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Thread: .38 Special Wadcutter and Non-wadcutter Brass

  1. #1
    Boolit Buddy PBSmith's Avatar
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    .38 Special Wadcutter and Non-wadcutter Brass

    This has been kicked around a lot, mainly by the old bullseye guys, and I am guilty of not reviewing everything in print on the subject.

    I recall enough of what I read that I sort all brass by headstamp and also by the cannelure configuration.

    Two questions:
    1. Are cases with a single cannelure about 1/4" down from the case mouth considered wadcutter cases, as are the ones with multiple cannelures deeper down in the case? I'm presuming the right thing to do for optimum accuracy is to keep the cases sorted as I reload and shoot since a cannelure is not necessary a standard thing nor is thickness of case wall. There's a detailed thread on this over at CBA but it gets a bit involved for my ingestion.

    2. Assuming I sort per above, when loading and shooting wadcutter bullets, can I expect the same kind of accuracy out of non-cannelured cases as with cannelured cases?

    Some are going to believe this is all baloney but I am not one of those.

    Thanks.

  2. #2
    Boolit Grand Master Outpost75's Avatar
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    The cases with one cannelure about 1/4" behind the mouth are from old-style 158 lead round-nose police service ammo.

    Attachment 243365Attachment 243366Attachment 243367

    Key is to measure case body wall thickness at the approximate location of the wadcutter bulet base, about 1/2" back from the mouth.

    What you want are cases no heavier than 0.010" wall thickness. New Starline brass meets that requirement and you are good to go.

    Uncannelured WINCHESTER (full word) headstamp unplated brass cases you are good to go.

    Others measure and sort.
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  3. #3
    Boolit Grand Master tazman's Avatar
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    Normally the case with the cannelure 1/4" from the case mouth are NOT considered to be wadcutter brass.
    You really don't want a ring intruding into the side of your boolit for best accuracy.
    For my best, most accurate loads with wadcutters, I use only RP wadcutter and Starline brass. The reason I don't include Winchester wadcutter brass in there is because I have never accumulated enough to do a loading run with it.
    Outpost75 is correct about the need to measure the brass at the depth the base of the boolit will be located.

  4. #4
    Boolit Master
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    Here is how to identify wadcutter brass from the various manufacturers. Remington and Winchester have 2 cannelures, Federal has 1 cannelure located just shy of 1/2 inch (.450") down the case, and G.F.L. brass (Fiocchi) has no cannelure, but the head stamp says "Wad Cut" on it.

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  5. #5
    Boolit Buddy metricmonkeywrench's Avatar
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    Hit the search there’s several good threads on this topic. I posted a picture of a piece I cut in half to show how deep the straight walls of the brass are before the start of the web on true old school wadcutter brass.

    http://castboolits.gunloads.com/show...brass-(38-spl)

  6. #6
    Boolit Master pjames32's Avatar
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    I'm not up to date on this. I haven't loaded for or shot Bullseye since the early-mid 70's. I was a B shooter. I sorted brass back then and found my best results with non-cannulere brass, but I loaded both and shot the non-cannulere brass in matches. Technology has changed a lot since then and measuring the thickness of the brass was not something I did but makes a lot of sense.
    Good luck!
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  7. #7
    Boolit Buddy PBSmith's Avatar
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    Thanks all for your responses.

    Outpost, I appreciate your posting of photos. I have a stash of these Federal loads (see below). The cannelure is 7/16" down from the case mouth. An old Speer 148-gr HBWC measures 5/8" in length. If the Speers are seated flush in the reloaded Federal cases, their bases will be more than 1/8" below the cannelure. Will this make a difference in how the bullet seats and how it will be deformed when seated flush?

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    Is all of this business of no concern when loading solid-base wadcutters cast from COWW? Or is it still a good idea to cull out brass that does not meet the 0.010" thickness criteria you suggested?

    A related query on this same Fed ammo. Shooting from a sitting position with my back and head against a benchrest post, I once fired a phenomenal (for me) 1-1/2" group at 50 yds. This from a 4" Colt TROOPER 357. I've never been able to repeat that with this ammo and revolver, barely at 25 yds. Have wondered about consistency of this particular factory product. Did it have a good reputation among the bullseye crowd? Or was it made long after bullseye shooting faded in popularily and the quality of factory BE ammo diminished?
    Last edited by PBSmith; 06-13-2019 at 05:33 PM.

  8. #8
    Boolit Grand Master Outpost75's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by PBSmith View Post
    Thanks all for your responses.

    Outpost, I appreciate your posting of photos. I have a stash of these Federal loads (see below). The cannelure is 7/16" down from the case mouth. An old Speer 148-gr HBWC measures 5/8" in length. If the Speers are seated flush in the reloaded Federal cases, their bases will be more than 1/8" below the cannelure. Will this make a difference in how the bullet seats and how it will be deformed when seated flush?

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    Is all of this business of no concern when loading solid-base wadcutters cast from COWW? Or is it still a good idea to cull out brass that does not meet the 0.010" thickness criteria you suggested?

    A related query on this same Fed ammo. Shooting from a sitting position with my back and head against a benchrest post, I once fired a phenomenal (for me) 1-1/2" group at 50 yds. This from a 4" Colt TROOPER 357. I've never been able to repeat that with this ammo and revolver, barely at 25 yds. Have wondered about consistency of this particular factory product. Did it have a good reputation among the bullseye crowd? Or was it made long after bullseye shooting faded in popularily and the quality of factory BE ammo diminished?
    Once the factory wadcutters are fired, the inside constriction at the cannelure is entirely gone and I wouldn't worry about it. What I would be more concerned about is how much your sizing die works the case. Most modern die sets size the case to provide an inside diameter of .354-.355" to provide a tight friction-fit with jacketed bullets. If cases are flared only and not expanded to sufficient depth, the tight case body will damage the skirt of an HBWC bullet. This is less a factor in solid, DEWCs unless the bullets are dead-soft. 1:30 tin-lead or wheelweights at 10-12 BHN should be no issue.

    I use an RCBS Cowboy sizer which doesn't work the brass as much.

    With modern thick-walled .38 Special +P brass dimensioned to provide heavier bullet pull with jacketed bullets, the loaded cartridge diameter over the bullet may exceed SAAMI max. cartridge diameter. If rounds resist chambering in your revolver, the condition can be corrected by running the loaded rounds through the Lee Factory Crimp Die or Redding profile crimper, but be advised you are then sizing the bullet by compression inside the case, and your efforts towards getting a perfect bullet fit in the cylinder throats may be defeated.

    In revolvers it usually helps to seat DEWC bullets with one full-diameter driving band outside the case, particularly when shooting .38s in a .357 (see my Highway Patrolman group with +P+ DEWCs) so that it can aid maintaining alignment of rounds in the chambers upon discharge. A fast-burning powder like Bullseye will then upset the bullet in the throats, while the throat-sized front band steers it straight, so accuracy is not impaired. In tight-chambered revolvers such as Colt Officers Model Match and Python .38 Special Target you may need to flush-seat, but in those guns accuracy can be amazing, even with full-charge loads.

    Attachment 243518Attachment 243519Attachment 243520Attachment 243522

    Older Federal wadcutter made before about 1990 had an excellent reputation for accuracy. In the late 1980s there were some issues when Federal wadcutter was fired in .357 Magnum chambers, when the soft bullets transitioned from the 1.155" .38 Special case into the cylinder throats or ball seats in the longer 1.30" .357 chamber, because the HB skirt was unsupported for a short distance in the longer chamber and would upset to fill the available space.

    Due to the square shape and positioning of the lubricating grooves, the rear lube groove served as a stress riser. When the base upset, the front end of the bullet continued forward while the inflated skirt was held momentarily by wedging against the chamber cone, causing the bullet to elongate and the skirt to break off in a ductile failure. I witnessed an entire new-agent class undergoing preliminary revolver instruction average 66 hits on a 60 shot tactical revolver course when the agency issued its first class with .357 Magnum Model 13 S&Ws, which replaced the former .38 Special Model 10-8s being used at that time.

    Shortly after that Federal changed their wadcutter bullet to a smooth-sided bullet with knurled surface, similar to the Hornady, using a dry lube. That solves the skirt separation problem, but the later ammo was never as accurate or as clean shooting as the former grooved bullets lubricated with Johnson 700 Wax-Draw.

    Remington and Winchester wadcutters never had this problem, so far as I know, because they used a wider, shallower, radiussed knurling tool on their bullets, which presented a greater area of lubricant to the bore surface. The Remington 148-grain HBWC component bullet is the only hollow-based one I know of which will maintain normal target accuracy at 50 yards even when loaded with full charges of 3.5 grains of Bullseye or TiteGroup or 4 grains of W231 or HP38.

    I used to prefer the Winchester bullets back when I could get them and they were the best. They also used the Johnson 700 wax-draw lube also used by Federal. But the Remington bullets, lubricated with graphite and Japan wax, properly loaded will shoot 1-1/2" ten-shot groups at 50 yards from a good custom PPC revolver.

    About 2" to 2-1/2" for ten-shot groups at 50 yards, from a good PPC gun or test barrel is the best you can expect as a long-run average firing good cast bullets, unless you go to "extreme measures." These are:

    1) always load the sprue-cut forward

    2) Use a straight-line Wilson-type seater in an arbor press

    3) Always seating and crimp in separate operations, using the Redding Profile crimper.

    4) Always hand-seat Federal 100 or Remington 1-1/2 primers in a clean primer pocket in which the flash holes have been uniformed and the primer pockets cut to uniform depth.

    5) Use only cases trimmed to uniform length which are sorted into like batches of +/- 1 grain.

    6) Use bullets which are perfect to visual inspection and checked weighed, using the center 2-sigma of your normal distribution. The outliers will also shoot well, but should be lotted up separately, rather than being mixed with the others. Weight variation is more due to alloy variation than to shrinkage porosity or voids, if your casting technique is correct. But should some bullets have minor imperfections at the sprue cut, always orienting the sprue forward reduces any adverse effects upon grouping.

    Paying attention to the above, your handloads can shoot as well as good old factory stuff, and certainly better than 95% of the wadcutter ammo sold today which only has to go BANG~! in CCW classes.
    Last edited by Outpost75; 06-13-2019 at 08:31 PM.
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  9. #9
    Boolit Grand Master tazman's Avatar
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    Outpost75 has given you a very good tutorial on how to make match grade 38 wadcutter ammunition. Study it well.
    The only thing I can add is that I tested my loads in non-wadcutter brass and wadcutter brass all loaded at the same time during the same run from boolits cast during the same session and loaded according to the techniques listed by Outpost75.
    I found that wadcutter brass gave slightly better groups than other brass. Not a lot. About 1/2 inch at 25 yards.
    For target use, this is a significant difference. For practice and plinking, it is hardly noticeable.
    It all depends on what you want to do with your ammo.

  10. #10
    Boolit Master RogerDat's Avatar
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    Any opinions on the NOE expander plugs or Lyman M dies for getting the case interior to properly fit wadcutter cast bullets? Since inside is size after outside with those I would think it might make some difference in seating and fit.
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  11. #11
    Boolit Grand Master tazman's Avatar
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    I don't know how deeply the NOE expander plugs go into the case so I can't say. RCBS used to make one that went deep enough.
    I think someone on this site was making custom expanders that would do the job. I can't remember who it was.

  12. #12
    Boolit Buddy metricmonkeywrench's Avatar
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    I ended up picking up a set of the RCBS cowboy expander stems for use with wadcutter. They expand a lot deeper than the “standard” ones and I had no problem loading HBWC bullets.

  13. #13
    Boolit Bub 6string's Avatar
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    Besides the RCBS Cowboy dies, another excellent choice are the Redding dies intended for progressive presses.
    The sizing die is gentle enough that, with Starline brass, firm thumb pressure will seat swaged wadcutters halfway.
    The separate seater and crimp die help, too.

  14. #14
    Boolit Master Thumbcocker's Avatar
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    Would loading wadcutters in brass that had been deprimed and not sized help accuracy?
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  15. #15
    Boolit Grand Master Outpost75's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Thumbcocker View Post
    Would loading wadcutters in brass that had been deprimed and not sized help accuracy?
    I load .360" diameter Remington HBWC or as-cast and unsized Saeco #348 DEWCs lubricated with a light coat of Lee Liquid Alox without resizing the fired brass. I decap and very lightly flare, then tumble clean, clean primer pockets, clear flash holes of any tumbling media, then hand-prime and load.

    IF bullets fit friction tight so that they cannot fall down into the case against the powder, which would be dangerous, this is the most accurate way. Seat to depth only and then use either the Lee Factory Crimp die or Redding profiler to reduce the case outside diameter and crimp. This is actually the way the factories do it, the mid-body knurl on the case body ensures correct position of the bullet.

    If your revolver chambers are too sloppy, such that bullets are not a friction fit, then you will need to resize brass. But, in most guns a .360" bullet will stay in a seated position to enable separate crimping. The LFCD or Redding profiler will then size the bullet by light compression inside the case when reducing the loaded cartridge diameter to within SAAMI max. ctg. dimensions.
    Last edited by Outpost75; 06-14-2019 at 07:09 PM.
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    Boolit Master Thumbcocker's Avatar
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    The reason I asked was because a gunsmith told me about trying to get decent accuracy with a semiautomatic. 32 long target pistol. It drove him nuts trying to get anything like the accuracy it got with factory wadcutters. He tried different loads, primers, incantations, and swear words. Finally he used swaged wadcutters in unsized brass and got groups in the same ballpark as factory stuff.

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  17. #17
    Boolit Master
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    Quote Originally Posted by Outpost75 View Post
    I load .360" diameter Remington HBWC or as-cast and unsized Saeco #348 DEWCs lubricated with a light coat of Lee Liquid Alox without resizing the fired brass. I decp and very lightly flare, then tumble clean, cdlean primer pockets, clear flash holes of any tumbling media, then hand-prime and load.

    IF bullets fit friction tight so that they cannot fall down into the case against the powder, which would be dangerous, this is the most accurate way. Seat to depth only and then use either the Lee Factory Crimp die or Redding profiler to reduce the case outside diameter and crimp. This is actually the way the factories do it, the mid-body knurl on the case body ensures correct position of the bullet.

    If your revolver chambers are too sloppy such that bullets are not a friction fit, then you will need to resize brass. In most guns a .360" bullet will stay in seated position to enable separate crimping. The LFCD or Redding profiler will then size the bullet by light compression inside the case when reducing the loaded cartridge diameter to within SAAMI max. dimensions.
    Thanks good information.

  18. #18
    Boolit Buddy PBSmith's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RogerDat View Post
    Any opinions on the NOE expander plugs or Lyman M dies for getting the case interior to properly fit wadcutter cast bullets? Since inside is size after outside with those I would think it might make some difference in seating and fit.
    I wondered the same thing. The working noses on the .30 caliber NOE rifle plugs I have are only about 0.43" long. NOE makes a 0.360 x 0.356" pistol plug, but it does not look like its nose is any longer than the rifle plug. Thus it might not reach down far enough into the case to be of use with soft HBWC slugs.

    A Lyman 35 Short M-die has a longer plug. I removed the lock ring on the plug and screwed the plug down into the die as far as it would go.

    Then I outside sized an old R-P wadcutter case in my Lee .38 Special die. This produced an inside diameter of 0.355", as Outpost's comment would have predicted. Running this case up into the 35 Short M-die left an inside diameter of 0.3565" well down into the case. That's the same diameter of the M-die expander plug. However, the plug will not screw deep enough into the M-die to bring into play the flare on the top of the plug. So a separate slight flare will have to be done, using your favorite device - Lee Universal, etc.

    I don't know if the 0.3565" case ID after M-die treatment is going to wreck the swaged Speer HBWC or not. The diameter of that bullet is 0.358" Possibly Outpost can comment on this, adding to the wealth of experience he has already shared.
    Last edited by PBSmith; 06-15-2019 at 12:15 PM.

  19. #19
    Boolit Grand Master tazman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by PBSmith View Post
    I wondered the same thing. The working noses on the .30 caliber NOE rifle plugs I have are only about 0.43" long. NOE makes a 0.360 x 0.356" pistol plug, but it does not look like its nose is any longer than the rifle plug. Thus it might not reach down far enough into the case to be of use with soft HBWC slugs.

    A Lyman 35 Short M-die has a longer plug. I removed the lock ring on the plug and screwed the plug down into the die as far as it would go.

    Then I outside sized an old R-P wadcutter case in my Lee .38 Special die. This produced an inside diameter of 0.355", as Outpost's comment would have predicted. Running this case up into the 35 Short M-die left an inside diameter of 0.3565" well down into the case. That's the same diameter of the M-die expander plug. However, the plug will not screw deep enough into the M-die to bring into play the flare on the top of the plug. So a separate slight flare will have to be done, using your favorite device - Lee Universal, etc.

    I don't know if the 0.3565" case ID after M-die treatment is going to wreck the swaged Speer HBWC or not. The diameter of that bullet is 0.358" Possibly Outpost can comment on this, adding to the wealth of experience he has already shared.
    I would be interested in the answer to that question myself.
    I have never measured the inside diameter of the cases due to lack of measuring tools appropriate for the task. I would have to seat a boolit into the case then pull it and measure it to know if it works right.
    I don't know how tight the case needs to be to give proper case tension on a wadcutter without damaging the boolit.
    What I have done is bypass the whole issue by hardening my boolits so the cases won't damage them. The softer alloy may work better than what I am doing but without the answer to the question, I can't be sure of what I am actually testing.

  20. #20
    Boolit Grand Master Outpost75's Avatar
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    When loading lead bullets you don't want the case interior below the mouth flare to be more than 0.002" smaller than the bullet. With very soft bullets only 0.0015" less, so for .358 diameter cast bullets the .3565" expander plug is OK, but if you were loading factory Remington 148 HBWC bullets of .360" diameter the skirt will be damaged. For those you want to use a .38 S&W (not Special) expander plug which actually MEASURES .358" in diameter.
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