38 Super vs 9mm: Caliber Comparison

38 Super vs 9mm: Caliber Comparison

June 06, 2024 By Posted in Blogs

We often hear the 38 Super referred to as a “magnum” version of the infamous 9mm, leading many shooting enthusiasts across the United States to wonder, how do these two popular bullets stack up? The answer is complex and layered, just like the question itself. That’s why we decided to dive deep into the characteristics, history, and performances of these exceptionally famous calibers to give you the most detailed comparison possible. However, for those looking for a higher level answer to this comparison, check out the “short answer” below.

The Short Answer: The 9mm, known for its efficiency and versatility, is often a favorite for a variety of uses, from target shooting to self-defense. On the other hand, the .38 Super, characterized by its higher velocity and pressure, provides a boost in power over the 9mm, making it an ideal choice for competition shooting and self-defense.

The History and Evolution of .38 Super and 9mm

As we compare the .38 Super and 9mm, it’s helpful to better understand their respective origins and transformation over time. The birth of these calibers, each with its specific purpose and design, lay the foundation for understanding their modern utility and performance.

The History and Evolution of .38 Super and 9mm


The 9mm, or the 9mm Luger, was designed in 1901 by Georg Luger. It was quickly adopted by military and law enforcement agencies around the world and became a global standard. The 9mm’s allure is in its balance, delivering firepower sufficient to be effective for most applications but with a manageable recoil.

The 9mm’s accommodative properties led to its widespread use in semi-automatic pistols while earning a reputation for its personal protection capabilities.


Born out of a need for a bullet that could withstand higher pressure, the .38 Super, was designed by John Moses Browning. This caliber was then introduced by Colt for use in their semi-automatic pistol in 1929 and yielded excellent results. At the time, law enforcement agencies were wrestling with an increasing number of criminals armed with vehicles and bulletproof vests. The answer to penetrating these protective barriers was the .38 Super. The cartridge didn’t receive the +P (overpressure ammunition) designation until 1974. Since then, all .38 Super ammunition is considered +P, truly highlighting its high-pressure bearing capabilities.

The .38 Super, for a time, was even favored in IPSC competition. Thanks to custom-built 1911s and hand-loading practices that increased the pressure even further. It even exceeded the major power factor, gaining fame within the competitive shooting community.


The years since have seen both cartridges evolve and adapt, carving out their niches in the shooter world. Their history speaks volumes about their existing properties and applications; the .38 Super’s high power and the 9mm’s efficiency and versatility were not by accident but rather inherent in their design.

As we delve deeper into the comparison, remember that each cartridge was birthed with a specific purpose backed with ingenious design. So ultimately, the decision between .38 Super and 9mm will boil down to matching the bullet to accommodate your specific needs and what you feel comfortable shooting.

38 Super vs 9mm: Bullet Characteristics

Understanding the unique characteristics of both .38 Super and 9mm bullets not only broadens your shooting knowledge but brings you a step closer in choosing the round that best suits your needs. Let’s dive deeper by analyzing and comparing the specific traits of these two popular calibers.

38 Super vs 9mm: Bullet Characteristics


In any ammo discussion, dimensions are a critical factor. The .38 Super and 9mm differ here, each offering a unique profile. The .38 Super typically sports a bullet diameter of .356 inches and an overall length of 1.280 inches, while a standard 9mm bullet features a smaller diameter bullet (.355 inches) and a shorter length (1.169 inches), making it a compact powerhouse in its own right.


Bullet weight impacts both the bullets’ performance and usage. .38 Super bullets are sold in a smaller spread of bullet weights – typically ranging from 124 to 130 grains. On the other hand, the 9mm usually offers more options in terms of bullet weight – commonly ranging between 115 and 147 grains.


Muzzle velocity refers to the bullet’s speed as it leaves the muzzle of a firearm. A higher muzzle velocity often brings about a flatter trajectory and less bullet drop over distance, making the .38 Super – with its average velocity of ~1210 feet per second (fps) – a leader in this field. However, the 9mm is not far behind, with an admirable average velocity of ~1120 fps.

When it comes to muzzle energy, once again, thanks to the higher pressure loads, the .38 Super enjoys a slight edge over the 9mm.

.38 Super vs 9mm: Performance & Uses

Moving beyond the specifics, it’s time to take a look at these two calibers in action. Our focus now shifts to how the .38 Super and 9mm perform in different scenarios – competitive shooting, range shooting, and self-defense.

.38 Super vs 9mm: Performance & Uses


If competitive shooting is your area of interest, the .38 Super has been a long-time favorite, particularly in IPSC competition. Thanks to its higher pressure and ability to fire at higher velocity, the .38 Super can meet the major power factor when paired with custom-built 1911s and handloaded to even higher pressures, giving shooters a competitive edge.


For range shooting, both the .38 Super and the 9mm cartridges offer distinct advantages. The 9mm is known for its lower recoil, which can make it easier and more comfortable for extended shooting sessions. On the other hand, the .38 Super is more powerful and fires at a higher velocity, providing a more exhilarating shooting experience for those who enjoy that sort of thing. Both options are effective for range shooting, each appealing to different preferences in shooting style and experience.


When it comes to personal protection, we would have to say that the 9mm takes the edge. Its still-impressive muzzle velocity and energy, combined with its compact size and soft recoil, make the 9mm a widely adapted choice for personal protection. If you can handle the recoil, the 38 Super is also a great option for self-defense.

How Berry’s Bullets Can Help

Choosing between bullets can be tricky, but with Berry’s Bullets, it doesn’t have to be. For over six decades, we’ve been crafting superior bullets, designed to enhance your shooting experience, regardless of whether you’re using .38 Super or 9mm, Berry’s Bullets has you covered. Come check out our cost-effective bullet offerings for 9mm and 38 Super!

How Berry's Bullets Can Help

Interested in getting the most out of your bullets? From reloading accessories and gunsmithing vises to brass cleaning tumblers and ammunition storage solutions, Berry’s Bullets is dedicated to providing top-notch shooting supplies that cater to all of your shooting needs.

Remember, it’s not just about hitting the target; it’s about the process. And that process is always better when you choose Berry’s Bullets.