Powder to small for reliable firing in 38 Special?


December 4, 2012, 06:05 PM
I have been using Win231 in all of my 45ACP and 9MM loads for a while now and I like it.

Recently I started to load my 38spl with Win231 using 124gr bullets and it has worked very good with 4.5gr of powder.

I just tested some 158gr LSWC on top of 3.4gr of Win231. The question I have is will there be reliability issues with getting such a small amount of powder to ignite in such a long case? 3.4gr barely makes a dent in the long 38 case and I wonder if recoil and gun movement could move the powder around enough so that it does not ignite properly.

What is a good powder to use for 38spcl and lead bullets?



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December 4, 2012, 06:17 PM
I have used Unique for 30 years in 38spl never had a problem, it is a small load as well.

December 4, 2012, 06:24 PM
I don't have extensive data on W231 in the 38 Special, I do have a lot for 45 ACP, the most data I have in 38 Special is with Bullseye.

If the powder is appropriate for the application, such as W231 in the 38 Special, and the reloading manuals show data, then you have a high degree of confidence that it will work just fine.

My W231 charges are from 4.1 grs to 4.3 grains with a 158 L. Velocities look good. For Bullseye, powder charges range from 2.7 grains Bullseye, 3.5 grains, and 4.5 grains. There is a fair amount of air left in the case and yet standard deviations are good. Exceptionally good for the lowest charge.

Just go shoot your W231 and worry about sight alignment and trigger pull and dismiss any theoretical worries about the powder not filling the case.

4" M66-2

158gr LSWC 4.1 grs 231 CCI500 primers,

16-Aug-92 T = 75F

Ave Vel = 766
Std Dev = 20
ES = 61
High = 809
Low = 748
N = 6

158gr LSWC 4.3 grs 231 Fed 100 primers,

16-Aug-92 T = 75F

Ave Vel = 757 fps
Std Dev = 32
ES = 77
High = 799
Low = 722
N = 6

4" S&W M10-5

148 LWC Valiant 2.7grs Bullseye W/W cases WSP
19-Apr-09 T ≈ 60-65 F

Ave Vel = 696.2
Std Dev = 12.04
ES = 48
High = 721.3
Low = 673.3
N = 32
v accurate, about 2" low, no leading, mild recoil

158 LRN Valiant 3.5grs Bullseye Mixed cases WSP
19-Apr-09 T ≈ 60-65 F

Ave Vel = 758
Std Dev = 22.86
ES = 100.9
High = 810.5
Low = 709.5
N = 32

158 LRN 3.5grs Bullseye Mixed cases WSP
5-Aug-06 T = 100 F

Ave Vel = 796
Std Dev = 13.89
ES = 55.24
High = 813
Low = 757.9
N = 23

158 LRN 3.5grs Bullseye Mixed cases WSP
22-Dec-07 T = 52 F

Ave Vel = 768.6
Std Dev = 15.58
ES = 48.52
High = 787.6
Low = 739.1
N = 18

125 Valiant BBRNFP 4.0 grs Bullseye Mixed cases WSP
9-Apr-06 T = 59 F

Ave Vel = 863.4
Std Dev = 30
ES = 70.78
High = 907.5
Low = 836.7
N = 6
Windage centered accurate
Elevation at least 4" low

125 Valiant BBRNFP 4.5 grs Bullseye Mixed cases WSP
9-Apr-06 T = 64 F

Ave Vel = 945.6
Std Dev = 27.28
ES = 75.21
High = 995.2
Low = 920
N = 6
Windage centered accurate

December 4, 2012, 06:38 PM
My book said to start at 4 grains under a 158 grain bullet in 38 special and it works just fine. My book is modern reloading 2ed by Richard lee

December 4, 2012, 07:02 PM
I have the same book and for 158gr lead Win231 it calls for 3.1 to 3.7.

Thanks for the info and data. I started at 3.4 since it was about the middle of the range in the loading manual I have. The main reason for the question is that when test firing the first 25 rounds with the 158gr bullet and the 3.4 of Win231 there was one that sounded like it was a very light load. The bullet left the barrel and made it to the target but it was not like the others at all.

So it was either that my powder measure did not dispense properly(unlikely), I didn't operate the handle enough to reset the powder measure(more likely), or the powder charge was small enough to not allow for a good burn(highly unlikely). So I figured I would ask. We load everything we shoot but I still don't know Everything so I figured it doesn't hurt to ask.:p

And yes, I do a lot of trigger pulling... I love to shoot, my son loves to shoot, we run about 1500 rounds a month between practice and local matches. That is the reason for the loading of these new rounds. I need more revolver practice so I can classify with it soon.

I may try some at the max called out in the manual and pay more attention to the next test batch. It was probably user error..:cuss:

December 4, 2012, 09:30 PM
OK, so I found the culprit for the soft loads.

Drum roll please............

It was the Lee charge bar that I was using. I was able to get it to short load on and off the press. I changed to the discs and 100 out of 100 loaded with the correct powder charge. I guess it doesn't work well on such a small load. Lesson learned.

Thanks for the replies, they did help.


Disclaimer-this is my opinion and yours may vary.

Ky Larry
December 4, 2012, 11:15 PM
If you want a powder that is "More filling and tastes great" look at IMR's Trail Boss. Very fluffy.I don't know if it has a third less calories than their regular powder.:neener:

December 4, 2012, 11:23 PM
The one cartridge I experienced problems using small charges of fast burning powder in was the 45 LC. I've used dacron filler in the past with 45 LC which worked just great. But as for 38 spcl, I've never had issues with inconsistent ignition usng fast burning powders.


December 5, 2012, 01:34 AM
I was wondering why W231 was not making you happy in the .38 Special. I use almost nothing other than W231 for the .38 Special and .45 Auto.

December 5, 2012, 06:58 AM
All I use is W231 and it works fime in my 38spl 357 and 45acp. 38 spl at 4.0 to 4.2 grains.

December 5, 2012, 07:27 AM
I have done a lot of testing with powder position (Powder back, forward, and level) in the case in .38 Spl, as well as other revolver cases where there is a lot of unused space in the case. Many powders will drop 100 to 150+ FPS if the powder is against the bullet vs against the primer. Some do better, a couple actually increased, and some can drop 300 or more FPS in light loadings. W-231 and lead in .38 Spl is a good combination, but even the best powder choice gets iffy if the charge is too light.

The powder position in revolver cases is more critical with plated or jacketed than it is with lead.

December 5, 2012, 07:40 AM
Back in the good ole days when US-made reloading components still were routinely available over here, my 2 favorite .38 Spl laods were

3.1 Gr W-231 & 148 Gr lead WC (hollow base and/or double-ended)
4.3 Gr W-231 & 158 Gr SWC (lead and/or plated)
Loaded 100s of both

Both very comfortable to shoot & extremely accurate .

3.4 Gr W-231 does sound very very light for a 158 gr bullet

December 5, 2012, 09:42 PM
I load 3.2 gr. of 231 with 158 gr. LSWC. Super load. It's incredibly accurate and gives me zero drama.

December 5, 2012, 10:07 PM
Several times in this thread people have mentioned using over 4gr of Win231 with 158gr bullets. The manual I have states a Max load of 3.8. Is this common?

Disclaimer-this is my opinion and yours may vary.

December 5, 2012, 10:19 PM

December 5, 2012, 11:02 PM
I load around 4.2gr of W231 with a 158gr lead bullet, and it works very well.
So does 3.6gr of Bullseye.
If you want a case full try 4.0-4.2gr of IMR Trail Boss.
I find that the W231 and Be loads are more accurate.
When I am out of Bullseye I will give Accurate #2 a try.

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