Got a 38 Special that Wont Shoot Plus-P – One Word ‘Buffalo Bore’

By Major Van Harl USAF Ret

Colt Detective Special Revolver
Colt Detective Special Revolver
AmmoLand Gun News
AmmoLand Gun News

Wisconsin –-(   I had not owned a 38 Special revolver in twenty years. I have 357 mag revolvers and you can shoot 38 Special ammo out of the 357 mag.

So I never concerned myself with shooting hotter 38 Special loads that tend to develop higher pressure in the handgun. Pressure that many 38 Special revolvers were not designed to handle.

So you are sitting there saying to yourself who cares, everyone shoots a Glock 9mm now-a-days? What do I want with something as old and antique as a 38 Special revolver that only shots 5 or 6 rounds when I could be shooting a plastic semi-auto pistol that spits out 15-18 rounds as fast as you pull the trigger?

What you need to understand is the number one selling handgun in the country is a small framed 5 shot 38 Special revolver. So, many are sold, because it is small. You can slip it into your blue jeans pocket and never miss a beat. Women love them because they are light and small and fit into the tiniest purse.

Back in the day, I hand-loaded 38 Special ammo as hot as I could safely get away with. What then was considered a standard 38 Special load for law enforcement was a very slow, low pressure cartridge with a 158 grain round nose lead bullet. This was what almost all the “cops” in this country were carrying in the 1950s and 1960s.

The US military used 38 Special handguns in WWI, WWII, Korean, Vietnam and even the Gulf Wars. The key was the low pressure which allowed handgun manufacturers to build small-framed handguns that were not made to shoot any “hot” high pressure ammo.

My father-in-law gave me an old Colt Police Positive Special revolver made in the 1920s. Very nice little gun, but little was the issue. It was never designed to handle high pressure modern ammo in what is known as 38 Special +P ammo (read hot). I want to carry this little Colt because it is so light and a very nicely manufactured handgun, so I went looking for something a little bit meaner and harder on the bad-guys but still safe on my old Colt.

Buffalo Bore Standard Pressure Short Barrel Low Flash Heavy .38 Special Ammo
Buffalo Bore Standard Pressure Short Barrel Low Flash Heavy .38 Special Ammo

Enter Buffalo Bore ( and their low pressure 38 Special ammo, which can put nasty holes in bad DNA without developing unsafe pressure that could harm my old Colt or me. Buffalo Bore has this great 150 grain lead wad cutter 38 Special (20D/20) that I really like.

When you look at the loaded cartridge it appears that someone cut off the end of the lead. It is flat and smooth and looks a bit “different” from all the other store bought ammo you have, but it is really effective stuff. When you shoot it into a paper target it passes through as if you used a paper hole-punch to make very clean .357 diameter holes in the target.

The point is it makes that same .357 diameter hole in that nasty DNA we were discussing earlier. Effective wound channels are what you are trying to create as fast as you can to stop the nasty DNA from harming you.

Remember if you are engaging questionable DNA in the middle of a dark parking lot most likely it is at a very scary close proximity. Many of the small-framed 38 Specials currently manufactured do not recommend or outright tell you not to use 38 Special +P ammo in the firearm. There are hundreds of thousands if not millions of old 38 Special revolvers out there in the hands of the shooting public that cannot safely handle “hot” +P ammo and in some cases it is downright dangerous to use. Always check with the manufacturer’s recommendation on the use of +P ammo. You will be shocked at how many older and more, disappointed at how many new manufactured 38 Specials revolvers prohibit high velocity ammunition.

However, you can always take a hard look at what Buffalo Bore 38 Special ammo that is made in standard pressure, can do for you. It can attack the bad DNA and provide you a renewed and enhanced capability for your older vintage handguns. Buffalo Bore produces two other 38 Special low pressure rounds: one with a 125 grain (20E/20) jacket hollow-point bullet and the second (my favorite) a 158 grain (20C/20) semi-wad cutter, hollow-point.

For the non-gun person who happens to own a small frame 38 Special revolver, who really does not want to do in-depth research on ammunition consider Buffalo Bore ammo. They give you the increased performance of the ammo while limiting concern for using incorrect high pressure ammunition in the wrong handgun.

In the end it is about stopping the bad DNA without harming yourself. And it is Strictly Business.

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]

  • 5 thoughts on “Got a 38 Special that Wont Shoot Plus-P – One Word ‘Buffalo Bore’

    1. Some tend to forget the .38 put down a LOT of bad guys. And .45s,,.40 S&Ws, .357 magnums have FAILED to put down lots of bad guys. It is all about shot placement. The old , “A.45 will tear somebodies arm off” is a fantasy created by MORONS that don’t know squat about guns, what they are capable of and what they are NOT capable of. It is a FACT that 80% of gunshot victims survive. If they make it to the ER before dying 95% survive. So it’s all about stopping power, NOT knockdown power as no such thing exists in a handgun. The cartridge selection is second only to bullet placement. And bigger IS better. Faster is better, but not always attainable. So a flat nosed heavy bullet is as good as it gets in many circumstances. Controlling your firearm is easier with a round that DOESN’T suffer the recoil than one that does. .38, or.44 magnum? .38 100 times out of 100. Major Van Harl hit the nail on the head. Fact over fiction.

    2. This is not a new idea. Back in the 1970’s a common practice was to load inverted 148 grain hollow base wad cutters for defensive use. Massive bullet expansion without excessive penetration.

    3. I’ve been loading 148 gr wad cutters for both my carry guns: A S&W Bodyguard and a S&W Mod. 60 for years. The Mod. 60 will shoot .357s and the Bodyguard can handle .38 spl.+P, but I can shoot the wad cutter load much more effectively in these lightweight weapons.

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