Inside Glock's 38: Something for every day of the week

Feb. 16, 2015

In my latest adventures I tested a Glock 38, a compact 8+1 handgun that delivers the unique 45 GAP round. If you’re the kind of reader who scans all the way to the end of an article to get the “bottom line”, here is the spoiler right up front: I shoot a lot of guns for testing and I am occasionally impressed, but rarely enough to purchase the gun after testing. I bought this gun. 

The Glock 38 has been in production for more than 10 years. For law enforcement officers, it is a compact handgun that fires a cartridge with a “4” in its name. This is a midsized gun, with a 4.01-inch barrel, weighing 26.83 ounces. It shares much of the parts interchangeability of related models. The Glock 38 shares the same form factor as other models. The most recognizable handgun in the world, it is a polymer framed, striker fired handgun with Glock’s patented Safe Action System. Some misguided critics suggest that the same design in several different models shows a lack of imagination. In fact, the simplicity and consistency of the Glock is the reason why we prefer them. 

I carried a Glock 22 for duty and backed it up with various different Glocks, preferring the Glock 27 on the vest. Although each have different shooting characteristics, Glocks give the combat shooter an instinctive edge. The 45 GAP (Glock Automatic Pistol) is a very unique round. It was developed as a collaboration between CCI-Speer and Glock a little more than 10 years ago. It is not simply a shortened 45 Auto. It is a completely new cartridge. The rim is slightly rebated compared to the 45 Auto. The 45 was adopted into military service because of the behavior exhibited on the receiving end of the .38 Long Colt. 

There are three factors which will stop the fight in an opponent.They can be stopped mechanically, psychologically, or physically. The .38 Long Colt was not enough. The 45 ACP was. The 45 GAP is the just an updated version. Stopping a suspect psychologically does not require an effective firearm, or a firearm at all. It just needs to be a factor that strips the suspect of the will to fight. Stopping a suspect physically is different. If the suspect has a strong will to cause injury to an officer, they will continue to assault the officer long after a serious and sometimes fatal injury has been inflicted. One time I broke a bone on a suspect while engaged in a fight. He didn’t even pay attention to it, intent on hurting me. I have talked to several officers whose suspects have hit a vital area of a suspect who attacked them with a lethal force. In each case, the wound to the suspect was fatal, but not immediately fatal. 

In one case, a suspect fired several rounds at the officer, missing him. The officer returned fire. One round struck the suspect’s heart. He ran full speed for almost a mile before collapsing. Had he continued to engage in combat with the officer… In this case, the suspect must be stopped mechanically. That is, a bullet must stop the central nervous system or make the suspect mechanically unable to continue. 

I’m not saying that the 11mm caliber is the answer to everything. It is just something that may increase the likelihood of success. The media generated war on law enforcement personnel has somehow generated more assaults on officers on duty and off duty. I’ve been observing training for a long time and can say without reservation that officer professionalism has not changed except to improve. As long as our application of force is a response to the suspects actions, we are all right. However, I need to reiterate: Carry the most effective firearm your wardrobe will allow. If you can carry a 45 GAP on and off duty, good. 

One of the original goals of the 45 GAP, a collaboration between Glock and Speer Ammunition, was to make an 11mm cartridge fit into a compact or a subcompact handgun. In order to do this, the cartridges have to be shorter. The 45 GAP is only slightly shorter than the 9mm, with a circumference similar to the 45 ACP. Because of this, the Glock 38 has nearly the same dimensions as the Glock 19.

My job as a military small arms instructor was to teach various marksmanship skills. One of the things I noticed early was that each unit had dozens of soldiers whose hands couldn’t quite work with the M9. I felt the same way when I first shot the Glock 21, before the 21SF. Everybody’s hand is different, but the smaller grip of the Glock 38 will likely fit more of them. The dimensions of the Glock 38 are nearly the same as the Glock 19, but the slide is slightly fatter than similar models in 9mm and 40 S&W. Glock 38 holsters are harder to find. 

The 45 GAP is really quite a feat of ballistic engineering. Speer managed to almost duplicate the performance of the 45 Auto in a smaller package. It doesn’t just duplicate any cartridge, it duplicates the 45 Auto Gold Dot, a product well known for effectiveness. The 200-grain 45 GAP Gold Dot cartridge has a 970 fps muzzle velocity and a 4-inch barrel. In ballistic gelatin, it proves its worth as a law enforcement duty round. 

The 45 GAP runs at slightly higher pressures than the 45 Auto, about 23000 PSI. This is much lower pressure than the 9mm or the 40 S&W, which can run up to 35,000 PSI. Speer initially released a 200 grain and a 185 grain version. 

With all of the great ballistic advantages, why aren’t more agencies using the 45 GAP? There are a couple of reasons. One of them is the 40 S&W. The other is the 45 ACP. Both cartridges have proven themselves for duty. So has the 45 GAP, by the way. The problem is, the 45 GAP was introduced without addressing unmet need. I had a surprise the first time I met my friends at the range the first day of testing. My friend Robert Marvulli invited a friend to shoot with us: Major League pitcher Doug Fister. I was thrilled to meet him. I was even more thrilled to find he has respectable skills as a shooter, too. Doug does not normally shoot a Glock. He was very much at home with the Glock 38. 

The 45 GAP was very controllable in the Glock 38, even when we used 230 FMJ ammunition from MagTech. Usually, a shooter is in for a pounding when shooting handgun ammo that heavy. At 15 yards, it was easy to X-Ring a whole magazine of this ammo. Magtech makes reliable cost effective cartridges for this kind of use. 

Our range, Safety First Shooting Association in Winton, California, is an organization that trains civilian and law enforcement regularly. Much of the upgrades from this range comes from donations, including from the NRA. On one of the range sessions with the Glock 38, one of my friends showed up with a dueling tree and a Glock 19, which he donated to our association. 

The AR-500 Dueling Tree was from Price Design & Engineering. It is plasma cut from AR-500 steel and can be calibrated to handle most rifle and pistol calibers. I used the Magtech rounds on it, shooting the Glock 19 first. The targets on the tree were plate steel circles. 9mm 124 grain rounds were not enough to move the plates around, unless shooters aimed for the outside edge. The Dueling Tree can be adjusted by changing the angle of the upright, but we didn’t adjust it. The AR-500 Dueling Tree handled a pounding with 45 ball ammo. Some steel target manufacturers don’t grind out the sharp edges, assuming the users are going to use gloves to set them up. This steel is a notch above most other products. By the way, always use gloves when handling steel targets. 

When I used the Glock 38 on steel, it slammed the plates around with authority. Even an inside strike on steel slammed it. I found that I could deliver accurate fire at the same rate as the Glock 19. This is why I like 45. Both cartridges had the same calculated ballistics, which is around 360 foot pounds of energy (FPE). However, the 45 GAP speaks with much greater authority on steel.

What’s the down side of the Glock 38? Holsters and ammunition are hard to find. I ordered a custom holster from Muti Holsters. They can make any holster style for almost any gun, including light mounted ones. They use .080 thickness Kydex, thick enough for firm retention and structural stability, thin enough to prevent added bulk for concealment. Their IWB Elite Series Holsters use FOMI Clips [Fold Over Mold Injected Clip] clips, which hook under the belt. Their models have sweat shields and the trigger guards are fully covered. 

Glock uses a mandrel formed polagonal rifling. This is not anything like conventional rifling. A polygonal shape is drawn through the barrel. In the case of 45 caliber Glocks, it resembles an octagon whose sides arc slightly inward. Conventional rifling allows more gasses to pass by the bullet as it moves down the barrel. I’m guessing that there is more drag on the bullet with conventional rifling also. How do I know? I have put the same cartridges through Glocks and non Glocks and the Glock generally delivers higher velocities on a chronograph. This is often evident in ballistic gelatin tests. 

Unfortunately, I pour my own lead bullets, which are not recommended in Glock barrels. For this, I use Lone Wolf barrels for practice. 

How good was the Glock 38 on the range? It was completely effective. At 15 yards, I could keep it inside of 2 inches, offhand. It did not fail. It handled well using big bullets. I can accurately launch large bullets at long distances. 

That’s not what our readers wanted to hear...but this is: I purchased the Glock 38. I qualified with it for HR 218. I stocked up on Speer Gold Dot. I wrapped it in Kydex. Tritium sights are on order. It is now my everyday carry gun. 

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