Rick, I've found that three .38 Special self-defense loads stand above the others with snubbies.
1: The Speer Gold Dot 135 grain +P bonded jacketed hollow point expressly designed by Ernest Durham and his team for maximum performance out of 2" barrels for NYPD, and widely known therefor as "the NYPD load." It worked in the FBI gelatin testing protocols, and according to NYPD, it worked remarkably well on the street. Worked well on critters in testing I participated in, too.l
If you have super-light revolvers such as the 11-or-so-ounce S&W 342, you have discovered that the recoil force is so violent, it can jar lead bullets loose from their crimp and allow them to "prairie-dog" out through the front of the chamber, locking up against the forcing cone area of the barrel after a few shots and solidly jamming the gun. The 135 Speer +P Gold Dot won't do that. Since I do have such guns in my carry rotation and don't want to mix up the ammo, I've found myself going to this Speer round as my primary .38 Special self-defense load. (It works fine from 4" barrels, too, and as a bonus is very accurate.)
2: 158 grain semiwadcutter hollow point +P all-lead. Introduced circa 1972 by Winchester, this was the round that got the .38 Special cartridge up off its knees as a fighting round, and it was quickly discovered that it worked very well out of short barrels because it didn't have a tough copper jacket to peel back, and was therefore less impaired by the reduced velocities from snub-nose barrels. I make a point of using the Remington brand, because it has the softest lead and therefore tends to expand better, especially out of shorter barrels. I first learned this circa 1990 from DEA based on their testing and their analysis of actual shootings, and it has been subsequently confirmed by tests conducted by Steve Camp (do Google search for that) and other reliable sources. Recoil is sharp and accuracy is not as good as the Speer load, however.
3: For the recoil-sensitive shooter, the best non-+P I ever found was the old Nyclad Chief Special load. The lead was super-soft and expansion was highly likely. Recently re-introduced by Federal, the new iteration has a different bullet configuration and is therefore not yet proven, and it's also hard to find. Promising, but you see why it's third down on my list.
Hoping this response is of help to you,