Pros: Good accuracy and low perceived recoil.
Cons: The bullet design is older tech and better options are available.
While the semi-automatic pistol has gained ascendancy in recent years, the simple and easy to use .38 Special revolver still has a role to play as a personal defense handgun.
The revolver, with its simple operation, is a good choice for a shooter who is not "into guns" but just wants an easy to use handgun for self defense or general target shooting. Even among gun aficionados, the small revolver is still a popular choice as a back up gun or even a primary concealed carry piece.
For decades the standard .38 Special defensive cartridge was a 158 grain lead round nose bullet. This is the round that gave the caliber such a bad name for such a long time. The round nose bullet did not expand and often did not provide enough penetration to stop a determined attacker. This round was sometimes called "The widow maker," because it supposedly turned police wives into police widows.
Things improved with the development of the 158 grain lead hollow point and then improved again with the development of more advanced bullets for the .38 Special.
This review is of the Winchester .38 Special +P 125 gr HP that uses the Winchester "Silvertip" bullet.
This particular load dates back to the 1980's and is one of the attempts to improve the .38 Special performance by using more advanced bullet technology.
The " +P " designation indicates that this round is loaded to higher pressure then the specifications laid out for the .38 Special round by the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturer's Institute (SAAMI). The higher pressure loading is used to also increase velocity slightly above what is normal for the cartridge. The thinking is that increased velocity will improve both bullet penetration and bullet expansion.
Factory specs indicate that the Winchester .38 Special +P 125 HP has a muzzle velocity of 945 feet per second as measured from the muzzle of a 4" test barrel. This is faster then standard pressure loads of a similar bullet weight and falls below the velocity of the even higher pressure +P+ loads.
While I thankfully have never had to shoot anyone with this (or any) defensive load, I have shot this load for practice and in competition.
In my experience this is a fairly pleasant load to shoot from a steel framed revolver. I have also found it to be surprisingly accurate. I once fired a 3 1/2" five shot group with this load from a S&W Model 49 .38 Special J-frame revolver with a 2" barrel at 25 yards from the bench. While that may not seem impressive to a serious competition shooter, it was the best I can manage with any load from that particular gun. The short barrel and hard to see sights were not conductive to accuracy and the small grips only made it more difficult.
I've also found this load to work reliably in all the revolvers I have tried it in so far. That is not something I can always say about .38 Special ammo, especially less expensive .38 Special ammo.
Since this is intended as a personal defense load, the obvious question is, "Would I recommend this ammunition for self defense use?"
The answer is a solid, "Maybe."
While this cartridge is better then the old round nose load, and may be better then the 158 lead hollow point, the Winchester Silvertip bullet is, frankly, old technology. In the years since the Silvertip was designed other, more modern, bullets have been developed that offer better penetration and better or more consistent expansion.
Because of that, I would tend to look towards a more modern .38 Special load for self defense use before turning to this particular load.
Still, it does have some advantages so it can't be ruled out altogether. I have found that it seems to have lower recoil then other self defense loads in this caliber. This can be important to some people. And, as I noted earlier, I've also found it to be surprisingly accurate, at least in my experience. Those qualities, along with the less expensive price, might be enough to keep this load in contention alongside its newer competitors.
Here are some of my other ammo reviews.
Personal defense revolver ammunition:
Speer .38 Special +P 135 gr GD SB - Ammo for snub revolvers
Blazer .357 Magnum 158 gr JHP's for target shooting with "Magnum Force."
Winchester .38 Special 110 gr Silvertip ammo is a good standard pressure load
Target revolver ammunition:
American Eagle .38 Special 158 gr LRN ammo
American Eagle .38 Special 130 gr FMJ ammo
Winchester .38 Special 130 gr FMJ ammo - You can do better
Personal defense ammo for semi-auto pistols:
Winchester Ranger SXT RA9TA 9mm Luger 127 gr +P+ is a top defensive load
Federal C9BP 9x19mm 115 gr JHP is a great standard pressure defensive load
Winchester 9mm Luger 115 gr Silvertip is a good standard pressure load
Winchester .45 ACP JHP's for target shooting or self defense
Economical target ammo:
Blazer 9mm pistol ammo: Blaze away with cheap bulk ammo for target practice
Winchester White Box 9mm 115 gr FMJ ammo is good, cheap target ammo
Remington UMC Mega Pak 9mm ammo is good bulk ammo
Blazer Brass 9mm 115 gr FMJ is good, cheap ammo for shooters on a budget
Sellier & Bellot 9mm Luger ammunition - An OK plinking round
Federal American Eagle 9mm 115 gr FMJ is good, economical bulk target ammo
Winchester White Box 9mm FMJ ammo is 50 rounds of good, cheap practice ammo
American Eagle 9mm 147gr FMJ FP for target shooting
Winchester Win Clean 9mm bulk ammo for lead free target shooting
American Eagle 9mm 147 gr TMJ ammo reduces the risk of heavy metal poisoning
Blazer .45 Auto pistol ammo for 1911 pistols or other .45 ACP guns
American Eagle .45 Auto (.45 ACP) for the classic American 1911 pistol
The Winchester .45 ACP 230 gr FMJ load is a good budget ammo choice
Blazer Brass .45 ACP 230 gr ammo is good, inexpensive fodder for semi-auto pistols
American Eagle .45 ACP 230 gr TMJ ammo reduces toxic chemical exposure
9x18mm Makarov FMJ ammo by American Eagle for the pistol of the Russian Bear
Wolf Military Classic 9x18mm Makarov ammo - Avoid at all costs
Winchester Super-X .22 LR target ammo for .22 plinking