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Thread: 38 Super...what's the skinny?

  1. #1
    Love Life
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    38 Super...what's the skinny?

    I'm looking to get a new 1911, and since I have a couple guns already chambered in 45 acp, I'm considering the 38 Super chambering.

    I'm not experience with the cartridge and what I have read about the cartridge is all over the place. Some sites say it is just an overpriced 9mm, other sites say it is the bomb diggity, and yet other sites say it is awesome but you can't shoot full power loads (1,200-1,300 FPS with 130 gr ball or cast) in the Colt Commander with alloy frame because it will break the gun, cause a nuclear explosion, lead to mass civil unrest, and other maladies.

    My question to those who have experience with the 38 super, and those with experience with the alloy framed lightweight commander, is can the cartridge be loaded to 1,200-1300 fps with a 130 gr boolit and will the guns have a long life with that loading?

    Any other advice such as loading tips and things to look out for will also be greatly appreciated!

    Thank you!

  2. #2
    I haven't owned one personally but my father in law shot one in a Colt 1911 for a decade or so and he absolutely loved the caliber and platform. He killed a number of hogs with it with cast bullets.

  3. #3
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    I have lots of experience with the .38 Super, but not in an alloy frame pistol. I love the round, and one of my most accurate pistols is a Witness Match in .38 Super. It's certainly not a 9x19 by any means, but is in a class of it's own. I particularly like it with 124/125 grain bullets at 1,400+ fps. Very flat shooting and reliable.

    Hope this helps.

    Fred
    After a shooting spree, they always want to take the guns away from the people who didn't do it. - William S. Burroughs.

  4. #4
    Love Life
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    It does help a lot and I thank you both for the info. I don't want to load to the point of blowing out cases, but I would like to load to the 'nominal' standard velocity of 1300 FPS and shoot it a bunch.

  5. #5
    Boolit Master
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    I shot competition with one for several years and it had thousands of rounds fired out of it with no problems. It was a Les Behr frame built by Briley Mfg (Claudio Salasa, a truly master gunsmith). It shot under an inch for five shots at 25yds and never missed a beat for reliability. I always wanted to hunt deer with it but never got around to it. That was a steel frame gun so I can't attest to an alloy frame. No problems with full power loads for several years. Got out of steel shooting and sold the gun. Great caliber in my opinion.

  6. #6
    SPAMMER
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    Don't have an alloy frame, built a steel frame several year back. Performs very well with 124-125 grain cast. Nice thing about the 1911 platform, another barrel and magazine, and you can have a 9x19 as well, also 7.62x25 barrels are available form time to time, giving you a three caliber combo gun.

  7. #7
    Boolit Master


    williamwaco's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Love Life View Post
    I'm looking to get a new 1911, and since I have a couple guns already chambered in 45 acp, I'm considering the 38 Super chambering.

    I'm not experience with the cartridge and what I have read about the cartridge is all over the place. Some sites say it is just an overpriced 9mm, other sites say it is the bomb diggity, and yet other sites say it is awesome but you can't shoot full power loads (1,200-1,300 FPS with 130 gr ball or cast) in the Colt Commander with alloy frame because it will break the gun, cause a nuclear explosion, lead to mass civil unrest, and other maladies.

    My question to those who have experience with the 38 super, and those with experience with the alloy framed lightweight commander, is can the cartridge be loaded to 1,200-1300 fps with a 130 gr boolit and will the guns have a long life with that loading?

    Any other advice such as loading tips and things to look out for will also be greatly appreciated!

    Thank you!

    Over priced 9mm? Yeah! like a .223 is an overpriced Hornet.

    I would call it a semiautomatic .357 magnum.

    I have owned two. Both many years ago, both 1911s, both steel frame, both were awesome.

    I don't like aluminum frames but If I wanted an aluminum 1911 in .38 super, I would not hesitate to buy it.

    Remember the brass. You are not going to shoot this thing like a 9mm because the brass is expensive and you are going to lose a lot of it.
    First reload: .22 Hornet. 1956.
    More at: http://reloadingtips.com/

    "Any man who thinks he can be happy and prosperous by letting the
    government take care of him better take a closer look at the American Indian."
    - Henry Ford

  8. #8
    Boolit Master

    MtGun44's Avatar
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    I shot in the neighborhood of 75,000 rounds of .38 Super at a major caliber level (150-158 gr at 1200 fps or more) over
    about 7-8 years in IPSC. These were in an "unsupported chamber" which is just what essentially all semiauto pistols have,
    the tiny smile area where the brass is unsupported at the feed ramp area. I could NOT use some brass, but my
    Rem +P, PMC +P and a few others would last essentially forever, easily until ejector hits had entirely erased the
    headstamp, without problems.

    Similar pressure loads with 124gr XTPs will reach a chronoed 1400 fps, well beyond anything that can be done with
    the 9mm Luger.

    I would put it in the same class as a .357 magnum for many loads, although it cannot handle the extreme heavy end
    of the bullet weight spectrum.

    I found that W571/HS-7 developed the best velocities with acceptable pressures, and used 7.1 gr (from one of Hodgdon's
    small loading manuals, 35,000 psi) under a 158 gr boolit with superb results, but this WILL fail a W-W case 85%
    of the time, so do not use them. Unfortuntely, this powder is discontinued, but Blue Dot is almost as good, and
    there are some new powders, specifically Power Pistol that may fill that gap, but I have not tried them, still have
    lots of HS7 on the shelf and shooting much lower rate these days.

    If you REALLY want to push the limits, there is the nearly identical 9x23 that has stronger brass as standard, but the
    barrels are hard to find. I believe that Starline is making brass intended for max pressures in .38 Super, something
    like .38 SuperComp, now and that may be the smart thing if you want max performance.

    Much factory ammo is 9mm +P equiv or less. Handloaded, you can definitely reach very nearly 125 JHP .357 Mag loads which
    has a reputation as extremely effective in many police situtions.

    Bill
    If it was easy, anybody could do it.

  9. #9
    Boolit Buddy dave 45-90's Avatar
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    Name:  sti xmas.png
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Size:  76.0 KB38 Super Comp STI...Great round for target or hunting smaller game...I love mine...Will have an SVI on order in the spring
    NRA Patron

  10. #10
    Boolit Man
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    Buy one, you will love it. I loved my SS colt govt but let my brother shoot it. I might get it back. I am shopping for another and I will get an alloy commander. If the frame cracks I'll drill a relief hole at the end of the crack and keep shooting.

  11. #11
    Boolit Master Groo's Avatar
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    Groo here
    Another round in the same range is the 357 sig.
    You don't need over pressure loads to make your spec.
    The difference is the 357 sig is shot in the 40S&W frame with a barrel change,
    where the 38super was designed around the 1911 size frame.

  12. #12
    Love Life
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    Great info and thank you!! I am sold! Now to find one...


    I looked at the 357 Sig, but I don't want the hassle of the bottleneck and the 38 super is a pretty classic cartridge so goes well with the platform.

    I don't need whomp 'em and stomp 'em loads, just 130 gr ball at 1200-1300 FPS per the parameters of the cartridge when it came out.

    Now to start the hunt for components.

  13. #13
    Boolit Buddy dave 45-90's Avatar
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    Get the Super Comp.......Stronger brass
    https://www.starlinebrass.com/brass-...er-Comp-Brass/
    NRA Patron

  14. #14
    Boolit Master




    bruce drake's Avatar
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    Also the Super Comp are rimless and not semi-rimmed.

    I built a 38 Super/9mm Luger combo 1911 two years and I love shooting it. I built mine using a Rock Island Armory 9mm Luger govt. model and got a 38 Super barrel from a fellow member on this forum that only required a few minutes with a file to match the barrel hood of the RIA 9mm barrel to achieve proper lockup.

    9x23 and 9mm Largo brass are also good brass to use if you can't find 38 Super brass. Starline makes all 4 calibers of brass and they are quality made.

    Modern 38 Super barrels are headspaced off the cartridge neck and have eliminated some of the accuracy issues of the older barrels that were headspaced off the rims of the older 38 Super brass. With various manufactures of brass and rim thickness you can see where there might be issues with accuracy if the case is jumping around in the older chambers.

    Using a 124gr Lyman (356402) truncated cone mold and 5.3gr of Unique, I get a 1200fps load that is pretty accurate as well.
    I Cast my Boolits, Therefore I am Happy.
    Bona Fide member of the Jeff Brown Hunt Club

  15. #15
    Boolit Master JHeath's Avatar
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    Happy to see MTGun44s posts on just about anything. I have no experience w .38 Super but was looking at 9x23 then got distracted. Pretty sure you can make 9x23 brass from 5.56, and have read that some (RIA) .38 Supers will run 9x23 with only a tweak to the extractor. So maybe you can do the Super Cooper thing with what you have, and 5.56 brass. Your alloy frame question boils down to two questions. 1) Will you bulge n blow a case down the ramp? Answer: use heavy duty brass. 2) Will you batter the alloy frame with he manly macho loads? Answer: eventually I guess. Now MTGun44 can tell the world how full of **** I am, which is why I took the precaution of buttering him at the beginning of this comment.
    Last edited by JHeath; 12-05-2014 at 10:49 PM. Reason: incomplete

  16. #16
    Boolit Master
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    I don't own a 1911 but I do like 9x23. I shoot a CZ 52 with a 9mm barrel that I chambered for 9 x 23. It is a handful with hot loads. It can handle the heavier bullets because of the long action and magazines sized for 7.62 x 25. 158 gr. bullets are seated out to max the length of the magazine with still a lot of room for powder. I have three different Wolf recoil springs. When I first loaded for this gun I was turning the rims off 38 super brass. I always wanted a .357 semiauto, this is what I got.

    Tim
    Words are weapons sharper than knives - INXS

    The pen is mightier than the sword - Edward Bulwer-Lytton

    The tongue is mightier than the blade - Euripides

  17. #17
    Boolit Master c1skout's Avatar
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    Lots of reading here on the 38 super

    http://38super.net/

    I debated getting one for a while, then finally got a Rock Island. Great shooter and easy to handle. I've run 158swcs through mine, but the 125 rf at just under 1200fps is my go-to load for general use. Everyone who's shot mine likes it because it's so easy to hit with.

  18. #18
    Boolit Master

    MtGun44's Avatar
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    AFAIK, the SuperComp brass from Starline is the solution to brass inconsistency issues, and eliminates any possible accuracy
    issues by dumping the vestigial and useless "semi-rim" on the case to headspace properly on the case mouth. My competition
    Wilson LE-Comp custom "Super .38" has a .357 groove diam, and ran very well with commercial cast .357 and .358 diam hard cast stuff.
    The SuperComp brass didn't exist when I was serious about this cartridge and making IPSC major caliber (the old one, 180,000)
    with it. High pressure was good to make the comp work better. 150 gr boolits had to make 1200 fps AVERAGE of three rounds
    pulled randomly during a stage. 158 gr boolits only had to make 1140, but this is an average and ZERO margin. I usually tried for
    1225 avg with 158s to make sure I would not get downgraded to Minor Caliber.

    I see no real need to spend the time with 5.56 and lose the internal case volume (case is short on volume to begin with, cannot get enough
    H110 to do any good for example, need faster powder) so gaining strength at the cost of internal volume is probably a bad trade.
    I think the Starline .38 SuperComp has entirely solved this problem - this is from talking to guys that continued on with the .38 Super
    a few years after I switched back to .45 ACP.

    I need to work with Power Pistol and see how it works - likely too fast, and then go back and revisit Blue Dot, too. Enforcer
    and AA#9 are possible powders for those .357 mag equivalent loads, too, when I eventually run out of W571/HS7 in stock.

    Remember - "hotrodding" is NOT what I was doing - I was using published maximum loads for HS-7, and unless I got the way too
    thin brass (W-W) by accident, my brass lasted forever - good indication of not being above intended pressures. IIRC the Hodgdon
    data said my load was 35,000 psi. So, if the slightly slower Enforcer or AA9 [according to one powder burn rate chart - which are
    not really all that reliable, just guides] will work [enough can be fit into the case], you should be able to make these power levels
    within normal pressures.

    IME, the primary issue with aluminum frames with 1911s is sharp-edged JHPs gouging the frame's feed ramp, not any strength issues. Old
    style frames had a bridge over the slide stop cut that would crack eventually in the steel guns, too - the solution? Eliminate
    the bridge from the factory, nothing to crack and smile on into the future. 1911 frames have eliminated the bridge for several decades,
    at least. Possible battering of the aluminum frame by the spring guide can be mitigated with a shock buff.

    Bill
    Last edited by MtGun44; 12-06-2014 at 04:09 AM.
    If it was easy, anybody could do it.

  19. #19
    Love Life
    Guest
    A lot of great info and THANK YOU!! I was a bit confused on the brass as Starline has 3 types. On the Starline site it says that with the supercomp brass the extractor may need to be tuned. I'll get some to try out once I find a pistol.

    I'm definitely not looking to turn this into a 357 mag. If I want a 357 mag 1911 then I'll get a Coonan.

  20. #20
    Boolit Master




    bruce drake's Avatar
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    I only use Starline Brass in my 38 Super/9mm RIA 1911 when I have the 38 Super barrel installed. Their quality is such that I never have concerns about variances in their cases. I tried Winchester brass shortly after I built the setup and like MtGun44 said earlier, its weaker than Starline and I ended up chucking them after two loads (loose primers) of what the Starline are running on their fifth reload series.

    In order from the top, here are the brass cartridges that can be used or modified for us in a 38 Super pistol. (I prefer to use the rimless setup for more brass availability than the Semi-rim only stuff.)

    Semi-rimmed
    38 Super
    38 Super +P
    (My 1911 has a 9mm extractor so I stay with rimless out of desire to minimize potential errors although my RIA has used unmodified 38 Super brass with no issues. Each pistol barrel is their own of course. - If there are issues, you can always put the brass in a drill press or lathe and cut/file the semi-rim down)

    Rimmed
    38 Special
    38 Long
    Both of these cartridges can be used to reform cases. You will need to cut the rims down and also cut an extractor groove along with trimming them to the proper length. I did it only as a proof of concept approach. It can be done but it takes more time than I'm willing to invest at this time.

    Rimless
    38 Super Comp
    38 TJ (Todd Jarrett modified 38 Super Comp)
    9x23 Super Comp (it is thinner in the neck to allow for heavier 150gr bullets to be loaded without bulging the brass and it works nicely in my pistol but I've only have about 75 left of my original purchase of 100 due to neck splits that none of the other cases have had (YES, I did load them with 357 Mag equivalent data and I attribute that to their short case life.)
    9x23
    9mm Largo (its the same brass as the 9x23 but not run as often over the Starline presses for the headstamp so sometimes the availability isn't there. Still great brass.)

    I highly recommend using Starline Brass. The big thing is to retrieve them off the firing line as they do become a bit dear on the pocketbook if they get lost.

    Bruce
    I Cast my Boolits, Therefore I am Happy.
    Bona Fide member of the Jeff Brown Hunt Club

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Abbreviations used in Reloading

BP Bronze Point IMR Improved Military Rifle PTD Pointed
BR Bench Rest M Magnum RN Round Nose
BT Boat Tail PL Power-Lokt SP Soft Point
C Compressed Charge PR Primer SPCL Soft Point "Core-Lokt"
HP Hollow Point PSPCL Pointed Soft Point "Core Lokt" C.O.L. Cartridge Overall Length
PSP Pointed Soft Point Spz Spitzer Point SBT Spitzer Boat Tail
LRN Lead Round Nose LWC Lead Wad Cutter LSWC Lead Semi Wad Cutter
GC Gas Check