There are several choices on the market for Open division calibers, with pros and cons to each. My unreserved choice has long been Starline’s .38 Supercomp. Here’s why I continue to use this excellent product!
Just so you know, I pay full retail price for Supercomp brass, so this is not a paid advertisement in any sense. I’m not sponsored by Starline in any way.
To give you some idea of my history with Starline’s brass, I’ve run Supercomp now for about 14 years, and I ran Starline 9×21 brass in my first Open gun for a couple of years before that. Without a doubt, Starline makes an excellent product, and I’ve had outstanding results with it to date.
The history of .38 Supercomp is kind of interesting. “Back in the day”, the caliber of choice for Open division guns built on 1911 or 2011 frames was .38 Super, and everyone used .38 Super +P brass made predominantly by either Starline, Winchester, or Remington. .38 Super had the right overall length for those platforms, and allowed for several powder choices to make Major power factor. For the most part, it worked very well, but there was a downside in terms of reliability within the magazine. .38 Super is what’s called a “semi-rimmed” cartridge, which means that the rim sticks out just a little bit past the diameter of the case, allowing the rim of one case to sort of hook into the extractor groove of the case below it. This requires more force in the magazine spring and the recoil spring to insure proper feeding, as the both have to overcome that extra resistance.
If I’m recalling the progression correctly, Matt McLearn was the first to seek a rimless version of the .3 Super for racegun purposes (ignoring the Super Cooper, for our purposes). The .38 MCM was basically a regular .38 Super +P that had the rim lathed off of it. It fed better, but had disadvantages for extraction, as the resulting extractor groove was somewhat narrow. It was also pretty expensive, because the cases were literally being handmade from .38 Super cases, and were never put into mass production. But the idea was a good one, and it stuck. Shortly thereafter, Starline had .38 Supercomp on the market.
Relative to regular .38 Super +P, Supercomp had a stronger and thicker case web, a rimless head design, and a 9×19-like extractor groove. This meant that it took less powder to get the same results (due to smaller case capacity), and better feeding properties than .38 Super, but more reliable extraction than the .38 MCM. A few years later, Hornady entered the rimless Super market with their .38 TJ case, which Starline later acquired from them. The TJ variant had an even thicker web, and a taller and deeper extractor groove, further improving extraction reliability. After Starline picked up .38 TJ, some of those differences began to merge into the modern .38 Supercomp case we use today.
Some of the margins in reliability have have narrowed over time due to improvements in magazine springs and followers, but Supercomp still generally gets an extra round in the mag over regular Super due to the the narrower rim size.
I did a comparison between Starline .38 Supercomp, Starline .38 TJ, Remington .38 Super +P, and Armscor’s .38 Super RL (the latter being a rimless .38 Super offering). Sampling 15 random cases, the Starline offerings were quite a bit more consistent in every important dimension than Remington’s brass, and an order of magnitude better than Armscor’s brass. Starline’s brass is consistent within one thousandth of an inch (.001″) in all dimensions, repeatedly. This means that all critical dimensions on your loading press (most notably, crimp) and gun (chamber depth, and extractor tuning) will all work better and more consistently. Being that there’s little difference, these days, between .38 Supercomp and .38 TJ besides price (and slightly less case capacity in TJ), I stick with Supercomp. .38 TJ is also a good choice, though.
.38 Supercomp cases seem to last forever, especially at current Major power factor levels. I think I’ve maybe cracked two, all told, and routinely get 12+ reloadings out of them. I usually loose them before they become unusable.
A lot of folks have started switching to 9×19 at Major power factor, using so-called “once fired brass” they they get from sources on the Internet. They get this brass quite a bit cheaper than new brass of any caliber is available for. Here’s the thing – the 1911 platform wasn’t designed to handle such a short case (9×19 is 4mm shorter than .38 Super and .45 ACP), and if things are not just right within the gun, you can have failures to extract or eject. This means you need to have very consistent extraction, but that’s hard to achieve when you have 10 or 15 different headstamps mixed into your random brass. Some brands of 9×19 brass are known to be a bad choice for Open division guns, too, so you end up having to sort that “once fired” brass by head stamp to pick out the stuff that will work well in your gun, and discard the rest to insure 100% reliability. Suddenly, between loss due to rejection and your time, that brass isn’t so much cheaper anymore.
In addition, 9×19 brass generally isn’t all that tough, and you have to run a faster (read: higher pressure load) powder to fit into the smaller case. Folks report their cases become unusable in as few as 5 loadings using quality cases that are known for certain to be once fired. Their answer to this is that the initial cost of their cases was so cheap, they’ll just leave them on the ground after firing them once. So, while they gain back some time at the end of a practice or stage, they buy more cases more often, essentially negating any price advantage (or, potentially, spending more to avoid having to pick the stuff up).
Finally, they’re running higher pressures than a typical .38 Supercomp load, usually in the range of pressures normally reserved for rifles, and in many cases they’re running it in random cases that they don’t really know are once fired. This can lead to a lot of issues, but the biggest one we commonly see is a bulged case that then wedges in the chamber during feeding, causing a brutal jam. The other common one is cases being stuck in the chamber upon firing and failing to extract. In theory, folks could also have blown cases, and it does happen occasionally, but overall it’s pretty rare.
So, when you boil it down, it seems like the tradeoff is sacrificing margin of reliability to avoid picking brass. I’ll keep my reliability, thank you. A jam in a match is fatal to your match score. Picking up brass certainly isn’t. Note that I’m not opposed to 9×19 as an Open division caliber, if the gun is well built. But I’d approach it just like I do with Supercomp – I’d start with brand new cases, and pick them up, and track my usage of them, etc.
There you have it, then. From all the viable choices available for race gun calibers, I picked the one that has the greatest capacity, reliability, and longevity. In practice, it also works out to be equal on a price footing to other choices, as well. Very good stuff. Very highly recommended!