.38 Smith & Wesson ammunition has been around for more than a century. And although it has been surpassed in popularity by other cartridges – such as the .38 Special – this S&W ammo is still a great choice for casual target shooting. In 1877, Smith & Wesson introduced .38 S&W (9x20mm) ammunition designed for its "First Model," a single action, spur-triggered revolver. Introduced in the 1850s, metallic cartridge revolvers became an overnight success. Most were either large-caliber guns or pocket pistols that used .22 or .32 short loads. The .38 was able to offer more power than the previous rounds, making it more appealing to the military as well as the general public.
A popular cartridge for handguns in its time, the .38 S&W was used most notably by the British military, where it was called .38/200 ammo. This expressed the caliber of the cartridge and the bullet weight in grains. The diameter of the bullet was 0.36 inches, and the overall cartridge length was 1.2 inches, not enough for the .38/200 to perform very well. Muzzle velocity approached 620 feet per second, and muzzle energy was less than 200 foot-pounds. The .38 S&W is also known as .380 Rim, .38 New Police, Belgian 9mm Revolver, and .38 S&W Corto. Despite the similarities, the round should not be confused with the .38 Special. It is also not interchangeable with the .38 Special due to its shape and diameter.
Though lacking power, the cartridge does have qualities desirable for a good pistol round – including accuracy and reliability with mild recoil. The innovation of .38 Smith & Wesson ammo was using a large-bore cartridge for small- to medium-size revolvers. .38 S&W ammo is not as popular as it used to be, though at least four major manufacturers still produce the cartridge. Lead round nose bullets are the most common, but it is possible to find full metal jacket bullets and even some hollow point ammo.