.38 Special Colt 1911

Yes, you read that right. A Colt 1911 chambered in .38 Special. Not .38 Super, but .38 Special. A customer brought this gun into my local gun shop and was looking for ammo to feed it. Luckily he brought some of his old ammo with him. The Colt 1911 belonged to his father and said it is 80 years old. The customer was in his late 70s.




The magazine is wild looking.

Colt Mag


Upon looking at the ammo he brought in and seeing how they fit into the magazine, it was clear regular .38 Special would not work. He had a box of Western 38 Special Mid Range and a box of Federal. As you can see, Western is an old name for Winchester’s ammo division.

Colt Ammo1

Colt Ammo4

Colt Ammo3

Colt Ammo2


Sadly the store didn’t have anything for him to feed this awesome pistol.

Nicholas C

Co-Founder of KRISSTALK forums, an owner’s support group and all things KRISS Vector related. Nick found his passion through competitive shooting while living in NY. He participates in USPSA and 3Gun. He loves all things that shoots and flashlights. Really really bright flashlights.

Any questions please email him at nicholas.c@staff.thefirearmblog.com


  • Wheelgun

    Looks like a Colt customized to compete with the Smith and Wesson Model 52 which was an autoloading pistol designed for 2700 bullseye competitions and chambered for the .38 special but wadcutters only, as shown in the pics. Cool gun though.

    • That’s a factory piece…the Mark III National Match. Colt introduced it a year before the S&W Model 52.

  • JaxD

    Interesting 1911. I’m surprised these wad cutters are no longer available. I haven’t shot .38 spl. since the early ’90s, but these look just like the NYPD range ammo we used.
    Is the case any different?

    • Beaumont

      Wadcutters are still available. A number of online ammo dealers have them now, and I even saw some at my local Goose Hill store last week. They were a temporary casualty of the ammo shortage; manufacturers stopped producing them in favor of more popular .38 Sp. loads. Buffalo Bore even makes defensive wadcutter loads now.

  • Philip

    I hope he’ll find some ammo for that pistol. I have bought manufactured reloads at a local range that would fit the bill. I think that manufacturer was Atlanta Ammunition (or something close to that).

  • Wheelgun

    JaxD, It is standard 38 special ammunition the bullet itself is just a wadcutter bullet flush with the end of the shell case. You don’t see them hardly at all anymore offered by ammo manufacturers, left mostly to hand loaders now.

    • iksnilol

      He can probably handload it, right? The wadcutter bullets themselves aren’t that rare, are they?

  • Dukke1ine

    Don´t people use wadcutters over there? That seems to be the norm, or at least close to it, over here for revolvercompetitions.

    • iksnilol

      Wadcutters are common for competition shooting, the accuracy oriented stuff like bullseye and the like.

      I know I always see .32 wadcutter and .38 special wadcutter brass on the range I am at. This is one of the accuracy oriented ranges.

      • Dukke1ine

        Hvilke baner da?

        • iksnilol

          Vest-Agder. Kvinesdal Pistolklubb.

    • Steve_7

      This would assume your average American pistol shooter nowadays is into bullseye competitions, which they aren’t, generally speaking. When I go on US ranges everybody seems to be astonished when I put a bullseye target down at 25 yards and then even more astonished that I can hit the bullseye on a B-8 or ISSF target with every shot. And if I do it one-handed they almost have a heart attack. To me 25 yards is only 21m so that’s quite close, so I usually end up on a rifle range and then people start complaining that it’s “unsafe” for example to shoot a pistol at 50m. It’s very rare indeed to encounter an American shooter who even knows what ISSF is. Might be a lot of handgun owners in the US but I can’t remember the last time they won an Olympic pistol event.

      The NRA still do bullseye competitions but I don’t get the impression it’s growing in popularity.

  • iksnilol

    That’s a Thumb-Cutter… also known as the IQ-test, the magazine that is. You see how smart somebody is by giving them the mag and ammo to load; if they use the button on the side to press the spring down then they aren’t the smartest or most experienced. Why? Well because it has a nasty tendency to cut your thumb. The button is small, made out of metal and you have to press it down against spring pressure, usually causing it to cut in your thumb if you load a couple of mags. I know I did once that mistake, never again. I noticed that when my gun started to get wet… with my blood (a bolt action rifle BTW, so you move your hands a bit).

    • allannon

      I have two pistols like that, and it doesn’t cut your thumb. Maybe if you have some kind of serious skin condition. :p

      It’s annoying, not damaging.

      • iksnilol

        Only thing that is serious about me is my insomnia, no skin conditions.

        I have cut my thumb on those a couple of times, first time wasn’t serious (no blood) but second time I lubricated a rifle with my blood. That taught me one thing, for the love of God don’t use the button on the side when loading a mag! Just put in the cartridge, push it back, then press the cartridge down.

        Maybe I am getting dramatic? I still have the flashbacks though.

        • Beaumont

          Do you hear Jim Morrison singing during the flashbacks, or have visions of riding a small boat up a river in the jungle? If not, I believe your prognosis is good.

  • AGreenSmudge

    Hard to tell if it’s trick of the camera or not, but it almost looks like theres enough room left infront of the case inside the mag that you might be able to fit a semi-wadcutter in there.

  • AldanFerrox

    In Germany you can still buy .38 Special Wadcutters. But they cost 22 $ a box (50 rounds per box).

    • Anonymoose

      You can still get them in the US. You can get Fiocchi for less than that.

  • The pistol is 53 years old, not 80. That’s kind of sad that you couldn’t find wadcutters in stock. I suppose that shows how much the .38 Special has declined in popularity for serious target shooting. It is all about the plinking and self-defense loads now.

    • iksnilol

      How rare is wadcutter ammo in the US currently, barring hand loads?

      I like wadcutters, they are good all purpose bullets. They make sharp cuts with are both useful for scoring and for ventilating, I know a HP or SP is better but wadcutters are better than FMJ for defense.

      • I don’t have a feel for it anymore at the retail level. Part of the issue is that so few US police departments issue revolvers, and the practice of issuing wadcutters for qualification was already dying out in the 1970s and 1980s. As revolvers passed out of common law enforcement use, PPC competition rules were finally changed to allow the use of semi-auto pistols. Semi-auto pistols had long ago pushed out the revolver for serious Bullseye competition. Even the .38 Special semi-auto pistols like the Colt Mark III National Match and S&W Model 52 had a limited market.

      • Steve Truffer

        For whatever reason, the past few months have seen .357 magnum fall off the map here in the US, with .38 not far behind. Usually I can spot a box or to at a funstore.

      • Beaumont

        Agreed, a .38 wadcutter is worlds ahead of the miserable 130-grain FMJ .38 Sp. load which, sadly, is widely available now. Wadcutters actually perform much better than they should for defensive purposes, considering their modest velocities.

  • Roger

    .38 spl wadcutter conversions for 1911 pistols were a popular high end bullseye pistol. Wilson was one gunsmith that made them. Very accurate with the excellent 1911 trigger. At that time a Bullseye competitor could get a .22 rf, and a .38 spl conversion 1911 pistols along with their national match .45 for their 2700 competition. All with the same sights, trigger, ergonomics, weight etc. Not cheap, but winning never is.

    • Bill Wilson has never had a reputation as Bullseye-oriented pistolsmith. In contrast, Jim Clark, Sr. was a well known Bullseye pistolsmith and competitor. While he wasn’t the first pistolsmith to offer .38 Special M1911 conversions, he was easily one of the most prolific.

      • Roger

        Mr. Watters is correct, I had my pistolsmiths mixed up.

        • To be fair, Bill Wilson has tried to branch out in the past. Back in the early/mid-1980s, he introduced a custom revolver package for PPC/Bianchi Cup shooters.

  • I’ve shot one. The gun was exceptionally accurate. As pointed out, these were for Bullseye matches. The accuracy was one reason for the popularity. The other was the clean round holes they cut in the target which made scoring easier.

  • Dutch

    Midwayusa has several options in 38 special wad cutter form $20-30 for a box of 50.

  • JumpIf NotZero

    So what happened when loading the mag? You just stagger the rim? When the slide goes to feed a round who’s rim is behind another it just sheets up and over the other?

    If .38 Super was commonly referred to .38 Stupid, I’m not sure what this would be. .38 Way Too Special

    Cool I guess. But special guns with special mags that feed special rounds for a special purpose with always be a mystery to me.

    • Garrett

      I wouldn’t think it would be any different than a 12ga shotgun or .22LR magazine. Rims are all stacked up on the side to avoid rimlock.

      • iksnilol

        Rimmed mags aren’t that complicated to load. put cartridge in, push it back, push it down. Just like a .22 LR magazine.

        I honestly don’t understand why it is so confusing. Also, the purpose isn’t that mysterious if you are familiar with bullseye shooting.

        • JumpIf NotZero

          No one is talking about how to actually load them. More so the effect of a large rim having to override another.

          • iksnilol

            Well, like i said it is the same principle of the .22 LR pistols. The rims are behind one another (think stairs), so that when the gun strips cartridges out of the mag it pushes the cartridge forward.

            This I believe is .32 ACP, still it shows what i am trying to say:


          • JumpIf NotZero

            Yea, I can promise that they won’t all stay like that. You have follower tilt and a moment of disorder as the next round is very quickly stripped off, etc.

          • iksnilol

            Words, words and words. You worry too much. Firearms are like people or unicorns, pure magic in how they work (and a lot of science).

          • Laserbait

            Yeah, I can promise you that they do. At least in my Colts they do, shot after shot, every time.

          • iksnilol

            Yep, use a good magazine and you are good to go.

          • Michel_T

            I guess the build quality of newer guns with newer magazine design… is not what it used to be ;->

            I have yet to have a follower tilt in a 1911 or M52

      • JumpIf NotZero

        12ga shotgun shells were absolutely never designed to feed from a box magazine. Neither were 22 really, but that’s a very small rim.

        • Nicholas C

          My PMR-30 is magic then.

          • iksnilol

            And the Saiga 12 is the unicorn, right?

          • JumpIf NotZero

            Funny, I have a different word for it after having tried on.

    • Beaumont

      The British managed fairly well with a box-magazine rifle and rimmed rounds. For around 70 years or so.

  • Bill

    I don’t know if the stocks are stock, I’d expect to see Colt medallions on them. I also wonder if it has a solid or collet bushing.

    .38 wadcutters are great rounds for introducing new shooters who’ve gotten 2 inch revolvers, unfortunately they don’t play well when using speedloaders. The 130 grain military ball load is a second, mild round.

    • Michel_T

      Solid bushing.
      I’ve only seen “collet bushing” on Model 70 and later guns. These pistol pre-date the model 70.

  • Vhyrus

    Remington makes bullets that look like that called target master.

  • LouB

    Total of 7000 were made by Colt. Of these 5000 were sold to the military for competition use and 2000 were sold commercially. There were three versions and was built from 1960 to the early 1970s.

  • Jonathan Wright

    buffalo bore makes a full wad cutter that looks like it should work fine. SKU: 20D/20

    • I wouldn’t risk such a rare piece with ammunition loaded hotter than standard mid-range wadcutter ammunition. The Mark III did not have a locked breech; it was delayed blowback via a grooved chamber.

      Even if it was safe, I know that some of the .38 Special pistols like the Model 52 were notorious for choking on wadcutters that were not seated flush to the case mouth.

  • MIKE

    What is shocking is that you are shocked to learn of this chambering.

    • Nicholas C

      Not everyone is as informed as you.

      • dan citizen

        Well put. Great article!

        Bar bets shall be made and won based on this writeup.

        I shot one of these many years back, and hadn’t even thought of them for 20 years. But none of my younger coworkers have heard of these. My friend carried this loaded with wadcutter bullets seated backwards, They looked impressive, but probably performed poorly,

      • alanyates

        They may not be but if they claim to be “shooters” they owe the craft to be. No excuse not to know some recent history. Period.

        • Nicholas C

          Again, this is why we post this stuff up. Not everyone has the same interests you do and diligence to do the research. People learn and discover things at different paces.

          • Michel_T

            Well, 1911 in 38spl are not that common (Unless you’re into bullseye match).

            Clark Custom still makes one, but unlike the Colt NM who was a delayed blow back, the Clark uses a conventional 1911 barrel/link mechanism

  • Sean

    A shooting buddy of mine has 2 of them. And Smith 52. He loads .38 wadcutters by the 5 gallon bucket. The Colts are very sweet shooters. Basically no recoil.

  • Kevin R.C. O’Brien

    You could win some points by grabbing a couple of boxes of wadcutter ammo and calling this guy back and telling him the history of his father’s firearm. It is a rare and valuable piece, and they’re extremely accurate.

  • It’s stuff like this that makes me like this blog.

  • Cherryriver

    A co-worker inherited his grandfather’s .38 Special Gold Cup. Despite being a traditional lefty with anti-gun tendencies, he’s enough of a gearhead he had to try it.
    (Side note: grandpa was the founder/owner of Detroit Bullet Trap and Armor Company)
    I had the Smith competitor about that time, the 52-2. My 52 was ammo-finicky and the overall length was critical.
    I gave my friend a couple of boxes of my wadcutter reloads and he came to work Monday ecstatic. The gun was flawless and superbly accurate (the new owner actually had shot bullseye back in the day with Grandpa).
    It’s a specialized tool for a specialized sport, nothing more and nothing less.
    Ask around at a gathering of older bullseye guys. This gun holds as much cache as any fully-tricked-out .38 Masterpiece if not more.
    Kind of baffled, though, about the “.38 Stupid” .38 Super reference. My carry Commander is a Super, throws 125 grain DPX Barnes bullets at an honest 1240fps on a cold day, and drills single, ragged holes at ten-plus yards. Forever. And it holds 10+1. What’s not to like? Apart from brass with a special talent for getting lost in the grass.
    I’m a .45 guy from birth but the Super has taken over in the hallowed under-the-shirt venue.

    • I believe the “.38 Stupid” monicker derived from the loading practices of some USPSA shooters back when Major Power factor loading data was in its infancy and ramped M1911 barrels were not as common. Some competitors starting wearing beards as the result of “Super Face” upon experiencing a case head blow out.

  • Gerald Brickwood

    This was a more or less standard equipment for Bullseye shooters during the middle of the 20th Century. Besides Colt’s National Match, Jim Clark and other custom gunsmiths offered their own .38 Special pistols built on Colt Government Models. The only ammunition type suitable for these pistols is 148 gr. wadcutter target loads (hence the Mid range term). The “trick” with the bullet is that it must be seated and crimped flush with the case mouth. For the handloader a classic Bullseye competitor’s load would be 2.8 grains of Bullseye powder under the 148 gr. wadcutter bullet. If using the Hollow Base wadcutter do not try to push it too fast.

  • PCO

    That is PRETTY. Thanks for sharing. FYI on .38 Wadcutters up north, I haven’t seen factory for a while but we have at least two commercial reloaders who run them. Usually they use Hornady 148gr HBWC bullets. I’m told (by guys who shoot way better than me) that these loads are very accurate and reliable in S&W 52s. Never saw a Colt .38Spl so I will now be looking!

  • alanyates

    Makes me feel old that a gun store could not recognize the .38 special mid range wadcutter.
    They were NOT conversions. S&W made a semi auto in the caliber for bullseye shooters. Folks. Knowing your craft doesn’t mean just knowing what’s out there now, especially when you may see them come to you. I worked with and OWNER of a shop that had never heard of the .38 S&W, (aka the .38/200), and who tried to convince a customer that .38 specials were the only round he needed for his S&W “Victory” model. I have also see “shooters” who had no idea what a “5-screw” S&W was or what made it so. Good night guys. Be worthy of the craft.

    • Nick

      I don’t really think that’s fair. I agree, that there are things that people should LEARN if they want to be a part of the industry, but that’s just it. You have to learn them. It’s not like you just have an innate knowledge of everything that fires a bullet from the word go, and there are a lot of different shooting organizations, past and present to become familiar with. and it’s another matter after that to become familiar with the iron they use. Now granted, if the owner of the shop you referred to had been in the business for awhile, I can see being offended by their lack of knowledge and it would bug me to see someone passing on wrong info, but the point of this blog is to teach people things about guns, and even the writers here are constantly learning, as we all are.

  • Ironwulf

    Want a totally kickass cartridge? Load a SWAGED WIRE wad cutter bullet upside down over a stiff load ! Leave the slug about .100″ tall and roll crimp just enough it can still be chambered.
    I wonder how many people do not know that John Browning first designed this pistol to shoot ‘.38 Auto’, now .38 Super.

    • maodeedee

      That’s an urban legend. In actual tests, half the time the sides of the reversed hollowbase will mostly shear off rather than mushroom and depending on the angle of impact sometimes the sides of the cavity eill fold inward plugging the cavity.

      When Tom Burczynski developed the first Hydra-shock 38 special defensive wadcutter he made the sides of the cavity thicker than a HBWC and swaged a “post” in the middle to prevent clogging.

      • Ironwulf

        My ‘Urban legend’ is the result of thousands of testings in various mediums and finding that this load is effective every single shot. Don’t know what cloud you pulled your information from, but I got mine from personal experience as a professional reloader for hunters and police for thirty years. Our load was only truly safe from a revolver with a 2 1/2 inch bbl and NOTHING off the shelf even in .44 magnum would match the hydrostatic shock wounding effectiveness.

      • Beaumont

        Yes, sometimes the leading edge of the reversed HB would shear off. Some people who used those loads considered that to be a bonus. As to the cavity plugging, I’m not at all sure it’s deep enough to do so. Can you link to those tests?

  • Chained

    Time to put that in a glass case and buy another 1911 in 9mm, 38 super, 10mm or 45

  • lenny46

    Also, I like to find .45 ACP SWC anymore. The price of it, when found, is ridiculous. I have saved a box or two of it, but I don’t see it advertised anywhere. I shoot the Series 70 Gold Cup Nat Match.

  • sometrend

    I would love to shoot that old Colt! I knew they built a few NM rigs in 38special but I`ve never seen 1. I had a mod 52 smith years ago that shot like a dream,like a dummy I traded it for really nice saginaw M-1 carbine. Oh well,the carbine is still worth a few bucks and it is a fun gun to shoot as well

  • Michel_T

    I guess you could call it a blow back design. The inside of the chamber is ribbed, it holds the case long enough for the pressure to drop and the recoil to be mild.

    When you reload for them, you’ll need to have a good amount of roll crimp. 3.4gr Win231 and 148gr flat base WC works good for me.


  • astros_should_be_fortyfives

    !!!!***Hello Nicholas C I am asking this question directly to you….Is your gun store anywhere in the northern Indiana Southern Michigan area …and if so was that ammo hand loaded & have red markings in the pattern of crosshairs around the primer or have the initials DLR anywhere on the box??? If any of these is true then I would reallly like to speak with you in a more private forum ,any info would be a great help. !!!!!!!!!!
    P.S. I will monitor this thread in hopes of a yay or nay.