.38 Special + Win 231 = SMOKE!


November 11, 2010, 08:52 AM
I went to the range Monday with a batch of .38 Specials I had loaded over the weekend. My recipie: mixed brass, Winchester SPP, and 3.7gr Win231 under a Missouri Bullet .38 Match 158gr LSWC. They shot OUTSTANDING, accuracy wise, and the gun felt good shooting the loads. But, my goodness was there smoke! When I tried to shoot some clay pidegons on the 50 yard berm, the smoke cloud was such that I actually could not see the puff of dirt where my bullets were impacting. This is not an exaggeration. After 2 cylinders, I gave up and went back to my orange-on-white targets at 10 yards.

I know the smoke is mostly lube burning and cast lead will almost always have some smoke, but even some of the other shooters on the line were making cracks about my "black-powder loads." My load data came from the Lyman pistol & revolver manual and it's .1gr above their start data. If I bumped up a couple tenths (IIRC, max is just over 4gr) would that help?

I have been shooting Universal with this bullet and have not had this much smoke before so I don't suspect lube as much as powder. I thought Win231 was the cat's meow for .38 Special - that's why I bought it. If this is what I'll get, I'm less than pleased.



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The Bushmaster
November 11, 2010, 09:03 AM
Lead bullets with bullet lube on them. What you are seeing is the smoke from the burning bullet lube. No sweat.

W-231 does not smoke any worse then any other powder. It does, however, burn a bit hotter hence the smoke from burning bullet lube. Other then the "smoke". How did they shoot?

And W-231 is the "cat's meow" for .38 Special and several other handgun calibers.

November 11, 2010, 09:05 AM
I'm not sure about W231 in .38, but I am shooting some 158gr LSWC with 4.0gr Bullseye, and they are also very smoky. I recall using some W231 in 9mm and it was pretty smoky. I've used Bullseye in 45 and 9mm and it's not smoky at all, but in .38 it's very smoky unless you have a light load.

November 11, 2010, 09:12 AM
Hmm. I just shot some W-231 powered .38 Spl loads recently, and they didn't smoke much. 148 Gr WC's.

Tweak the charge and see if it helps.

November 11, 2010, 09:35 AM
Tweak the charge and see if it helps.
+1. W231/HP38 has been producing less smoke with Missouri Bullets for me compared to other powders. W231/HP38 will smoke like other powder at lower/start charges and smoke will decrease at mid-high range.

FWIW, my recent mid range .38 Spl loads with 125/148 gr using Promo/Red Dot produced very little smoke.

November 11, 2010, 09:40 AM
158gr LSWC.

That is where the bulk of the smoke is comming from. Go get some plated or jacketed bullets and give them a try to see the difference.

Lee Roder
November 11, 2010, 01:12 PM
HP38 (w231) was smokey for me too for 158gr LSWCs. But Clays was clean as a whistle. Same bullets. I think it was the powder.


November 11, 2010, 05:12 PM
I had the same problem going from an old "cardboard" can of 231 to a new batch in the plastic jug. Went back and got a few more rounds out of the old can and smoke decreased. This was at 3.8grs. Reset the crimp a little tighter and increased the charge .1gr at a time. Smoke srarted decreasing at 4.0 grs. I settled at 4.1grs as tolerable. Increasd pressure sems to burn 231 better.

November 11, 2010, 05:14 PM
I love it!!!

November 11, 2010, 06:09 PM
I load 4.3g of 231 and home cast with 50/50 lube, no smoke. I'd votee you up the charge, per Winchester, I beleive max is 4.7g--but double check for sure.

Steve C
November 11, 2010, 06:51 PM
Up your W231 load to a standard .38 spl velocity and pressure wise with 4.5 grs and it may smoke less. This load will duplicate ballistics of factory standard velocity ammo. Smoke is from the lube and has very little to do with the powder. If you are using Hodgdon's data, they only list pathetic Cowboy action loads for lead bullets with W231 even though they don't call them that.

Jeff H
November 11, 2010, 07:36 PM
I also find it weird that 38 special smokes as much as it does. I use Bullseye though. In my guns the same 158 grain bullet loaded with 15 grains of 2400 doesn't smoke, and 3.8 grains of bullseye smokes like black powder so it has to be something more than just the lube causing the smoke. I would like to say that it has something to do with the pressure, but my 45ACP target loads are probably loaded to less pressure than the 38spl and don't really smoke much using either Bullseye or Win231.

I've just got used to the fact that my lead reloads in 38spl smoke.

November 11, 2010, 08:45 PM
Smokey 38 loads don't bother me a bit. Smoke and the aroma adds to the charm of the caliber.

Yes, Clays powder smokes in 38 too.

148 double ended wadcutters is all I ever buy and shoot in 38 anymore. I see no need for any other.

I reserve my 158gr bullets for 357.

Maj Dad
November 11, 2010, 10:07 PM
Lead bullets + lube + gunpowder + primer x firing = smoke. In all cases, all the time. I have used almost every pistol powder under the sun, and the one constant with lubed lead bullets is smoke. And, I must say, I really, really like the smell... :cool:

November 13, 2010, 12:51 AM
As the others have told you, it's the lube not the W231 that's smoking. I usually use a 4.0gr charge of W231 under a 158gr LSWC bullet. It's my favorite .38 Special load...

November 13, 2010, 04:54 PM
Went to the garage this afternoon and loaded up twenty each:

Mixed brass, Wolf SPP, 158gr LSWC and Win231 at the following charges: 3.1gr, 3.4gr, 3.8gr, 4.1gr and 4.4gr. (I arrived at these weights starting at the .30 Lee auto disc and increasing one disc each time.)

For my data, I used Lyman's Pistol & Revolver manual and Lee. Lyman stopped at 4.0gr; Lee (IIRC) went to 4.7gr. Pressures were all sub-18K cup.

A little bit ago I checked the Winchester/Hodgdon website and they have a max charge of 3.7gr. Pressure is mid-14K cup.

Lyman does show a 155gr +P load with 231 all the way up to 5.0gr.

Think my 4.1 and 4.4gr are going to be OK to shoot out of my 20-year old Smith model 15? Or do I need to pull them down and start over?


EDIT: I went back and checked my notes from last week. I had originally posted I started with 3.7gr; it was actually the 3.1 start grain. That's why I re-started at 3.1 and walked my way up to the 4.4gr.

November 13, 2010, 06:24 PM
You will be fine. Speer #13 goes to 4.3 with lead 158 Gr bullets, and they stop at velocity with lead. Next time stop at 4.3 if it worries you.

Your 20 year old Model 15 is a classic, and you can't hurt it with 4.4 Grs of W-231 and lead 158 Gr bullets.

Steve C
November 13, 2010, 07:05 PM
4.7grs is the max load listed as +P by both Speer 13 and the older Winchester on line data (pre Hodgdon marketing). Winchester lists the load at 17,100 psi which is only nominally +P sinc maximum standard pressure is 17,000 psi and max +P is 18,500.

A 4.7gr load chrono's right at Winchesters published ballistics for their 158gr LHP +P load.

There's no problems using +P loads in a K frame .38 so don't worry about 4.4grs as you can go a bit higher.

For a copy of the previous Winchester data Winchester2002.pdf (http://members.cox.net/scollins15/transfers_public/Winchester2002.pdf)

November 13, 2010, 07:11 PM
Walkalong & Steve C, thanks. That's what I was guessing but I appreciate the verification.

The Smith is one of my favorite guns. DA pull is very smooth and SA is "just right" crisp. Great shooter with a variety of loads.


November 14, 2010, 02:00 AM
When you get out to shoot those loads I have a strong feeling you are going to like the 4.1gr 158gr LSWC load best. I know I do...

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