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.38 vs. .38 Special: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on March 2, 2024
".38 refers to the caliber of a bullet or firearm, typically measuring .38 inches in diameter; .38 Special is a specific cartridge variant of this caliber, known for its accuracy and moderate recoil."

Key Differences

The term ".38" generally refers to the diameter of the bullet or the bore of a firearm, which is approximately 0.38 inches. ".38 Special," on the other hand, specifically denotes a cartridge that was developed as an improvement over the older .38 Long Colt. Both terms are related to firearms, but while ".38" is a broad term, ".38 Special" refers to a specific type of ammunition.
In terms of usage, .38 caliber ammunition is used in a variety of firearms, including revolvers and semi-automatic pistols. The .38 Special is a specific type of .38 caliber cartridge, known for its balance of power and recoil, making it popular for self-defense and target shooting. Both are used in handguns, but the .38 Special has a more defined and specific use case.
The history of these terms is also significant. ".38" caliber firearms have been in use for many years and encompass a wide range of weapons. The .38 Special cartridge was introduced in 1898 to improve upon previous .38 caliber cartridges, offering better performance and reliability. The .38 Special's development was a milestone in ammunition technology.
Performance-wise, .38 caliber firearms and ammunition vary widely depending on the specific gun or cartridge. The .38 Special, in contrast, is known for its consistent performance, offering a good balance of power and manageable recoil. This has made the .38 Special a preferred choice for law enforcement in the past.
In terms of availability and popularity, .38 caliber firearms and ammunition are broadly available in various formats. The .38 Special, specifically, enjoys popularity due to its reliability and effectiveness, and it is widely available in a variety of loadings for different purposes, including self-defense and target shooting.

Comparison Chart


Refers to the diameter of the bullet (0.38 inch).
A specific cartridge of .38 caliber.


Used in various handguns and ammunition types.
Specifically used in revolvers and some rifles.


Broad use in various firearms over time.
Introduced in 1898 for improved performance.


Varies widely depending on firearm type.
Known for balance of power and moderate recoil.


Broadly used in numerous firearms.
Popular for self-defense and law enforcement.

.38 and .38 Special Definitions


Indicates the diameter of a bullet.
The .38 bullet is commonly used in handguns.

.38 Special

Known for moderate recoil and effectiveness.
He preferred the .38 Special for self-defense.


Used to classify certain types of ammunition.
.38 ammunition is available at the gun store.

.38 Special

Used in both revolvers and some rifles.
His rifle was chambered for .38 Special rounds.


Applies to a range of firearms, including revolvers.
Her .38 pistol was her favorite for target practice.

.38 Special

.38 Special is a specific revolver cartridge.
The .38 Special is known for its accuracy.


.38 refers to a caliber size in firearms.
He purchased a .38 caliber revolver.

.38 Special

Popular in law enforcement and personal defense.
.38 Special was a standard issue in many police departments.


.38 can refer to various cartridges with a .38-inch diameter.
Different .38 cartridges are used for different purposes.

.38 Special

Developed as an improvement over older .38 cartridges.
.38 Special was an upgrade to the .38 Long Colt.


Being eight more than thirty


What types of firearms use .38 caliber ammunition?

Various handguns, including revolvers and some semi-automatic pistols.

What does .38 refer to in firearms?

It refers to the caliber size, about 0.38 inches in diameter.

Can .38 Special ammunition be used in any .38 caliber revolver?

Generally, yes, but it's important to check the firearm's specifications.

Why was the .38 Special developed?

It was developed to improve upon older .38 caliber cartridges.

What is unique about the .38 Special cartridge?

It's known for its balance of power and moderate recoil.

Is .38 Special suitable for self-defense?

Yes, its effectiveness and manageable recoil make it a good choice.

Was the .38 Special used by law enforcement?

Yes, it was widely used by police departments in the past.

Are .38 caliber bullets widely available?

Yes, they are commonly found in gun stores.

Are .38 and .38 Special the same thing?

No, .38 refers to caliber size, while .38 Special is a specific cartridge.

How does .38 Special compare to other handgun calibers?

It's known for a good balance between power and control.

Can .38 Special rounds be used for target shooting?

Yes, they are popular for target shooting due to their accuracy.

Are there different types of .38 Special ammunition?

Yes, including hollow point and full metal jacket variants.

Is .38 Special more expensive than other calibers?

Pricing varies, but it's generally comparable to other handgun calibers.

What is the difference in recoil between .38 and .38 Special?

Recoil varies, but .38 Special is generally known for moderate recoil.

Is .38 Special more powerful than standard .38 cartridges?

It often offers better performance and reliability.

Can .38 Special be used in lever-action rifles?

Some lever-action rifles are chambered for .38 Special.

What should I consider when buying a .38 caliber firearm?

Consider the intended use, such as self-defense or target shooting.

How does barrel length affect .38 Special performance?

Longer barrels generally improve accuracy and velocity.

Can .38 Special rounds be reloaded?

Yes, they are commonly reloaded by enthusiasts.

Is .38 ammunition suitable for beginners?

Its variety and moderate recoil make it a good choice for beginners.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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