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9mm vs 38 Super – 8 Key Differences to Consider

38 super vs 9mm
The .38 Super vs 9mm bullets are both considered solid cartridges that most firearm aficionados have divided insights between the two. If you’re just as unsure what to purchase, getting down to the nitty-gritty will help a lot. When it comes to handling handguns and revolvers, which ammo will knock the other out?

The 9mm Luger (9x19m) round measures 0.355 inches in diameter, while the .38 Super ( 9x21mm) round measures .356 inches. The 9mm is a rimless cartridge that operates in about the 33,500 to 34,000 PSI range in most loadings, while the .38 Super is a semi-rimmed cartridge that operates in the same pressure range and has a non-tapered case.

38 Super is more powerful at a lower chamber pressure because it is more of a reloader’s cartridge and is easier to reload than the 9mm. The 9mm is undeniably more popular than the .38 Super in North America, while the .38 Super remains popular in competition shooting circles. The .38 Super retains the same case dimensions as the much lower pressure .38 ACP, hence its +P tag.

Specification Chart

.38 Super

  • Brand: 7.45 g Buffalo JHP +P
  • Model: .38 Super
  • Bullet Size: 1.28 inches
  • Bullet Diameter: .356 inches
  • Shell Case Length: .895 inches
  • Energy (per 100 yards): 426 ft-lbs
  • Velocity (per 100 yards): 1,030 ft/s
  • Muzzle Energy: 537 ft-lbs
  • Muzzle Velocity: 1,425 ft/s

9mm Luger

  • Brand: Luger
  • Model: 9mm Luger
  • Bullet Size: 1.169 inches
  • Bullet Diameter: 0.355 Inches
  • Shell Case Length: 0.754 inches
  • Energy (per 100 yards): 341 ft-lbs
  • Velocity (per 100 yards): 971 ft/s
  • Muzzle Energy: 355 ft-lbs
  • Muzzle Velocity: 1,328 ft/s

In-Depth Comparison

Pricing - 38 Super or 9mm Luger?

The 9mm has a steady record of military use since 1904 is less expensive than the .38 Super cartridges. Aside from being more cost-effective, the 9mm Luger is also more popular than the .38 Super, gaining another edge in having more ammo availability.

Looking for reasonably-priced hunting ammo, check out this Win 30-30 and 45-70 comparison here

Ballistics

Due to the .38 Super’s longer case, it can be loaded to higher velocities than any 9mm Luger. The 38 super has more case capacity, and more powder usually translates to holding more power and higher speed than the 9mm. We tested both cartridges with the same maker and the same bullet weight. With a Corbon 115 grain +P, the .38 Super cartridge showed a higher velocity of 1425 ft/s, 97 ft/s more than the 9mm, and higher muzzle energy of about 68 ft/lbs. Clearly, the .38 Super has a ballistic edge over the 9mm.

.38 ballistics

9mm Luger & 38 Super Trajectory

Between 38 super vs 9mm, the .38 Super fires faster, flatter, and hits harder than 9mm, all thanks to its longer case, which could accommodate more powder, hence more power. Therefore, performance-wise, after a series of tests, we conclude that the .38 Super has flatter trajectory and more stopping power than the 9mm.

More ammo with flatter trajectory in this 30-30 vs 308 comparison

Accuracy

Both cartridges are very accurate, especially when fired in a short distance range. But one edge the .38 Super vs the 9mm Luger has is having the option of using heavier bullets and still having more velocity and energy. The .38 Super is significantly more effective from a terminal-performance standpoint than the 9mm. Accuracy-wise, the .38 Super has better performance.

Long Distance Shooting

.38 long distance shooting

Since the 38 Super has better ballistics than the 9mm, it is not surprising to learn that it was the cartridge of choice for most shooters in the open division for many years.

Both may be accurate in short-distance shooting, but the .38 Super performs better at long-range shooting because it has a higher velocity and a flatter trajectory and than the 9mm.

Loading Type - 9mm Luger or 38 Super?

If you reload, the 38 Super is a better choice because you could load it to major power factor, unlike the 9mm, which is difficult to load in Open division specifications without creating an extremely high pressure round. While both may have their strong points, hand loaders stick to the .38 Super. In terms of ammo availability and if you aren’t a hand loader, the 9mm has more advantages for being more popular and even less expensive.

For long-range shooting, you may want to check out this 308 and 270 cartridges article

Bullet Weights

The increase in length means more gun powder translating into higher velocity and a hotter round making the .38 Super a more powerful round than the 9mm Luger. The .38 Super offers heavier bullet loads, being a longer cartridge. Although most shooters want lighter bullets because it usually has a higher velocity, in the case of 38 Super, you can throw a heavier bullet faster at a lower chamber pressure than with a 9mm.

38 Super & 9mm Luger Recoil

After the test shoot, we found a big difference in recoil between a standard pressure 124 grain 9mm at about 1,100 fps and a 124 grain .38 Super +P at 1,450 fps. Given all factors being equal, the .38 Super recoils slightly more than the 9mm load.

Still, when pushed to very high velocities, particularly in a gun with a compensator, the .38 is often experienced less harsh in recoil than super hot 9mm.

recoil

38 Super Pros & Cons

PROS

CONS

9mm Luger Pros & Cons

PROS

CONS

38 Super or 9mm Luger? We Choose...

Choosing between the 38 super vs 9mm is tough because both are good rounds to start with, but we prefer the 38 super because it has more case capacity, making it more powerful. It also has a flatter trajectory, an edge to having better accuracy even at a longer range. It also has the option to throw a heavier but faster bullet at a lower chamber pressure, allowing a higher stopping power.

Looking for a good read? Try this Best Progressive Reloading Press in 2020 review here

.38-super

Our #1 Recommendation

38 Super

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