Full Power .38 Wadcutters?


Lone Star
January 29, 2003, 07:22 AM
Many here will recall the late Maj. George C. Nonte, whose byline once dominated the gun magazines.

He mentioned that, at one time, there was a factory .38 Special wadcutter full power load. That is, it was loaded to give the same velocity as the 158 grain RN lead ammo, about 860 FPS, at least in catalogs.

A recent article by Charles Petty leads one to suspect that handloading a HB wadcutter to that level may be unwise.

So: Was the factory load a solid base bullet? Is it safe to load the HB wadcutter to that level? Should one use the solid base bullet? And is there any real impact advantage to it over the SWC, which will have better flight characteristics beyond about 25 yards?

I thought this might be a useful load for S&W .38's made before 1957.

Your thoughts?

Lone Star

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January 29, 2003, 01:21 PM
Terry Murbach wrote an article a few years ago about loading solid based wadcutters to nominal factory rn levels. ( the factory RNs actually usually clock mid sevens instead of the 800 fps range). The old factory loads were probably solid base but some of the old lyman hbwc molds threw bullets with fairly heavy skirts that probably wouldn't funnel out on you. I remember one that a friend bought from Lyman when they discontinued it. It weighed 160 grains and was accurate loaded backwards over fairly heavy charges.

January 29, 2003, 04:19 PM
I have older reloading data from Hornady and it shows powder charges that will propel their HBWC (manufactured back then) to 850 fps from a 4" barrel. Would have to check but I think it shows a maximum load that will push it 900 fps. I am a reloader and would recommend a flat base WC for these velocities.

Anyhow, I've always used a hard 158 gr. LSWC when I wanted over 800.

duck hunt
January 29, 2003, 06:01 PM
I'd like to see a lower-grainage solid wadcutter in a +P loading.

Wil Terry
January 29, 2003, 06:28 PM
Remington did make full-charge wadcutter loads, a 148gr HBWC at 850fps in the box I had to shoot, test, and chronograph. The ammo was made right after WWII. The stuff shot like gangbusters and started me on a long search to duplicate the loads in all mt 38SPECIAL sixguns and the M52 pistol.
I shot up about 10,000 WC bullets in these tests including bullets from SPEER, ZERO, HORNADY, 3-D[?]...DAMN! can't remember the others off hand, plus the complete line of cast wadcutters from BULL-X.
To a gun, every one shot its' best with full charge wadcutter loads, and to a gun they all shot best with a charge of 3.4grs. Now some preferred 3.4gr of BULLSEYE, some liked 3.4gr of REDDOT, or GREENDOT, or 452AA, or AA2, or WST, or whatever.
I never had any problems with shirt failures with the HBWC bullets. [ BUT DON'T TRY THIS WITH UNIQUE ]
The guns involved were a 3" M36, a 4" M15 and M19, a 5" M52, a 6" M19, and a 6 1/2" M23 outdoorsman...AND I'LL BE DAMNED AGAIN...I can't remember the othe 38's.

January 29, 2003, 07:47 PM
A number of makers of cast bullets make a solid LWC bullet. I have used several brands and all seem to give excellent service and are very accurate indeed.

Curious thing... my current loading for the 148 gr. LWC is .....(drum rolll) 3.4 grains of Clays....



January 30, 2003, 10:58 PM
I'm glad I saw this thread because I'm going to be loading a .38 wadcutter for both my revolver loads and a Gold Cup in .38 Special that I'll be shooting soon. What I'd really like to find is a good load with a clean burning powder and a clean shooting wadcutter bullet. I'm leaning towards trying Bullseye since I think my Red Dot loads might be a bit dirty, and I'd prefer a cleaner load for a semiauto.

Thanks for the info.

January 31, 2003, 09:47 AM
their factory wadcutter loads are listed at 800 fps volicity. Of course whens the last time you saw horaday ammo in wal-mart?:D

January 31, 2003, 09:54 AM
The standard reload for .38spec. wadcutter TARGET load is 2.7 Bullseye with a 148 or 141 wadcutter. For a little cleaner burning, I use 2.5 700X with the same wadcutters. These are NOT equal to full load 158gr. factory loads but ARE equal to factory wadcutter TARGET loads. Quantrill

July 1, 2003, 10:56 PM
Were these loaded with the hollow base up or down ?

July 2, 2003, 12:03 AM
3.4 Grains of 231 !

July 2, 2003, 03:45 AM
I'll second Gordon's recommendation! Win 231 shoots so well out of my M60 snubby and GP 100 it's scarey...

Al Thompson
July 2, 2003, 07:02 AM
Atlanta Arms makes a very nice 148 gr FMJWC. I've shot quite a bit of it and like it. If I had someone who was recoil sensitive, this would be the load. I did some penetration tests and it works fine.

4v50 Gary
July 2, 2003, 10:42 PM
And the point is?

I never liked full power since it meant more leading. Buy some copper mesh (choir boy) from your supermarket to scrub out the barrel later.

July 3, 2003, 12:24 PM
Mr Murbach,

Do you think I can expect similiar results out of our 1980's Detective Special ?? That could be a nice round for this little .38.


July 3, 2003, 01:18 PM
If I'm not mistaken, a lot of HBWC's (and WC's for that matter) are swaged out of relatively soft lead. Pushing these to full power .38 speeds would probably get you a lot of leading..

I usually use Meister 'hard swaged', 3.2gr bullseye in a .357case.. works pretty well at around 600fps or so.

July 4, 2003, 11:28 PM
in my 6" K-Frame PPC revolver. I didn't want the leading problem, so I found Berry's 148gr HBWC bullets, that have been copper-plates. Dunno about proper skirt expansion, but no leading, and excellent accuracy at the extra velocity!

Ed Harris
February 14, 2008, 01:28 PM
Winchester stopped selling lead component bullets for reloading several years ago. Remington hollow-based wad-cutter bullets are still available and shoot extremely well. The black, dry lube builds up in seating dies and affects seating depth unless cleaned out periodically.

With today's Alliant Bullseye you must increase the nominal charge from the often recommended 2.8 grains of the former Hercules product to 3.0 grains of Alliant to approximate the 770+/- 30 fps velocity of factory wadcutter ammunition.

For a "full charge wadcutter" load suitable for field or defense use in revolvers you may increase the charge, not to exceed 3.5 grains of Alliant Bullseye, for a velocity of about 850 f.p.s. from a 6" revolver or 750 from a 2" snubby.

Remington hollow-based wad cutters shoot consistently well with charges in the range of 2.5 to 3.5 grains of Alliant Bullseye, even though these are somewhat lighter and heavier charges than those usually recommended.

Fifty-yard results are revealing. The best factory wad-cutter loads I’ve tested are of historical interest, Remington-Bridgeport production used by the U.S. Pistol Team in the 1960 Olympic Games. It averaged 1.16” at 50 yards for ten consecutive 5-shot groups from a Unertl scoped BSA Martini action with Green Mountain barrel and .357 Magnum chamber having throating similar to the .38 AMU. Norma 158-grain lead, round nosed ammo from the mid 1980s averaged 1.6” at 50 yards.

Of the factory swaged hollow based wad cutters sold for hand loading only Remington’s consistently averaged less than 2” at fifty yards. The often recommended 2.8 grain charge of Bullseye was quite good and averaged 1.8”, from the test barrel, but increasing the charge to 3 grains shrunk the average to an inch and a half.

The Remington 158-gr. Lead SWC flat base of .358 diameter loaded to 1.45” overall with 3.5 grains of Bullseye averaged an inch and a half. Speer’s 158-gr. Lead Round nose with 3.5 grains of Bullseye shot as well as my prized lot of Norma LRN. Dispersion of groups with the .357" diameter Remington component bullet were approximately DOUBLE that for the .358 diameter ones. Be sure that you buy .358 diameter lead bullets!

Jim Watson
February 14, 2008, 02:09 PM
Poster #18, are you THE Ed Harris of Ed's Red fame?
If so, glad to have you aboard, always thought your stuff was some of the most sensible around.

Now if I could just get Jan Stevenson to post...

February 14, 2008, 02:16 PM
Buffalo Bore makes a hard cast 150 gr wadcutter, 868 fps (out of a 2" barrel) (http://www.buffalobore.com/ammunition/default.htm#standard38).

Item 20D utilizes a very hard cast 150gr. WAD CUTTER bullet. The bullet is made hard, so it won’t deform or mushroom. It cuts/crushes a “cookie cutter”, full diameter hole in human flesh just like it does on a paper target. It penetrates deeply (roughly 14 to 16 inches in human tissue) and its full diameter profile maximizes blood loss as it cuts and crushes (not slips or slides) its way through tissue. Although I’ve never been shot with a full profile wad cutter bullet, I must assume that the initial impact of that wide flat nosed bullet, is crushingly formidable. As a teenager, I took to the woods on a regular basis and killed many a critter with heavily loaded 38SPL wad cutters’. The effect of a full profile wad cutter on small game was obvious and amazing, compared to regular round nosed bullets. That flat nose, literally hammers living things. These bullets are hard and properly lubed and will NOT lead your barrel. Note my velocities from real world “over the counter” revolvers—NOT TEST BARRELS!

a. S&W mod. 60, 2 inch barrel—868 fps (251 ft. lbs.)
b. S&W mod. 66, 2.5 inch barrel—890 fps (264 ft. lbs.)
c. Ruger SP101, 3 inch barrel—961 fps (308 ft. lbs.)
d. S&W Mt. Gun, 4 inch barrel—1005 fps (336 ft. lbs.)

February 14, 2008, 02:45 PM
I've loaded .357 Magnums with DEWC bullets and 5.7 grains of Bullseye. They do a number on steel targets; I haven't tried them on paper targets yet to determine their real accuracy. They only leaded a little just in front of the forcing cone, like any other lead bullet being pushed to the edge.

They also get the attention of the shooter next to you when touch one off after they saw you loading wadcutters and assumed they were wimpy .38 Specials. :D

February 14, 2008, 03:12 PM
Well Mr. Harris, you seem to be out of date with the information about Winchester components. They are currently available.:what:

February 14, 2008, 05:41 PM
I have read (but not seen) that loading a HBWC to higher velocities can result in part of the hollowbase blowing out leaving a ring of lead in the barrel with obvious results with your next round.

I think you're better off usin plain base WCs if you want to crank up the velocity.

Bullet Bob
February 14, 2008, 08:59 PM
This is my once a year off-topic thread deviation post.

Is anyone else here old enough to remember Dean Grennell (gunwriter)? Before the reliable hollowpoints of today, he used to experiment with HBWC reversed for snub barrel loads, theorizing that the soft lead and huge hollow point would expand even out of short-barrelled guns.

Jim Watson
February 14, 2008, 09:08 PM
I well remember Dean Grennell and have two of his books. For him, the inverted HBWC was just the jumping off point for bullets of his own design and manufacture. Like the Parajax, "guaranteed to open" (pair of jacks, poker, get it, get it?)

I don't know why it is that the inverted wadcutter has to come up every time the subject of expansive bullets is mentioned. Usually by people who would have apoplexy if you suggested any other form of handload for self defense.

The only thing worse is those who recommend the unaltered midrange wadcutter for self defense. I have shot those at a variety of targets and while the flat front transmits energy well, it doesn't have much to transmit and does not carry it very deep. Maybe the Buffalo Bore highspeed hard wadcutter would do better.

Dmickey, could you tell us where to get Winchester LEAD bullets as Mr Harris said to be discontinued. I cannot find them at Midway, Midsouth, or Grafs. Plenty of jacketed Winchester bullets, though.

Vern Humphrey
February 14, 2008, 09:15 PM
If I'm not mistaken, a lot of HBWC's (and WC's for that matter) are swaged out of relatively soft lead. Pushing these to full power .38 speeds would probably get you a lot of leading..
I loaded a batch of HBWC backward in a .357 to slightly over max and took it to Viet Nam on my first tour. It leaded ferociously, but had great terminal effects.

February 14, 2008, 09:17 PM
Wow this is an old thread.
I was just looking for a light .357 target load.
Id like to try some of the plated HBWC's.
I started in the middle and worked up hot loads but now im winding down and lookin for farty target loads.

February 14, 2008, 10:30 PM
Erich, where are you? This is your favorite topic. I await your words.
Cordially, Jack

Bailey Boat
February 15, 2008, 05:11 PM
Ahhhhhh..... the old "upside down wadcutter".... I used to do those and carried them in a little Smith mod 60, cat's pajamas they were.... EVERY paper target I EVER shot with them died instantly!!!

As best as I recall they were 148 gr when loaded and about 130 gr when they came out the end of the 2" barrel, with the remaining 18 gr of lead smeared in the bore !!!!! A pack of smokes and a full bottle of Hoppe's later and it came as clean as a whistle......

Vern Humphrey
February 15, 2008, 05:14 PM
They work -- they lead, but they work. I used them twice, and neither customer asked for his money back.

February 15, 2008, 05:32 PM
You can load leadwadcutters to higher velocities, but you want to make sure you use good hard cast bullets. When I first started reloading is used Honady 148 gr. HBWC's. They were just barely hard enough to function properly. If you loaded them to hot you had a nice evening with JB bore cleaner and a lewis lead remover. :cuss:

Vern Humphrey
February 15, 2008, 05:34 PM
If you loaded them to hot you had a nice evening with JB bore cleaner and a lewis lead remover.
Yep -- but I consoled myself with the thought that at least I was alive to clean that revolver.

tasco 74
February 17, 2008, 10:38 PM
i have some of the 148 gr hbwc loaded in reverse in .357 magnum cases myself... vern i have always wondered about the terminal effect of these special loads... mine are loaded over 4.5 grs. of bullseye if i recall and seated pretty far down in the case... it sounds like a guy should cast his own dewcs from hard lead if he wants to push em to a good velocity to avoid the leading problem... i'm thinking they would be very good sd rounds at the right speeds.........

February 17, 2008, 10:45 PM
Skeeter Skelton loaded a few .38 HBWCS inverted, creating the massive hollowpoint loads. I cannot find his load data, though, in either of the two books of his work that I have. Not saying I would do it, but he did.

'Course, that was back in the day when you could carry your own reloads for self-defense and be reasonably assured the prosecution wouldn't skin you alive.


February 17, 2008, 11:54 PM
Years ago I loaded up some hard cast WCs in 357 cases over 13.5 grains of 2400. They worked fine, were plenty accurate.

February 18, 2008, 10:58 PM
I have cast and shot the Lee Tumble Lube WC bullets for years. They are cast from wheelweights and dumped in cold water. I have no problems with leading. I use the Alox lube but have since then started using Rooster Jacket. And yes this stuff works fine for the 1100fps that i have pushed it to so far.

I load my solid WC bullets hot. I use 4.5 grs of Bullseye or around 5grs of Unique. These will get around 900-950 fps from a 6" gun. I also seat them long and they function in a Marlin 94 357.

I won most of my trophies in the falling plate matches with these bullets also. That was with a 3 gr charge of Bullseye.

I don't pretend to know how they would work for self defense but i will say i have carried them quite a bit. The above mentioned Terry Mubach wrote in one of his articles that he knew someone that had killed a deer with one.

pete f
February 19, 2008, 02:29 AM
I have used DEWC in .357 loads out of a carbine and if the lube and hardness is right, they do not lead badly at all up to about 1700 FPS< drills nice big holes in yotes and other things.

I did the backwards HBWS thing too. but had a few jump under recoil as there was little for the crimp to resist. SO I started putting gas checks on both ends, then loading with the HB out to the front. I will tell you that stops things right there. I mean they are faster than a 125 .357 mag as a stopper.

Owen Sparks
February 19, 2008, 02:15 PM
I have done some rather considerable experimentation with inverted wadcutters and the problem is that by having the bullets weight forward they tend to tumble. at across the room distances this may not be an issue but at 15 yards accuracy goes to crap and oval holes appear in the target. If you want to load some be sure to test them out of the specific revolver you will be using to see how far out you can count on them to take a head shot.

February 19, 2008, 02:28 PM
I just figured out last night that .357's loaded with wadcutters will cycle just fine in my Marlin carbine, and I can load 10 in the magazine just like .38 Specials. Whoo-hoo! I tried using .38 Special wadcutters a long time ago and they jammed hopelessly. (.38 Special JHP's and RNFP's feed great.)

I need to do some load development first -- probably something like 14 grains of Accurate 4100 if that much will fit -- but this may end up being what I keep the thing loaded with for TEOTWAWKI instead of handloaded .38-44 HV's (think ".38 Special +P on steroids") in .38 Special brass.

February 19, 2008, 03:01 PM
I had the same results as Owen Sparks, post # 38.

Never tried that load at 15 yds, but it did keyhole at 25. I don't remember the charge, but the bullet wss Speer 148 HBWC loaded backwards.

At that time, some folks played around with Corbin swaging dies and lead rope to produce kinda, sorta expansion at short barrel revolver velocities.

A couple of intrepid souls carried steel frame 38s with cylinder chambers bored out to accept .357 ammo. Don't know how long they lasted, but the resoning was if they held together for a cylinder full of ammo, that'd be enough.

Thankfully we now have reliable ammunition. Nothing can replace shot placement though.


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