.38 Special – The Unsung King of Quiet?

U.S.A. -(AmmoLand.com)- 38 special is a 100-year-old caliber and not the first one that comes to mind when searching for the quietest round to pair with a suppressor. And that might be why so many shooters sleep on the round when it comes to maximizing the performance of their favorite pistol suppressor.  But that’s a mistake and I’ll tell you precisely why.

Henry-X 38special SilencerCo Osprey45
Heavy 38 special rounds fired from a carbine with a suppressor like this SilencerCo Osprey 45 from Silencer Shop are absurdly quiet. IMG Jim Grant

Why 38 Special is Movie Quiet Suppressed 

Even though 38 special is primarily a revolver cartridge, there are plenty of lever-action rifles chambered in it. And it’s when the round is fired from one of these rifles with a suppressor attached, that the often overlooked caliber becomes Hollywood quiet. And the reasons for this aren’t anything crazy, they’re actually very straightforward.

Henry X Suppressed
Does this look ridiculous? Absolutely. Is it ridiculously quiet? Absolutely! IMG Jim Grant

First off, 38 special is designed for a revolver and by extension, revolver-length barrels. Traditionally, this means at the most eight inches, and realistically most were between 2 and 6 inches. So by using a longer barrel like the 16-inch barrel on a Henry Model X, the round actually loses velocity, ensuring that it’s subsonic by the time it leaves the muzzle. But this isn’t always the case; only heavier rounds like 158gr lead nose ones have low enough velocities for this to be true. This means suppressing common conceal carry loads like 125gr JHP rounds will only result in about the same sound signature as a suppressed 9mm carbine.

But when a shooter employs the heavier 147 and 158gr rounds, the result is close to standard velocity .22lr rounds suppressed. Yes, it’s that quiet.

Hornady-SST-357-Magnum-Osprey45 SMALL.jpg
Even though 38 special is 100 years old, there are some top-notch defensive loads available for it. IMG Jim Grant

What about terminal ballistics? Well, honestly they aren’t great at range. But this is a close-range cartridge, and inside of 50 yards will do serious damage to both two and four-legged attackers. Plus, if a shooter wants to maximize the efficacy of their carbine, they can always load some 357 Magnum rounds at the rear of the tube as ‘insurance’.

Ultimately, there are irrefutably better defensive cartridges available for shooters, but if you’re looking to quietly dispatch a raccoon or coyote on your farm, the suppressed 38 special will let you hear the impact of the round. Hell, I’ve shot a rabid coyote in my backyard while my wife was gardening in the front yard, and she asked me, “did you get it before you bit you?” because she thought I had just swatted a mosquito on my neck.

Anecdotal? Sure. But it speaks volumes to just how quiet this little round can be.


About Jim Grant

Jim is a freelance writer, editor, and videographer for dozens of publications who loves anything and everything guns. While partial to modern military firearms and their civilian counterparts, he holds a special place in his heart for the greatest battle implement ever devised and other WW2 rifles. When he’s not reviewing guns or shooting for fun and competition, Jim can be found hiking and hunting with his wife Kimberly, and their dog Peanut in the South Carolina low country.

Jim Grant

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Terril Hebert

I never shot one suppressed but 38 Special loads out of a lever gun is still nothing to sneeze at defensively. You can fit a few extra rounds in a 357 Magnum chambered lever gun and the report and blast is very low, even with +P ammo.

musicman44mag

I am not sure, but I would think that you would have jamming problems. I had a 22 that was semi that shot short and long and if I mixed them I always had problems with feeding.

Glypto Dropem

I have the Marlin 1894CB with the 20″ octagon barrel in .38 SPL/.357 MAG. Two things that make both rounds feed reliably; 1) it’s lever action, not a semi-auto so the cycling of the action is not dependent on the power of the cartridge for operation. And 2) the cartridge lifting mechanism receives the cartridge from the tubular magazine horizontally then as the lever is returned “home” the round is lifted in front of the bolt and pushed into the chamber. It operates the same way every time regardless again of cartridge power. In a semi-auto like a .22, the… Read more »

Last edited 6 months ago by Glypto Dropem
Wild Bill

I don’t mean to be critical, but measurements expressed in decibels would be helpful.

musicman44mag

I agree but thinking that someone slapped their neck is a pretty good description and the movie quiet comment we all know is just a little quieter than a slap and more like a whisper, LOL.

Duane

When using loads in the 850fps one doesn’t even need suppressor.

Just a long barrel

That can be done with a 18″ or longer bloop tube attached to a 16″ or longer barrel.

A 22 inch barrel with a light load of red dot, 158gr lead swc and a 18 inch bloop tube all one hears id the bullet hitting the target

Deplorable Bill

Try a 148g hollow based wad cutter over 2.7 of 231. Plenty good enough in a lever gun for small stuff and bigger, up to deer size, if you know what to aim for and it’s VERY QUIET even without a suppressor. My bow makes more noise. Put a can on it and it’s just another piece of popcorn in a lever gun. Try reversing the hbwc and up the charge and you get a 75 caliber mushroom without going through your target. Test it on milk jugs or gelatin.

Arm up and carry on

45crittergitter

“…if a shooter wants to maximize the efficacy of their carbine, they [sic] can always load some 357 Magnum rounds at the rear of the tube as ‘insurance’.”

I think you mean the front of the tube; that is, the end nearer the muzzle, so those rounds come up last.

musicman44mag

Maybe he has a Remington nylon 38 lever action, LOL.

Ledesma

Although boring and unattractive, lever action systems give shooters the highest degree of maintenance free dependability. Unlike the flashy pop culture clip fed systems sensitive to shock, weather, particle encroachments and generational conflict with lawmakers. The only thing that spared the M-16 from total disaster in muddy, monsoon drenched Vietnam was ceaseless and endless cleaning.

musicman44mag

I think he has a problem if he is biting himself. Sorry Jim, had to go there, you are one of my favorite authors and thanks for contributing. Last line in the last paragraph.

Last edited 7 months ago by musicman44mag
Don

Who needs a silencer? A Marlin 1894C with 130 gr “GI” load is so quiet tht it doesn’t need a can. Love it.