.38 Special, Was There a Conspiracy?

This is a discussion on .38 Special, Was There a Conspiracy? within the Defensive Ammunition & Ballistics forums, part of the Defensive Carry Discussions category; I developed a new appreciation for the model 15 when I started using it for IDPA stock revolver class last Summer. Found my gun with ...

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Thread: .38 Special, Was There a Conspiracy?

  1. #16
    Member Array PeterCartwright's Avatar
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    I developed a new appreciation for the model 15 when I started using it for IDPA stock revolver class last Summer. Found my gun with honest surface wear but fully sound internals for $200 less than 10 years ago. What a wonderfully sweet shooter! I've had all kinds of fun "taking it to" friends with newer, far more expensive wheel guns. Can't imagine why one would feel undergunned with a properly loaded K-frame and reloads. And I've nothing against bottom feeders...even the 9X19 variety. The .38 spl. remains a fully useful classic. The good old "FBI" load works well, but I suspect that recent developments in ammo even improve the street effectiveness of the time-proven war horse.
    Last edited by PeterCartwright; February 2nd, 2008 at 11:47 PM.

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  3. #17
    Member Array JohnKSa's Avatar
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    While it's true that the .38Spl is given short shrift today in terms of marketing and gunrag article exposure, the idea that it has been downloaded in recent times is not based in fact.

    Handloading resources may have reduced their maximum loads over time due to concerns about liability but Handguns ran an article in the August/September 2006 issue in which they tested some vintage ammunition vs modern stuff. The specs were very similar, no evidence that the modern stuff was watered down.

    The apparent slow reduction in velocity began in 1977 when SAAMI put pressure push the ammunition companies to publish velocity figures for .38spl and .357Mag ammunition based on chrono information from 4" Vented test barrels instead of the longer unvented test barrels they had been using. As the different companies came into compliance over a period of years, the appearance was that the ammunition was slowly being reduced in power. In reality, there was no reduction in power, only a change in the testing procedure, and the change happened abruptly for each company. It's just that the companies didn't all comply at the same time.

  4. #18
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    I started reloading in the mid 60s using mostly Hercules(now Alliant) powders for 38 sp., 357, & 45 acp. Used the same loads thru late
    80s. Went about 10 years and didn't reload any, got ready to start back, realized latest loading data put my old 38 loads off the chart especially with Unique and Blue Dot. I contacted Alliant and asked them if powders had changed. They said no and the rep didn't deny that liability was main reason for reduction in 38 sp. maximum loads. Big difference in old 45 colt data and new data too with Alliant. Oh well, getting old and don't enjoy shooting those hot loads as much anyhow!

  5. #19
    Member Array Catalina's Avatar
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    The Miami FBI shootout had a huge impact on the fall off of the .38 special.

    The Gun Zone -- FBI Miami Firefight
    Go Glock - until you can afford H&K

  6. #20
    Member Array rdrancher's Avatar
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    bmcgilvray

    Excellent read!

    Thanks for taking the time to bring it to us.

    rd
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  7. #21
    VIP Member Array cphilip's Avatar
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    All things center from a comparison from the .38. Seems it left its mark after all. It will always be the benchmark.

    No collection is complete without something that will shoot a .38.

    Great story and great perspective. Thanks for taking the time to share what was on your mind. Conspiracy? Well... not sure its nor more then just Fads.

  8. #22
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    Hi JohnKsa;

    I recall when the infamous 4-inch vented test barrel data began to be published. It appeared to me at the time that it was as artificial a method for rendering velocity figures as was the earlier system and gave a stunted picture of what handgun rounds were actually doing. It made having one's own chronograph worthwhile. That 4-inch vented test barrel really knocked the props out from under the Magnum handgun rounds such as the .44 Magnum which I was playing around with a bunch at the time, and also the .357 Magnum. It will be noticed that the arbitrary standard "4-inch vented test barrel" isn't much quoted these days. While I'm no laboratory I did watch some .38 Special loads be discontinued and also later lots of the same style of ammunition, especially the so called +P, yield diminished velocities in my guns when compared to earlier ammunition on side-by-side tests.

    Welcome to the Forum by the way from one Texan to another. One simply can't have too many Texans involved in anything. Don't know which part of Texas you are from but feel that I probably went past your house at some point this past weekend between travel for work and personal activities. Anyway, we saw way too much Texas pavement in the past three days.

  9. #23
    Member Array pistola's Avatar
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    Exclamation Conspiracy?.........YES!

    I'm conspiring at this moment to find yet another fine revolver chambered for .38 special. I have been personally aquinted with the 38 Spl. for well over 35 years(yep OLD GEEZER here). I have seven, from a 1 7/8"bbl. S&W 640 belly gun to a Python Target w/8"bbl. I have always liked the cartridge, and must say it is one of my favorites. I think everyone should have at least one .38 Spl. of each in the following;snub nose, 4"bbl. fixed sights duty revolver,and a target revolver.The .38 Special is not an end all stop all magnum,but it is still holding it's own after 100 years, and in skilled hands it is still an effective defensive caliber.
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  10. #24
    Member Array Texian's Avatar
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    Hottest .38 Special factory loads from the 1970 Shooter's Bible:

    Remington: High-Speed 150g RNL, 1090fps, 415fp, 6"
    Winchester-Western: Super-X 150g, Metal Piercing, 1060fps, 375fp, 6"
    Federal: High Velocity, 158g RNL, 1080fps, 415fp, 6"
    "The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him." G.K. Chesterton

  11. #25
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    Thanks for the information Texian. My old magazines, annuals and such are packed away just now.

    Those velocities are attainable with judicious handloading in real revolvers too if one consults older manuals and watches his P's & Q's. Especially review the listed loads for Unique, 2400, and SR 4756. Both the Sierra publication from 1978 and the Speer No. 8 could be considered radical by today's standards with a few listed propellent powders. The older Lyman manuals are a bit more sedate but still provide .38 Special loads that will break 1000 fps with a 158 grain bullet if one is inclined to go there. Phil Sharp's 1937 work is down right hair raising! No way one should attempt some of those recipes for loads with Unique or 2400, both of which were on the market at the time.

    Actually the .38 Special is most fun with the famous concoction of 148 grain hollow base wadcutter over 2.8 grains of Bullseye, a powder puff load that is very entertaining and gratifying to shoot for group in a good revolver.

  12. #26
    Member Array JohnKSa's Avatar
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    Welcome to the Forum by the way from one Texan to another. One simply can't have too many Texans involved in anything. Don't know which part of Texas you are from but feel that I probably went past your house at some point this past weekend between travel for work and personal activities. Anyway, we saw way too much Texas pavement in the past three days.
    Thanks for the welcome!

    And you probably did get close at least. I live just east of DFW.

  13. #27
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    Hi John;

    Nope I wasn't in your neck of the woods last weekend but am always heading to Tennessee to see my two sons who are in college there or else to Mississippi to see friends so frequent that part of Texas too. The car has I-20 and especially I-30 figured out by now as the oldest is in graduate school.

    Just want it to be clear that I've not used my .38 Specials on those "...boyhood home of William Jefferson Clinton" signs on I-30 outside of Hope, Arkansas. It's amazing how many bullet holes they collect and how frequently they've been replaced in the past 7 years.

  14. #28
    Distinguished Member Array Doc Holliday's Avatar
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    Great read!!!

    I got in on the tail end of the wondernine craze with my first pistol, a P226 back around 1998. I then got into the Glock craze with a G21. Went back to a wondernine in a P228. Bought into the Kel Tec pocket gun .380 craze as well. And yes, I do own an evil black rifle as well.

    But it seems that within the last year I have gotten very old school. (I'm only 31.) I got an M1 Garand. I also carry a 1911 Officer's model now and I desperately want to trade my Kel Tec for..............a Smith and Wesson .38 snubbie which I plan to load with.......the old FBI load!
    Why Ike, whatever do you mean? Maybe poker's just not your game Ike. I know! Let's have a spelling contest!

  15. #29
    VIP Member Array dukalmighty's Avatar
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    My first handgun i shot was a model 15 S&W 4" in the USAF Security Police,I qualified expert which wasn't that hard IMHO,IIRC it was 89 out of 100 rounds at 25 yards
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  16. #30
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    Since this post came up again I'm going to stick up a few photos of the old Super Vel ammunition.

    I moved recently and discovered I still had a full box along with a partial box in the back of my ammo locker, hidden behind the boxes of .38 Special. I'm tickled to find it, especially the partial box which I will retest over the chronograph soon.





    I got my chronograph in 1979 and am thinking that Super Vel was one of the very first factory loads I chronographed. I recorded the results and post them here.

    2-inch S&W Model 36: 1100 FPS, 296 ft./lbs. energy
    4-inch S&W Model 10: 1237 FPS, 376 ft./lbs. energy
    8 3/8-inch S&W Model 14: 1321 FPS, 426 ft./lbs. energy

    I'd like to know what the propellant is that's in the loads. The longer the barrel the more the bullet keeps accelerating.

    I used to purchase the Super Vel back in the 1970s from George Moore, a retired fellow who sold reloading stuff and ammo from out of his shop at his home. He lived in Handley, Texas, just east of Fort Worth. I finished off a deer once that I'd spine-shot with a .30-40 Krag by shooting it with one of the 110 grain Super Vel loads. It entered the chest wall, holing the heart, and passed down through his left front leg, stopping near the knee. It looked as if it could have been hand loaded into another case and used again. Though I was impressed with the velocities the Super Vel loads gave I was disappointed in the expansion performance. It did finish the buck however.

    It didn't seem to expand consistently in other non-test mediums like wet or dry Fort Worth phone books, sand, clay, water jugs etc. either. The bullet must have been tough.

    I see in my notes that I chronographed the Super Vel on July 1, 1980. Bet it was hot that day. May have "enhanced" the velocity performance.
    Last edited by bmcgilvray; April 26th, 2008 at 08:54 PM.
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