A Very Special Super


by R.K. Campbell

photography by R.K. Campbell

October 26th, 2007




Sometimes a Super is good to have. I am talking about the .38 Super, every 1911 manís second favorite caliber. The .38 Super is definitely a formidable cartridge with many good features. Among the best features of the .38 Super is the fact that it is easy to shoot well. Recoil is light, although muzzle report can be quite loud. But then we are pushing a 115 grain bullet to 1500 fps in some loadings. The Super has excellent penetration and the pistol holds ten rounds with Metalform magazines. Overall, the .38 Super and the 1911 platform has much to recommend.

I donít like to second guess big budge agencies on some things, but a few years ago there was a terrible tragedy called the Miami Massacre. There was no shortage of determination among our FBI agents but unfortunately they faced extraordinary criminals. (I wont mention the names of the criminals because in the ancient tradition it is best their names pass away.)  The criminals by all accounts had good military records and had made a good living in civilian life. They were not alcoholics nor were they addicted to drugs but they turned to violent crime and murder. They managed to murder two FBI agents. While the felons were killed, this was a high price to pay.  The FBI eventually concluded that the main reason for the failure to stop the felons, each of whom received about a dozen wounds, was the small bore pistols in use. The .38 and 9mm simply did not do the business. A lack of penetration was noted. I could not help but think that the fast handling .38 Super once used by the FBI that figured into so many shoot outs in the 1930s would have done the business. The FBI went to the 10mm, an even stronger cartridge than the Super. But the Super is still around.

While Colt, Springfield, and Kimber produce good 1911s in .38 Super the pistols are sometimes difficult to obtain and pricey as well. The Rock Island Armory .38 Super is a solid GI type pistol. The RIA .38 Super is well made of good material and recent production is equipped with a ramped barrel. Overall, the RIA .38 Super is a good all around 1911. A problem is the GI sights. They are precise when carefully lined up but too small for rapid acquisition. If I do not have my shooting glasses on they are practically impossible for the author to pick up quickly. The pistol proved good enough for a new set of sights so I went to the max on this one. I shipped the pistol to Wilson Combat for a set of night sights. The results speak for themselves. Here is a set of sights that offer a wonderful daylight sight picture, a non snag surface, and excellent accuracy potential. The tritium inserts add a twenty four hour utility to the pistol that begs no explanation.

These are first class sights.

Some may ask: why the .38 Super? It is simple. If the high speed jacketed bullet of the Super meets light cover or sheet metal it cuts through like nobodyís business. Penetration is greater than the .45 ACP or the 9mm. While special loads in either caliber may change the picture, at the top end the .38 Super meets or exceeds any performance the other popular calibers demonstrate. Think of the Super as a .357 SIG ballistically, but with a little more punch and available in the 1911 platform. Penetration is good but what about bullet expansion? The Cor Bon 100 grain PowRBall exits my five inch RIA pistolís barrel at just over 1500 fps. If it meets flesh and blood the bullet expands critically. The Cor Bon 115 grain JHP breaks 1450 fps and offers excellent expansion and good penetration. The 125 grain DPX is breaking about 1350 fps and features a balance of expansion and penetration that favors penetration. They are all excellent loads. The PowRBall is my favorite. I like big bullets but if I go small bore I want speed. The .38 Super loads from Cor Bon are faster than most anyoneís .357 Magnum loads.

As for accuracy, the RIA pistol is not a match grade pistol but certainly accurate enough for personal defense. The Cor Bon defense loads will break three to three and one half inches for a five shot group at twenty five yards. The Cor Bon 147 grain Match load is a new offering and to my knowledge the first Match grade Super loading ever produced by the factory. This load has exhibited groups of two and one half inches on occasion from the RIA, but most are a little larger. With a better trigger and a little tighter fit of the frame and slide wonders could be done with this load. But the RIA/Wilson Combat .38 Super pictured is a defense pistol.

I added a set of Wilson Combat Slim Line grips. These grips are snag free and really add to the looks and utility of the pistol. They are thinner than stock 1911 grips but just as strong.  The longitudinal grooves give the shooter excellent purchase in firing.

When carrying the pistol under lighter covering garments I have adopted a simple belt slide from www.JBPholsters.com. This belt slide may be mounted on the belt or used as an inside the waistband holster. This holster is a good range holster and serves to store the pistol. I have used it with a variety of firearms. This is a versatile little belt slide that will adapt to a number of pistols. One or more are recommended to be on hand. It is a must have for handgunners.

For concealed carry the Milt Sparks Summer Special has been adopted. I am certain this holster needs little introduction it is the standard by which all others are judged. This holster features a reinforced holstering welt, double belt loops  and a sewn in sight track. It doesnít get any better than this.

While I often deploy a .45 automatic, the .38 Super has definite applications in personal defense. When ease of control and a desire to limit penetration in soft targets are considerations, the .38 Super is a good choice.

R.K. Campbell

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Click pictures for a larger version.


This is the GI RIA .38 Superóbetter things were to come.



Cor Bonís DPX load is an extraordinary load, both accurate and ballistically impressive.



The Cor Bon PowRBall is a patented design and one of the few innovations to be introduced in bullet technology in the authorís lifetime.



The Wilson Combat modified Super is a great pistol, a true Super .38.



Wilson Combat night sights are the best feature of this effective handgun.



Wilson Combat slim line grips offer an extra degree of concealment and give good purchase in rapid fire.



This handy belt slide is inexpensive but well made of good material.



The JBP belt slide is well made and offers real utility in real world concealment.



The Milt Sparks Summer Special is a first class concealment holster that offers real security and a sharp draw.



The Wilson Combat sights are snag free, even when tested against our Royal Robbins vest. These are first class tactical sights.