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.38 Spl - Load Work & Testing

ZeeZee Senior MemberPosts: 23,588 Senior Member
I’ve never loaded for the .38 Spl before but, since I got that Rossi revolver, I decided it was time to learn. Then, a couple days ago, I was talking to a friend and he mentioned he carried a .38 Spl S&W but only had FMJ ammo to carry. I told him I’d work ya both up a defensive load to carry. 
Received my Matt’s Bullets 148gr RFHP last week and decided to start with them first. 
They actually weigh in at 147gr +/- for the ones I weighed. 
The only powders I had to work with were Trail Boss and Unique (found out later I can use Longshot as well)
Determined the seat depth and filled the remainder of the case with 5.0 gr Trail Boss as is doable with the powder.  Went with 4.0gr of Unique as shown in my Hornady manual and hit the range. 

The TB load was a little faster than I expected and accuracy was so-so. 

Penetrated 3 gallon jugs with less than stellar expansion and effect. 


Next was the Unique Load. 

Speed was paltry as was the accuracy at 10 yrds. But the expansion (or lack there of) was negligent. The nose actually collapsed and caved in. Basically turning it into a LRN. Penetrated 4 jugs with little effect. 

Dejected and disappointed, I decided to let my boy shoot up more of the target ammo for brass. 


Packed up and headed home. It was time to start over with load work. 
"To Hell with efficiency, it's performance we want!" - Elmer Keith
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Replies

  • NNNN Senior Member Posts: 24,643 Senior Member
    I'm not a reloader but if I was; I would try 148 gr semi wadcutter HP.
    Shut up-----KAREN; OK Cynthia
  • 2Aman2Aman Member Posts: 332 Member
    Thank you for sharing that info, great pics. 
  • ZeeZee Senior Member Posts: 23,588 Senior Member
    Back home I looked through my various load books for data with more balls and Sierra provided them.  But, they didn’t list the 148ish grain bullet weight I was using. 

    So, looking at the two listed max loads of 6.4gr and 6.1gr, I decided to SWAG and go with 6.0gr Unique in my case. 
    Headed to the ranch to test. 
    Accuracy was about the same at 10 yards. Maybe it’s the bullet or maybe that’s just as good as I’m capable with the gun. But, velocity?!?  Adding 2 grains of powder to the case jumped the velocity UP 350 fps!!!  Can you say 1,000 fps from a snub nosed .38 Spl revolver?!?
    And the result on jugs?  

    Now we are talking!  Recoil wasn’t painful at all. Just....abrupt as compared to all the other anemic loads. In fact, it was like a 9mm Pistol in recoil. 
    Which brings up a point, the 147gr Winchester Bonded ammo I tested and shot that good sized pig with was going just over 1,000 fps as well. Aside from being bonded as compared to cast lead, they are ballistically the same. And that 9mm put the pig down in 6-8 seconds!  Granted, it will penetrate deeper as it’s bonded. But, I think I may just have to shoot another pig to compare these two ballistically similar loads. 
    And the boy shot more target ammo for brass.  Moving him back to 10 yards this time.  He’s getting better. 😎

    Well, I’m pretty happy with this load. It’s at the top end of Special but not quite +P, I would guess. Should do what I need it to do. 
    "To Hell with efficiency, it's performance we want!" - Elmer Keith
  • ZeeZee Senior Member Posts: 23,588 Senior Member
    Here are all three bullets in comparison. Their load data and velocity. 


    "To Hell with efficiency, it's performance we want!" - Elmer Keith
  • GunNutGunNut Posts: 5,322 Senior Member
    Unique is a great powder for short barrels guns!
    Old West Saying: God created men, but Col. Sam Colt made them equal.

    General George Patton:  “Watch what people are cynical about, and one can often discover what they lack.”

  • ZeeZee Senior Member Posts: 23,588 Senior Member

    "To Hell with efficiency, it's performance we want!" - Elmer Keith
  • Big Al1Big Al1 Senior Member Posts: 7,767 Senior Member
    I use more Unique than any other powder, pistol and rifle!
  • earlyagainearlyagain Posts: 6,748 Senior Member
    Looks good. I hope it doesn't stress the gun too much. Could be the bullet design won't allow better grouping.

    I think a 148 wc driven to 850fps might do as well. 
  • BigslugBigslug Senior Member Posts: 8,160 Senior Member
    Zee said:

    . . .Which brings up a point, the 147gr Winchester Bonded ammo I tested and shot that good sized pig with was going just over 1,000 fps as well. Aside from being bonded as compared to cast lead, they are ballistically the same. And that 9mm put the pig down in 6-8 seconds!  Granted, it will penetrate deeper as it’s bonded. But, I think I may just have to shoot another pig to compare these two ballistically similar loads. 

    As usual, good show!

    Soooooo. . .here's a topic for contemplation:

    The Winchester bonded loads will penetrate more because they expand a little less than their non-bonded rounds like the SXT with it's widespread talons.  The same effect can be achieved with cast hollow points by fiddling with alloy or by going to a reduced-depth cavity.  Some molds can be purchased with as many as three or even four sets of nose pins - solids that eliminate the HP entirely, low-depth "cup points" for mid-level controlled expansion, long points for a deep cavity and more expansion, and something called a "penta-point" - giving a pentagon-shaped cavity that splits the nose into five petals.

    That's all great if you're pouring your own.  Since you're not, I think you should definitely try that same heavy charge of Unique with a traditional soft-alloy wadcutter, and compare them with the Winchester Bonded.  My guess is that the results will be pretty similar - expansion to maybe .45-.50 caliber, and hopefully four jugs of penetration.

    The unofficial pseudo-science in my head is that three jug penetration is on par with a lot of autoloader duty loads, and is probably ideal for the relative narrow "vertical orientation" of a standing human torso.  Giving up a couple tenths of an inch expansion to gain a fourth jug may play better for quartering shots on a horizontally-oriented critter.
    WWJMBD?

    "Nothing is safe from stupid." - Zee
  • ZeeZee Senior Member Posts: 23,588 Senior Member
    I don’t suspect these same Bullets would expand as much in flesh and bone. 
    "To Hell with efficiency, it's performance we want!" - Elmer Keith
  • Ernie BishopErnie Bishop Senior Member Posts: 7,425 Senior Member
    Great comparison
    Ernie

    "The Un-Tactical"
  • SpkSpk Senior Member Posts: 3,867 Senior Member
    Zee said:
    I don’t suspect these same Bullets would expand as much in flesh and bone. 
    I agree. Critters are a bit elastic, non-homogeneous and vary in density. That's what makes water jugs or gelatin great for comparative testing. Consistency and reproducibility.
    Good info, btw. Now where's the little piggy piggy...


    Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience -- Mark Twain
    How easy it is to make people believe a lie, and [how] hard it is to undo that work again! -- Mark Twain

  • Uncle FesterUncle Fester Senior Member Posts: 1,350 Senior Member
    Looks good. I hope it doesn't stress the gun too much. Could be the bullet design won't allow better grouping.

    I think a 148 wc driven to 850fps might do as well. 
    My Lyman manual has loading for what they call #38156 which is a 155gr cast bullet.  It suggests 5.4 grains of Unique would be a plus p load out of 4” in barrel.
  • ZeeZee Senior Member Posts: 23,588 Senior Member
    I’m not overly familiar with the .38 Spl in general. Having had a somewhat disappointing past with the cartridge. I left it in my wake. 
    I’m now attempting to rekindle a relationship using handloading to appease my desire for results. The recoil still feels somewhat tame and like a 9mm as I stated above. 

    Is 1,000 fps with a 148gr bullet considered +P for the .38 Spl?
    "To Hell with efficiency, it's performance we want!" - Elmer Keith
  • ZeeZee Senior Member Posts: 23,588 Senior Member
    edited June 1 #16
    Bigslug said:
    Zee said:

    . . .Which brings up a point, the 147gr Winchester Bonded ammo I tested and shot that good sized pig with was going just over 1,000 fps as well. Aside from being bonded as compared to cast lead, they are ballistically the same. And that 9mm put the pig down in 6-8 seconds!  Granted, it will penetrate deeper as it’s bonded. But, I think I may just have to shoot another pig to compare these two ballistically similar loads. 


    That's all great if you're pouring your own.  Since you're not, I think you should definitely try that same heavy charge of Unique with a traditional soft-alloy wadcutter, and compare them with the Winchester Bonded.  My guess is that the results will be pretty similar - expansion to maybe .45-.50 caliber, and hopefully four jugs of penetration.
    I have the 152gr Matt’s Bullets HBWC I could try. I’d consider the load to be same/same. But, I don’t know the strength of the lead. 
    Can try it anyway, just for laughs. 

    How many jugs you recon I should line up?
    "To Hell with efficiency, it's performance we want!" - Elmer Keith
  • ZeeZee Senior Member Posts: 23,588 Senior Member
    Big Al1 said:
    I use more Unique than any other powder, pistol and rifle!
    It’s a new powder for me. Only used it with the .44 Spl before and that was dismal. 
    "To Hell with efficiency, it's performance we want!" - Elmer Keith
  • earlyagainearlyagain Posts: 6,748 Senior Member
    Zee said:


    Is 1,000 fps with a 148gr bullet considered +P for the .38 Spl?
    The way to find out is to find corrosponding data that lists ignition pressure. Then compare it with SAAMI MAP for 38spl versus 38+p.. It can be found online with some time.



  • SpkSpk Senior Member Posts: 3,867 Senior Member
    edited June 1 #19
    Zee said:
    I’m not overly familiar with the .38 Spl in general. Having had a somewhat disappointing past with the cartridge. I left it in my wake. 
    I’m now attempting to rekindle a relationship using handloading to appease my desire for results. The recoil still feels somewhat tame and like a 9mm as I stated above. 

    Is 1,000 fps with a 148gr bullet considered +P for the .38 Spl?
    I would guess your in that neighborhood.

    From the Alliant website they list a 158 grain LSWC from a 6" barrel using 5.2 grains of Unique at 919 feet per second.
    They also list a 135 grain GDHP from a 6" barrel using 5.2 grains of Unique at 988 feet per second. Both of these loads are listed as +P.
    In both cases they're not reaching 1000 f/s and they're using 6 inch test barrels so I would guess you're in the Elmer Keith zone as far as Alliant is concerned.
    http://www.alliantpowder.com/reloaders/powderlist.aspx?type=1&powderid=3&cartridge=27

    That listing for 125 grain GDHP's looks promising.
    Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience -- Mark Twain
    How easy it is to make people believe a lie, and [how] hard it is to undo that work again! -- Mark Twain

  • ZeeZee Senior Member Posts: 23,588 Senior Member
    Well, I loaded up 35 rounds with this load. 

    25 for me and 10 for my buddy. 
    This will not be a target load. If life goes well, I’ll only need to fire one more of them. I to a pig for testing. The rest can keep the cylinder company if never fired in defense. 

    Gonna try the Wadcutter at about the same speed and see how it does. 
    "To Hell with efficiency, it's performance we want!" - Elmer Keith
  • SpkSpk Senior Member Posts: 3,867 Senior Member
    I don't think you'll hurt anything with limited use but those loads do seem on the hot side for 38 Spl. Looking forward to the pig test. 👍
    Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience -- Mark Twain
    How easy it is to make people believe a lie, and [how] hard it is to undo that work again! -- Mark Twain

  • GunNutGunNut Posts: 5,322 Senior Member
    Zee said:
    Big Al1 said:
    I use more Unique than any other powder, pistol and rifle!
    It’s a new powder for me. Only used it with the .44 Spl before and that was dismal. 
    Not my favorite for the big cases because of potentially unreliable/uneven ignition and burn.  Big Al and I where just having this discussion on PM.  I prefer Unique for smaller cases like .38 spl and it does Ok in .357 mag, especially good when you load bullets deep into the case target wadcutters.  I always crimp it heavy for better results.
    Old West Saying: God created men, but Col. Sam Colt made them equal.

    General George Patton:  “Watch what people are cynical about, and one can often discover what they lack.”

  • bullsi1911bullsi1911 Moderator Posts: 11,026 Senior Member
    Zee said:
    Bigslug said:
    Zee said:

    . . .Which brings up a point, the 147gr Winchester Bonded ammo I tested and shot that good sized pig with was going just over 1,000 fps as well. Aside from being bonded as compared to cast lead, they are ballistically the same. And that 9mm put the pig down in 6-8 seconds!  Granted, it will penetrate deeper as it’s bonded. But, I think I may just have to shoot another pig to compare these two ballistically similar loads. 


    That's all great if you're pouring your own.  Since you're not, I think you should definitely try that same heavy charge of Unique with a traditional soft-alloy wadcutter, and compare them with the Winchester Bonded.  My guess is that the results will be pretty similar - expansion to maybe .45-.50 caliber, and hopefully four jugs of penetration.
    I have the 152gr Matt’s Bullets HBWC I could try. I’d consider the load to be same/same. But, I don’t know the strength of the lead. 
    Can try it anyway, just for laughs. 

    How many jugs you recon I should line up?
    I have been quite happy with the HBWC loaded upside down on trail boss.  light recoil, OK penetration and WICKED expansion.  

    Load some up and test 'em.  
    To make something simple is a thousand times more difficult than to make something complex.
    -Mikhail Kalashnikov
  • ZeeZee Senior Member Posts: 23,588 Senior Member
    Zee said:
    Bigslug said:
    Zee said:

    . . .Which brings up a point, the 147gr Winchester Bonded ammo I tested and shot that good sized pig with was going just over 1,000 fps as well. Aside from being bonded as compared to cast lead, they are ballistically the same. And that 9mm put the pig down in 6-8 seconds!  Granted, it will penetrate deeper as it’s bonded. But, I think I may just have to shoot another pig to compare these two ballistically similar loads. 


    That's all great if you're pouring your own.  Since you're not, I think you should definitely try that same heavy charge of Unique with a traditional soft-alloy wadcutter, and compare them with the Winchester Bonded.  My guess is that the results will be pretty similar - expansion to maybe .45-.50 caliber, and hopefully four jugs of penetration.
    I have the 152gr Matt’s Bullets HBWC I could try. I’d consider the load to be same/same. But, I don’t know the strength of the lead. 
    Can try it anyway, just for laughs. 

    How many jugs you recon I should line up?
    I have been quite happy with the HBWC loaded upside down on trail boss.  light recoil, OK penetration and WICKED expansion.  

    Load some up and test 'em.  
    I wish you knew how fast you were pushing yours. 
    "To Hell with efficiency, it's performance we want!" - Elmer Keith
  • BigslugBigslug Senior Member Posts: 8,160 Senior Member
    Zee said:
    Bigslug said:
    Zee said:

    . . .Which brings up a point, the 147gr Winchester Bonded ammo I tested and shot that good sized pig with was going just over 1,000 fps as well. Aside from being bonded as compared to cast lead, they are ballistically the same. And that 9mm put the pig down in 6-8 seconds!  Granted, it will penetrate deeper as it’s bonded. But, I think I may just have to shoot another pig to compare these two ballistically similar loads. 


    That's all great if you're pouring your own.  Since you're not, I think you should definitely try that same heavy charge of Unique with a traditional soft-alloy wadcutter, and compare them with the Winchester Bonded.  My guess is that the results will be pretty similar - expansion to maybe .45-.50 caliber, and hopefully four jugs of penetration.
    I have the 152gr Matt’s Bullets HBWC I could try. I’d consider the load to be same/same. But, I don’t know the strength of the lead. 
    Can try it anyway, just for laughs. 

    How many jugs you recon I should line up?
    The +P designator threshold in the Lyman manual for Unique is NOT reached at 4.2 grains and 894 fps for a 150 grain wadcutter.  It IS reached with 5.4 grains and 954 fps for a 155 grain gas check SWC.  All of that is using a 4" barrel with a "Universal Receiver", so I'm assuming there's no cyclinder gap involved.  If you're at 1000 fps out of your snub Rossi, I think it's safe to say you're running +P

    I'd line up at least 8 or 9 jugs.  My closest point of reference for testing with a true wadcutter at the speed in question:



    That's a pair of 130 grain WFN's .32 fired out of my Martini Cadet at about 1200 fps.  Bullet on the left is a hard alloy and while slightly compressed, is basically unchanged.  That stopped in Jug #9.  Bullet on the right is 20-1 lead/tin and stopped in Jug #3.

    Alloy hardness. . .if you can dent it with a fingernail, it's fairly soft.  The impression I get is that Matt's is kind of high-end for commercial cast, and they probably tailor to the expected application.  Wadcutters don't NEED to be hardened up due to the low pressures they're usually shot at, but commercial cast is typically pretty hard to minimize the slugs getting dinged up in shipping.
    WWJMBD?

    "Nothing is safe from stupid." - Zee
  • ZeeZee Senior Member Posts: 23,588 Senior Member
    Gonna test them this afternoon. 

    "To Hell with efficiency, it's performance we want!" - Elmer Keith
  • ZeeZee Senior Member Posts: 23,588 Senior Member
    Dismal!

    Right off the bat, the load moved some water and showed potential. 


    Only penetrated one jug. Breaking the back and bouncing off to the right. To be found on the ground. 
    Expansion was nice. But, that’s all it had going for it. 


    While velocity was 716 fps, the accuracy sucked balls at 10 yards. 

    So, it looks like I’m sticking with the previous load for now. 
    "To Hell with efficiency, it's performance we want!" - Elmer Keith
  • BigslugBigslug Senior Member Posts: 8,160 Senior Member
    SIIIIIGGGHHHH. . .

    TURN. . .

    IT. . .

    AROUND!!!  The alloy there is soft enough you'll probably get SOME expansion and a deeper dive.

    But better still, find some solid WC's.  The potential problem with a hollow base and short barrels - especially the way you plan to load them - is that there's enough residual pressure after the bullet exits to blow the stern of a soft HB bullet all out of kilter.

    Good thing on your test though - it proves the soft stuff will expand at some lower speeds.
    WWJMBD?

    "Nothing is safe from stupid." - Zee
  • JayJay Senior Member Posts: 3,811 Senior Member
    Looks like they aren’t quite hitting the target straight... Maybe just starting to tumble. Might also explain the bounce out to the side on the jug and the crooked looking expansion.
  • SpkSpk Senior Member Posts: 3,867 Senior Member
    Hey, on the bright side they have potential as an Air Marshal load. No over penetration 😁
    Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience -- Mark Twain
    How easy it is to make people believe a lie, and [how] hard it is to undo that work again! -- Mark Twain

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