LooseRounds.com
5.56 Timeline
Weaponsman.com

Colt .38spl Mid Range

I thought I would share this photo today because it may be something a lot of readers didn’t even knew existed. It is A Colt M1911 National Match chambered in .38 special. For NRA bullseye shooting, the .38 is or was, a very popular choice. The wad-cutters being very accurate but the double action pistol being manually cocks between shots looses time to the semi auto. A famous gunsmith at the time got the idea to convert super 38 gov models into .38spl and modified the mags to work. As you can see below some of altering to pull this off. Colt noticed how many of these sold and decided to give it a try themselves and here we go.




After posting this some one made a comment asking about why .38 special in bullseye. I gave a short answer but later Dyspeptic Gunsmith gave him a better answer. I decided to edit it into this post for those wondering and for some extra info DG added related to the topic.

Dyspeptic Gunsmith —

The reason for the .38 Special was historical: before tricked-out .45 ACP 1911’s became more widely available in the 50’s, bullseye competitors also used to use revolvers, both S&W and Colt. A string of fire in bullseye is five rounds, which makes it work in a 6-shot revolver. A great example of a competitive gun was the S&W K-38 Target Masterpiece, or Model 14 Special Target Masterpiece, etc. Colt had their equivalent revolvers in .38 Special as well. For those who haven’t really been around many revolvers, all I can say is that you really owe it to yourselves to try to shoot such guns if you ever have the opportunity. They’re beyond merely “sweet.”

Some of these target revolvers had beautiful action jobs, slick, smooth & crisp triggers, heavier-the-normal (for a .38) barrels, and shot like a house of fire. They impress the hell out of competent shooters, and if you shoot one, you will start to understand why I rant, rail, rave and fulminate over the current state of US gun production, and why I sneer at modern plastic guns. When you’ve laid five rounds into a target and it looks like you’ve die-cut the center out of the target, and the recoil/report is so mild you think “I could do this all day,” you start to understand some of my perspective on guns.

Why .38 Special? It is what most cops carried back in those days. It is what most non-LEO shooters were buying in target/general shooting revolvers. Today, everyone thinks in terms of .357’s more powerful rounds, but 70 years ago, the .38 Special was “the” standard round. People also cast their own bullets.

Competitors came up with the “target” .38 Special load, which was something like 2.5 to 3.0 grains of powder pushing a 148 grain wadcutter downrange at about 800 fps. The point to remember here is that in Bullseye competition, it is about scoring the most points, which you do by putting rounds into the center of the bullseye at 50 feet or 50 yards. All your round has to do is punch paper. You don’t need to knock over bowling pins, or falling plates, whatever. Just put the bullet through the target paper. The 148 grain cast bullet loads that were developed became some of the most precise loads you could shoot out of a handgun. They still are, to this day.

Along comes the 1911 for competition. Colt starts producing some very nice match pistols in .45 – but competitors miss the very mild, low-recoil .38 Special loads they had been shooting in revolvers. They really want the die-cut holes in the target too, so they can see where they’re putting their rounds without a scope. They want the .38 Special 148 grain load back.

And so you get the 1911’s per the above.

Fast forward to the late 50’s and early 60’s: the AMU works with S&W to create THE Bullseye pistol to end all Bullseye pistols: The S&W Mode 52. This was a pistol set up to shoot the .38 Special 148’s. The magazines were developed to hold only five rounds. The 52 is a riff off the Model 39. The result was the match pistol to win matches off-the-shelf: A pistol that was tested at the factory and verified to shoot five rounds into less than a 2″ group at 50 yards. If it didn’t group that tightly, then it went back into the shop to be worked over by S&W’s gunsmiths until it did. The Model 52 was single action only, and had an exquisite trigger. AMU started cleaning up with the Model 52, which required less fiddling and smithing than a super-tight 1911. And, hey, you had the mild-recoil, super-accurate .38 Special loads.

So there you go: Why .38 Special? Because it worked better than most all other loads available to win.”

5 thoughts on “Colt .38spl Mid Range”

  1. I’m not familiar with bullseye rules, was .38 special the only permitted cartridge? That seems like the only good reason to rework a semi-auto to use a rimmed revolver cartridge with its attendant headspace and rim lock issues.
    As an aside, rapid follow up during bullseye competition would be the rationale for the Mateba semi-auto revolver.

    • As Shawn indicates, .22LR, .38 Special and .45 ACP were “standard” bullseye cartridges.

      The reason for the .38 Special was historical: before tricked-out .45 ACP 1911’s became more widely available in the 50’s, bullseye competitors also used to use revolvers, both S&W and Colt. A string of fire in bullseye is five rounds, which makes it work in a 6-shot revolver. A great example of a competitive gun was the S&W K-38 Target Masterpiece, or Model 14 Special Target Masterpiece, etc. Colt had their equivalent revolvers in .38 Special as well. For those who haven’t really been around many revolvers, all I can say is that you really owe it to yourselves to try to shoot such guns if you ever have the opportunity. They’re beyond merely “sweet.”

      Some of these target revolvers had beautiful action jobs, slick, smooth & crisp triggers, heavier-the-normal (for a .38) barrels, and shot like a house of fire. They impress the hell out of competent shooters, and if you shoot one, you will start to understand why I rant, rail, rave and fulminate over the current state of US gun production, and why I sneer at modern plastic guns. When you’ve laid five rounds into a target and it looks like you’ve die-cut the center out of the target, and the recoil/report is so mild you think “I could do this all day,” you start to understand some of my perspective on guns.

      Why .38 Special? It is what most cops carried back in those days. It is what most non-LEO shooters were buying in target/general shooting revolvers. Today, everyone thinks in terms of .357’s more powerful rounds, but 70 years ago, the .38 Special was “the” standard round. People also cast their own bullets.

      Competitors came up with the “target” .38 Special load, which was something like 2.5 to 3.0 grains of powder pushing a 148 grain wadcutter downrange at about 800 fps. The point to remember here is that in Bullseye competition, it is about scoring the most points, which you do by putting rounds into the center of the bullseye at 50 feet or 50 yards. All your round has to do is punch paper. You don’t need to knock over bowling pins, or falling plates, whatever. Just put the bullet through the target paper. The 148 grain cast bullet loads that were developed became some of the most precise loads you could shoot out of a handgun. They still are, to this day.

      Along comes the 1911 for competition. Colt starts producing some very nice match pistols in .45 – but competitors miss the very mild, low-recoil .38 Special loads they had been shooting in revolvers. They really want the die-cut holes in the target too, so they can see where they’re putting their rounds without a scope. They want the .38 Special 148 grain load back.

      And so you get the 1911’s per the above.

      Fast forward to the late 50’s and early 60’s: the AMU works with S&W to create THE Bullseye pistol to end all Bullseye pistols: The S&W Mode 52. This was a pistol set up to shoot the .38 Special 148’s. The magazines were developed to hold only five rounds. The 52 is a riff off the Model 39. The result was the match pistol to win matches off-the-shelf: A pistol that was tested at the factory and verified to shoot five rounds into less than a 2″ group at 50 yards. If it didn’t group that tightly, then it went back into the shop to be worked over by S&W’s gunsmiths until it did. The Model 52 was single action only, and had an exquisite trigger. AMU started cleaning up with the Model 52, which required less fiddling and smithing than a super-tight 1911. And, hey, you had the mild-recoil, super-accurate .38 Special loads.

      So there you go: Why .38 Special? Because it worked better than most all other loads available to win.

  2. I have had a chance to handle one of these 1911’s and the quality of the workmanship is superlative.
    They were pricey when new and these days if you have to ask the price….
    Worth every penny.

  3. I’m an old school revolver guy. I’m blessed to have a near mint 1960 vintage S&W Model 14 .38 revolver that is as DP describes. Blued steel and wood. They don’t make ’em like that any more, and it will be passed to sons when I die or can no longer lift it. My regular match gun, based off a S&W Model 67 and heavily worked, will shoot 1″ groups at 50 yards off a rest if I do my bit.

    There’s nothing like a well set up DA revolver. One of my mates has a Colt Gold Cup, but I wouldn’t trade my revolver for it.

Leave a Comment