Years ago I conducted a fairly extensive "chronographic survey" of the .38 Special, testing both a selection of handloads and factory loads. In June of 2010 I began an "epic" sequel, ".38 Special II." I added more data in January of 2011 and more just this week.
Most of the testing was conducted with handloads but some factory loads on hand were also tested.
The test was conducted in a very "scientific" manner. Since I'm not interested in incrementally sawing off my longest .38 Special revolver's barrel inch by inch, different revolvers were used for each barrel length recorded. This introduces a large variable.
Except as noted, 10-shot strings were recorded. In some cases there was not enough ammo to provide for 50 rounds for each of the five revolvers. Muzzle velocity, muzzle energy, extreme spread, and standard deviation were examined. Revolvers were used with barrel lengths of: 2, 4, 5, 6, and 8 3/8 inches.
".38 Special I" was conducted on July 1, 1980 according to my notes. I still have 2 of the revolvers which were used in that test and pressed them into service again. I also had a couple boxes of factory loads on hand and one handload that was tested at that time. These were: Winchester +P 158 grain SWC-HP, Super Vel 110 grain JHC, and a handload consisting of 9.5 grains of 2400 topped by a 200 grain Remington lead round nose bullet. The Super Vel is a partial box left from the last test 30 years ago. The Winchester +P is of that era. The handload with the 200 grain bullet was a part of the batch I loaded at the time of the first test in 1980.
The chronograph used for both the testing in 1980 and the present round of tests is the same Oehler Model 12.
Each barrel length will be featured in a separate post.
Some of the handloads utilized data from publications up to 40 years old and maximum powder charge weights will be seen to be higher than maximums quoted in current published data. The effort was made to work from arbitrary lower levels in .2 grain increments toward the goal charge weights. Herco was worked up from 4.6 grains. 2400 was worked up from 10.5 grains and SR 4756 was worked up from 7.5 grains.
It was a bit tedious and, frankly I'm not certain that much may be determined by doing this in the .38 Special given its normal operating pressure levels. I wonder if any of the assumed pressure "signs" can be reached until one is operating fully within .357 Magnum territory which is far beyond .38 Special levels. Only the SR 4756 load showed a dab of cratering and that was in my old favorite 4-inch Model 10. Cases for all 4 loads gave normal ejection in all revolvers.
Do not anticipate the same results by using the same powder charge weights in your own revolvers. Carefully work up to any load. Take any handload found on internet forums with a grain of salt.
The +P line-up. Especially note the two different Winchester Western boxes of ammo tested. How old do y'all think that white box is? I uncovered it in some stuff I was going through while getting the chronograph screens. It was a full unopened box. I'm remembering it as being from the late 1970s/early 1980s. It is marked $12.00.
Did I mention that Buffalo Bore .38 Special +P ammunition is red hot?
From their site:
S&W mod. 60, 2 inch- 1040 fps (379 ft. lbs.)
S&W mod. 66, 2.5 inch- 1059 fps (393 ft. lbs.)
Ruger SP101, 3 inch- 1143 fps (458 ft. lbs.)
S&W Mt. Gun, 4 inch- 1162 fps (474 ft. lbs.)
Smith & Wesson Model 10
158 grain round nose lead /3.8 grains Bullseye
MV 718 fps
ME 181 ft./lbs.
Independence 130 grain FMJ round nose
MV 803 fps
ME 186 ft./lbs.
PMC Eldorado Starfire +P 125 gr. JHP (now discontinued) 5 rounds tested
MV 871 fps
ME 210 ft./lbs
Remington 148 grain hollow based wadcutter
MV 707 fps
ME 164 ft./lbs.
Winchester +P 158 grain lead SWC-HP (in gray box)
MV 808 fps
ME 229 ft./lbs.
Winchester +P 158 grain lead SWC-HP (in older white box)
MV 843 fps
ME 249 ft./lbs
Remington +P 158 grain lead SWC
MV 875 FPS
ME 273 ft./lbs.
Buffalo Bore +P 158 grain lead SWC-HP
MV 1063 fps
ME 397 ft./lbs.
SuperVel +P 110 grain JHP
MV 981 fps
ME 216 ft./lbs.
Sellier & Bellot 158 grain FMJ flat point
MV 747 fps
ME 195 ft./lbs.
148 grain TVB DEWC/3.7 grains Green Dot
MV 669 fps
ME 147 ft./lbs
148 grain HBWC/2.8 grains Bulls-Eye
MV: 643 fps
ME: 136 ft./lbs.
ES: 29 fps
ES: 12 fps
158 grain lead SWC/5.1 grains Unique
MV: 922 fps
ME: 298 ft./lbs.
ES: 40 fps
SD: 19 fps
158 Grain Lead SWC/5.4 Grains of Unique
MV 964 fps
ME 326 ft./lbs
ES 75 fps
SD 33 fps
158 Grain Lead SWC/5.0 Grains Herco
MV 912 fps
ME 292 ft./lbs.
ES 38 fps
SD 14.3 fps
158 Grain SWC/11.5 Grains 2400
MV 1037 fps
ME 377 ft./lbs.
ES 71 fps
SD 30.2 fps
158 Grain Lead SWC/8.0 Grains SR 4756
MV 1150 fps
ME 464 ft./lbs.
ES 51 fps
SD 26.5 fps