I am not suggesting that these handloads be used for self-protection, although I personally would if required! I thought that my informal "tests" might be of interest for folks who might be considering similarly loaded commerical 38 Super ammo as offered by some of the smaller ammunition makers.
Hello. For a while now I've been piddling around with 147-gr. hollow points in the .38 Super. The test gun is an STI Trojan with 5" bbl.
Shown is my only .38 Super, a 5" STI Trojan. It is stock other than for the steel mainspring housing which replaced the plastic one. It is the same pistol used in my informal testing of Corbon .38 Super ammunition.
In the past I had fooled around with 115-gr. aggressive expanders in the Super, but am now interested in utilizing the cartridge's greater case capacity (relative to 9 x 19mm) for use with heavier bullets, namely the 147-gr. genre of 9mm bullets.
The 147-gr. bullets were all loaded over 8.4-gr. of Blue Dot and ignited with Federal Small Pistol primers. In .38 Super, cases were either nickled Remington or plain brass from Starline.
Remington 147-gr. JHP (old manufacture)
Remington 147-gr. Golden Saber
Speer 147-gr. Gold Dot
Hornady 147-gr. XTP
There was some slight variation in velocities, but each had very small standard deviations with average velocities between 1182 and 1228 ft/sec. The Golden Saber was at the low end with 1182 ft/sec while the XTP took top velocity honors at 1228 ft/sec. The rest fell in between these two "extremes" Can we just refer to the velocities as "about 1200 ft/sec?"
Regardless of which bullet was being used, accuracy was more than acceptable out to 25 yards, which was as far as I tried these in my last shooting session. In the past, using a rest, it was no particular trick to get 5 shots into an area roughly the size of a grown man's hand at 50 yards.
In the past I had fired all of these rounds into water and some into wetpack, but was able to finally do all in the latter test medium. Now I've never claimed that this is the "best" test material, but I honestly believe that it ain't bad and results have closely matched what I've seen when bullets were pulled out of animals.
In super-saturated newsprint that was completely submerged for 24 hours and drained 30 mins before shooting, here are penetration figure averages. Three shots per load were measured.
Remington (old) 147-gr. JHP: 9.5"
Remington 147-gr. Golden Saber: 10.5"
Speer 147-gr. Gold Dot: 10.5"
Hornady 147-gr. XTP: 11"
Using a couple of different methods to see how this relates to ballistic gelatin, I came up with the following estimates based on an average of the two.
Remington (old) JHP: 16"
Remington Golden Saber: 17"
Speer Gold Dot: 17"
Hornady XTP: 18"
These estimated gelatin penetration figures are just that, but I strongly suspect that they're in the ballpark, especially since living creatures are not homogeneous.
The only bullet that would sometimes expand nicely in wetpack never did when fired into water. It was the old Remington 147-gr. JHP. The three newer technology bullets (including the old XTP) expanded in either.
Here are three of the loads with expanded bullets removed from the saturated newsprint. From left to right: Remington 147-gr. JHP, Golden Saber, and Speer 147-gr. Gold Dot. In this instance, the Remington JHP expanded and when it did, it was quite consistent, but it was an "everything or nothing" situation with this one.
From an earlier wetpack expansion test we see no expansion with the Remington, but very similar results with the Golden Saber. At the top right is a Hornady 147-gr. XTP.
Whether fired into water or wetpack, the XTP expanded in a fashion similar to this.
The XTP figures below were made during a test several weeks ago.
The rest were made at the same time. The XTP average is based on 5 shots while the rest are based only on 3 each. The final measurement is from the base of the bullet to the top. Weight measurement is probably too great. This is due to the wet newpaper particles I couldn't quickly removed. My main interest is not so much the actual recovered weight; this will vary shot to shot in living animals. What I wanted to see was whether or not the bullets would essentially retain their weight or if they would fragment since they were all being pushed beyond the 9x19mm velocity envelope for which they were intended.
Remington 147-gr. JHP: 0.615 x 0.610 x .418" tall, 146 gr.
Remington 147-gr. GS: 0.567 x 0.578 x 03.18" tall, 129 gr.
Speer 147-gr. GD: 0.542 x 0.508 x 0.384" tall, 143 gr.
Hornady 147-gr. XTP: 0.556 x 0.574 x 0.484" tall, 147 gr.
None of the bullets separated. The Speer did begin showing a torn jacket with the lead still attached, but none of these tears resulted in the bullet coming apart to any significant degree.
When fired into water, the Golden Saber would occassionally exhibit jacket separation.
Fired into water at approx. 1200 ft/sec, the Golden Saber would sometimes shed its jacket. In live animals, this seems to occur an inch or two from where the recovered lead bullet is found. Note that the separated lead core sort of resembles an expanded XTP. For those interested, this expanded lead portion of the bullet measured 0.494 x 0.502 x 0.403" tall and weighed 111 gr.
I've just about shot up the supply of old manufacture Remington 147-gr. JHP's that were given to me by a friend. The rest will be used to punch paper and nothing more. I have little doubt that they would not expand at typical 9mm velocities in the 950 to 1000 ft/sec range. When they did at around 1200 ft/sec, they did quite nicely but as was mentioned earliar, they either expanded nicely or not at all.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Golden Saber and Gold Dot performed as well as they did. I expected these to maybe break up and for the GS's jacket to routinely separate. It did only when fired into water. With the one deer I killed using it in the .38 Super, broadside penetration was through and through with no remnants of the jacket or bullet found. I found it interesting that the average penetration depths for both it and the Gold Dot were the same.
It was not a surprise to see that the XTP penetrated deeper than the rest, although not by much. It lost esentially no weight and its average diameter was less than the JHP and in the same general vicinity as the Golden Saber and Gold Dot, although at one point in their expansion process their diameters were larger than recovered. This would have been when expansion had occurred but the edges of the expanded bullets had not yet been forced more rearward.
Here is a closer view of the recovered Golden Saber. Its "petals" which are more like "streamers" when recovered were at one point more horizontal and provided a larger overall expanded diameter. I have no way of knowing for what distance.
For my purposes (shooting critters in the field), I don't really have a preference between the XTP, Golden Saber, or Gold Dot.
The 8.4-gr. Blue Dot load is not quite at the maximum load level according to my data but I would be careful if using it in an unsupported chamber. I have not done so and cannot comment on case expansion. In the STI's supported chamber, no problem and cases resize quite easily. I could go hotter, but see little point. I'm getting the penetration I think I might could use in my neck of the woods, accuracy is quite nice, and my subjective description of felt recoil would be to say that these feel about like a standard 230-gr. ball load in a 5" steel 1911 pattern pistol; maybe a bit less. In any event, it is not hard to control at all.
I think that there might be a smaller ammo company or two that offer this weight bullet at about the same velocity, but I've not really looked into it. For me, the .38 Super is a handloading proposition. Factory ammo costs too much. For me and my particular gun, there is another reason: reliability. With standard .38 Super cases, my gun is not 100% reliable with fully-loaded magazines. Using .38 Super Comp cases from Starline, it feeds slick as a gut.
I would really, really like to see more ammunition manufacturers offer expanding .38 Super ammunition in bullet weights ranging from
about 135 to 150 grains.