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Thread: 9mm +P vs 38 Special +P

  1. #1
    Boolit Master tazman's Avatar
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    9mm +P vs 38 Special +P

    Many people talk about the effectiveness of the 9mm +P loads particularly with a 124-125 grain JHP. I have no doubt that they will perform admirably given all the testing.
    Why is it no one talks about the 38 Special +P loaded with 125 grain JHP bullets?
    The velocities are within 50fps when hand loaded (according to Hodgdon data site)and the performance should be identical.
    I realize that available factory loadings are anemic(950-1050fps).
    Lots of people talking about the 38 Special with 150-160 grain boolits and how well they work but never the 125 grain loads. Why?

  2. #2
    Boolit Master
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    125's are all I load for my LCRx. It shoots them well and recoil with the light revolver isn't nearly as bad as with 158's

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    Boolit Master


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    I think you'll find the Hodgdon Data is very optimistic in the .38spl.
    "Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."
    - C. S. Lewis

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    Boolit Man Tom_in_AZ's Avatar
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    9mm +P vs 38 Special +P

    Quote Originally Posted by fecmech View Post
    I think you'll find the Hodgdon Data is very optimistic in the .38spl.
    Id like to test some of the Hodgdon data. As you mentioned, it may be optimistic, especially out of a snubby


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    Boolit Master
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    Given the same length barrel and the same bullet the results are going to come down to the maximum allowable pressure.

    Considering the 38 Special +P tops out at 20,000 psi and the 9mm +P tops out at 38,500 psi, I don't see how the 38 Special +P could realistically compete and stay within SAAMI specifications.

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    Boolit Master
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    I kinda enjoy watching folks going through the same "satisfing of curiosity" that I went through 40yrs ago.
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  7. #7
    Boolit Master Rcmaveric's Avatar
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    38 Special has a lot more case capacity than a 9mm. Case capacity has a drastic affect on pressures. Most often i have found there is a harmony to what weight projectile is best suited for a desired pressure curve in a particular caliber. Higher peek pressure doesn't mean more velocity. Wouldn't a 38 Special +P just be 357 Mag?
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  8. #8
    Boolit Master
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rcmaveric View Post
    38 Special has a lot more case capacity than a 9mm. Case capacity has a drastic affect on pressures. Most often i have found there is a harmony to what weight projectile is best suited for a desired pressure curve in a particular caliber. Higher peek pressure doesn't mean more velocity. Wouldn't a 38 Special +P just be 357 Mag?
    I'm not sure I'm following you here.
    While the 38 Special casing does have a lot of capacity (it started off as a black powder cartridge) and the 9mm Luger has a smaller case capacity, the big issue isn't the difference in capacity but rather the pressures they are allowed to operate at.

    When we level the playing filed a little bit and compare the 9mm Luger to the .357 magnum - both cartridges that top out at 35K psi -then we can start talking about case capacity as an important factor.

    Or did I miss your point ?

  9. #9
    Boolit Master Rcmaveric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Petrol & Powder View Post
    I'm not sure I'm following you here.
    While the 38 Special casing does have a lot of capacity (it started off as a black powder cartridge) and the 9mm Luger has a smaller case capacity, the big issue isn't the difference in capacity but rather the pressures they are allowed to operate at.

    When we level the playing filed a little bit and compare the 9mm Luger to the .357 magnum - both cartridges that top out at 35K psi -then we can start talking about case capacity as an important factor.

    Or did I miss your point ?
    You just know more than me. I forgot that operating pressures of 38 spc are 20k operating pressures. Same principle still applies. My experince 38 SPC is shooting them out of my .357 Mag. I was thinking how i have a 120g .357 bullet. I can use it in my .380 acp, 9mm, and my .357 mag. But it would be anemic and cautious loading for my .380 ACP (low velocity, high pressures), would be perfect in 9mm, but would have to be a light plinker in the 357 mag. Now i could use my 100g bullet in all of them. I also 158 grain bullets. I cant use them in the 380 ACP. I could use them in 9mm but then their weight would cause high pressures and low velocity (isnt physics grand). The 158 work great in my 357 Mag.

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  10. #10
    Boolit Master
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    OK, I think I'm catching on to what you are saying.

    YES, the 9mm, 380 Auto, 38 Special and .357 mag do come pretty close to sharing a common bullet diameter (.355" for the 9mm/380 & .357" for the 38/357). A 125 grain bullet could probably work in 3 out of those 4 but it wouldn't be a viable choice for the 380 Auto.
    (The 380 Auto max's out at around 105 grains and is much happier around 90 - 100 grs)

    I've reloaded all of those cartridges and have a tremendous amount of trigger time with the 9mm and 38 Special. The 38 Special really performs its best right around the 150-160 grain bullet weight range and the 9mm shines with 115-125 grain bullets. The .357 is probably the most versatile of the bunch in terms of bullet weight and the 380 is the least flexible.

    So while those 4 share a nearly common bullet diameter, they don't really share a common bullet weight. A 125 grain bullet could be made to work reasonably well in the 9mm, 38 Special and .357 mag.

    The case capacities are very different and I hear what you are saying. A lot of the differences come down to the development history of those cartridges.

    The 38 Special is the oldest of the bunch and started life as a black powder cartridge. The large case capacity was needed for the original black powder charge. When the 38 Special transitioned to smokeless powder it retained that relatively large case. Later when the .357 mag was developed from the 38 Special, it used the same dimensions except the casing was lengthened by 0.135" to prevent the mag cartridges from being chambered in 38 Specials. That is why the 38 Special can be fired in the .357 mag but the .357 mag cannot be fired in 38 Special chambers. It's note worthy that when the .357 mag was developed the "extra" case capacity of the smokeless powder 38 Special cartridge became a benefit. The 38 Special +P always has "surplus" case volume with smokeless powders and a max pressure of 20K. The .357 mag doesn't always need all of that available case capacity to reach max pressures of 35K although sometimes it is handy to have that case volume. Some of the max charge weights of H110 and 2400 use a lot of that available case volume.

    The 9mm Luger and the .380 Auto both started life as smokeless cartridges and the 9mm was a high pressure cartridge from the vary beginning. The 9mm was developed by Georg Luger in 1902 (4 years after the 38 Special) and the 380 Auto was developed by Browning and introduced in 1908. Browning was clearly influenced by the 9mm Luger but the 380 Auto was a much lower pressure cartridge (21,500 psi). The 380 Auto was about as big one could go in a lightweight simple blowback pistol. The 9mm and its 35K pressures, requires some type of locked breach or a massive bolt/slide.

    I always find amusing when some "Gun Store Commando" looks at a 38 Special cartridge and foolishly declares it more powerful than a 9mm because, "it has more powder in it". I seldom correct those self-appointed experts and let them wallow in their ignorance.

  11. #11
    Boolit Master tazman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by fecmech View Post
    I think you'll find the Hodgdon Data is very optimistic in the .38spl.
    I am going to test that out today. I loaded up the two fastest loads from the Hodgdon data site for 125 grain JHP and I am going to chronograph them from 3 different barrel lengths to see what I get.
    I have a 6 inch 686, a 4 inch model 15, and a 3 inch model 60. I'll test these and post the results here this afternoon.
    I will be using Longshot at 6.9 grains and CFE Pistol at 6.4 grains with a Remington 125 grain JHP and CCI small pistol primers in mixed brass.

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    Looking forward to seeing/reading your results.
    2nd Amend./U.S. Const. - "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

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  13. #13
    Boolit Master tazman's Avatar
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    Here are the results of my testing today.
    38 Special +P loading 125 grain JHP(Remington) CCI SP loaded in mixed brass.

    CF Pistol 6.4 grains
    S&W 686 6" barrel 1081 average, extreme spread 86fps highest velocity 1130fps
    S&W 15 4" barrel 1059 average, extreme spread 85fps highest velocity 1095fps
    S&W 60 3" barrel 929 average, extreme spread 57fps highest velocity 968fps

    Longshot 6.9 grains
    S&W 686 6" barrel 1191 average, extreme spread 102 fps highest velocity 1252fps
    S&W 15 4" barrel 1062 average, extreme spread 67 fps highest velocity 1088fps
    S&W 60 3" barrel 987 average, extreme spread 113 fps highest velocity 1054fps

    The data posted on the Hodgdon data site is as follows
    fired in 7.7 inch barrel
    CFE Pistol max load 6.4 grains velocity 1199fps Hornady XTP 125 grains.
    Longshot max load 7.0 grains velocity 1228fps Hornady XTP 125 grains.


    The Longshot data approaches the posted Hodgdon data fairly closely. It is within lot to lot or pistol to pistol variations.
    I wish I had taken my 686 with the 8 3/8 inch barrel along for comparison. Might have been interesting.
    The CFE Pistol data didn't really come close. That part bothers me a little because I have used their CFE Pistol data for other load combinations and had the results be the same as their posted data.
    I don't have a 2" barrel so could not test that.
    Looks like fecmech was right about the CFE Pistol data but not so much about the Longshot data.

    It still looks like the 38 Special +P loading data when using Longshot for the 125 grain bullet allows the 38 special to approximate the velocity and performance of a 9mm with the same weight bullet.
    These tests do confirm that.
    The load data I have seen published by manufacturers for either the bullets or the powders all show 9mm 124-5 grain standard or +P loadings to be in the 1100 to 1200 fps range with most maxing out at about 1150.
    I checked specifications for new 9mm +P ammo and the only ones who posted velocities over 1200fps were Underwood and Buffalo Bore who posted 1250 and 1300 fps respectively. I am not certain I can safely duplicate those myself. Most of my JHP ammo runs about 1100 to 1150 fps.
    My standard practice reloads in 9mm with the Lyman 356402 and Bullseye run right at 1121fps from my 1911 with extreme spreads of about 25fps.

  14. #14
    Boolit Master
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    Thanks for sharing your findings from your load tests/experiments.


    Valuable info to some, if not a lot of folks. The more info we have, the better we make decisions.
    2nd Amend./U.S. Const. - "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

    "A man ought ta do what he thinks is best" - "Hondo" Lane.(John Wayne)

    "If ya don't like my gate, ya don't have to swing on the hinges..." - L. Ackerman ( RIP)

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  15. #15
    Boolit Master roverboy's Avatar
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    Yeah, I appreciate your load data too, Tazman. I've loaded and shot a lot of .38 Spl. over the years. Never shot many 125 gr. loads though.
    Mrs. Hogwallop up and R-U-N-N-O-F-T.

  16. #16
    Boolit Master tazman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by roverboy View Post
    Yeah, I appreciate your load data too, Tazman. I've loaded and shot a lot of .38 Spl. over the years. Never shot many 125 gr. loads though.
    Neither have I. I was always using 148-160 grain boolits but we didn't have the powders that I tested until recently. Some of these new powders can give some surprising results.

  17. #17
    Boolit Master





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    How about getting rid of the mixed brass for the next test?

    Truly not busting them but you left your self open.

    IMHO 9mm or 38 for actual useable power I will go 38 special my self. The 9mm was always good for the 115but is working to be useful at the 150 grn level.

    I carry a Glock 26 every day over the 38 scpl S&W I have as it has 11 rounds NOW not after 2 reloads.

    But if power was the needed big time result 38 special. Unless I could have my model 19.

  18. #18
    Boolit Master Rodfac's Avatar
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    Nice work Taz...I have often wondered how they'd stack up with the same bullet weight. While I bear no grudge against the 9mm, but I do believe that many over state 9mm's ballistics with regard to the .38 Special +P. Rod
    Last edited by Rodfac; 06-20-2018 at 04:48 PM.

  19. #19
    Boolit Master tazman's Avatar
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    I have always believed that the 9mm was effectively a 38 special in disguise as a semi-auto cartridge. When you compare the two using similar loadings, they are very close.
    They were initially designed for different bullet weights. With the newest powders and by using similar weight bullets, the performance of he two is nearly identical.
    This may be part of the reason that the 9mm is so easy to shoot and so accepted by police departments world wide. The fact that you can stuff extra 9mm rounds into the gun is also a factor.

  20. #20
    Boolit Master
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    It may also have to do firearm capacity. Almost all 9mm have a mag with higher capacity than a revolver. Just a thought

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