Welcome to another cartridge comparison. This is the place where we dissect the intricacies of two different gun cartridges to help you decide which one is the right first, or next, handgun or rifle cartridge for your purposes.
Our goal isn’t necessarily to pick a winner, though I will tell you which one I tend to veer towards for my own purposes.
Let’s get started.
9mm Luger VS 38 Super, Which one is better?
In terms of energy transfer, the 38 Super is the better performer delivering over 425 LB/FT of energy at the muzzle with certain loads. There is more that goes into it than energy transfer, alone, however, which we’ll get to in a bit.
Also, the 124 grain 9mm hollow points like those from Federal deliver over 360 pounds of energy at the muzzle, which is nothing to sneeze at when all things else are considered.
For the rest of this article, we need to be on the same page about the projectiles being the same at .35″ in diameter. Weights will always vary from one cartridge to the next, and even within the cartridge family. But the “caliber” is essentially the same even though one is called 9mm and the other 38 Super.
Let’s tackle this further.
9mm Luger VS 38 Super, Stopping power
This is the point in the past articles where I’ve told you that, at least in terms of handgun cartridges, there is no such thing as stopping power even though it is something that can be achieved on a case by case scenario.
I have written an entire article dedicated to the myth of stopping power, and I encourage you to read it if you’ve never heard of this before.
Even though stopping power is a myth, it is something that can be achieved under the right circumstances, and that’s what we’ll take a look at next.
9mm Stopping Power
In terms of energy transfer alone, the 9mm produces less of it at all distances than the 38 Super does. There are a few different reasons why this is, which we will discuss momentarily. The best of the 9mm cartridges produce 364 pounds of energy at the muzzle. When +P ammo is used, it brings the energy up to 396 when 124 grain HST rounds are used.
38 Super Stopping Power
In terms of energy transfer alone, the 38 Super produces more at all distances than the 9mm does. There are a few different reasons to this, which we’ll get to soon. 125 grain Winchester Silver Tip hollow points deliver 427 pounds of energy at the muzzle, and 130 grain Remington UMC rounds deliver 426 pounds of energy at the muzzle.
38 Super VS 9mm Ballistics
The 125 grain 38 Super leaves the muzzle at 1240 feet per second with 427 pounds of energy. The 124 grain 9mm Luger leaves the muzzle at 1150 feet per second with 364 pounds of energy.
The 38 Super travels faster and produces more energy upon impact because it’s a longer cartridge case and holds more powder. The Luger is 9X19mm, while the Super is 9X23.
Below is a slightly modified and shortened version of each caliber’s ballistic charts. They’ve been shortened to ensure they fit on this screen. I urge you to check out each caliber’s dedicated page to learn even more about each one, and to see more in depth ballistics:
This 9mm ballistics chart shows 124 grain Federal Punch hollow points:
38 Super Ballistics
This 38 Super ballistics chart shows 125 grain Winchester Silver Tip HP:
38 Super VS 9mm Recoil and ther info
Up until this point and in terms of power, the 38 Super has been the better cartridge. This is the point where things start to change direction a bit toward the 9mm.
In terms of recoil, the 9mm is the lighter recoiling cartridge. If all things are the same, to include the size and grip of the gun, the shooter’s ability to control the recoil, etc., the 9mm has less felt recoil.
That is not to say that the 38 Super produces a lot of felt recoil, because it doesn’t.
9mm VS 38 Super Cost
This is harder to track these days with the ammo shortage we’re currently in. There was a period of time there where 38 Super was a lot cheaper than 9mm, which is a very rare occurence.
Prior to the shortage, as well as once things return to normal, the abundance of 9mm will drive costs down. For right now, they’re similarly priced and it is hard to say when things will normalize but we are seeing some relief in this area.
Historically, 9mm has always been cheaper than 38 Super, and when ammo is cheaper it’s easier to shoot. When it’s easier to shoot, you train with it more. When you train more, you get, and stay, better.
9mm VS 38 Super Capacity
In terms of stock handguns, meaning unmodified guns that you get from the factory, and not ones that you build, the 9mm will always have more capacity until a more modern gun is released for this cartridge.
There really are two main thoughts to the amount of ammunition that a handgun can hold in its magazine, and that is this:
- The amount of ammo you carry shouldn’t matter as much as how powerful the ammo is. In other words, less is more.
- The amount of ammo you carry is paramount to coming out on top. After all, what if you have more than one armed attacker and you only have six or seven rounds? In other words, more is better.
I tend to be in the camp of stuffing as many rounds of the most powerful ammo I can stuff in my gun. For this reason I tend to carry 124 grain Federal HST or Punch in my SIG Sauer P365XL or Springfield Hellcat.
For me, the 9mm wins here. However, each person must weigh their own thoughts about this.
38 Super VS 9mm Availability and Aftermarket
There are a lot more manufacturers making many more different grain weights of 9mm than there are 38 Super. In fact, until the last couple of decades the Super was a relatively dead cartridge until folks like Rob Leatham began to use it in competitions.
While it has seen a nice surge in popularity, it likely will never see the same numbers as 9mm, or even the other big 6 handgun calibers which includes the following:
Because of this lack of popularity, there are also only a handful of gun makers producing 38 Super chambered guns, and they are primarily 1911s. There have been a few others throughout the years, but there are not many.
So in terms of the aftermarket, the 9mm is the clear winner here.
That doesn’t mean that 38 Super doesn’t deserve more, however.
9mm VS 38 Super, Which One Wins?
For me, the 9mm wins, even though the 38 Super offers more power downrange. I tend to carry my Sig 365XL more often than not because it offers the best of a shootable gun in a small package but while still holding a lot of ammo.
What wins for me isn’t necessarily right for you. I’d urge you to go to a range and shoot guns in both calibers and make a decision from there.