A good trade at the gun shop


I’m no longer buying anything much in the way of guns.  I have just about everything I need, and with money being tight (not to mention other important needs for it), my gun budget was folded back into the household earlier this year.  Nevertheless, I remain open to a good deal if it’s something I can really use.  (I don’t have collector guns – I have shooting guns.)

I was therefore very interested when my local dealer got his hands on two Smith & Wesson .38 Special revolvers.  One was a 4″ pencil-barrel Model 10-5, like this one but in better condition:

and one a heavy-barrel Military & Police model, still in its very-good-condition blue box, similar to this one:

They weren’t cheap (no quality revolver is these days), but they were fairly priced.  As luck would have it, I had in my collection a Taurus .22 Magnum Model 941 revolver and a Belgian-made Browning SA-22 semi-auto rifle.  The Belgian-made models, produced there through the early 1970’s, carry a premium over the later Japanese-made versions;  and the Taurus was also an early-production blued model with a 4″ heavy barrel, not nearly as valuable as the Browning, but definitely with appeal to traditionalists.  They both qualified as “nice to have”, but not as “essential”.

My dealer looked at my trades, cocked his head as he considered his two .38’s, and said slowly, “You’ll need to give me some cash.”

“Oh?” I asked.  “How much?”

“I’ll need two . . . dollars.”  He raised his head and grinned at me.

I’d been expecting about two hundred, but I wasn’t about to argue.  My wallet came out of my pocket faster than it takes to tell it, and I walked out of the shop with two nice clean .38 Special revolvers to add to my battery.

There are those who sneer at the .38 Special as being underpowered.  I don’t agree.  For short to medium range confrontations, with the right ammunition, accurately aimed and delivered to the right spot, it remains very effective, as Jim Cirillo demonstrated during his numerous gunfights as a member of the New York Police Department’s Stakeout Squad.  We’ve run into Jim in these pages before.  

My preferred standard-pressure carry load in .38 Special (not +P, which some older revolvers may not be able to handle, and which can produce excessive recoil in small, light snub-nose revolvers) is Buffalo Bore’s 150-grain hard-cast full wadcutter round.  I’ve used it for several years, and find it accurate and reliable in all my weapons.  Unlike hollow-point rounds, which may not expand at lower velocities such as those fired from short-barrel snubbies, the wadcutter delivers a full-caliber “punch” without having to expand at all;  and it penetrates deeply enough to reach the vitals.  Buffalo Bore says of their round:

The bullet is made hard, so it won’t deform or mushroom. It cuts/crushes a “cookie cutter”, full diameter hole in human flesh just like it does on a paper target. It penetrates deeply (roughly 14 to 16 inches in human tissue) and its full diameter profile maximizes blood loss as it cuts and crushes (not slips or slides) its way through tissue. Although I’ve never been shot with a full profile wad cutter bullet, I must assume that the initial impact of that wide flat nosed bullet, is crushingly formidable. As a teenager, I took to the woods on a regular basis and killed many a critter with heavily loaded 38SPL wadcutters’. The effect of a full profile wad cutter on small game was obvious and amazing, compared to regular round nosed bullets. That flat nose literally hammers living things.

I have every confidence that one or two of those rounds, delivered to the vitals, will stop almost anyone (except, perhaps, someone hopped-up on narcotics, and even a shotgun slug might not stop such an attacker).  To aid in rapid, accurate shooting, I’ve put Uncle Mike’s boot grips on both of the guns, which fit our hands better than the originals and give us greater control and accuracy.  (I stocked up on Uncle Mike’s grips when they announced they were going out of production, and still have several sets.  I like them very much.)

I now have enough .38 Special and .357 Magnum revolvers to conceal one in every room of our home, where they won’t be found easily by visitors or intruders, but will be instantly available to my wife and myself in case of need.  You think that’s paranoid?  Not in an age of home invasions.  They go down so fast that you probably won’t have time to get to your gun safe and retrieve a firearm.  (If you doubt that, see the many videos of home invasion attacks on YouTube.)  Your only meaningful defense is to to carry a gun on your person – which isn’t always convenient, let alone possible – or have one readily available.  Revolvers can be left loaded without any long-term pressure on magazine springs or other “wear-and-tear” factors, and my wife and I can shoot them accurately, so they’re the obvious solution.

All in all, a good trade, one that will help us be prepared for whatever the next few years throw at us.  (Yes, I am expecting them to be difficult years for everyone – hence this added precaution.)



  1. Forgive me. Go look at Gun Sam revolver afficionado on you tube. .38 Special manufacturers ought to honor his effort.

  2. I once read that from the time you hear the first break-in noises (like breaking glass or a jimmied door) you have about 15 seconds to arm yourself and respond if you expect to have even 50-50 odds. So no, your "revolver available in every room" does NOT sound paranoid, but rather like good planning.

    I obviate that need by simply carrying my normal carry piece (a Ruger LC9) from room to room with me, either in my bathrobe or clipped to my pants. And an AR-15 AND a 12-gauge shotgun are within 15 or 20 steps away from me if it really gets spicy.

  3. I agree that a firearm in every room is far from being paranoid these days, but that's not an option for me; we have our granddaughters (Ages 9 & 7 and both a handful) here frequently.
    When they are here, I keep my Beretta 9mm in a locked case travel case under my bed- it's just a simple 3 -digit lock like a brief case, so it takes about 2 seconds to open it.The Mossberg pistol grip shotgun gets locked away.

    When they are not here, I keep my pistol on the dresser and my shotgun within arm's reach. Regarding the shotgun, I found that I can almost double it's capacityfrom 5+1 to 9+1 by using Aguila 00 Buck Mini-Shells


    Amahl – I have read firearms/ home defense experts say that you should never be more than 3-4 seconds from your weapon. But I like your 15 seconds better!

  4. You may have 15 seconds from the first sound, but when you factor in the time to recognize it and get through the decision cycle, 3-4 seconds is probably all that's left to get armed.
    Having a dog (or more than one) to buy some time is a handy thing. Bonus if he growls/barks at any odd sounds in the middle of the night.

  5. Friend loaded up several hundred .38 Special wadcutter hollowpoints. Look like a typical wadcutter, but with a hole in the middle. They should work well for personal defense. Then there are the OLD timers that like altering a lead soft nose with a couple of cuts to make a dum-dum round. Probably not great for accuracy at long range, but likely effective.

  6. 38 is plenty enough gun. The army went to 45 with 38 would not stop drugged up natives.

    but it worked for a long time before that.

  7. You just have to be able to get a head shot. Often easier said than done, but will stop them when a body shot won't.

  8. Hey Peter, 14-16" won't exit the center mass of 60+% of Americans today. In case you haven't noticed.

    Not criticism of your article. Just my smart mouth talking here.

    Keep up the great blog.

  9. Nothing wrong with a 38 Specials as long as it's not loaded with FMJ Round Nose.

    A nice central nervous system hit (I.E. Brain or Spine) even the FMJ will work BUT that's a hard shot in a hurry.

    I've dropped enough Deer with 38 Special 125 Grain Semi-Jacketed HP and seen the wound channel during processing the Deer. As a Surgical Sort I've assisted in Surgery folks that have been so blessed. And those were the ones that Lived to get to the OR.

    HOWEVER all this goes out the window IF your Assailant is a Drugged up aggressor. Part of what gave the M-1 Carbine a bad reputation was that Hitler's SS Troopers were known to be Meth-heads and that 110 grain FMJ Round Nose carbine bullet wasn't so effective.

    SAME with ALL Pistol Calibers sad to say. Maybe the raw destructive power of .357 or 45 ACP might help but I've SEEN two MP's unload their Beretta M9 service pistols into a Meth-Head with a Buck Knife HITTING Him with many "Lethal" hits and they BOTH ended up on MY OR Tables for major surgery. Oh yeah that Meth-Head Died but with out 911 and modern surgery the MP's were also dead.

    20 Gauge or larger shotguns with #6 lead shot at home defense ranges will literally rip chunks off an intruder. Yes some survivors have been on my OR Table. A Meth-Head sans a leg cannot run me down for a knifing. Just saying. Also #6 shot is far less likely to over penetrate into your Daughters room than a pistol bullet.

  10. I have never embraced 38 Special guns. I have shot thousands of 38 rounds out of 357's. Most of those were very hot 38+ rounds. I do like having the ability of magnum loads. My current gun is a S&W Model 65-2 with a 4" barrel.

  11. I simply keep my carry gun on around the house. I get 15 seconds notice? Cool. I'll already be drawn and in a shooting position, just in time for the targets to come through the door.

  12. +1 on the gun(s) in every room. Most of mine are revolvers too, .357 with a couple of 44 specials.
    Years ago there was a nurse blogger from Louisiana who recommended cheap shotguns in various places in the house. He'd pick up well used ones at pawnshops and cut the barrels down. I have the shotguns, but bought cheap imported and used slug barreled ones all loaded with low recoil #4 buckshot.All function tested and fired of course. S&B had a 12 gauge 21 pellet load that was basically a mild 20 gauge equivalent and I bought a bunch of it. At my advanced age this makes sense.
    That is where the 38special comes in, while I can still handle a .357, I can tell the time is coming when it will be too much and the .38 special that I can handle is better than the blaster that I can't.

  13. There is the tale of the guy who died answering his door. It took detectives over an hour to collect all the guns he had staged around the house. Check out the many videos on ASP on u-tube. 15 seconds warning? Not hardly. If it's not on you, you aren't armed, pretty much.

    The fix for casual dress around the house might be one of the various shoulder rig designs. No need for pants that can hold up the weight of a gun. The other options are using a belly band holster, or a fannypack holster.

    You may have an exciting time if you are walking by a door when it gets kicked in. Most doors only take one kick to fail, even external ones.

  14. Peter,
    do you find that heavy bullet loads shoot to point of aim at distances beyond a home's room length?
    My .38 snubbies have always shot to POA with 125gr std power, out to 40yds. (longest range I've tried)
    I really dislike the time splits with heavy loads in airweight type snubbies, and practice shouldn't be torture.

  15. @Will: I haven't tried snubbies or .38 Specials much beyond 25 yards, and I usually practice with 158gr. LRN or JRN. That shoots more or less to POA, depending on the manufacturer. I find the Buffalo Bore wadcutter about as accurate, which is all I need.

  16. @MNW
    I realize haters gotta hate, but give it a rest.

    Not all Taurus are bad, my parkerized PT1911 is a nail driver with a fantastic trigger.

    My stainless PT1911 had an issue I couldn't find time to troubleshoot, sent it back and received a Brand new SS PT1911 in about 3 weeks.
    Trigger isn't as fine as the older one, but I'll eventually get it well broken in and be happy with it too.

    P.S. It's an SA-22, not a BA-22

  17. @Feral Ferret

    probably hollow-base wadcutters loaded backwards.
    Used to be a popular theme.

    Personally, I think any gun you can shoot accurately and HIT THE TARGET with is far far better than any Magnum/big bore anything that the shooter isn't comfortable with.
    Including a .22LR.

    Personally, I also prefer .45ACP, .44 Spl, .45 Colt.

    Big holes leak more bodily fluids, with or without expansion.

  18. Actually no. These were sold as hollow point wadcutters and were boat tail. First time I had seen such a thing. I bought the bullets and he did the reloading. At the time any .38 special bullets and cases were pretty hard to find.

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