best .38 special ammo for snubbies hero image

Best .38 Special Ammo for Snubbies

If you’re new to carrying a snub-nosed revolver, you’re likely wondering what the best .38 Special ammo for snubbies is. Despite the rising popularity of 9mm carry pistols with high capacities, many shooters still find short-barreled .38 Special revolvers useful.

Today we’re taking a look at the best .38 Special ammo for snubbies so you can feel confident in the rounds you’re carrying.

Best .38 Special Ammo for Snubbies: Our Choices

Right off the bat, our choices for the best ammo for .38 Special snubbies is:

We will go into more detail as to why we chose these in a little bit, but first, we need to understand a little more about snubbies and ammo selection.

What is a Snubby?

a ruger lcr 38 special +P snubby revolver next to 38 special rounds

A snubby, or snub-nosed revolver, is a small, short-barreled revolver. Snubbies have a barrel length of 3 inches or less and are typically chambered in .38 Special or .357 Magnum. The Ruger LCR and the Smith & Wesson J-frame are examples of some of the most popular snubbies. While there are also revolvers chambered in larger calibers with short barrels, the .38 and .357 are what most people consider a snubby. 

Snubbies are popular because they’re easily concealable and simple to use.

How to Choose the Best .38 Special Ammo for Snubbies

ballistic gelatin with .38 special rounds shot through

When choosing self defense .38 Special ammo for a snub nosed revolver, there are some important considerations to take.

Because snub-nosed revolvers have short barrels, the bullet has a harder time gaining a high velocity as it leaves the barrel. Bullets traveling at a low velocity will often not have enough speed to expand upon penetration of soft tissue. We want the bullet to expand because it creates a larger wound channel in our target. Over-penetration can also occur if the bullet doesn’t expand; this is why we don’t advise carrying FMJ ammo in your self defense gun.

One way to evaluate this is by performing ballistic gel testing. That’s because it can give us an idea of how the bullet might perform in a real-life defensive situation. When doing ballistic testing, a couple of the things we look at are bullet penetration and expansion. The FBI’s standard for performance in ballistic gelatin calls for 12-18″ of penetration. This correlates with bullets that adequately penetrate soft tissue. We also look at expansion of the bullet. Generally, we look for a bullet to have expanded to 1.5 times its original diameter. For example, a .38 Special bullet has a diameter of .357″. This means, ideally, we want the bullet to expand to at least .54″ after penetrating the ballistic gel.

Another thing to consider is recoil. Snubbies have short barrels and are usually pretty light. This equates to more felt recoil for the shooter, especially when shooting some more powerful defensive rounds. Unmanageable recoil can lead to poor accuracy with follow up shots. Plus, you’re less likely to practice with your gear if it is unpleasant to shoot. That’s why you’ll find some choices on our list that aren’t the typical jacketed hollow point bullets that many choose for self defense.

Best .38 Special Snub-Nosed Ammo

The best .38 Special ammo for snubbies on our list include:

Now, let’s take a closer look at why we chose these options.

Speer Gold Dot Short Barrel 135gr. +P JHP

a box of speer gold dot ammo showing the best .38 special ammo for snubbies

As the name implies, Speer designed the .38 Special Gold Dot Short Barrel 135gr. +P JHP round specifically for short-barreled guns. It is a +P round, or overpressure round, meaning it can only be used in revolvers designated for .38 Special +P or revolvers also chambered for .357 Magnum. 

Gold Dots have bonded core bullets, making the bullet less likely to face core-jacket separation. This makes for greater weight retention upon penetration, which makes the bullet more effective than traditional hollow points against bone or heavy clothing. In gel tests using a 2” barrel, the Gold Dot Short Barrel 135gr. averages a 13.5” penetration depth. The round also consistently expands to 1.5 times its original diameter. 

The Gold Dot line from Speer is well-trusted among professionals and is a solid choice for those carrying snubbies.

Winchester 148gr. Super-X Lead Wadcutter

a box and three rounds of winchester .38 special 148gr. wadcutters

When most shooters look for defensive rounds, they automatically go to jacketed hollow point bullets. However, when it comes to lightweight, short-barrel revolvers, there’s another bullet option that performs well: the wadcutter bullet

Winchester’s 148gr. Super-X Lead Wadcutter is an excellent ammo choice for snubbies. In ballistic tests, it penetrates to around 16” out of a 2” revolver, meeting the FBI’s standards. It doesn’t expand, but that’s because it is not designed to. The wadcutter bullet has a sharp shoulder that not only pushes through 4-layer denim, but also causes crushing damage to soft tissue. 

As a plus, the Winchester 148gr. Super-X lead has relatively light recoil compared to other rounds. This will help with the accuracy of any follow-up shots. It also makes the gun more enjoyable to shoot. 

Federal Gold Medal Match 148gr. Wadcutter

Another 148gr. wadcutter worth carrying in your snubbie is the Federal Gold Medal Match 148gr. Wadcutter. Like the Winchester Super-X lead wadcutter, the Gold Medal Match offers manageable recoil out of short barrel revolvers, making it a shootable round for self defense and range training. As we mentioned before, wadcutters don’t expand, but instead punch a wide and injurious hole through soft tissue. 

In addition to being a great round for snubbies, Federal loads it right here in the states.

Winchester 130gr. +P Ranger Bonded

a box and three rounds of winchester ranger 38 special jhp ammo

The Winchester 130gr. +P Ranger Bonded is a round that consistently performs well in ballistic tests. It uses a bonded jacketed hollow point bullet which gives great weight retention upon penetration and solid performance through barriers like windshield glass. In ballistic tests, the round consistently reaches the minimum 12″ of penetration and expands exceptionally.

Unfortunately, the Ranger round is intended for law enforcement use only, so getting a hold of a box can be difficult, though not impossible. The good news is that Winchester has two other .38 loads using the same bullets, but with slower velocities: Winchester 130gr. Train & Defend JHP and Winchester 130gr. +P PDX1 Defender. Both of these rounds have decent penetration and expansion in ballistic gel tests and are excellent choices if you can’t get ahold of the Ranger rounds.

Best .38 Special Ammo for Snubbies: Final Thoughts

the author shooting a .38 special snubby with the best .38 special ammo for snubbies

If you choose to carry a snubby for self defense, you want to be sure you’re loading it with the best bullet for the job. The rounds mentioned above have a solid performance record in ballistic testing out of snubbies, and we feel confident that they’re great options. Of course, there are many other great loads not mentioned that will work just fine in your short barrel revolver. Whichever round you choose to carry in your snubby, be sure you’re practicing with it so that you’re best prepared if you ever need to use it.

shop top .38 special rounds here with a box of winchester 38 ammo

Share this article with your friends!