The 7 Best CCW .38 Revolvers

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  Some people might consider the .38 and even the .38+p ammo to be outdated.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
Ruger LCR Revolver

Ruger LCR Revolver

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

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

Charter Arms Undercover Lite Standard

Charter Arms Undercover Lite Standard

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.  

Colt Cobra

Colt Cobra

Prices accurate at time of writing

5. Rossi 352

Rossi 352

Rossi 352

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
Smith & Wesson M&P 340

Smith & Wesson M&P 340

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

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.  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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Charles Harbert
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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

Kevin Barnes
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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!

Terry Nixon
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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.

Bobo
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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.

Darrrell Douglas
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Darrrell Douglas

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