.38 S&W (NOT .38 SPL) penetration experiments

.38 S&W (NOT .38 SPL) penetration experiments

This is a discussion on .38 S&W (NOT .38 SPL) penetration experiments within the Defensive Ammunition & Ballistics forums, part of the Defensive Carry Discussions category; A while back I posted some penetration tests on .38 SPL 200g and .32 S&W Long 115g bullets vs. water-filled milk jugs on a couple ...

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Thread: .38 S&W (NOT .38 SPL) penetration experiments

  1. #1
    Member Array LouisianaMan's Avatar
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    Baton Rouge, LA

    .38 S&W (NOT .38 SPL) penetration experiments

    A while back I posted some penetration tests on .38 SPL 200g and .32 S&W Long 115g bullets vs. water-filled milk jugs on a couple of forums. Since I recently re-equipped my wife & daughters with sets of 2" and 4" barreled revolvers in caliber .38 S&W (NOT .38 SPL), I thought I would share some initial results against milk jugs. I wanted to get them something more than a .32, but less than a .38 SPL, since one daughter finds that difficult to deal with. By standardizing their guns & even holsters, all ammo, speedloaders, snaps, etc. are now the same--no more fumbling over the differences between guns, actions, and ammo.

    TARGET: 5 water-filled jugs, backed by 2x12.
    RANGE: approx 10 feet
    GUNS: S&W Mod. 32-1 (2") and S&W 33-1 (4")
    a. BULLET: Lee LSWC-TL, .358--158g nominal size. I "beagled" the mold to produce a fatter bullet when casting, as my revolvers' bores slug at .359. Outcome of casting was .359-.361, 161g with 50-50 WW-Pb + 4 oz. tin per 20 lbs. alloy. Estimated BHN = 7-9. COL: 1.155"
    b. Powder: Win 231. Charge: 3.0g. Chrono'ed velocity for 5-shot string: 708.2 fps avg, with SD slightly over 12 (i.e. very consistent). NOTE: this powder charge is derived from Lyman 49th for 160g bullet, but my charge IS IN EXCESS OF RECOMMENDED LOAD. USE A RELOADING MANUAL TO WORK UP YOUR OWN LOAD. In previous tests, I have noted that my lot of Win231 appears to be slower than average, which lot variation has been noted by Ed Harris as characteristic of this powder. Therefore, I start with recommended data and then work it up over the chronograph to vels similar to published velocities. Ed considers 700fps max for a 200g bullet in this gun, so I'm very comfortable with the same velocity from a bullet about 20% lighter.

    OUTCOME: both the snubbie 2" and its longer-barreled 4" twin put their bullet thru all five milk jugs in an absolutely straight line, then buried themselves into the 2x12 behind the jugs. Interestingly, the bullet from the snubbie is buried up to its base, whereas the bullet from the 4" gun is embedded "only" halfway into the board. (See photos) Perhaps a measurement of barrel-cylinder gaps on the two guns will explain the difference, or perhaps it's a result of the slight out-of-roundness in each bullet caused by the "beagling" process in casting--perhaps one obturated more fully than the other.

    NOTE on photos: the groups fired were from a 2.9g load at 40' from sandbags. The group size is largely a result of my marksmanship, which is adequate for defense but no record-setter :-) Note that the group sizes are completely adequate for close-range defense, which is our chosen purpose for these guns. The additional hole visible in the board was caused by my earlier .38SPL 200g LSWC-K test, fired thru 6 jugs (not 5).

    200g bullet tests with these revolvers follow soon. Velocity goal is about 600fps.
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails .38 S&W (NOT .38 SPL) penetration experiments-38-s-w-161g-lswc-milk-jug-penetration-photos-14-feb-10-005.jpg  

    .38 S&W (NOT .38 SPL) penetration experiments-38-s-w-161g-lswc-milk-jug-penetration-photos-14-feb-10-007.jpg  

    .38 S&W (NOT .38 SPL) penetration experiments-38-s-w-161g-lswc-milk-jug-penetration-photos-14-feb-10-003.jpg  

  2. #2
    Senior Moderator
    Array bmcgilvray's Avatar
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    May 2007
    Anyone that gives the old .38 S&W a try is OK in my book.

    It's a pretty nice old cartridge. I'd rather have it than a .380 anything. I have a Colt Banker's Special and a Webley Mark IV. Both liked the 200 grain lead round nose bullet over 3.1 grains of Unique. The Webley especially liked the heavy bullet, shooting it right to point of aim. Don't have my data out just now but seems like the 2-inch barreled Colt gave around 625 fps and the 5-inch barreled Webley gave 660 fps.

  3. #3
    Ex Member Array jahwarrior72's Avatar
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    Apr 2006
    the raggedy edge
    my brother has an old breaktop H&R in .38SW. he paid $50 for it a few months back. i'm glad to see they actually work. it's a shame they only come in leadnose.

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  5. #4
    kpw is offline
    VIP Member Array kpw's Avatar
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    I had one of those H&R topbreaks years ago that I got in a trade. I sold it to a buddy. He put a 146gr. RNL through a bathroom wall (don't ask). It went through the wall, 2 sheets of drywall & paint, and stopped on a 1" thick maple headboard in the guest bedroom. It barely scratched the maple.
    "In a republic this rule ought to be observed: that the majority should not have the predominant power." -
    -- Marcus Tullius Cicero

  6. #5
    Senior Member Array Landric's Avatar
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    Oct 2008
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    LA Man: Have you done any testing with the 200 grain bullets in .38 S&W? I'm going to have a hard time waiting till August for our NOE GB!

    For anyone else who is interested, there is a group buy on the Cast Boolits forum for a 200 grain SWC in the .359-.360 range.

    "360 200Gr SWC NOE Group Buy" - Cast Boolits

    "The Engine could still smile...it seemed to scare them" -Felix

  7. #6
    VIP Member Array frankmako's Avatar
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    Feb 2006
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    nice old guns.
    An armed man is a citizen. An unarmed man is a subject.

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  8. #7
    Member Array LouisianaMan's Avatar
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    Baton Rouge, LA
    Take heart, the lead bullet is tops for low-vel rounds that can't attain reliable expansion from HPs anyway, especially JHPs. Lead gives penetration & generally better "wounding characteristics" than jacketed.

    I wish the factories would give us a LFP or LSWC rather than LRN, however, which is notoriously poor re. wound characteristics. It generally creates narrow wounds that are practically "self-sealing," as best I can learn.

    I also wish we'd get a more stoutly loaded factory round, advertised specifically for "modern steel, solid-frame revolvers." Kind of like +P, or Ruger-only, or Buffalo Bore--they are all ways of limiting what guns are used for their high-performance loads.

    Of course with modern ammo shortages making .38 S&W extremely hard to find in any configuration, I'm just dreaming. Also, the shooting industry as a whole may not want to reinvigorate .32 Long and .38S&W as defense calibers for financial reasons. It would certainly help a lot of individuals who could dust off an old, high-quality gun and use it with a greater degree of confidence.

    And by the way, I personally prefer stronger calibers myself (.45LC, .38 SPL FBI load or 200g LSWC-K), and I recognize their superiority to .32s, .38S&Ws and the like. I would argue, however, that properly-loaded .32SWL and .38S&W rounds would be ballistically superior to .32ACP and .380ACP, which are popular SD calibers. Finally, I would argue that most BGs don't want to face armed resistance PERIOD, and most civilians would be about as well-served by .32SWL and .38S&W as they always were. We all know that it's easier for casual shooters to handle .22s (or .32 Long, .38 S&W) well than .357s, .40s, .45s, etc. Those who devote time/effort to master bigger calibers--outstanding. Those who don't. . .would be better served by lighter calibers they could enjoy shooting & learn to shoot well. JMO.

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