New 38 S&W Ammunition Causes Delayed Appreciation

By Major Van Harl USAF Ret

Smith & Wesson Model 33 Revolver
Buffalo Bore ammo breathes new life into Smith & Wesson Model 33 Revolver
AmmoLand Gun News
AmmoLand Gun News

Wisconsin –-(Ammoland.com)-  “Lieutenant Harl you’re into guns, correct sir” Master Sergeant Burt Fulton asked me as he walked into my office.

“Sir there is a young Airman outside in the hall who has a Smith & Wesson 38 revolver he needs to sell for $100 and I told him you would buy it.”

Even in 1980 $100 was a good deal for a Smith & Wesson 38, so I had the Airman come in and show me the handgun. As soon as he laid it on my desk I knew I was sorry that I agreed to look at the handgun.

It was and still is a very well-made, small framed Smith & Wesson Model 33, five shot revolver, but it was not chambered in 38 Special like the duty handgun I was wearing that day as an Air Force cop. It was a 38 S&W caliber handgun and the two cartridges are not the same or interchangeable.

38 S&W was first marketed in 1877 and, while a very accurate pistol cartridge, it really is rather weak in man-stopping power if you’re using it to save your life in combat or on the streets as a cop.

Having said that, be advised the weak 38 S&W ammunition was chambered in handguns used by tens of thousands of policemen and soldiers throughout the world, I just did not want the gun. British Soldiers carried a handgun in 38 S&W in both WW I and WWII.

The Airman is staring at me with the “I really need the money-look” and Master Sergeant Fulton is staring at me with “buy the darn gun Lieutenant-look” so I bought the little Smith & Wesson revolver in 38 S&W. The next time I flew back to the mid-west I took it to my parent’s home and left it for the next thirty years.

I did shoot it a couple of times over the years. The Model 33 is a fun little handgun to shoot, very accurate and in those days ammo was cheap. The problem is everyone in the revolver making business has made a small framed handgun in 38 S&W and most of the handguns cannot take the pressures of modern pistol powders that could make the rather weak cartridge into a fairly good personal defense weapon.

Even though I had no plans to carry or use the little Model 33, prior to the last Presidential election I bought five new boxes of 38 S&W for $18 a box. I do not believe in having a handgun around and not having ammo to use in it for real world issues. If you can find 50 rounds of 38 S&W today, it is selling for $35-$40 a box and it is still the 146 grain bullet very– weak ammo made just like they made it in 1877 or 1928 or 2013.

Buffalo Bore 38 S&W Or 38 Colt New Police Ammo
Buffalo Bore 38 S&W Or 38 Colt New Police Ammo

Enter Buffalo Bore Ammunition (www.buffalobore.com) they have come up with some 38 S&W ammo which now makes that cartridge acceptable for serious consideration in your personal defense inventory of handguns. They use a lighter 125 grain, very hard casted bullet, with some new and improved modern powder that speeds up the velocity which in turn allows the “new’ 38 S&W ammo to cut ugly, nasty holes in bad-guys.

The point of the article is, yes there are all kinds of modern handguns that can do a much better job than 38 S&W but there are thousands of old, small framed handguns out there to be had for a lot less money, just because they are chambered in 38 S&W.

The old break top handguns will not handle the Buffalo Bore ammo. If however you have a solid framed Colt or Smith & Wesson or perhaps one of the revolvers that British manufactured and issued they are good candidates for using the greatly improved Buffalo Bore 38 S&W ammo. It is time to start asking dad or grandpa if he has a handgun chambered in the venerable 38 S&W caliber cartridge packed away somewhere. Somebody has them, there were so darn many of them manufactured.

I shot the new 125 grain Buffalo Bore 38 S&W ammo and so did the Colonel. She likes the smaller framed handgun and the recoil is only slightly more noticeable than the old style factory ammunition we also shot. I have a small Smith & Wesson 22lr revolver that is the same size and weight as my old Smith & Wesson Model 33 handgun chambered in 38 S&W. I carry the 22lr revolver because it is light. I will be carrying the old S&W Model 33 with the new Buffalo Bore 38 S&W ammo in the future.

I now have a new found, all though thirty years delayed, appreciation for a handgun cartridge that is almost 140 years old.

Check the gun stores, the gun shows and grandma’s night stand, these old 38 S&W handguns are out there and with new improved ammo they can still stop evil.

Major Van Harl USAF Ret / [email protected]

About Major Van Harl USAF Ret.:Major Van E. Harl USAF Ret., a career Police Officer in the U.S. Air Force was born in Burlington, Iowa, USA, in 1955. He was the Deputy Chief of police at two Air Force Bases and the Commander of Law Enforcement Operations at another. He is a graduate of the U.S. Army Infantry School.  A retired Colorado Ranger and currently is an Auxiliary Police Officer with the Cudahy PD in Milwaukee County, WI.  His efforts now are directed at church campus safely and security training.  He believes “evil hates organization.”  [email protected]

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Michael Rich
Michael Rich
4 years ago

Keep in mind the J Frame Model 33 is the same as the J Frame S&W Model 36, except that the Model 36 is chambered for the .38 special. Too bad the Model 36 was not manufactured with a 4 inch barrel like the Model 33. Back in 1973, the Speer reloading book offered some hot loads for the .38 S&W cartridge, including one for the Speer 125 grain jacketed hollow point. The test gun was a Model 33 four inch and one load for the 125 grain JHP rated 1009 feet per second at the muzzle. However, the following… Read more »

terry waller
terry waller
4 years ago

is the load for the s/w evr police special .361 146 grain a good defence ammo, or would it be better in hollow point?

JB-7997
JB-7997
4 years ago

I have one of the little jewels myself and the Buffalo Bore loads are fine to use in it. Reeds ammunition also a 200gr full power flat point load that works well in mine .

The Captain
The Captain
4 years ago

Any solid framed revolver in good firing condition should be capable of using this load. I wish i had a Terrier or an S&W Regulation Police chambered for the round. Contrary to polular belief, many .38 S&W handloads (using the .361 146-grain Round Nosed Lead bullet handily outclasses the .380 Auto, like it or not!

chris plummer
chris plummer
5 years ago

I’mtempted to buy a box to try out. I am concerned about flame cutting, however. Has Buffalo Bore or anyone shooting this round provided any feedback about top strap erosion?

Jeff Ashley
Jeff Ashley
5 years ago

I inherited a little Smith & Wesson model 32-1 (Terrier) (2″ snub nose) that uses .38 S&W cartridges. I’m guessing that this new Buffalo Bore cartridge should be safe to shoot in that?

Thanks

Mark Konick
Mark Konick
5 years ago

Very informative article. Thank you !!

zeprin
zeprin
6 years ago

This round was purposely designed to duplicate the ballistics of the .36 Colt Navy. The most popular defensive handgun of pre-cartridge era. And that popularity, Hollywood withstanding, kept right on going into the 20th Century. The little .38 was generally the weapon of choice for both the Gun Fighter and the Law Man! For all of the reasons listed. In town, where most trouble actually happened, it was easily consealed and brought into use. It was, and is accurate. Especially at Poker Table Range. The big Smiths and Colts were fine ‘FIELD’ guns. Especially when paired with a like chambered… Read more »

BJK
BJK
6 years ago

I’ve had a British Bulldog (Belgian copy) chambered in .38 S&W for a while now and have found cartridge loads wanting. The LRN I’ve been using are good for range time as a hobby. I’ve been searching for a more serious cartridge, thank you for your detailed and insightful analysis.

JDC
JDC
6 years ago

To clarify, this ammunition is safe to shoot in Webley and Enfield break-tops as they have a more substantial build (per Buffalo Bore). Nearly any other break top is unsafe to shoot this ammo as far as I know.

Damon Mason
Damon Mason
6 years ago

Would this ammo be too hot for a Colt Police Positive revolver, or should I stay with the Remington ammo I have been shooting?

Thanks, Damon

LouisianaMan
LouisianaMan
5 years ago
Reply to  Damon Mason

Yes, your Colt will be fine with the Buffalo Bore ammo, as long as your gun is in good operating condition. Ken Waters’s “Pet Loads” article from 1979 drew the following line for his high-power .38 S&W loads: they’re suitable in modern-era solid-frame revolvers, as well as British military top breaks of the WWII era (Enfields and Webleys). Terrier, Regulation Police, their subsequent numbered J- frame offspring (Mods. 32-1 and 33 and 33-1); Victory Models; Colt Banker’s Model, Police Positive, and Police Positive Special; and the rarely-encountered Ruger Indian Contract guns that used modified Speed-Six and Service-Six models. Perhaps there… Read more »

James A. "Jim" Farmer
James A. "Jim" Farmer
6 years ago

The original .38 Smith and Wesson/.38 Colt New Police was developed in 1877. 22 years later the more powerful .38 Special was likewise developed as an improvement over the .38 Long Colt. Prior to and during World War II (1939- 1945) British officers carried both Webley designed Enfield “break top” revolvers, and also a variation of the Smith and Wesson (K-Frame) Military and Police or “Hand Ejector” revolver with six shot swing out cylinder. The S&W M&P was designated Model 10 in 1957. Anyway the British service loading was designated the .38/200 when introduced in 1932. Later weight was reduced… Read more »