Three .38 Special Handloads

This is a discussion on Three .38 Special Handloads within the Reloading forums, part of the Defensive Ammunition & Ballistics category; We chronographed and accuracy tested 3 different concoctions last week over a 3 day period in which we had glorious weather for excursions to the ...

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Thread: Three .38 Special Handloads

  1. #1
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    Three .38 Special Handloads

    We chronographed and accuracy tested 3 different concoctions last week over a 3 day period in which we had glorious weather for excursions to the range. This week's weather is wretched by comparison.

    Last summer I had posted some chronograph tests of both factory loads along with a couple of handloads. Here is a link to that thread: http://www.defensivecarry.com/vbulle...sts&highlight=

    Revolvers used were the same as before:

    Smith & Wesson Model 10 2-inch
    Smith & Wesson Model 10 HB 4-inch
    Smith & Wesson Military & Police 5-inch
    Smith & Wesson Model 27 .357 Magnum 6-inch
    Smith & Wesson Model 14 .38 Special 8 3/8-inch


    Two loads performed pretty well as expected. One of them was new and one was a more thorough retest of an old favorite load. A third load was a puzzler that yielded velocities far higher than expected.

    A new load for me made use of Green Dot. I think it has been both recommended and reviled on a private forum I frequent. I think I remember trying a can of Green Dot back in the late 1970s but made no notes about it. This load uses TVB's 148 grain double-ended wadcutter.

    148 grain TVB DEWC/3.7 grains Green Dot

    2-Inch Barrel
    Muzzle Velocity: 669 fps
    Muzzle Energy: 147 ft./lbs
    Extreme Spread: 45
    Standard Deviation: 23

    4-Inch Barrel
    MV: 706 fps
    ME: 164 ft./lbs.
    ES: 43 fps
    SD: 14 fps

    5-Inch Barrel
    MV: 735 fps
    ME: 179 ft./lbs.
    ES: 17 fps
    SD: 7 fps

    6-Inch Barrel
    MV: 690 fps
    ME: 156 ft./lbs.
    ES: 31 fps
    SD: 13 fps

    8 3/8-Inch Barrel
    MV: 775 fps
    ME: 197 ft./lbs.
    ES: 73 fps
    SD: 33 fps


    Next up is an old standard and one of my favorite target loads, the 148 grain hollow-base wadcutter backed by 2.8 grains of Bulls-Eye. It performed last week much the same as it did 30 years ago. The good Hornady 148 grain HBWC bullet was used.

    148 grain HBWC/2.8 grains Bulls-Eye

    2-Inch Barrel
    MV: 643 fps
    ME: 136 ft./lbs.
    ES: 29 fps
    ES: 12 fps

    4-Inch Barrel
    MV: 689 fps
    MV: 156 ft./lbs.
    ES: 42 fps
    SD: 17 fps

    5-Inch Barrel
    MV: 712 fps
    ME: 167 ft./lbs.
    ES: 20 fps
    SD: 9

    6-Inch Barrel
    MV: 693 fps
    ME: 158 ft./lbs.
    ES: 37 fps
    SD: 16 fps

    8 3/8-Inch Barrel
    MV: 765 fps
    ME: 192 ft./lbs.
    ES: 33 fps
    SD: 12 fps

    This last load tested didn't behave as expected. Using a 158 grain lead semi-wadcutter I've previously tested 4.8 grains of Unique and 5.4 grains of Unique on a few occasions so thought to split the difference and test 5.1 grains of Unique. I wasn't expecting anything out of the ordinary but it gave considerably higher velocities in all barrel lengths than 5.4 grains of Unique did in previous tests. I re-checked the distance between the sky-screens to find it correct. I weighed the bullets and they checked out 158-159 grains and were .358" in diameter. I broke down a handloaded cartridge to re-weigh the powder charge and it checked out correctly. It felt quite lively after shooting a lot of the light 148 grain loads.

    I felt unsatisfied and displeased after testing this one because I can't explain it.

    158 grain lead SWC/5.1 grains Unique

    2-Inch Barrel
    MV: 922 fps
    ME: 298 ft./lbs.
    ES: 40 fps
    SD: 19 fps

    4-Inch Barrel
    MV: 987 fps
    ME: 342 ft./lbs.
    ES: 67 fps
    SD: 28 fps

    5-Inch Barrel
    MV: 1031 fps
    ME: 373 ft./lbs
    ES: 37 fps
    SD: 15 fps

    6-Inch Barrel
    MV: 1018 fps
    ME: 364 ft./lbs
    ES: 33 fps
    SD: 14 fps

    8 3/8-Inch Barrel
    MV: 1117 fps
    ME: 426 ft./lbs.
    ES: 34 fps
    SD: 15 fps

    I probably shouldn't have subjected the 5-inch Smith & Wesson Military & Police revolver to testing with this Unique handload due to the revolver's age. Won't do that again. One thing is for certain, the 107 year old .38 Special could still serve extremely well if called into duty for defensive purposes.

    The 5-inch M&P seems to show a pattern of consistent velocity performance with most loads tested in it, both last week and last summer.

    The Model 27 .357 Magnum frequently registers lower velocities than the 5-inch M&P with the same loads.

    The Green Dot load with the 148 grain DEWC bullet grouped well but didn't beat out the 148 HBWC bullet loaded with Bulls-Eye. The Green Dot load didn't seem to foul the revolvers but was very smoky to shoot and I don't think it was from the bullet lube. It could just be a characteristic of the powder. I've still got a lot of Green Dot in the can so will play with it some more. It doesn't seem to display any especially endearing characteristics over other fast burning powders.

    It's only three loads but a whole lot of shooting was involved, mostly because the great weather encouraged it. I had great fun shooting the revolvers for group. Some target photos next.
    marcclarke likes this.
    “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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  3. #2
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    Here are some target highlights from the handload tests. Targets where significant operator error was in evidence were not photographed but only the best efforts. There were lots of targets that started out with promise but came to grief with a bullet hole "off towards Jones." We certainly want to conserve pixels here on Defensive Carry Forum.

    5-shot groups predominated because it was convenient to load one row from a 50 round box. Most groups were shot from 10 yards.

    Here are examples of the best effort in the Smith & Wesson Model 14 K-38 Masterpiece. One each of the Green Dot load and Bulls-Eye load, the Green Dot load being on the left.




    Plebeian Smith & Wesson Model 10s can group right along side the so called target models. One each of the Green Dot load and Bulls-Eye load, the Green Dot load again being on the left.




    A slightly heavier, but still crisp, single action trigger and less user-friendly sights make shooting the oldie Smith & Wesson Military & Police from 1904 a bit more of a chore but it still turned in a decent performance with the Green Dot load (left) and Bulls-Eye load (right).




    Here's the best effort with the Model 10 2-inch in single action mode at 10 yards with the 158 grain SWC/5.1 grains of Unique load.




    Best single action group at 10 yards with the Model 14 using 158 grain SWC with 5.1 grains of Unique. A 6-shot group.




    A double-action 6-shot group fired rapid-fire from 10 yards with the Model 10 and the 158 SWC/5.1 Unique load.




    A more deliberate 6-shot double-action effort at 7 yards with the 5-inch M&P and the 158 gr. SWC/5/1 gr Unique load.
    marcclarke likes this.
    “No possible rapidity of fire can atone for habitual carelessness of aim with the first shot.”

    Theodore Roosevelt, The Wilderness Hunter, 1893

  4. #3
    VIP Member Array Stevew's Avatar
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    Good energy with the 158g / Unique load.
    Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around laws. Plato

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    Senior Member Array AZ Desertrat's Avatar
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    This is great info and a well done post....I am always interested in .38 special experimentation, as I load way, way more of them than any other
    round I shoot. I am amazed at some of the data....I was surprised a few weeks ago when experimenting with my Model 36....which I seem to carry
    more than anything else. Have you had occasion to test with some of the lighter weight projectiles? I have been really shooting a lot of 110gr. XTP lately, trying to get an accurate load that will also hold about 900+ fps....and at least penetrate a 2x4 at about 7 yards. Good luck and keep testing!
    "The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people; it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government--lest it come to dominate our lives and interests." --Patrick Henry

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    VIP Member Array glockman10mm's Avatar
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    Thanks for the info bmc. I shot up some of my reloads using 5.4 grns of unique today. It felt lively out of my 64. I agree 100%, that the 158 swc is still a very viable cartridge. People who pass up a good 38 revolver are really missing out. My 38 is one of my favorite woods bumming cartridge here in Ky, and I believe it can handle about anything I might need a sidearm to do.

    It is interesting that you notice 5.1 being hotter than 5.4, if I read what you said right. I am going to start chronographing some loads here soon.

  7. #6
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    Hi AZ Desertrat;

    I played with 110 grain bullets back in the late 70s/early 80s and have kept the notes all these years which consists of experiments with two powders, Unique and Blue Dot. Due to the age of this data it would have to be rechecked after again working up to maximum. I later embraced the heavier lead SWC bullets so haven't played with light weight bullets in many years. Am hoping to gather up and test a few of the current factory offerings soon, especially the Speer short barrel stuff.

    Here's data gathered in February of 1980 using the maximum charge of Unique listed for the Sierra 110 grain JHC bullet as found in the 1978 edition of the Sierra manual.

    4-inch barrel:
    MV 1295 fps
    ME407 ft./lbs.

    8 3/8-inch barrel:
    MV 1434 fps
    ME 500 ft./lbs

    Maximum charge of Blue Dot and the same 110 grain Sierra JHC as published in the 1978 Sierra manual. This load was tested in the heat of a Texas summer as it is dated 6/23/80.

    4-inch barrel:
    MV 1388 fps
    ME 470 ft./lbs

    8 3/8-inch barrel:
    MV1575 fps
    ME 604 ft./lbs.

    Both of these loads are really heavy by today's published data but were published loads (maximum, but published). I took the trouble to work up to these loads. Both would likely reach pretty far beyond the 900 fps goal you set for yourself, even if fired from a 2-inch snub. I still shoot both of the revolvers used in the tests 30 years ago, have used them in other experimental testing, so I suppose they may be considered to hold up to such loads. Won't list the loads here but if you don't turn up a green 1978 Sierra manual (the one in the 3-ring binder) then PM me if you like, at bryanmcgilvray@verison.net, and I'll pass on to you the minimum and maximum charges for both Unique and Blue Dot with the Sierra 110 grain bullet. Prudence dictates that one would carefully work up to such loads.

    I show to have tested the Sierra 125 grain jacketed Soft point loaded with the maximum listed charge of Unique but only tested it for accuracy and pressure signs. Don't show a velocity recorded.

    Some factory "light-bullet" loads tests for comparison

    Super Vel

    4-inch barrel:
    MV 1237 fps
    ME 376 ft./lbs.

    8 3/8-inch barrel:
    MV 1319 fps
    ME 425 ft./lbs.

    Winchester +P+ 110 grain JHP (the infamous "Treasury Load")

    4-inch barrel
    MV 1100 fps
    ME 296 ft./lbs

    8 3/8-inch barrel
    MV 1228 fps
    ME 368 ft./lbs.


    Winchester +P 95 grain Silvertip factory load

    2-inch barrel
    958 fps
    194 ft./lbs

    4-inch barrel
    MV 1096 fps
    ME 293 ft./lbs

    8 3/8-inch barrel
    MV 1299fps
    ME 356 ft./lbs

    A recent retest of the Super Vel factory 110 grain JHP .38 Special ammunition

    2-inch barrel
    MV 981 fps
    ME 216 ft./lbs.
    ES 48
    SD 28

    4-inch barrel
    MV 1195 fps
    ME 349 ft./lbs.
    ES 55
    SD 22

    6-inch barrel
    MV 1248 fps
    ME 380 ft./lbs.
    ES 79
    SD 45

    8 3/8-inch barrel
    MV 1301 fps
    ME 414 ft./lbs.
    ES 89
    SD 37

    Just to illustrate the blurred distinctions in some .357 Magnum loads and some .38 Special loads, here's a factory Speer Blazer 110 grain JSP .357 Magnum load fired out of a 6-inch barreled S&W Model 27. Also consider the quoted velocities of most 9mm loadings with bullets of similar weights, being 115 grains in weight.

    MV 1116 fps
    ME 304 ft./lbs.



    Yeah Glockman10mm, that 5.1 grain charge of Unique was almost a bit disappointing because it registered so high. As I mentioned, I backtracked to see if something was amiss but found nothing. The load with the 158 grain bullet and 5.4 grains of Unique was definitely from the era prior to the reformulated "cleaner burning" Unique. In the past I couldn't tell any difference between old Unique and current production but something was up this time. I need to look and see if I have some "old" Unique lurking on the shelf and if I do then try the same load using it.

    I love testing and working with the .38 Special. It really is an amazing round to be generally considered so common and hum-drum. Sometimes I wonder if it was actually watered down in recent times mostly so it wouldn't show up 9mm and wouldn't chomp so close at the heels of the .357 Magnum. Marketing, you understand.
    “No possible rapidity of fire can atone for habitual carelessness of aim with the first shot.”

    Theodore Roosevelt, The Wilderness Hunter, 1893

  8. #7
    Senior Member Array AZ Desertrat's Avatar
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    Thanks.....I appreciate that info.
    "The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people; it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government--lest it come to dominate our lives and interests." --Patrick Henry

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    Senior Member Array FLSlim's Avatar
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    Good info, good report! Keep 'em coming.
    FWIW, I settled on 5.2 Unique under 158 gr. in 357 as one of my more accurate range loads.
    Chose a weapon that goes bang EVERY time!

  10. #9
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    Hi FLSlim;

    That's fundamentally the same load that I use in my .357 Magnums for range, field, and plinking use. I use 158 grain lead SWCs over 5.0 grains of Unique, put up in .357 Magnum cases.
    “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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