The New Super Vel Super Snub .38 +P Review

SuperVel Super Snub

If you’ve never heard of Lee Jurras, I’d be a little surprised. Maybe I shouldn’t be, but I would. Lee Jurras was the father of the modern hollowpoint. Way back in 1963 he founded a company called Super Vel and began developing not only hollowpoint bullets, but also shoving them out of guns at then-unheard-of velocities. In the intervening decades we have seen all sorts of advances in hollowpoint design, but they all owe to an idea Mr. Jurras had a long time ago.

Mr. Jurras passed on just a little over a year ago, and his company, Super Vel Ammunition went belly-up long before I was born. Fortunately, his spirit and his company name both live on, thanks largely to the work of Cameron Hopkins. Hopkins spent many years (1984 to 2001) as the editor-in-chief of American Handgunner, and in 2015 bought the Super Vel name. I won’t attempt to retell the whole story, but Hopkins set about recreating and modernizing Jurras’ concept: light, expanding bullets driven to eye-popping velocities.

Full Disclosure: Super Vel provided five boxes of ammunition for this review, and a couple of t-shirts (one of which I really happen to like!). We have received no other compensation for this review and we don’t get anything from the sale of Super Vel ammunition.

Super Vel Super Snub .38 +P

Mr. Hopkins was kind enough to send me a few boxes of the new Super Vel ammunition. The new Super Vel Super Snub load is packaged in bright yellow boxes reminiscent of the original packaging. The box lists the caliber and bullet weight and what on its face seems like an optimistic claim: 1,300 FPS from a 1 7/8″ snubby barrel!

Super Vel Super Snub

Though the original Super Vel .38 loading offered a  110-grain bullet, the updated .38 +P version is tipped with a 90-grain projectile. The projectile is a conventional cup-and-core hollowpoint with a gently curved ogive. An experienced shooter will immediately notice that these cartridges feel light in the hand. The cases are nickel-plated and stamped “SUPER VEL” and “.38 SPC +P”.

Super Vel Super Snub Velocity

In working on my ongoing series of articles about 10mm handguns, I’ve spent a lot of time looking at manufacturers’ published velocities. I’ve also spent a little time running these loads over the chronograph. Mostly I’ve been disappointed. I was especially curious about the Super Vel Super Snub, especially since velocity long been a part of Super Vel’s claim to fame. Naturally I was a little skeptical at the outset but as it turns out, I shouldn’t have been!

I fired the Super Vel Super Snub load over my chronograph in two revolvers: the 3″ Kimber K6s and my S&W 640 Pro. Velocities from both guns exceeded advertising and my expectations! The Kimber fired a stunning five-shot average of 1,349 FPS, while the stubbier 640 Pro produced a five-shot average of 1,310 FPS. This is the only load I’ve fired in recent memory that produces velocities that actually exceed the manufacturer’s claims. Color me impressed.

Super Vel Super Snub
Photo Credit: K. Davis

I would like to see some terminal ballistics data about the bullet loaded in this cartridge. There are some recovered bullet photos on Super Vel’s site, but the site is silent about the test conditions. If Mr. Hopkins is as forthcoming about the bullet’s performance as he is about its velocity, I feel pretty good about that. I’m generally not a fan of light-for-caliber bullets, but I’d feel OK carrying this one.

Shooting The SuperVel Super Snub

Accuracy with the Super Vel Super Snub is my only concern, especially in snubby revolvers. Because this load is so light and so fast, it exits the muzzle very early in the muzzle’s climb. This causes these rounds to generally impact low (see the target in my Kimber K6s review). Of course, if your revolver fires these to point-of-aim you can disregard this criticism. Likewise if  your revolver has adjustable sights.

Super Vel Super Snub

I fired 60 rounds of this ammunition through a variety of revolvers, but most through my 640 Pro and the Kimber. I noticed two distinct characteristics. The first: this ammunition is LOUD! The second: recoil is light, owing mostly the light bullet. All rounds fired functioned flawlessly and extricated themselves from the cylinder smoothly. The rounded bullet profile and smooth cases aided loading from speedloaders.

The Bottom Line

If you’re looking for a light-recoiling .38 +P cartridge that hits with some authority, the Super Vel Super Snub might be for you. I am nothing but impressed with the velocities generated by this little load. Super Vel is also making interesting loads in .380 ACP, 9mm Luger, and .45 ACP, so check them out!

39 thoughts on “The New Super Vel Super Snub .38 +P Review”

  1. Now we get to see you and Mike debate “Slow and heavy” v. “Fast and light” bullets.

    FWIW, I’ll be shooting off some of the former out of my Taurus, which I don’t like to feed +p rounds. It’s an older gun, before Taurus okayed them for +p shooting, and I like to train with what I use for self defense. Since I load Hornady Critical Defense +p in our heavier revolvers, a box Super Velocities might be worth a test. I’m also looking to buy very soon a DAO snub, either a K6S or “hammerless” SP101, as my carry gun.

    But for the Taurus, on tap are the 158 WC that Mike recommends, Hornady’s 158 gr Custom HP, and Buffalo Bore’s hard-t0-type (or remember) 158 gr short barrel LSWCHP (soft cast).

    1. 148 Wadcutters, please! The 158s I know are all SWC with a tapered nose, but the 148s are like a cylinder with a flat nose. I prefer the 148s for the role we discussed in the other post (low recoil, standard velocity). Your Taurus should like them.

      As an unabashed fan of Evan Marshall’s work, I’m agnostic about the heavy/slow and light/fast debate, and just go with what seems to have a good track record. Before the design revolution that occurred in the late 80s and early 90s, the 158 +P LSWCHP and 110+P+ JHP were my favorites in .38 Special, representing both ends of the spectrum. These days, I’m carrying a 130+P JHP in the caliber.

      1. Yes sir! They are hard to find locally in any weight, so if they don’t turn up at the next gun show, I’ll order a couple of boxes to try against the 158s. I’ve looked at the Lucky Gunner Ballistics tests of WCs and saw three brands did well in terms of velocity.

        1. If you need to order them, the good folks at sgammo.com have Fiocchi 148 WCs for $15.95/50. I like these folks and have always received good service from them.

      2. While I can’t say I’m an “unabashed fan” of EM, I don’t completely discredit him either as is the vogue. The jello junkies have taken over the conversation from the morgue monsters these days, and too little faith in actually street results exists. Hunting and rifle rounds? Sure. Self-defense and handguns? Lord have mercy, no!

        It’s crazy out there. And, for the record, I don’t care a whole lot about what the coroner says about bullet performance as much as the shootee says about it. Stops don’t always equal kills. The best info I’ve read is that you have a 70% chance of surviving a handgun wound. That means the coroner is only commenting on 30% of the shootings.

        My take is faster is better than slower, bigger is better than smaller (as in .38 is better than .22, and, yes, .45 is better than .38), energy matters (tell a handgun hunter or Mass Ayoob it doesn’t and see the reaction), heavy/lite doesn’t matter nearly as much as work energy put to the proper depth.

        What is the best balance? I carry 9mm +P+ and .38 +P instead of .45’s…. now. Big bores aren’t good enough to justify the arthritis I suffer these days, and I just can’t shoot them without discomfort anymore. Back then it was the price we paid for superior insurance. These days, the kiddos have it better.

        Remember, even the much maligned Silvertip did what it was designed to do and only “failed” because it passed through a bicep before entering the chest cavity.

        1. You said it brother! The only thing I could add is they are all only handguns, and handguns are weak. If you can, bring a long gun to social events. 😉

  2. The lineage of this new SV load was discussed in my article on the Treasury Load in these pages. Jurras’ original .38 Special load used a 110 grain bullet and certainly exceeded SAAMI specs for the caliber. I suspect Cameron repurposed a 90 grain, .380 ACP bullet to obtain the impressive velocities he desired while remaining below SAAMI pressure limits for .38+P.

    I suspect this load will have a basketball-shaped wound track in ordnance gelatin, with shallower penetration and a large temporary cavity. It may fragment a little, as well, depending on the alloy and jacket. If I had to guess, I’d say maybe 9″ – 10″ in calibrated gelatin from a snubby.

    If that sounds like I’m damning it with faint praise, I’m not. That’s a heck of a punch from a .38 snub. However, the truth is that this bullet won’t have the juice to go deep, so don’t expect it to. The .38+P in a snub doesn’t penetrate that deeply in the best of loads, but expect this one to live in the shallow end of the pool. Like others of the type, it won’t handle intermediate obstacles well, and probably won’t do well on shots where it has to go through a lot of stuff (i.e., a cross-torso shot where an arm is struck first).

    That doesn’t make it a bad load, you just have to know what you’re getting. The very popular Hornady Critical Defense is the same kind of load. These loads are going to be in their element for frontal shots against lightly-clothed targets (the most likely snubby scenario?) but if you stray beyond those parameters, then all bets are off.

    All loads are compromises. You just have to figure out what’s most important to you and make your choice. I think this load has great potential for a snubby if the shooter can live with the blast and the POA/POI issue. Compromises!

  3. Regarding POA/POI, I’m afraid this load is destined to shoot low in all guns. Even the adjustable-sighted guns quickly run out of sight travel to regulate for the 110+P+ loads, and this load will be even more difficult.

    At short distances against relatively generous targets like upper COM (the heart of the snubby envelope?) no biggie. But if the distances stretch out beyond 10-15 yards or the level of required precision increases (head shot?), you’re going to have to know the holdoffs. You’ll definitely want to “learn” this load and not just assume that it will hit close enough to your POA.

    I had to do the same when I was carrying the 110+P+

  4. Hey Justin. Thank you very much for a fantastic review! I really appreciate your honest and thorough testing. You mentioned you’re working on a 10mm project so when our new 160 gr SCHP 10mm load is in production I’ll send you some to test. Thanks again, great job!

    1. Cameron
      First, apologies for the delay in getting this out! Finding an open-air range where I could set up the chrono proved more challenging than I expected. Second, I would love to shoot some of your 10mm ammo. Your chosen bullet weight (160) seems like a great, middle-of-the-road weight for this caliber!
      Justin

  5. Wow, honest packaging! I’d love to see these things shot into jello. Any chance you’ll chronograph a few from a longer barrel?

  6. An echo from the past! Super Vel is certainly one of the storied names in our little corner of the world. And I wish Mr. Hopkins nothing but success in extending Lee Jurras’ original insight.

    As I Mike pointed out above, though, light-for-caliber bullets bring some less-than-desirable things to the party.

    Stepping back, we all kinda know that as more and more grains get shaved off a light-for-caliber bullet, at some point it simply stops working, irrespective of how much velocity it has, simply because the bullet fragments upon impact. Varmint hunters love that quality. Bear hunters, not so much.

    In the inhospitable and multi-faceted world of human encounters, one wonders if 90 grains out of a .38 Special isn’t a bridge too far.

    1. Like you, I’ve been prone to dismissing such ultra-lights immediately. But the work I’m doing with the 10mm has me reconsidering this position. Here’s why:

      I shot an ultra-light, 100-grain 10mm bullet through the GP100 that clocked an average of almost 1,800 FPS. That’s very close to the M1 Carbine’s 110-grain/1,900 FPS specifications…from a carbine! Impressive, right? But immediately I’m thinking, “there’s no way this bullet will survive contact, intact.”

      But then I started wondering, “why?” Ultra-light, ultra-fast bullets are the reason that rifles are so terminally effective. My M4 carbine launches bullets from 55 to 69 grains, all north of 3,000 FPS and I never worry about the bullet staying together. Theoretically there is no reason that the same thing shouldn’t be possible from a handgun. On the other hand…

      In practice, though, most handgun bullets aren’t as “tough” as the 62-grain Gold Dots I have on hand for my carbine. Most are manufactured to perform within the “normal” (for caliber) handgun velocity band. And I think that is where we get into trouble…when, for instance, second-party manufacturers take Speer’s “Bonded Defense” bullet (really just a Gold Dot) that was designed for one caliber, and push it to velocities it was never intended for in another. But it is possible to construct bullets that are tough enough to stand up to blistering velocities, and in my opinion, rifles prove it.

      Don’t read this as full-throated endorsement of *this* bullet; it’s not. As I mentioned, I’d love to see some ballistic testing, and that goes for light-and-fast, heavy-and-slow, and everything in between.

      1. I remember reading some material on gunshots where the author looked at x rays of bodies struck by 5.56 and .30 carbine SP that disintegrated into what he called a “lead snowstorm” that apparently stopped the bad guys just fine. I wonder, is bullet fragmentation a bad thing? Not trying to start a huge battle, but just wondering what folks think.

  7. If my sources of data are accurate, then this .38 Super Vel does not even rise to the performance level of .327 Federal Magnum.

    1. You’re absolutely right – it doesn’t. The .38 Special is a 100+ year old cartridge with very low pressure tolerance, while the .327 is a purpose-built, modern round designed for high pressure and high velocity. You’re not going to find a .38 cartridge that truly competes with the .327 in the velocity/energy departments.

      The .327 Federal Magnum is superior in every conceivable way except logistics. Good luck trying to find .327 ammo, and the gun selection in .327 is equally limited. If it weren’t for those constraints I’d probably have one, and I may see if I can’t test one sometime soon.

      1. Thanks Justin for saying all the things I only implied. IMHO an interesting topic for discussion would be…Why does the .38 Special survive (or) more appropriately why are “.38 only” revolvers still in production (new Colt Cobras for example) and still selling when buyers have plenty of better options like .357 J&K frame snubs, or the .327 Federal Magnum Ruger SP101. Why limit oneself to a cartridge which is ballistically mediocre at its best? If it comes down to a recoil issue, anyone has the option of feeding their revolver .38’s instead? I realize there are millions of .38 revolvers already in circulation which need to be fed, but I’m questioning the manufacture and sale of new .38 Special revolvers. One major problem with the .38 Special is that IMO it has become irrelevant in a world of 9mm +P which outperforms it, and forget about any comparisons to .327 or .357.

        1. Why .38, still? I can only give my own reasons. I’m not interested in loading moon clips of 9s into a wheel gun, nor do I want to be flash blinded and deaf from the defensive use of .357 ammo inside a house or at night on a dark street, as much as I enjoy the round at the range.

          So .38 +p it is in my larger revolvers and .38 std in the smaller ones.

          Now the .327 is another animal, and very interesting. As would be a rimmed 9mm round for revolvers (Federal used the make it for a Charter Arms gun). 9 ammo has come a LONG way and is very potent, especially in +p form.

        2. The .38 Special cartridge, and revolvers chambered for it still being produced, because despite all its perceived shortcomings over the decades from a plethora of gun magazine ‘experts’, the .38 Special is about the most gun many people can handle. It’s probably the most maligned centerfire handgun cartridge in current use, but one needs to remember that over the decades, thousands of law enforcement and security personnel staked their lives, without question, on the power and accuracy of the humble .38 Special. It still packs more power for less bulk than many semi-autos. I can hide my old M36 snub better than a Glock 43. Granted, I would NOT want to engage a truck load of Sinaloa with it, but for dealing with the occasional miscreant, it will be on me when the full size Glock won’t be.

          You’re correct, it’s no powerhouse compared to 9m/m +P (or +P+), .357 Magnum, .41 or .44 Magnum, but it is also useful to keep in mind that for many decades, the standard projectile was the lousy 158gr lead round nose. Super-Vel changed the game, and I’m looking at a box of original Super-Vel 110gr JHP as manufactured by H&H Cartridge Corporation of Greensburg, Indiana. It took off for those of us in the 1970s, 80s, 90s who carried J-frame S&W wheelguns as backups.

          But better bullet designs immediately started coming out from Remington, Chestwinster, Federal and others, specifically the 158gr LSWC-HP +P. No, it’s not in the power class of the 125gr JHP .357 Magnum, but the humble .38 Special round does what it is intended to do IF you use a well designed projectile and place said projectile where it needs to be.

        3. You’re right Sir, that would be an interesting topic, and I might just have to tackle it!

          Old School Gun-Geek and S. Bond hit on the most important issues already (bravo, gents) when they addressed controllability, the advantages of a rimmed case in a revolver (or, more accurately, the disadvantages of a rimless case in a revolver), and the good balance between recoil and terminal effect, but let me add a few extras from my perspective:

          1. Logistics. Justin mentioned it already, but the .38 Special is a standard. It was THE go-to caliber for previous generations, and while it has since given up its crown to the 9mm as the most popular centerfire pistol cartridge, there’s still an enviable supply of cartridges and components available, and they cost less than competing calibers. Barring some unforeseen turn of events, the .327 Federal Magnum is unlikely to ever approach its popularity and availability, let alone eclipse it, just because of inertia alone. Manufacturers make more .38s than .327s because there’s simply more feed for them (and more demand for them, which sets up a self-reinforcing cycle);

          2. Variety. Closely related to 1.), above, the .38 Special is offered in many flavors of bullet weights, styles, velocities, and pressures. The .327 Fed Mag is much more limited (only two bullet weights–100 or 115–and few choices in projectiles). If demand was higher, we’d see more options, but it’s not, so we don’t. Advantage: .38;

          3. Size and weight constraints. Guns made for the .357 Magnum can indeed chamber the lesser round, but they’re needlessly oversized for the task. My no-dash S&W 640 in .38 Special predates the frame stretching that turned the model into a .357 Magnum, and I prefer the smaller size and weight of the .38 frame and cylinder. If you’re only going to shoot .38s anyhow, why get stuck with a bigger gun?

          4. Ease of manufacture. The Magnums often require special materials or heat treatment to withstand the higher pressures. By contrast, cylinders and frames for the .38 Special are generally less labor intensive and expensive to produce;

          5. Accuracy? Not a factor for the small framed snubs, but some credible folks have claimed that .38 Special ammo shoots more accurately in guns chambered for the caliber, than it does in .357s. I can’t say that my experience has proven this, but who knows, maybe there’s something there. This might be another good topic for us to tackle sometime.

          I’ve shot the .327 in several Rugers and have found it to be an impressive cartridge. I agree it has a lot going for it, but doubt I’ll ever see the day when consumers want it more than the .38 Special. The market speaks, and manufacturers respond. Simple.

          1. Note that none of this is intended to hint that the .38 Special is more powerful than the .327 Fed . . . I’ve shot the .327 Fed and I’m impressed. It’s definitely a high-energy cartridge and ballistically superior. There’s some people though who don’t want a cartridge that kicks that much, especially in a small gun. For them, the .38 is just the right balance, so it stays in demand.

            There are market forces which drive an increased demand for .38 over .327 Fed, and there are also good reasons for chambering a gun in .38 instead of .357 Mag. The manufacturers make what sells, so that’s why they keep making them.

          2. True, but not as capable a round as the .38 Special, and even more difficult to locate than men with scruples in Washington, D.C. ; ^ )

          3. Has anyone ever chorno’d the .327 Fed. out of a 2″ barrel? I think most of the published figures are 4 or 6 inch barrels. I have a sneaking hunch it is not all that out of a 2 inch barrel. Nor does it have “.357 magnum power with mild recoil.” Sorry, no such thing as a free lunch.

            Best,
            Paul

          4. Paul, I don’t have chrono data for the .327 Fed Mag, but will check with some folks who might. I’ve shot the .327 Fed Mag out of the SP101 and the LCR, and think the “mild recoil” description is a bit generous. This cartridge barks, and generates more recoil than most scribes attribute to it. It’s not punishing, but it’s no flyweight either. I would not rate it as a good choice for a novice or a recoil-shy shooter. A standard pressure (and even some +P) .38 Special seems to kick less, possibly because the pressure curve is steeper for the .327 FM.

            The “.357 Magnum power” description should raise an eyebrow, too. Perhaps if we’re talking about the .357/110gr it’s reasonable, but it obviously can’t compete with the stouter loads in the original Magnum.

            You’re right–TNSTAAFL. I suspect the folks in the Marketing Department at Federal took a little liberty to gain acceptance for the new round, and shooters picked up the advertising ball and ran with it. It’s not “a .357 that kicks less,” but I am still really impressed with this little Magnum and think it should be recognized on its own merits. It’s a great choice.

          1. I have a vision of the old Harris Publications magazines in my head, with a bold title across the cover which says:

            “Is the .38 Dead?”

            That would be in close proximity to some other tease that has the word “ultimate” in it somewhere.

            ; ^ )

        4. A few agencies out there still allow only .38 spl in revolvers. It doesn’t thrill me but I also don’t feel undergunned with it. My LCR for off duty is .38 not .357 so I can maximize velocity with the cartridge. I don’t know if anyone else does this, but it works for me.

  8. Echoing Mike’s earlier comments, I too prefer track records when it comes to self-defense ammunition.
    Enough said about that.

    As for projectile velocity, there’s nothing new under the sun. We can trade mass for velocity or velocity for mass but there are limits to those two paths.
    We are constrained by the maximum allowable SAAMI pressures, the distance over which we can apply that pressure (barrel length), the diameter of the projectile and the twist rate of the barrel. Within those limitations the laws of physics are going to rule.
    The slow & heavy verses fast & light is an old debate and one not likely to be resolved here.

  9. Like Rob, I’m wondering about velocities in longer barrels, as well as the terminal effects from, say, 4″ and 6″. I’m generally not a fan of the super light/super fast concept for handguns, but if the bullet is constructed to hold up and penetrate adequately, I could be convinced–in time. Also wondering if it would be possible to make a bonded bullet, to maybe hold together a little better at the high velocities?
    Thinking outside the personal defense box, I’m wondering how these would work against coyotes, for those who call them in close. If I was a gambler, I’d bet Wile E. would really hate getting one through the ribs.
    I’ll be looking forward to more information on this load, it’s really interesting. Thanks for the article. Ace

    1. Ace, it’s a repurposed .380 ACP bullet, so unfortunately it won’t be very robust. Seeing 4″ and 6″ data would be interesting, indeed. It would also be interesting to see if the added velocity from a 6″ tube might be enough to cause early fragmentation, thereby giving less penetration, not more. That would be some great homework for us. I like your idea of a bonded projectile at these velocities.

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