Powder Suggestions for .38 Special +P?


September 20, 2010, 09:24 PM
I'm looking for suggestions for powder to try in .38 Special +P. I use 158 grain lead bullets, BHN 12 from MBC. (A few styles) They work great! I'm relatively new to reloading; I started earlier this year.

I use Trail Boss in .38 special (std), and 2400 in .357 mag, both with lead bullets and get almost no leading. I like them both very much. I am looking for a mid-range powder because Trail Boss can't go +P and 2400 doesn't go down that far very well. I am looking for 800-900fps with 158 lead. Bonus points for bulky powders; I like loading full cases of powder for safety.:)

I have tried Unique but it leaded badly; :confused: :uhoh: Any other powder I am open to try.

What powders have you tried and had good luck with in .38+P?

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September 20, 2010, 09:31 PM
I use the same bullet and 3.5 grains Clay's. Chronos at 820 fps from my 4" S&W 686. I've not had leading issues with this combo, but it's probably close to the upper limit for that relatively soft bullet.

September 20, 2010, 09:37 PM
To reach velocities associated with +P ammo without surpassing +P pressures you need a slower powder than Clays.

I would use powders in the burn rate range of HS-6, Universal, AA#5, Power Pistol and powders like those. I use HS-6 and feel it works best but many also like Power Pistol. I would use Power Pistol if it weren't for the excessive flash it produces. HS-6 will deliver high velocities without excessively high pressures. Also, HS-6 seems to work very well with lead bullets and doesn't cause leading in my experiance.

September 20, 2010, 09:40 PM
To reach velocities associated with +P ammo without surpassing +P pressures you need a faster powder than Clays.Slower powder. ;)

September 20, 2010, 09:49 PM
Thanks zxcvbob, I was thinking Clays is too fast so use a slower powder and of course faster got written down. Thanks for catching my mistake before it caused confusion...

September 20, 2010, 09:54 PM
I found Power Pistol to be an excellent powder for 38 special +P loads at least using 125 Gr jacketed bullets. Haven't tried it with 158 Gr bullets. Speer #14 has some loads for it.

September 20, 2010, 10:16 PM
AA #5

September 21, 2010, 12:00 AM
Blue dot?

September 21, 2010, 12:02 AM
My last 38 Special +p were 125 and 158 XTP's and I used Longshot for both.
Shot from a GP-100 with 4" bbl and a few out of my LCR to test +p.
Looking at my notes, both loads shot very well with the 125gr a little tighter grouping. They felt pretty stout, especially in the LCR.

Jesse Heywood
September 21, 2010, 12:26 AM
I've had good results with 4227 with magnum primers.

To solve leading issues, give the bullets a light coat of Rooster Jacket on top of the blue lube Brad uses. His lube is good stuff, but the RJ lets you go beyond the limits and push the soft lead faster and the hard lead slower.

Steve C
September 21, 2010, 01:54 AM
Useing older pre Hodgdon marketing agreement Winchester data and the velocities match factory ballistic data out of my 4" barreled revolvers. With a 158gr lead bullet in a Win case and using Win primers, 4.5grs of W231 for a standard velocity load and 4.7grs for a +P load. I load Speer LRN, LSWC and LSWCHP's using this data with good results.

September 21, 2010, 03:03 AM

September 21, 2010, 03:05 AM
As an addition to my above post, I forgot about Longshot. As "Glock20" posted it also works well for .38 Special +P ammo. I used it with 158gr SJSP or JHP bullets and I also got very good accuracy. I still like HS-6 but more for lead bullets for replicating the "FBI Load" than with jacketed bullets.

September 21, 2010, 04:15 AM
Unique provides excellent performance at any 38 velocity. Power Pistol is a good choice too.

September 21, 2010, 07:14 AM
I have used 3.8gr Red Dot with 158 LSWC for years. It is from the Alliant loading manual for 38 spec+P.

September 21, 2010, 07:25 AM
I recently picked up some Longshot. I'll have to see how it does. My 4" Model 10 HB loves my AA #5 load and hits point of aim with it, so it is a favorite. I have not tried HS-6. If ArchAngelCD says it works well, I am sure it does.AC

September 21, 2010, 12:07 PM
My very favorate .38 special load is 8.0 grains of Blue Dot behind Lyman's 150 grain 358477 lead SWC. I chronographed it at 1090fps out of my 6" revolver and 1285fps out of a rifle barrel.

September 21, 2010, 01:31 PM
Wow! Thanks for all the input!

HS-6 and A No. 5 both look promising, both are ball powder. Do ball powders in general behave better with lead bullets than flake? I tried Bullseye too and was disappointed; I also got some leading.

It looks to me like some HS-6 loads suggest magnum primers, whereas A No. 5 don't ever. Anybody have any other comparison between those two? Are they both about the same bulk or does one take up more space per weight?

I'm a little surprised no one so far has mentioned 231; a couple folks at the range pointed me in that direction. Anybody like that stuff?

That Rooster Jacket looks like a good idea to try; I am now a little suspicious that I have a powder-to-bullet-lube mismatch with Unique and Bullseye.

Thanks again!

Hondo 60
September 21, 2010, 01:36 PM
I've used titegroup (a very fast powder), Universal & today I'm trying AA5.

September 21, 2010, 02:25 PM
I've used 4.4 gr of AA#2. Seemed to work well.

September 21, 2010, 06:04 PM
I'm a little surprised no one so far has mentioned 231;Great stuff, but you asked about .38 +P, so the answer is a bit slower powder than W-231, despite it being a fine powder with lead in .38 Spl.

And as I posted in the other thread, Unique was not the cause of your leading, guaranteed. ;)

September 21, 2010, 10:05 PM
Unique was not the cause of your leading, guaranteed

Then why do I get no leading with Trail Boss and 2400?

I don't mean to sound rude, but one liners like this are not helpful without any data or proof.

September 21, 2010, 11:56 PM
I got one of those little handbooks that are dedicated to a specific caliber. It's lists +p loads using 2400, AA #2 and AA#5. I didn't like the 2400 load. Accuracy sucked in my Blackhawk. The #2 and #5 shot at about the same velocity with about the same accuracy, but the #2 load had perceivably less recoil, so I stuck with that. I just wanted to be able to know over steel targets with authority. It makes it more fun.

September 22, 2010, 01:59 AM
I'm a little surprised no one so far has mentioned 231; a couple folks at the range pointed me in that direction. Anybody like that stuff?
Great stuff, but you asked about .38 +P, so the answer is a bit slower powder than W-231, despite it being a fine powder with lead in .38 Spl.
Exactly, while W231 is a great .38 Special powder and I use it almost exclusively it's too fast for building .38 Special +P ammo IMO.

September 22, 2010, 12:47 PM
I believe that 231 actually has a slower burn rate than AA#2. I think it's closer to AA#5. I don't see why you couldn't use 231 for +P loads in a .38, except that I don't know of any published data for it.

Personally, I love 231 and it was considered to be somewhat of a magic powder in my shooting circle. It does everything at least well. Our problem was that it got really hard to get where I am, so I switched to AA#2. I like it well enough for my uses. I prefer to run fast powders at the upper end of the load limits. It just burns cleaner and kicks less.

September 22, 2010, 01:23 PM
Waywatcher--If you are getting leading with Unique I doubt it's the powder. What size are your bullets? Are they bigger than the throats on your gun, they need to be. See if a bullet simply falls through the throat( bad) or must be pushed through the throat (good). If the throats check out, are they bigger than the groove size in the barrel(good) if smaller (way bad), this will require slugging the barrel. Attaining 800-900 fps with lead in the 38 spl is not difficult with a 158 gr bullet, the Lyman cast bullet manual lists a number of powders that do it. Just a few, 5.0/231gives 934 fps,5.4 Unique gives 954 fps and 4.4 of Bullseye gives 915 fps. all at 18000 CUP.
My standard load for a 38 spl is 4.2 of bullseye behind a 158 RN which gives 896 fps out of my 6" K-38. This is a std pressure load per Lyman at 16200 cup and is extremely accurate. I use it for all my shooting including Hunters pistol silhouette. I have no idea how many I have put through the K 38 but it is well over 10-15K. I have also shot a lot of 5.0/unique and 4.9/231, all are right at 875-900 and all are accurate but not quite as good as the Bullseye in my gun and none of them lead.

September 22, 2010, 01:35 PM
Unique was not the cause of your leading, guaranteed I agree completely.

Unique has been used successfully for nearly 100 years with lead bullet loads in every imaginable handgun & rifle caliber.

As has Bullseye.
It was the standard factory load powder for .38 Spl lead bullet loads for about the first 75 years of it's existence.

If you are having leading issues, then either your bullets don't fit your chamber throats, or you have a rough barrel causing the leading at higher pressures.

A case full of Trail Boss, or a reduced load of 2400 will not give you as much chamber pressure as a +P load of Unique.
Thats why it will out-perform either of the other two powders in +P .38 Spl.


September 22, 2010, 01:50 PM
I don't mean to sound rude, but one liners like this are not helpful without any data or proof.
No problem. I made my statement for much the reason rcmodel outlined, Unique (as well as Bullseye) has been used very successfully with lead for decades.

The difference was the pressures generated, not the powder. If you tweaked your Unique load or the hardness of the bullet, you would stop the leading as well. Pretty much guaranteed.

Match the bullet to the gun, match the pressure to the bullet. :)

September 22, 2010, 02:01 PM
My GP100 has ~.3575 throats. (all 6 are the same) .358 bullets will not go through without a hammer. .357 will fit through, but they do not just drop through, they need slight pressure. Ideally they should be bored out that .0005 but I'm not too keen on doing that with my blued gun, and besides, it shoots accurate how it is.

In case it wasn't clear: I am shooting .357 magnum with 158 LSWC sized .357 over 13-14 grains of 2400 and get very little leading.

The Trail Boss loads also get little leading. 4.2 grains under a 158 either .357 or .358 bullet.

With respect to Unique, I have tried .357 and .358 bullets, BHN 12, BHN 18, and swaged, and all leaded badly. Like sewer pipe badly. Like 6 rounds looks worse than 100 loaded with Trail Boss. I also noticed substantial "lead vaporization" with Unique. I don't know if that's the correct term, but my cylinder face and forcing cone face get silver when I'm shooting Unique, along with the nasty looking bore. Also, the Unique smokes like you'd think I was shooting black powder. I'm not ruling out anything, I'm just detailing my firsthand experiences.

I was hoping this wouldn't turn into a debate about Unique, though.

September 22, 2010, 03:04 PM
Not trying to champion Unique or anything else but just trying to help with leading. You did not mention the groove size of your barrel,have you slugged it? IMO there is no reason for the use of .357 Lead bullets in your gun .358 is fine and BHN 12 is plenty hard. If it was mine I'd slug the barrel and see what you have. You may have a choke point where the barrel screws into the frame and then gets larger past that point, that will cause bad leading. Have you pulled a bullet after loading it, is it still .358 or did it get sized down in the loading process?? As others have posted those powders have been around with lead bullets for a long time, good luck.

September 22, 2010, 04:22 PM
Thanks fecmech,

You may be on to something. I have noticed a little bit more resistance at the end when pushing a jag with a tight patch on it through the barrel from the muzzle. I haven't slugged it yet though. Would this also explain the silver on the faces?

I haven't pulled a bullet, but I'm just using basic RCBS Carbide Dies, nothing out of the ordinary and no FCD.

September 22, 2010, 04:41 PM
The Bore is a bit rough too. I'm probably going to Fire-lap it, now that I hear the chorus of response.

That might even help bore out my throats a wee bit.

I am looking into the NECO Fire-Lapping kit. Any other suggestions?

September 22, 2010, 04:56 PM
The silver is molten vaporized lead that is gas cut off the base of the bullet when gas escapes through the cylinder gap as the base clears the cylinder and enters the forcing cone. A large cylinder gap and under size bullets will increase it but it's always there with lead. My K38 and GP100 both do it and because I don't clean the exterior of my gun very often (I shoot it 4-5 times a week) it will even "lead plate" the flutes on the cylinder after about 1000 rds. When it gets real bad I clean it with the copper "Chore BOY" pads.

Before you do anything I would suggest pulling a bullet and slugging your barrel.

September 22, 2010, 08:57 PM
:uhoh:After more research and consideration, I will not be fire-lapping. I should go get some lead sinkers and slug my barrel.

The cleanest shooting ammo ever in my GP100 is Remington 158 LRN factory ammo. No leading at all. Maybe the soft swaged lead helps seal it up and squish around imperfections. :confused:

I will also run a couple more tests this coming Monday if the weather is decent:

BHN 12 .358 bullets with 13.5 grains of 2400 and
BHN 12 .358 bullets with 4.2 grains of Trail Boss.

As an interesting aside, neither the Remington factory ammo, the Trail Boss, or the 2400 show any signs of lead vaporization. I like that. :)

Bullseye and Unique both give me lead vaporization; maybe this is related to the nitroglycerine?

September 22, 2010, 10:17 PM
I also like Blue Dot with 158 GR LSWC for my higher pressure loads. Crimp it well or it will burn dirty and velocity will suffer a little. I have 5# of 700X and am going to see if I can do anything with this in the future.

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