Last week, we took a quick look at boat tail rifle bullets. I wanted to follow that up with another bullet type that tends to be the subject of customer inquiries, and that’s the venerable wadcutter.

One of the advantages that revolvers have over semi-autos is that they aren’t dependent on the shape of the bullet to operate properly, so you have a much wider bullet selection. On the down side, this can make things a little confusing when you go ammo shopping. To help clear that up a little bit, here’s a quick video covering wadcutters and semi-wadcutters, some of the most common revolver-specific bullets.

Video: Wadcutters Explained

Wadcutters in Semi-Autos?

The video covers the basics of wadcutters and semi-wadcutter bullets for revolvers, which is where they’re almost always used, but there are some exceptions.

Full wadcutter bullets won’t feed at all in semi-automatics unless they’re specifically modified or designed to do so like the Smith & Wesson model 52. This semi-automatic was based on S&W’s very first semi-auto design, the 9mm Model 39. The Model 52 was made to run wadcutter.38 special loads, with the intended purpose being bullseye shooting competitions. There was also a version of the Colt Gold Cup 1911 that was modified to fire .38 wadcutters for the same purpose. Both of these pistols have been out of production for many years, and they command premium prices on the used market.

S&W Model 52
The S&W Model 52, designed to fire .38 special wadcutter loads. Image courtesy NRA National Firearms Museum.

Semi-wadcutters are much less problematic for pistols than wadcutters, and can sometimes be used in an unmodified semi-automatic. They’re most commonly used in .45 ACP, usually for target shooting with the model 1911. A small handful of ammo manufacturers have loaded semi-auto calibers with semi-wadcutter bullets, but most shooters who use these bullets in pistols are hand loaders, often casting their own bullets.

As always, if you have any questions about a particular load that you see for sale on our site, get in touch with the Lucky Gunner customer service team, and they’ll help you find the right ammo for the task.

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Leave a Comment Below

  • Tim Earl

    So the simple title question that remains un answered just like tryin to ask Obozo a question and he beats are the bush. What are they for?

    • Anonymous

      They’re for target shooting. They’re made in that shape so that they’ll cut a nice clean round hole in a paper target.

      Some people also hunt small game with them because they feel the flat bullet smacks small critters harder, and some people recommend them for defense in a lightweight .38 caliber snubby revolver because they’re always loaded really light, with really low recoil, but shooting paper targets is what they were created for.

  • Eddie Brasher

    So…… What is a wadcutter? What makes it a wadcutter? How is it different from fmj’s? Very poor article.

    • Lance Brown

      Did you even watch the video? It was extremely informative and answered every question you just posed. The “article” was simply a lead in to it.

    • Ray Stone

      Do you understand English at all. The vid did a great job of telling you what it is and what is is used for. I reload and I load hot.These things are great stoppers.

    • Eddie Brasher

      No, I did not watch the video. I am on my phone, therefore I think a transcript would have been nice. Thanks

  • Kyler Davis

    Tim, did you watch the video? Wadcutters are used in revolvers for target shooting. They leave a nice open hole on the target.

    Thanks LG

  • Lance Brown

    Yet another excellent video Chris. As informed as I like to think I am; you always offer me something that allows me to take my knowledge to the next level. Great job LG.

    • LG Chris

      Thanks, Lance. Much appreciated.

  • Lester Self

    Thanks, that explained it in great detail to me…I’m a mechanic not a gunner, so this helped me with my decision on what to target / self defence with..

  • Lanette Atkins

    This is just the second of your videos I have watched but excellent and I look forward to more.

  • Gary Matheney

    very informative I like following your post and info updates