory and the bullet drop are not a major factor. It is flat-nosed, which allows the wadcutter to make a precise circle in the target.

Moreover, the hit can be easily identified, which allows for accurate scoring during shooting competitions. Snubby revolvers have short revolvers and higher velocity ammunition isn’t suitable, which makes wadcutters just perfect.

Semi-Wadcutter (SWC)

The semi-wadcutter .38 Specials are one of the heaviest types of ammo and they can be found usually around 158gr. They do not bulge out from the case as JHP bullets.

Moreover, the base of the cone is smaller than that of cylinder diameter and they are flat-pointed with a conical nose. They are mainly used in hunting, self-defense situations, and target shooting.

Lead Round Nose (LRN)

The lead round nose is the initial shape of the .38 caliber bullets. They’ve gained popularity due to the fact that they’re inexpensive and easy to produce.

The projectile is unjacketed and made of soft lead, but they’re not very suitable for home-defense purposes.

Full Metal Jacket & Metal Case

The most common question when it comes to these two types of ammo is what separates them from the LRN bullets? Lead bullets have a huge downside because they tend to deform when they’re not in a copper or brass jacket.

They’re generally used for range training and competitions and can be found at either 130gr. or 158gr. With ballistic results of 800 fps, 185 ft/lbs energy, and 750 fps, 200 ft/lbs, they don’t have enough stopping power for defensive ammo.

Jacketed Hollow Point

When it comes to variety in terms of weight and performance, the Jacketed Hollow Point .38 Special bullets have the most diverse portfolio.

Most commonly they are +P to provide better ballistic results and they can be found at 110gr., 125gr., 129gr., & 158gr.

JHP bullets at 125gr. have around 950 fps and 250 ft. lbs. The heavier 158 grain round produces 800 fps and 200 ft/lbs.

As you can see on our performance chart below, the Hornady 110 grain bullet comes in both +P version and standard pressure one. The first offers 1090 fps and 290 ft/lbs, while the second offers 1010 fps and 249 ft/lbs.


Nowadays, you can find a huge variety of .38 Special “snubbies” on the market. The .38 Special revolvers can be a good introduction to beginner shooters and with practice, it can be useful for self-defense.

It is important to note that revolvers might be difficult to handle for newcomers, but with enough practice, you can have a reliable firearm that offers proper performance.

Even though that semi-automatic guns are reliable, they still have issues of jams and failures to feed in certain situations. Plus, they do not work with all types of ammunition, which isn’t a problem for revolvers. This concludes our guide for the best .38 special ammo for snubbies. If you have any questions about it, please leave them in the comments!

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