Ballistics by the inch

An absurd comparison. Or is it?

We had another of those wonderful & rare mid-50s January days here today, so I decided to get out for a little range time.

In addition to the other shooting I did (basically, practice with some of my preferred CCW guns), I also did a little head-to-head comparison between a Smith & Wesson M&P 360 J-frame in .38 Special and a Colt Anaconda in .44 Magnum.

Wait … what? Why on Earth would anyone even consider trying to do such an absurd comparison? The S&W is a very small gun, and weighs just 13.3 ounces. The Anaconda is a monster, weighing in at 53 ounces (with the 6″ barrel that mine has), and is literally twice as long and high as the J-frame. The .38 Special is generally considered a sufficient but low-power cartridge for self defense, while the .44 Magnum still holds a place in the popular mind as ‘the most powerful handgun in the world‘ (even though it isn’t).

Well, I was curious about the perceived recoil between the two, shooting my preferred loads for each. The topic had come up in chatting with a friend recently, and I thought I would do a little informal test, just to see what I thought.

So for the M&P 360 I shot the Buffalo Bore .38 special +P, 158 gr. LSWHC-GC which I have chrono’d out of this gun at 1050 fps, with a ME of 386 ft-lbs.

And for the Anaconda I shot Hornady .44 Remington Magnum 240gr XTP JHP, which I have chrono’d at 1376 fps, with a ME of 1009 ft-lbs. (Actually, I don’t have a ‘preferred carry ammo’ for this gun, but this is typical of what I shoot out of it. Were I going to use it as a bear-defense gun, I’d load it with this.)

My conclusion? That the M&P 360 was worse, in terms of perceived recoil. In fact, I’d say that it was *much* worse.

It’s completely subjective, but it does make sense, for a couple of reasons.

First, look at the weight of each gun, compared to the ME of the bullets shot. The J-frame is 13.3 ounces, or about 25% of the 53 ounce weight of the Anaconda. But the ME of 386 ft-lbs of the .38 Special bullet is 38.25% of the ME of the .44 Mag at 1009 ft-lbs. Put another way, the J-frame has to deal with 29 ft-lbs of energy per ounce of the gun, where the Anaconda has just 19 ft-lbs of energy per ounce of the gun. That’s a big difference.

Also, all that recoil of the J-frame is concentrated into a much smaller grip, when compared to the relatively large grip of the Anaconda. Simply, it the difference between being smacked with a hammer and a bag of sand, in terms of how it feels to your (or at least, my) hand.



Jim Downey


January 31, 2016 - Posted by | .38 Special, .44 Magnum, Anecdotes, Discussion. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Brought it all together right at the end, just like a Seinfeld Episode 😀

    Superior Carry Handgun, ANACONDA 44 Magnum! 😉

    Comment by R Greene | January 31, 2016 | Reply

    • So long as you’re able to deal with the bulk/weight … 😉

      Comment by James Downey | January 31, 2016 | Reply

      • I am dismayed that my G20 is so light, with the full-house 10mm rounds loaded up. I was hoping to load the grip void with some BBs are lead shot, and force some silicone in there to keep if from rattling around. I calculated that I could add around 4 oz to the overall weight of the weapon. Do you see any drawbacks to frame life, Jim?

        Comment by R Greene | January 31, 2016

      • Hmm … interesting thought. The Glock gets some of its long-term reliability from the ability of the frame to flex and absorb recoil. By adding the weight and rigidity the way you want to, that *might* change the tensor dynamic … but I doubt that it would do so enough to really matter over the long term. I’d say go for it … and be sure to post your results/experience when you do, so that others can learn from your efforts/failure/success.

        Comment by James Downey | January 31, 2016

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