When my law enforcement career started back in 1980, it was still somewhat the “dark ages” of handgun ballistic science (even though jacketed hollow-point pistol and revolver ammo had been available since 1963).

However, many authorities and end users still favored the tried-and-true 230 FMJ .45 ACP. It was effective and cycled more reliably than the JHP designs available back then. Revolver cartridges such as the extremely popular .38 Special had no such functionality or reliability concerns.

The .38 Special Hydra-Shok Scorpion

In order to provide a .38 Special load that performed better than the 158-grain round-nosed lead police service load, the Hydra-Shok Corporation of Watkins Glen, New York, introduced the Hydra-Shok Scorpion .38 Special round, billing it as the “ultimate defense load.”

The Hydra-Shok Scorpion’s claim to fame was a flat-nosed lead target wadcutter bullet with a deep cavity, loaded flush with the case mouth. A signature center post (the “Stinger”) was added to the middle of the 146-grain bullet. The purpose of the post was to help ensure maximum expansion through the principle of “the incompressibility of fluids” acting on the center post rather than high velocity. This was advertised as being only 750 feet per second, which was right in line with standard-pressure .38 Special loads of the era.

The Scorpion’s effectiveness was merely speculation. There were no consistent ballistic testing mediums available back then. Bullets were often tested by shooting them into gallon water jugs and watching the resultant splash. I don’t recall seeing even this rudimentary method used to test the Hydra-Shok Scorpion in any gun magazine of the period.

Nonetheless, the load looked like it should work well, so 23-year-old Scott bought a box. I carried the Hydra-Shok Scorpions for a short time in my 4-inch Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum Model 19 duty revolver, trusting advertising hype and cop urban legend.

A few years later, Federal Ammunition purchased the rights to Hydra-Shok. For a time, they manufactured both the .38 Special Scorpion load and a .357 Magnum “Copperhead” load. I’ve kept the remainder of my box of original Scorpions for 40 years now as a reminder of the bad old days.

What’s Old Is New Again

Last year, I saw a review of a .38 Special revolver that was tested using the then-new Federal Premium Personal Defense HST Micro .38 Special +P. It looked remarkably like the original Scorpion in that the cavernous 130-grain flat bullet was seated flush with the case mouth. The HST bullet no longer features a center post and has a copper jacket that engages the rifling. Velocity has been increased to 890 feet per second. It was similar enough that it caused me to dig out my original Scorpion ammo for a historic comparison test.

Hydra-Shok Scorpion .38 Special vs. Federal Premium Personal Defense HST Micro .38 Special +P at the Range

I decided to use my S&W 2.5-inch Performance Center 686 to test both the old and new loads because of the single-action cocking capability. After verifying the zero, I went to work with my chronograph. The results were interesting.

Load Bullet Weight Average Velocity Muzzle Energy Hatcher RSP
Hydra-Shok Scorpion .38 Special 146 grains 683 feet per second 151 foot-pounds of energy 24
Federal HST Micro .38 Special 130 grains 891 feet per second 229 foot-pounds of energy 28


As you can see from the table, the Hydra-Shok Scorpion’s average muzzle velocity was 67 feet per second less than originally advertised and resulted in only 151 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle. That seems to be inconsistent with the claim of being the “ultimate defense load.” The Federal HST Micro load’s chronographed average velocity matched right up with the manufacturer’s specifications. Both loads were easily controlled from the 686.

Clay Block Test

I was surprised by the lack of effectiveness of the original Hydra-Shok Scorpion. Comparing the two rounds shows that there has been a significant improvement in ballistic theory and performance in the intervening years.

Load Maximum Cavity Diameter Penetration Depth
Hydra-Shok Scorpion .38 Special 2.5 inches 10+ inches
Exited block, leaving ½-inch-diameter hole
Federal HST Micro .38 Special 4.0 inches 9 inches
Bullet recovered in block
Expanded perfectly to ½-inch diameter


While the Hydra-Shok Scorpion didn’t live up to its hype, the Federal HST Micro .38 Special clearly does. It is accurate and shoots to the point of aim. It should prove a good self-defense load, although I might carry reloads with a more conventional bullet profile (like the Federal Personal Defense Hydra-Shok Low Recoil load) for quicker reloading.


Federal Premium: FederalPremium.com

About Scott W. Wagner

Scott W. Wagner is a criminal justice professor and police academy commander from Columbus, Ohio. He has been a police officer since 1980, working as an undercover liquor investigator, undercover narcotics investigator, patrol officer, SWAT team member, sniper and assistant team leader. Scott is currently a patrol sergeant with the Village of Baltimore, Ohio, Police Department. He has been a police firearms instructor since 1986 and is certified to instruct revolver, semi-automatic pistol, shotgun, semi- and fully automatic patrol rifle, and submachine gun.