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Thread: My foray into .38spl black powder loads

  1. #1
    Boolit Buddy
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    My foray into .38spl black powder loads

    I recently happened upon the motivation to pursue loading .38 specials with black powder, to try and capture the original performance of my long favorite "do anything" cartridge.

    I loaded a .38 special case with 13 grains of Pyrodex RS powder (FFG equivalent, or so it says on the bottle), underneath a 190 grain Ranch Dog tumble lubed bullet.

    This being my first black powder cartridge load (I have no other experience with black powder, save for model rocketry), I had no idea what to expect. I used my Smith model 13, and was very pleased with the results. The performance matched or exceeded my light "cat sneeze" IDPA loads, and judging from how it knocked my steel plate around, it was on par with standard non plus-p .38s.

    Has anyone any experience in this? I am curious if a more compressed load, or the use of FFFG powder would make better results, or if it could yield a broken gun and a broken ego.

    Thank you for your feedback, I'm "shooting in the dark" at this point, but having fun at any rate.

  2. #2
    Boolit Master tacklebury's Avatar
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    Black powder isn't weak. I actually get pretty good kick from my .45 Colt and .45-70 BP loads also. If you make up a drop tube, you can often fit about 2-3 extra grains in also.

  3. #3
    Boolit Buddy
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    I've... actually never heard of a drop tube.

  4. #4
    Boolit Master
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    Back when I shot PPC, I loaded up 12 black powder charges under the 148 DEWC boolit that my revolver liked so well. I made sure I was upwind from the rest of the line and when the targets turned, proceeded to compete. My score was the same as when I shot Bullseye in the cartridges, and with one exception, so were the rest of the shooters scores! Once they realized what I was doing, lots of laughs and then concentrate ont he sights and squeeze the trigger.

    I have also loaded 158 grain RF over a full charge of BP and had good results.

    I do not find a drop tube necessary for handgun cartridges, some do. For a rifle cartridge, it helps to get some more powder in and settle it down. For my handguns, just compressing the powder gets me where I want to be.
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  5. #5
    Boolit Grand Master Nobade's Avatar
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    Thanks to John Kort (on this forum and others) I have done some work with the 38 spl and black powder. The modern 38 cases won't hold enough powder, but 357 mag cases will and can duplicate original 38 spl. ballistics. The boolit to use is #358250 or even better one of the similar ones from Accurate molds. Powder is 21gr. Swiss FFFg, or KIK also FFFg. Lube is either SPG or a homemade version of it.

    Using this combination has produced exceptionally fine accuracy in my Browning '92, around 1 1/2 - 2 inch groups at 100 yards and allows completing pistol caliber silhouette matches with no foul out problems and accuracy just as good at the end as when starting.

    One caution - if you fired a revolver with Pyrodex, keep an eye on it. You think you've got it clean and come back a month later and find it has rust all over it. I learned that lesson years ago and ruined a nice SAA copy, so I caution folks to keep looking for rust. That's not a problem with real BP, which is all I will use anymore.

  6. #6
    Boolit Buddy
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nobade View Post

    One caution - if you fired a revolver with Pyrodex, keep an eye on it. You think you've got it clean and come back a month later and find it has rust all over it. I learned that lesson years ago and ruined a nice SAA copy, so I caution folks to keep looking for rust. That's not a problem with real BP, which is all I will use anymore.
    Thanks for the tip. I cleaned the hell out of my mdl13, with water (as some recommended) to remove the black powder residue, then with Hoppes as per usual. Its my standard carry gun, so I'll keep an eye on it.

  7. #7
    Boolit Master tacklebury's Avatar
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    In my .45 Colt loads, the drop tube gained me almost 5 grains and in .38 special that would be about 2-3 gr. That can be significant, but likely not. I don't have a fancy drop tube or anything, just a kitchen plastic funnel with an aluminum tube from a blowgun I don't use very much. This is how I mounted it on my Reloading center with a couple of Peg Hooks, but I used to do it free hand with another funnel.


  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by MasS&W View Post
    I recently happened upon the motivation to pursue loading .38 specials with black powder, to try and capture the original performance of my long favorite "do anything" cartridge.

    I loaded a .38 special case with 13 grains of Pyrodex RS powder (FFG equivalent, .

    With Pyrodex you are not BP loading, not even close. Honesty I am not trying to be a "purist" here and even shoot smokeless quite often in my BP rifles but I just wonder about using something like Pyrodex to "Experience BP shooting". I certainly would not tell anyone not to, to each his own and have fun, but Pyrodex is not BP -it looks, smells and shoots different plus it has a different smoke and is more corrosive so how is that pursuing BP? Again I am honestly not trying to put you, or anyone else, down for using a sub just that IMHO you are cheating yourself out of a real fun experience that ONLY comes when using real BP. The subs are simply a third kind of shooting, neither Black nor smokeless, and have attributes that are quite different than either of the others, still fun to be sure but they still ain't Black Powder!

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by oldred View Post
    With Pyrodex you are not BP loading, not even close. Honesty I am not trying to be a "purist" here and even shoot smokeless quite often in my BP rifles but I just wonder about using something like Pyrodex to "Experience BP shooting". I certainly would not tell anyone not to, to each his own and have fun, but Pyrodex is not BP -it looks, smells and shoots different plus it has a different smoke and is more corrosive so how is that pursuing BP? Again I am honestly not trying to put you, or anyone else, down for using a sub just that IMHO you are cheating yourself out of a real fun experience that ONLY comes when using real BP. The subs are simply a third kind of shooting, neither Black nor smokeless, and have attributes that are quite different than either of the others, still fun to be sure but they still ain't Black Powder!
    To be honest, I bought the stuff to make some backyard fireworks Fourth of July about 2 years ago, and I figured I'd give it a shot. What kind of stuff would be closer to the good stuff?

  10. #10
    Boolit Buddy
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    Quote Originally Posted by oldred View Post
    With Pyrodex you are not BP loading, not even close.
    You sir, are completely correct! I had no idea Pyrodex was a black powder substitute! It looks, smells, and burns like it when used for fireworks, but it is indeed a synthetic, according to my research.

  11. #11
    Boolit Master
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    Quote Originally Posted by MasS&W View Post
    ... What kind of stuff would be closer to the good stuff?...
    GOEX comes to mind, fffG would be a good choice for 38 Special.
    Knowledge I take to my grave is wasted.

    I prefer to use cartridges born before I was.

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  12. #12
    Boolit Master 1874Sharps's Avatar
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    MacS&W,

    Some folks like me are incurable nostalgics when it comes to BP and do not use the BP subs. This was not always the case for me, though. You will indeed find that subs such as Pyrodex and 777 have their place and advantages for some applications, but they are more corrosive than the real McCoy -- good ol' BLACK POWDER. You can let a gun sit a day or two after shooting BP in the dryer climes without cleaning and you will not see rust. If you do this with 777 or Pyrodex you will see rust. Also, the 777 seems harder to thoroughly get out. As NOBADE rightly points out, if you shoot a non-smokeless BP sub it is a real good idea to come back a few days after cleaning and do it again to prevent this insidious rust.

  13. #13
    Boolit Master Maven's Avatar
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    MasS&W, Your experiment with BP in the .38Spl. prompted me to try something similar in my .357mag. Although I have real BP, I decided to use some Pyrodex P, which I want to get rid of, instead. I used a Lee Precision 1.3cc dipper, which holds somewhere between 15 and 16 grains of Pyro P + a Rem. 5 1/2 small pistol primer (all I have at the moment). The CB is a LBT 180gr. gas checked FP, sized to .359" to fit my Ruger NMBH, and lubed with Felix Lube. As the gun is stainless steel, I anticipate no problems with chlorate residue. Btw, I've used Pyrodex before in both stainless and blued cartridge guns and have experienced no problems with rusting.

  14. #14
    Boolit Buddy
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    Its been argued back and forth for a while whether or not .38 special was designed around black powder or not... (I tend to think it was), but nobody can argue that it works. I loaded up some far more compressed loads (1/8th inch compressed) that I hope to try tomorrow.

  15. #15
    Boolit Master thehouseproduct's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tacklebury View Post
    In my .45 Colt loads, the drop tube gained me almost 5 grains and in .38 special that would be about 2-3 gr. That can be significant, but likely not. I don't have a fancy drop tube or anything, just a kitchen plastic funnel with an aluminum tube from a blowgun I don't use very much. This is how I mounted it on my Reloading center with a couple of Peg Hooks, but I used to do it free hand with another funnel.

    I like the radius going into the press. Would make for nice extra space for bullets and cases.
    Visit my page at www.echoarms.com for casting, reloading, and firearms accessories as well as FFL services in Southern California.

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  16. #16
    Boolit Master tacklebury's Avatar
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    Thanks, took a little extra work with a jig saw, but I like not having stuff to snag on me. hehe

  17. #17
    Boolit Master
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    Thanks for the idea of fun, think I will load some 44 mag with BP for my Ruger BH.
    Like your set up thanks for the pictures, now I have to modify mine.
    Frank G.

  18. #18
    In Remembrance w30wcf's Avatar
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    MasS&W,
    Nice that you are enjoying the 38 Special B.P. round.....like stepping back in time....

    According to cartridges of The World, it was introduced in 1902. From the beginning it was offered in both smokeless and b.p. loadings. The b.p. variation was factory offered up until the late 1930's, after which it was discontinued.

    According to a ballistics table dated 1912, the original b.p. cartridge produced 960 f.p.s. in a 6" barrel!

    I started my journey on replicating the 38 Special b.p. cartridge back in 2006. After a search, I found a Lyman 358250 mold which replicated the 2 groove b.p. factory bullet. I used 21 1/2 grs of Swiss 3F powder under that bullet lubed with SPG in 38 Special cases.

    Velocity in a 7 1/2" barrel was 967 f.p.s. and in a 24" barrel, 1,255 f.p.s. Accuracy was very good.

    A few years later I found this vintage UMC 38 Special B.P. box on one of the cartridge auction sites. It dates sometime between 1902 (introductory date of the 38 Special) and 1911 (Last year for the UMC logo). Back in those days it was normal to have the quantity of powder contained in the cartridges on the box.





    Some of the cartridges had firing pin indents in the primers but the mercuric primers had long since died. I eventually dissected all of the cartridges, annealed the cases, replaced the mercuric primers with Rem 1 1/2's.

    I found that UMC used .15" of compression on the 3F powder charge and that the UMC SHBP (Solid Head Button Pocket) cases held 1.0 grs. of powder more than current brass.

    Nobade and I have been using 38 special b.p. replication loads to shoot NRA Cowboy Silhouette. I have not found a smokeless load that will beat the b.p. cartridge in accuracy at 100 meters......

    Have fun!
    Last edited by w30wcf; 08-22-2012 at 09:00 PM.
    aka w44wcf
    aka Jack Christian SASS 11993 "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Philippians 4:13
    aka John Kort
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    .22 W.C.F., .30 W.C.F., .44 W.C.F. Cartridge Historian

  19. #19
    Boolit Master
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    w30wcf,

    Thanks for the insight into the past. Not a common mold, wonder if anything modern is close.
    Knowledge I take to my grave is wasted.

    I prefer to use cartridges born before I was.

    Success doesn't make me happy, being happy is what allows me to be successful.

  20. #20
    In Remembrance w30wcf's Avatar
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    StrawHat,
    Thank you for the "thanks". I worked with Accurate Molds to produce a bullet like the 358250 but with a flat point for use also in a lever gun.



    http://accuratemolds.com/bullet_deta...=36-165B-D.png

    w30wcf
    Last edited by w30wcf; 08-22-2012 at 09:45 PM.
    aka w44wcf
    aka Jack Christian SASS 11993 "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Philippians 4:13
    aka John Kort
    NRA Life Member
    .22 W.C.F., .30 W.C.F., .44 W.C.F. Cartridge Historian

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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