By Carmon Crapson

Experts argue over the exact specifications of a snubnose revolver. Most will concede that it’s a wheel gun with a short barrel – 3 inches in length or less. Oldtimers might call the snubby a “belly gun,” “bulldog revolver” or “pocket gun,” designed for concealed carry. Modern shooters often consider semi-autos as pocket guns due to their size. However, hammerless snubbies and revolvers with bobbed or shrouded hammers exist to prevent the gun from snagging on clothing, a primary concern in the days before semi-automatic pistols.

The term snubby used to relate almost exclusively to the .38 Special. Today, the firearm uses many calibers, including .357 Magnum, 9 mm, .40 S&W, .44 Magnum, .45 Magnum, .454 Casull, .480 Ruger, and more. Manufacturers of common rounds come from Speer Gold Dot, Remington, Corbon, Smith & Wesson, Hornady, Winchester, and more.

Snubby History

The snubby has a long and vibrant history starting in 1898. Like most new rounds, necessity was the reason for the creation of the .38 Special bullet. It replaced the .38 Long because the ammo couldn’t penetrate the shields of the Filipino Muslim warriors during the Philippine–American War. The military and law enforcement needed something better.

The propellant used in the original .38 Special round was black powder, a relatively ineffective choice. A year later, smokeless powder arrived on the scene, changing the game for all firearms. Today, the maximum standard pressure for a load is 17,000 PSI. Standard +P loading is about 20,000 PSI. Current bullet weights vary from 110 to 158 Grains.

The snubnose owns a large piece of firearms history. Some famous models include the 3-inch barreled Colt Single Action Army revolver (“Sheriff’s Model,” “Storekeeper’s Model,” or “Banker’s Special.”) Revolvers with longer barrels included the “Gunfighter” (4¾” barrel), the “Artillery” (5½” barrel), the “Cattleman” or “Cowboy” (available in several barrel lengths – 4.75″, 5.5″, and 7.5″), and the “Army,” “Cavalry,” “Standard,” and the “Peacemaker” (7½” barrel models).

Historians write at length about other celebrated models including the Webley .450 “British Bull Dog,” Colt Model 1877 Double Action “Lightning” .38 Long Colt, .32 caliber Smith & Wesson Safety Hammerless, The FitzGerald Special (“Fitz Special”), Colt Detective Special, Smith & Wesson Model 10, Smith & Wesson Model 36, and the Smith & Wesson Model 642 Ladysmith Hammerless (“Chiefs Special”), among others.

Smith & Wesson, Ruger, Colt and other manufacturers produce updated versions of the traditional snubnose revolver. Advanced technology has allowed the manufacture of new models using modern materials. The materials include polymer and lightweight metal alloys, such as titanium, instead of the old school carbon steel, stainless steel.

Snubbies vs. Pocket Pistols

Aficionados argue all the time about which is better – a wheel gun or semi-auto. Pros and cons exist for each. Since the 1990s, concealed carrying is more popular than ever, only further igniting the argument. Along with arguing over the best self-defense rounds, bullet weights, and jacketed hollow point (JHP) or full metal jacket (FMJ) specs, is the discussion of being able to draw the gun when needed.

Other than wearing an ankle holster or storing the gun in a purse or backpack, most want a weapon that can be slipped into a pocket or tucked inside a waistband. In that instance, a pocket pistol (semi-auto) serves the purpose better than a bulkier wheel gun. But that’s not the end to the argument. While the pocket pistol is flatter, it isn’t always the easiest to draw and shoot. The snubby offers a distinct profile, making it easier to put your finger on the trigger. That also makes it easier to shoot from inside a pocket or bag.

While a semi-auto pocket pistol fires faster repeat shots than a double-action revolver, it also has a better chance of misfiring or jamming, neither of which is helpful in a critical situation. While terminal performance and reaching safety are paramount, statistics show that the probability of actually firing a handgun in a self-defense situation is small. Drawing down is the key to scaring off an attacker. In that case, either handgun will do.

Snubnose Ballistics

Despite the variety of snubnose revolvers on the market today, the primary battle continues between the .38 Spl and .357 Magnum. It’s the closest we come to comparing apples to apples in a snubnose world.

One confusing fact about the two rounds is that they are nearly identical in their design. Take the .38 Spl:

  • Parent case: .38 Long Colt
  • Case type: Rimmed, straight
  • Bullet diameter: .357 in (9.1 mm)
  • Neck diameter: .379 in (9.6 mm)
  • Base diameter: .379 in (9.6 mm)
  • Rim diameter: .44 in (11 mm)
  • Rim thickness: .058 in (1.5 mm)
  • Case length: 1.155 in (29.3 mm)
  • Overall length: 1.55 in (39 mm)
  • Case capacity: 23.4 gr H2O (1.52 cm3)
  • Primer type: Small Pistol

Then the .357 Magnum:

  • Parent case: .38 Special
  • Case type: Rimmed, straight
  • Bullet diameter: .357 in (9.1 mm)
  • Neck diameter: .379 in (9.6 mm)
  • Base diameter: .379 in (9.6 mm)
  • Rim diameter: .44 in (11 mm)
  • Rim thickness: .060 in (1.5 mm)
  • Case length: 1.29 in (33 mm)
  • Overall length: 1.59 in (40 mm)
  • Case capacity: 26.2 gr H2O (1.70 cm3)
  • Primer type: Small Pistol Magnum

As you can see, the ballistics of two are nearly identical. The critical point is that the .38 Special round fires in a .357, but the reverse is not true, due to the increased pressure of the .357.

FBI standards determine the parameters of most terminal ballistics tests. The FBI established ballistics protocols after the 1986 Miami Shootout, where several agents were wounded or killed. The FBI’s terminal ballistics testing states that a handgun bullet must penetrate between 12″ and 18″ in 10 percent ordnance ballistic gelatin. This test offers no guarantee that the round will penetrate flesh and bone out on the street, but indicates that it will be effective in taking down a target.

The .38 Special round delivers a maximum average pressure of 17,000 PSI. Average penetration is about 12 inches, depending on testing variables. The .38 Special+P ammo, suitable in most medium frame revolvers, delivers a maximum average pressure of 20,000 PSI, with an average penetration of 13-14 inches in ballistic gelatin. The .357 Magnum delivers a maximum average pressure of 35,000 PSI, with an average penetration of more than 16 inches.

Naturally, ballistics will vary depending on the size of the barrel, bullet weight, brand of ammo, and other factors. However, it is clear that the ballistics of both rounds perform well in a snubby, especially when it comes to self-defense.

The last thing worth mentioning is using high pressure or +p loads in older snubbies. The information on antique weapons is often scarce. Ballistics and testing standards didn’t exist when the weapons were manufactured, so there is a chance of miscalculating what one can handle. Added to that, metal fatigue, substandard materials, and unseen cracks can pose a real danger to the shooter that wants to experiment with modern ammo.

For more information on Snubnose ammo ballistics please see the information below:

Firearm: Colt Diamondback
Barrel Length: 2.5″
Caliber: .38 Special
Bullet Diameter: 0.355″
Bullet Weight: 100 grains
Make: Cor-Bon Pow R Ball
Velocity: 1481 FPS
Recovered Bullet Diameter: 0.565″
Recovered Bullet Weight: 77.3 grains
Distance From Muzzle: 20′

.38 Special Cor-Bon Pow R Ball 100 Grain Ammo Fired From A Colt Diamondback

.38 Special Cor-Bon Pow R Ball 100 Grain Ammo Fired From A Colt Diamondback

.38 Special Cor-Bon Pow R Ball 100 Grain Ballistics

.38 Special Cor-Bon Pow R Ball 100 Grain Ballistics


Firearm: S&W M60
Barrel Length: 2.0″
Caliber: .38 Special
Bullet Diameter: 0.357″
Bullet Weight: 110 grains
Make: Federal JHP Hydra-Shok
Velocity: 838 FPS
Recovered Bullet Diameter: 0.610″
Recovered Bullet Weight: 107.0 grains
Distance From Muzzle: 20′

Snubby .38 Special Ballistics

110 gr Federal HydraShok from 2″ S&W model 60

Snubby .38 Special Ballistics

110 gr Federal HydraShok ballistics


Firearm: Colt Diamondback
Barrel Length: 2.5″
Caliber: .38 Special
Bullet Diameter: 0.357″
Bullet Weight: 110 grains
Make: Winchester STHP
Velocity: 863 FPS
Recovered Bullet Diameter: 0.380″
Recovered Bullet Weight: 109.6 grains
Distance From Muzzle: 20′

110 grain Winchester Silvertip

110 grain Winchester Silvertip fired from a Colt Diamondback

110 grain Winchester Silvertip ballistics

110 grain Winchester Silvertip ballistics


Firearm: Colt Diamondback
Barrel Length: 2.5″
Caliber: .38 Special
Bullet Diameter: 0.357″
Bullet Weight: 110 grains
Make: Winchester STHP
Velocity: 882 FPS
Recovered Bullet Diameter: 0.560″
Recovered Bullet Weight: 110.0 grains
Distance From Muzzle: 20′

110 grain Winchester Silvertip ballistics

110 grain Winchester Silvertip

110 grain Winchester Silvertip ballistics

110 grain Winchester Silvertip ballistics


Firearm: S&W M60
Barrel Length: 2.0″
Caliber: .38 Special
Bullet Diameter: 0.357″
Bullet Weight: 110 grains
Make: Winchester JHP +P
Velocity: 887 FPS
Recovered Bullet Diameter: 0.515″
Recovered Bullet Weight: 109.0 grains
Distance From Muzzle: 20′

Winchester 110 gr JHP +P

Winchester 110 gr JHP +P

Winchester 110 gr JHP +P ballistics

Winchester 110 gr JHP +P ballistics


Firearm: S&W M60
Barrel Length: 2.0″
Caliber: .38 Special
Bullet Diameter: 0.357″
Bullet Weight: 125 grains
Make: CCI JHP
Velocity: 893 FPS
Recovered Bullet Diameter: 0.365″
Recovered Bullet Weight: 108.5 grains
Distance From Muzzle: 20′

CCI 125 grain JHP

CCI 125 grain JHP

CCI 125 grain JHP ballistics

CCI 125 grain JHP ballistics


Firearm: Colt Diamondback
Barrel Length: 2.5″
Caliber: .38 Special
Bullet Diameter: 0.357″
Bullet Weight: 125 grains
Make: Federal JHP Hi-Shok
Velocity: 882 FPS
Recovered Bullet Diameter: 0.597″
Recovered Bullet Weight: 124.7 grains
Distance From Muzzle: 20′

125 grain Federal Hi Shok JHP

125 grain Federal Hi Shok JHP

125 grain Federal Hi Shok JHP ballistics

125 grain Federal Hi Shok JHP ballistics


Firearm: S&W M60
Barrel Length: 2.0″
Caliber: .38 Special
Bullet Diameter: 0.357″
Bullet Weight: 125 grains
Make: Hornady JHP XTP
Velocity: 846 FPS
Recovered Bullet Diameter: 0.400″
Recovered Bullet Weight: 125.0 grains
Distance From Muzzle: 20′

125 grain Hornady XTP JHP

125 grain Hornady XTP JHP

125 grain Hornady XTP JHP ballistics

125 grain Hornady XTP JHP ballistics


Firearm: Colt Diamondback
Barrel Length: 2.5″
Caliber: .38 Special
Bullet Diameter: 0.357″
Bullet Weight: 125 grains
Make: Remington JHP GS
Velocity: 986 FPS
Recovered Bullet Diameter: 0.650″
Recovered Bullet Weight: 125.0 grains
Distance From Muzzle: 15′

125 grain Remington GS JHP

125 grain Remington GS JHP

125 grain Remington GS JHP ballistics

125 grain Remington GS JHP ballistics


Firearm: S&W M60
Barrel Length: 2.0″
Caliber: .38 Special
Bullet Diameter: 0.357″
Bullet Weight: 125 grains
Make: Speer JHP GD
Velocity: 914 FPS
Recovered Bullet Diameter: 0.592″
Recovered Bullet Weight: 123.5 grains
Distance From Muzzle: 20′

125 grain Speer Gold Dot JHP

125 grain Speer Gold Dot JHP

125 grain Speer Gold Dot JHP ballistics

125 grain Speer Gold Dot JHP ballistics


Firearm: Colt Diamondback
Barrel Length: 2.5″
Caliber: .38 Special
Bullet Diameter: 0.357″
Bullet Weight: 130 grains
Make: Winchester JHP SXT
Velocity: 927 FPS
Recovered Bullet Diameter: 0.629″
Recovered Bullet Weight: 129.4 grains
Distance From Muzzle: 15′

130 grain Winchester SXT

130 grain Winchester SXT

130 grain Winchester SXT ballistics

130 grain Winchester SXT ballistics


Firearm: Colt Diamondback
Barrel Length: 2.5″
Caliber: .38 Special
Bullet Diameter: 0.357″
Bullet Weight: 135 grains
Make: Speer JHP GD
Velocity: 792 FPS
Recovered Bullet Diameter: 0.600″
Recovered Bullet Weight: 133.3 grains
Distance From Muzzle: 20′

135 grain Speer Gold Dot JHP short barrel

135 grain Speer Gold Dot JHP short barrel

135 grain Speer Gold Dot JHP short barrel ballistics

135 grain Speer Gold Dot JHP short barrel ballistics


Firearm: S&W M-10
Barrel Length: 2.0″
Caliber: .38 Special
Bullet Diameter: 0.357″
Bullet Weight: 135 grains
Make: Speer JHP GD +P
Velocity: 798 FPS
Recovered Bullet Diameter: 0.585″
Recovered Bullet Weight: 134.0 grains
Distance From Muzzle: 20′

135 grain Speer Gold Dot JHP +P

135 grain Speer Gold Dot JHP +P

135 grain Speer Gold Dot JHP +P ballistics

135 grain Speer Gold Dot JHP +P ballistics


Firearm: Ruger GA32
Barrel Length: 2.75″
Caliber: .38 Special
Bullet Diameter: 0.357″
Bullet Weight: 147 grains
Make: Federal JHP Hydra-Shok
Velocity: 843 FPS
Recovered Bullet Diameter: 0.592″
Recovered Bullet Weight: 145.5 grains
Distance From Muzzle: 20′

147 grain Federal HydraShok JHP

147 grain Federal HydraShok JHP

147 grain Federal HydraShok JHP ballistics

147 grain Federal HydraShok JHP ballistics


Firearm: Ruger GA32
Barrel Length: 2.75″
Caliber: .38 Special
Bullet Diameter: 0.357″
Bullet Weight: 147 grains
Make: Federal JHP Hydra-Shok
Velocity: 865 FPS
Recovered Bullet Diameter: 0.644″
Recovered Bullet Weight: 143.5 grains
Distance From Muzzle: 20′

147 grain Federal HydraShok JHP

147 grain Federal HydraShok JHP

147 grain Federal HydraShok JHP ballistics

147 grain Federal HydraShok JHP ballistics


Firearm: S&W M60
Barrel Length: 2.0″
Caliber: .38 Special
Bullet Diameter: 0.357″
Bullet Weight: 158 grains
Make: Winchester Lead SWCHP
Velocity: 831 FPS
Recovered Bullet Diameter: 0.434″
Recovered Bullet Weight: 157.0 grains
Distance From Muzzle: 20′

158 grain Winchester LSWC-HP +P

158 grain Winchester LSWC-HP +P

158 grain Winchester LSWC-HP +P ballistics

158 grain Winchester LSWC-HP +P ballistics


Firearm: Colt Diamondback
Barrel Length: 2.5″
Caliber: .38 Special
Bullet Diameter: 0.357″
Bullet Weight: 158 grains
Make: Winchester Lead SWCHP
Velocity: 882 FPS
Recovered Bullet Diameter: 0.487″
Recovered Bullet Weight: 156.6 grains
Distance From Muzzle: 10′

158 grain Winchester LSWC-HP +P

158 grain Winchester LSWC-HP +P

158 grain Winchester LSWC-HP +P ballistics

158 grain Winchester LSWC-HP +P ballistics


COMPARISON LOADINGS FOR THIS CALIBER

.38 Special

S&W M-60 – 2.0 Inch Barrel

BRAND BULLET WEIGHT (grains) BULLET TYPE CASE POWDER POWDER CHARGE (grains) PRIMER 1 2 3 4 5 6 SD (FPS) ES (FPS) AVE (FPS)

Federal 110 JHP Hydra-Shok Factory Factory Factory Factory 830 825 854 867 849 17 42 845

Winchester 110 JHP +P Factory Factory Factory Factory 916 870 901 825 862 36 91 875

CCI 125 JHP +P Factory Factory Factory Factory 862 887 878 846 835 22 52 862

Federal 125 JHP Hi-Shok +P Factory Factory Factory Factory 857 827 837 841 843 11 30 841

Hornady 125 JHP XTP Factory Factory Factory Factory 911 841 842 906 845 36 70 869

Remington 125 JHP GS +P Factory Factory Factory Factory 919 899 932 923 931 13 33 921

Speer 125 JHP GD +P Factory Factory Factory Factory 862 895 917 920 903 23 58 899

Federal 129 JHP Hydra-Shok +P Factory Factory Factory Factory 788 823 820 813 796 15 35 808

UMC 130 FMJ FP Factory Factory Factory Factory 757 724 739 729 755 15 33 741

Winchester 130 JHP SXT +P Factory Factory Factory Factory 923 845 861 858 883 31 78 874

Federal 148 Lead WC Match Factory Factory Factory Factory 681 694 682 665 665 12 29 677

Winchester 158 Lead HP +P Factory Factory Factory Factory 787 814 818 801 829 16 42 810

BRAND BULLET WEIGHT (grains) BULLET TYPE CASE POWDER POWDER CHARGE (grains) PRIMER 1 2 3 4 5 6 SD (FPS) ES (FPS) AVE (FPS)

COMPARISON LOADINGS FOR THIS CALIBER

.38 Special

Colt Diamondback – 2.5 Inch Barrel

BRAND BULLET WEIGHT (grains) BULLET TYPE CASE POWDER POWDER CHARGE (grains) PRIMER 1 2 3 4 5 6 SD (FPS) ES (FPS) AVE (FPS)

Cor-Bon 100 Pow R Ball Factory Factory Factory Factory 1495 1504 1463 1465 1472 1506 19 43 1484

Federal 110 JHP Hydra-Shok Factory Factory Factory Factory 891 859 861 877 890 865 14 32 874

Winchester 110 STHP Factory Factory Factory Factory 922 904 906 942 912 927 14 38 918

Winchester 110 JHP +P Factory Factory Factory Factory 914 962 974 972 989 960 26 75 962

CCI 125 JHP +P Factory Factory Factory Factory 943 925 904 910 878 860 30 83 903

Federal 125 JHP Hi-Shok +P Factory Factory Factory Factory 911 945 954 965 941 914 22 54 938

Hornady 125 JHP XTP Factory Factory Factory Factory 920 900 884 887 898 910 14 36 900

Remington 125 JHP GS +P Factory Factory Factory Factory 1011 1016 1024 1000 1010 1019 8 24 1013

Speer 125 JHP GD +P Factory Factory Factory Factory 931 939 960 894 940 971 27 77 939

Federal 129 JHP Hydra-Shok +P Factory Factory Factory Factory 812 852 882 853 856 853 22 70 851

UMC 130 FMJ FP Factory Factory Factory Factory 796 776 758 766 16 38 774

Winchester 130 JHP SXT +P Factory Factory Factory Factory 913 927 937 915 879 918 20 58 915

Speer 135 JHP GD +P Factory Factory Factory Factory 838 827 838 816 839 817 10 23 829

Federal 148 Lead WC Match Factory Factory Factory Factory 716 699 681 699 687 699 12 35 697

Winchester 158 Lead SWC HP Factory Factory Factory Factory 873 902 895 888 889 849 19 53 883

BRAND BULLET WEIGHT (grains) BULLET TYPE CASE POWDER POWDER CHARGE (grains) PRIMER 1 2 3 4 5 6 SD (FPS) ES (FPS) AVE (FPS)

COMPARISON LOADINGS FOR THIS CALIBER

.38 Special

Ruger GA-32 – 2.75 Inch Barrel

BRAND BULLET WEIGHT (grains) BULLET TYPE CASE POWDER POWDER CHARGE (grains) PRIMER 1 2 3 4 5 6 SD (FPS) ES (FPS) AVE (FPS)

Federal 147 JHP Hydra-Shok +P+ Factory Factory Factory Factory 904 905 893 7 12 901

BRAND BULLET WEIGHT (grains) BULLET TYPE CASE POWDER POWDER CHARGE (grains) PRIMER 1 2 3 4 5 6 SD (FPS) ES (FPS) AVE (FPS)

This information was developed by Carmon Crapson and posted by Stephen Ricciardelli. It is used by permission only.

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