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Thread: Is anyone loading .38 S&W...

  1. #1
    Boolit Master
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    Is anyone loading .38 S&W...

    at a "full-tilt" level? The commercially loaded 700-fps 148-grain load doesn't have that much power (for sparing the top-break revolvers).

    The solid-framed "I" and "J" frame revolvers aren't prohibited from taking a healthy 850 fps load from a 4" barrel. While there aren't many of these around, are many owners loading peak loads in them?

    Scott

  2. #2
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    Whatever for?

    I suppose were that the only gun I had available to defend hearth and home, I might over-load a Regulation Police or Police Positive. But who is in that cicumstance? Most folks that I've met who rely on a 38 S&W for protection have only the one gun--"Grandpa's old Service Revolver." and do not reload. Most reloaders have more than one gun, at least one of which is chambered for a cartridge superior to the old Short and Weak.

    I can see no benefit to hot rodding this cartridge, and some severe penalties arising should one of those Heated-up rounds end up in an elderly Hopkins and Allen top break.
    _________________________________________________It's not that I can't spell: it is that I can't type.

  3. #3
    Boolit Master
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    Quote Originally Posted by rintinglen View Post
    Whatever for?

    I suppose were that the only gun I had available to defend hearth and home, I might over-load a Regulation Police or Police Positive. But who is in that cicumstance? Most folks that I've met who rely on a 38 S&W for protection have only the one gun--"Grandpa's old Service Revolver." and do not reload. Most reloaders have more than one gun, at least one of which is chambered for a cartridge superior to the old Short and Weak.

    I can see no benefit to hot rodding this cartridge, and some severe penalties arising should one of those Heated-up rounds end up in an elderly Hopkins and Allen top break.
    Not an answer, but a smart-aleck remark.

    Perhaps I can get a real answer from someone that shoots a solid-frame .38 S&W "Terrier". They were manufactured until late 1974, you know. Not everyone is shooting an H&R or Iver Johnson "breaktop".
    Last edited by gunfan; 05-18-2012 at 12:12 AM.

  4. #4
    Boolit Grand Master
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    This isn't a smart aleck remark--it's an expression of opinion.

    I load the 38 S&W to two levels--one to cater to a Colt Police Positive x 4", the other to cater to a Webley-Enfield top-break and a S&W M&P x 5".

    The Colt load uses 3.2 grains of Unique under Lyman #358477, a 150 grain SWC. It yields 725-740 FPS and shoots right to the fixed sights at 25 and 50 yards. This load/extrapolation and others can be found in the RCBS Cast Bullet Manual, No. 1 (1986).

    The Webley and S&W load HAS NO PLACE in ANY small-frame revolver, regardless of construction. These use a 200 grain RN boolit (NEI #169A) that was configured to match service bullets used in these heavier revolvers by the British using services. My loads are 3.0 grains of Unique or 3.3 grains of Herco, and yield 675-710 FPS. Again, such loads shoot right to the sights of my revolvers at standard distances. These loads were derived from Ken Waters' "Pet Loads" compilation.

    Expressions of caution are to be expected when such a small case (just .025" longer than a 9 x 19) is discussed in the context of extending performance with either heavier bullets or heavier powder charges. The 5-shot S&W Terrier may offer more strength than my Colt PP, but I also own 38 Special and 357 Magnum revolvers that offer ballistic upgrades from 1880s-level 38 S&W ballistics. My Colt PP leaves nothing to be desired as a small game rig with the load given above.

    ETA--Speer Reloading Manual #13 (1998), pp. 514-516 shows some data for use with their commercial bullets. These data subscribe to the current SAAMI pressure limit of 13K CUP. The compilers used a S&W Model 33 x 4" to gather the data, as was used in the Cast Bullet Manual. The data shows 110 grain JHPs topping out at 1060 FPS, and 125 grainers hitting 986 FPS. Overall loaded lengths are given as well. Your S&W is likely to have throats at 360"+, so be warned that leading via undersized swaged or cast bullets can occur.

    Good hunting!
    Last edited by 9.3X62AL; 05-18-2012 at 01:55 AM. Reason: More info
    I don't paint bullets. I like Black Rifle Coffee. Sacred cows are always fair game. California is to the United States what Syria is to Russia and North Korea is to China/South Korea/Japan--a Hermit Kingdom detached from the real world and led by delusional maniacs, an economic and social basket case sustained by "foreign" aid so as to not lose military bases.

  5. #5
    I have two dedicated 38Spl revolvers, a 649-3 and a 36ND.

    My load is a home cast Lyman 358156 over 4.5g W231 and a WSP.

    Consulting old and new reloading manuals, this is what might be considered 'old school' or 'pre lawyer', not quite +P but certainly more than the modern loads.

    I figure somewhere in the 850fps area from these revolvers. Short barrels aren't a good platform for velocity experiments, but I am interested in a hard hitting round for SD and IMO, that's about as good as it gets without taking things further than I want - point of diminishing return and all.

    I have a 3" 65-5 and a 4" 13-3, they carry well, but the J frame carries best. My preference is for the .45acp in a commander or a 3" .44 loaded with 250g SWC @ 900fps, so this motivates me to make the 38Spl work at least well enough to ease my mind. I know placement is key and to that end, these loads are very acurate out to 10 yards, probably more.
    1. Treat every firearm as if it were loaded.
    2. Never point a firearm at anything you do not intend to shoot.
    3. Keep the finger off the trigger and firearm on safe until ready to shoot.
    4. Know the target and what's beyond it.

  6. #6
    Boolit Master
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    Quote Originally Posted by Snapping Twig View Post
    I have two dedicated 38Spl revolvers, a 649-3 and a 36ND.

    My load is a home cast Lyman 358156 over 4.5g W231 and a WSP.

    Consulting old and new reloading manuals, this is what might be considered 'old school' or 'pre lawyer', not quite +P but certainly more than the modern loads.

    I figure somewhere in the 850fps area from these revolvers. Short barrels aren't a good platform for velocity experiments, but I am interested in a hard hitting round for SD and IMO, that's about as good as it gets without taking things further than I want - point of diminishing return and all.

    I have a 3" 65-5 and a 4" 13-3, they carry well, but the J frame carries best. My preference is for the .45acp in a commander or a 3" .44 loaded with 250g SWC @ 900fps, so this motivates me to make the 38Spl work at least well enough to ease my mind. I know placement is key and to that end, these loads are very acurate out to 10 yards, probably more.
    For all to keep in mind......

    The 38 S&W is NOT the 38 Spl!!!!!! They are two different cartridges!!!!


    I now return you to the thread.....


    Dan

  7. #7
    Boolit Master
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    I didn't think rintinglen was being a smart aleck either. Look how small that case is. An 850 fps 158 grain load is at least borderline plus-p for the .38 spl. Your case capacity is much smaller. If you load to .38 plus P pressures in your 1970s marked J frame you will still trail the .38 special by a substantial amount.

    If you still want to go ahead and can find some good cast bullet pressure data on the 9mm Parabellum, the case sizes are nearly identical. If you kept the bullet weight and overall length the same that would put you right in the ballpark. I'm not suggesting 33-35,000 psi loads but just some stated data with for example a 22,000 psi load. Still if I were to do that it would be with one of those Ruger Service Sixes in .380 Rimmed.
    Rule 303

  8. #8
    Boolit Master
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    Thank you, Dan. What I was suggesting is a more potent loads for the 146-grain lead bullet. In the last years of the .38 S&W "Terrier" manufacture, I believe that S&W reduced the bullet diameter from .361" to .357" and the bore along with it.

    In my 1978 Speer #10 reloading manual is illustrating the use of 110, 125, 148 and 158-grain .357" diameter bullets in both semi-jacketed and lead bullets. The revolver used was the S&W Model 33 with a 4" barrel. I saw some 125-grain Speer JHP bullets being launched at a maximum of 972 fps using 4.8 grains of Unique. A 110 grain .357" JHP was driven to 1001 fps with 5.1 grains of the same propellant.

    I thought that someone might be able to offer something along these lines.

    While not used in a new "flashy" plastic self-loader, the .38 S&W has the potential "gusto" to penetrate even better than the .380 ACP. A 110-grain FMJ can be driven fast enough to provide sufficient performance to deal with most close-range self-defense tasks.

    Scott

  9. #9
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    No "time in grade" with one of the later-series Terriers, so I'm limited by the Colt PP's strength limits.

    I don't consider the #358477 at 740 FPS to be a paltry service round. Compared to standard-pressure 38 Specials/158s from a 2" barrel, there's not a lot of difference. Those loads barely get past 700 FPS. Using the sharp-shoulder/flat meplat SWC boolit is a plus, also. I'd call it a "push".

    I haven't tried the JHPs in the Colt (yet). They would be a fair fit, its throats run .359" and grooves are .358". I just found a 500-ct lot of 125 grain JHPs for 357 Magnum load work (bulk W-W), so some of those might get diverted into a test series for the 38 S&W/Colt PP. The heavier 38/200 revolvers have .363" throats, so .357" bullets would be a waste of time and components. The Colt PP is a sport revolver, and isn't carried in harm's way. That isn't to say that a recipient who earned its attention wouldn't have its contents delivered if the matter arose--but self-defense isn't its primary role.
    I don't paint bullets. I like Black Rifle Coffee. Sacred cows are always fair game. California is to the United States what Syria is to Russia and North Korea is to China/South Korea/Japan--a Hermit Kingdom detached from the real world and led by delusional maniacs, an economic and social basket case sustained by "foreign" aid so as to not lose military bases.

  10. #10
    Boolit Grand Master Char-Gar's Avatar
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    I can see no reason the try and push the 38 S&W round. None what so ever. The British military and police thought the 200 grain load going 650 fps was a crackerjack round and killed many folks all over the world with it, to prove their point.

    If you want to drive a bigger nail, get a bigger hammer!
    Disclaimer: The above is not holy writ. It is just my opinion based on my experience and knowledge. Your mileage may vary.

  11. #11
    Boolit Master Guesser's Avatar
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    My newest 38 S&W is a 1953 Improved "I" frame 4" Regulation Police, I cast and load 358246 and 360271. Both drop at .361+, I size .360. They are really finely accurate bullets in my guns. Accuracy is so good that if I changed from the load data listed in Ideal #35 the accuracy would fall away just as the point of aim/impact would shift. I'm really happy with it as is and am not intimidated while carrying it, but then I'm not intimidated while carrying a 32 loaded with 85 gr. 32 S&W. I treat the guns as if want them to last forever. Horse powering up an "I" frame is foolish in my opinion. As LTC. North sez. Everyone has a constitutional right to my opinion!!!!!!!

  12. #12
    Boolit Master
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    Thank you gentlemen. I appreciate your input.

    Scott

  13. #13
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    Gunfan,
    I load 38 S&W at a number of power levels. Started off several years ago when I sought a low-recoil, medium caliber load to standardize for my wife & daughters. OTOH, 2 of them can handle loads stouter than the current factory 145-46/685 LRN available from Win, Rem, PP, Magtech, and perhaps others.

    Likewise, I'm a historian and was attracted by the Brits' use of heavy bullet (200g) loads for service use, an approach also used by some US police depts a few decades ago; indeed, by many depts if you include 38 SPL 200g loads, some of which duplicate the low-vel 38 S&W 200g Brit Mk 1 and US commercial "police service" rounds.

    Further, I was interested in playing around with the caliber myself, and I found readily-available modern data that closely approached 38SPL loads, so I felt I could standardize with 4 sets of 2" and 4" guns, i.e. S&W Mods 32-1 and 33-1, so that my girls could all use any gun they picked up, and that any practice with anyone's revolver was like practicing with their own. The fact that these revolvers were J frame (fits their small hands) and easily found on-line, plus commercial ammo is still available if needed, were additional benefits.

    When perusing Speer 13 and Ken Waters's 1979 Pet Loads article, I found a number of hi-performance loads that I continue to experiment with. I've wound up with an Enfield, a Victory, a Colt PPS, both 2 3/4" and 4" Ruger Indian contract Service-Sixes, as well as an improved I frame Terrier, plus 3 sets of the aforementioned 32-1 and 33-1. Someday I hope to pair up the I-Terrier with an I-Regulation Police and a Banker's Special with the PPS.

    I don't worry overmuch about SAAMI 13K CUP limits, because I won't bring aboard any of the weaker top breaks, and I view my guns as tools & hobby equipment, not as safe queens whatsoever. I definitely limit the demands placed upon my Colt D frame and Smith I frame, and use sane judgment (I hope) in general. I cast my own bullets and carefully take into account the varying groove sizes when putting together loads. I have Sharpies and will color code any of the heavier stuff--natural for me, as I was a career officer in the Army Ordnance Corps, and retired Marine M/GySgt P.J. Goodman taught me well about such things

    So, although there are many simpler solutions available that make good sense in their own ways, my girls' guns are loaded with 148g LWC's in the low 700's, my 32-1 carries the same bullet at a true 800, and my 33-1 carries Speer GDHP-SB 135g at high 800's. These latter loads are scaled DOWN from Ken Waters's 140g JHP'S at 984, and the heavy WC load is only slightly shorter than the 38 SPL load in Lee 2nd that clocks over 900 with TiteGroup at a listed 11,900 CUP. I've been carrying the 32-1 with 200g large-meplat, pure lead SWC's that chrono low 600's (4") and high 500's (2"). I plan to approach Ed Harris's recommended top-end 200g load of 700 fps from a 4" gun, to see what it does for POI and recovery time, using 50-50 alloy + tin.

    I chronograph EVERYTHING I try, and individually weigh ALL heavy loads. I can't pressure-test, so I limit myself accordingly. I consider Harris, Lee, and Waters to be responsible and capable sources who forgot more about ammo than I'll ever know. My accuracy needs are modest, because these loads are essentially intended for close range SD/HD using Fairbairn, Sykes, Applegate point-shooting techniques.

    I feel safe, but don't recommend anyone do what I do without doing their own research and testing, since everything involved in hand loading and casting is a variable, and I can't begin to account for anyone else's reloading practices. None of my guns will shoot many hundreds, much less thousands, of the heaviest loads, mostly just 200/600 and 140-160/675-750 level stuff.

    Happy shooting, and to each his own joys in our shared hobby!

  14. #14
    Paperpatch Master on Heavenís Range


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    I find myself in a similar situation about what to do as far as loading for the .38 S&W. A good friend inherited an S&W in this cal. from his Dad`s estate, I`m unsure of the exact S&W pistol model. He has asked my guidance for loading this pistol seeing as how he can`t find any sort of factory ammo at shows. So, my thanks to the above posting members for shedding a bit of light on this round for me.Robert

  15. #15
    Boolit Grand Master
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    L-Man, many thanks for "coloring in" my rough sketch.

    Both Lyman #358430 and the NEI #169A show evidence of having tumbled on impact in small game and varmints I've shot at slower velocities with both boolits. The Lyman driven at 1100-1200 in the 357 Magnum seems to punch straight-through, though. All hits are DRT/final, in any event--and FAR MORE DECISIVE than hits with those sub-sonic 147 grain 9mm HP Fackler Fark-Ups. Don't get me started.......
    I don't paint bullets. I like Black Rifle Coffee. Sacred cows are always fair game. California is to the United States what Syria is to Russia and North Korea is to China/South Korea/Japan--a Hermit Kingdom detached from the real world and led by delusional maniacs, an economic and social basket case sustained by "foreign" aid so as to not lose military bases.

  16. #16
    Boolit Master
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    Thank you, Louisiana Man. This is the kind of information that I am seeking. These sane approaches to handloading a neglected bullet/cartridge combination makes a great deal of sense. I hope that stimulating conversation along these lines will encourage others to make the most of these older firearms without abusing them.

    Again, thank you.

    Scott

  17. #17
    Boolit Buddy LouisianaMan's Avatar
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    You bet, Gunfan. Lots of quality revolvers in this caliber that have been held back because (a) weak break-tops abound, and (b) because souping up a 38 S&W essentially makes it into a 38 SPL. Since the latter are so readily available, it's not sensible on a macro level to worry much about the old S&W.

    On a micro level, however, we are left with perfectly serviceable revolvers, capable of doing the job they always did, but hindered terribly by the "lowest common denominator" commercial ammo situation. Of course, it doesn't sell new guns to provide modern, capable ammo for guns 40-90 years old--especially since only automatics can serve for SD/HD anymore.

    For us lucky enough to own a sound 38 S&W revolver, however, we can handload ammo that is absolutely respectable for those who believe a medium caliber revolver is still able to do what it always could. Commercial component bullets work OK for Colts, Smiths, and Rugers, but casters have an absolute ton of options.

    9.3, do your 200g bullets still tend to tumble at 700-ish, or do they do their best work when less stable at 600-ish?

  18. #18
    Boolit Master
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    While I don't even own a .38 S&W, I certainly have been eyeing a few that have been reblued and would likely shoot very well.

    I am a fan of the off-beat, the "underdog" and showing how it can still be used to good effect!

    Scott

  19. #19
    Boolit Grand Master
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    L-Man, the #358430s show evidence of tumbling after impact to 800-825 FPS from 38 Specials. I suspect those were maxed standard or +P loadings, but the empties ejected easily. Very accurate, from 700-1200 FPS--but they do cartwheel at lower impact speeds.

    I haven't run the NEI much past 725 FPS, and those tumble readily on/in jackrabbits. Funny cartridge, the British 38/200.......the boolit is longer than the case it fits into! While velocity is modest, the THWOCK they hit critters or iron targets with is substantial. I sure as h--- wouldn't stand downrange and try fielding these slow-movers with a catcher's glove.

    Gunfan, I load the 7.65 MAS pistol--30 Luger--7.62 x 38R--so the 38 S&W is on the high side of "normal" for me, relatively speaking.
    I don't paint bullets. I like Black Rifle Coffee. Sacred cows are always fair game. California is to the United States what Syria is to Russia and North Korea is to China/South Korea/Japan--a Hermit Kingdom detached from the real world and led by delusional maniacs, an economic and social basket case sustained by "foreign" aid so as to not lose military bases.

  20. #20
    Boolit Buddy LouisianaMan's Avatar
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    9.3,
    Thanks for the info--that question has been on my mind a long time and I should have asked you a year ago.

    I have a GB mold for the 358430 clone & a bunch of bullets made up, but haven't yet cast anything with the Webley/Enfield GB NEI 169A clone mold sitting in my garage. Think I'll remedy that deficiency this afternoon! Anything that tumbles in a jackrabbit is highly likely to expend its energy and momentum inside any two-legged reprobate who may ever merit its administration.

    I was amazed to see the humble, much-maligned 178g FMJ Mk 2Z bullet's effects when tested on jugs of water, pine trees, etc., their "armor" of greatcoats notwithstanding. It seems like a ball ammo solution to achieving hollow point effects without requiring HP velocities, blast & recoil, all within the strictures of the old Hague conventions. Based on your experiences, does that seem like an accurate assessment? Sort of a 1930's handgun version of the M-16 with M193 ball ammo?

    And IIRC, you load a long 148g LWC as well, although I don't know the velocity range. Is that your choice for "shooting to the sights" with civilian-market revolvers, hitting harder than commercial LRN while not taxing your trusty Police Positive?

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Abbreviations used in Reloading

BP Bronze Point IMR Improved Military Rifle PTD Pointed
BR Bench Rest M Magnum RN Round Nose
BT Boat Tail PL Power-Lokt SP Soft Point
C Compressed Charge PR Primer SPCL Soft Point "Core-Lokt"
HP Hollow Point PSPCL Pointed Soft Point "Core Lokt" C.O.L. Cartridge Overall Length
PSP Pointed Soft Point Spz Spitzer Point SBT Spitzer Boat Tail
LRN Lead Round Nose LWC Lead Wad Cutter LSWC Lead Semi Wad Cutter
GC Gas Check