S&W: what does "+P Only" mean?


August 8, 2009, 08:01 AM
Here's a blurb from the S&W web site that has me baffled:

"They [the 442 series] are available in three distinct hammer styles - the "Chiefs Special" with exposed hammer, the "Centennial" frame with fully enclosed hammer and the "Bodyguard" frame (.38 S&W Special +P only) shrouded hammer. Three styles with one idea...perfect personal protection."


Does this mean the Bodyguards should only be used with +P ammo, or does it mean that only the Bodyguards should be used with +P, or is this just some sort of mistake?

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August 8, 2009, 08:53 AM
I think they mean that the gun is chambered for the 38 special only and not 357, as are the others mentioned. It is also rated for +P.

August 8, 2009, 09:29 AM
The +P means the revolver is rated for standard and +P ammunition. +P is a somewhat more powerful round.

August 8, 2009, 09:51 AM
See this page: http://www.smith-wesson.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/ProductDisplay?storeId=10001&catalogId=10001&langId=-1&productId=14765&tabselected=tech&isFirearm=Y&parent_category_rn=

Note that S&W lists its .357 revolvers as "Caliber: .357MAG/.38+P".

".38+P Only" just means "no .357".

The gun will, however, handle any .38 Special ammo, including "target" or "cowboy" loads. I load up .38 rounds with really light recoil, to use an Airweight for fun shooting. They work great, and they're definitely not +P.:)

August 8, 2009, 11:25 AM
Hopefully S&W quality control has not gotten so bad .357 rounds would chamber in one of their .38's. ;)

Interesting....."+P only"

August 8, 2009, 11:29 AM
I think they're just spec'ing .357s are ".38/.357" to make it clear to people who aren't gunnies, that the revolvers will chamber both.

.357s won't chamber in my ".38+P only" S&W.:)

Blue Brick
August 8, 2009, 12:20 PM
No +P+

August 8, 2009, 12:29 PM
No +P+ Perhaps. Is there any +P+ .38 Spl out there?

Blue Brick
August 8, 2009, 01:02 PM
+P+-----"Is there any +P+ .38 Spl out there?"


August 8, 2009, 04:18 PM
Yes, there are +P+ .38 Spl, and there are the the old 38/44 High-Speed loads that will make a .357 set up and take notice.

Back in the day, several big police departments used +P+ .38 Spl instead of .357 Magnum for Political Correctness reasons. It shows up for sale on-line occasionally.


August 8, 2009, 10:40 PM
Will a Model 10-8 handle +P and +P+?

Blue Brick
August 9, 2009, 12:32 AM
Depends on what year....some S&W do and others don't. From my understanding the at one time +P+ was on it's was to be a SAMMI regulated cartridge. Never happened.

August 9, 2009, 08:33 AM
+P+ is like a box o' chocolates...

August 11, 2009, 03:39 AM
The above posts are correct IMO, the +P only means no +P+ or .357 Magnums.

Yes, there are .38 Special +P+ loads out there.

August 11, 2009, 12:23 PM
S&W specifies those lightweight revolvers be used ONLY WITH +P .38 SPECIAL AMMUNITION to avoid bullets jumping crimps and traveling forward out of their cases under the sharp recoil generated by the guns. This is with factory ammunition, and doesn't address reloads, since the company officially does not endorse their use.

+P ammunition generally gets a tighter crimp to aid consistent burn at +P pressure levels, and if a barrel's stamped "+P Only", or the S&W catalog/website lists it that way, that's exactly what it means. Has nothing whatever to do with differentiating between whether the model is chambered for .38 or .357.

If you use anything less than +P in one of those revolvers, you risk potential bullet pull (usually in the 4th to 5th rounds) sufficient to lodge a bullet far enough forward in the chamber to engage the forcing cone and tie up the cylinder rotation.

This is old info & a direct result of the bullet pull initially found when the first superlight revolvers were developed by S&W.
It does not apply to ALL lightweight Smith .38 snubs, and it does not occur instantly with ALL .38 Special ammuntion, but there's a reason why S&W stamps that +P Only on the models where you see the stamping.

You can use non +P if you want, but you may very possibly end up with a jammed gun after firing three or four rounds that could cost you your life in a defensive situation, or at the very least take some effort to get un-jammed.

I have one of the early Airlite Tis that's stamped +P Jacketed. S&W warned buyers at the time that standard velocity loads could experience bullet pull, and particularly not to use lead because it jumps a crimp easier than a jacketed bullet. The heavier the lead bullet weight, the greater the liklihood of bullet pull.
Since the gun wasn't acquired as a range toy, I've never felt the need to use alternative ammunition in it, and never wanted to risk jamming it.

Very light lead loads should work, since you're not producing the same recoil levels as full-bore commercial ammunition, but in full-powered loads it is not recommended.

S&W knows what they're doing when they stamp affected guns the way they do, and that's why they do it.


August 11, 2009, 12:51 PM
If you use anything less than +P in one of those revolvers, you risk potential bullet pull (usually in the 4th to 5th rounds) sufficient to lodge a bullet far enough forward in the chamber to engage the forcing cone and tie up the cylinder rotation.Umm, that is not what S&W says. On the current steel J-frames, any standard pressure or +P .38 Special load is fine to shoot. On current Al alloy frames with steel cylinders, +P is acceptable. Here is what S&W says about +P ammo.

“Plus-P” (+P) ammunition generates pressures in excess of the pressures associated with standard ammunition. Such pressures may affect the wear characteristics or exceed the margin of safety built into some revolvers and could therefore be DANGEROUS. This ammunition should not be used in Smith & Wesson medium (K frame) revolvers manufactured prior to 1958. Such pre-1958 medium (K-frame) revolvers can be identified by the absence of a model number stamped inside the yoke cut of the frame.

Here is what the MANUAL says about +P+ ammo
“Plus-P-Plus (+P+) ammunition must not be used in Smith & Wesson firearms. This marking on the ammunition designates that it exceeds established industry standards, but the designation does not represent defined pressure limits and therefore such ammunition may vary significantly as to the pressures generated.

Here is what S&W says in the MANUAL about the ultra-lightweight (Ti, SC, PD) revolvers.

Before placing any of these reduced weight revolvers into service, perform the following test to determine the suitability of the ammunition you intend to use. At a gun range or other suitable and safe location, prepare your revolver for firing by fully loading its cylinder with the ammunition to be tested. While pointing the firearm in a safe direction, fire all but the last round. Remove the empty casings and the last loaded round from the revolverʼs cylinder.

Carefully inspect the loaded round to determine if its bullet has started to unseat (move forward) from its casing.(Figure 2) If it has, you should not use the tested ammunition in your revolver. Choose another projectile weight or brand of ammunition and repeat this test until you find one that
DOES NOT UNSEAT under these test conditions. When you are finished, fully unload your revolver and secure it safely.

Do not use Magnum loadings with bullet weights of less than 120 grains - This will reduce the possibility of premature erosion in titanium alloy cylinders.

Note that the manual does not mention any specific loads, other than the lightweight Magnum loads for the guns with Ti cylinders, for these revolvers; it dumps the load selection on the owner.

August 11, 2009, 02:21 PM
I gave the info for what it's worth, and the reason behind the +P Only marking in certain very light-framed S&W revolvers.
Take it or leave it. Your gun.

August 11, 2009, 03:05 PM
One thing I've seen in a 638 and a Taurus 85 UL is that given the same (pretty healthy) crimp, 158gr LSWCHPs jumped crimp and locked up the cylinders whereas 135gr SB GDHPs worked fine. Standard pressure loads didn't jump in either gun regardless of bullet.

August 11, 2009, 03:46 PM
yup, I have some +p+ 38's and 9mm

August 12, 2009, 05:39 AM
My wife has one of the early 342PDs. It is early enough that is does not have a lock, and it has never seen a +P round. It's usual fare has been Federal Nyclad HP or RN, and my wife or I have never experienced a bullet pull issue with that ammo.

I will call S&W today and ask about whether S&W recommends shooting .38 Special standard loads in a revolver marked ".38 S&W Special +P Only".

August 13, 2009, 03:04 AM
I will call S&W today and ask about whether S&W recommends shooting .38 Special standard loads in a revolver marked ".38 S&W Special +P Only".
You can do what you want but there really is no reason to call S&W with that question. If the revolver is rated for .38 Special +P you can shoot standard pressure .38 Special ammo with less pressure safely, just don't shoot ammo which generates more pressure. (like .38 Special +P+)

August 13, 2009, 03:38 PM
I think what they mean is that of the 3 styles (Chief's Special, Centennial, and Bodyguard), the first 2 can use both .357 or .38spl+P, but the Bodyguard should only use .38spl+P (or .38spl).

August 13, 2009, 03:41 PM
I just noticed ArmedBear's response...I think he had it right...

August 13, 2009, 08:08 PM
Why would the hammer style affect what ammo should be used?

Also, I have a 638 Bodyguard and the barrel says ".38 S&W SPL +P"

I interpret that to mean it is rated for +P but can fire any .38 SPL. I have fired all kinds of .38 SPL factory and reloads with no issues.

August 13, 2009, 11:21 PM
I don't know but I suspect if it says .38+p only that is what it means, I suspect that S&W has had an opertunity to test the firearm and for one or many reasons decided that it would be best to only shoot .38+p ammo.

Stephen A. Camp
August 14, 2009, 05:47 AM
It means that it will fire either standard pressure or +P ammunition.

August 15, 2009, 01:23 AM
I think what they mean is that of the 3 styles (Chief's Special, Centennial, and Bodyguard), the first 2 can use both .357 or .38spl+P, but the Bodyguard should only use .38spl+P (or .38spl).
The frame type has nothing to do with the ammo shot in the revolver, the frame strength does.

The Airweight M637 Chief's Special, M638 Bodyguard and M642 Centennial are all rated for .38 Special/.38 Special +P and weigh 15oz.

The Airlite M340 Centennial and M360 Chief's Special are both .357 Magnum revolver weighing only 12oz. (stronger alloy)

The Steel M36 Chief's Special is a .38 Special but the Steel M60 Chief's Special is a .357 Magnum.
The Steel M640 Centennial and Steel M649 Bodyguard are both .357 Magnums.

August 15, 2009, 12:00 PM
My info came directly from S&W back when the Airlite Ti first came out.
Bullet setback in CERTAIN lightframed Js was the reason for their cautionary advisory, and it was entirely because of the frames' weight & recoil characteristics.

August 18, 2009, 12:01 PM
I just got e-mail from S&W Customer Service. Here was my original mail.

Dear Sir or Madam,

A question on ammunition suitability has arisen based on a thread on the TheHighRoad.org Internet discussion forum. A poster is claiming that certain lightweight S&W revolvers that are marked ".38 S&W Special +P Only" or specified to be chambered in that round are not supposed to be used with factory standard pressure .38 Special loadings. His claim is that standard pressure loadings are more likely to suffer from inertia bullet pull than rounds loaded to the +P specification. This does not seem to make sense to me, and I can find no such recommendation or discussion in the Owner's Manual.

Can S&W please comment? Does S&W not recommend the use of factory standard pressure .38 Special loadings in any of its revolvers if the revolver is chambered for ".38 S&W Special +P only"?

Thanks for your attention to this matter.

I will quote what was sent:

The revolver is chambered in .38 special and is capable of firing .38 +P, it is not +P only.Take it for what it is worth.

August 18, 2009, 05:52 PM
The early model 640 revolvers were laser engraved on the frame "tested for +P+. Mine has digested plenty of it without any problems. Of course, the same gun now, with a slightly longer cylinder, is chambered for .357 Mag so the frame is certainly strong enough.

August 18, 2009, 10:55 PM
Then did you ask them why any of their revolvers might be marked +P Only?
Doesn't appear to me that the original question was answered by this generic response from S&W.

And, if you were refering to me, it isn't "my" claim, it was Smith & Wesson's, as I said.
If they've since changed their position, that's fine.
At the time I worked with my AirLite Ti when the model was new, S&W told me directly that they recommended the titanium cylindered Airweights be used ONLY with jacketed +P loads, for the reason I gave you.

Otherwise, you might ask them again to clarify why their website lists models as "+P Only". If those don't require +P, perhaps S&W should change the descriptor.


August 20, 2009, 03:54 PM
In a further effort to try to clear up the "+P only" designations on S&W's website, I have an email RFI in to somebody who's in a better position to get a definitive answer to the question than S&W's CS people. I generally find that, helpful though they try to be, the CS people often know little about subjects beyond their immediate sphere of influence.

On a related note, in looking through the vault for something else I actually found the box my AirLite Ti came in, which I'd forgotten I had, and which included a small folder dealing specifically with the AirLite Ti and not lumping it in with the usual generic one-size-fits-all manual now shipped with most S&W revolvers.
In that folder it says, in part:

"The Titanium Cylinder used in your AirLite Ti revolver weighs approximately 60% of what a similar Stainless Steel cylinder weighs...."

"AMMUNITION WARNING FOR .38 S&W Spl. AirLite Ti Revolvers ONLY"

"...there is an ammunition instruction marked on the barrel that states ".38 Spl. +P Jacketed". This instruction is required because of the possibility of jamming the cylinder when shooting .38 S&W Spl. +P Non-Jacketed Lead Bullet Ammunition. This condition results from two factors caused by firing .38 S&W Spl. +P ammunition with non-jacketed lead bullets. The first factor is...a very light crimp by some ammunition manufacturers.... The second factor is the rapid recoil movement of these very light revolvers...."
The combination...can cause the non-jacketed lead bullets...to unseat themselves...and actually move forward in the cylinder's chambers...once firing is started. In some instances this can cause the tip of a bullet to protrude beyond the front face of the cylinder... This situation could cause the gun to jam... For this reason do not use non-jacketed (exposed lead bullet) .38 S&W Sp. +P ammunition in AirLite Ti revolvers. Typical jacketed bullet +P loadings use a much heavier and secure crimp and are not affected in this fashion.
.38 S&W Spl. standard pressure non-jacketed loads can be used without difficulty as they do not develop enough recoil to cause this Ammunition related condition."

My recollection remains that S&W's rep at the time recommended just staying with jacketed +P. I also recall hearing since then of bullets walking out under recoil in the guns, usually toward the last couple rounds in the cylinder.
As I mentioned earlier, relatively light lead loads should not be a problem.

My best info to date, hopefully a better clarification will be coming shortly.


August 21, 2009, 05:30 AM
... I have an email RFI in to somebody who's in a better position to get a definitive answer to the question than S&W's CS people.I hope you get a more detailed answer than I did.

For what its worth, the same flier came as an insert in the M342PD manual.

August 21, 2009, 12:35 PM
Me too. My regular contact at S&W is in a better position to get info that she doesn't know herself than the CS people.

August 26, 2009, 08:47 PM
Got through to a person in a better position to speak about the issue today.

After some discussion & clarification on both sides, it turns out that there were some ammunition-related issues with the early Scandium-framed guns when first introduced. Most seem to have been related to the transition to the .357-length J-Frames.

My contact did not recall the first centerfire Scandiums as being .38s & was surprised when I was describing it, the .38 Special +P Jacketed barrel stamping, and the +P warning leaflet that came with it.
The net result is that the ammunition sensitivity of the early Scandium frames has apparently been resolved in the past 12 or 13 years since I got mine, and he says the "+P only" verbiage on the website is an oversight that should not be there.
All of the J-Frames that are listed as being chambered for +P are OK with either +P or conventional pressured .38 Special ammunition. Ignore the "+P only" where the descriptions list it.


August 27, 2009, 05:17 AM

Thanks for chasing this. The answer makes sense to me as it fits nicely with my experience with the pre-lock M342PD and the flier that came with it.

August 27, 2009, 11:40 AM
You're very welcome.
I'll keep my old scanditanium loaded with the +P jacketed stuff, it's not a recreational gun & I see no need to take chances with it.

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