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Thread: Accuracy result posts? (38 spl 50 yards)

  1. #1
    Boolit Bub
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    Accuracy result posts? (38 spl 50 yards)

    After many years of not shooting competition I'm about to get back into it. With that in mind I'd really be interested in seeing some accuracy reports. Really interested in revolver loads specifically 38 spl at 50 yards that meet a 120K power factor.

    Have some cast bullets LHP 130 grain plain base that shoot 1-1/2" groups at 50 yards. Always have had the best accuracy with HP bullets and light ones at that. Current shortages (long lines) on "everything bullets" has me very interested in casting my own.

    See a bunch of folks on this forum bought the MP 360-640 hollow point "light" molds plain base (Cast 125 or 131 grain hollow point with WW alloy) really would like to see some accuracy reports on that specific bullet. The mold is currently sold out and would like to see if it's worth the wait.

    Thanks

  2. #2
    Boolit Grand Master

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    This is going to take work up with the actual gun to be sure you have the power factor ( and a little extra to be sure in different conditions). Not a big thing. Once you know bullet weight its simply finding the velocity from your gun. A lighter weight bullet may offer some advantages. I believe a 125 grn bullet at 960 will make it. A 125 grn hollow point will have longer nose or driving bands than a 125 grn solid. Also center off gravity will be farther back on the hollow point bullet. Another is bullet shape itself in some disciplines fast reloads are required and a blunt square bullet dosnt do as good here as a TC or Round nose style.

    I loaded som 225 grn wadcutters for my 25 smith in 45 acp. In moon clips they were tough to load. 230 grain TC or rn you could throw in from across the room.

  3. #3
    Boolit Bub
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    country gent

    Don't want to sound disrespectful....but I'm very familiar with the mechanics of developing loads and power factors. Seeking some accuracy results (50 yard) from all of these cast bullets designs...but especially interested in the lighter bullet weight 38spl loads (recoil).

    Thanks

  4. #4
    Boolit Grand Master Outpost75's Avatar
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    Old article from The Fouling Shot, posted with author's permission:

    Tales from the Back Creek Diary

    Getting Serious About Fifty Yard Results in the .38 Special

    My two previous articles on loading accurate .38 Special ammunition gave background on my loading methods, and what sort of accuracy to expect when testing .38 Special ammo indoors at 25 yards. As interesting as that preliminary data may have seemed, it was a mere tease leading up to the real test. Anyone serious about testing ammo knows that nothing else matters other than how well the ammunition shoots outdoors in the real world of field and target shooting, which starts at FIFTY yards. Anything else is as Frank Marshall would say, is just “fooling around.”

    Recapping Col. E.H. Harrison’s conclusions in the NRA Hand loader’s Guide, so you don’t have to go back and look them up… To be called among “the best,” .38 wad cutters in the golden days of 1960s Bullseye competition had to be capable of grouping 3 minutes of angle, or about 1-1/2” at fifty yards, in a minimum series of five consecutive 5-shot groups. “Good” hand loads using factory swaged, hollow-based wad cutter bullets of match quality should approach this, averaging about 3.5 minutes of angle, or slightly less than two inches at 50 yards. Anything averaging larger than two inches at 50 yards isn’t capable of a shooting perfect score with concurrent high X-count needed to win a National or Olympic competition. But, practical shooters know that handgun ammo which will consistently average two inches or less at fifty yards is still entirely satisfactory for field use, because that is far better than most people can shoot.

    When practical shooters seek dual-use ammo to feed both their cowboy or single-shot rifle and a wheel gun, accuracy takes on a somewhat different dimension. You want all the accuracy possible, and that same ammo must be far more accurate than you can shoot with 58 year-old eyes and iron sights from either gun.

    Wad cutters are the accepted accuracy standard for paper punching, but beyond 50 yards their gyroscopic stability and accuracy suffers, regardless of what firearm you use them in. “Traditional” .38 Special ammunition loaded with lead round nose, lead flat nose, or semi-wad cutter bullets feeds more smoothly from the lever guns and “carries’ up” better beyond 50 yards than target wad cutters.

    So, I tested four factory .38 Special loads as benchmarks, [in a BSA-Martini with Green Mountain barrel, .38 AMU chamber and 10X Unertl scope] then an assortment of factory swaged and cast wadcutter, lead round nose, lead flat nose and semi wad cutter bullets at 50 yards to see where they shook out.

    The factory load benchmarks were a good lot of better than average 158-gr. Lead round nose and three different batches of wad cutters, one oldie, but goodie, and two new boxes, one cheap, one expensive. The box of historical interest was “the last” of what the late LTC Ellis Lea described as “the best .38 wadcutter Bridgeport ever made,” a souvenir from the 1960 Olympic Games. This old ammo with Rem-UMC head stamp in dark green boxes averaged 1.16” at 50 yards from the scoped BSA Cadet Martini.

    The 158-grain lead, round nosed ammo I tested was a batch loaded by Norma in Sweden dating from my Ruger days in the mid 1980s. I still have most of a thousand round case of paper boxes of this. It performed exactly as expected from long experience, giving about 800 f.p.s. from a 6” revolver and just under 1000 f.p.s. from the Cadet Martini while shooting round groups which averaged 1.6” at 50 yards. That told me that everything was working as it should.

    The new and expensive Winchester wadcutter from Midway was VERY disappointing, one group containing a keyhole which enlarged it to almost six inches, the best group was just under two inches and five targets averaged of over three inches. S-B imported Czech stuff shot surprisingly fairly well, averaging about two inches.

    Of the factory swaged hollow-based wadcutters only Remington’s averaged less than 2” at fifty yards. The often recommended 2.8 grain charge of Bullseye averaged 1.8”, exactly was Col. Harrison’s article said it should, but increasing the charge slightly to 3 grains shrunk the average to an inch and a half. The Remington 158-gr. Lead SWC flat base of .358 diameter loaded to 1.45” overall with 3.5 grains of Bullseye was also pleasant surprise which averaged about an inch and a half, as well as good wad cutter reloads. Speer’s 158-gr. Lead Round nose with 3.5 grains of Bullseye was also a pleasant surprise, shooting as well as my prized lot of Norma LRN.

    So, knowing what the factory loads and hand loads with swaged bullets do, I tested traditional lead .38 Special loads with cast bullets so see how they measured up. Cast bullet loads included the Saeco #348 double-end, bevel-based wad cutter, my favorite hunting bullet, the NEI #161A 190-gr. Flat nose; and bullets cast from a newly purchased NEI #161A four-cavity, which was shortened to remove the base band, producing a 150-grain flat nosed cowboy slug.

    The Saeco #348 double-ender shot, loaded unsized, and crimped in the crimp groove over 3.5 grains of Bullseye averaged 1.87”, which agreed perfectly with Col. Harrison’s conclusions. Both 190-grain and 150-grain versions of the NEI #161A, loaded with 3.5 grains of Bullseye averaged about an inch and a half at 50 yards, actually slightly better than the wad cutter. Since a couple shot holes with the 190-grain version showed slight yaw at 50 yards, I decided to increase the charge slightly to see if it would improve stability. A charge of 4.2 grains of Bullseye, crimping in the top lubricating groove at 1.55” overall length averaged 0.87” with the largest group 1.07” and the smallest 0.61! @~&*% Now THAT got my attention!

    I decided it was time to try some .357 Magnum brass. Seating the 190-gr. NEI #161A in the normal crimp groove using .357 brass the cartridge OAL is 1.58”. Loading 4 grains of Bullseye in .357 brass gave about 1000 f.p.s. from the BSA and averaged under an inch and a half. Increasing the charge to 4.3 grains enlarged the average slightly, but it was still less than two inches. Increasing the charge still more to 4.5 grains enlarged groups further. It was time to try a harder alloy.

    Midway’s online catalog showed a 190gr. LFN bullet from Hunter’s Supply which looked like a dead ringer to the NEI #161A, but cast from a harder 92Pb-6Sb-2Sn alloy. So I bought some and while waiting for them to arrive I loaded some Winchester 158-grain jacketed hollow points in new virgin Winchester cases, with WSP primers and 14.5 grains of #2400. It was time for a .357 benchmark.

    Next trip to West Virginia was rewarding. The Hunter’s Supply hard cast .358” diameter 190 LFNs with 4.3 grains of Bullseye averaged under an inch at 50 yards. Increasing the charge to 4.5 grains the harder alloy averaged 1.26”, almost exactly half what my cast wheel weight metal bullets did when overdriven. My handloaded Winchester JHPs also averaged an inch at fifty yards.

    100-yard tests of the best loads will follow in a future article.
    The ENEMY is listening.
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  5. #5
    Boolit Bub
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    Good reading. What twist are you using in 38 special at 50 yards?

  6. #6
    Boolit Buddy
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    Quote Originally Posted by 8shot View Post
    country gent

    Don't want to sound disrespectful....but I'm very familiar with the mechanics of developing loads and power factors. Seeking some accuracy results (50 yard) from all of these cast bullets designs...but especially interested in the lighter bullet weight 38spl loads (recoil).

    Thanks
    While this site has some strict rules regarding language and conduct. It is relatively lax in regards to thread drift. The OP just doesn’t control the direction of the thread.

    Did you ask about one specific mold? Yes you sure did. Has either of these experienced men answered your exact question. Nope.

    Are you new to cast bullets? It would seem so. You will achieve success. I’m sure you will. You will also have failures. Buy a mold, any mold, and learn how to cast. You are coming here seeking knowledge, and it is all around you.

    If you like light bullets, then you might try the Lee 125 rnfp. It can be very inexpensive in a two hole mold. It is easy to damage a new aluminum mold. My personal opinion is that you should use student grade gear to start out with. Learn the trade, then spend a hundred dollars on a mold.

    You may view my comments as harsh. Please don’t. There are so many factors at play here, alloy, lube or PC, sizing, seating depth, powder, and the condition of your firearm. Buy a mold, melt some lead, make some mistakes, have some success, and enjoy the journey.

    Thread drift will happen.

    JM

    P.s. I shoot the Lee 148gr TL wadcutter out of a 6” security six. I’m happy when most of my hits are on a 6” plate, offhand, at 50 yards.
    Last edited by JM7.7x58; 01-09-2021 at 03:50 PM.

  7. #7
    Boolit Grand Master Outpost75's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 45DUDE View Post
    Good reading. What twist are you using in 38 special at 50 yards?
    http://www.gmriflebarrel.com/bx357-2...ned-bbl-blank/
    .38 Cal, 1:20 Twist, 25” Long, 1.06” OD, 4140CM, Turned on Center Barrel Blank. Button Rifled, Air Gauged, and Stress Relieved.
    The ENEMY is listening.
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  8. #8
    Boolit Grand Master Outpost75's Avatar
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    Because people will ask, here is the sequel:

    More Tales from the Back Creek Diary - 100-Yard Accuracy Results of Selected .38 and .357 Magnum
    Cast Loads in a BSA Single-Shot and Marlin Cowboy Rifle

    The proof of the pudding in any long gun is it will do at 100 yards. Not all handgun loads provide linear dispersion in proportion to the range, when fired from rifles, so you need to test. Wadcutters in .38 Special do very well at 50 yards, but generally not at 100 in common slow-twist barrels. A one turn in ten inch twist 9mm barrel has better long range potential.

    [Read Bill Duncan's experiments with the NOE #360-148WC in a Day Arms one in 10" twist PPC match revolver with scope produced an 8-inch group at 125 yards with 26 inches hold over with a 75-yard zero, and a 13-inch group at 150 yards with 50 inches holdover, then at 200 yards a 12-inch x 24 inch group with ten feet of holdover from the 75-yard zero, using an aiming point elevated on a pole! - see The Fouling Shot #258 pgs. 19-21].


    I tested ordinary .38 and .357 handgun ammunition for which I had previous 25-yard and 50-yard data. These included match-grade Norma 158-gr. lead round nose factory ammo, handloads with Speer swaged lead round nose and semi-wad cutters and hand loads with cast lead, flat nosed cowboy slugs. All were standard velocity loads fired from my BSA Martini with Green Mountain barrel and 10X Unertl scope for five consecutive 5-shot groups at 100 yards. The best loads in the Martini were tested again in a Marlin 1894 Cowboy II with 24-inch barrel 2.5X Weaver.

    Norma 158-gr. LRN factory loads averaged just less than 3” at 100 yards from the BSA. Handloads with swaged lead round nose and semi-wad cutter ammo in .38 Special cases didn’t shoot quite as well, but did stay under 4 minutes of angle, having useful field utility.

    The most accurate 100-yard cast loads used the Hunter’s Supply cast 190 LFN of 92-6-2 alloy, sized .358 from Midway, with 4.3 grains of Bullseye in .357 cases. They averaged 2.18” in the BSA and 2.36” in the Marlin. This is the same bullet as NEI #191A

    [NEI IS no longer in business, but two very similar designs are available from Accurate as 36-185E and 36-185F]
    .

    Click image for larger version. 

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    I cast some of those also from wheel weights tested them, getting comparable results as long as velocities with softer wheel weight alloy were subsonic. I normally use 3.5 grains of Bullseye in .38 cases and from 4.0 (if low noise is important) up to a maximum of 4.3 grains in .357 cases based upon accuracy results. Supersonic loads do not group as well at 100 yards as the slower ones, due to transonic buffeting as projectile velocity decays below the speed of sound.

    My advice is not to magnum-ize it, but keep handgun-caliber lead loads for rifles subsonic slow, accurate and quiet. A good working velocity range is from 950 to 1050 f.p.s. In a 24” barrel there is no "crack" to disturb the neighbors. The big, flat-nosed bullet is effective on groundhogs, wild turkey and larger edible hooved critters [IN SEASON] raiding your garden. Bon appettit!
    Last edited by Outpost75; 01-09-2021 at 03:00 PM.
    The ENEMY is listening.
    HE wants to know what YOU know.
    Keep it to yourself.

  9. #9
    Boolit Bub
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    Thanks again Outpost 77. I have a model 19-3 S&W with a 1in12 twist 10''long barrel I am starting to do the 38 special longer range with. I am trying to decide if the # of lube grooves matter in a 150-162-grain flat base 358 boolit. So for the single lube groove is working well with RCBS and Lyman. I see you are using a 3 lube boolit. My Marlin with a 3x9 will do about 2.5'' with 10 shots at 100 yards with a 158 jhp but have never shot a lead boolit through it.
    Last edited by 45DUDE; 01-09-2021 at 04:18 PM.

  10. #10
    Boolit Bub
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    Quote Originally Posted by Outpost75 View Post
    http://www.gmriflebarrel.com/bx357-2...ned-bbl-blank/
    .38 Cal, 1:20 Twist, 25” Long, 1.06” OD, 4140CM, Turned on Center Barrel Blank. Button Rifled, Air Gauged, and Stress Relieved.
    A little thread drift on my part.
    Green Mountain was my best black powder barrel in the 70's. I won lots of meets with a 2 barrel set.<45 & 54> Thanks.

  11. #11
    Boolit Bub
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    Quote Originally Posted by JM7.7x58 View Post
    While this site has some strict rules regarding language and conduct. It is relatively lax in regards to thread drift. The OP just doesn’t control the direction of the thread.

    Did you ask about one specific mold? Yes you sure did. Has either of these experienced men answered your exact question. Nope.

    Are you new to cast bullets? It would seem so. You will achieve success. I’m sure you will. You will also have failures. Buy a mold, any mold, and learn how to cast. You are coming here seeking knowledge, and it is all around you.

    If you like light bullets, then you might try the Lee 125 rnfp. It can be very inexpensive in a two hole mold. It is easy to damage a new aluminum mold. My personal opinion is that you should use student grade gear to start out with. Learn the trade, then spend a hundred dollars on a mold.

    You may view my comments as harsh. Please don’t. There are so many factors at play here, alloy, lube or PC, sizing, seating depth, powder, and the condition of your firearm. Buy a mold, melt some lead, make some mistakes, have some success, and enjoy the journey.

    Thread drift will happen.

    JM

    P.s. I shoot the Lee 148gr TL wadcutter out of a 6” security six. I’m happy when most of my hits are on a 6” plate, offhand, at 50 yards.
    No harm taken...I recently built (2) K frame revolvers..both with 6" Clark 1-10 barrels and have been experimenting with several rounds, factory, swaged and cast reloads. They all shoot nicely at 50 yards...but the problems starts when I reload the swaged bullets (HBWC, SWC, DEWC etc) to meet a 120K power factor....the groups open up. My goal is to return to NRA action Pistol Competition where in the past I was successful. It's been over 25 years since I shot a match but do qualify each year for my retired LEO handgun carry...so I know my abilities. Trying to locate ammo, primers, powder etc is fruitless as we all know...so I need to narrow my options promptly. I do have a significant supply of factory Remington 158 RN "target" that shoots 2" groups at 50 yards and easily makes the power factor (my revolvers don't like factory 158 SWC). So I am good to go...for any action pistol matches. In the past I shot a Manurhrin MR-73 "38 match" with a 9mm cylinder..the gun would shoot 1" groups at 50 yards with 110gr JHP bullets...that was the good news...bad news is that the revolver couldn't handle it and the frame finally cracked. So 25 years later I'm shooting K frames and need to use lead bullets because of known forcing cone issues. After trying all types of lead bullets combination...I learned that my revolvers really like the 130gr, cast lead "plain base" not bevel, like the "130 grain lead cast hollow point" not FP or SWC styles..and they meet the power factor with a cushion figured in. Another plus with the light bullet it has better manageable recoil...i.e. barricade event. I am on a long waiting list for more commercial 130 LHP cast bullets and have a keen interest in the MP 360-640 hollow point "light" that casts in the 130 grain range. I see where a bunch of guys on this forum got in a group purchase of that bullet/mold and was hoping to get some accuracy feedback. Like I said I have a very good 158 grain load...but would prefer a lighter recoiling 130 gr bullet. I used to cast for my 44 mag...but being retired have time to cast now...but don't want to invest in new molds, handles, lube/sizer etc until I have a chance to try that cast bullet if possible. I do have a significant lead collection in my barn

  12. #12
    Boolit Bub
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    Good read 8shot--Keep us updated.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Outpost75 View Post
    Old article from The Fouling Shot, posted with author's permission:

    Tales from the Back Creek Diary

    Getting Serious About Fifty Yard Results in the .38 Special

    My two previous articles on loading accurate .38 Special ammunition gave background on my loading methods, and what sort of accuracy to expect when testing .38 Special ammo indoors at 25 yards. As interesting as that preliminary data may have seemed, it was a mere tease leading up to the real test. Anyone serious about testing ammo knows that nothing else matters other than how well the ammunition shoots outdoors in the real world of field and target shooting, which starts at FIFTY yards. Anything else is as Frank Marshall would say, is just “fooling around.”

    Recapping Col. E.H. Harrison’s conclusions in the NRA Hand loader’s Guide, so you don’t have to go back and look them up… To be called among “the best,” .38 wad cutters in the golden days of 1960s Bullseye competition had to be capable of grouping 3 minutes of angle, or about 1-1/2” at fifty yards, in a minimum series of five consecutive 5-shot groups. “Good” hand loads using factory swaged, hollow-based wad cutter bullets of match quality should approach this, averaging about 3.5 minutes of angle, or slightly less than two inches at 50 yards. Anything averaging larger than two inches at 50 yards isn’t capable of a shooting perfect score with concurrent high X-count needed to win a National or Olympic competition. But, practical shooters know that handgun ammo which will consistently average two inches or less at fifty yards is still entirely satisfactory for field use, because that is far better than most people can shoot.

    When practical shooters seek dual-use ammo to feed both their cowboy or single-shot rifle and a wheel gun, accuracy takes on a somewhat different dimension. You want all the accuracy possible, and that same ammo must be far more accurate than you can shoot with 58 year-old eyes and iron sights from either gun.

    Wad cutters are the accepted accuracy standard for paper punching, but beyond 50 yards their gyroscopic stability and accuracy suffers, regardless of what firearm you use them in. “Traditional” .38 Special ammunition loaded with lead round nose, lead flat nose, or semi-wad cutter bullets feeds more smoothly from the lever guns and “carries’ up” better beyond 50 yards than target wad cutters.

    So, I tested four factory .38 Special loads as benchmarks, [in a BSA-Martini with Green Mountain barrel, .38 AMU chamber and 10X Unertl scope] then an assortment of factory swaged and cast wadcutter, lead round nose, lead flat nose and semi wad cutter bullets at 50 yards to see where they shook out.

    The factory load benchmarks were a good lot of better than average 158-gr. Lead round nose and three different batches of wad cutters, one oldie, but goodie, and two new boxes, one cheap, one expensive. The box of historical interest was “the last” of what the late LTC Ellis Lea described as “the best .38 wadcutter Bridgeport ever made,” a souvenir from the 1960 Olympic Games. This old ammo with Rem-UMC head stamp in dark green boxes averaged 1.16” at 50 yards from the scoped BSA Cadet Martini.

    The 158-grain lead, round nosed ammo I tested was a batch loaded by Norma in Sweden dating from my Ruger days in the mid 1980s. I still have most of a thousand round case of paper boxes of this. It performed exactly as expected from long experience, giving about 800 f.p.s. from a 6” revolver and just under 1000 f.p.s. from the Cadet Martini while shooting round groups which averaged 1.6” at 50 yards. That told me that everything was working as it should.

    The new and expensive Winchester wadcutter from Midway was VERY disappointing, one group containing a keyhole which enlarged it to almost six inches, the best group was just under two inches and five targets averaged of over three inches. S-B imported Czech stuff shot surprisingly fairly well, averaging about two inches.

    Of the factory swaged hollow-based wadcutters only Remington’s averaged less than 2” at fifty yards. The often recommended 2.8 grain charge of Bullseye averaged 1.8”, exactly was Col. Harrison’s article said it should, but increasing the charge slightly to 3 grains shrunk the average to an inch and a half. The Remington 158-gr. Lead SWC flat base of .358 diameter loaded to 1.45” overall with 3.5 grains of Bullseye was also pleasant surprise which averaged about an inch and a half, as well as good wad cutter reloads. Speer’s 158-gr. Lead Round nose with 3.5 grains of Bullseye was also a pleasant surprise, shooting as well as my prized lot of Norma LRN.

    So, knowing what the factory loads and hand loads with swaged bullets do, I tested traditional lead .38 Special loads with cast bullets so see how they measured up. Cast bullet loads included the Saeco #348 double-end, bevel-based wad cutter, my favorite hunting bullet, the NEI #161A 190-gr. Flat nose; and bullets cast from a newly purchased NEI #161A four-cavity, which was shortened to remove the base band, producing a 150-grain flat nosed cowboy slug.

    The Saeco #348 double-ender shot, loaded unsized, and crimped in the crimp groove over 3.5 grains of Bullseye averaged 1.87”, which agreed perfectly with Col. Harrison’s conclusions. Both 190-grain and 150-grain versions of the NEI #161A, loaded with 3.5 grains of Bullseye averaged about an inch and a half at 50 yards, actually slightly better than the wad cutter. Since a couple shot holes with the 190-grain version showed slight yaw at 50 yards, I decided to increase the charge slightly to see if it would improve stability. A charge of 4.2 grains of Bullseye, crimping in the top lubricating groove at 1.55” overall length averaged 0.87” with the largest group 1.07” and the smallest 0.61! @~&*% Now THAT got my attention!

    I decided it was time to try some .357 Magnum brass. Seating the 190-gr. NEI #161A in the normal crimp groove using .357 brass the cartridge OAL is 1.58”. Loading 4 grains of Bullseye in .357 brass gave about 1000 f.p.s. from the BSA and averaged under an inch and a half. Increasing the charge to 4.3 grains enlarged the average slightly, but it was still less than two inches. Increasing the charge still more to 4.5 grains enlarged groups further. It was time to try a harder alloy.

    Midway’s online catalog showed a 190gr. LFN bullet from Hunter’s Supply which looked like a dead ringer to the NEI #161A, but cast from a harder 92Pb-6Sb-2Sn alloy. So I bought some and while waiting for them to arrive I loaded some Winchester 158-grain jacketed hollow points in new virgin Winchester cases, with WSP primers and 14.5 grains of #2400. It was time for a .357 benchmark.

    Next trip to West Virginia was rewarding. The Hunter’s Supply hard cast .358” diameter 190 LFNs with 4.3 grains of Bullseye averaged under an inch at 50 yards. Increasing the charge to 4.5 grains the harder alloy averaged 1.26”, almost exactly half what my cast wheel weight metal bullets did when overdriven. My handloaded Winchester JHPs also averaged an inch at fifty yards.

    100-yard tests of the best loads will follow in a future article.

    Very well done Sir
    Last edited by SSGOldfart; Yesterday at 04:17 PM.
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    Looking for a Hensly &Gibbs #258 any thing from a two cavity to a 10cavity

  14. #14
    Boolit Bub
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    Quote Originally Posted by Outpost75 View Post
    Old article from The Fouling Shot, posted with author's permission:

    Tales from the Back Creek Diary

    Getting Serious About Fifty Yard Results in the .38 Special

    My two previous articles on loading accurate .38 Special ammunition gave background on my loading methods, and what sort of accuracy to expect when testing .38 Special ammo indoors at 25 yards. As interesting as that preliminary data may have seemed, it was a mere tease leading up to the real test. Anyone serious about testing ammo knows that nothing else matters other than how well the ammunition shoots outdoors in the real world of field and target shooting, which starts at FIFTY yards. Anything else is as Frank Marshall would say, is just “fooling around.”

    Recapping Col. E.H. Harrison’s conclusions in the NRA Hand loader’s Guide, so you don’t have to go back and look them up… To be called among “the best,” .38 wad cutters in the golden days of 1960s Bullseye competition had to be capable of grouping 3 minutes of angle, or about 1-1/2” at fifty yards, in a minimum series of five consecutive 5-shot groups. “Good” hand loads using factory swaged, hollow-based wad cutter bullets of match quality should approach this, averaging about 3.5 minutes of angle, or slightly less than two inches at 50 yards. Anything averaging larger than two inches at 50 yards isn’t capable of a shooting perfect score with concurrent high X-count needed to win a National or Olympic competition. But, practical shooters know that handgun ammo which will consistently average two inches or less at fifty yards is still entirely satisfactory for field use, because that is far better than most people can shoot.

    When practical shooters seek dual-use ammo to feed both their cowboy or single-shot rifle and a wheel gun, accuracy takes on a somewhat different dimension. You want all the accuracy possible, and that same ammo must be far more accurate than you can shoot with 58 year-old eyes and iron sights from either gun.

    Wad cutters are the accepted accuracy standard for paper punching, but beyond 50 yards their gyroscopic stability and accuracy suffers, regardless of what firearm you use them in. “Traditional” .38 Special ammunition loaded with lead round nose, lead flat nose, or semi-wad cutter bullets feeds more smoothly from the lever guns and “carries’ up” better beyond 50 yards than target wad cutters.

    So, I tested four factory .38 Special loads as benchmarks, [in a BSA-Martini with Green Mountain barrel, .38 AMU chamber and 10X Unertl scope] then an assortment of factory swaged and cast wadcutter, lead round nose, lead flat nose and semi wad cutter bullets at 50 yards to see where they shook out.

    The factory load benchmarks were a good lot of better than average 158-gr. Lead round nose and three different batches of wad cutters, one oldie, but goodie, and two new boxes, one cheap, one expensive. The box of historical interest was “the last” of what the late LTC Ellis Lea described as “the best .38 wadcutter Bridgeport ever made,” a souvenir from the 1960 Olympic Games. This old ammo with Rem-UMC head stamp in dark green boxes averaged 1.16” at 50 yards from the scoped BSA Cadet Martini.

    The 158-grain lead, round nosed ammo I tested was a batch loaded by Norma in Sweden dating from my Ruger days in the mid 1980s. I still have most of a thousand round case of paper boxes of this. It performed exactly as expected from long experience, giving about 800 f.p.s. from a 6” revolver and just under 1000 f.p.s. from the Cadet Martini while shooting round groups which averaged 1.6” at 50 yards. That told me that everything was working as it should.

    The new and expensive Winchester wadcutter from Midway was VERY disappointing, one group containing a keyhole which enlarged it to almost six inches, the best group was just under two inches and five targets averaged of over three inches. S-B imported Czech stuff shot surprisingly fairly well, averaging about two inches.

    Of the factory swaged hollow-based wadcutters only Remington’s averaged less than 2” at fifty yards. The often recommended 2.8 grain charge of Bullseye averaged 1.8”, exactly was Col. Harrison’s article said it should, but increasing the charge slightly to 3 grains shrunk the average to an inch and a half. The Remington 158-gr. Lead SWC flat base of .358 diameter loaded to 1.45” overall with 3.5 grains of Bullseye was also pleasant surprise which averaged about an inch and a half, as well as good wad cutter reloads. Speer’s 158-gr. Lead Round nose with 3.5 grains of Bullseye was also a pleasant surprise, shooting as well as my prized lot of Norma LRN.

    So, knowing what the factory loads and hand loads with swaged bullets do, I tested traditional lead .38 Special loads with cast bullets so see how they measured up. Cast bullet loads included the Saeco #348 double-end, bevel-based wad cutter, my favorite hunting bullet, the NEI #161A 190-gr. Flat nose; and bullets cast from a newly purchased NEI #161A four-cavity, which was shortened to remove the base band, producing a 150-grain flat nosed cowboy slug.

    The Saeco #348 double-ender shot, loaded unsized, and crimped in the crimp groove over 3.5 grains of Bullseye averaged 1.87”, which agreed perfectly with Col. Harrison’s conclusions. Both 190-grain and 150-grain versions of the NEI #161A, loaded with 3.5 grains of Bullseye averaged about an inch and a half at 50 yards, actually slightly better than the wad cutter. Since a couple shot holes with the 190-grain version showed slight yaw at 50 yards, I decided to increase the charge slightly to see if it would improve stability. A charge of 4.2 grains of Bullseye, crimping in the top lubricating groove at 1.55” overall length averaged 0.87” with the largest group 1.07” and the smallest 0.61! @~&*% Now THAT got my attention!

    I decided it was time to try some .357 Magnum brass. Seating the 190-gr. NEI #161A in the normal crimp groove using .357 brass the cartridge OAL is 1.58”. Loading 4 grains of Bullseye in .357 brass gave about 1000 f.p.s. from the BSA and averaged under an inch and a half. Increasing the charge to 4.3 grains enlarged the average slightly, but it was still less than two inches. Increasing the charge still more to 4.5 grains enlarged groups further. It was time to try a harder alloy.

    Midway’s online catalog showed a 190gr. LFN bullet from Hunter’s Supply which looked like a dead ringer to the NEI #161A, but cast from a harder 92Pb-6Sb-2Sn alloy. So I bought some and while waiting for them to arrive I loaded some Winchester 158-grain jacketed hollow points in new virgin Winchester cases, with WSP primers and 14.5 grains of #2400. It was time for a .357 benchmark.

    Next trip to West Virginia was rewarding. The Hunter’s Supply hard cast .358” diameter 190 LFNs with 4.3 grains of Bullseye averaged under an inch at 50 yards. Increasing the charge to 4.5 grains the harder alloy averaged 1.26”, almost exactly half what my cast wheel weight metal bullets did when overdriven. My handloaded Winchester JHPs also averaged an inch at fifty yards.

    100-yard tests of the best loads will follow in a future article.
    Sounds like the actual testing was with a long gun?

  15. #15
    Boolit Grand Master Outpost75's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 8shot View Post
    Sounds like the actual testing was with a long gun?
    Correct. But the loads shot well in revolvers also.

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    The ENEMY is listening.
    HE wants to know what YOU know.
    Keep it to yourself.

  16. #16
    Boolit Bub
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    Quote Originally Posted by Outpost75 View Post
    Correct. But the loads shot well in revolvers also.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Thanks...Like I mentioned I can get super accuracy at 50 yards with "bullseye loads"...but the groups open up as they approach the competition required 120K power factor. The exception has been with 130gr plain base cast HP bullets....they meet/exceed the power factor and still shoot 1.5" groups at 50 yards. Problem is there is a four month back order for that specific bullet..and MP Molds does not have their 360-640L plain base HP molds available.

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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