S&W Ultimate Carry:
Ballistic Testing


S&W’s Ultimate Carry in black nitride finish in both .38 Special
and .32 H&R Magnum with some of the ammunition tested.

As promised, I have most of the results from shooting a variety of factory ammunition from the 2” barreled Smith & Wesson Ultimate Carry (UC) in .38 Special and .32 H&R Magnum. Obviously, the short-barreled UC makes concealed carry a whole lot easier and more comfortable, but what about ballistics? How much will the short barrel subtract from factory-advertised velocities? You just might be surprised by the results.

A nice close-up of the S&W Ultimate Carry.


A gunshot wound is little more than a stab wound, needing penetration to reach vital areas such as the heart, lungs, major blood vessels, brain and spine. The more blood flow is disrupted, the faster something succumbs to the wound. When the central nervous system is struck, instantaneous incapacitation of the subject results.

Using ballistic gelatin, the humble cast bullet — in either semi-wadcutter or full-wadcutter — form penetrated the deepest. Some cast loads even exited two stacked gelatin blocks for over 32” of penetration.

The next best were jacketed bullets with nominal expansion, followed by bullets that expanded greatly. No real surprises here.

Two .32 caliber slugs. A 60-grain solid copper HP from Doubletap
Ammunition and a 100-grain wadcutter from Lost River Ammunition Company.

DT Snake Shot Load

Mike McNett, owner of Doubletap Ammunition, was on hand and introduced a new patent-pending dual-purpose “snake shot” load in both .32 H&R Magnum and .38 Special. The loads consist of a powder charge and, in the .32 case, a 40-grain full wadcutter cast slug, followed by a charge of #9 lead shot and capped with what appears to be a copper gas check.

The .38 Special uses a 50-grain wadcutter slug, which is then charged with #9 shot and capped the same way as the .32 H&R Magnum.

Shot into ballistic gelatin, the lead shot penetrated 2-3″, and the lead projectile penetrated 8-9″ for both loads. McNett stated he designed this load to be useful for either snake or combatant, for those living in snake country and wanting a snake load for their first discharge. Now, it’s unnecessary to cycle your cylinder for your anti-personal round.

Shooting an adversary in the face with either load would be uncomfortable, and a single pellet to an eye would stymie most attacks. Closely followed by the 40- or 50-grain lead slug, depending on caliber, certainly brings more punch to the party. It is an interesting concept, for sure.

Ballistic gel results of Doubletap Ammunition’s
“snake load” in .38 Special at 5 yards.

Ballistic gel results of Doubletap Ammunition’s
“snake load” in .32 H&R Magnum at 5 yards.

Snubby Velocity

Most bullets lose 20-25 fps per inch of barrel loss. Conversely, they gain the same amount of velocity … to a certain extent. The velocities printed here are true results, taken from the S&W Ultimate Carry’s sporting 2″ barrels in both .38 Special and .32 H&R Magnum and using a Garmin Xero C1 chronograph. The average velocity for five shots was as follows:

Ballistic gel results from Doubletap Ammunition’s
“snake load” with .32 H&R Magnum

.32 H&R Magnum

Lost River Ammunition Company, 100-grain Powder Coated Wadcutter: 794 fps
Doubletap Ammunition, 60-grain Solid Copper HP: 1,097 fps
• Doubletap Ammunition, 125-grain SWC: 881 fps
Buffalo Bore Ammunition, 130 grain Keith +P: 1,031 fps

Ballistic gel results from Doubletap Ammunition’s
“snake load” with .38 Special.

.38 Special

Georgia Arms, 148 Ultimate Defense Wadcutter: 755 fps
• Doubletap Ammunition, 110 +P Solid Copper HP: 915 fps
• Doubletap Ammunition, Snake Load: 698 fps

Some of the recovered bullets from ballistic gel.

Penetration Results

.32 H&R Magnum
• Doubletap Ammunition, Snake Load: Pellets penetrated 2-3″ and hardcast 40-grain slug penetrated 8-9″
• Doubletap Ammunition, 60-grain Solid Copper HP: Penetrated 13” with perfect expansion.
• Doubletap Ammunition, Hardcast 120-grain: 32”+, exiting two blocks of ballistic gel.
• Lost River Ammunition Company, 100-grain Powder Coated Wadcutter: 24”
Hornady, Critical Defense 80-grain FTX: 15” with expansion
Federal Ammunition, Personal Defense: 85-grain JHP: 16”

Some of the .38 Special loads used in testing

.38 Special Loads

• Doubletap Ammunition, Snake Load: Pellets penetrated 2-3″, gas check 2” and 50-grain Wadcutter 8”
• Double Tap Ammunition, +P 110-grain Solid Copper HP: 16-18″
• Georgia Arms, 148-grain Wadcutter: 20”
• FederalAmmunition, Hydra-Shok Deep +P JHP: 14”
Speer, Gold Dot +P JHP: 15”

Simply Rugged’s combo “Boomer” allows convenient concealability and spare ammo.

Last Word

A lot of design and innovation has occurred over the years for defensive ammunition. I find it interesting that vintage hard-cast semi- and full-wadcutters performed as well as they did — holding their own against the newest bullet designs. While they may not have expanded as much, they out-penetrated most bullets.

There’s plenty to take into consideration for the type of ammunition you use for defensive purposes including time of year (will climate dictate use of heavy coats) penetration needs, “or”over penetration precautions to get the best performance for your needs. Hopefully, this can help in making those decisions.

Shooting the .38 Special five-shot J-Frame had nominal recoil. Surprisingly, the six-shot .32 H&R had no noticeable recoil, making it a perfect gun for beginners or for those demanding top accuracy. I believe the S&W Ultimate Carry will bring about a resurgence in .32 H&R ammo. I know Tim Sundles of Buffalo Bore Ammunition has agreed to make a 100-grain full wadcutter in .32 H&R specifically for this gun. Good things are happening for those who love the way of the wheelgun!

Special thanks to Rich Grassi, Rob Garrett and Mike Wood for sharing ammunition data.

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