+p rated .38

+p rated .38

This is a discussion on +p rated .38 within the Defensive Ammunition & Ballistics forums, part of the Defensive Carry Discussions category; I have a S&W model 36. My question is since it is not really made for +p ammo how many rounds can I get away ...

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  1. #1
    Senior Member Array dripster's Avatar
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    +p rated .38

    I have a S&W model 36. My question is since it is not really made for +p ammo how many rounds can I get away with before I start to see degradation issues?
    One more step and it's on!


  2. #2
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    How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

    How far out can you walk on thin ice before you'll fall through?

    There's no definitive answer to your question. Will a handful of +P rounds damage your gun? Probably not. Will regular practice with +P rounds damage your gun? Probably.

    If your gun is a vintage 36 - i.e., pre-'65 - I'd say skip the +P altogether and just get some Nyclad or similar, standard-pressure ammo. For the more recent guns, I'd verify point of impact with a cylinder of +P and carry them in the gun, but I would confine my practice rounds to standard-pressure stuff.
    Smitty
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    Member Array gschoelles's Avatar
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    I purchased my 36 in the early 80's and I was told then that the top straps were thought to be weak.

  4. #4
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    I'd stay away from the +P and just use what is available in a modern .38 round. The ballistics and bullet design of the newer .38 ammo is more effective than what was available when your gun was made. It's simply not worth the risk to push the envelope. If you want a hot load then sell the M36 and move up to a .357 or +P variant model. Otherwise, your chances of a gunfight may well be less than a cylinder window explosion.
    “Monsters are real and so are ghosts. They live inside of us, and sometimes they win.”
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    Actually - Some J-Frame S&W revolvers that can easily handle +P were not factory marked as being OK for +P even though they really are.
    I think because there was no specific +P designation when those particular guns hit the dealer shelves.
    There are S&W revolver aficionados that know more about that than I do.
    The biggest problem with shooting +P is that some J-Frames will eventually shoot loose and will then need a trip to "the smith" to get tuned & tightened back up & that is usually at least a $200.00 gunsmith bill.

  6. #6
    VIP Member Array glockman10mm's Avatar
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    Why shoot +p ? Load it up with standard pressure 158 grain SWCs and be done with it. You will not get a good trade off of velocity increase/ vs wear on the gun with +p, with a short tube.

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    The above advice is all prudent and good and one would be safe to heed it.

    However, I have done that which is evil and have fired +P in an early Chief's Special with low 4-digit serial number that was shipped in March of 1952. Not a lot of +P and not all the time but enough to verify the sights. The revolver may have had as much as a couple of boxes of factory +P ammunition and handloaded equivalent fired through it in the 20-something years I've had it. The revolver has stood in for load testing for obtaining 2-inch chronograph data before I obtained a 2-inch Model 10. I fired 10 rounds of new Winchester Western +P 158 grain ammunition through it earlier this year. So far no sign of stress or strain, no end shake, no blown or even flattened primers, no hard extraction, nothing.







    In our current litigious society the ammo makers aren't going to market anything that truly is a bomb. Smith & Wesson officially says not to use +P in its revolvers made prior to 1958. Earlier this year I deliberately test fired 3 different factory +P loadings through a shabby looking but mechanically excellent Smith & Wesson K-Frame revolver that was manufactured in 1904. Nothing happened. In fact if I didn't know better I could have sworn I caught the revolver yawning.






    As Gasmitty says though: "There's no definitive answer to your question."

    There is a body of thought out there that claims Smith & Wesson's J-Frame is stouter than their K-Frame, due to the construction of the forcing cone and the positioning of the cylinder stop notches. Soon after the Chief's Special was introduced in 1950 it was subjected to tests by Elmer Keith I believe, who fired a bunch of the old .38-44 factory loads through one and pronounced it good. Buffalo Bore +P is probably the only thing we have these days that equals the .38-44 loading. Other current +P offerings are rather tame. The "+P" designation is not as fearsome as some believe. I only like the lead 158 grain +P loads, not having any use for the lighter bullet, jacketed hollow point +P offerings.

    I load with my favorite +P choice but realistically, I wouldn't feel ill-armed if packing a .38 Special loaded with standard velocity lead semi-wadcutter ammunition.

    It stands to reason that heavy use of +P ammunition would accelerate wear in any revolver. Constant full-throttle acceleration will accelerate wear in a vehicle. Occasional use of +P ammunition in a .38 Special revolver for defensive purposes is useful in the same way occasional full-throttle acceleration can be useful in passing or on the entrance ramp of a freeway.

    Besides, there are very few folks out there who would greatly enjoy using large quantities of +P in a Smith & Wesson J-Frame revolver and even fewer who will want to spend the money it would take to fund the constant use of +P ammunition.
    Charter Member of the DC .41 LC Society "Get heeled! No really"

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  8. #8
    Member Array forestranger's Avatar
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    Back in 1970, I bought a new M38 Bodyguard. With no decent 38 sp. SD ammo then, lots of folks like me cooked up "home brews" like reversed HBWCs & "almost max" SWCs. With 5.4 grs of Unique listed as max, I settled on a load of 5.1 grs with a 158-160 SWC for SD. A lot of those loads were shot over the years. When "soft" lead SWC-HP bullets came available, I loaded them with same charge and again used it for years ( I didn't want to use 158LHP+Ps in it). Back then the only +p load for Unique and 158SWC was 6grs! Now Alliant lists my old "non-+p" load as above +p. The few factory +p 158LHPs I've shot through the old gun felt lighter than my old load and chronographed about the same ( little over 800fps). The old gun is still tight and held up well. I now shoot less powerful practice loads but it's loaded right now with Rem 158LHPs.....+P.

  9. #9
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    Hi Forestranger;

    That 5.1 grains of Unique/158 grain lead SWC is a good load. I've used both it and the 5.4 grain charge. I've chronographed the 5.4 grain charge of Unique with 158 grain lead SWC and it approximates most factory 158 grain +P performance. It clocks 847 fps from a 2-inch barrel and 935 fps from a 4-inch barrel.

    I happen to have loaded a batch of 158 grain lead SWCs up with 5.1 grains of Unique last month but haven't had a chance to take them to the range yet. I've shot 5.0-5.1 grains of Unique in the past but never chronographed it so want to see if it is materially different than the 5.4 grain charge. It is probably pretty close in performance.
    Charter Member of the DC .41 LC Society "Get heeled! No really"

    “No possible rapidity of fire can atone for habitual carelessness of aim with the first shot.”

    Theodore Roosevelt, The Wilderness Hunter, 1893

  10. #10
    Member Array forestranger's Avatar
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    I never chronographed the 5.4 load out of the M38 but out of a 2" 357 j frame, some of my 20+ year old loads were right at 850fps. Seems the 5.1 load was around 820fps out of M38. Funny thing is both were faster than the famous Winchester 158LHP but not quite as fast as the Rem. load? Never had any pressure signs in either load as far as primers or sticky cases. Guess I was guilty of "blissful ignorance"?

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    I see new posted information of which most I’m familiar with. As a former military range-winnie I’ve learned that once you give someone a green light to go just one step further, that same person will invariably take five. Here on the forum and elsewhere we’re a family of shooters, LEO’s, retirees and moreover, enthusiasts.

    Unfortunately, we don’t really know each other, so guys like me don’t tend to give advice outside the manufactures’ recommendation. Simply because you can’t readily see metal fatigue or stress cracks that are usually microscopic, doesn’t mean they’re not there. In short, I tend to air on the side of caution. In fact I prefer magnum certified revolvers and shoot BB 158 +P’s.

    Overall, you have a nice revolver if it’s in decent shape. Whether you toss it under your car seat or you send it off to Fords for restoration, it’s a fun revolver to have.

    Regards,
    Dan
    Last edited by Saber; December 30th, 2010 at 07:08 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by gasmitty View Post
    How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

    How far out can you walk on thin ice before you'll fall through?

    There's no definitive answer to your question. Will a handful of +P rounds damage your gun? Probably not. Will regular practice with +P rounds damage your gun? Probably.

    If your gun is a vintage 36 - i.e., pre-'65 - I'd say skip the +P altogether and just get some Nyclad or similar, standard-pressure ammo. For the more recent guns, I'd verify point of impact with a cylinder of +P and carry them in the gun, but I would confine my practice rounds to standard-pressure stuff.



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    VIP Member Array dawei's Avatar
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    Thumbs up

    Quote Originally Posted by dripster View Post
    I have a S&W model 36. My question is since it is not really made for +p ammo how many rounds can I get away with before I start to see degradation issues?
    I have to ask, WHY? With the singular exception of the Speer® 38 Special 135gr Gold Dot+P Short Barrel, all +P ammo will give you is 50% more recoil and muzzle blast; w/o any increase in muzzle energy into the target or perp. With 38 Special +P ammo in a J frame, be it steel, aluminum, titanium, or scandium; you will have a far longer recovery from recoil and return to battery. If you want a standard pressure load, that will serve you well get THIS. My wife and I use this in our steel and aluminum 38 Special J frames. POA/POI is dead on in both guns. It's only my observation, but this particular standard pressure load; beats all others seven ways to Thursday. I have been carrying a J frame ni on to 40 years; and the above ammo is THE BEST standard pressure 38 Special I have ever used, and I have used them all.

  14. #14
    Senior Member Array dripster's Avatar
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    The one reason I ask is because when I bought ammo for my 38 I misread the part where it says +p next to short barrel, so now I have two boxes of stouter ammo. My serial number is 6 digits long starting with a 5 so so I am assuming it was made between the years 1962-1969.

    For models 36, 37, 38, 49, 50 and pre model number versions.

    1950 = start at 1
    1952 = 7369 - 21342
    1953 = 28916
    1955 = 55050 - 75000
    1957 = 117770 - 125000
    1962 = starts at 295000
    1969 = ends at 786544

    J serial Prefix serial numbers.
    For models 36, 37, 38, 49, 50.

    1969-1970 = J1 - J99999
    1971-1972 = 1J1 - 999J99
    1973-1974 = J100000 - J250000
    1975-1976 = J250001 - J370000
    1976-1977 = J370001 - J610000
    1977-1978 = J610001 - J670000
    1979-1980 = J670001 - J760000
    1981 = J760001 - J915400
    1982 = J915401 - 1J18600
    1983 = 1J18601 - 1JXXXX

    1955 - 4 screw side plate ends
    1957 - stamping of model number at 125000
    1966 - flat latch ends
    1968 - diamond grips end
    1975 - heavy barrel standard
    1982 - end pinned barrel
    One more step and it's on!

  15. #15
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    Hi Dripster;

    You'll ultimately decide for yourself whether to use your boxes of +P or not. I kept a 1966 vintage Smith & Wesson Model 36 for some years and shot some +P ammunition in it as well, including the old Super Vel, with no problems. The goodness of a Smith & Wesson revolver allows it to give outstanding service with a wide range of loads.

    I'm guessing that these two boxes are 20-25 count each rather than 50 count each. That's not a whole lot of high performance ammunition. Unless you know for certain that your revolver was new-in-the-box when you acquired it then it very well could have been fired with +P ammunition sometime in its past. In my view your revolver will digest your ammunition just fine but if you are too anxious to trust the load then it won't serve you well. Perhaps it could be swapped at a gun shop or gun show for some appropriate ammunition.



    "...all +P ammo will give you is 50% more recoil and muzzle blast; w/o any increase in muzzle energy into the target or perp."


    How may recoil and muzzle blast may be quantified? An individual's perception when shooting various loads is subjective. I don't really enjoy shooting anything heavier than powder puff target wad cutter loads in the J-Frame snubs so it doesn't much matter to me whether it is standard velocity stuff or +P when shooting a J-Frame. Enjoy or not, I can still use them and control them and so I carry +P.

    Most any +P .38 Special ammunition will give a slight increase in velocity and performance over standard velocity ammunition with bullets of the same weight, even from a 2-inch barrel. Whether this increase is meaningful or not is subject to debate and some brands offer more performance than others. My favorite offers about 100 fps more velocity in either a 2-inch or 4-inch barrel than a similar standard velocity load will deliver.

    It's a .38 Special. The +P ammunition is far beneath the performance and pressure levels of full power .357 Magnum ammunition. +P ammunition isn't hugely powerful stuff. SAAMI standards for +P was only an additional 1500 psi over standard velocity ammunition in some of their recent information. That's not much in the overall scheme of things. SAAMI has been monkeying with .38 Special maximum pressure, both up and down, for several years. They lowered it for a while then raised it and don't seem to settle on what it should be. One thing that is apparent, both on this forum and on others, is that +P has been built up into a much more worrisome product than is necessary through speculation alone.

    The old .38-44 factory loads that were marketed beginning in 1930 were apparently quite heavy. Super Vel was pretty hot. Some handloaded concoctions derived from older loading manuals were too hot. With the notable exception of the Buffalo Bore +P offerings, current +P loadings are pretty ho-hum. The currently favored light 110-135 grain JHP bullets, flung at velocities significantly less than 1000 fps, aren't that big a deal and the old "FBI load" +P 158 grain load isn't earthshaking either. All the current +P loads can offer a degree of performance over standard velocity ammunition.

    Despite the excessive dithering over the subject of +P, I've not yet seen documented proof of a quality revolver failing through use of +P ammunition. One may occasionally see conjectural "evidence" offered. The only such evidence that I can call to mind was a case where a Smith & Wesson .38 Special revolver, that had been manufactured in 1912, was said to have a chamber split open after being used as a range gun. It is both astounding and shameful that a range would press a revolver that was over 90 years old into heavy service as a range rental. The person who mentioned this revolver as an example of the destructive nature of +P only assumed that it had probably been used with +P ammunition at some point. He didn't know what sort of ammunition was being used at the time the revolver's cylinder cracked but laid blame to +P. It could just as easily have been caused by an earlier range patron who stoked the old thing up with some of Uncle Bubba Ray's atomic-powered over-loaded handloads that caused the weakness and subsequent failure. How many of such handloads could have been fired through the revolver in the past? Who knows?

    +P .38 Special is a "tempest in a teapot."
    Charter Member of the DC .41 LC Society "Get heeled! No really"

    “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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