favorite powder for .38?


December 26, 2008, 09:10 PM
I'm a new reloader and will be using a Hornady LNL AP. I want to make some .38 special target loads for 158grain truncated cone lead bullets.

What powder would you recommend and why?

My concerns are accuracy, cleanliness, safety (low density trail boss), metering and price. I know that's a lot of criteria to judge a powder by but what do you guys use and why and for my set up what would you suggest and why?

I'll also eventually make some .357 magnum loads for target and hunting. Would a different powder be preferred?

Thanks guys!

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Jim Watson
December 26, 2008, 09:14 PM
I have seldom loaded .38 Special from target wadcutters to +P with anything but Win 231. Smooth metering, accurate shooting. Not the cleanest powder in today's neatnick ammo world, but very serviceable.

I'd want something a good deal slower burning for real magnums, though.

Ky Larry
December 26, 2008, 09:18 PM
You mentioned Trail Boss. It's my favorite powder for lead bullets.It fits all your criteria. I like AA#5 for .357 JHP's.

December 26, 2008, 09:21 PM
AA#2, great stuff for my .38Spl.

December 26, 2008, 11:48 PM
Bullseye is it. If you are watching the powder charge in each case like you should it will not be a problem. If you don't, you could double charge a round without overflowing the case. If you are willing to do your part, bullseye will do it's part. :)
For hunting rounds in 357 go with 2400. That will put some wham into an animal. :what:

Dean Williams
December 26, 2008, 11:53 PM
No doubt about it. Bullseye.

December 27, 2008, 12:46 AM
I personally like 3 grains of red dot. If your buying 8 lb kegs you can use promo same as red dot but cheaper.

December 27, 2008, 01:58 AM
I agree with Jim on Winchester 231. It accurate, meters extremely well and has good load density.

Bullseye is my second choice but you do have to pay attention that you don't double charge a round. I've been reloading for a very long time and bullseye is one powder that I am extra carefull with.


December 27, 2008, 09:35 AM
Winchester 231 is what I use also. As said it meters well and is accurate.

December 27, 2008, 09:57 AM
I like Titegroup. Meters perfectly every time, burns quick and clean, top notch accuracy.

I couldn't get Trail Boss to meter well from my Redding 10X.

December 27, 2008, 10:27 AM
I like Bullseye and AA#2

December 27, 2008, 10:54 AM
700X, AA #2. American Select, Bullseye, Clays, Competition, W-231, WST, Zip, in no particular order. These will all work well for your 158 Gr target loads. If you have any of these, give them a try. I like the bulkier ones myself to minimize the possibility of a double charge slipping by. Zip and Bullseye are great, but are tiny little charges.

You will definitely want a slower powder for your magnum loads. Something like 2400, AA #9, H-110, W-296, etc. I like AA #9.

You will need two different lead bullets for those applications as well. No bullet soft enough for light target loads will be hard enough for real Magnum loads.

December 27, 2008, 11:13 AM
I use Unique.

Redneck with a 40
December 27, 2008, 11:54 AM
For high energy +P stuff, Longshot all the way. For my target fodder, Unique. Check out the data for Longshot, 7 grains gives 1228 fps with a 125 JHP.:D

December 27, 2008, 12:00 PM
Out of a 7.7" un-vented pressure-test barrel.

Real .38 Spl. revolvers?
Not so much.


December 27, 2008, 12:15 PM
Bullseye and Unique.

Mostly what I shoot is a cast 148 WC (Lee mold) and 2.7 grains B'eye. It lasts forever and my lead is free. Besides, this round is ACCURATE. I've always used routines to allow for safe charging, compare charges, don't load with your head where the sun don't shine and you won't double charge. Using a progressive reduces that chance a whole heckuva lot, too. I mostly do .38 on a progressive anymore, but I STILL pull the case and check the charge each through. Slows things down, but I'd rather have a quality load than go for quantity and it's still a lot faster than a single stage press. Using trailboss, I'd be able to see that charge in the case without pulling it, but no biggy since B'eye is so economical and works as well as it ever did, it's still my choice.

My thoughts on loading +P beyond 270 or so ft lbs from a 2" gun is, if you really want a .357, just buy one. I load all my .38s with 140 to 158 grain bullets. I prefer cast for range work cause it's free with a little casting time, but I carry either 140 or 158 grain JHPs.

I agree with rc, too, any load pushing a 125 JHP to over 1200 fps is either in a long test barrel or grossly over .38 special safe pressures. 125 grain .357 magnum loads do good to push 1250 out of a normal carry gun like the Ruger SP101. Heavier bullets work better, in my experience, with short barrels.

December 27, 2008, 12:29 PM
7.0 Longshot - 125 XTP = 1,228 FPS.

Hodgdon does show that as a .38 Special +P load giving 18,300 PSI.

However, it is measured in a 7.7" unvented pressure-test barrel.

It's probably a great load, but it's not a 1,228 FPS load out of any normal revolver.


December 27, 2008, 12:31 PM
I've switched from Bullseye to Clays powder for all my 38 target loads in 148gr as well as 158gr.

I have Universal and Power Pistol powders for the rare occasions I want to push the testosterone levels some.

December 27, 2008, 12:35 PM
My son-in-law, who I bought a Lee anniversary kit for last Christmas and have been tutoring bought Universal Clays. I've found it works about like Unique, making it a very wide use powder, from standard to +P loading. I like it as well as Unique.

There's tons of good powders for .38. Anyone's suggestion on this thread is hard to refute IMHO. Red dot is as cheap to use as bullseye and I've even found green dot to work about as well as Unique. Basically, look at the target load shotgun powders. :D

Redneck with a 40
December 27, 2008, 01:55 PM
rcmodel, I agree with your statement. I'll be thrilled if I can get 1050 fps out of it, from a 4" barrel. I still think Longshot will work great for +P 38 loads.

December 27, 2008, 04:28 PM
What about American Select.
Someone told me it was clean, accurate, and low density.

Does anyone have a chart of powders that shows their density? I'm just starting out and would like the fluffy type powder to help avoid double charges.

I gather that Trail Boss fits the bill but not so accurate??

The Bushmaster
December 27, 2008, 05:10 PM
You mean "high" density don't you. You want the highest density you can get and not loose accuracy.

No matter what people say...W-231 is still hard to beat for .38 Special.

For .357 magnum...Alliant 2400, W-296 or H110

December 27, 2008, 07:05 PM
What about American Select.
Someone told me it was clean, accurate, and low density.Yes, it is low density (bulky), and works well in .38 Spl, as does 700X and Red Dot, both bulky as well.

I have on old Hornady powder chart for their pistol bushings. It does not have many powders available today, but is very good for showing the differences in bulk density of the powders it does have. Their are probably other charts around for various bushings.

You can see by the chart that Red Dot is almost twice as bulky as W-231. Well not almost.

December 28, 2008, 02:22 AM
I also use nothing but W231 for my .38 Special ammo. It's clean and accurate and also meters extremely well. What's not to like?

For .357 Magnum hunting ammo you'll want a slower burning powder like 2400, W296/H110, AA#9 or Lil'Gun.

December 28, 2008, 10:49 AM
I use 231 and Trail Boss. For a light clean target load Trail Boss is great. Most of my loads now use Trail boss.

Redneck with a 40
December 28, 2008, 10:51 AM
I loaded 100 rounds of the 7 grains Longshot, I look forward to shooting them, these things should bark.:) I'm shooting them in a .357, so I'm not worried.

December 29, 2008, 02:57 AM
Redneck with a 40,
I use a lot of Longshot for my .38 Special +P rounds. It produces the highest velocity of any powder while staying within the SAAMI specs in that caliber. I load 5.5gr Longshot under a 158gr JHP bullet with very good success. For lead bullets I use nothing but HS-6, it just works better and produces more accurate rounds than with Longshot.

December 29, 2008, 08:53 AM
It produces the highest velocity of any powder

What are the actual numbers your chronograph got and in what handgun?

December 29, 2008, 03:51 PM
I have used Red Dot for 40 years for 38 spec, 9mm, and 45. I have not found anything better for my needs.

December 29, 2008, 08:45 PM

To give you some hard velocity numbers as they relate to charge weight and pistol used, here are actual chronographed averages using 158 grain lead bullets from a 3" model 60. They can be downloaded to suit in accordance with published data:

*7.3 grains HS-6 = 832 fps *listed as +P

5 grains Unique = 882 fps

**5.8 grains Power Pistol = 924 fps **charge is in between std max and +P

All are accurate, with the Unique load filling the case the most as I recall. 3.5 grains of Bullseye is considered a std velocity classic, but great care must be used to ensure only a single charge is used.

December 30, 2008, 01:04 AM

tasco 74
December 30, 2008, 01:54 AM
another one for bullseye here... i use it for all my .38 spl loads... i use 3-3.2 grs for the bullet weight you mention... your mileage may vary but that's what i like...


December 30, 2008, 03:48 AM
I like Unique for all lead loads, and Bullseye for anything jacketed.

December 30, 2008, 04:37 AM
What are the actual numbers your chronograph got and in what handgun?
I don't have my notes handy right now but I will post the numbers I got for Longshot shortly, it was a while ago. If I remember correctly I have velocity data from both a 4" M686 and 2" M638.

I do remember the velocities I got from a 2" barrel when loading a 158gr LSWC/HP bullet with HS-6, I got an average of 889 fps with single digit SD numbers.

keyboard commando
December 30, 2008, 05:09 AM
:scrutiny: Unique :scrutiny:

Peter M. Eick
December 30, 2008, 07:56 AM
I used to use Unique for 158's and I have used 231 and bullseye, but now if it is lead and it is below 1000 fps and a revolver round, it gets trailboss.

Trailboss is accurate, reliable and safe. I can load it in my progressive and not worry about double charges as it will fill the case.

What I would really like is a slower trailboss type of powder more along the lines of unique that was bulkier. Maybe someday.

December 31, 2008, 05:09 PM
Here are those Longshot numbers as promised...

.38 Special +P
5.5gr Longshot
158gr SJHP bullet
CCI-500 primer
4" M686
AV 954 fps
SD 8.1 fps

.38 Special +P
5.5gr Longshot
158gr SJHP bullet
CCI-500 primer
1 7/8" M638
AV 894.4 fps
SD 19.3 fps

Here are some numbers with a LSWC bullet but the accuracy was unacceptable using Longshot. That's why I use only HS-6 with lead bullets.

.38 Special +P
5.5gr Longshot
158gr LSWC bullet
CCI-500 primer
4" M686
AV 916.1 fps
SD 14.3 fps

December 31, 2008, 05:39 PM
That .38 Special +P in the 1 7/8" is very impressive considering it uses a jacketed bullet... I am very surprised at the results considering the charge weight relative to the propellants speed and the barrel length. I need another powder under my bench like I need termites, but it might be fun to play with Longshot and see the numbers I get.

Just one bit of clarification please... You mention a LSWC in the last paragraph, but the data shows SJHP?

December 31, 2008, 06:00 PM
Bullseye, 3.5gr, 200gr lead semi wad-cutter

the foot
December 31, 2008, 08:32 PM
Bullseye and W231 for .38 Special, both are very accurate in my weapons. Bullseye is the best for me.

January 1, 2009, 02:14 AM
Just one bit of clarification please... You mention a LSWC in the last paragraph, but the data shows SJHP?
Sorry, I did a copy and paste to save time but forgot to change the bullet type when I changed the velocities. I just fixed it so as not to look the fool!! :o Thanks for the catch.

Canuc Shooter
January 1, 2009, 01:10 PM
+1 for w231

January 1, 2009, 01:52 PM
I load 9,38, and 45 with power pistol, I like the muzzle flash!

January 1, 2009, 07:58 PM
I use Unique for everything....38 special, 357, 44 mag and 45 acp.

January 2, 2009, 09:53 AM
I second Mr Jim Watson's opinion : W-231
Another, slower, powder for 357 M.

Thor Bloodax
January 2, 2009, 03:50 PM
I have shot a lot of Bullseye. You can double charge a
.38 case with it BUT if you visually check every batch in the loading block AFTER charging 100% of the time you will be OK. The only double charge in
.38 for me happened in 1965. A Fench buddy and I loaded up for a Canadian Shooting Federation match in Regina, Saskatchewan. We were loading for a K-38 which will take any amount of powder you want to stuff it with. However, we did double charge one case and it was the third shot on a rapid fire string. I had a pretty good group except for one flyer. I do not know if it was the double charged case or the next one. A heart thumping moment but nothing was hurt expecially the K-38.

January 2, 2009, 05:29 PM
Titegroup or 231. Can't go wrong with either.

April 19, 2009, 06:06 AM
I shoot 12ga.trap and 9mm,380,38spec.,357mag and 45ACP. Hand guns used in IDPA.

The reason I reload green dot is I can use it in all of above effectively and only need to stock one powder.

Makes it a lot safer as I do not have to worry about what is in the hopper.

Cheaper as I only have to stock one powder.

And it does a good job in all of the calibers.and as the man said

"It don't get no gooder than that":cool:

April 19, 2009, 06:39 AM
Another one for Bullseye and 231. I like both equally well in my .38. I prefer Bullseye better in my 9mm so I'm sticking with the 231 in the .38 and saving the Bullseye for my 9's. With the current shortage situation I'm not experimenting and sticking to my personal favorites. I do want to try some of the others mentioned here.

April 19, 2009, 07:40 AM
Another powder not mentioned that seems to have some availability around the area is Vihta Vuori N340.

I just got back into loading .38 special after I got a Charter Arms 2" revolver out of a local pawn shop for cheap.

I had some VV N340 on hand but was almost out of Bullseye and didn't have any 231. None of the local sources in Wichita had either, so I checked the loads for N340.

Just to see which did better with the Berry's plated 158 grain round nose, I loaded some with Bullseye and some with N340. The ones loaded with Bullseye all keyholed badly at 10 yards out of the 2" but grouped well (2" or better). The N340 ones punched clean holes with no signs of keyholing and grouped slightly better.

I finally got my Hornady order for the 158 grain XTP bullets in from Midway and loaded some of these with N340 as well. They grouped very well, under an inch at 10 yards out of the 2" barrel and were extremely clean, very little residue left. Cleanup after 50 rounds of the XTP's loaded with VV was minimal.

I realize it's a bit more expensive than Bullseye or 231, but something to consider if you can't find the others.

April 19, 2009, 07:43 AM
Has anyone ever used black powder to reload the .38 as that was what they were made to use in the first place?

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