Why powder puff the .38 spl ?


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Diggers
October 12, 2010, 05:05 AM
I have read many times here that the .38 used to loaded much hotter, than it is today, out of the factory. People have even said the .38+p ammo of today is what regular .38s used to be in the past, and more. AND any all steel .38 can deal with the +P ammo of today because its actually pretty tame in comparison.

I've not looked into this my self but I've heard this here alot so I'm assuming it to be accurate. (Though I've seen my share of urban myths here too. :uhoh:)

Anyhow, why powder puff the .38? What would be the point of that?

The only thing I can think of is the .357 came along, so the ammo makers felt they could turn the .38 into a easier shooting caliber. OR maybe they just didn't want to take any chances pushing the .38 toward its upper limits.

Whats the story on this?

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CajunBass
October 12, 2010, 05:20 AM
One reason: Because there are a lot of old 38's of unknown quality still out there. The 38 special cartridge may have evolved. Those guns didn't.

Others will have other ideas I'm sure.

Sport45
October 12, 2010, 05:52 AM
Also, the way they test chamber pressure has evolved. Loads that were thought to be safe before may have been getting too far into the gun's safety margin than powder and bullet companies feel comfortable with today.

Just because it didn't blow up the gun doesn't necessarily make it safe...

MrBorland
October 12, 2010, 06:42 AM
Some reasonable theories posted so far.

Keep in mind, though, that effectiveness is really the bottom line, not necessarily fps. The reduced fps is likely to be at least partially due to considerable improvements in .38spl bullet design over the years: Today, it's possible to get adequate penetration & expansion without having to be pushed as fast. The same can likely be said for other older cartridges that remain outstanding performers, despite being "powder puffed".

The change could also reflect a shift to increased use of jacketed bullets, which typically run slower than cast bullets, all else being equal.

OldMac
October 12, 2010, 07:00 AM
I have backed off maximum loads for accuracy and follow up shot accuracy when using a snub nose. Max loads tend to end up with a big ball of fire that makes me blink or flinch. That screws up my vision and reaction time to get the follow up shot on target. The longer barrels revolvers and lever action rifle don't have the same problem and get hotter loads.

Quoheleth
October 12, 2010, 08:21 AM
One word: lawsuits.

Ammo & gun manufacturers are prime targets for fat lawsuits. To protect themselves they have backed off the charge weights & pressure on their loads.

(Too, I'm sure modern testing methods are much more accurate and precise than old "well, that looks good to me" tests of yesteryear. However, I maintain lawyers have a big part to play in what ammo engineers do & don't do.)

Q

MCgunner
October 12, 2010, 08:58 AM
Well, I love shooting wadcutters over 2.7 grains of B'eye.

It's a litigious society we live in. Perhaps it's all the RG38s still out there? :eek:

jfh
October 12, 2010, 12:37 PM
That litigious society has created a new type of thinking among business owners. The fact is, nominally two-generations-worth-of MBA-thinking is having its impact on all types of businesses. At one point in time, the implicit charge for a business was to develop "the best"--and the best ammo was typically associated with best "performance".

Nowadays, the best ammo company is one that rewards its investors / owners the best--and that is true for many different industries.

Jim H.

Diggers
October 12, 2010, 03:01 PM
Quoheleth, I agree, lawsuits do make the most sense.

The other reasons have some good points too.

About the modern bullets, what I find interesting is when the more powerful .38 ammo was being made the bullets used in those loads were most likely the softer lead round nose type. That load must have had very good penetration, to the point of passing totally through the target, and little expansion. It seems that modern ammo/bullets try to find that perfect balance between expansion and penetration. (Often the error is on the side of expansion, though in the last few years they have seemed to find a very good balance.)

I have found there is a large disconnect between the users of firearms and the makers of those weapons. The users seem to assume that every change to or new firearm/ ammo was intended to make it more effective for the user. When in fact, the change or new firearm is intended to make MONEY for the company that makes the product. (lawsuits donít make companies money) There is some overlap between effectiveness and profit but only some. S&W, Ruger, Remington, all of them in the business, exist only to make a profit and will do whatever they need to do to make that happen. Many gun people seem to have a hard time with this concept for some reason.

Anyhow, I guess itís a better safe than sorry (lawsuit) issue with the .38 AND it really doesnít matter much because the .357 is there for those who want more bang.

Lucky Derby
October 12, 2010, 05:27 PM
.38 Special was born at the dawn of the last century. For the first 20-30 years, depending on manufacturer, the guns were not heat treated. Add to this the questionable quality of the Spanish made copies of both S&W and Colt that were very common in the 1st half of the 20th century.
Many of these revolvers are still around today. Ammo manufacturers play a game of CYA by watering down the .38 special. The advent of the .357 magnum makes it go pretty much unnoticed. I can't say I wouldn't do the same if were in thier shoes.

Rexster
October 12, 2010, 07:20 PM
NYPD still manages to shoot some number of bad guys with the Speer 135-grain Gold Dot Short Barrel load in .38 +P, with their "grandfathered" sixuns and fiveguns, and it is not like this modern load's bullets are bouncing off the bad guys. Indication are that the officers are pleased with the performance.

There are no flies on the 158-grain +P LSWCHP, either, though whether it is modern or ancient depends upon one's point of view.

JWF III
October 12, 2010, 07:42 PM
One word: lawsuits.


DING!DING!DING! We have a winner.

Wyman

ArchAngelCD
October 13, 2010, 01:30 AM
NYPD still manages to shoot some number of bad guys with the Speer 135-grain Gold Dot Short Barrel load in .38 +P, with their "grandfathered" sixuns and fiveguns, and it is not like this modern load's bullets are bouncing off the bad guys. Indication are that the officers are pleased with the performance.
That's because Speer's ammo is loaded to the older 20,000 PSI limits not the newer 18,500 PSI limits. 38 Special ammo loaded to to SAAMI 20,000 PSI or CIP 21,500 PSI is more effective in a short barrel than when loaded to under 18,000 PSI like much of the so called +P ammo is.

ccsniper
October 13, 2010, 01:55 AM
(Too, I'm sure modern testing methods are much more accurate and precise than old "well, that looks good to me" tests of yesteryear. However, I maintain lawyers have a big part to play in what ammo engineers do & don't do.)

+1

anyone with a 7mm or 8mm mauser know this all too well. Finding ammo at full potential for these two means looking at European ammo or handloading. The .38 has the same problem, Lawyers force ammo manufacturers to down load ammo to cover their @$$.

Diggers
October 13, 2010, 03:45 AM
The speer golddot 135 SB +P (jeez try saying that 3 times fast:p) Is what I would call very modern ammo, I would expect it work pretty well. And I mean that because I just bought some for my 442.

I didn't know speer uped the PSI on their stuff....interesting.

SO what the heck is Buffalo Bore doing to their ammo? I was looking again at the brass fetcher tests for .38 ammo http://www.brassfetcher.com/38%20Special.html

BB's NON +P 125 grain is moving in the 930 fps range and the 158 grain is almost at 900 fps.....out of a 642 (1 7/8 inch barrel)! The +P stuff is going over 1000 fps from the same gun.

Any SAAMI info for BB's ammo? It must be waaay up there.

Whats really crazy is if you put that 125 grain non +P ammo in a 4 inch tube its going to be well above 1000 fps......non +P.....really?

Humm.....I take it back, not ALL companies out there are real worried about lawsuits. (just most)

jfh
October 13, 2010, 10:02 AM
Diggers: The last time I looked into BB claims, they said that these rounds were no more than plus-p. However, since then they have added the adjective 'heavy' to at least the 158-gr./1000 fps/2" barrel.

Early on, rumor was that the BB powder (at least for 38 Special/357) was nominally the current Ramshot Silhouette. However, the fastest I've been able to get a 38 Special 158-gr. bullet running from a 2&1/8" barrel has been about 860 fps--and that was running it at CIP max, not 38+P, and with True Blue. My guesstimate for the BB 158-gr. "heavy" loads is that they are runniing about 24,000.

Jim H.

Guillermo
October 13, 2010, 10:38 AM
There is another reason and that is that the hotter the round, the more wear on the weapon. Now most people don't shoot enough to wear a gun much. But some do.

With the lack of a quality revolvers on the new market it is no wonder that they want their customers to shoot emasculated 38s.

Were it up to Smith and Taurus we could only shoot Speer practice ammo powered by only the primer.

Diggers
October 13, 2010, 02:25 PM
jfh,

I'm not a reloader but isn't 24,000 over max pressure for the .38? I recall BB has a warning not to use their ammo in older guns....but :what:.

I know guns vary in the FPS they produce some what...how about the bullets they use? I think they use a gas check bullet in the 158 grain loads. Could that help add some FPS or would it take away?

As we all know, you can't get something for nothing. Just curious how high BB goes above other ammo presure levels to get that FPS.

336A
October 13, 2010, 02:57 PM
The current SAAMI specs for the .38 SPL is 17,500 PSI while +P is 20,000 PSI (this is also stated in the Speer #14 manual) with a Maximum Average Pressure (MAP) not to exceed 21,500 PSI.

BTW the reason that it is impossible to safely acheive BB .38SPL +P performance is due to the fact that BB uses a special proprietary Non-Canister grade powder. Which means that it is not available to the public. The powder they use is very akin to the powders that Hornady is using in they're SuperFormance and LeverEvolution line. Trying to attempt the performance of the BB .38 SPL +P loadings in a .38 SPL chambered gun is foolish. As all of the canister grade powder available to the public will put you above max safe pressures before you reach the BB performance levels.

If one wishes to concoct such loads (aka .38-44 loads) do some research and fire them from a .357 revolver. You will save yourself a lot of grief and possible medical expenses this way.

http://www.thehighroad.org/attachment.php?attachmentid=120341&d=1272497612

CoRoMo
October 13, 2010, 03:28 PM
So, 9x19 is older, 45acp is about the same age. Are they also a powder-puff version of their former selves?

Dave T
October 13, 2010, 04:22 PM
If one wishes to concoct such loads (aka .38-44 loads) do some research and fire them from a .357 revolver.

Or you could shoot them in one of the originals, a Outdoorsman or Heavy Duty like this one:

http://i722.photobucket.com/albums/ww224/desertarcher/SW%20N%20Frames/IMG_0098.jpg

The Buffalo Bore load is a real kick (pun intended) out of one of these N-frames.

Dave

CoRoMo
October 14, 2010, 04:47 PM
I know this is the revolver forum, but I only asked about 9x19 and 45acp because, I've never heard that they are no longer the level that they started out being. I've only ever heard that applied to the .38spl round. So... are they? Anyone know?

jfh
October 14, 2010, 05:59 PM
My answer, originally, was unnecessarily brief--arguably, inaccurate. 336A calls out what is probably the most important factor: the use of proprietary powders / powder blends not available to the home reloader.

As for the 24,000 PSI number--that was the number a few of us came up with, playing with both Quickload calculations and some Avogadro's-formula variations, based on recipes built in both 38 Special and 357 Mag cases--but all fired, by most of us, in 357-mag revolvers.

As a result of all of this fooling around, I've concluded that even with the proprietary powder angle, I don't think BB can do this while staying under at 20,000 PSI or less, and probably can't do it staying at the MAP (aka CIP / European spec) pressure of approx. 21,500 PSI.

As a result, where discussions like this invariably lead to is discussions of probability--which is what ammunition is really all about, anyway. Ultimately, if your 1907 H&R 38 Special revolver blows up because that BB 20A round is, at the 95% probability level, the cause of your gun blowing up, the company lawyer can say 'yeah-but-what-else-was-fired-in-that-gun-in-the-last-103 years'--and argue that you own them money for disparaging the BB name. Then they'll have to settle anyway, because their insurance company will fold the hand.

Meanwhile, when I carry BB20As, they go in an M&P 340, a 640, etc., etc.

Jim H.

MikePGS
October 14, 2010, 09:18 PM
It's funny, I was looking up this exact question earlier today. I came across a thread on another forum that gives a lot of good insight. It's written by someone using the name Saxon Pig which I'm guessing (but not 100 % positive) is the same Saxon Pig that posts on here :D
http://www.smithandwessonforums.com/viewtopic.php?f=15&t=194

ironhead7544
October 16, 2010, 06:43 AM
I think the main reason factory ammo seems downloaded is that more people have chronographs. The original loading for the 38 Special with 158 gr rnl was listed as 855 fps. The actual velocity from a 4 inch is about 700 fps or so. The 38-44 High Velocity ammo was loaded hot for about a real 1050 fps or so from a 6 inch with the 158 gr bullet. Todays +p 38 Special 158 gr lswchp goes about 820 from from a 4 inch.
Also there is a difference in the way the smaller makers rate the pressure. The big companies max pressure is the max spike for the load. The smaller makers use the average of pressures so the spikes are really higher. I cant confirm this but have heard it from several sources. I really doubt this would ever hurt the average gun owner as who could afford to shoot enough to loosen up a revolver? The Buffalo Bore is over $1.00 a round. Also the loads have quite of bit of recoil and noise so not too many people would practice a lot with it in the lighter more fragile revolvers.
Just my .02.

Stainz
October 16, 2010, 07:56 AM
It's been 3.5 yr since I last chrono-ed Remington R38S12 +P 158gr LHPSWC's (3-26-07) and GA Arms similar reloads. I can't imagine they would change much since then as they had both been consistent since I first chrono-ed them several years earlier. At any rate, they have always seemed more energetic than the previous poster presented:

642 1 7/8" 822 fps
10 2" 860 fps
686+ 5" 990 fps

These are the averages of several cylinders full and of both ammo's. The GA Arms ammo was a bit slower from the 1 7/8" barrel, skewing that average downward. Even so, it was always within - usually, well within, the SD of the Remingtons, which ran +/- 9 - +/- 13 fps. My older measurements from a now long gone 3" 65 yielded 914 fps. I would estimate a 4"-er to produce 950 fps. At that velocity, the harder lead of the GA Arms bullet would likely open well, something the softer Remington does quite well from a snubby.

As to the OP question, "Why powder puff the .38 Special?"... simple answer. If you need 'warmth' , there are +P's available. For 'hot', there is .357 Magnum. But - for a mild recoil from an Airweight snubby, one that produces a .357" wound channel, you have the full wadcutter 148gr in lead - making 650+ fps from said snubby. No, it won't shatter a pelvis, although it would likely make it past a skull, rib, or sternum. It should leave a decent wound channel, something a LRN, LRNFP, or LSWC can't be depended on to reliably produce - and certainly not at .357". Also, if you are pinging or dropping a metal plate - or punching holes in paper - why use more than you need? The homebrew .38 Special is the plinker's delight!

Stainz

bluetopper
October 16, 2010, 09:37 PM
I think the 357 Magnum is downloaded a lot more than it used to be more than the 38 is.

Ky Larry
October 17, 2010, 09:05 AM
This is a difficult question to answer. Gunpowder,metalurgy,and test equipment have all undergone consistent changes over the last 75 years. I have no idea how .38 Spl ammo from 1940 would compare to .38 Spl ammo of today. I have faith that todays ammo would serve me well in a SD situation. I never feel under-gunned while carrying one of my .38's.

The Lone Haranguer
October 17, 2010, 09:27 AM
Could it be that advertised velocity figures used to be obtained from long, unvented test barrels - if not wholly made up - while newer figures are obtained more from real guns, hence appear lower?

Guillermo
October 17, 2010, 09:54 AM
It's written by someone using the name Saxon Pig which I'm guessing (but not 100 % positive) is the same Saxon Pig that posts on here

It is my guess that it is "our" Saxon Pig. It reads like him and espouses the same opinion which is well thought out and 100% correct.

22-rimfire
October 17, 2010, 10:05 AM
I don't see much reason to shoot low powered 38spl rounds unless you are shooting them from an old handgun that you either are afraid that it may not handle current load pressures (in which case why would you in the first place?) or you don't want to shoot anything in it that might "wear it out".

Vern Humphrey
October 17, 2010, 06:28 PM
Because there are a lot of old 38's of unknown quality still out there.
Amen.

Another reason is because a hot loaded .38 Special really isn't necessary anymore. If you want a knock-'em-down-and-vaporize-their-remains revolver, the .357 is there.

A third reason is because with expanding CHL laws, a lot of people are buying really light revolvers and these revolvers can be painful to shoot with hot loads. So ammo makers have come with effective loads that are below the shooters' pain threshold.

Guillermo
October 17, 2010, 07:07 PM
a hot loaded .38 Special really isn't necessary anymore

I will agree with that as long as we are agreeing that +P is not "hot loaded"

SaxonPig
October 17, 2010, 10:32 PM
After studying on this situation for a number of years here are my conclusions:

1. Lawsuits have caused the ammo companies to lower pressures. Standard ammo from the 1960s ran higher chamber pressures than current +P and nobody thought anything about it. Then the gray pin-striped suit folks stepped in. Many older, imported guns of dubious quality out there that may come apart with even standard ammo so the loads were reduced.

2. Lawsuits have also caused the gun companies to become overly cautious. Call S&W and ask them if +P can be used in a 1970s M&P revolver. They will say no which is patently ridiculous.

3. Lawsuits have caused the loading manual publishers to reduce the top loads. Look at the loads published in 1970s manuals compared to today's listings.

4. Ammo companies have powders available to them that individuals can't buy. They can do things we can't.

LawofThirds
October 18, 2010, 02:08 AM
There's lots of argument for both sides, but precious little shooting of old ammo vs new in a chronograph.

Vern Humphrey
October 18, 2010, 11:31 AM
There's lots of argument for both sides, but precious little shooting of old ammo vs new in a chronograph.
Nor are there any cites of which lawsuits forced the ammo companies to "dumb down" the .38 Special.

CoRoMo
October 18, 2010, 11:42 AM
Yeah, and I've never heard someone say that the 9mm Luger or 45acp have been "powder puffed" too. They are just as old a cartridge.

CraigC
October 18, 2010, 12:05 PM
IMHO, we have improved methods of measuring pressure as well as a better understanding of how it affects the guns structurally. We also have a better understanding of terminal ballistics as it pertains to handguns. We know that we don't need a jacketed bullet at blistering velocity to be effective.

As far as no "need" for hot loading the .38Spl, well, if you have an original .38-44 Heavy Duty, a 2nd or 3rd generation Colt SAA or want to use the 173gr Keith bullet in the K-frame .357's, there certainly IS a need for it. The modern USFA .38Spl SAA's are also prime candidates for the old 1350fps .38-44 load.

Vern Humphrey
October 18, 2010, 12:35 PM
if you have an original .38-44 Heavy Duty, a 2nd or 3rd generation Colt SAA or want to use the 173gr Keith bullet in the K-frame .357's, there certainly IS a need for it.
Yes, a few individual shooters may need heavier loads. But from the ammo maker's standpoint that may not be enough to make it profitable. And from the general SD gun owner's, there is no need.

CraigC
October 18, 2010, 12:46 PM
The "need" is there, regardless of how small the niche is, it has always been there and remains. And who said anything about factory loads???

Vern Humphrey
October 18, 2010, 02:14 PM
The "need" is there, regardless of how small the niche is, it has always been there and remains. And who said anything about factory loads???
Here's a sample quote:
I think the main reason factory ammo seems downloaded is that more people have chronographs

SaxonPig
October 18, 2010, 03:24 PM
LoT- I have shot vintage 38 Special ammo over the chronograph and communicated with others who have also done it. No doubt in my mind that ammo from before the 1980s went faster.

VH- I have not heard of any civil cases involving factory 38 ammo damaging a gun but that doesn't mean it hasn't happened and it certainly could happen. Often it is just the FEAR of a lawsuit that drives a company's policies.

Diggers
October 18, 2010, 03:58 PM
Hey SaxonPig, nice write up on this topic at S&W forum. Good read.

Vern Humphrey
October 18, 2010, 04:21 PM
VH- I have not heard of any civil cases involving factory 38 ammo damaging a gun but that doesn't mean it hasn't happened and it certainly could happen. Often it is just the FEAR of a lawsuit that drives a company's policies.
Then why hasn't the same thing happened to the .45 ACP, 9X19mm, and so on?

I suspect the key facts are:

1. The .45 ACP and 9X19mm are smokeless powder developments. The .38 Special was originally developed as a black powder round. This means:

a. There are black powder era .38 Special revolvers still around. These are much weaker than modern revolvers for the same cartridge.

b. The pressure data was developed in the black powder era and simply carried forward.

2. Around the time the pressures were lowered, electronic pressure measuring equipment became available. When someone got around to measuring the pressure of .38 Specials with modern equipment, they found the old black-powder transition estimates were out of line.

Lucky Derby
October 18, 2010, 09:31 PM
.38 Special was originally a BP cartridge, whereas 9mm Luger and .45 ACP were smokeless from the start.
Semi-autos require ammo to be within a certain range for the guns to be able to cycle reliably, revolvers do not.
I am not aware of any cheaply made knock off pot metal Spanish import 9mms and .45s. Maybe LLamas and Stars aren't Colts, but they aren't no name pot metal junk either.

MAKster
October 18, 2010, 11:38 PM
I don't think it has anything to do with the fear of lawsuits. 38 special these days is mainly used in j frames and by target shooters. Both of these shooters benefit from lower recoil loads. Not many people these days carry a full sized 38 spl for self defense so there is less demand for hotter loads.

CraigC
October 19, 2010, 01:33 PM
Another reason is because a hot loaded .38 Special really isn't necessary anymore.
And the statement I was disagreeing with. No mention of factory loads but that is irrelevant. Because for those circumstances I mentioned, it IS necessary. Or at least it is an option. There is simply no reason NOT to do it. If the guns can take it and the brass can take it, why not? Let us bear in mind that not everybody is paranoid about heavy loads finding their way into an inappropriate gun.

There is even .45Colt data in print in nearly every reloading manual in existence that will grenade the guns for which the cartridge was originally chambered. Yet there is no public outcry. Of course not, because it is and always has been the responsibility of the handloader to know the strength of his guns and feed them accordingly. Sometimes the safety police is a little too enthusiastic to save the idiots from themselves.

Guillermo
October 19, 2010, 02:02 PM
Sometimes the safety police is a little too enthusiastic to save the idiots from themselves.


ain't that the damned truth!!!

I think the gene pool would be a lot cleaner if the safety police and their legal teams were not so active.

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