.38spl 148g HBWC the best, or just traditional?


December 7, 2004, 04:11 PM
I’ve read that the ideal target bullet in a 4" .38 special revolver is the 148 grain lead hollow base wadcutter. I’ve loaded these with success. But I’m getting smaller groups using 125 grain plated flat point bullets.

I think it may be because of the reduced recoil.

I know it all depends on the load, OAL, crimp, etc. But all things being as close to equivalent as possible, I seem to shoot better (smaller groups) with the 125 grainers. That is not to say the 148g HBWC do not perform almost as well.

I am going to suggest that if those old timers whose books we have read had these slick plated bullets in their day, they would have liked the 125 grainers as well . . .

. . . anyone have an opinion on this? I've been reloading for a year now. I certainlt know how to do it consistently, accurately, etc. But I'm still struggling with some of the basic principles or concepts – these things are not really covered much in the books I've read. At least the books have not left me with a intuitive understanding of why certain things are so.

Maybe it's a shooting technique considersation.

I'm looking for enlightenment here.

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Wil Terry
December 7, 2004, 09:32 PM
For nigh on to 70 years now. There is nothing new about plated bullets and they were loaded in W-W pistol ammunition for a hell of a long time under the tradename, LUBALOY.
On average no .38 caliber 125gr bullet will outshoot a 148gr HBWC in ultimate accuaracy tests. Such does not say it hasn't in your revolver, but that is only one revolver and I dare say you have never even considered full charge wadcutter loads in your testing. I have never seen a 38SPL revolver in which the best-of-the-best loads were not full charge wadcutter loads. Sometimes it was with HBWC's, sometimes it was with DEWC's, and sometimes it was with BNWC'S. As far as the propellents were concerned sometimes BULLSEYE was best, sometimes RED DOT was best, sometimes GREEN DOT, or 452AA, and then sometimes AA#2 took the honors, plus the half dozen or so other propellents that are apropos to the job at hand.
In doing these tests we fired well over 10,000 rounds in 38SPL guns with 2", 3", 4" 5", 6", 7 1/2", and 8 3/8" length barrels. The optimum barrel length for the 38SPL cartridge is 5" or 6" though the 4" guns do damned well too.
Furthermore, to the last gun the charge that shot the best was ALWAYS 3.4gr of powder though none of the guns liked the same powder nor the same bullet for its' best groups.
Now, if you really want to know what shoots best in your gun you have a lot of work to do so get going and find out.This is what the handloading of your own cartridges is all about, THE BEST!!!!

December 7, 2004, 09:41 PM
Wil, it looks like I have a project on my hands, don't I!

Thanks for the info. I'll get on it . . .

Wil Terry
December 7, 2004, 09:59 PM
Load ten cartridges with 2.6gr, ten with 2.8gr etc all the way to 3.6gr by .2gr increments.
Shoot two five shot groups with each charge. You will see what shoots best so retest the best loads with 25 rounds and see if the accuracy holds up. Be sure and use a chronograph if you have one; borrow one if you don't...or steal it, whatever.
Now, if when you're evaluating the targets, two charges that are .2gr apart look really good you should test the charge in between. Say 3.4 and 3.6 are really nice you should test 3.5gr to be sure you didn't miss a good load.
Groups are measured center to center of the two holes furtherest apart, or you can also measure them from inside edge to outside edge of those two bullet holes as it is the same thing but you have a better reference point to see from.
You'll find the commercial swaged HBWC bullets are hard to beat but I've had outstanding groups also from cast DEWC bullets of .3585" diameter. Don't buy 'em any smaller than that.
Also, you should have a longer WC expanding plug of .3585" OD in your dies so the bullets are not deformed on seating. The bullets should feel like they're sliding into the cartridge cases with little pressure on the press handle.
Taper crimp them as uniformly as you can without doing more than pressing the case snuggly against the bullet,NOTHING MORE.

December 8, 2004, 11:55 AM
Wil, thanks for the reply. I've just re-read the chapter on loading .38spl for accuracy in the older 1980s edition of the NRA Handloading book. You and they are giving similar advice.

I just loaded two batches or Speer 148g HBWC with 2.7 and 3.3 grains Win231 powder. I'll shoot them and go from there.

A major difference between what I will be doing and the book's procedure is that they used a very fancy machine rest, while I will be simply resting my forearms on top of a post in the ground. So I think that recoil will inevitably be a factor in my testing.

That is not a bad thing. Shooting is something we do ultimately offhand. My informal rest will give me the most appropriate comparison between loads.

So, I'll be updating this topic with my results.

Thanks again for taking an interest in my question . . .

December 8, 2004, 01:10 PM
I've had great results with 172 grain true Keith over Red Dot in a Model 14 S&W too. Just the same what some might call tradition others might call proven. I would give some weight to the fact that Bulls Eye is traditionally shot at 25 and 50 yards for established courses of fire. An awful lot of the shooting - too much really when I was shooting my own cast with Alox/Beeswax over Bullseye - is indoors too.

2.7 of Bullseye and a 148 HBWC might not be my first choice for silhouette nor yet for bowling pins but it sure is for gallery pistol whether in a revolver or a semi-auto (1911, Model 52 or whatever is otherwise available; once there was a movement to cut back the cases and use performance bullets in the Model 52 target guns as pseudo-steel frame Model 39's too).

December 8, 2004, 05:24 PM
All right folks. I'm a bit embarrassed that I jumped to a wrong conclusion. You see, I've made some improvements in my casual rest technique since I last loaded and shot HBWC. So my new ability caused me to think the 125g FP were a more accurate load.

Here is a photo which clearly shows the superiority of 148g HBWC bullets vs 125g plated flat nose in a 4" SW model 10 .38spl; ten paces, one inch red square on 8.5 x 11 paper. Six shots per target.

The target on the right is 125g plated FP; OAL 1.430"; W231 3.6g
Center target is 148g LHBWC; OAL 1.155"; W231 2.7g
Left is 148g LHBWC; OAL 1.155"; W231 3.3g

target photo (http://jellison.50megs.com/images/targets.jpg)

I've got to blame some of the group spread on the left target on the extra recoil. A machine rest would have perhaps yielded different results. But in my hands, the load in the center target is golden.

Fine tuning to follow.

Thanks for steering me right. And for those interested in the older NRA book, here's a photo of the cover: book (http://jellison.50megs.com/images/nrabook.jpg)

December 9, 2004, 11:04 AM
In an older NRA Handloaders guide, there was an article on .38 spec. comparing all types of bullets, brass, crimp, powder. seating depth, etc. 148gr wadbutters came out as best cutting the nearest competitor by half. Quantrill

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