What handload for S&W 38 Spec. Model 60?


September 12, 2007, 07:27 PM
Just picked up a S&W mod 60 in 38 special caliber. What handloads would you recommend for this small J frame revolver?

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September 12, 2007, 07:50 PM

If you use it for defense, I'd strongly recommend against using handloads due to increased liability issues if you have to shoot some thug and he lives.

His lawyer may have a real field day with you in civil court, claiming you deliberately cooked up some special and terrible load so you could gleefully go out and shoot some s.o.b.


I'm surely not being flip when I say that I'd recommend you purchase a few boxes of various makes and weights of premium self-defense ammo and see which one your particular specimen shoots best . . . and to perfect "point-of-aim!"

With you being a fellow handloader I'm sure you understand quite well already how different loads shoot to different locations on the target.

IIRC, many of the earlier J-frames came regulated for 158 grain ammo and, if yours prints best with this load, buy it!

There's a lot of buzz lately about some new "Short Barrel" defensive ammo that comes in, I believe, 130grain hollowpoint. If your piece shoots to P.O.A. with 158 grain ammo then the 130 stuff will probably shoot lower.

I just picked up a new (for me) 1964 Model 36 (no dash) in factory nickle and, believe it or not, it shoots even better than it looks. I'm hoping to go tomorrow night and start my own self-defensive load selection by letting the gun do the "talking" on paper, so I'm in the same boat you are!

So far, I've run about three cylinders of 148 gn. wadcutter through it, including one single action cylinder, standing and unsupported at 10 yards. NOW I've got to find THE defensive load that shoots to the SAME point-of-aim! I was NOT expecting this out of a snubbie, although I do expect this out of my larger wheelguns . . .

I'm a much bigger proponent of shot placement of a self-defense round vs. a specific factory-hyped hollowpoint that goes somewhere else!;)


1. Whatever shoots to the same p.o.a. as your defensive round, if possible. Or . . .

2. .358" diameter, 148 grain lead wadcutter bullet, over 3.3 grains of Unique with a Federal small pistol primer. Federal primers work best with all revolvers, especially those with lighter trigger pulls and custom race revolvers that might need to go bang with a lighter firing pin strike!


158 grain, lead hollowpoint (LSWC-type) bullet over 4.7 grains (max.) of Unique + Federal small pistol primer.

Hope this helps!


CSA 357
September 12, 2007, 08:21 PM
Well i wouldnt tell them they were handloads, i dont see the proublum? if i shot him he needed it, who cares what ammo was used? i saw a study on this and there were no cases where it made any differnce, but there is some good factory ammo out there, i have a mod 60 and it shoots 3.o grns of bullseye with a 158 gr cast bullet very well, being able to hit with your gun is more important than a majic bullet, csa:)

September 12, 2007, 09:09 PM
I'd stick with those 148 gr. wadcutters.

September 12, 2007, 10:19 PM
Yep . . .

A full wadcutter makes quite and effective wound channel indeed!!!


September 12, 2007, 10:35 PM
If you use it for defense, I'd strongly recommend against using handloads

That's my feeling as well. I hadn't thought of the liability aspect, it's just that I feel more confident using premium factory ammo in my Model 60 for SD/HD use and use my handloads, even the fairly hot +Ps topped with 125gr Hornady XTPs, at the range.

My favorite SD load for my 60 is Winchester .38Spl+P 125gr Silvertips. At $31.26/50 even from CheaperThanDirt, it's way too expensive for practice. I fire maybe 10rds/yr of it just to keep in practice with it, but that's about all. I can reload with 125gr XTPs over 6.3grs of Universal or 5.5grs of W-231(both fairly conservative loads for +Ps, a few tenths of a grain under max) for around $10/50, or roughly 1/3rd the price. Those who cast their own bullets (I'm afraid of molten lead) can probably make loads for not much more than it costs to shoot premium .22LR ammo.

There's no reason you couldn't use reloads for SD, but on the slim chance that I'll ever have to use the snubby for that, I'd rather spend a few bucks every few years for one box of premium factory-loaded cartridges.

September 12, 2007, 10:43 PM
I have several J frame .38's, including A M60.
I'm happy with A 158 grain LSWC and 4 grains of WW231.
I have used various powders and primers over the years. The big thing is getting A bullet that hits to point of aim. 158 grain works for me.
The various 148 grain bullets shoot fine, they just don't hit towards the aiming point. And I doubt the 148 grain will penetrate as well as A heavier bullet.

September 12, 2007, 11:36 PM
I have a good load for Smith snubbies.
5.0 grains Winchester 231 and a Speer 140 grain jacketed hollowpoint.
This is close to +P, 970 fps-2" bbl., and pleasant in recoil.

September 13, 2007, 12:33 AM
Your sights are regulated for standard velocity 158-gr bullets. That's what I would start with for the best accuracy and a good match between your Point-of-Aim and Point-of-Impact.

Factory ammo or handloads, that's where I would start.

Don't buy into the hype of faster, lighter, +P tactical-schmactical expensive ammo.

Cocked & Locked
September 13, 2007, 10:31 AM
4.7 grain of Unique under a hardcast 158 grain Semi-Wadcutter works for me in J's


September 13, 2007, 12:20 PM
I use 4.5 grns of ww231 and a rainier 125 tmjhp you could easily up this to 5.0 grns. but 4.5 is a accurate plinking load.YMMV

September 13, 2007, 07:47 PM
Hmmm, never heard of a case involving handloads, or a lawyer slick enough to think that would matter if the bad guy was shot by a good guy. Maybe California will see something like that some day.

In the meantime. 195-200 gr rnl over 3.8 gr. Unique for the .38 special snubbie. Bullet is unstable once it hits, but good enough to get there. Like the difference between a 9mm and a .45. One goes fast and drills through, the other hits slow and hard like a basketball flung hard.

The Doc is out now. :cool:

September 13, 2007, 10:25 PM
Lots of good info, Thanks to all replies! Bidemhi

September 14, 2007, 03:36 AM
Warning This load isn't written in any book. I worked it up myself because Hodgdon only lists Jacketed bullets on their .38 Special +P page. I crunched some numbers and came up with this load. If you use it please be careful but it works well in my M638 J frame. Use this load at your own risk, I assume no responsibility.

Hornady 158 gr LSWC/HP bullet over 5.5 gr Longshot. IMO that load will closely replicate the FBI Load. (158 gr SWC/HP .38 +P)

September 14, 2007, 09:38 AM
I didn't mention before what one of my favorite handloads is for my S&W snubbie.

Hard cast 148-gr DEWC over 4.5 ~ 5.0 gr of Unique (you'll have to figure out the best charge in your Model 60) and Federal 100 primers.


I also like 3.8-grains of Titegroup over a 158-gr LSWC and Federal 100 primers.

September 14, 2007, 10:35 AM
I like 2.7 grains Bullseye under a 148 grain wadcutter. That's the classic mild target load and produces very little recoil. Only drawback is that with hardcast bullets, the load is pretty smoky. With swaged bullets there's less smoke but a little more leading. Either problem is no big deal. This load is tough to beat for economy. Shoots to point of aim at relatively close distances which is what a snubby is all about anyway.

September 14, 2007, 10:42 AM
is the factory Speer 38+P load with the GDSB135JHP bullet. It's received very favorable reviews for performance since the bullet was designed for short barrel use. Speer published reloading data for it on their site--that page is now gone, but it's in the latest manual. Note that these are honest 'Plus P' loads that run to about 20,000, and use them at your own risk. But, it is published data.

I've been working with the Speer data to build practice rounds with both the Speer GDSB135 bullet and to adapt a 140-gr. LTC to it. With the Speer bullets, the cost is about $.25 per round; with the Lead 140-gr, it's about $.12 a round--and that sure beats the $1.00 per round cost of the factory ammo.

Here's three loads from that (former) Speer 38Spl+P Data Sheet (*.pdf file): For all of them, the LOA was 1.450" and the primers were CCI 500s.

Power Pistol: 6.0 to 6.4 gr., GDSB135JHP
AA#5: 6.6 to 7.0 gr., GDSB135JHP
Unique: 4.8 to 5.2 gr., GDSB135JHP

I've been loading them in Starline brass using WSP primers.

In my 640, the AA#5 load at 7.0 grains duplicates the factory load in felt recoil and POA. The factory load shoots perfectly to the current sights and is highly accurate; the AA#5 load appears to shoot perhaps 1/2" lower and, until I tweak it a bit more for LOA and crimp, almost as good a group.

FYI, I also shoot this from my 340 carry gun (13.3 oz)--and, with much adaptation going on with lighter acclimation rounds, I can now shoot a cylinderful out of that gun and reload. However, this is as stout a load as I will ever shoot from that gun. In the 640, it's comfortable but needs acclimation.

Note that I use these reloads for acclimation and practice only; I carry the factory ammo. These Speer recipes are the best current data for 2" barrel reloads I found.

I have the pdf file if anyone wants a copy--e-mail me or send me a PM

Jim H.

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