target load for .38


another okie
December 29, 2002, 07:07 PM
My brother-in-law got a reloader for Christmas.
We both shoot in a pistol league that combines slow fire and rapid fire. He normally shoots an 8" S & W. I normally shoot a 9mm, but I also can shoot .38.

Any recommendations for a relatively clean, accurate load, as light as possible? I was joking with one of the shooters and told him I thought his load has just enough energy to get through the paper target and fall down on the other side, but that is kind of the idea.

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December 29, 2002, 08:36 PM
Try the starting loads in a reputable manual like Hodgdon or Lyman, for Titegroup, HP-38, 231, Bullseye, Red Dot, and 700X. Use whichever one of these is most accurate in your particular gun.

Many years ago, when I loaded light target loads, my favorite powder was HP-38 under 148 gr Remington hollow base wadcutters.

For the last 15 or so years, I load only 125 JHPs or 168gr cast SWCs to +P and +P+ in .38 spec, using HS-6.

Mike Irwin
December 29, 2002, 08:38 PM
One of my favorite light target loads in .38 Spl. is a 148-gr. lead wadcutter or semi wadcutter and 3.0 grains of Winchester 231.

Gives about 750 fps.

In my 6" Model 28 I sometimes wonder if the round went off.

December 29, 2002, 09:31 PM
I use HP-38 for my .38 spl target load. Topped with a 158 gr bullet, I find it accurate even out of my 4" 686.

December 29, 2002, 09:39 PM
38 spec case.2.5 or 3 gr of bulleye behind a 148 full wadcutter.
Very accurate and lots of fun to shoot.

December 29, 2002, 10:03 PM
Everybody pretty much covered it. I use about 2.7 grains of Titegroup behind a HBWC myself. I think you could back it down a little further than that, but that load is gentle enough for me.

Most any of the fast powders mentioned would work well. I like Titegroup because it seems clean and consistent with light loads.

Standing Wolf
December 29, 2002, 11:05 PM
I use 2.7 to 3.0 grains of Bullseye under a Speer 148-grain hollow-based wadcutter with excellent results.

December 29, 2002, 11:36 PM
Bullseye, and W231.

December 30, 2002, 09:37 AM
For .38spec. accurate target load, I use 2.5 700X with a 148gr wadcutter. Quantrill

December 30, 2002, 03:01 PM
2.8 gr of Bullseye, under 148 gr Speer hollow base wadcutter in 38 special brass. Works super in all my 38/357's.

December 31, 2002, 02:54 PM
I use the standard 2.7gr BE with a 148 Star match HBWC for accuracy but if you are competing and you have to do any fast reloads the HBWC can be a real pain. For those situations I like
to use the 141gr SWC from National Bullets - its light, still cuts a nice hole in paper - still use about 2.7BE or 3.2 of W231 with the 141gr.


January 1, 2003, 11:50 AM
2.7 grains Bullseye, 148 gr HBWC bulk-buys by Hornady or Speer (that order, though I don't know why - personal pref, I guess).

Any case, any primer.

Easily 90% of my .38/.357 shooting - target, small game.

happy old sailor
January 1, 2003, 01:55 PM
all of the above.

my fav is 2.8 gr. bullseye and 148 WC. accurate, pleasant, and 2500 loads per pound

January 1, 2003, 01:56 PM
Similar to Mike Irwin's load. I use a 148 gr. DEWC with 3.0 gr. of Win 231.

January 1, 2003, 03:51 PM
Is there an accuracy difference between the different types of wadcutter bullets (i.e. semi-WC; beveled-WC; HBWC, etc.)?

To put it another way, what is the best design of wc bullet for target (non-defensive) shooting?

Thanks . . .

January 1, 2003, 04:07 PM
I've found that SWC's require hotter loading in order to upset the bullet and seal in the barrel properly (ie: leading near the forcing cone).

I prefer HBWC's for light loads, they seal very nicely and I've never had leading issues with light loads.

as always, YMMV ;-)

January 1, 2003, 04:12 PM
Thirties, it is going to depend some on your gun, and I get one hole group with Speer HBWC over 2.8 gr BE off hand at 25 feet, so I see no need for me to look further. Above listed are probably all good loads, and a very good starting point, but you will have to see what your gun likes.

I have a 44 mag, using H110, that gives me 4-6 inch pattern with Hornady 240 gr bullets at 50 yrds, but does less than 2 inch with 300 grain Hornady's at that range, go figure. Sometimes, you just have to test them yourself, maybe using what everbody has listed above to see what is best in your gun.

January 1, 2003, 04:16 PM
Wow, that was a fast reply! Hollow base wadcutters are the best for accuracy shooting, as well as for light loads, correct? Or are they just the best for light loads, while others may also be good for accuracy? Maybe I'm similar to you in that I am taking up reloading so I can have axccuracy _and_ light loads.

Another question regarding WC -- do all commercially available .38 special WC bullets have the proper diameter; and is that .358"?

Sorry for the beginner's questions, but I am a beginner (not yet started).

January 1, 2003, 04:17 PM
The most accurate 38 special ammo I have ever used was
Remington Match. Problem was it cost too much. I took apart a round - it uses a 148 gr HBWC, fairly soft, lead bullet. The closest I have come is using Star swaged 148 gr HBWC (price is right). Theory is that the thinner lead of the hollow base (HB) expands as bullet enters cone and "grips" rifling better to seal while in barrel. I have tried bevelled bottom wc bullets but did not get as good results - but some folks swear by them. There is a bit less accuracy using the SWC, I feel because it does not have a skirt as does the HBWC. But if you need to do any quick reloads, the SWC is much quicker.

Short answer is HBWC is most accurate and I feel the best choice if that is your only criteria.


January 1, 2003, 04:23 PM
Jim, is there a site which translates all the different bullet abbreviations . . . for exaple, what is a SWC? Is it a "straight wadcutter"?

The reloading books I have seen assume you know what the abbreviations stand for, and only some are obvious to me, while others are cryptic.

January 1, 2003, 04:32 PM
Thirties, it stands for semi-wadcutter.

January 1, 2003, 04:33 PM
Some folks think that the length of the wadcutter is important. The longer it is, the more bearing surface it has to the rifling - ergo- the more accurate it is. So if one has a 148gr wc and wants to make it longer, what better way than to remove a little of the lead from the center of the bullet thereby being able to make the bullet longer with the increase in bearing surface. If the metal removed can be at the rear of the bullet making the rear of the bullet better able to seal into the rifling, so much the better. Some other folks believe that a non-HBWC is just as good if not better and will argue about bevel bases compared to flat bases. As a few others have mentioned, it is what YOUR revolver likes and no one has figured out yet how to tell that without trying all the variables.
The diameter of most "lead alloy" bullets are .358 for .38s and .357s. However this is liable to debate also. Schuetzen shooters of the past loaded their bullets as cast without resizing and think that this is the best way because the bullets are not distorted by the resizing die. So some bullets are loaded at .359 and even .360 ( these are light target loads now, not knucklebusters). Most shooters seem to agree that the size of the bullet should be as close as possible to the size of the cylinder forward of the chamber. In most cases, that will be .358 but different revolvers have been known to vary considerably. Quantrill

January 1, 2003, 04:35 PM
OK, I found a list of different wc bullets here:

January 1, 2003, 06:39 PM
regards sizing diameter ...

Worked up a couple dandy cast loads in my .308/.30-06 using a marked .309" sizer. Never even considered throwing a caliper/micrometer on 'em until I did a batch for a TFL friend. Turned out they're right at .3145"

Haven't slugged eiether (of the 4-5 barrels), but did an honest 3-shot 1/2" group at 100 yards with 'em. So much for a lot of things I used to know. Might have to get an actual .309 sizer some day.

& too, every load touted as the very best accurate might need some tweaking in your shooter - no matter what type, consecutive serial numbers, etc.

I'd think that the HBWCs shoot so well is that they do take the rifling very well be dead soft lead & they are very long in relation to their weight. Works for short(er) ranges very well. I've never even checked for longer.

Rifles will need a faster twist to stabilize the longer bullets of a given weight (see Barnes X bullet info especially), but revolvers are different - maybe. ;)

January 3, 2003, 11:20 AM
4.0 gns hp-38 under cast 125 gn lrnfp
3.2 gns hp-38 under cast 158 gn lrnfp
3.2 gns hp-38 under swaged 148 hbwc
3.5 gns hp-38 under 158 gn swaged swc

cast bullets sized to .358 for the older smiths, .357 for the newer ones (depending on cylinder throat size)

Remington cases for the 148 swaged (hornadys)hbwc's

happy old sailor
January 3, 2003, 12:30 PM
now that we have spent a ton of time developing the best load for our revolver, we then spend another period of time determining which of the cylinders in our revo are the most accurate shooting.

there should be at least one that is the sweet one, sometimes several, and sometimes all (very fortunate). for slow fire paper work, load the five best, or, load the sweetie five times single shot if that is your case, or curse. goes without saying that the sweet one is the first to fire when hunting.

do not despair, this is enjoyable and intriguing. no way to explain the great feeling of personal satisfaction as your skills and loads develop.

January 5, 2003, 10:00 AM

Do yourself a favor and do some web searches for Cast Bullets and the like. You will get more info. than you ever thought existed. Pay attention to prices and shipping costs. Lead is heavy and can get expensive to ship. I have been happy with National Bullet Co. in Ohio and Precision Cast Bullets in PA.

January 6, 2003, 06:11 AM
OK, thanks, folks. I've been away over the weekend. got a nice old model 15-2 S&W "K38 Combat Masterpiece". Will be getting my reloading gear this month and will set up my loading area. Your info has helped a lot. Thank you.

I'll soon be able to chime in with my own results and opinions.

January 6, 2003, 10:30 AM
another question, please . . .

Before I buy 1000 primers, which brand or brands are most suitable for accurate .38 special hollow base wadcutter ammo?


January 6, 2003, 11:51 AM
Many target shooters I know swear by Federal or Winchester. Quantrill

January 6, 2003, 02:53 PM
One more vote for Federal

January 6, 2003, 04:28 PM
Use to use Federal, now I use nothing but Winchester. :cool:

Basically, you won't go wrong with either Federal or Winchester.

January 6, 2003, 06:39 PM
What are the problems with CCI primers?

January 6, 2003, 07:05 PM
At one time (maybe still), they had uneven anvils that would screw up Star Progressive machines. Quantrill

January 6, 2003, 08:14 PM
I've had trouble with CCI primers in my Dillion press. Called the hotline said they didn't reccomend CCI. They suggested WInchester and I have not gone back

CCI primers also tend to be the "hardest" so if your revolver has lighter springs could cause a problem.

January 6, 2003, 08:16 PM
PS make sure you don't buy magnum primers when you need standard. Don't know why stores around here seem to stock 80% magnum primers when 90% of loads need the standard:confused:

January 7, 2003, 06:45 AM
CCI 500 is the recommended primer for .38 soecial regular loads in the Lyman Handgun Loading Manual.

And then there's the reference in the Lee loading Manual to CCI and, I think Winchester as the only two to use. He warns against Federal, I think, as being too dangerous for the primer trays.

January 7, 2003, 01:25 PM
let me wade in and throw some gas on the fire:

I've found the Federals to be most sensitive, hottest primer of the standard primers. Slightly more expensive ~$1.00/M. I use these exclusively in .357Mag. loads using 2400/Win296/H110 powders. They give pressures below and velocities above most published loads. These powders usually require a 5-7% reduction in weight if used with Magnum primers with associated loss of velocity. They also "talk"-show flattening or cratering- before too high pressures are encountered before the harder primers do. The Lee warning against using them is valid- see last paragraph !!!

Winchester are a predictable commodity, usually slightly cheaper and more available than Federals. New non-plated primers are very slightly "softer" than old plated ones, otherwise no discernable difference.

CCI are hardest, weakest, and tightest to seat of three, price runs about same as winchesters.
Had one batch that gave some FTF's, but may have been contaminated prior to my reciept from wholesaler- packaging appeared to be "stained", were part of a "close-out" deal- bought them VERY cheap.

Remington, about as hard as CCI, very consistent, and more expensive and less available than Federals. The 51/2's I got from a shop at half price when they were going out of business were best I ever used for hot .38Supers though; Super is now gone and so are the 25M primers I got for $125.00 !!!

I shoot about 30-50,000 .38's and 9's a year shooting/practicing for NRA PPC, I use the Federals in my revolvers as they are tuned for the Federal primers.
In 9mm, since blowing the Nationals in '98 with a pierced primer in Match 1, I only use Winchesters in the high pressure auto's (9mm,38Super,.40S&W). I still prefer the Federal Large Pistol for the .45acp though. My match .45's use Federal cases and the Federal primers seat the easiest IMO.
Accuracy at 50yds is indistinguishable w/revolvers & pistols from my testing between the different manufacturers, but my loads are mild accuracy loads-withing SAAMI though, only at or near max is the 9mm's.
I use the Winchester Small Pistol in my .22 Hornet too. It'll shoot one-hole 5-shot groups @ 100yds on occasion w/ 50gr Hornady SX over either 10.8 Hod LILGun or 11.6gr of AA1680 from neck-turned Winchester brass.

Contrary to the warning on the Lee presses, I've had good luck loading the Federal primers, Though, I do always use safety glasses.... I had a half-full tray of them ignite one evening when a piece of tumbling media lodged on the primer seating punchin a Pro1000. It was late at night..... I was wide awake after that, but not any damage except a small cut on my thumb from flying plastic primer tray. I'm more careful now !!!!

January 7, 2003, 02:00 PM

They also "talk"-show flattening or cratering- before too high pressures are encountered

Thanks for this information. I use Federal exclusively and often notice flattened primers without any other pressure signs. I will certainly continue to be observant but this eases my mind a bit.

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