Stephen Hunter’s Ode to the .38 Super

Stephen Hunter has just written what I would term an ode to the .38 Super cartridge. His novels featuring the Swaggers have, in their own way, helped to build the mystique of the round. Whether it was the father Earl carrying one in “Havana” or the son Bob Lee using it in “Days of Thunder”,  you knew that Hunter had a soft spot for it.

the .38 Super represented one allure of gun culture that only occasionally gets acknowledged, and yet one that is absolutely fascinating and all but impenetrable to those who don’t feel the pull. That is, it has charisma; it has personality, pizzazz, and vividness. It’s out of the ordinary, beloved by some, aggressively non-generic and it carries information with it. It says—and we love to say this—“I have thought hard about these issues and come to a logical conclusion and made these sound decisions. I am not passive; I am active in deciding about my own defense.”

So it was ideally suited to a novelist’s purposes; it’s what we call a resonant fact, and it’s why my characters never just carry “a gun” but instead have thought about, chosen and most importantly express themselves in their world by virtue of the gun and caliber they chose. Someone once said, “Beware the man who owns only one gun; he probably knows how to use it.” I would append to that: “Beware the man who carries a .38 Super; he knows what he’s doing.”

He notes that two factors that have kept the .38 Super in production are pistol competitions and the vagaries of Mexican gun laws. The latter is the result of Mexican gun laws which forbid “military” calibers such as 9mm and .45 ACP from civilian use and the former was the result of how Col. Jeff Cooper wrote the rules defining a “major” caliber for competition.

Hunter examines the pluses and minuses of the cartridge. In the end it works for him.

Which leads me to what the gun represents today and for whom it’s good. There is one person in the world for whom it’s a best choice: me. That is because I love the M1911 platform for its reliability and its heritage. It’s like shaking hands with John Moses Browning, with Sam Colt looking on fondly.

He concludes his ode to the .38 Super by saying,

Understand and love it for what it is: a cult cartridge with a whiff of romantic history to it, as launched from the most American of platforms. It has a place on the shelf of the safe that began as a place on the shelf of the memory and the imagination. As Pike said to Dutch, “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

So if you want to read about an interesting cartridge with a cult following and, as Hunter call its, “a whiff of romantic history”, go read this article. And while you are at it, go back and read his whole string of novels featuring Earl and Bob Lee Swagger. But be careful, you might end up like me and buy a 1911 in .38 Super.


One thought on “Stephen Hunter’s Ode to the .38 Super”

  1. My favorite personal firearm is a Colt Commander in 38 Super that I built basically from parts; beginning with an ugly 9MM picked up at a gun show for $200(some 25 years ago). I'd dearly love an Officer's Model version of the gun for concealed carry…

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