Getting "serious" about the .38 S&W?

Getting "serious" about the .38 S&W?

This is a discussion on Getting "serious" about the .38 S&W? within the Reloading forums, part of the Defensive Ammunition & Ballistics category; Part 1: (several parts coming & hopefully an attachment! (SEE .PDF ATTACHMENT IN POST#4) My bottom line up front (BLUF): you can take that modern-era ...

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    Member Array LouisianaMan's Avatar
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    Getting "serious" about the .38 S&W?

    Part 1: (several parts coming & hopefully an attachment! (SEE .PDF ATTACHMENT IN POST#4)

    My bottom line up front (BLUF): you can take that modern-era .38 S&W out of the safe and consider it for HD and SD like a standard .38 Special! Plinking, small game hunting, and even target loads are also readily achievable for handloaders. If that works for you, read on :-)

    collection, targets.jpg rugers.jpg victories.jpg
    Early collection; Ruger Indian contract guns; Victories

    “Consumer Safety Warnings”:
    I’m no expert! I’ve simply tried these loads over the past several years, with an eye towards SD/HD. Many need further development. To date, I still have my basic load of body parts.

    Reduce by 10-15% and work up; my results ARE NOT pressure-tested. I used Smith I/J frames, Colt D frames, Ruger Indian Contract guns, and Enfield top-breaks, not grandpa’s old top-break. IMO, limit even modern H&R or Iver Johnson top-breaks to factory-level loads. I relied heavily on Ken Waters’s 1979 “Pet Loads” article, but he didn’t pressure-test. I also used published data, primarily Lyman 46-49, Lee 2nd, and Speer 13. A Speer Red Dot WC load ran hotter than expected.

    topbreaks.jpg
    Vintage S&W topbreaks

    Most currently produced ammo is anemic, but check out Buffalo Bore’s new LSWC 125g @ 1000 CRASH-BOOM offering and consider Fiocchi’s 145g @ 720 FMJ. (I will when I can find it.) The .38 S&W indeed can use jacketed bullets, but pressure limits kept velocities conservative. Only nickel cases provided sufficient neck tension with jacketed .357 bullets. My recipe for the 135g Speer GDHP-Short Barrel exceeded design velocity for this bullet in .38 SPL+P, so I’ve subsequently toned it down slightly. It was markedly below a similar Waters load, BTW.

    photo25.JPG
    Lots of versions!


    I had good results for lead bullets ranging from 125g to 200g, in various profiles. (I still need to try out some 105g SWC and 125g WC.) I haven’t figured out fully the phenomenon of tumbling bullets, but the old British military .38-200 and its commercial “.38 Super Police” clone used a blunt, round-nosed slug of 200g at about 600 fps to penetrate soft targets, quickly destabilize, then rely on momentum to tumble violently and deeply. I think of it as a low-pressure alternative to the HP, but like HP’s they don’t always function as intended. Whether or not a 200g LRN stays nose-first at 600 fps, it penetrates 36” through water jugs. A 200g SWC will chop caliber-sized holes both arrow straight & 36” deep. 140g-160g lead bullets do the same at about 700 fps, but the sectional density of 200g heavyweights makes them more likely to smash bone severely and still range deeply.

    early heavyweights.jpg
    Early heavyweights: a .35 Remington 200g rifle bullet, "bumped" 358430, plain 358430 (loaded "long")
    Last edited by LouisianaMan; July 11th, 2013 at 07:21 PM.
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    Part 2 (see .pdf attachment in post #4)

    CHRONOGRAPH: data is taken from 3-20 shots, typically 5-10 shots. Some penetration test shots are listed. Some weird readings were caused by blazing direct sunshine here in the Bayou State, so I eliminated some readings I considered bogus.

    ACCURACY: Groups were acceptable with all loads at the SD/HD distances used for testing, i.e. 2-4” groups at 30-50 feet due to (cough, cough) “flyers.” Lots of one-hole groups of 3-4 shots. I’m a fan of point-shooting as advocated by Fairbairn, Sykes and Applegate, and it’s no trick to get quick hits in torso-sized targets at 35 feet with these guns & loads.

    photo13.JPG photo4.JPG
    Mod 33 (I frame) with 50+ yard target; 33-1 shoots high with 200's

    BULLET DIAMETER & YOU: combat accuracy (aka “Minute of BG”) is easy with commercial .358” bullets. The primary limiting factors are your gun’s chamber diameter & length. My Colts and Rugers liked.356- .358 bullets; anything larger was usually difficult or impossible to chamber. Smith & Wesson revolvers generally were okay with .357 - .362, even up to .364, but .359 seemed ideal. The Enfield was happiest with .359-.360, successful between .358 and .362. Smith & Wesson revolvers chambered almost any COL and bullet type I tried, from 1.05” to 1.27”. Colts and Rugers accepted the longer cartridges only with tapered or rounded ogives, not SWC or WC. Enfields were almost as accommodating as the Smiths. I like the safety margin achieved by “loading long,” but it’s tough to do in Colts & Rugers. Ken Waters’s “Pet Loads” article from 1979 used a short COL to achieve 885 fps (not a typo) with a 200g bullet similar to my 358430, but I’m not that daring!

    POINT OF IMPACT / POINT OF AIM: POI varies dramatically with bullet weight. In civilian guns, 200’s generally grouped +3” to +8.” Lighter bullets clustered +/-2” of POA. In military guns, 200’s tended to hit +/- 2” from POA and lighter bullets ranged from -5” to -8” low. A center-mass hold easily kept bullets on a torso-sized target at the 0-50’ distances I tried.

    .38 S&W Factory Ammo ballistics:

    Cartridge/Bullet COL VEL (SD) Gun NOTES
    1. 200g RN Winchester (vintage) 1.175 612 (16) 5” Victory Super Police. Commercial equivalent to British Mk 1 service ammo. .356.”
    609 (13) 4” 33-1
    2. 150g FN Remington NP (vintage) 585 (24) 4” M33-1 .38 Colt New Police. 100 fps below advertised vel, small meplat.
    3. 150g FN Win NP (vintage) pending 4” M33-1 .38 Colt New Police. Much more pronounced FN profile than Remington.
    4. 146g RN Remington (current) 628 (14) 4” M33-1; New “Target” load appears identical to traditional green/yellow box
    5. 146g RN MagTech (current) 656 (36) 4” M33-1 Excluded 2 rds. that were audibly very weak @ sub-500 fps
    6. 178g FMJ Mk 2Z (CIS) 1.240 665 (9) 5” Victory 2 rds. Modern Singapore production of British Mk 2Z service ammo
    626 (18) 5” Enfield 2 rds.
    705 (24) 4” Svc Six 2 rds.
    711 (19) 2.75” Spd Six 2 rds.

    enfield.jpg enfield snub.jpg
    Enfield service revolver And its snubbie cousin

  3. #3
    Member Array LouisianaMan's Avatar
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    Part 3 (see pdf attachment in post #4)

    Factory & Handload penetration summary:

    jugs.jpg
    the long-suffering milk jugs!

    NOTE: .38 SPL 200g loads are presented for comparison to .38 S&W heavy bullet loads (178g-200g). See attachment for detailed loading data, additional bullets, etc.

    .38 SPL, 200g SWC, 3.4g Win 231, 1.395” 6 jugs, straight, 2” DS
    .38 SPL, 200g blunt LRN, Western (vintage), 1.515” 4 jugs, tumbling, 4” M10
    .38 SPL, 200g blunt LRN, Western (vintage .38 SPL Super Police lubaloy) 6 jugs, tumbling, 4” M-10; 2 jugs, tumbling, 2” M37
    .38 SPL, 200g LRN 358430, 3.8g Win 231, 1.540” 6 jugs, straight, 4” M15

    .38 S&W, 200g SWC, 2.5g Win 231, 1.245” 6 jugs, straight, 4” M33-1
    .38 S&W, 200g blunt LRN, Winchester (vintage; duplicates British Mk 1 & US .38 Super Police) 6 jugs, tumbling, 4” M33-1
    .38 S&W, NOE .360-200, 200g blunt LRN, 2.2g Win 231, 1.175” (handload; duplicates Brit. Mk 1 & US .38 Super Police) 5 jugs, tumbling, 5” Enfield
    .38 S&W, NOE .364-200-LRN long ogive NEI 69A clone, 2.6g Win 231, 1.235” 5 jugs, tumbling, 5” Victory
    .38 S&W, 200g blunt LRN Lyman 358430, 2.7g Win 231, 1.270” (handload; dupes Mk 1, Super Police) 5 jugs, veering , 4” M33-1; 4 jugs, veering, 2” M37
    .38 S&W, same bullet bumped to LFP, 2.6g Win 231, 1.205” 6 jugs, straight, 4” M33-1
    .38 S&W, NEI 169A, 200g tapered LRN, 2.6g Win 231, COL 1.230” 5 jugs, tumbling, 5” Victory

    .38 S&W, British Mk 2Z .380, 178g FMJ, CIS (Singapore) 5 jugs, tumbling, 5” Enfield & 4” Mod. 33-1; 4 jugs, tumbling, 4” Police Positive Special; 6 jugs, tumbling, 4” Service-Six

  4. #4
    Member Array LouisianaMan's Avatar
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    Hmmm, struggling to upload data document. . .I thought I was 10% smarter than the equipment, but apparently not! :-)

    OK, here's a .pdf file! (I need to edit more--please PM or email if you spot something crazy!)
    Attached Files
    Last edited by LouisianaMan; July 11th, 2013 at 07:24 PM. Reason: added .pdf

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    Closely related thread started recently by bmcgilvray at Cartridge Discussion: .38 S&W, Ghost From Bygone Times

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    Very good information Lman. I'm going to have to dig up some brass and put that info to work.
    Ignorance is a long way from stupid, but left unchecked, can get there real fast.

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    Thanks, Glockman, hope it helps out. It's a big step down from 10mm, but it sure can drill holes! And frankly, that often-belittled British Mk 2Z FMJ impressed me.

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    Wow! .38 S&W data in spades! I just knew you were the high mooly-koo of .38 S&W, LouisianaMan. Good stuff here!

    And what an assortment of .38 S&W chambered arms! Collectively, those are representative specimens of a lot of .38 S&W revolvers out there that could be put to work with just a little imagination. It would seem that the imagination would best be turned to the "smash-'em-crash-'em" heavy lead bullets in the .38 S&W cartridge for best effectiveness. Of course there's that Buffalo Bore 125 grain loading to reckon with and it could be duplicated by judicious handloading. The Speer No. 9 manual has quite a few good-looking recipes for .38 S&W and light bullets. Some jacketed loads as well. That is if one can find those particular Speer bullet products these days.

    That's a lot of gallon milk jugs saved and shot. Y'all drink lots of milk at your house. Up to six jug penetration and still going is more than ample. Any tumbling would be gravy for the defender and a big bummer for the assailant.

    I'm not brave enough to try that Water's recommendation of 885 fps with a 200 grain slug either. That's fully in the upper realm of what a .38 Special can do with a bullet that heavy.

    I'm envious of your finding and testing 200 grain vintage .38 Special loads. I've shot off exactly 4 of them and only for effect; no chronograph testing, no attempts to shoot for group, or nothing.

    That Enfield 2-inch snub is another one of those few special breed of handguns that looks so "bad-to-the-bone" and "all-business." With a proper speed loader it'd be the very fastest revolver to reload and bring back into play of any revolver ever made. Man, I wish someone would bring back the Webley top-break design with current steels and modern chamberings.

    While not a huge fan of Ruger, I'd love to have a .38 S&W chambered Speed Six. And LouisianaMan has not one, but two! That is just amazing that the Speed Six and the .38 S&W ever crossed paths. Fugate's had one up on GunBroker just last week, NIB, for $850 or so. As I was messing with .38 S&W at the time I was sorely tempted.

    I'd saved up some milk jugs (we drink lots of milk too) and also have a big batch already saved out at our old place on the lake. Was going out there yesterday afternoon to do a chore and thought to attempt a ballistic test of my own with the remaining 200 grain loads from my testing. As I was packing to go I discovered that I shot all the rounds off except for the light Herco-charged ones that were sticking in the bore. I thought I had some more spares left.

    I once did a test of a handloaded Remington 200 grain round-nose lead component bullet over a suitable charge of 2400 in the .38 Special that gave 842 fps from my 4-inch Smith & Wesson Model 10. Only it was back when gallon paper milk cartons were current. The lake was low that summer so I shot along the shore line into a gravel berm made of waste from an old gravel pit dug when the family sold gravel to the county before the lake was built in the early 1950s. A hill, also on our place backed this up. Anyway, upon firing into the front carton I could hear the bullet thwacking through a stand of willow 50 yards behind the area, having gone over the top of the gravel berm. All six water-filled gallon cartons were penetrated. I'd only put six cartons out thinking the bullet would be stopped for certain. I'd have never guessed it could have penetrated like that. Stuff like the .357 Magnum or .44 Magnum would grenade 3 cartons and ruin the 4th due to velocity and expansion.

    This same load gave 922 fps from a long 8 3/8-inch Smith & Wesson Model 14 and was used the next deer season to take the first deer I ever shot with a handgun. The bullet didn't exit the buck but was found wedged sideways in an off-side rib. Evident expansion was great and a large smear of lead extended from the side of the very soft lead bullet. The bullet still weighed over 190 grains. A few stumbling sickly steps and and the buck dropped before I could thumb-cock the revolver for a follow-up shot. Did it tumble? Who knows, though it seemed to give some indication that it did.

    Thanks LouisianaMan for kindly linking to my thread. I'm linking it back to yours too. That way anyone seeking data on .38 S&W in a search engine can have access to both threads.
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    Well, LouisanaMan. You gotta watch out for me. I'm so absent-minded.

    I'm at the bench just now, cleaning the Webley after a bit of shooting yesterday afternoon, and find the left-over handloads from the 200-grain chronograph tests that I thought I still had. They were under some pans of .41 Long Colt sized cartridge cases that I'd stacked on top of them.

    So, I still can do some jug-bustin' in coming weeks.

    This doesn't explain the nearly full box of .357 Magnum that went missing after a trip to the range couple of weeks ago.
    Charter Member of the DC .41 LC Society "Get heeled! No really"

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    Wish I could pretend that I've never done that. . .

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    Member Array LouisianaMan's Avatar
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    Bmcgilvray, I'm glad you enjoyed the info. However, I must quote WT Sherman (can't stand to do that--the man was way too careless with fire) and say that when it comes to being the High Mooly-Koo of .38 S&W, "If nominated, I will not run; if elected I will not serve."

    Alright, I admit I've always wanted to use that quote :-) And to think, that arsonist was the first president of my alma mater, LSU! Proof that the gods toy with our emotions. . . .

    I must also admit that the good ol' .38 S&W has become some sort of Holy Grail of Ordnance for me, though. Not sure why, I guess that sometimes the stars align & you just go with it. Today I'll try to post some current & better photos of my conglomeration of .38 S&W guns and ammo, perhaps in adequate lighting this time.

    Honestly, I got interested a few years ago in 200g bullets in .38's. I'd never been aware that anybody ever dreamed of solving the Great SD/HD Pistol Caliber Quest without boosting pressure, velocity, and the attendant blast, flash and recoil. The notion that the Brits supposedly believed their .38-200 to be equal to the .455 seemed so bizarre, especially since everybody writing about it on every gun forum blasted the idea as ludicrous. As I've often mentioned, I got into shooting in the early '70's, when Jeff Cooper dominated the conversation with the .45 ACP/Weaver stance as the only sane solution. The old British ideas just made no sense to me, but I couldn't shake the idea that they must have had some reason to think as they did.

    I'll never truly be satisfied until I can read with my own eyes the Brits' official analysis of the .38-200. However, secondhand evidence satisfies me of certain things. Most importantly, the British Army wasn't looking to distill the argument to simply pitting one caliber against another, as many posters assume. Rather, they were looking at all facets of "combat effectiveness of the handgun," and their starting point was an unshakable conclusion that their big .455 Webleys were simply too much for the average hastily-trained soldier to handle. Less than 2 years after the Great War's end, they started working to solve that problem--clearly they felt that it was really a serious one. They were concerned about the gun's size, weight, shape, perceived recoil, handgun wounding mechanisms--everything.

    In modern terms, the .455 weapons system was too much for conscripts to handle. The revolver vs. automatic controversy was real, but the Brits quickly concluded that training problems and reliability issues ruled out the auto. (More later about that.) They were looking for a ready solution, and with .45 too big, and .32 too small in their opinion, .38 was their point of departure. The .38 SPL was slightly too long for the cylinder that Webley used in their existing revolvers, so strategic logistics clearly drove their decision to use a cartridge that fit the cylinder they had, rather than re-engineering the entire Webley revolver & retooling all existing machinery to accommodate the .38 SPL cartridge.
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    The above is a most excellent, insightful post, chock full of intelligent thoughts.

    "And to think, that arsonist was the first president of my alma mater, LSU! Proof that the gods toy with our emotions. . . ."

    "The old British ideas just made no sense to me, but I couldn't shake the idea that they must have had some reason to think as they did."

    "I'd never been aware that anybody ever dreamed of solving the Great SD/HD Pistol Caliber Quest without boosting pressure, velocity, and the attendant blast, flash and recoil."

    "Most importantly, the British Army wasn't looking to distill the argument to simply pitting one caliber against another ..."

    We have mental giants walking among us here on DC Forum!

    Oh, and that shorty 2-1/2-inch Ruger .38 S&W is the "cat's' meow!"
    Charter Member of the DC .41 LC Society "Get heeled! No really"

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    In short, the Brits felt they had to find a way to get "acceptable performance" from a shorter .38, and they were fully aware of our earlier problems with the .38 Long Colt and its 150g @ 750 LRN ammo vs. Moro tribesmen.

    Apparently, their conventional wisdom considered "heavy + slow + lead" superior to "light + fast + jacketed" in "stopping power," which everybody then and since has struggled vainly to quantify. Our 1904 Thompson-LaGarde tests pointed in the exact same direction, but for whatever reasons we wanted an auto and it was clear that smaller-caliber jacketed, non-expanding bullets had limited effects--when they weren't blowing up the target's brain housing group!

    At some point that's unclear to me, the Brits became aware--I think--that a 200g blunt-nosed, soft lead bullet at 600-ish offered several favorable characteristics, although I have no idea how much stock they put in Thompson-LaGarde and/or how much they observed in their own extensive testing of the .38-200 (aka .380 Rim in their terminology) on live animals and human cadavers in the later 1920's. As best I can reconstruct the thought process, here goes:

    1. Soft lead flattens against bone, crushing through & pulverizing it rather than drilling cleaner holes, as jacketed and hard alloy bullets often do.

    2. Pointier LRN's tend to glance off bone. FN profiles smash bone "nicely," but drill straight & deep wound channels & overpenetrate at modest velocities. Blunt-nosed bullets are less likely to glance off AND less likely to drill straight through; rather, at some "magic" low velocity they tend to destabilize & tumble. For a .38, a 200g will destabilize most reliably at 600 +/-50 fps.

    3. In .38 caliber, a 200g tumbling bullet has sufficient momentum to penetrate deeply, not overpenetrate, and smash bone + rip an expanded wound channel through tissue.

    4. I think they may have accepted the ideas that a bullet remaining in the target maximizes "energy transfer," an argument that persists today. According to Revolvergeek, there's a "dwell time" theory as well, and the Brits may/may not have bought into that. I presume it means that longer bullet transit time = more damage, somehow, maybe working on the target's nervous system.

    In my crude testing, the bullets are quite likely to tumble within the 1st or 2nd water jug and rip holes thru 3-5 more jugs every time. The much-maligned Mk 2Z 178g FMJ round, which the Brits adopted to obviate Hague Convention concerns about deforming bullets, really impressed me. On a number of occasions, it really did a number on jugs 1, 2, and or 3 as it destabilized and began tumbling.

    If water penetration equates to roughly double that achieved in gelatin, 5-6 jugs = 30-36" water = 15- 18" ballistic jello. Bullets that tumbled usually did so starting in jug #2, i.e. equivalent to the 3" to 6" point in modern tissue simulant. Whether 200g lead or 178g FMJ, they penetrated 9-12 additional inches (tissue equivalent) while tumbling.

    HP's that successfully expand tend to start at about 1" and inflict an expanded wound channel from about the 2" to 6" mark, thereafter the wound channel decreases to caliber-size. The .38-200 heavyweights behaved in a way that suggests that tumblers likely inflict an expanded wound channel from about 3" to 8", and probably inflict lessening damage as they tumble the additional 7-10" . Less if they strike bone. From most angles, a torso shot with a heavy tumbler is likely to inflict serious damage.

    Lots of guesswork, but perhaps that explains why the British Army evidently claimed the .38-200 had "stopping power" that was "nearly equal to" the .455. If the .38 tumbled and the .455 didn't, and Fackler is largely correct with his emphasis on permanent crush cavity, they may have been right.
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    You got away with your "mental giant" comment while I was doing some more pontificating!

    What does everyone think of my logic on trying to reverse-engineer things that were established 80 years ago? And were the Brits right or wrong about effectiveness of .38-200? Let me emphasize that I included .38 SPL 200g data because the W-W was loaded to the same 600-ish velocity as the .38 S&W with a nearly identical bullet. (Photos later today.) The Lubaloy "Super Police" was loaded to about 700, which is pretty close.
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    Thank You LaMan this has been one of the more enjoyable threads that I have read in awhile.

    I might have to beg my Uncle to let me try out my Grandpaws ole Enfield
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