What 38 Special load to use in Ariweight?


LTR shooter
February 28, 2012, 10:13 PM
Picking up my first J-Frame Smith this weekend - a 642 Airweight. Curious as to what kind of 38 defensive factory loads others are using. The 642 is rated for +P ammo.

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Scott Free
February 28, 2012, 10:58 PM
Most people are going to recommend +P Speer Gold Dots Short Barrel. It's practically impossible to find. About $20/20. Corbon DPX is probably as effective, easier to find, but about $30/20. To me, DPX has a bit less recoil. For a non +P round, I'd feel confident with wadcutters.

February 28, 2012, 11:02 PM
In order of my preference for +P:

1. Speer 135 Short Barrel +P
2. Cor-Bon 110 DPX +P
3. Remington 158 LHP +P

As to what I am using: handloads using Speer 135 Gold Dot Short Barrel or Speer 158 LHP bullets and Accurate #5 powder; both at +P velocity.

February 28, 2012, 11:12 PM
I'm not really sure what it is that you guys are looking for in this thread. What are you wanting to see in this ammo? Accuracy, expansion, value? I'm a fan of the lightweight J-Frames as well. One problem I've had is with some ammo the initial recoil of the gun causes the round to "back out" a bit, stopping the cylinder from rotating and freezing the gun. I'd be interested in learning which factory ammo you guys have found stays crimped around the bullet, thus keeping the revolver going. I have an aluminum J-Frame with a titanium cylinder and this ammo separation has been a problem. Remington Golden Sabers were the worst.

February 29, 2012, 12:31 AM
I'm using Federal Nyclad 125 gr hollow points in my small frame .38s. They are standard pressure rounds that don't recoil excessively and will still probably expand as they are dead soft lead with a nylon cladding.

February 29, 2012, 12:54 PM
I have never had problems with the short barrel Speer in eith of my aluminum jframes (637 & 638). They are in my opinion the best all around load in 38 special. I recommend them highly.

February 29, 2012, 01:03 PM
I practice with handloads loaded at 38 velocity - a 158 LSWC. I carry +P, but besides too expensive, they aren't as accurate with ME shooting the gun. The recoil and trigger pull make it somewhat difficult to use with a LOT of accuracy

February 29, 2012, 01:08 PM
Most people are going to recommend +P Speer Gold Dots Short Barrel. It's practically impossible to find.

Like Mango88, I use Nyclads, which are also practically impossible to find.

You may get recommendations for pretty much any JHP that's sold in boxes of 20 and priced like boxes of 50. That's the current indication that the ammo is built and marketed for SD.

February 29, 2012, 02:31 PM
If you handload I load a 148 grain hollow base wadcutter backwards. (the hollow base fronted). Years ago 3-D offered this in a factory load unknown if they still do. Nasty hit when used on bunnies, badger, jacks, and big watermelons. Not much recoil in light guns. Cheap to shoot. Have fun and bangaway.

LTR shooter
February 29, 2012, 03:41 PM
Thanks for the replies! When I pick up the gun I'll see if he has any of the above mentioned ammo in stock. He runs quite a small shop so not a big selection.

Luckily I reload too. I'll start with some Hornady 125XTP , probably some 158 LSWC and the 148 HBWC.

This Airweight will be a new shooting experience for me. I've never shot a 15 oz gun and never owned a DAO revolver.

February 29, 2012, 03:56 PM
Nyclads are good stuff, but as others have said hard to find. I've used 158 grain standard pressure LSWC for years, extremely accurate in both my J-frames. I do on occasion load 158 grain semi jacketed hollow point at standard pressure. Both these loads are relatively inexpensive and easy to find.

The short barrel +P Gold Dots seem to get great reviews but are a bit spendy for my taste. You like many of us will likely end up with more than one brand of test ammo just to satisfy your curiosity. The +P will get your attention in that Airweight for sure....:)

February 29, 2012, 04:02 PM
I shoot 158 grain Semi-Wadcutter reloads as a practice round in my daily carry S&W 638.
Right now, the gun is loaded with 135 grain Speer Gold Dots.
Don't know about the Gold Dots but in extensive practice with reloads, I haven't seen the "backing out" thing occuring.

February 29, 2012, 04:13 PM
Mine is loaded with Buffalo Bore.....wad cutters....or semi wadcutter +p.

February 29, 2012, 04:35 PM
If anyone is interested in Nyclads, Northwest Shooter Supply is the only web site that I can find that doesn't list them as out of stock. I've never ordered from them so I don't know if they keep their inventory up to date on line or if they are decent to deal with. However, it might be worth a try if you really want to try them out.

February 29, 2012, 06:39 PM
Federal used to package Nyclads in 50s at a good price. Now they're in 20s and quite high.

And still nobody can keep them in stock.

February 29, 2012, 06:42 PM
My Airweights shot high with 158's. I called S&W and they told me the things are regulated to shoot to point of aim with 125's.

Pick any brand.

February 29, 2012, 06:49 PM
I like the critical defense 38 plus p load. Designed to penetrate and open sufficiently for this load.

March 1, 2012, 08:14 PM
Mine seems to be closer to POA with 125s also. 158s go high, I overcompensate, and they go low. Result is the dread vertical string. That's why I use 125gr for SD carry.

March 1, 2012, 09:36 PM
i use the Federal Nyclads also, they seem to work pretty good for me.

March 1, 2012, 09:52 PM
I also use Speer 135 gr Gold Dot SB in my Scandium J frames. For some of my older J frames that wont take +P I use 125 gr Nyclads. I am lucky in that I have a good stock of both.:)

March 1, 2012, 10:42 PM
Personally, I find shooting +P in my 642 very objectionable. Kicks like a mule and all those wonderful adjectives. But that is me.

I practice with standard 38 Special loads but I do have 125 grain Hornady hollow points in the gun for self defense.

March 1, 2012, 11:46 PM
I load my 442 with +P ammo. I use 125 gr HP. I personally don't think it matters much which +P HP ammo you choose as long as it is reliable. The Speer is a good choice or pretty much any of it in the 20 ct boxes.

March 1, 2012, 11:53 PM
148 grain DEWC with 3.5 grains of Unique.

March 2, 2012, 06:55 AM
My 642-2, with OEM boots, shoots coincident POI/POA at 7-12yd with both Remington R38S12 +P 158gr LHPSWC and Georgia Arms ballistically equivalent similar reloads, which are much less expensive. The Remingtons are made with softer lead - which is impressive against 2L pop bottles full of water when shot from the 642. Either load is a little stout. I also have 'plinked' the SPC targets with my Montana Gold 125gr JHP homebrews (over 4-4.2 gr Titegroup) - easier shooting, of course. Also tried - Zero Ammo's 148gr LWC 'target' load - milder shooting load suggested as protective round for the recoil sensitive.

I've shot >2,200 rounds through my 642 over the 5+ years I've had owned it. It is not a 'fun' shooter - my 4" 64-8 is far more fun to plink with.


March 2, 2012, 10:26 AM
Right now, I've got Remington 38 Special+P 158 Grain Lead Hollow Points loaded in mine.

March 2, 2012, 03:41 PM
642-2, had it for 8 years. It usually is loaded with Speer Gold Dot 125gr standard pressure.

I got a good deal on a few 50 round boxes about ten years ago. I'm running out. :(

I practice with various hand loads, but have settled, for this gun, on 125gr RNL over 3.5gr Bullseye. Mild recoil & POI mirrors the 125gr Gold Dots. If my wife is going to shoot it (hardly ever happens!) I'll back even that light load off a bit, closer to 3.0gr.

It has eaten a bunch of 158gr SWC at 3.0-3.5gr Bullseye, and a few +P - enough to let me know I don't love +P loads in it. It usually wears a set of Goncalvo Alves Bananas, which are smooth, beautiful, and give me a full, comfortable firing grip.

It's a lot more fun to shoot a Kframe, but I love this gun for carrying. Shooting it is a chore I make myself do, so I can be proficient with it.

LTR shooter
March 2, 2012, 04:45 PM
Personally, I find shooting +P in my 642 very objectionable. Kicks like a mule and all those wonderful adjectives.

Wow , picking up my 642 tomorrow. Sounds like I might be in a for an unpleasant surprise at the range! I've fired all steel 357 magnum snubs with magnum ammo and with rubber grips the recoil was pretty tolerable.

Does the 15oz 642 with +P 38 Special actually recoil more than something like a Smith Model 66 2 1/2" with Magnum ammo - 125 JHP or 145 Silvertips?

For starters I am loading std. pressure 38s with the Hornady 125XTP and a few +Ps. Also some 148 WC for some mild loads. I'll have to see what kind of factory defensive ammo he has on hand.

March 2, 2012, 05:31 PM
Speer 135 Gr Short Barrel +P in my 642. I practice with standard velocity lead bullet handloads but carry the Gold Dots. I shoot up my carry ammo at least once a year. I order the Speer 135 Gold Dot ammo on-line. I don't understand the "it's too high priced for me" comments- your life is on the line when you use your carry gun. Practice with cheap stuff, carry the best.

March 2, 2012, 05:34 PM
Does anybody know who had the 135 +P Speer Gold Dots in stock?? Please share!

March 3, 2012, 06:10 PM
I personally don't find shooting 38 +P ammo in my Airweights any problem at all.

Use a proper grip and you are ok. "Proper" means to grip the revolver as high as possible, rather than lower like I see a lot of new shooters do.

Ammo? Hummm . . . right now some of that 130 gn .38P+ Winchester stuff sold at Wally World. It shoot at POA and is available.

I'm not obsessed with any certain brand though . . . and have several hundred rounds of Remington and Georgia Arms 158 gn. LSWC-HP +P . . . and also sometimes stoke the revolver with handloaded 148 grain wadcutters.

All of 'em will ruin the day of anyone shot by one!!!

Heck, even old "plain jane" .38 Special 158 grain lead round nose--shot from a .38 snubbie will ruin one's day REAL FAST . . . like this fella found out. Ruby said he deliberately gut shot Lee Harvey Oswald in the gut "so he would suffer the most" before he died.

A .38 snubbie is no gun to take lightly!!!


March 3, 2012, 08:01 PM

Heavy bullets at +P pressures are ok in a 642; I used to shoot such loads when I used a Hogue overmolded grip. When I started carrying the 642 IWB and switched back to the factory grips, I found that not being able to get my pinky on the grip made such loads hard to control in my weak hand. So I changed to normal pressure, 125gr Nyclads.

March 3, 2012, 08:07 PM
I settled on Remington R38S12 .38 spl +P 158gr LSWCHP a while back. They target well for me out of short barrel .38s and I'm confident that they are potent enough for my purposes.

Lee D
March 3, 2012, 08:09 PM
when i get em out, my 637s are stoked with 129 gr +P hydra shoks and they both love the load.

March 3, 2012, 08:18 PM
I purchased 158 gr SWCHP +Ps from Georgia Arms "reloads" (they do it in a factory) for $11.50/50 rounds. This is a nice round (the Speer 125gr short barreled +P HPs are hard to find, moreson in 38 SPL than 357 around here). It gave me a source of practice ammo that mirrors new at a lower cost. I'm still working on finalizing a carry round.

LTR shooter
March 4, 2012, 01:20 PM
Thanks for the replies , all of you have been a great help!

Unfortunately, I went to pick up the Airweight yesterday won on GB and it is not the non-lock model shown in the auction but one with the lock. I called the shop , they said the guy I need to talk to is not there until tomorrow. I'll deal with an actual gun shop that I can visit in person from now on.

March 4, 2012, 02:18 PM
I wouldn't rule out GunBroker. I've had half a dozen transactions in the past few years and been happy with each. Make sure to give the seller bad feedback if he won't fix it for you. My rule is that I like lots of clear photos, good written descriptions and, in some cases, prompt and courteous responses to my e-mailed questions. To each his or her own, but I've been happy so far. That said, I've got a Yugo Mauser on the way that I haven't received yet, but I feel good about it.

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