Jump to content
Practically Shooting

38super vs 9mm for practical pistol competition?


Recommended Posts

Why do so many of the top shooters in USPSA & IPSC use the 38 Super? I was watching a championship level match on TV and I believe every competitor was shooting a 38 Super. I believe the 38 Super and 9mm are very close to the same cartridge with the 38 having a bit more energy.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

IPSC and IDPA have a power factor- a minimum power level- for the ammo used. They arrive at this by multiplying the bullet weight times the velocity, then divide that by 1,000.

Ex: a 9mm shooting a 115 grain bullet at 1150 fps would make a PF of 132. (115 x 1150= 132,250. 132,250/1,000= 132.25)


They have a Major and Minor power factor. The minimum for Minor is 125. Minimum for Major is 165.

They also have a minimum bore diameter of .355, except for Limited and Limited 10 class, which is .400.

These rules pretty much make the minimum cartridge the .38 Super or similar ones like the 38TJ or 38 Super Comp (.40 S&W in Lim/L10). The 9mm can be loaded to make 165 PF, but it takes a bit of knowledge and care, so IPSC has waffled back and forth on allowing it for safety reasons.

Now, you can shoot a Minor load in IPSC Open class for example, but it will be scored differently. Ordinarily, the three scoring values for the zones are 5, 4, and 3 points. When shooting Minor, you get 5-3-1, so hits outside the top two zones hurt more. The obvious thought is that if you shoot well, it's no problem. But that rarely works out because it often is to the really fast shooter's advantage to drop a few points here and there to blaze along.

Production class is a different animal and has a minimum 125 PF, but that isn't what they usually show on TV or magazines.


Major PF has changed over the years, with it being 170 until a few years ago and 175 before that.

Jeff Cooper set it originally at 175 or 180 (I can't recall which) based on the PF from GI 230 grain hardball fired from a Commander.


It has gotten so the PF changes with almost every equipment (gun) class. SSP and ESP (Stock Service Pistol and Enhanced Service Pistol) is 125PF and .355 min bore diameter.

CDP (Custom Defensive Pistol) is pretty much the 1911 class with a 165 PF and 45 ACP only (they used to allow 10mm and .400 CorBon but stopped for some stupid reason).

In the revolver classes (they split it into two categories a couple of years ago) both are .355 min bore. ESR (Enhanced Service Revolver) PF is 165 and are usually 45 ACP although .40s are legal. SSR (Stock Service Revolver) was 125 minimum until this year when they dropped it to 115 because so much factory 38 Spl ammo couldn't meet 125 PF.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Having the privilege to onetime being able to shoot a full out 1911 based race gun in 38 super, the basics were explained to me, the 38 super can be [is] overloaded to get more gas at the compensator to make the compensator eliminate muzzle rise. When shooting the pistol there was no muzzle rise and virtually no felt recoil. "As well as the powerfactor etc."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


  • Create New...