The Rebirth of the 200-grain .38 Special Super Police Cartridge


One of the handguns I carried as an undercover narcotics cop was a Colt Agent® snub-nosed .38 Special revolver. Back then the standard .38 Special load was still the less-than-ideal 158-grain round nose lead round load with a muzzle velocity of around 750 fps from a four-inch barrel.

The few hollow point loads available for the .38 Special were nowhere near as reliable as they are now. There was a non-hollow point alternative—the Winchester Western 200-grain blunt nose “Super Police” load. This was the load I carried in my Colt Agent.

The .38 Special Super Police load featured a blunt round nose bullet weighing in at 200 grains, with a nominal velocity of 700 fps from a four-inch barreled revolver. It was more effective against soft targets than the standard 158-grain load, but less effective against vehicles.

Until recently, I thought that the effectiveness of the Super Police was due only to the increased bullet weight and blunt nose shape. I had confidence in the close range effectiveness of the Super Police round, especially because any shot I was likely to take would be at living room or bar room distances.

What I didn’t know then about the 200-grain Super Police bullet is that when it hits soft tissue, it consistently yaws. The “long for caliber” slug at moderate velocity is on the edge of instability in flight. This causes it to begin to turn sideways as it moves through soft tissue, causing a PERMANENT wound path and exit that ends up being much larger than the entrance hole. A bullet that yaws increases trauma and reduces over-penetration, without the cost, blast, and heavier recoil of modern +P hollow point defensive ammo. If the original Super Police bullets really did yaw when hitting soft test medium, I would consider carrying them in my Smith & Wesson Model 642. However, I couldn’t find original .38 Super Police ammo anywhere! Fortunately GAD Custom Cartridges of Medford, Wisconsin was able and willing to replicate the original loads.

Soon after contacting Bernold Nelson, the company’s owner, I had a fifty-round box of .38 Special Super Police equivalent ammo in hand, complete with the original blunt nose bullet.

I took the ammo to the range for chronograph and ballistic testing. Recoil was light and velocity averaged 572.4 fps from my two-inch snub. Velocity should be around 700 fps from a four-inch barrel. Now I needed to see how the rounds performed in my ballistic medium of choice: modeling clay.

Ballistic gelatin provides an industry wide consistent testing medium. It is a homogenous material kept at 55 degrees that shows what a particular bullet does in IT, and not in a 98.6 degree human being. It is expensive and messy. The clay block I used was 9½ inches long by 6½ wide and weighed 25 lbs.

All three test rounds shot into the block exhibited yaw. Entrance holes were around ½ inch in diameter with exit holes running 1 to 1½ inches in diameter! From entrance to exit, the bullets traveled in a gentle arc, and exited in various sideways positions.

I was very impressed with the performance of the reproduction Super Police rounds, and they are now the round of choice for my off-duty and backup revolver. Their profile makes reloads quick, low recoil makes training pleasant, and its performance makes the user confident. They are worth trying!

Connect with Bernold Nelson at 715-748-0919 or learn more at

13 Comments (Add Yours)

  1. Nice report. Those “good ole days” back in the sixties, as a state trooper, I teamed up with an auxiliary member to crank out reloads using recycled wheel weights. Several local PD’s bought them for practice, but one of our molds put out the elongated blunted nose you mentioned. I also carried semi-wadcutter loads in my back-up snubby, which behaved quite nicely in tests. These were a little more stable but didn’t have the weight benefit of the Super 38.

  2. Back in the 50’s I read a book by a N.Y. Coroner, who gave detailed
    descriptions of autopsies involving gunshot wounds by various calibers and bullet weight. He concluded that any bullet weighing 200 Gr. or more, was a ‘man-stopper’. Until now, I didn’t know why.

  3. Hello, thanks for your comment!

    Sometimes simpler is better. I would have written more about comparable British .38/200 and its yaw effect but I am limited in space. I think those older loads worked better than many folks today realize.

  4. Back in the late fifties, my brother and I loaded ammunition for three police departments and of course ourselves. We used to load our own (and a few officers by request) .38 and .357 rounds wiry 180 and 200 hundred grain hard cast bullets. I have a mold for my .45 Colt that weighs in at 300 grains. Always very effective. A flat nose adds to the effectiveness. Have also used long heavy loads in .44 SP and .44 mag. Slightly reduced speed never seemed a problem.

  5. Slow and heavy bullets are generally quite effective, disproportionally to their KE. Blunt bullets also are better at creating a permanent wound channel than traditional round nose. Combat effectiveness of the original .380-200 load (essentially a 200gr lead cylinder – not the later RN military load) and the similar.38 Colt Super Police was quite astonishing compared to “standard” 145gr RN.38S&W.

    Right now the push is for “high-tech” bullets, but I think there would be a significant market for the old-tech 200gr .38Spl Super Police with its moderate recoil and “always works” bullet.

    Actually, I’d like to see a modern version of the .38S&W. With its significantly shorter cartridge length it would permit a shorter cylinder which would result in a noticeably lighter weapon.

  6. I have a Charter arms, 3″ and a S&W snub Airweight. Are these loads safe for these Two. I feel pretty sure they are OK for my Dan Wesson .357. Comments?

  7. I personally have been dhot by an accidental discharge through the hand and leg needless to say it made a mess took a long time to heal up was very lucky

  8. And yes just to clear the mud it was by the super police load

  9. time’s have changed, today you should only carry factory loaded ammo, not that they are any better , but if you ever had to use it in a self defense situation an attorney would try to make it look like you just could not wait to see what your load’s would do to someone. my Cousin an Ohio police officer told me this many year’s ago. then several year’s later there was an article in American rifleman about this.

    1. Your cousin is exactly right. Something else a attorney will do is this. When I worked as a Police officer I got into a scuffle with a pi$$ed off dope head. I struck him with my flashlight. Long story short in the courtroom his attorney took my flashlight apart and made the statement “so you struck my client with a piece of pipe”.

  10. I still have a box of winchester 200 grain lead round nose ammunition bought in 1991. When no manufacturer made them any longer I decided to never fire a single one as a “legacy of the past to hand down to another person before passing from this life with instructions on keeping it alive.

  11. Interested parties can now order a .38 S&W 200g LRN @ 620 that duplicates the .38 Super Police and British Mk 1 loads. Google “Matt’s Bullets.” For use only in sound solid-frame guns, or Enfield or Webley British Army top-breaks, NOT in vintage American-made top-breaks! (No financial interest or connection, but Matt does great work IMO.)

    I cast and handload 5 different 200g bullets in both .38 S&W and .38 S&W Special for my personal use. Of these, 2 are blunt, round-nosed bullets (similar to British Mk. 1 ammo & .38 Super Police). Another bullet has a long ogive and pointier round nose (similar to the British Mk. 2 178g FMJ profile). Yet another is a semi-wadcutter with a meplat of approximately .30″ (you can bump it even flatter). The fifth was a long-ogive flat-point designed for use in the .35 Remington rifle, which does very fine in handguns, but I sold it along with my rifle.

    When bumped flat or in SWC form, these bullets at 600-670 fps easily drill straight through 6 milk jugs filled with water (that’s 36″). The flatter the nose and warmer you load, the rougher they treat jugs 1-3, typically blowing open the first 1-2 even at sub-700 velocity.
    All three round-nose designs destabilize in jugs 1 or 2; sometime in #3 if you push them up towards 700 fps. They then tumble violently, in most cases; others tend to curve less violently and display oblong holes or rips as they enter and exit various jugs. These same bullets, when loaded to 725-750 in .38 SPL, remain stable through 6 jugs and exit. The original British specification called for 590 fps from a 5″ Enfield revolver, and load velocities are often quoted between 600-630 in various unofficial references.
    I have fired three types of vintage US-made .38 S&W and .38 SPL Super Police ammo, and they all run 590-630 and tumble like crazy. Often they come out of a row of jugs at #3 or #4 and then tumble through a jug or two in an adjoining row.
    I’ve also fired modern Singapore-made (CIS headstamp) 178g FMJ Mk 2Z ammo of a pointier design, and it runs low 600’s in Enfields, 660-690 in S&W and Colt revolvers, and low 700’s in the tight Indian Contract Rugers. They tumble violently at the lower velocity ranges, but may remain point-first at higher velocities. I recently acquired some vintage FN-made Mk2Z that I haven’t yet tried out. The oft-quoted horror stories about this ammo are both true and false: in British weapons with more generous dimensions in the chambers, grooves, and barrel-cylinder gap, they were prone to bullet-in-bore incidents. Ed Harris worked on the Indian government’s contracts with Ruger, and saw BIB’s soon occur in all the Ruger test guns made with Indian [i.e. British] Ordnance-spec chambers. The Rugers made to Ed’s tighter specs fired flawlessly, and resulted in India accepting his altered dimensions. (Ed & Ruger engineers converted the 9mm cylinders they’d designed for some -Six series models; like the Brits, the Indians call the cartridge the .380 Rim and the Rugers are so marked.) I forget the numbers Ed quoted on-line, but Ruger sold something like 30-40,000 revolvers under this contract. I fortunately own one.
    In any event, I typically load my 2″ and 3″ carry snubs, both in .38 S&W (Smith’s) and in .38 SPL (Rossi’s), with 200g blunt LRN made of pure lead, which has a particularly devastating impact on bone if struck squarely. Chrono’ed velocities run about 570 from a snub and tumble through 5 jugs. From 4″ I- and J-frame S&W steel guns, these run about 630-670 and tumble through 6 jugs, but I typically choose a flattened SWC (meplat about .32″) at about 640-680 for these longer barrels, and with a 50-50+ tin alloy they punch straight through 6 jugs without deformation. A 670 flattened SWC load is in my nightstand in a 5″ Victory. The Speed-Six also stays there, with 200g LRN at 675.
    Yes, on weekends I lube my 1911A1 and add it to the mix with 230g XTP-JHP @ 850 or a 200g LHP at 950. About to experiment with newfound 218g LHP and 225g LSWCHP @ 850-ish and hopefully transition to them.
    Like the author of this article, I find that these combinations shoot soft but hit hard, and I only wish I could measure the wound volume of both the tumblers and the flattened SWC’s. I bet it would open a lot of eyes, and no worries about failures to expand, skidding off of even light bones, or expansion with failure to penetrate. By the time my heaviest loads exit 36″ of water, perhaps approximating 18″ in gelatin, velocity is so degraded that “shoot-throughs” are less of a danger than JHP’s that fail to expand. Read the old masters like Hatcher, Askins, Sharpe, and even Keith: there’s a reason all of them found these blunt, tumbling, slow 200’s to be far more effective than paper ballistics would indicate.

  12. I would love to get my hands on some .380.200 for my Enfield revolver and some .38 Special 200 grain Super Police loads. Can you tell me where I can purchase these?

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