38 special is a 100-year-old caliber and not the first one that comes to mind when searching for the quietest round to pair with a suppressor. And that might be why so many shooters sleep on the round when it comes to maximizing the performance of their favorite pistol suppressor. But that’s a mistake and I’ll tell you precisely why.
Why 38 Special is Movie Quiet Suppressed
Even though 38 special is primarily a revolver cartridge, there are plenty of lever-action rifles chambered in it. And it’s when the round is fired from one of these rifles with a suppressor attached, that the often overlooked caliber becomes Hollywood quiet. And the reasons for this aren’t anything crazy, they’re actually very straightforward.
First off, 38 special is designed for a revolver and by extension, revolver-length barrels. Traditionally, this means at the most eight inches, and realistically most were between 2 and 6 inches. So by using a longer barrel like the 16-inch barrel on a Henry Model X, the round actually loses velocity, ensuring that it’s subsonic by the time it leaves the muzzle. But this isn’t always the case; only heavier rounds like 158gr lead nose ones have low enough velocities for this to be true. This means suppressing common conceal carry loads like 125gr JHP rounds will only result in about the same sound signature as a suppressed 9mm carbine.
But when a shooter employs the heavier 147 and 158gr rounds, the result is close to standard velocity .22lr rounds suppressed. Yes, it’s that quiet.
What about terminal ballistics? Well, honestly they aren’t great at range. But this is a close-range cartridge, and inside of 50 yards will do serious damage to both two and four-legged attackers. Plus, if a shooter wants to maximize the efficacy of their carbine, they can always load some 357 Magnum rounds at the rear of the tube as ‘insurance’.
Ultimately, there are irrefutably better defensive cartridges available for shooters, but if you’re looking to quietly dispatch a raccoon or coyote on your farm, the suppressed 38 special will let you hear the impact of the round. Hell, I’ve shot a rabid coyote in my backyard while my wife was gardening in the front yard, and she asked me, “did you get it before you bit you?” because she thought I had just swatted a mosquito on my neck.
Anecdotal? Sure. But it speaks volumes to just how quiet this little round can be.
About Jim Grant
Jim is a freelance writer, editor, and videographer for dozens of publications who loves anything and everything guns. While partial to modern military firearms and their civilian counterparts, he holds a special place in his heart for the greatest battle implement ever devised and other WW2 rifles. When he’s not reviewing guns or shooting for fun and competition, Jim can be found hiking and hunting with his wife Kimberly, and their dog Peanut in the South Carolina low country.