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Old 06-18-2011, 19:04   #1
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.38 Special Chronograph Test


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.)

2-inch barrel

Smith & Wesson Model 10

158 grain round nose lead /3.8 grains Bullseye

MV 718 fps
ME 181 ft./lbs.
ES 32
SD 12

Independence 130 grain FMJ round nose

MV 803 fps
ME 186 ft./lbs.
ES 34
SD 14

PMC Eldorado Starfire +P 125 gr. JHP (now discontinued) 5 rounds tested

MV 871 fps
ME 210 ft./lbs
ES 28
SC 14

Remington 148 grain hollow based wadcutter

MV 707 fps
ME 164 ft./lbs.
ES 14
SD 6

Winchester +P 158 grain lead SWC-HP (in gray box)

MV 808 fps
ME 229 ft./lbs.
ES 28
SC 8

Winchester +P 158 grain lead SWC-HP (in older white box)

MV 843 fps
ME 249 ft./lbs
ES 67
SD 24

Remington +P 158 grain lead SWC

MV 875 FPS
ME 273 ft./lbs.
ES 61
SD 23

Buffalo Bore +P 158 grain lead SWC-HP

MV 1063 fps
ME 397 ft./lbs.
ES 56
SC 24

SuperVel +P 110 grain JHP

MV 981 fps
ME 216 ft./lbs.
ES 48
SD 28

Sellier & Bellot 158 grain FMJ flat point

MV 747 fps
ME 195 ft./lbs.
ES 25
SD 11

148 grain TVB DEWC/3.7 grains Green Dot

MV 669 fps
ME 147 ft./lbs
ES 45
SD 23

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
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Old 06-18-2011, 19:15   #2
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4-inch barrel

Smith & Wesson Model 10 Heavy Barrel

158 grain round nose lead /3.8 grains Bullseye

MV 771 fps
ME 209 ft./lbs.
ES 59
SD 24

Independence 130 grain FMJ round nose

MV 850 fps
ME 208 ft./lbs.
ES 62
SD 24

PMC Eldorado Starfire +P 125 gr. JHP (now discontinued) 5 rounds tested

MV 935 fps
ME 243 ft./lbs
ES 142
SC 35

Remington 148 grain hollow based wadcutter

MV 729 fps
ME 175 ft./lbs.
ES 35
SD 12

Winchester +P 158 grain lead SWC-HP (in gray box)

MV 905 fps
ME 287 ft./lbs.
ES 92
SC 37

Winchester +P 158 grain lead SWC-HP (in older white box)

MV 943 fps
ME 312 ft./lbs
ES 20
SD 8

Remington +P 158 grain lead SWC

MV 942 FPS
ME 311 ft./lbs.
ES 66
SD 30

Buffalo Bore +P 158 grain lead SWC-HP

MV 1145 fps
ME 460 ft./lbs.
ES 36
SC 14

SuperVel +P 110 grain JHP

MV 1195 fps
ME 349 ft./lbs.
ES 55
SD 22

Sellier & Bellot 158 grain FMJ flat point

MV 785 fps
ME 216 ft./lbs.
ES 44
SD 16

148 grain TVB DEWC/3.7 grains Green Dot

MV: 706 fps
ME: 164 ft./lbs.
ES: 43 fps
SD: 14 fps

148 grain HBWC/2.8 grains Bulls-Eye

MV: 689 fps
MV: 156 ft./lbs.
ES: 42 fps
SD: 17 fps

158 grain lead SWC/5.1 grains Unique

MV: 987 fps
ME: 342 ft./lbs.
ES: 67 fps
SD: 28 fps

158 Grain Lead SWC/5.4 Grains of Unique

MV 1026 fps
ME 369 ft/lbs.
ES 31 fps
SD 13.4 fps

158 Grain Lead SWC/5.0 Grains Herco

MV 964 fps
ME 326 ft./lbs.
ES 34 fps
SD 14.5 fps158 Grain SWC/11.5 Grains 2400

158 Grain SWC/11.5 Grains 2400

MV 1150 fps
ME 464 ft./lbs.
ES 50 fps
SD 26.8

158 Grain Lead SWC/8.0 Grains SR 4756

MV 1234 fps
ME 534 ft./lbs.
ES 23 fps
SD 12.3
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Old 06-18-2011, 19:42   #3
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5-inch barrel

Smith & Wesson Military & Police Hand Ejector. Yep, some, but not all, +P fired through a 106 year old revolver.

Handload: 158 grain round nose lead /3.8 grains Bullseye

MV 804 fps
ME 227 ft./lbs.
ES 51
SD 20

Independence 130 grain FMJ round nose

MV 888 fps
ME 228 ft./lbs.
ES 32
SD 9

Remington 148 grain hollow based wadcutter

MV 727 fps
ME 174 ft./lbs.
ES 20
SD 7

Winchester +P 158 grain lead SWC-HP (in gray box)

MV 922 fps
ME 298 ft./lbs.
ES 69
SC 26

Winchester +P 158 grain lead SWC-HP (in older white box)

MV 949 fps
ME 316 ft./lbs
ES 72
SD 32

Remington +P 158 grain lead SWC

MV 964 FPS
ME 326 ft./lbs.
ES 72
SD 32

Sellier & Bellot 158 grain FMJ flat point

MV 778 fps
ME 212 ft./lbs.
ES 36
SD 13

148 grain TVB DEWC/3.7 grains Green Dot

MV: 735 fps
ME: 179 ft./lbs.
ES: 17 fps
SD: 7 fps

148 grain HBWC/2.8 grains Bulls-Eye

MV: 712 fps
ME: 167 ft./lbs.
ES: 20 fps
SD: 9

158 grain lead SWC/5.1 grains Unique

MV: 1031 fps
ME: 373 ft./lbs
ES: 37 fps
SD: 15 fps
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Old 06-18-2011, 19:52   #4
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6-inch barrel

Smith & Wesson Model 27 .357 Magnum (because no 6-inch Smith & Wesson .38 Special revolver was on hand).

Handload: 158 grain round nose lead /3.8 grains Bullseye

MV 775 fps
ME 210 ft./lbs.
ES 27
SD 12

Independence 130 grain FMJ round nose

MV 892 fps
ME 230 ft./lbs.
ES 56
SD 24

PMC Eldorado Starfire +P 125 gr. JHP (now discontinued) 5 rounds tested

MV 961 fps
ME 256 ft./lbs
ES 63
SC 30

Remington 148 grain hollow based wadcutter

MV 740 fps
ME 180 ft./lbs.
ES 31
SD 7

Winchester +P 158 grain lead SWC-HP (in gray box)

MV 926 fps
ME 301 ft./lbs.
ES 78
SC 30

Winchester +P 158 grain lead SWC-HP (in older white box)

MV 960 fps
ME 323 ft./lbs
ES 35
SD 16

Remington +P 158 grain lead SWC

MV 971 FPS
ME 331 ft./lbs.
ES 61
SD 23

Buffalo Bore +P 158 grain lead SWC-HP

MV 1185 fps
ME 498 ft./lbs.
ES 41
SC 18

SuperVel +P 110 grain JHP

MV 1248 fps
ME 380 ft./lbs.
ES 79
SD 45

Sellier & Bellot 158 grain FMJ flat point

MV 798 fps
ME 223 ft./lbs.
ES 63
SD 34

148 grain TVB DEWC/3.7 grains Green Dot

MV: 690 fps
ME: 156 ft./lbs.
ES: 31 fps
SD: 13 fps

148 grain HBWC/2.8 grains Bulls-Eye

MV: 693 fps
ME: 158 ft./lbs.
ES: 37 fps
SD: 16 fps

158 grain lead SWC/5.1 grains Unique

MV: 1018 fps
ME: 364 ft./lbs
ES: 33 fps
SD: 14 fps

158 Grain Lead SWC/5.4 Grains of Unique

MV 1047 fps
ME 385 ft./lbs.
ES 43 fps
SD 16.6 fps

158 Grain Lead SWC/5.0 Grains Herco

MV 976 fps
ME 334 ft./lbs.
ES 64 fps
SD 23.7 fps

158 Grain SWC/11.5 Grains 2400

MV 1162 fps
ME 474 ft./lbs.
ES 58 fps
SD 22.2 fps

158 Grain Lead SWC/8.0 Grains SR 4756

MV 1251 fps
ME 549 ft./lbs.
ES 23 fps
SD 8.9 fps
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Old 06-18-2011, 20:04   #5
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8 3/8-inch barrel

Smith & Wesson Model 14 K-38 Masterpiece

Handload: 158 grain round nose lead /3.8 grains Bullseye

MV 884 fps
ME 274 ft./lbs.
ES 31
SD 15

Independence 130 grain FMJ round nose

MV 1039 fps
ME 311 ft./lbs.
ES 115
SD 54

PMC Eldorado Starfire +P 125 gr. JHP (now discontinued) 5 rounds tested

MV 1065 fps
ME 315 ft./lbs
ES 65
SC 47

Remington 148 grain hollow based wadcutter

MV 814 fps
ME 218 ft./lbs.
ES 33
SD 14

Winchester +P 158 grain lead SWC-HP (in gray box)

MV 1027 fps
ME 370 ft./lbs.
ES 54
SC 24

Winchester +P 158 grain lead SWC-HP (in older white box)

MV 1037 fps
ME 388 ft./lbs
ES 42
SD 17

Remington +P 158 grain lead SWC

MV 1099 FPS
ME 424 ft./lbs.
ES 57
SD 24

Buffalo Bore +P 158 grain lead SWC-HP

MV 1286 fps
ME 580 ft./lbs.
ES 28
SC 13

SuperVel +P 110 grain JHP

MV 1301 fps
ME 414 ft./lbs.
ES 89
SD 37

Sellier & Bellot 158 grain FMJ flat point

MV 747 fps
ME 195 ft./lbs.
ES 25
SD 11

148 grain TVB DEWC/3.7 grains Green Dot

MV: 775 fps
ME: 197 ft./lbs.
ES: 73 fps
SD: 33 fps

148 grain HBWC/2.8 grains Bulls-Eye

MV: 765 fps
ME: 192 ft./lbs.
ES: 33 fps
SD: 12 fps

158 grain lead SWC/5.1 grains Unique

MV: 1117 fps
ME: 426 ft./lbs.
ES: 34 fps
SD: 15 fps

158 Grain Lead SWC/5.4 Grains of Unique

MV 1149 fps
ME 463 ft./lbs.
ES 56 fps
SD 23.3 fps

158 Grain Lead SWC/5.0 Grains Herco

MV 1069 fps
ME 401 ft./lbs.
ES 83 fps
SD 33.1 fps

158 Grain SWC/11.5 Grains 2400

MV 1102 fps
ME 426 ft./lbs.
ES 67 fps
SD 24.0 fps

158 Grain Lead SWC/8.0 Grains SR 4756

MV 1173 fps
ME 483 ft./lbs.
ES 18 fps
SD 7.7 fps
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Old 06-18-2011, 20:23   #6
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Some observations:

There it is; a selection of mild target handloads along with some heavy, high-performance handloads. Also a few factory load tests have been thrown in.

Lots of eye-opening stuff here. First up for consideration is the "magic ammo," Buffalo Bore's +P 158 load. I cannot see how they do it! Empty cases just dribble out of cylinders. Primers don't look like they've had a bad case of gas. Handily beats most wild handloading creations. Probably exceeds the old .38-44 high-velocity load. Recoil is heavy but not really as bad as one would expect. Buffalo Bore caused even the long 8 3/8-inch Model 14 to torque a bit when fired. I used a J-Frame Smith & Wesson Model 36 Chief's Special for the 2-inch portion of the test 30 years ago and it was a bear to shoot with various heavy loads. The 2-inch Model 10 I used this time was much more manageable; an old softy by comparison. I was glad to have it along to use for testing this stuff. It is unimaginable that a 2-inch .38 snub can yield 400 ft. /lbs of energy with any load and it just gets better and better with longer barrels: 460 ft/lbs. from a 4-inch, 500 ft/lbs. from a 6-inch, and fully 580 ft/lbs. from an 8 3/8-inch! Velocities stayed pretty tight and didn't go all over the place.

SuperVel is still hot stuff. It also exhibited the flattest primers of all. Velocity performance wasn't very tight overall and there was a lot of partially burnt powder crumbs getting all over everything each time I extracted a cylinder-full of cases and put them back in the box. Recoil paled in comparison with both the Buffalo Bore and the 200 grain handload that immediately preceded it on each revolver test.

I don't take light 110-125 grain bullets seriously enough in the .38 Special. I've not done a lot of testing with them. The PMC stuff was several years old and is now discontinued I believe. This performed about typical for the breed in my view. It offers neither the bullet weight nor the velocity to become a meaningful choice for the .38 Special. I ought to obtain some of the latest and greatest ammo offerings in the 110-125 grain weight category of +P to test. I hate to invest the money in the ammo just to burn it up and figure the newer offerings still won't exactly "set the woods on fire." I'm sure expansion characteristics are improved but I'll still take my chances with old technology of heavy, sharp shouldered lead semi-wadcutter bullets.

A fresh box of Remington 148 grain target ammunition turned in a nice performance. It seemed consistent through each revolver used.

Look at the interplay between the 4, 5, and 6 inch barrels. The Remington 148 grain load and the Sellier & Bellot 158 grain FMJ load gave more velocity from the 4-inch than the 5-inch. The 5-inch beat the 6-inch with the Bullseye fueled handload and came close to catching the 6-inch with the 2 different Winchester +P 158 grain loads and the Remington +P 158 grain load.

The .38 Special "walks and talks" when fired through the long-nosed 8 3/8-inch barrel. Now if only there was some way to conceal all that length of artillery.

SuperVel, Starfire, and the cheapo Independence brands all seemed more prone to wild velocity swings. For that matter the Winchester +P 158 grain loads threw a bullet that was "out there" on occasion, especially the ammunition in the gray box. Remington +P 158 grain was only fair. Perhaps these performance loads can't be expected to shoot like target ammo. Perhaps the guy running this test doesn't know what he's talking about. I've always considered any load that stayed under 50 fps spread to be good.

It will be noted that the slower powders still register the highest velocities in the short barrel.

During this test I was surprised to find that both 2400 and SR 4756 gave higher velocities when fired out of the 4-inch and the 6-inch barrels rather than when fired out of the 8 3/8-inch barrel. This has never occurred before and I can't explain it.

It appears that the 2400 load can duplicate the performance of the Buffalo Bore +P 158 grain lead SWC factory load and that the SR 4756 load can whip the Buffalo Bore factory load except in the 8 3/8-inch barrel of the Model 14. Buffalo Bore was the velocity champion in that barrel with the 158 grain bullet weight, strange as it may seem.

How stressful these handloads are compared to the Buffalo Bore load is hard to say. All are probably high pressure with the SR 4756 load likely winning the prize. No primers pierced or flowed and a hint fo cratering was only observed on a few, but not all of the primers in the Model 10 Heavy Barrel when used with the SR 4756 load. All cases dribbled out of cylinders when started with the ejector rod.

Recoil was brisk but very manageable in the two Model 10s. In the Model 27 and the long-barreled Model 14 recoil doesn't amount to much. All gave a snappy report and the SR 4756 load seemed to give a particularly evil crack. Perhaps it's all in my head though.

8.0 grains is the starting load for SR 4756 as published in the Speer No. 8 guide. I'd hate to try to work this one up to the maximum listed charge weight which is only one grain higher. Whether it is advisable to use even the listed starting load is subject to debate. Probably not. The Speer No. 8 was compiled in the late 1960s. Maybe they were smoking "cigarettes and all kinds of things" while working up loads in their lab back then.

People dither over the +P .38 Special factory loadings so I thought to do a little "sub-test" using the ancient Smith & Wesson K-Frame revolver. I've been threatening to put the old M&P to the test but wanted to chronograph the results. I don't have a lot of common sense but did limit the test to only lead bullet loads. I expected it to come through with flying colors and it did by all appearances. I regret that I didn't measure the barrel/cylinder gap or some other dimensions prior to firing it with the +P ammunition but it probably wouldn't have made any difference as it appears none the worse for the wear. Of course the very next round could have opened up the cylinder but I suspect it wouldn't have. In my view most +P ammunition is a tempest in a tea pot, Buffalo Bore and SuperVel not included. A small benefit may be gained by use of +P, especially in the heavier bullet weights, but it is no terror.

Again: Be advised, if you don't know what you are about when working up toward maximum handloads then avoid any attempts to duplicate any handloads quoted.

Last edited by bmcgilvray; 06-18-2011 at 20:46.
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Old 06-18-2011, 20:28   #7
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In the 1980 test the Winchester +P 158 grain lead SWC-HP gave this performance.

2 inch barrel:

MV 830fps
ME 242 ft./lbs.

4-inch barrel:

MV 962 fps
ME 325 ft./lbs.

8 3/8-inch barrel

MV 1051 fps
ME 388 ft./lbs.


The 1980 test of the Super Vel.

4-inch barrel:

MV 1237 fps
ME 376 ft./lbs.

8 3/8-inch barrel:

MV 1319 fps
ME 425 ft./lbs.


The 1980 data for the 200 grain Remington lead round nose handload.

4-inch barrel

MV 842 fps
ME 313 ft./lbs.
ES 38

8 3/8-inch barrel

MV 922 fps
ME 382 ft./lbs.
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Old 06-19-2011, 06:02   #8
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thanks good info going to have to get some buffalo bore for the wifes mod 36 those were nice numbers very impressed.
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Old 05-06-2012, 22:50   #9
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bmcgilvray:

Resurrecting an old thread but this has been very helpful. Thanks for the effort.

Give me a hollar
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Old 05-18-2012, 23:50   #10
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I'm looking for good Factory H D load no +P for late 40s S&W 38 Masterpiece.
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Old 05-20-2012, 15:16   #11
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Thanks for the interest. There's been more data gleaned since this was posted.

Hi XR750;

I really like the 158 grain lead semi-wadcutter bullet personally and don't really care much whether it has a hollow point or is +P rated or not. I carry Remington +P 158 grain lead SWCs (Winchester's rendition of this same load is just as good) for self-defense purposes or its handloaded equivalent but wouldn't feel any concern over using standard velocity 158 grain SWC loads for self-defense. The only such factory load that comes to mind is Buffalo Bores non+P rated lead 158 grain SWC. It looks pretty healthy according to the ballistics quoted on their site. There have been other standard velocity lead SWC loadings available in the past but I can't recall who offered them and am pretty sure they've been discontinued.

The Buffalo Bore load may be effectively duplicated by 4.8 grains of Unique and a standard small pistol primer.

I've had opportunity to use 158 grain SWC .38 Special loads, both standard velocity and +P, on small Texas whitetails and large feral dogs over the years and they've been observed to be quite effective with good hits. More powerful cartridges and fancier bullets don't generally make up for bad hits anyway so I've been pleased.

I tried the light, speedy jacketed hollow point bullets years ago but ended up not being impressed with them. Now jacketed bullet technology hasn't stood still and there may be better designs out there but I've not tried them out. The 125 grain bullet weights and lighter are best left to "inferior" cartridges like .380 ACP and 9mm in my view. Yep, I like .38 Special and it's handloading flexibility better than 9mm which is a fine cartridge on its own. The .38 Special's appeal to me centers in the heavier bullet weights and its capability to handle any bullet shape.

I have lots of handguns in many calibers but have scarcely ever been very far from a .38 Special in the 37 years since I got the first one at 18. I grew up in a rural environment and have always had large acreage available with ample hunting and hiking opportunities of which to take advantage. A .38 Special revolver is usually reached for when going afield.

I always thought of myself more as a .44 Special/.45 ACP kind of a guy but seem to have ended up joined at the hip to the .38 Special. There are .357 Magnums around here but they see much less use.

The above are nothing more than opinion and should be taken with a grain of salt. Same goes for any handloading data posted.
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Old 05-20-2012, 15:20   #12
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This data was collected in January of 2011 and consists mostly of target type loadings. Was posted on a couple of other forums I haunt.

_______________________________________________

Three .38 Special Handloads

We chronographed and accuracy tested 3 different concoctions last week over a 3 day period in which we had glorious weather for excursions to the range. This week's weather is wretched by comparison.

Revolvers used were the same as before:

Smith & Wesson Model 10 2-inch
Smith & Wesson Model 10 HB 4-inch
Smith & Wesson Military & Police 5-inch
Smith & Wesson Model 27 .357 Magnum 6-inch
Smith & Wesson Model 14 .38 Special 8 3/8-inch


Two loads performed pretty well as expected. One of them was new and one was a more thorough retest of an old favorite load. A third load was a puzzler that yielded velocities far higher than expected.

A new load for me made use of Green Dot. I think it has been both recommended and reviled on a private forum I frequent. I think I remember trying a can of Green Dot back in the late 1970s but made no notes about it. This load uses TVB's 148 grain double-ended wadcutter.

148 grain TVB DEWC/3.7 grains Green Dot

2-Inch Barrel
Muzzle Velocity: 669 fps
Muzzle Energy: 147 ft./lbs
Extreme Spread: 45
Standard Deviation: 23

4-Inch Barrel
MV: 706 fps
ME: 164 ft./lbs.
ES: 43 fps
SD: 14 fps

5-Inch Barrel
MV: 735 fps
ME: 179 ft./lbs.
ES: 17 fps
SD: 7 fps

6-Inch Barrel
MV: 690 fps
ME: 156 ft./lbs.
ES: 31 fps
SD: 13 fps

8 3/8-Inch Barrel
MV: 775 fps
ME: 197 ft./lbs.
ES: 73 fps
SD: 33 fps


Next up is an old standard and one of my favorite target loads, the 148 grain hollow-base wadcutter backed by 2.8 grains of Bulls-Eye. It performed last week much the same as it did 30 years ago. The good Hornady 148 grain HBWC bullet was used.

148 grain HBWC/2.8 grains Bulls-Eye

2-Inch Barrel
MV: 643 fps
ME: 136 ft./lbs.
ES: 29 fps
ES: 12 fps

4-Inch Barrel
MV: 689 fps
MV: 156 ft./lbs.
ES: 42 fps
SD: 17 fps

5-Inch Barrel
MV: 712 fps
ME: 167 ft./lbs.
ES: 20 fps
SD: 9

6-Inch Barrel
MV: 693 fps
ME: 158 ft./lbs.
ES: 37 fps
SD: 16 fps

8 3/8-Inch Barrel
MV: 765 fps
ME: 192 ft./lbs.
ES: 33 fps
SD: 12 fps

This last load tested didn't behave as expected. Using a 158 grain lead semi-wadcutter I've previously tested 4.8 grains of Unique and 5.4 grains of Unique on a few occasions so thought to split the difference and test 5.1 grains of Unique. I wasn't expecting anything out of the ordinary but it gave considerably higher velocities in all barrel lengths than 5.4 grains of Unique did in previous tests. I re-checked the distance between the sky-screens to find it correct. I weighed the bullets and they checked out 158-159 grains and were .358" in diameter. I broke down a handloaded cartridge to re-weigh the powder charge and it checked out correctly. It felt quite lively after shooting a lot of the light 148 grain loads.

I felt unsatisfied and displeased after testing this one because I can't explain it.

158 grain lead SWC/5.1 grains Unique

2-Inch Barrel
MV: 922 fps
ME: 298 ft./lbs.
ES: 40 fps
SD: 19 fps

4-Inch Barrel
MV: 987 fps
ME: 342 ft./lbs.
ES: 67 fps
SD: 28 fps

5-Inch Barrel
MV: 1031 fps
ME: 373 ft./lbs
ES: 37 fps
SD: 15 fps

6-Inch Barrel
MV: 1018 fps
ME: 364 ft./lbs
ES: 33 fps
SD: 14 fps

8 3/8-Inch Barrel
MV: 1117 fps
ME: 426 ft./lbs.
ES: 34 fps
SD: 15 fps

I probably shouldn't have subjected the 5-inch Smith & Wesson Military & Police revolver to testing with this Unique handload due to the revolver's age. Won't do that again. One thing is for certain, the 107 year old .38 Special could still serve extremely well if called into duty for defensive purposes.

The 5-inch M&P seems to show a pattern of consistent velocity performance with most loads tested in it, both last week and last summer.

The Model 27 .357 Magnum frequently registers lower velocities than the 5-inch M&P with the same loads.

The Green Dot load with the 148 grain DEWC bullet grouped well but didn't beat out the 148 HBWC bullet loaded with Bulls-Eye. The Green Dot load didn't seem to foul the revolvers but was very smoky to shoot and I don't think it was from the bullet lube. It could just be a characteristic of the powder. I've still got a lot of Green Dot in the can so will play with it some more. It doesn't seem to display any especially endearing characteristics over other fast burning powders.

It's only three loads but a whole lot of shooting was involved, mostly because the great weather encouraged it. I had great fun shooting the revolvers for group. Some target photos next.
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Old 05-20-2012, 15:32   #13
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Here are some target highlights from the handload tests. Targets where significant operator error was in evidence were not photographed but only the best efforts. There were lots of targets that started out with promise but came to grief with a bullet hole "off towards Jones." We certainly want to conserve pixels here on Defensive Carry Forum.

5-shot groups predominated because it was convenient to load one row from a 50 round box. Most groups were shot from 10 yards.

Here are examples of the best effort in the Smith & Wesson Model 14 K-38 Masterpiece. One each of the Green Dot load and Bulls-Eye load, the Green Dot load being on the left.





Plebeian Smith & Wesson Model 10s can group right along side the so called target models. One each of the Green Dot load and Bulls-Eye load, the Green Dot load again being on the left.





A slightly heavier, but still crisp, single action trigger and less user-friendly sights make shooting the oldie Smith & Wesson Military & Police from 1904 a bit more of a chore but it still turned in a decent performance with the Green Dot load (left) and Bulls-Eye load (right).





Here's the best effort with the Model 10 2-inch in single action mode at 10 yards with the 158 grain SWC/5.1 grains of Unique load.





Best single action group at 10 yards with the Model 14 using 158 grain SWC with 5.1 grains of Unique. A 6-shot group.





A double-action 6-shot group fired rapid-fire from 10 yards with the Model 10 and the 158 SWC/5.1 Unique load.




A more deliberate 6-shot double-action effort at 7 yards with the 5-inch M&P and the 158 gr. SWC/5/1 gr Unique load.
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Old 05-20-2012, 15:38   #14
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This batch of testing dates from July of 2011 and has been posted elsewhere.

____________________________________________

Four High-Performance .38 Special Handloads

I ran the .38 Special revolvers through the wringer a few weeks ago, working up and testing some performance handloads. The tests concentrated on four different loads, all using 158 grain lead SWC bullets. As always, the same four revolvers were used, 2 of which have been used for many years as in all .38 Special chronograph testing.


The bullets tested a couple of weeks ago were from a batch I cast perhaps 20-25 years ago using the Lyman No. 358156 mould. They actually weighed 159-160 grains. They were well-formed with nice sharp shoulders and bases. They were made from straight wheel weights with some range lead thrown in as I recall (not very scientific I'll admit). They were lubed with stick Alox. I was a bit concerned that the lube would be dried out but the bullets didn't seem to lead too badly despite being abused with heavy handloads. At the conclusion of the tests the revolvers scrubbed up easily with no sterner measures required to "get the lead out."

Loads tested

The loads tested were published loads from "back in the day." Loading manuals are more mild mannered these days.

5.4 grains of Unique
This was published as maximum by Lyman for many years. A friend has nicknamed it the "Texas FBI Load" and it does make a good substitute for the factory +P 158 grain lead SWC load. The latest formulation of Unique was used for the tests. Unique seems to be "jazzed up" a bit from that used in tests 30 years ago. I first noticed this when testing Unique earlier this year. (1980 velocity tests using 5.4 grains of Unique with the lead 158 grain bullet: 2-inch-847 fps, 4-inch-935 fps, 6-inch 1021 fps, 8 3/8-inch 1007 fps).

5.0 grains of Herco
This was prepared on a whim, just to see what it could do. 5.0 grains seems to be around maximum in most data sources though the infamous Speer No. 8 shows a maximum of 6.5 grains of Herco. It was decided not to take Herco that high.

11.5 grains of 2400
This also was a published maximum by Lyman for many years. Some folks considered this to be a .38-44 equivalent handload for the .38 Special. The latest formulation of 2400 was used. I'd tested this load many years ago but the data didn't get recorded for some reason so a retest was needed. I was curious about the performance level of 2400 with the 158 grain lead SWC in the .38 Special.

8.0 grains of SR 4756
"The Load" It's bigger! it's better! It'll give all the performance one can squeeze out of the .38 Special. This is the starting load for this powder as published in the Speer No. 8 guide. I'd hate to try to work this one up to the maximum listed charge weight which is only one grain higher. Whether it is advisable to use even the listed starting load is subject to debate. Probably not. The Speer No. 8 was compiled in the late 1960s. Maybe they were smoking "cigarettes and all kinds of things" while working up loads in their lab back then.

Since we'd already tested 5.1 grains of Unique earlier this year we didn't bother to work up to maximum with it. With the other loads 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.

Working up the three loads in three different .38 Special revolvers 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. Of course both "The Load" and the max. 2400 load could be straying closer to .357 Magnum pressure levels.

Some limited range time was spent shooting these loads at paper to see what sort of accuracy may be expected of them. I'm thinking that the .38 Special revolvers were grateful to see the backside of these tests.

158 Grain Lead SWC/5.4 Grains of Unique

2-inch Barrel
MV 964 fps
ME 326 ft./lbs
ES 75 fps
SD 33 fps

4-inch Barrel
MV 1026 fps
ME 369 ft/lbs.
ES 31 fps
SD 13.4 fps

6-inch Barrel
MV 1047 fps
ME 385 ft./lbs.
ES 43 fps
SD 16.6 fps

8 3/8-inch Barrel
MV 1149 fps
ME 463 ft./lbs.
ES 56 fps
SD 23.3 fps


158 Grain Lead SWC/5.0 Grains Herco

2-inch Barrel
MV 912 fps
ME 292 ft./lbs.
ES 38 fps
SD 14.3 fps

4-inch Barrel
MV 964 fps
ME 326 ft./lbs.
ES 34 fps
SD 14.5 fps

6-inch Barrel
MV 976 fps
ME 334 ft./lbs.
ES 64 fps
SD 23.7 fps

8 3/8-inch Barrel
MV 1069 fps
ME 401 ft./lbs.
ES 83 fps
SD 33.1 fps


158 Grain Lead SWC/11.5 Grains 2400

2-inch Barrel
MV 1037 fps
ME 377 ft./lbs.
ES 71 fps
SD 30.2 fps

4-inch Barrel
MV 1150 fps
ME 464 ft./lbs.
ES 50 fps
SD 26.8

6-inch Barrel
MV 1162 fps
ME 474 ft./lbs.
ES 58 fps
SD 22.2 fps

8 3/8-inch Barrel
MV 1102 fps
ME 426 ft./lbs.
ES 67 fps
SD 24.0 fps


158 Grain Lead SWC/8.0 Grains SR 4756

2-inch Barrel
MV 1150 fps
ME 464 ft./lbs.
ES 51 fps
SD 26.5 fps

4-inch Barrel
MV 1234 fps
ME 534 ft./lbs.
ES 23 fps
SD 12.3

6-inch Barrel
MV 1251 fps
ME 549 ft./lbs.
ES 23 fps
SD 8.9 fps

8 3/8-inch Barrel
MV 1173 fps
ME 483 ft./lbs.
ES 18 fps
SD 7.7 fps


It will be noted that the slower powders still register the highest velocities in the short barrel.

During this test it was surprising to find that both 2400 and SR 4756 gave higher velocities when fired out of the 4-inch and the 6-inch barrels rather than when fired out of the 8 3/8-inch barrel. This has never occurred before and I can't explain it.

It appears that the 2400 load can duplicate the performance of the Buffalo Bore +P 158 grain lead SWC factory load and that "The Load" can whip the Buffalo Bore factory load except in the 8 3/8-inch barrel of the Model 14. Buffalo Bore was the velocity champion in that barrel with the 158 grain bullet weight, strange as it may seem.

How stressful these handloads are compared to the Buffalo Bore load is hard to say. All are probably high pressure with "The Load" likely winning the prize. No primers pierced or flowed and a hint of cratering was only observed on a few, but not all of the primers in the Model 10 Heavy Barrel when used with "The Load." All cases dribbled out of cylinders when started with the ejector rod.

Recoil was brisk but very manageable in the two Model 10s. In the Model 27 and the long-barreled Model 14 recoil doesn't amount to much. All gave a snappy report and "The Load" seemed to give a particularly evil crack. Perhaps it's all in my head though.

"The Load" damaged one my spinning quail discs. I was using the top of a disc for an aiming reference for chronographing and a round fired from the 6-inch Model 27 went high, smacking a quail-shaped weight right on it's narrow welded base, nearly tearing it off the target frame. It has already been mended.

So ends the .38 Special test epic. It only lacked two days taking a year to accomplish the handload testing goals. There are always more factory loads to try and I still have to get some of that pesky W231 so I'll be testing .38 Special some more in future. I don't see any other interesting propellent powders to try when testing really heavy handloads in the .38 Special so will probably not venture into that phase again.
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Old 05-20-2012, 15:46   #15
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Some mediocre results from efforts to put the loads on paper, burning up the remainder of the test loads. While it was very windy at the range, these targets represent the best of an embarrassing lot. The rest were best forgotten.

The 2-inch Model 10 and 5.4 grains of Unique. Shot the left target at 10 yards in single action mode . Also showing a spontaneous 25 yard effort, also shot single action. It was the only revolver that was unlimbered at 25 yards. I'd thought to make a bit longer effort with the snub in order to show it off. Didn't work out and there wasn't enough ammo for a second attempt. This was a 6-shot attempt. Note the merest hit of a bullet clip on the right side of the target.



Here's the 4-inch Model 10 HB with "The Load." 10 yards, both single action and double action.




The 8 3/8-inch and a single action group (group you say?) at 10 yards with the 2400 load.



It's a sure bet that these weren't target handloads. The revolvers didn't seem to be excessively leaded by visual examination and didn't prove to be difficult to clean.

It is possible to equal the Buffalo Bore +P 158 grain factory loads by reaching back to data in older handloading manuals but I'd be sorely tempted to load with Buffalo Bore for self defense purposes since such handloads can't be pressure tested. These loads were worked up but they still could be too much of a good thing for any type of long term use.

Perhaps these loads would have some hunting application but it would be easier to leave the .38 Special at home and just go with the .357 Magnum.
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Old 06-17-2012, 11:22   #16
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Inexpressive testing. I shoot a GP100 4in i shoot Unique and Bulls Eye loads with 158gr lead bullets that are about the same as yours. My favorite powder for target loads is Trail Boss. These cowboy loads are a lot of fun to shoot and very accurate. It would be a good powder for your 1904 Smith. I also shoot it in my SA 1911-A1. I know it sounds crazy shooting cowboy loads in a 1911 but they are a blast to shoot.
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