38/44 Ammo Testing – Factory and Reload


Peter M. Eick
October 6, 2011, 08:28 PM
38/44 Ammo Testing – Factory and Reload

CAUTION: The following post includes loading data beyond currently published maximums for this cartridge. USE AT YOUR OWN RISK. Neither the writer, The High Road, nor the staff of THR assume any liability for any damage or injury resulting from use of this information.

The following is a test of 38/44 ammo only. This information is not applicable to any other cartridge or caliber and is presented only for information’s sake.

First off, let me state that what I did was push the limits in my guns. I knew I was taking a calculated risk and I went way beyond current book loads today. Just because I did not blow up my 38/44’s it does not mean that yours won’t go sky high on the first shot.

I take no responsibility for your reloading actions or how you treat this data. Neither this forum nor myself takes any responsibility for the information provided.

Now with the legal disclaimer out of the way…..

Today I wanted to finally chrono my handloads and some factory 38/44 ammo for comparison in 3 different heavy duties with different barrel lengths. I chose 3 post war 38/44’s in 4”, 5” and 6.5” barrel lengths. All are used guns and some have been use hard. This is why I chose them for this test. I knew that I was going to push the limit in some cases so I wanted guns that I would not be heartbroken if I blew them up. Yes, I was planning on catastrophic failure if necessary. That is how hot we are about to go.

First some pictures:


This is my chrono setup


This is the bench with my 3 different 38/44 heavy duty’s that will be the test.


I put all of my 38/44 ammo in red boxes to keep it out of D frame Colts and other non-38/44s.

If you remember your history, the 38/44 is a upgraded 38 special that should do about 1175 fps out of the 6.5”, 1150 fps out of a 5” and 1100 fps out of a 4”. So our design goal is 1100 to 1150 fps out of the 5” and see where the chips fall.

Let’s start with baseline data. All data will be 12 shot strings. Less then my normal 20 but reasonable for what I am doing.

2.8 grns of bullseye, starline brass, 1.145 case length, 148 grn rem hbwc, cci500 primer
6.5” 753+ 712- 41e 736m 12 s
5.0” 754+ 686- 68e 719m 20s
4.0” 753+ 693- 60e 716m 16s

If you are not familiar with the 35p, the + is the high velocity, the – is the low, e is extreme spread, m is mean s is standard deviation.

So you can see that the difference between my 4” and my 5” is only a few fps with this load and the 6.5” is just a bit faster. Extreme spread is about normal and the SD is par for the course on a 148 grn bullseye loads. These were reasonably accurate and sort of popped when you fired them. No real drama here.

Next load was 4.4 grns of Universal clays with a 158 grn Lasercast. From here on out, everything will be cci500’s unless mentioned, starline brass and a 158 lasercast created to 1.456 col.

6.5” 912+ 771- 141e 843m 42s
5.0” 888+ 737- 151e 812m 43s
4.0” 869+ 740- 129e 796m 42s

Well, as a nice 38 special level load, you can see that 4.4 grns of Universal clays has a lot of spread on the extreme spread and a high SD. Velocities came up over the bullseye load but look at the variation in extreme spread. Over twice the bullseye load. Not a good load in my opinion. I have never found UC to be that accurate so I was just burning this stuff off. Lets take it up a 10th and see how we do at 4.5 grns.

Next load was 4.5 gns of Universal clays with a 158 grn Lasercast. From here on out, everything will be cci500’s unless mentioned, starline brass and a 158 lasercast created to 1.456 col

6.5” 937+ 841- 96e 884m 29s
5.0” 902+ 826- 76e 853m 22s
4.0” 865+ 734- 131e 809m 38s

Well, that 10th helped the sd’s and a bit on the extreme spread but not on the 4”. Oh well. The trend line (from 2 points?) is that I should continue to load up UC. Maybe, but I still don’t like it for accuracy.

What about its kissing cousin Unique? How about we start with 4.5 grns of Unique and our same 158 lasercast and cci500 primer?

6.5” 953+ 881- 72e 910m 24s
5.0” 916+ 859- 57e 890m 18e
4.0” 905+ 800- 105e 853m 30s

We picked up some velocity, dropped the sd and es and found some accuracy by switch to unique. 4.5 grns is pretty mild though, so lets take it up so more. My old standard load for decades (yes really decades) was 5.0 grns of Unique. It is what I started with loading back in 1976 and did not even see a reason to buy a new loading manual till the mid 90’s since I made just one load all that time. I have shot around 40,000 of these loads through my old diamondback 4”. I wonder how they will do today? This is the max load in the current lasercast manual for unique.

6.5” 1049+ 975- 74e 1013m 25s
5.0” 1023+ 955- 68e 984m 19s
4.0” 1016+ 922- 94e 969m 25s

That added some more velocity, and tightened up the over all accuracy. 5 grns is very accurate for me. The extreme was up just a touch but the sd is doing ok. I note that the 4” is starting to behave more.

Let’s go up another half a grain to 5.5 grns. This is getting into the +P load level of most manuals although a lot would say that my 5.0 grn load is +p.

6.5” 1106+ 1050- 56e 1079m 16s
5.0” 1071+ 1022- 49e 1044m 16s
4.0” 1052+ 1000- 52e 1027m 17s

That looks like unique is starting to settle down into some very consistent numbers. Unique always seems to work better with more powder so I am a lot more comfortable with my 5 grns that I shot for decades. The max load on Speer 8 is 6 grns and the older Speer manuals takes it to 6.5 grns so I will have to work up a bit more with Unique. Accurate, clean and easy to shoot is what I characterize unique as with these velocities. Looks like more work is in order!

So let’s switch to try some other powders. These were just to get a feel for the powder since I have not worked with it in 38/44 before. Let’s try longshot. Say 5.7 grns.

6.5” 986+ 892- 94e 948m 29s
5.0” 969+ 920- 49e 940m 15s
4.0” 933+ 863- 70e 901m 24s

I was not expecting much from longshot but it was obviously accurate. 5.7 grns was quite mild but the sd’s and es’s are looking reasonable for such a light load. I will have to work up longshot more in 38/44

Let’s try another powder that should do well in 38/44. Power pistol. Since this is a shot in the dark let’s try 6.0 grns.

6.5” 1122+ 1078- 44e 1095m 11s
5.0” 1081+ 1026- 55e 1057m 15s
4.0” 1065+ 1007- 58e 1029m 17s

Power pistol shot well and was almost to 38/44 power levels but I noted that when it fired it give a sharp rap. Not a push but a noticeable rap. Looking at the velocities, it looks like most of the velocity comes real quick so I am probably going to draw the line with PP at 6.0 grns. I bet if I go to 6.5 grns or 5.5 grns it will react quickly. I think the powder is just a hair too fast for this approach.

Now we need to try the holy grail of 38/44’s. SR4756. This is the infamous powder from Speer 8 that caused a lot of grief. SR4756 is somewhat variable and has a reputation as being quite non-uniform. So when I work up hot loads, I will chrono each new batch and just load to a velocity. So we can start low and work up.

6.0 grns seems like a reasonable start.

6.5” 1045+ 937- 108e 997m 28s
5.0” 1012+ 919- 93e 958m 28so
4.0” 955+ 883- 72e 920m 21s

Pretty mild load and it was not burning as well as I would have liked in the 4” and 6.5. We need more powder.

6.5 grns is the next test.

6.5” 1107+ 1003- 104e 1066m 31s
5.0” 1084+ 1025- 59e 1057m 17s
4.0” 1081+ 1006- 74e 1030m 21s

Still below what I wanted and the SD’s are more radical. ES’s are still high so we need to keep going up.

7.0 grns of sr4756 is next

6.5” 1209+ 1178- 31e 1192m 10s
5.0” 1162+ 1099- 63e 1136m 17s
4.0” 1134+ 1086- 48e 1120m 16s

Well I had to stop and think for a bit here. I hit my desired power level at 1136 in the 5” but extraction was easy and accuracy was good. SD’s and ES’s were getting tighter and it felt good to shoot. I guess I will go up another half a grain and see how we do. By the way, these loads are getting into the mild 357 magnum loads or commercial ammo.

7.5 grns of sr4756 is next (and this is getting hot for even 38/44’s).

6.5” 1262+ 1227- 35e 1243m 11s
5.0” 1224+ 1188- 36e 1199m 11s
4.0” 1195+ 1157- 38e 1172m 12s

Well that was hotter than I expected. We are definitely up in low 357 Magnum power levels now. Extraction was still easy and not a hint of stickiness. I had to think a bit but I decided what the heck, let’s blow up a gun and go for it. On to the starting load for speer 8 or as it is more commonly known on the web “The Load”.

8.0 grns of sr4756 with a 158 lasercast and cci 500 primers.

6.5” 1312+ 1257- 55e 1285m 16s
5.0” 1265+ 1219- 46e 1246m 14s
4.0” 1247+ 1198- 49e 1217m 12s

Well that was a heck of a starting load! This is well into the 357 magnum power ranges today and pretty darn hot for a 38/44 back in the day. There is no way I would fire one of these in a D frame colt! There was no stickiness in extraction, the accuracy was great, and the sd’s and es’s look solid. This is probably a bit hotter than I would shoot on a daily basis, but the sweet spot appears to be around 7.5 grns to maybe 7.0 grns. I will have to work up by 10ths next.

So let’s switch gears and explore 2400. Our first load will be 7.5 grns of 2400 with a cci-500 primer

6.5” 850+ 754- 96e 815m 24s
5.0” 814+ 723- 91e 782m 26s
4.0” 801+ 661- 140e 762m 40s

Big change for sr4756! We definitely need to go up from here. This is mild 38 special levels!

First let’s try a cci550 magnum primer on the same load and see if it matters. So 7.5 grns 2400 with a cci550 and a 158 lasercast

6.5” 888+ 785- 103e 834m 33s
5.0” 867+ 778- 89e 827m 22s
4.0” 813+ 680- 133e 753m 39s

A magnum primer really did not help us much and one could argue that it actually hurt. Oh well, we have to try to learn. On to 8.5 grns. (I skipped 8.0 since it was going to be mild still).

6.5” 993+ 846- 147e 909m 41s
5.0” 936+ 854- 82e 899m 28s
4.0” 913+ 806- 107e 875m 37s

Still too weak. Next 9.5 grns of 2400.

6.5” 1098+ 1007- 91e 1059m 27s
5.0” 1075+ 955- 120e 1019m 32s
4.0” 1041+ 914- 127e 978m 33s

We are improving slowly, but we still need to go up. The extreme spreads tell me we are not settling out yet and are a bit wild. The odd thing is that this load is starting to get accurate. 10.5 grns next.

6.5” 1186+ 1059- 127e 1129m 35s
5.0” 1127+ 1009- 118e 1069m 37s
4.0” 1056+ 966- 90e 1028m 29s

Ok, 2400 is showing promise, but I need more out of it. I will have to work up another couple of grains but it is showing promise and is quite accurate even with the high es’s and sd’s.

We now need to switch to some commercial ammo. First off we are going to try some early 1960’s 200 grn Remington 38 special ammo.

6.5” 799+ 736- 63e 758m 17s
5.0” 756+ 712- 44e 738m 14s
4.0” 740+ 659- 81e 718m 23s

About what I was getting on my better loads in terms of es and sd so it seems reasonable. Interesting that we had exactly 20 fps change per inch of barrel with this stuff.

Next we did some Peters commercial 1940’s 38 special ammo. I don’t have an exact date but I believe this came from early 1940’s from the box and what I have read online.

This is the 38 special ammo I shot.

6.5” 885+ 803- 82e 838m 26s
5.0” 863+ 670- 193e 803m 48s (one really slow round!)
4.0” 826+ 757- 69e 787m 20s

This goes to show that older ammo was a lot faster than modern stuff. If you toss the one slow round the mean comes up to 818. In the same gun (5) modern CCI 158’s do 775 fps. CBC 158’s do 727 fps and Winchester does 753. Even Winchesters +P FBI load only goes 887 FPS. That is just bit better than 1940’s standard 38 special ammo.

Now lets try out the final stuff. This is real 1940’s vintage 38/44 ammo. It says “.38-44 S.&W. Special” 158 grn Lead bullet. The box says “r266” as the version of the load an it specifically says “specially adapted for the .38-44 Smith and Wesson Special”.

This is the 38/44 ammo that was chrono-ed.

6.5” 1198+ 1057- 141e 1121m 82s
5.0” 1131+ 1002- 129e 1079m 71s
4.0” 1069+ 739- 330e 1010m 103s (one bad round)

I had a bunch of misfires so I was barely able to get my 12 rounds for testing of each. That is why I was stuck with the one bad round on the 4”. I just ran out of decent ammo otherwise I would have voided the round and shot another one. So do I believe that original 38/44 ammo would have done about 1175 fps out of a 6.5” and 1150 fps out of a 5”? Yes. The degradation of the ammo in the last 70 years could explain my results running a bit slow compared to expectations. We are certainly not far outside the range of belief on the commercial of that vintage. Given the number of duds I had in the box, it would be quite believable that 1175 and 1150 are the targets.

I would have to say that I have a couple of blisters from shooting so much ammo. I am out of practice and tend to shoot in spurts like this. The Oehler 35p worked great and I really enjoyed the day. There is a lot more conclusions one could draw from this data set so I will just leave it for your enjoyment and your education.

In the end, the design goal of 1175 to 1100 fps for the 38/44 could be reached with 7.0 grns of SR4756 or probably 6.0 grns of Unique or 11.5 grns of 2400. I would have to test that to be sure. Longshot deserves more development but power pistol is hitting its limits before I get too far into the 38/44 territory. It would probably make some great 38 special+P ammo. Universal clays is not worthy of further work and older 38 special ammo is running about 50 to 100 fps faster than ammo from modern times. +P ammo from Winchester is slower then load manual max modern reloads.

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October 6, 2011, 08:45 PM

Always like to see pics of your .38/44's. (Some of them this time)

That old factory .38/44 ammo was not as fast as I thought it would be.

October 6, 2011, 08:52 PM
Hey Peter that was a nice report. What I liked best was your 6gr Unique load. That what I have been using for a long time. I also load 6.6grs of Unique in a 357 case with a 158gr lead bullet and get just about the same velocity. Its my favorite load to plink with in a 357.

I also shot a pretty big goat with this load and at just the instant I fired the goat stepped forward. What was supposed to be a raking shot from the rear through the lungs ended up being a shot in the hindleg that went lengthways through the goat. The animal took two more steps and died right there. The right shoulder blade had a perfect 36 caliber hole in it.

If you get a chance try 8.4grs of Blue Dot behind a 158 lead swc. Its another favorite load for a hot 38.

October 6, 2011, 11:17 PM
Great writeup and wonderful "set" of HD's!

Peter M. Eick
October 7, 2011, 09:10 AM
Thanks for the advice on the blue dot load and the unique loads. I will work them more carefully next time.

The 3 HD's are my "shooter/tester" ones. I have prewars and postwars but when I bought these 3 I set them aside as ones to shoot and test with and not really worry about. I don't want to put the wear of full loads on my "nice" ones.

I agree the 38/44 ammo was slower than I expected. I saw that last time I tested some so I think it is just degredation over time. Since I am shooting a 5" HD and that is what they were designed for, I expected the velocity to be right at the 1150 fps. 80 fps off for 70 year old ammo is not that bad when you think about it.

October 7, 2011, 09:13 AM
I think it is just degredation over time. ................................. for 70 year old ammo is not that bad when you think about it.Agreed.

October 7, 2011, 02:07 PM
Now we need to try the holy grail of 38/44’s. SR4756. ....................SR4756 is somewhat variable and has a reputation as being quite non-uniform. While SR 4756 is a good powder, it is extremely position sensitive. It needs 95% or better fill in the case.

If you want to try something different, and are willing to work up a load based on results in your guns (which you are) try some True Blue for this application. The max loads with a 125 Gr bullet left my cases sooted up badly from low pressure not expanding the cases well and sealing the chambers. The velocity was pretty good even then. At .2 grs over max it still showed signs of low pressure. I am almost out, so I won't be able to finish playing with it in +P .38 Spl, unless I get some more. Haven't played with 185 Gr and True Blue, at least not yet.

October 8, 2011, 01:09 AM
One of my favorite .357 Magnum loads is basically a .38/44 load: 148 grain DEWC over 7.0 grains of WSF or Herco loaded to about 1.35" OAL. It doesn't matter whether you use .38 brass or .357 brass (I use .38) because they won't chamber in a .38 Special. It should be between 1100 and 1200 fps from a 4" barrel (I need to chronograph it someday.) It's an accurate load, and that huge flat meplat is like a sledgehammer.

I haven't tried shooting them in my Marlin yet, but they cycle thru the action just fine and the magazine holds 2 extra rounds.

October 8, 2011, 01:36 PM
A really nice presentation and writeup, Peter. Thank you.

I am also curious about True Blue loads--I first stumbled onto it in 38 Special, and I have tweaked some recipes to intermediate pressures--i.e., estimated to be 24-27K. Now I am going to branch it over into higher-test 357 as well. As Walkalong says, it can be dirty on the low-pressure loads--but in my carry guns, both of them, it provides a sweetspot up to one grain wide in the testing. (I've never seen anything like that before.)

Bob's recipe in post 8 looks interesting, too. What a marvelous thread!

Jim H.

Peter M. Eick
October 9, 2011, 09:05 AM
I will have to look for some true blue powder. That is not one I have seen before around here so it is a new one to me. I like the load in post 8. I will have to try it also.

October 9, 2011, 09:15 AM
Well, buy more than the quarter-pound Walkalong bought. He's thrifty, you know, and has convinced PV to sell him quarter-pound containers; They make them up in yogurt cups just for him.

Jim H.

October 9, 2011, 11:08 AM
You didn't test the classic 13.5gr 2400 load?

October 9, 2011, 09:31 PM
I think he's intending to build up to it but is only at 10.5 of 2400.

These .38/44 articles did make me break down and order the Handloader #243 back issue. I just wish there were a simple way to accurately know the pressures.

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