The Ultimate Firearms Destination for the Gun Lifestyle

Best .38 Special Revolvers [Concealed Carry & Range Use][2023]

At RECOIL, we review every product fairly and without bias. Making a purchase through one of our links may earn us a small commission, and helps support independent gun reviews. Learn More

.38 Special has been a staple of American law enforcement and civilian shooting for over a century. It's a versatile round that's suitable for everything from self-defense to target shooting and hunting small game. 

The popularity of this cartridge has led to the creation of many revolvers chambered in it, and in this post, we'll be discussing some of the best .38 Special revolvers available today.

Best .38 Special Revolvers

Ruger GP100

First up is the Ruger GP100, a heavy-duty revolver that has been in production for over 30 years and has been used by law enforcement and civilians alike.

Now technically, the GP100 is a .357 Magnum revolver, not .38 Special. However, you can shoot .38 Special in a .357 Magnum gun. The reverse isn’t true, though: never try to shoot .357 out of a .38 Special gun. You shouldn’t be able to load it in because .357 has a longer case, but even if you can, .38 Special guns are not designed to handle the higher pressure of .357, making it dangerous to shoot. 

The GP100 features a triple-locking cylinder that provides excellent accuracy and reliability. The revolver's frame is made from stainless steel, which makes it durable and resistant to corrosion. 

It’s available in several different versions, with different combinations of finishes, grips, barrel lengths, and capacities, so there are options for whatever shooting you like. I recommend opting for one of the 7 round capacity options, which means you’re limited to a stainless steel finish and a cushioned rubber grip with a hardwood insert. 

Then choose your barrel length based on your purpose: for precise target shooting, opt for a longer barrel, but for concealed carry, a shorter option will probably suit you better. 

One of the unique features of the GP100 is its rear sight, which can be adjusted for windage and elevation, making it easier to hit targets at longer ranges. 

The GP100 also has a transfer bar safety. This safety system ensures that the revolver won't fire unless the trigger is pulled.

Smith & Wesson Model 60 LS Ladysmith

Now typically, I’m cynical of guns designed specifically for women, but this one is actually worth a look. 

The main modification Smith & Wesson made with the Ladysmith is the grip. It’s smaller than the typical revolver grip to make it easier for women to control. It’s slender and small to make it easier to conceal, but at 22 ounces, it’s not too lightweight, which further helps with recoil control. 

Grips come in pink rubber or rose wood

The revolver's 2.1-inch barrel provides excellent accuracy, and the five-shot cylinder ensures that you have enough rounds to defend yourself in a self-defense situation. The Ladysmith also has a smooth trigger pull.

Overall, the Smith & Wesson Model 60 LS Ladysmith is an excellent choice for those who want a reliable and accurate concealed-carry revolver. 

Its lightweight design, combined with its excellent accuracy and reliability, make it a popular choice for women who want a revolver that's specifically designed for them. 

Ruger LCR

The Ruger LCR (Lightweight Compact Revolver) is a popular choice for those who want a lightweight revolver for concealed carry. It features a polymer frame and a 1.87-inch barrel. The LCR's lightweight design makes it easy to carry all day without sacrificing accuracy or reliability. The revolver's unique design features an internal hammer, which makes it less likely to snag on clothing during a quick draw.

The LCR's trigger system is one of its standout features. While heavy like most revolvers. The pull is smooth and easy to control. A polymer frame cuts the weight down, but lightweight guns don’t soak up recoil. Thankfully, the Houge rubberized grip of the LCR takes up some of what is lost and gives a comfy and grippy grip to help maintain control while firing. The LCR is also available with an adjustable rear sight.

The LCR is designed to be a low-maintenance revolver. The polymer frame won’t corrode, and is easy to clean. The revolver's stainless steel cylinder is highly corrosion-resistant and is designed to withstand heavy use. 

Smith & Wesson Model 642 

One of the all-time kings of CCW revolver, the 642 needs no introduction. But we’ll give it one anyway.

The revolver's lightweight design and 1.88-inch barrel make it easy to carry all day, and the five-shot capacity provides enough rounds for self-defense situations.

A stainless steel barrel and cylinder are reinforced and rated for +P .38 Spl ammo. The alloy frame keeps the weight down but is still strong and very resistant to corrosion.

Another hammerless design means it will draw easily, especially from deeper concealment like a pocket or bag.

5-rounds in the cylinder, non-adjustable sights, double-action-only, this is a no-frills kind of revolver that is affordable and rock solid. 

Colt Cobra 

Now before you think this list only consists of Ruger and Smith & Wesson revolvers, we’re going to finish out with a couple more from other brands, starting with the Colt Cobra. 

The Colt Cobra is a classic revolver that was first introduced in the 1950s. The Cobra has a long-standing reputation for being a reliable and accurate revolver, and it continues to be a popular choice among firearm enthusiasts and collectors.

It has a 2-inch barrel and a six-shot cylinder. The revolver's classic design features a stainless steel frame and a walnut or rubber grip that provides excellent control and accuracy. The Cobra has been updated for modern times but still retains its classic look and feel.

The Cobra's double-action trigger system provides a smooth and consistent trigger pull, which helps increase accuracy. The revolver also has a bobbed hammer, which makes it less likely to snag on clothing during a quick draw. 

All in all, the Colt Cobra’s classic design features, smooth trigger pull, and excellent control make it a popular choice for those who want a revolver that's both aesthetically pleasing and highly functional.

Taurus Defender 856 T.O.R.O. 

Claimed to be the first factory revolver with a red dot, the Defender 856 T.O.R.O. is an interesting choice to consider.

We’re big fans of red dots, but a red dot on a revolver like this might not be the best choice. While the Defender 856 is a proven revolver, carries 5 shots, is rated for +P ammo, features a 3-inch barrel, and comes in at a very reasonable MSRP – the red dot on top makes it a bit harder to carry.

Not great for pockets or deep concealment, this revolver needs to be carried in a more traditional fashion. In a holster, on your hip, inside or outside the waist. 

The T.O.R.O. version also only comes as a DA/SA gun with an exposed hammer.

If you want something sleeker and easier to conceal from Taurus, the 856 comes in many flavors, including hammerless models with a 2” barrel.

Parting Shots

In conclusion, the .38 Special revolver remains a popular choice for self-defense, target shooting, and small-game hunting. The revolvers mentioned in this post are some of the best available today, offering a range of features and designs to suit different needs and preferences. 

Whether you're looking for a heavy-duty revolver for range shooting or a lightweight model for concealed carry, there's a .38 Special revolver out there that's perfect for you.

Enter Your E-Mail to Receieve a Free 50-Target Pack from RECOIL!

NEXT STEP: Download Your Free Target Pack from RECOIL

For years, RECOIL magazine has treated its readers to a full-size (sometimes full color!) shooting target tucked into each big issue. Now we've compiled over 50 of our most popular targets into this one digital PDF download. From handgun drills to AR-15 practice, these 50+ targets have you covered. Print off as many as you like (ammo not included).

Get your pack of 50 Print-at-Home targets when you subscribe to the RECOIL email newsletter. We'll send you weekly updates on guns, gear, industry news, and special offers from leading manufacturers - your guide to the firearms lifestyle.

You want this. Trust Us.

1 Comment

Add a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

View Comments

Subscribe to the Free