Some .38 Special Velocity Tests

This is a discussion on Some .38 Special Velocity Tests within the Defensive Ammunition & Ballistics forums, part of the Defensive Carry Discussions category; Years ago I conducted a fairly extensive "chronographic survey" of the .38 Special, testing both a selection of handloads and factory loads. The results were ...

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Thread: Some .38 Special Velocity tests

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    Some .38 Special Velocity tests

    Years ago I conducted a fairly extensive "chronographic survey" of the .38 Special, testing both a selection of handloads and factory loads. The results were recorded in a personal handloading manual. In referring back to the notes I found that the testing began on July 1, 1980.

    I was recently digging through my stuff and found a couple of boxes of factory +P ammo from the era along with a box of heavy bullet handloads from the actual tests. I have additional boxes of my favorite .38 Special self defense loads on hand, along with a couple of boxes of the potent Buffalo Bore +P 158 grain SWC-HP load that I've been threatening to test, so determined to revisit the .38 Special. Here's the portion of the test that primarily involved the factory loads. It may take some time to test some additional handloads that are rolling around in my head and all might not find them interesting.

    Have I mentioned that the Buffalo Bore +P 158 grain load is potent? Whoa! No need to ever attempt to build nuclear powered handloads with Buffalo Bore available.

    This test is conducted in a very "scientific" manner. Since I'm not interested in incrementally sawing off my longest .38 Special revolver's barrel inch by inch, different revolvers were used for each barrel length recorded. This introduces a large variable. Also, since I didn't want to broil in the sun all afternoon, I appropriated the club's rifle range so as to sit in the shade and use a bench rest as a table. The rifle range faces west so has a long awning projection to help keep the sun out of shooters' eyes in the afternoon. This awning is of limited benefit but required that the screens to be set up 9 feet from the muzzles of the revolvers (well 8 feet, 3 5/8 inches from that long-snouted Model 14). We had a "cool spell" last week when the test was conducted and the afternoon high was 96F.

    The chronograph used is the same Oehler Model 12 used 30 years ago.

    List of Smith & Wesson revolvers used for these tests. All were chambered for the .38 Special except for the 6-inch gun which is a .357 Magnum.

    Model 10: 2-inch
    Model 10: Heavy Barrel: 4-inch
    Military & Police: 5-inch
    Model 27: .357 Magnum: 6-inch
    Model 14: 8 3/8-inch

    Except as noted, 10-shot strings were recorded. In some cases there was not enough ammo to provide for 50 rounds for each of the five revolvers. Muzzle velocity, muzzle energy, extreme spread, and standard deviation were examined (well, muzzle less 9 feet). Revolvers were used with barrel lengths of: 2, 4, 5, 6, and 8 3/8 inches.

    Smith & Wesson officially proscribes using any of their revolvers made prior to 1958 with +P ammunition. The 5-inch gun was a real oldie so was not used with some of the ammunition on hand however it was tested with some of the +P ammunition. It handled 30 rounds of Remington and Winchester +P 158 grain ammunition with aplomb.

    I still have 2 of the revolvers (the 4-inch and the 8 3/8-inch) which were used in July 1980 test and pressed them into service again. I also retested the boxes of factory loads and the handload which were tested at that time. These were: Winchester +P 158 grain SWC-HP, Super Vel 110 grain JHC, and a handload consisting of 9.5 grains of 2400 topped by a 200 grain Remington lead round nose bullet. The Super Vel is a partial box left from the last test 30 years ago. The Winchester +P is of that era. The handload with the 200 grain bullet was a part of the batch I loaded at the time of the first test in 1980.

    Each barrel length will be featured in a separate post

    Factory ammunition tested:
    Independence 130 grain FMJ round nose
    PMC El Dorado Starfire +P 125 grain JHP (apparently discontinued?)
    Remington target 148 grain lead hollow based wadcutter
    Winchester +P 158 grain lead SWC-HP (two different boxes)
    Remington +P 158 grain lead SWC
    Buffalo Bore +P 158 grain lead SWC-HP
    Super Vel +P 110 grain JHP
    Sellier & Bellot 158 grain FMJ flat point

    Handloads:
    158 grain lead round nose, 3.8 grains of Bullseye
    200 grain Remington lead round nose, 9.5 grains 2400*

    *Maximum load as published in older Lyman manual. Don't try it without working up carefully.



    The +P line-up. Especially note the two different Winchester Western boxes of ammo tested. How old do y'all think that white box is? I just uncovered it in some stuff I was going through while getting the chronograph screens. It was a full unopened box. I'm remembering it as being from the late 1970s/early 1980s. It is marked $12.00.


    Did I mention that Buffalo Bore .38 Special +P ammunition is red hot?

    From their site:
    S&W mod. 60, 2 inch- 1040 fps (379 ft. lbs.)
    S&W mod. 66, 2.5 inch- 1059 fps (393 ft. lbs.)
    Ruger SP101, 3 inch- 1143 fps (458 ft. lbs.)
    S&W Mt. Gun, 4 inch- 1162 fps (474 ft. lbs.)
    “No possible rapidity of fire can atone for habitual carelessness of aim with the first shot.”

    Theodore Roosevelt, The Wilderness Hunter, 1893

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    2-inch barrel

    Handload: 158 grain round nose lead /3.8 grains Bullseye

    MV 718 fps
    ME 181 ft./lbs.
    ES 32
    SD 12

    Independence 130 grain FMJ round nose

    MV 803 fps
    ME 186 ft./lbs.
    ES 34
    SD 14

    PMC Eldorado Starfire +P 125 gr. JHP (now discontinued) 5 rounds tested

    MV 871 fps
    ME 210 ft./lbs
    ES 28
    SC 14

    Remington 148 grain hollow based wadcutter

    MV 707 fps
    ME 164 ft./lbs.
    ES 14
    SD 6

    Winchester +P 158 grain lead SWC-HP (in gray box)

    MV 808 fps
    ME 229 ft./lbs.
    ES 28
    SC 8

    Winchester +P 158 grain lead SWC-HP (in older white box)

    MV 843 fps
    ME 249 ft./lbs
    ES 67
    SD 24

    Remington +P 158 grain lead SWC

    MV 875 FPS
    ME 273 ft./lbs.
    ES 61
    SD 23

    Buffalo Bore +P 158 grain lead SWC-HP

    MV 1063 fps
    ME 397 ft./lbs.
    ES 56
    SC 24

    SuperVel +P 110 grain JHP

    MV 981 fps
    ME 216 ft./lbs.
    ES 48
    SD 28

    Sellier & Bellot 158 grain FMJ flat point

    MV 747 fps
    ME 195 ft./lbs.
    ES 25
    SD 11
    “No possible rapidity of fire can atone for habitual carelessness of aim with the first shot.”

    Theodore Roosevelt, The Wilderness Hunter, 1893

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    4-inch barrel

    Handload: 158 grain round nose lead /3.8 grains Bullseye

    MV 771 fps
    ME 209 ft./lbs.
    ES 59
    SD 24

    Independence 130 grain FMJ round nose

    MV 850 fps
    ME 208 ft./lbs.
    ES 62
    SD 24

    PMC Eldorado Starfire +P 125 gr. JHP (now discontinued) 5 rounds tested

    MV 935 fps
    ME 243 ft./lbs
    ES 142
    SC 35

    Remington 148 grain hollow based wadcutter

    MV 729 fps
    ME 175 ft./lbs.
    ES 35
    SD 12

    Winchester +P 158 grain lead SWC-HP (in gray box)

    MV 905 fps
    ME 287 ft./lbs.
    ES 92
    SC 37

    Winchester +P 158 grain lead SWC-HP (in older white box)

    MV 943 fps
    ME 312 ft./lbs
    ES 20
    SD 8

    Remington +P 158 grain lead SWC

    MV 942 FPS
    ME 311 ft./lbs.
    ES 66
    SD 30

    Buffalo Bore +P 158 grain lead SWC-HP

    MV 1145 fps
    ME 460 ft./lbs.
    ES 36
    SC 14

    SuperVel +P 110 grain JHP

    MV 1195 fps
    ME 349 ft./lbs.
    ES 55
    SD 22

    Sellier & Bellot 158 grain FMJ flat point

    MV 785 fps
    ME 216 ft./lbs.
    ES 44
    SD 16
    Last edited by bmcgilvray; June 25th, 2010 at 03:36 PM.
    “No possible rapidity of fire can atone for habitual carelessness of aim with the first shot.”

    Theodore Roosevelt, The Wilderness Hunter, 1893

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    5-inch barrel

    Handload: 158 grain round nose lead /3.8 grains Bullseye

    MV 804 fps
    ME 227 ft./lbs.
    ES 51
    SD 20

    Independence 130 grain FMJ round nose

    MV 888 fps
    ME 228 ft./lbs.
    ES 32
    SD 9

    Remington 148 grain hollow based wadcutter

    MV 727 fps
    ME 174 ft./lbs.
    ES 20
    SD 7

    Winchester +P 158 grain lead SWC-HP (in gray box)

    MV 922 fps
    ME 298 ft./lbs.
    ES 69
    SC 26

    Winchester +P 158 grain lead SWC-HP (in older white box)

    MV 949 fps
    ME 316 ft./lbs
    ES 72
    SD 32

    Remington +P 158 grain lead SWC

    MV 964 FPS
    ME 326 ft./lbs.
    ES 72
    SD 32

    Sellier & Bellot 158 grain FMJ flat point

    MV 778 fps
    ME 212 ft./lbs.
    ES 36
    SD 13
    “No possible rapidity of fire can atone for habitual carelessness of aim with the first shot.”

    Theodore Roosevelt, The Wilderness Hunter, 1893

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    6-inch barrel

    Handload: 158 grain round nose lead /3.8 grains Bullseye

    MV 775 fps
    ME 210 ft./lbs.
    ES 27
    SD 12

    Independence 130 grain FMJ round nose

    MV 892 fps
    ME 230 ft./lbs.
    ES 56
    SD 24

    PMC Eldorado Starfire +P 125 gr. JHP (now discontinued) 5 rounds tested

    MV 961 fps
    ME 256 ft./lbs
    ES 63
    SC 30

    Remington 148 grain hollow based wadcutter

    MV 740 fps
    ME 180 ft./lbs.
    ES 31
    SD 7

    Winchester +P 158 grain lead SWC-HP (in gray box)

    MV 926 fps
    ME 301 ft./lbs.
    ES 78
    SC 30

    Winchester +P 158 grain lead SWC-HP (in older white box)

    MV 960 fps
    ME 323 ft./lbs
    ES 35
    SD 16

    Remington +P 158 grain lead SWC

    MV 971 FPS
    ME 331 ft./lbs.
    ES 61
    SD 23

    Buffalo Bore +P 158 grain lead SWC-HP

    MV 1185 fps
    ME 498 ft./lbs.
    ES 41
    SC 18

    SuperVel +P 110 grain JHP

    MV 1248 fps
    ME 380 ft./lbs.
    ES 79
    SD 45

    Sellier & Bellot 158 grain FMJ flat point

    MV 798 fps
    ME 223 ft./lbs.
    ES 63
    SD 34
    “No possible rapidity of fire can atone for habitual carelessness of aim with the first shot.”

    Theodore Roosevelt, The Wilderness Hunter, 1893

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    8 3/8-inch barrel

    Handload: 158 grain round nose lead /3.8 grains Bullseye

    MV 884 fps
    ME 274 ft./lbs.
    ES 31
    SD 15

    Independence 130 grain FMJ round nose

    MV 1039 fps
    ME 311 ft./lbs.
    ES 115
    SD 54

    PMC Eldorado Starfire +P 125 gr. JHP (now discontinued) 5 rounds tested

    MV 1065 fps
    ME 315 ft./lbs
    ES 65
    SC 47

    Remington 148 grain hollow based wadcutter

    MV 814 fps
    ME 218 ft./lbs.
    ES 33
    SD 14

    Winchester +P 158 grain lead SWC-HP (in gray box)

    MV 1027 fps
    ME 370 ft./lbs.
    ES 54
    SC 24

    Winchester +P 158 grain lead SWC-HP (in older white box)

    MV 1037 fps
    ME 388 ft./lbs
    ES 42
    SD 17

    Remington +P 158 grain lead SWC

    MV 1099 FPS
    ME 424 ft./lbs.
    ES 57
    SD 24

    Buffalo Bore +P 158 grain lead SWC-HP

    MV 1286 fps
    ME 580 ft./lbs.
    ES 28
    SC 13

    SuperVel +P 110 grain JHP

    MV 1301 fps
    ME 414 ft./lbs.
    ES 89
    SD 37

    Sellier & Bellot 158 grain FMJ flat point

    MV 747 fps
    ME 195 ft./lbs.
    ES 25
    SD 11
    “No possible rapidity of fire can atone for habitual carelessness of aim with the first shot.”

    Theodore Roosevelt, The Wilderness Hunter, 1893

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    There you have it. My "learned paper" on the results of the tests conducted on Tuesday of last week. My elbows have almost healed over. Some observations:

    Lots of eye-opening stuff here. First up for consideration is the "magic ammo," Buffalo Bore's +P 158 load. I cannot see how they do it! Empty cases just dribble out of cylinders. Primers don't look like they've had a bad case of the gas. Handily beats any wild handloading creation I've ever concocted. Probably exceeds the old .38-44 high-velocity load. Recoil is heavy but not really as bad as one would expect. Buffalo Bore caused even the long 8 3/8-inch Model 14 to torque a bit when fired. I used a J-Frame Smith & Wesson Model 36 Chief's Special for the 2-inch portion of the test 30 years ago and it was a bear to shoot with various heavy loads. The 2-inch Model 10 I used Tuesday was much more manageable; an old softy by comparison. I was glad to have it along to use for testing this stuff. It is unimaginable that a 2-inch .38 snub can yield 400 ft. /lbs of energy with any load and it just gets better and better with longer barrels: 460 ft/lbs. from a 4-inch, 500 ft/lbs. from a 6-inch, and fully 580 ft/lbs. from an 8 3/8-inch! Velocities stayed pretty tight and didn't go all over the place.

    SuperVel is still hot stuff. It also exhibited the flattest primers of the day. Velocity performance wasn't very tight overall and there was a lot of partially burnt powder crumbs getting all over everything each time I extracted a cylinder-full of cases and put them back in the box. Recoil paled in comparison with both the Buffalo Bore and the 200 grain handload that immediately preceded it on each revolver test.

    I don't take light 110-125 grain bullets seriously enough in the .38 Special. I've not done a lot of testing with them. The PMC stuff was several years old and is now discontinued I believe. This performed about typical for the breed in my view. It offers neither the bullet weight nor the velocity to become a meaningful choice for the .38 Special. I ought to obtain some of the latest and greatest ammo offerings in the 110-125 grain weight category of +P to test. I hate to invest the money in the ammo just to burn it up and figure the newer offerings still won't exactly "set the woods on fire." I'm sure expansion characteristics are improved but I'll still take my chances with old technology of heavy, sharp shouldered lead semi-wadcutter bullets.

    I had picked up a fresh box of Remington 148 grain target ammunition from the local Higginbotham's a few weeks ago just for this test. It turned in a nice performance. It seemed consistent through each revolver used.

    Look at the interplay between the 4, 5, and 6 inch barrels. The Remington 148 grain load and the Sellier & Bellot 158 grain FMJ load gave more velocity from the 4-inch than the 5-inch. The 5-inch beat the 6-inch with the Bullseye fueled handload and came close to catching the 6-inch with the 2 different Winchester +P 158 grain loads and the Remington +P 158 grain load.

    The .38 Special "walks and talks" when fired through the long-nosed 8 3/8-inch barrel. Now if only there was some way to conceal all that length of artillery.

    SuperVel, Starfire, and the cheapo Independence brands all seemed more prone to wild velocity swings. For that matter the Winchester +P 158 grain loads threw a bullet that was "out there" on occasion, especially the ammunition in the gray box. Remington +P 158 grain was only fair. Perhaps these performance loads can't be expected to shoot like target ammo. Perhaps the guy running this test doesn't know what he's talking about. I've always considered any load that stayed under 50 fps spread to be good.
    “No possible rapidity of fire can atone for habitual carelessness of aim with the first shot.”

    Theodore Roosevelt, The Wilderness Hunter, 1893

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    Whoops, forgot the data for the 200 grain Remington lead round nose load.


    In July of 1980 this load produced the following performance.

    4-inch barrel

    MV 842 fps
    ME 313 ft./lbs.
    ES 38

    8 3/8-inch barrel

    MV 922 fps
    ME 382 ft./lbs.

    Some of these same loads fired on Tuesday. Only 6 rounds were fired in each barrel length.

    2-inch barrel

    MV 835
    ME 309
    ES 48
    SD 18

    4-inch barrel

    MV 860 fps
    ME 328 ft./lbs.
    ES 59
    SD 19

    6-inch barrel

    MV 888
    ME 350
    ES 41
    SD 14

    8 3/8-inch barrel

    MV 953 fps
    ME 403
    ES 37
    SD 10

    They were a little faster than before but weren't much different really. Recoil was more noticeable than I remembered. I fired them after the Buffalo Bore and before the SuperVel and they felt a lot like the Buffalo Bore.
    “No possible rapidity of fire can atone for habitual carelessness of aim with the first shot.”

    Theodore Roosevelt, The Wilderness Hunter, 1893

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    Did I mention that Buffalo Bore .38 Special +P ammunition is red hot?
    Yup. I've been using it as my self defense ammo for carry. I knew it was hot stuff and your results confirm it. A bit pricey of course.

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    In the 1980 test the Winchester +P 158 grain lead SWC-HP gave this performance.

    2 inch barrel:

    MV 830fps
    ME 242 ft./lbs.

    4-inch barrel:

    MV 962 fps
    ME 325 ft./lbs.

    8 3/8-inch barrel

    MV 1051 fps
    ME 388 ft./lbs.


    The 1980 test of the Super Vel.

    4-inch barrel:

    MV 1237 fps
    ME 376 ft./lbs.

    8 3/8-inch barrel:

    MV 1319 fps
    ME 425 ft./lbs.
    “No possible rapidity of fire can atone for habitual carelessness of aim with the first shot.”

    Theodore Roosevelt, The Wilderness Hunter, 1893

  12. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by wmhawth View Post
    Yup. I've been using it as my self defense ammo for carry. I knew it was hot stuff and your results confirm it. A bit pricey of course.
    It is a worthwhile choice that is difficult to duplicate by judicious handloading. I'm ordering some more. I just gotta know how the Smith & Wesson Model 642 reacts to being fired with it. Violently I would expect.
    “No possible rapidity of fire can atone for habitual carelessness of aim with the first shot.”

    Theodore Roosevelt, The Wilderness Hunter, 1893

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    Very interesting. Thanks for the info! Your results with Win & Rem 158+p swc-hp loads are very close to results I got when testing them out of 2", 3" & 5" barrels.

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    Bryan,
    Superb report, highly useful! I think this should become a "sticky." A fabulous resource on a wide variety of common (and some uncommon) .38 SPL ammo in a wide variety of barrel lengths.

    Does anybody have pressure-test data on Buffalo Bore ammo? Has anybody figured out how they get the proverbial quart into a pint pot? I presume he does what he says he's doing, because there seems to be no groundswell of problems being reported; if anything, everybody agrees that his loads are as hot as advertised.

    BB ammo is too expensive for it to beat your gun to death with heavy recoil, because you can't afford to buy enough of it. So the only remaining issue is pressure. No reports of KABOOMs, though. How does he, and he alone, obtain .38-44+ ballistics without paying a price, so to speak? Heck, he uses bullets made by other companies, and ditto for brass. That leaves primers and powder as variables.

    Is BB ammo evidence that there is, in fact, a "free lunch," ballistically speaking?

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    Hello. Thanks very, very much for this information. It is appreciated.

    Best.

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    Very thorough report. Thanks for your efforts.

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