Review: Super Vel .38 Special +P Ammunition

posted on October 16, 2020

If you’ve been around a while, the name Super Vel will bring back memories from the old days. Younger folks might not have heard it before, or at best, only recently. They were a thing started in 1963 by Lee Jurras who pioneered many types of handgun ammo that we consider common these days, like high speed combined with light JHP bullets.

The bullets mushroomed, causing considerable damage and reduced the chance of over-penetration. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? One of Super Vel’s top rounds was a .38 Special +P with a 110-grain JHP bullet that clocked at around 1,100 fps from a 4-inch barrel. Impressive ballistics in those days. Fate worked against Super Vel and they closed shop in 1975.

Super Vel is back, and has been for a few years. Super Vel was revived in 2015 by Cameron Hopkins to carry on the tradition of high performance ammunition. Their current .38 Special +P load uses a specially designed Sierra 90-grain JHP bullet. This 90-grain round, named the “Super Snub”, was specifically designed for snubnose revolvers. It has an advertised speed of 1,300 fps from a Smith & Wesson J-frame revolver with a 1.875-inch barrel. That’s fast!

Small revolvers are very popular for concealed carry because of their compact size, but their short barrel does not afford the fastest speeds. Speed can be critical to get a hollow point bullet to expand. The Super Snub offers that speed.

I chronographed the Super Vel load in three revolvers, a Smith & Wesson Model 360 (J-frame) with a 1.875-inch barrel, a Smith & Wesson Model 66 (K-frame) with a 2.5-inch barrel, and a Smith & Wesson Model 67 (K-frame) with a 4.0-inch barrel. 

How did the Super Vel ammo do? Very well. The average speed from the 1.875-inch barrel Model 360 was 1,301 fps, a mere one fps from the advertised speed (how often does that happen!). From the 2.5-inch Model 66, the speed averaged 1,381 fps. From the 4.0-inch Model 67, they averaged 1,510 fps.

These speeds are fast for a .38 Special, but the light 90-grain bullet makes it possible. The extremely high speed from the 4.0-inch barrel is impressive and makes this a viable round for more than just snub nose guns.

High speed produces high kinetic energy. At 1,301 fps the 90-grain bullet produces 338 foot pounds of muzzle energy. Consider that a high speed .38 Special 125 grain +P going 945 fps from a 4.0-inch barrel (Remington factory ballistics) produces 248 foot pounds of muzzle energy. The Super Vel round exceeds that by 90 foot pounds, and it does it in a barrel half the length!

With a speed of 1,510 fps from a 4.0-inch barrel, the 90-grain bullet produces 456 foot pounds of muzzle energy. This is low level .357 Magnum performance. For example, a full power 125-grain bullet moving 1,450 fps from a 4.0-inch barrel produces 583 foot pound of muzzle energy. This is a hefty 127 foot pounds of power over the Super Vel round. But some reduced power .357 Magnum rounds, like Remington’s 125-grain brass jacketed hollow point, runs at just 1,220 fps from a 4.0-inch barrel which produces 413 foot pound of muzzle energy. Super Vel’s Super Snub beats it by 42 foot pounds. The Super Snub offers a lot of punch from a .38 Special.

Recoil from this load is quite snappy in small revolvers. It’s a handful in my 14.9-ounce Model 360. You can’t deny physics and shooting high power rounds in a light gun will get your attention. It’s the cost of performance. But it was easily tolerable in my K-frame all-steel guns.

I also fired the Super Vel round through a Smith & Wesson Model 340PD. The fired cases were difficult to extract — hammering was required. The 340PD has a titanium cylinder, and some titanium cylinders have a reputation for difficult extraction with heavy loads. I experienced no issues extracting them from my other guns, all of which have stainless steel cylinders. If your gun has a titanium cylinder, be sure to try some to make sure they will extract easily before just filling your gun with them and tossing it in your holster. In fact, do this with any gun you use them in to make sure there are no extraction issues.

This Super Vel load, with its lightweight bullet and high speed, tends to have low penetration which can be desirable in some circumstances. Super Vel claims the bullet expands to over .60 caliber with 95 percent+ weight retention and penetrates between 10 to 13 inches in ballistic ordnance gelatin. The FBI protocol specifies 12-18 inches as its desired penetration requirement, so the Super Vel load is on the shallow end of that.

If you’re looking for a high performance round tailored to your snubby, Super Vel’s Super Snub deserves a close look. It offers very high performance from a short barrel, and longer barrels, too. Price for 20 rounds of Super Snub is $15.95. Check them out


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