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Test Gun: S&W M442
Barrel length: 1 7/8 inches.
Ammunition: Underwood .38spl 150gr Wadcutter (Item 732)
Test media: 10% Clear Ballistics Gel
Distance: 10 feet.
Chronograph: Caldwell Ballistic Precision Chronograph G2.
Velocity average: 806fps

 

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Ironically, at the Revolver Roundup this year at Gunsite, Chuck Haggard and some other notables in the field did some testing of loads for the 38 snub and determined the 148 grain wadcutter at 750 fps was the best overall choice for a defensive load, and Georgia Arms has been sanctioned to load that ammo specifically for the airweight snubs.
 

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Ironically, at the Revolver Roundup this year at Gunsite, Chuck Haggard and some other notables in the field did some testing of loads for the 38 snub and determined the 148 grain wadcutter at 750 fps was the best overall choice for a defensive load, and Georgia Arms has been sanctioned to load that ammo specifically for the airweight snubs.
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I carry 148 grain wadcutters. Same ammo I practice with.
 

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Honestly never considered wad cutter over hollow point.
Still not sure I see the advantage. To me, a COM shot with something that expands is always going to be better than a COM shot with no expansion - the vertebral arteries are big but a shot could be off just enough to miss one. Having a protruding fragment that catches one of them on the way by ups your chances of stopping the threat.
 

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Honestly never considered wad cutter over hollow point.
Still not sure I see the advantage. To me, a COM shot with something that expands is always going to be better than a COM shot with no expansion - the vertebral arteries are big but a shot could be off just enough to miss one. Having a protruding fragment that catches one of them on the way by ups your chances of stopping the threat.
The advantage is deep reliable penetration from a slow moving bullet that cuts a full caliber hole. When HP's don't expand they can cut ice pick holes that nearly close up behind the bullets.
Short barrel guns have trouble getting reliable expansion.
WC bullets reliably do what they do best. DR
 

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I haven't loaded any high speed wadcutters in years. I would have to check my logs, but most of my wadcutters travel around 600 fps. Fun to shoot, and accurate. I have carried them a lot. I know they are not ideal carry rounds. My plan is to shoot and hope I do enough damage that my old, overweight, chronic smoker behind can out run run them or whip them in a fight.
 

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Ironically, at the Revolver Roundup this year at Gunsite, Chuck Haggard and some other notables in the field did some testing of loads for the 38 snub and determined the 148 grain wadcutter at 750 fps was the best overall choice for a defensive load, and Georgia Arms has been sanctioned to load that ammo specifically for the airweight snubs.
Yeah but those are low recoil yet penetrate fine. The high velocity Buffalo Bore or Underwood wadcutters will have heavy recoil out of an airweight, undermining the point. Why not carry a Speer Gold Dot +p then?
 

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Honestly never considered wad cutter over hollow point.
Still not sure I see the advantage. To me, a COM shot with something that expands is always going to be better than a COM shot with no expansion - the vertebral arteries are big but a shot could be off just enough to miss one. Having a protruding fragment that catches one of them on the way by ups your chances of stopping the threat.
It’s because a lot of HPs don’t expand reliably out of a snubby, are heavy recoil, and act like FMJ. Or, they expand but don’t penetrate. There are a few exceptions (Federal Punch, Speer Gold Dot).
 

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Yeah but those are low recoil yet penetrate fine. The high velocity Buffalo Bore or Underwood wadcutters will have heavy recoil out of an airweight, undermining the point. Why not carry a Speer Gold Dot +p then?
This is my current carry load. It comes in at just under 700 fps from my gun. Here in my part of CA they can be hard to find. So I buy when I see them.
.

They shoot fine from my airweight.
I also practice with the same 148 gr bullet at 600 fps. at under 30 yds they both have the same point of impact. DR
 

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Yeah but those are low recoil yet penetrate fine. The high velocity Buffalo Bore or Underwood wadcutters will have heavy recoil out of an airweight, undermining the point. Why not carry a Speer Gold Dot +p then?
Here are 100 rounds of LSWC loads made to an average velocity of 650 fps. They will cut a full caliber hole and reliably penetrate what needs penetrating from any angle. They are very manageable in the airweight and cost about $12 at todays prices to make, which means you can practice with what you carry.
Why would I want to pay almost $50 for a 50 round box that will probably not expand anyway?
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Here are 100 rounds of LSWC loads made to an average velocity of 650 fps. They will cut a full caliber hole and reliably penetrate what needs penetrating from any angle. They are very manageable in the airweight and cost about $12 at todays prices to make, which means you can practice with what you carry.
Why would I want to pay almost $50 for a 50 round box that will probably not expand anyway?
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Right but what I was referencing was the hot wadcutters. Not sure they are needed. I have some 158 grain SWC too. It’s in my air weight occasionally, and I don’t feel underarmed
 

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This is my current carry load. It comes in at just under 700 fps from my gun. Here in my part of CA they can be hard to find. So I buy when I see them.
.

They shoot fine from my airweight.
I also practice with the same 148 gr bullet at 600 fps. at under 30 yds they both have the same point of impact. DR
Nice, I just bought some more fiocci wad cutters.

For carry a good option I think are the Precision One copper plated wadcutters. They are 710 fps, and I think the copper plating reduces fouling and would help the edges stay sharp when penetrating. I had 400 or so but shot them all learning my 642.

 

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G-man, that looks exactly like a mix-and-match batch of my general purpose .38 Special reloads. Mine are stoked with a bit more goodness in the form of 4.8 grains of Unique, giving 810 fps from a 2-inch barrel and 858 fps from a 4-inch barrel.

I buy into the notion of the lead wadcutters and semi-wadcutters for both field or personal defense use. I gotta say I prefer a bit more "starch" in 'em than is being indicated here. From 925 to 1000 feet per second velocities is my happy place for a hunting/personal defense load for a .38 Special with 148 grain to158 grain lead wadcutter or semi-wadcutter bullets.

I've seen too many 650-700 fps 148 grain wadcutters give limited to dismal penetration in various ballistic "non-tests" or bounce off target back boards, tree trunks, or hard packed earth to trust them for defense.

I once read of a night desk officer who was assaulted in a police station who used his service revolver loaded with target wadcutter .38 Special ammunition against his assailant. A 148 grain lead wadcutter was found to be stopped in the miscreant's left hand which had gotten in the way of a shot intended for the torso.

Apparently that was enough to take the fight out of the attacker as the story had a happy ending. So, one could say that the load served the purpose.

But, what if it hadn't?

The tale was used to illustrate the weaknesses of the use of light target .38 Special loads for defensive purposes. I didn't observe it so don't know if it was true, but could well believe that it could be so.

Something lead with full caliber shoulders, on the heavy end of the range of bullet weights available for a cartridge and traveling over 900 fps makes me feel better about penetration. This holds true for me in .32-20, .38 Special, .44, or .45 revolvers.

It must be said that far more critters and varmints, up to large feral dogs and an injured deer, have been laid low by my 858 fps 158 grain lead SWC handload fired from a 4-inch barrel .38 Special than all other center fire handgun cartridges I've used combined.

It's really the combination that has put the "Special" in ol' .38 Special for me.
 

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G-man, that looks exactly like a mix-and-match batch of my general purpose .38 Special reloads. Mine are stoked with a bit more goodness in the form of 4.8 grains of Unique, giving 810 fps from a 2-inch barrel and 858 fps from a 4-inch barrel.

I buy into the notion of the lead wadcutters and semi-wadcutters for both field or personal defense use. I gotta say I prefer a bit more "starch" in 'em than is being indicated here. From 925 to 1000 feet per second velocities is my happy place for a hunting/personal defense load for a .38 Special with 148 grain to158 grain lead wadcutter or semi-wadcutter bullets.

I've seen too many 650-700 fps 148 grain wadcutters give limited to dismal penetration in various ballistic "non-tests" or bounce off target back boards, tree trunks, or hard packed earth to trust them for defense.

I once read of a night desk officer who was assaulted in a police station who used his service revolver loaded with target wadcutter .38 Special ammunition against his assailant. A 148 grain lead wadcutter was found to be stopped in the miscreant's left hand which had gotten in the way of a shot intended for the torso.

Apparently that was enough to take the fight out of the attacker as the story had a happy ending. So, one could say that the load served the purpose.

But, what if it hadn't?

The tale was used to illustrate the weaknesses of the use of light target .38 Special loads for defensive purposes. I didn't observe it so don't know if it was true, but could well believe that it could be so.

Something lead with full caliber shoulders, on the heavy end of the range of bullet weights available for a cartridge and traveling over 900 fps makes me feel better about penetration. This holds true for me in .32-20, .38 Special, .44, or .45 revolvers.

It must be said that far more critters and varmints, up to large feral dogs and an injured deer, have been laid low by my 858 fps 158 grain lead SWC handload fired from a 4-inch barrel .38 Special than all other center fire handgun cartridges I've used combined.

It's really the combination that has put the "Special" in ol' .38 Special for me.
So maybe .38 standard pressure 158 grain SWC is a good answer? My only thing is if one pumps up any of these to +P 1000 FPS style rounds, one might as well be shooting Speer Gold Dot +P at that point. Unless cost is the issue.
 

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G-man, that looks exactly like a mix-and-match batch of my general purpose .38 Special reloads. Mine are stoked with a bit more goodness in the form of 4.8 grains of Unique, giving 810 fps from a 2-inch barrel and 858 fps from a 4-inch barrel.

I buy into the notion of the lead wadcutters and semi-wadcutters for both field or personal defense use. I gotta say I prefer a bit more "starch" in 'em than is being indicated here. From 925 to 1000 feet per second velocities is my happy place for a hunting/personal defense load for a .38 Special with 148 grain to158 grain lead wadcutter or semi-wadcutter bullets.

I've seen too many 650-700 fps 148 grain wadcutters give limited to dismal penetration in various ballistic "non-tests" or bounce off target back boards, tree trunks, or hard packed earth to trust them for defense.

I once read of a night desk officer who was assaulted in a police station who used his service revolver loaded with target wadcutter .38 Special ammunition against his assailant. A 148 grain lead wadcutter was found to be stopped in the miscreant's left hand which had gotten in the way of a shot intended for the torso.

Apparently that was enough to take the fight out of the attacker as the story had a happy ending. So, one could say that the load served the purpose.

But, what if it hadn't?

The tale was used to illustrate the weaknesses of the use of light target .38 Special loads for defensive purposes. I didn't observe it so don't know if it was true, but could well believe that it could be so.

Something lead with full caliber shoulders, on the heavy end of the range of bullet weights available for a cartridge and traveling over 900 fps makes me feel better about penetration. This holds true for me in .32-20, .38 Special, .44, or .45 revolvers.

It must be said that far more critters and varmints, up to large feral dogs and an injured deer, have been laid low by my 858 fps 158 grain lead SWC handload fired from a 4-inch barrel .38 Special than all other center fire handgun cartridges I've used combined.

It's really the combination that has put the "Special" in ol' .38 Special for me.
I can’t disagree on what constitutes proper starch in the 38 spl, but I have “ proofed” these loads using the highest end hillbilly techniques and methods, FYI.😉

That particular load at 650 has plenty of penetration power. I used a deer skull, covered with a few layers of meat, an old thick wool shirt, and backed by 3 gallon jugs of water.
It penetrated all of the jugs after busting thru the skull; which is much thicker of course than a flat rib bone.

So, they are tailored to the airweight, not a proper steel frame gun. And for that, they are perfect. I can shoot that entire box in a single practice session without too much discomfort, and save 5 for the ride back home.

Now, my k frame heavy loads are 5.4 grains of Unique, or 13 grains of 2400.

But I have found that with that type of bullet, for most purposes, you don’t need a lot of velocity to get good penetration.
 

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Test Gun: S&W M442
Barrel length: 1 7/8 inches.
Ammunition: Underwood .38spl 150gr Wadcutter (Item 732)
Test media: 10% Clear Ballistics Gel
Distance: 10 feet.
Chronograph: Caldwell Ballistic Precision Chronograph G2.
Velocity average: 806fps

Would it be possible for you to do a test with Berry's 158 gr target hollow points loaded to moderate.357 velocities (say about 1100 fps)? I'd be curious to see if they expand, they're copper plated with a max velocity of 1250 fps.
 

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I can’t disagree on what constitutes proper starch in the 38 spl, but I have “ proofed” these loads using the highest end hillbilly techniques and methods, FYI.😉

That particular load at 650 has plenty of penetration power. I used a deer skull, covered with a few layers of meat, an old thick wool shirt, and backed by 3 gallon jugs of water.
It penetrated all of the jugs after busting thru the skull; which is much thicker of course than a flat rib bone.

So, they are tailored to the airweight, not a proper steel frame gun. And for that, they are perfect. I can shoot that entire box in a single practice session without too much discomfort, and save 5 for the ride back home.

Now, my k frame heavy loads are 5.4 grains of Unique, or 13 grains of 2400.

But I have found that with that type of bullet, for most purposes, you don’t need a lot of velocity to get good penetration.
I am with you on saving five for the ride home ;)

To your point, don't a lot of ballistics tests show these basic wadcutters penetrating well over 12 inches?
 
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