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.38 Special - what is the original spec?

Discussion in 'Handguns: Revolvers' started by ArmedBear, Apr 19, 2009.

  1. ArmedBear

    ArmedBear Senior Elder

    Sep 8, 2005
    I have an old S&W Model 10 (fixed sights of course).

    Does anyone know what the standard .38 S&W Special load was 40 years ago, so I can work up a load that's just right for the fixed sights? It's shooting low with 125 grains going about 850, right now, at 25 yards.

    Something makes me think the standard load was a 158 Grain bullet going somewhere between 800 and 950 fps.
  2. Jim K

    Jim K Elder

    Dec 31, 2002
    You are pretty close. For many years the standard factory load for .38 Special was a 158gr bullet at 755 fps, and that is the load most fixed sight revolvers are set up for to hit point of aim at 25 yards.

    The gun shoots low because the faster 125 grain bullet has less barrel time, and gets out of the barrel before recoil moves it up enough to be pointing at the point of aim.

    If the gun is marked Model 10, it was made after 1958 and should be able to take any reasonable .38 Special load.

  3. stana

    stana New Member

    Mar 21, 2009
    down wind from a dairy
    My old 1967 Lyman reloading book list a factory duplication load for the 38 spec. A 158 gr. bullet at 826 fps in a S&W mod 14 with a 6" barrel. The recommended load used Bullseye podwer. I've been using a simular load in my 2" mod 10 and it's on (well close enough) at 25 yards, in elevation, but dang, not in windage.
  4. ArmedBear

    ArmedBear Senior Elder

    Sep 8, 2005
    Thanks to both of you!

    Question about bullet weight and barrel time...

    If I load a 125 grain bullet to, say, 755 fps from the 4" barrel (probably the same load as the nominal 826 fps from a 6"), will that still shoot too low?

    It seems to me (from some playing around with a long-barrel .44) that a lighter bullet for a similar duration will still cause less barrel rise than a heavier bullet.

    Is this right?

    Is the difference between the 125 and 158 not enough to matter?

    Or if I do use the 125s should I drop another 50 fps or so?

  5. RON in PA

    RON in PA Senior Member

    Dec 25, 2002
    S.E. PA, USA
    Fixed sighted revolvers for 38 special were/are sighted in for 158 grain bullets. 148 grain wadcutters work well also and your experience with 125 grainers is typical. They have always shot low for me.
  6. 336A

    336A Participating Member

    Jul 26, 2007
    As already pointed out the M10 and its variants have their sights regulated to 158gr bullets. A good load that I use is is 4.6gr of Unique under a quality 158gr SWC bullet. This is a good max effort standard pressure load that should put you close to 860fps, it is also very acurate. You may have to make minor adjustment in charge weight with your individual revolver, but anywhere between 4.5-4.8gr of Unique will put you where you want to be. Try to stay above 4.5gr however as I found that under that and Unique starts to live up to its reputation as being dirty. Also check out the older Speer #13 manual for their DEWC loads as these make some dandy trail loads for the .38 SPL and M10 as well.
  7. Oyeboten

    Oyeboten Senior Member

    Mar 23, 2008
    I think the original 1898 Loading was 24.5 grns FFF, BP...and 158 grn RNL, giving 950 fps out of a six inch Barrel. But still seeking verifications on this.

    Smokeless has a sharper spike, and tends to be downloaded a little, since around 1899-1900 has been about the same loading wise, as for 'Standard' .38 S & W Special loadings...or, has gotten a little lighter by a grain or two over time.

    Otherwise, any older Model 10 ( ie: continuation of the erstwhile 'M&P' Hand Ejector line, of 1957 and newer, ) will be fine 'for ever' with Standard loadings...and should be fine with occasional +P loads.

    Personally, the more I brooded on +P, the less I see any value in it, unless, maybe, out of a Snubbie...
  8. SaxonPig

    SaxonPig Senior Member

    Apr 11, 2006
    I have to respectfully disagree with Mr. Keenan. NOW the standard 158 load is 755 FPS but it wasn't always so. I have researched this situation thoroughly (including the actual firing of vintage ammo over a chronograph) and I know for a fact that ammo makers down-loaded the 38 Special beginning a few years ago. The original load was a 158 bullet at a claimed 870-910 FPS (depending on manufacturer) but this was using a 6" non-vented pressure barrel and actual velocities were a bit lower, generally in the 800-820 FPS range from a real 4" revolver.

    I have a post-war 38/44 S&W that shoots exactly dead-on point of aim with ammo loaded to 850 FPS with 158 bullets. Even though this gun was designed for the 158/1140 38/44 load, the sights appear to be regulated for what was the standard 38 load of the time.
  9. tipoc

    tipoc Senior Member

    Mar 9, 2006
    As said earlier virtually all fixed sight 38s have their sights regulated for 158 gr. loads. The same is true for .357s as well. 125 gr. loads will shoot lower irregardless of velocity. The sights are regulated to account for recoil at set bullet weights.

    The difference in poa vs. poi from a 125 gr. to a 158 is usually a couple of inches (give or take) at 25 yards.


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