Playin' Favorites Super

The SuperB .38 Super 1911

Colt .38 Supers: stainless steel Commander, Government Model and
Commander all with stocks by Herrett’s.

I’m taking advantage of my advancing years and looking at my favorite handguns — an admittedly subjective exercise. Choosing favorites is not always easy. Sometimes I can pick one favorite; other times it’s several. With this in mind we herein look at Taffin’s Top .38 Supers.

The .38 Super chambered 1911 arriving in 1929 pre-dated not only the .357 Magnum of 1935 but also the .38-44 Heavy Duty of 1930. Crime was rampant in the Roaring ’20s and peace officers found themselves at a disadvantage when armed with revolvers firing the standard round-nosed .38 Special. Both Colt and S&W went to work to come up with a better solution. Smith & Wesson’s first answer was the .44 framed double-action revolver made to handle the first Plus P .38 Special, the .38/44 Heavy Duty. Colt, with their New Service .38, already had a heavy framed revolver able to handle higher pressure .38 Special loads so they looked in a different direction — chambering the 1911 with a hotter .38 ACP. The result was the .38 Super with a 130-gr. metal piercing bullet at approximately 1,300 fps.

The .38 Super: How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Targets shot
with Taffin’s latest .38 Super, the Kimber Stainless Target II.

The .38 Super and the Super .38 Super, the .38 Casull.

A “Magnum- Powered” Semi-Auto

Beginning in the 1930s and lasting until the 1990s, the .357 Magnum was the number one choice for peace officers desiring something more powerful than the .38 Special, while the .38 Super remained virtually unknown except to a small core group of dedicated pistoleros. This would not change until the advent of action shooting matches in which the lower recoil and higher capacity of the .38 Super compared to the same pistol chambered in .45 ACP gave a decided advantage to competitors who virtually saved the cartridge.

Americans have basically been revolver shooters, and this was especially so among law enforcement until the 1990s when semi-automatics took over. All this time many shooters were looking to the .357 Magnum sixgun as the ideal self-defense choice. Only relatively few of those in the know carried a .38 Super including one Texas Ranger by the name of Frank Hamer. It was Hamer who headed up the group of lawmen who took down Bonnie and Clyde.

The .38 Super has been hampered for a long time by the lack of anything except hardball style ammunition. This has changed today with several companies offering JHP + P.38 Super loadings. Long before the advent of high capacity magazines in semi-automatics we already had a Commander-sized .38 Super, the equivalent of a short-barreled .357 Magnum revolver with 2/3 more capacity, 10 rounds compared to six cartridges in a cylinder.

Taffin’s fascination with the .38 Super began with this book by Jeff Cooper.

My First .38 Super

My deep love affair with the .38 Super goes way back to the early ’60s when I read Jeff Cooper’s high praise for the .38 Super. Cooper, who always pushed the .45 ACP, published a picture of a custom .38 Super 1911 and stated as a trail gun it would shoot rings around any .45 ACP 1911. Before the Gun Control Act of 1968 became law I went looking for a couple good guns before it became effective. I went shopping and found a .38 Super Colt Commander in the local department/grocery store. In my town at that time every grocery store, department store and drugstore had a gun department. Sadly, this situation has long passed into oblivion.

For me, the .38 Super is to semi-automatics what the .44 Special is to sixguns. But after waiting those several years to get my first .38 Super I was disappointed to find it would not stay on a piece of notebook paper at 25 yards. The problem was how the barrels were headspaced at that time — via the very small rim instead of the mouth of the case. I sent it off to Bill Wilson who re-barreled it. My groups immediately shrunk to 2" using the Lyman #358156GC bullet designed for the .357 Magnum. I now had a 10-shot semi-automatic which could run with any .357 Magnum. Properly loaded there definitely is nothing wimpy about the .38 Super.

Texas Bar-B-Q gun: high polished stainless steel Colt Custom .38 Super
with genuine mother-of-pearl grips.

Wilson Combat builds superb 1911s. Left: The .38 Super with giraffe bone stocks by Scott Kolar.
Right: The .45 with Herrett’s stocks. Leather by Milt Sparks.

John’s Growing Collection

Over the years this .38 Super Commander has been joined by two others, one a stainless-steel Colt Combat Commander and the other a Colt Commander slide and barrel on a Springfield Armory frame. In addition to these I also found a 1911 Government Model chambered in .38 Super from a Sheriff’s Department sale. Even some bad guys prefer .38 Supers.

I have always wanted, and please don’t ask me to explain why, a nickel-plated Colt .38 Super fitted with real mother-of-pearl grips. Yes, I know what General Patton said about pearl grips, but I doubt even he would challenge the many Texas Rangers who regularly carried pearl-gripped Colt Single Actions. My latest .38 Super is not nickel-plated as I had been hoping for but is actually better with high polished stainless steel; the finish will never flake and if it becomes scratched it is easily re-polished. To complete the package, I ordered mother-of-pearl stocks from Eagle Grips.

About two decades back in my quest for the perfect .38 Super I ordered a Springfield Armory Mil-Spec .38 with the idea if it showed possibilities, I would use it as a base gun and have it tightened, tuned and fitted with a good set of adjustable sights. That was the plan. However, the best laid plans not only often go awry for mice and men, but gunwriters too. Here it was actually a good thing as the .38 Super from Springfield Armory shot so well, I’ve not done anything to it except equip it with Herrett’s grip panels.

But what of the really special .38 Super exquisitely tuned and wearing adjustable sights? Once again Bill Wilson came to the rescue. He not only fixed my first .38 Super he also sent a full sized 1911-style .38 Super Combat Classic to me several years ago for a magazine article. There was no way this one was going back, and it now wears giraffe bone stocks by Scott Kolar.

This brings us to my latest .38 Super from Kimber and although they may call it a Stainless Target II, it’s also a superb trail gun. The .38 Super is certainly not made for big-game hunting, however with hard cast SWC bullets or jacketed hollow points, a quality holster, and some time to roam the sagebrush, foothills, forests, or mountains, it comes ready to serve right out-of-the-box. To me target shooting, as enjoyable as this may be, is a high-pressure situation; a gun on the trail is for relaxing and enjoying the moment.

In addition to my .38 Supers I also now have a “Super .38 Super” which overshadows both the .38 Super and .357 Magnum. Back in the days before I quit flying, I hunted the YO Ranch in Texas every year under the auspices of SCI’s Handgun Hunters Chapter. This is a charity hunt with the emphasis being two-pronged, that is having a good time hunting and gathering some trophies and also donating all the meat to the Salvation Army.

On this particular hunt I took a beautiful big bull bison. Three guns were offered as prizes for the top three meat gatherers one of which happened to be a brand-new .38 Casull semi-automatic from Casull Arms shooting a 147-gr. JHP at over 1,600 fps. Made available for shooting during one lunch break, only a couple of us took advantage of the free ammunition and test-firing of the new gun. I thought if I had any chance this was the gun I’d pick. Ending up in third place, I knew there was no way I would get this one. However, sometimes things really do work out and the other two winners had no idea what the .38 Casull was. I won it by default.

I have the same number of .38 Supers as I have grandkids, and picking a favorite .38 Super is about as easy as picking a favorite grandchild; in other words it ain’t gonna happen!

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