Bad Load? The .38 Special 158 gr. RNL

This is a discussion on Bad Load? The .38 Special 158 gr. RNL within the Defensive Ammunition & Ballistics forums, part of the Defensive Carry Discussions category; Quick! What handgun cartridge is the most vilified, despised, and unloved of all? Has to be the standard velocity .38 Special 158 grain round-nose lead ...

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Thread: Bad Load? The .38 Special 158 gr. RNL

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    Bad Load? The .38 Special 158 gr. RNL

    Quick! What handgun cartridge is the most vilified, despised, and unloved of all? Has to be the standard velocity .38 Special 158 grain round-nose lead loading. 9mm FMJ ball gets more respect. Even the paltry .25 ACP is sometimes acknowledged to be occasionally deadly.

    This thread was tried on another forum so we'll see how it plays over here.

    It's been roundly condemned in the firearms press since before I began reading the gun rags in about 1970. The rise of the internet firearms forum has heaped fuel to the fire.

    I shot off the occasional box of factory 158 grain round-nose lead ammunition off for the first several years after I obtained a .38 Special revolver in the mid-1970s. There was also a time in the late 1970s and early 1980s when I purchased large quantities of cast lead 158 grain lead round nose component bullets for cheap. The 500-round bulk boxes of these bullets, purchased from George Moore's home-based gun shop on the east side of Fort Worth, were rubber stamped: North Side Gun Shop Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. These bullets were lubed with a vile black stuff much like the old Remington component bullets and leaded like fiends if pushed to +P velocities in enthusiastic handloads. Oh, face it. They leaded like fiends when shot at standard factory velocities, especial if shot in great quantities on a single outing as I was wont to do in those days. However, if the bore was clean they were fairly accurate for hunting use.

    During this time period I read of a Wyoming gun writer, who was known for his consuming fascination for the Thompson Center Contender, but who on an occasion bashed the 158 grain round nose lead .38 Special load and bullet in a published article. He claimed it was utterly worthless for stopping cottontail rabbits and that they were hopping off to their holes to get away after been shot with this load.

    Wyoming rabbits must have been more tenacious of life than Texas rabbits for our rabbits keeled over readily and permanently to nothing more than the introduction of a Benjamin .177 pellet to the right place when I was a kid. The .22 Long Rifle was most efficient and the accurate .38 Special revolver was an embarrassment of riches. I snacked on a number of rabbits that succumbed to any reasonable hit (and a few unreasonable hits) from a .38 Special revolver loaded with round nose lead bullets.

    One one occasion a rabbit breakfast was had after duck hunting by firing a 10 gauge magnum shotgun at a cottontail at perhaps 30 yards so that the bulk of the pattern went over him rather than to obliterate him. Two No. 2 shot struck the bunny and he keeled right over. Rabbits pose no difficulties for any firearm.

    For other Texas varmints and critters, even to larger sizes, these 158 grain round nose lead bullets served just as admirably as semi-wadcutter or wadcutter bullets driven to the same velocities in actual observation. All it took with any of them was a good hit.

    Blessedly, I've never had need to commit a .38 Special revolver to a self-defense situation. One "hears of" failures of the .38 Special when loaded with plain ol' round nose lead bullets but I have to wonder if there is such a lot of substance to the accepted notion that the round nose lead bullet was a poor stopper. Good hits are golden and bad hits are just that, bad hits.

    Perhaps we could take a thread here and "tell the tales" both pro and con, examining the standard velocity .38 Special 158 grain round nose lead load. I'm not for the 158 grain round nose lead bullet mind you but ain't completely "agin' it" either. I'll take my .38 Special defense loads, for any barrel length, served up in +P 158 grain semi-wadcutter form, thank you very much.
    “No possible rapidity of fire can atone for habitual carelessness of aim with the first shot.”

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    VIP Member Array glockman10mm's Avatar
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    Got a few boxes of old fodder laying around here.
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    VIP Member Array glockman10mm's Avatar
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    I would have to say that the flat service and driving band on the lswc is much better at opening up a full caliber wound, and giving better impact, but I would not feel inadequate with a chamber full of the fodder.

    I believe that by playing with the lead with respect to getting the correct softness, it would flatten and be quite ugly at 38 spl velocities. Much like the jacketed HP, and probably moreso, the soft lead is very dependent on velocity to deform. This can be an issue at 38spl velocities.

    What one can do though, is "X" the nose of the bullet with a pocket knife and make it a devastating expander.
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    I took a small buck with a handloaded round nose lead bullet from a .38 Special revolver but it was a 200 grain bullet rather than a 158 grain bullet and was traveling at some 925 fps. At 15-17 yards he was struck in the heart, took a few wobbly steps and fell. The soft lead of the bullet had a big smear hanging off of it almost as large as a dime.
    “No possible rapidity of fire can atone for habitual carelessness of aim with the first shot.”

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    When introducing someone to shooting I find the 158 RNL a gentle step up from 148 WC before introducing them to the +P and JHP loads especially if using a lightweight revolver.
    When you have to shoot, shoot. Don't talk.
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    I shouldn't think any 38 load especially anemic or creepy given consideration the powder burns around the wound.

    Well, maybe a little creepy....
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    Without explanation as to how, I've seen one pass through a roll of plastic pallet wrap, a thin sheet of steel, 3/4inch plywood and was finally stopped by a thin sheet of steel on the other side of the plywood. Add those up, as unequal as they are in content and as odd as the components are, and ...... It was scary.
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    People these days expect their bullets to reduce a BG to chunks the size of a Big Mac, and anything less is seen as inadequate and unacceptable for defensive use. It's a bit silly, if you ask me. Sure, a better bullet can give you better odds, but if you can't get the job done with these .38 loads, you probably couldn't get it done with a .45 either.
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    Great thread topic.

    I don't know that much about the .38 Special. When I first joined the Air Force, I qualified with an M-15, a 4" .38 Special. I liked the weapon, but always thought it was under-powerd. I had grown up shooting my Uncle's .45 Colt and .45 ACP, so the .38 felt anemic. Nevertheless, I think the .38 is an unfairly maligned cartridge.

    However! There is a reason the .38 S&W evolved into the .38 Special, which then evolved into the .357 Magnum. Just as the 9mm evolved into the .357 Sig. There was, rightly or wrongly, a perceived need for a little extra velocity and energy. We seem to pursue more power, more lethality from our handguns.

    Will we all be packin' .500 S&W snubbies in the next few years? I doubt it. But the .357 Mag gained acceptance and now has a devoted following; I think in part because Elmer Keith and his Wyoming rabbits suggested the .38 was inadequate, and in part because lots of people found out the hard way that the .38 could be improved.

    Today, I like the .38 Special. It is my carry round of choice in my LCR. I have more confidence in my .357 Mag or .45 ACP, but I feel pretty well tooled with some 158 grain SWC's in a snubbie.

    edit: we got some fierce jackrabbits here. big as a mule and kick twice as hard. I personally would not hunt 'em with anything less than a .44 Mag from a 7.5" barrel. But i don't take chances with those critters.

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    What caliber? What kind of bullet?

    Answer: The kind that you can put 2-3 in the chest followed by 1-2 to the head as needed
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    Nix
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    10th, I like your emphasis on the fundamentals.

    If I can maintain good defensive shooting accuracy and speed equally well with a .22 LR, .380, or .38 Special, are all the rounds equally good choices for defensive carry?

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    Out of a short handgun barrel, no. The .22 will generally not penetrate enough; neither will a .380 JHP. Once you get to .380 FMJ FP/.38 Spl or higher, the determining thing will likely be placement of the shot. The probability of expansion (or a larger caliber) turning a shot that just barely missed a vital area into one that just barely nicked a vital area is only 4-7%.

    Even good placement with penetration is no guarantee...you can shred the heart, yet the BG can continue to function for 30 seconds, which is a long time. Hence the emphasis on targeting the head after repeated torso shots have failed to have the desired effect.

    Of course, mastering the Mozambique drill would make caliber and bullet arguments moot...and then what fun would gun forums be? All that would be left would be Glock vs 1911...revolver vs semi auto...
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    Nix
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nix View Post
    If I can maintain good defensive shooting accuracy and speed equally well with a .22 LR, .380, or .38 Special, are all the rounds equally good choices for defensive carry?
    Quote Originally Posted by 10thmtn View Post
    Out of a short handgun barrel, no.
    You and I seem to think alike...
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    Quote Originally Posted by svgheartland View Post
    Without explanation as to how, I've seen one pass through a roll of plastic pallet wrap, a thin sheet of steel, 3/4inch plywood and was finally stopped by a thin sheet of steel on the other side of the plywood. Add those up, as unequal as they are in content and as odd as the components are, and ...... It was scary.
    Methinks there's a story in there... sounds like you were carrying plywood and plastic wrap in the pickup!
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    Quote Originally Posted by bmcgilvray View Post
    I took a small buck with a handloaded round nose lead bullet from a .38 Special revolver but it was a 200 grain bullet rather than a 158 grain bullet and was traveling at some 925 fps. At 15-17 yards he was struck in the heart, took a few wobbly steps and fell. The soft lead of the bullet had a big smear hanging off of it almost as large as a dime.
    With the internet "knowledge" that seems to be so prevalent these days, most folks seem to be under the impression that such a round would simply 'slip through' an animal with so little damage that he'd continue grazing or doing whatever he was doing prior to the shot. Your example proves that it is not the arrow itself, but what it hits that is most important.

    Nice shot!
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