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The 7 Best CCW .38 Revolvers

The .38 is one of the classic American revolvers...used and loved for its concealability and reliability. We pick our top 7 best .38 revolvers for CCW.

How many cop or detective movies have you watched where the hero had a .38 revolver?  

Damn near all of them, right?

That’s because the .38 revolver is a ridiculously reliable gun.  You won’t be winning any long distance sharpshooting challenges with it, but you will feel safe carrying one.  Just look how confident those old-timey cops and private dicks were.

SSR Agents in Agent Carter
See how confident these SSR agents are in Agent Carter?

Why a .38?  

First off, let’s talk about what makes the .38 caliber and a revolver worth carrying.  Some people might consider the .38 and even the .38+p ammo to be outdated.  

The .38 ammo is pretty much the same size as a 9mm.  Where it IS different is the actual weight: a .38 is heavier than a 9mm.

Both have their benefits.  The .38 is a little slower-moving but has more mass.  The 9mm has more punch to it and travels faster.

Caliber Comparison
The .38 Special looks like a longer version of the 9mm.

One of the main reasons you’d want to carry a .38 this because it predominantly comes as a revolver.  Revolvers, as we know, are very reliable. There are less moving parts and there’s less to go wrong.  That’s why a lot of the police and other agencies used it in great quantities before the advent of reliable semi-automatic pistols.

Agencies eventually moved to the more common use of semi-automatic pistols but it wasn’t necessarily because of a lack of confidence in the caliber, it was more because of the greater number of rounds in each gun that semi-autos provide.  

If you have the option of carrying five rounds vs 15 rounds, there’s little choice as to which one is better to have in a gunfight.

How Does a .38 Revolver Compare to Other Concealed Carry Guns?  

Carrying a Ruger LCR .38 SPL Revolver in an Alien Gear Holster
Carrying a Ruger LCR .38 SPL Revolver in an Alien Gear Holster

As mentioned before, the revolvers carry less ammo and are little slower to reload unless you practice a lot, but you need to compare reliability versus additional ammo.  At close range, how many rounds will you really get off before you either neutralize the target or they runoff?  

Something else to sway you one way or the other might be the weight of the trigger.  Most of the dual action only revolvers are about 12 pounds versus most semi-auto pistols are around the 5-pound range.  If you have weaker hand strength, this can be a big problem

1. Ruger LCR-LG 38 Spl+P Revolver with Crimson Trace Lasergrips

Best Laser Equipped
549
at Palmetto State Armory

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Best Laser Equipped
Ruger LCR Revolver
$549 at Palmetto State Armory

Prices accurate at time of writing

The Ruger LCR comes in a lot of calibers, .38 just happens to be one.  What you get with the LCR internal hammer, alloy frame revolver is is an ultra-lightweight, reliable carry gun.  The internal hammer helps remove the possibility of any snags as you’re drawing it from your holster.

2. Taurus Model 85

330
at Cabela’s

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Taurus Model 85
$330 at Cabela’s

Prices accurate at time of writing

The Model 85 is one of the most popular guns in the Taurus fleet.  What makes it the popular kid in class is the +P capability.  It’s light and accurate—as accurate as a short barrel revolver can be.  

Many of the Taurus guns have an internal lock.  Using the provided key, you can immobilize the gun.  This is a great feature for those of you with kids in the house

3. Charter Arms Undercover Lite Standard

381
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Charter Arms Undercover Lite Standard
$381 at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

There are a couple features of the Charter Arms Undercover Lite that are appealing.  

The first is the weight.  This thing is feather light at about 12oz.  You can carry it all day and not know it’s there.  

The other feature you might like is the longer grip.  You’ll be able to get your whole hand on the handle.  Some revolvers have small handles and aren’t easy to deal with the recoil like this Charter Arms .38 will.

4. Colt Detective Special

Ahhh, the Colt Detective Special…

This is the gun you see in most of the older movies from the 1920’s to the 1950’s.  You’ll find a lot of people who modded their Colt .38 Special to fit their needs. Some cut the barrel, others got rid of the squared off butt of the grip, some cut the trigger guard, or whatever they needed.

The newer variants of the Colt Detective Special are a lot more in tune with the others on the market, but stay true to the name.  Really, the main things that changed over the years were materials and build quality. The same basic premise design is still there.  

They shortened the barrel at the manufacturer so you didn’t have to chop it off like they did in the 20s and 30s. This one you will need to find used because they stopped making them about 1995, but they are a great little gun.  If you want something similar but current, you can look into the Colt Cobra.  

700
at Cabela's

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Colt Cobra
$700 at Cabela's

Prices accurate at time of writing

5. Rossi 352

346
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Rossi 352
$346 at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

The 352 from Rossi is on the budget side of the price grid, but don’t let that fool you; it keeps up with the other models just fine.  It has a stainless finish and a contoured rubber grip to help with managing the recoil.  It can handle 5 rounds of +P ammo, too.

Rossi makes about 50 different variations of revolvers, so if you 352 isn’t your cup of tea, there should be one to fit your needs.

6. Smith & Wesson M&P 340

Best Hammerless .38 Revolver
731
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Best Hammerless .38 Revolver
Smith & Wesson M&P 340
$731 at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

The Smith & Wesson M&P 340 is a great option for a carry gun.  They are lightweight and have an internal hammer making them ideal for a carry gun.  Because they have an internal hammer, they are dual action only.  They come with night sights, but if you want one, you can get the model with the Crimson Trace laser.

7. Smith & Wesson 642

Best Bang-For-Buck CCW Revolver
399
at Guns.com

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Best Bang-For-Buck CCW Revolver

If you want the polished look, the Smith & Wesson 642 is your beast.  This guy is similar in features and weight to the M&P 340 but gives a different look.  

Smith and Wesson 642 (5)
Model 642 Airweight is a great CCW revolver, take a look at our Complete Hands-on Review!

Rated for continuous +P use, you can fire off all 5 rounds, reload, and shoot 5 more with no worries about the 1.875-inch barrel looking like a Looney Tunes character shot it with a plugged barrel.

Conclusion

When it comes down to it, the .38 is still a gun and caliber you should consider when choosing a carry gun.  When you’re just starting out with guns, a revolver is never a bad choice.  They are reliable, easy to use, and the +P rounds have some good power to stop a would-be assailant.

Lots of Holsters, Boondock Saints
Lots of Holsters, Boondock Saints

When you are shopping for a .38 to carry, think about your carry position.  They can be thicker than some semi-auto pistols and may print easier. Something else to consider too is the double action trigger.  It can be a little harder to pull and have a longer pole than some people are used to. If you just starting out, it’ll be easy enough to train with.

While you think about carrying position, also think about what holster is right for you. We can get you started with our Best Concealed Carry Holsters article!

A .38 is not by any means a long-range weapon.  It’s meant for close-up, down and dirty action.  This is because of the short barrel, most of them are around 2 inches.  That’s why they are good last resort or backup weapons, too.

When it comes to a .38, what are your preferences?  Let us know the comments below!

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27 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar
    Sitianus

    Gramps kept one in the Freezer (?) In a sipped air tight sleve.

    February 13, 2022 5:06 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Eric

    In the summer, I often carry a S&W 638 loaded with +p defensive rounds. I also like to carry a S&W Shield EZ .380 in the summer.

    In winter, I go with a 9mm Canik TP9SF or Ruger GP100 .357.

    January 7, 2022 5:14 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Tom Rubino

    I have always liked to shoot a 38 revolver I present own 2 of them and plan on getting more .I also have semi autos , in my opinion no comparision .

    January 2, 2022 4:04 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Rex T. Dog

    I've been informed we will be shopping for a .38 sometime next year...we have an 856 on hand, so there no big rush...we would prefer a double/single action, and maybe rated for +p...the gun will probably be the backup to the coach gun, and will see the range only a few times a year...it nice to have time to review the options, and maybe find a good deal...

    November 18, 2021 2:58 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Thad Gibson

    How can you start a discussion of the .38 special and not even mention the S&W model 36 "chiefs special ". Total blasphemy! Lol. seriously though, it pretty much set a standard for the .38 special + p round,all of them. Colt detective was first,but ....how did you not bring it up?

    November 5, 2021 10:17 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Daniel J Calhoun

    Found a H&R breaktop .38 S&W CTGE with 4 Pat'd dates to '96. A 120 year old hammerless with a #5 Sticky Holster in my front pocket 1.2 lbs. WITH Auto Eject! $300

    June 17, 2021 4:22 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Dr Joseph KING JR

    Charter Arms. Off Duty ...# 1

    April 2, 2021 7:44 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Mark T

    I have had the Taurus 85 for years. It has served me well. I still like taking it to the range. Sourcing ammo is becoming a problem though and has become expensive, compared to the 9mm

    December 10, 2020 9:43 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Bart

    I have a rossie m68 that I recently purchased, it's like new in the original box with the original target
    and manual from interarms it still has the original wooden grips on it' I'ts like brand new, I love my little gun but I get made fun of at the security company I work for. I carry a glock 19 gen 3 for work because it's required also a nice gun.

    November 14, 2020 6:38 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Ronald Suter

    I have never felt alone with my .38 charter arms undercover in my pocket holster, semi wadcutter FMJ. I like it better than any other .38 I have. it is in SS bobbed hammer.

    August 4, 2020 7:31 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Charles G

    I think Taurus stopped making the Taurus 85. It’s okay though, its Model 856 replacement is 6 shots instead of just 5

    March 23, 2020 10:00 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Dan

      I bought an 856 a few months ago and love it. I also own a S&W 586 and like both but prefer the shorter barrel 856. Both are good guns.

      October 23, 2020 6:13 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Jnoll

    I enjoy my 38 & 357 revolvers for security and reliability. My wife loves hers too.
    I have owned an assortment depending on the need and ability to procure at an affordable price. Sadly, Some I traded for what needed, and others sold, some bought as part of the collection, all carried at one time or another. The exciting part not mentioned by most people is the rounded shape assists in concealment and comfort on more significant individuals like myself- the beer belly brigade.
    I grew-up shooting revolvers; the military taught me the value of semi-autos and my friends laugh at me until we hit the range, make converts out of them. Use whats reliable and straightforward in the dark...

    December 25, 2019 4:42 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    LazrBeam

    Back to the photo of the Ruger LCR in the Alien Gear IWB holster. I do believe it’s not an LCR, which has a shrouded hammer, but instead an LCRx as it has an exposed hammer. On the bright side whether LCR or LCRx, both are superb revolvers. I have one of each but I prefer mine in .327 Federal Magnum. More power than a .38 Spl and 6 rounds instead of 5.

    June 29, 2019 11:08 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    GaShooter

    I’ve got a RugerSP101 snubbie in 357 that I occasionally pocket carry with 38 +P with 2 speedloaders loaded with 357. I don’t feel “undergunned” compared to any of my auto pistols with it either.

    December 30, 2018 2:05 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Tec's Dad

    I was talking with a Gun Maker/Dealer, he told me that the Colt Cobra is made by Taurus-Rossi, they do look similar and fit and finish on the Colt looks like what you get on a Taurus or Rossi

    December 28, 2018 6:48 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Kevin Stich

    I bought a S&W 649 30 years ago and it is still my go-to self defence weapon. It never fails.

    December 12, 2018 8:12 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Charles Harbert

    S&W 642 Perfomance center this little gem may cost a little extra but what you get is a custom shop trigger job its cut for moon clips. Continuous +p use. All you need is practice, practice, and still more practice. I carry one every day IWB, or front pocket. The 38 Special round is still an excellent performer. And never a bad choice. One other thing try a 3 inch barrel revolver, better accuracy, and better velocity

    September 4, 2018 4:16 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Kevin Barnes

    in my opinion, if you are thinking of getting a .38, consider the .357 magnum which can shoot the .38 special as well as the 357 magnum loads. Shoot two different calibers in just one gun....hmmmm, nice!

    May 10, 2018 6:48 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Terry Nixon

    I'd like to comment on a couple of points you made: "A .38 is not by any means a long-range weapon. It’s meant for close-up, down and dirty action. This is because of the short barrel, most of them are around 2 inches. "
    Not all .38 specials have 2 inch barrels, and yes some are deadly accurate out to about 50 yards. I understand you are talking mostly about 2 inch barrels, but I just didn't want someone to get the impression that all .38 specials were not accurate. Just wanted to set the record straight.

    May 10, 2018 4:23 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Bobo

    Quite frankly you're better off purchasing a .357 which will not only allow you to shoot .38 (including the +p ammo) but give you the option of the harder punching .357 round as well.

    May 9, 2018 10:04 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Darrrell Douglas

    S&W mod.15 combat masterpiece the best revolver I EVER owned......

    May 9, 2018 4:06 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Chris Torres

    Of all the hand guns I own (and there are quite a few) the one that sees the most miles is a S&W 442 loaded with Mag Safe ammo

    May 9, 2018 12:14 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Angus

    I carry a S&W Bodyguard 38 with factory crimson trace. Fits great in the Alien gear holster.

    May 8, 2018 5:03 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Jonathan Hale

    Taurus 85UL . My first handgun, carry it everyday. Very light , I’m a big guy and it’s easy to conceal carry. Like it a lot.

    May 8, 2018 4:40 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Dan Burchett

    I like revolvers. I used to carry a Taurus 85 3 inch barrel. Wish I still had it but now have a 85 with a 2 inch barrel for a truck gun. And carry either a Taurus g2 9mm or a tcp 380 in pocket or a khar cm9

    May 8, 2018 4:02 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    David Jones

    S&W 242. 7 rounds +P. W/ Crimson trace

    May 8, 2018 4:00 pm
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