.22 rifle vs. .38 handgun

Discussion in 'Self Defense Tactics & Weapons' started by CampingJosh, Sep 29, 2008.

  1. CampingJosh

    CampingJosh Well-Known Member

    Sep 25, 2007
    I thought of this while doing laundry earlier, and I really don't know the answer to this one, so I figured I'd ask my friends here.

    With a single shot to the center of mass from a range of 20 feet, is a .22LR from a 20" barrel a better man stopper than a .38 Special from a 2" barrel?
  2. Bill DeShivs

    Bill DeShivs Well-Known Member

    Apr 7, 2006
    Possibly. The energy figures are close.

  3. TranterUK

    TranterUK Guest

    I would have to go with the .38, especially if a hollow point, the expansion of the projectile would create a much larger temporary and permanent wound cavity than a .22, and thus have more effect. (non +P .38 HP typically expands to +/-.5" with 10"-15" into ballistic gel).

    It is also true multiple strikes, even with a .22 will have a disproportionate effect on the attacker. Thus I would say two or three .22 hits are likely to have much more effect than a single .38.

    It should be kept in mind however different people have reacted very differently when shot. Some will take a light flesh wound and roll around crying while others will take several serious hits and still have the where with all to continue. So I dont think there can be a golden rule. Just focus and what ever you shoot remember, only hits count.
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 30, 2008
  4. Terry_P

    Terry_P New Member

    Mar 23, 2008
    I'll take the 38 Spl. You can load with +P's and it makes a much larger wound channel.
  5. The energy numbers for either cartridge, regardless of barrel length, are so far below the threshold of real "knockdown" power (as in centerfire rifle energy levels) that figures and numbers won't reflect much useful info.

    Which is heavier....a ton of feathers or a ton of bricks?

    I'd reckon a good .22 hollowpoint like a CCI Stinger from a 20" barrel would give a .38 Spl lead round nose or target wadcutter a serious run for its money.

    But a quality .38 Spl hollowpoint like those used by Hornady, Federal, and Remington is going to much more often have more terminal effect than anything a .22 LR is likely to produce.

    It's just a matter of frontal cross section and mass at the velocities the two bullets in question strike at....both of which the .38 Spl is superior in, even more so once penetration and expansion are accounted for.

    For a .22 LR bullet to achieve clearly better terminal ballistics than a .38 Spl, the .22 bullet will need to be moving way faster, say another 600-1,000 fps, and then would need a better built bullet than anything in a .22 rimfire to hold its mass inside the tissues it must penetrate.

    Some people still claim that .22 LR bullets bounce inside a person like a pinball or something. It's an old myth to justify using the tiny cartridge for self-defense. In reality though, no bullet...not rifle or handgun, has enough time for a bullet to do more than one 180 degree flip and/or at most a near 90 degree turn over several inches before the bullet either comes to rest or exits the body. (A bullet flipping 180 degrees is the result of the base of a round nose our pointed bullet having more mass/weight than the front, so as the bullet rapidly slows the back may become the front. But once the base of the bullet, the heavy end, is in front it stays that way until it stops or exits.)

    At any rate...I'd not want to be in front of a .22 rifle or .38 snubby if the shooter can hit center mass.
  6. CampingJosh

    CampingJosh Well-Known Member

    Sep 25, 2007
    That's the kind of answer I was looking for, Delta. Thanks.
  7. Ursus

    Ursus Active Member

    Delta's answer is a 100% right on.
  8. ponycar17

    ponycar17 Active Member

    Feb 17, 2005
    South Carolina
    Delta, I'm going with purely comparative numbers and not converting to ft-lbs, but a .38 spl traveling at 850 fps with a weight of 125 gr. is going to produce only ~3% more energy than a 32 gr. .22 traveling at 1650 fps from a 20" barrel. For a 40 gr. .22 round traveling at 1250 fps. the energy difference is much more, at ~30% less energy for the .22. I get this by the formula that Energy is proportional to Mass times Velocity Squared (E=1/2 M*V^2).

    You're absolutely right on that the .38 has more frontal area and will have more momentum for penetration and less fragmentation on impact which make it superior in most cases. I just thought it was really interesting how close the actual energies are for a high-quality hyper-velocity .22 round. I'm not trying to dispute your post because I believe you're still technically right.

    I just think about how quickly I can follow-up on a .22 shot from a semi-auto vs. a .38 shot from a J-frame Airweight and I get right back at Josh's question about which would be realistically better for me?... Hmmm... :confused:

    Easy answer though... If in the situation where one can wield a long gun, I take the 12 gauge with 00 buck. If in the situation where the .22 might be frowned upon by my side, the .38 would fit nicely in a waistband or pocket. In either case, the .22 loses... :D
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2008
  9. CampingJosh

    CampingJosh Well-Known Member

    Sep 25, 2007
    All right. Now that we have some people crunching numbers, let's again consider the range (20 feet). How fast is a .38 still traveling there? How fast is a .22 still traveling there? I really don't know, but I assume the .38 slows down much quicker.
    Anybody know more?
  10. Terry_P

    Terry_P New Member

    Mar 23, 2008
    I think that using energy as the determining factor doesn't tell the whole picture as energy is velocity dependent. A 38 special has a heavier bullet with a larger diameter and will penetrate to a vital whereas a 22 LR is problematic for penetration. The 38 was the LE cartridge for many years and can still do the job with the right bullet. Where the police ran into problems was with penetration through car windshields and other barriers and found it would not do the job under those circumstances. For use as a home defense firearm I feel the 38 Spl would be entirely adequate and even better than many more powerful, loud with high muzzle flash cartridges. If I were going to use it I would use the old 158 gr LSWC-HP +P FBI loads.
  11. I trust your numbers, but this was my point to begin with.....with either weapon you are only looking at 100-200 ft-lbs of energy across a variety of loads, barrel lengths etc. 20 or 30 ft-lbs of energy this way or that is not much to fiddle about.

    By just the numbers, a bowling ball rolls down a lane with more kenetic energy than all five cylinders of that snubby combined will deliver. Actually more than a cylinder of .44 magnums even. But lay on that lane and all that bowling ball will give you is a bad bump and a bruise.

    The stopping power of a pistol bullet is in its ability to penetrate vital organs and destroy tissue in order to drop blood pressure through blood loss. More or less like an arrow does....except a hangun bullet crushes much more tissue, thus is a better tool to quickly stop a man.

    Bullets fired from .38 Spl and .22 LR have a terminal effect reliant on crushing tissue and puncuring blood-rich organs/vessels. Neither bullet hits with enough kenetic energy for the energy alone to transfer into tissue damage of anything more than could be delivered by a healthy man's kick or punch. Both bullets have plenty of energy to punch deep into a body, so long as the bullet remains together/little or no fragmentation.

    A centerfire rifle bullet. That is where ft-lbs of energy transfered into the mass of the target can be measured by terminal effect. In the thousands of pounds of energy. Where large organs and large vessels actually burst, rip, and tear loose from the shock of a ton (tons) of energy instantly releasing into the body.

    Pony you're a smart dude and I'm not preaching to you. Just want to explain in my humble opinion why numbers in this instance are highly decieving.

    On the follow up shots etc etc....that is a matter of skill and up to an individual to answer a tactical problem with whatever technical solution he may choose.
  12. At 20 feet the .38 bullets may slow to where hollowpoints don't expand much or even at all. In that case the .22 may edge a bit closer to par on the .38 bullet.

    On the other side of the same coin...at 2 feet the .22 bullets may not be strong enough to remain intact a rifle barrel velocity, thus fail to penetrate and stop the threat...while the .38 at 2 feet is at it's best.

    Either way that .357 bullet has more mass and cross section than the .224 bullet if no expansion is factored.
  13. ponycar17

    ponycar17 Active Member

    Feb 17, 2005
    South Carolina
    I would assume the same as you Josh about the .38 slowing down more quickly but I don't know that evidence backs that assertion up. I do know that the power required keep an object at a constant speed through a fluid (air in this case) increases as a cubed function of the object's speed. So, a bullet going 1650 fps is going to require 7.3 times the power (energy/time) that an object of the same frontal area going 850 fps would require to maintain its speed. With that said, and the fact that the force of drag is only related one-to-one with the frontal area of a medium traveling through a fluid, I'd have to say that the .22 is going to lose a good bit more velocity than the .38 would at the same distance, percentage-wise. So, it's entirely possible that the .22 would have a good bit less energy at 20 ft. than would the .38 given that the energy given that energy is a squared function of velocity... Sorry, I'm a dork... :D

    Here is a link with some equations concerning drag for reference...
  14. ponycar17

    ponycar17 Active Member

    Feb 17, 2005
    South Carolina
    I agree with you Terry. Penetration is a function of an object's momentum and frontal area. Let's assume the front area is negligible, and agree that momentum is a function of Mass times Velocity. Although an object may have a MUCH higher energy, it may actually have a much lower momentum due to the fact that energy is a function of Velocity squared while momentum is a one-to-one relationship. The .38 would definitely penetrate more at 20 feet. The .22, I believe but am not positive, would use up its energy to disintegrate and fragment in shallow tissue while not penetrating far at all (even if it did stay intact).

    For example, the momentum of the .38 at the muzzle assuming my previous velocities and weights is nearly 2 times that of the .22 rifle at the muzzle, even though there's only a 3% difference in energy.

    While I appreciate that Delta, I'm not that smart and consider real-world testimony such as your own much more important than my math. I agree that the numbers are very deceiving and we just need to keep that in mind. I believe you're absolutely right in what you posted but thought that the energy level similarity was pretty interesting.

    I noted above that momentum and energy are VERY different with momentum often times playing a bigger role in terminal injury than energy. I think that energy only becomes more important when a projectile totally disintegrates, creating a massive wound cavity (essentially exploding on impact). When you're talking about a .22 LR bullet that just breaks up at higher energy, vs. a .38 that holds its weight, momentum of the .38 is probably much more important to terminal effectiveness. Now, when you start debating a .223's velocity/weight ratio to a 7.62x39's velocity/weight ratio the issue get's a LOT more complicated because both provide a huge amount of destructive energy on impact and momentum is less important when dealing with effects on personnel since both could easily penetrate fully through a person with ease.

    Thanks for the feedback Delta, and I don't mind preaching at all, as we all have a lot to learn... :)
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2008
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