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why is the .38spl so weak?

Discussion in 'Handguns: General Discussion' started by sanchezero, Oct 2, 2003.

  1. sanchezero

    sanchezero Well-Known Member

    So with a case size so much larger than the 9mm, why can't anyone get it going faster?

    For example, from PMC:

    38spl +p 125gr, 950fps

    9mm 124gr, 1110fps

    Is the case of the 38spl so poorly designed that it can't take more powder?
  2. Keith

    Keith Well-Known Member

    It's not the case, it's the guns.

    It was designed as low pressure round and the guns have been designed for those pressures. If you have a .38/.357, you can handload some pretty stout loads.
    Stick those stout loads in a standard .38, and you are holding a hand grenade with a very short fuse!

  3. Sunray

    Sunray Well-Known Member

    Think, .357 Mag. A .38 Spec on steriods. 1/10" longer case only so some bozo didn't try to shoot it out of a .38 only revolver. And the .38 was based on an older BP cartridge. The 9mm was not.
  4. Dr.Rob

    Dr.Rob Moderator Staff Member

    It's also true that older brass can't take the pressures, modern stuff is probably fine.

    A 9mm develops a LOT more internal pressure in a case half the size of a 38, the powder is different as well.

    The old 38/44 HD load was 158gr bullet at 1200 fps or so, that's magnum territory now, and that would literally grenade most 38's. Only a handful of revolvers were rated for the 38/44 load, notably the SW 38/44
    heavy duty and the Colt New Service.
  5. C.R.Sam

    C.R.Sam Moderator Emeritus

    At my side is a small framed Smith, blue, loaded with factory 125gr JHPs that clock 1125fps from a 5" barrel.

    Where is weak ?

    With a larger framed gun, I can carry .38 special 158gr JHPs that clock the same.

    Where is the weak ?

    And the bullets penetrate and expand well in clothing covered flesh.
    (beef quarters)

  6. Mike Irwin

    Mike Irwin Well-Known Member

    The .38 Spl. was originally designed as a black-powder cartridge. As others have said, there are a lot of the older guns out there.

    That said, though, tie into some +P or +P+ .38 Spl. ammo. There's nothing weak about that.
  7. Andrew Wyatt

    Andrew Wyatt Well-Known Member

    That ain't very plus p.

    the old fbi load shot a 158 grain LHPSWC at that speed.
  8. sanchezero

    sanchezero Well-Known Member

    I agree. Thats why I asked. I don't know much about these old-timey type guns.

  9. tiberius

    tiberius Well-Known Member

    Mike hit it - Black powder -> large volume & low pressure

    Do Cor Bon's #'s make you feel better?

    38SPEC +P -- 125gr JHP -- 1125fps/351ftlbs
    9MM+P -- 125gr JHP -- 1250fps/434ftlbs

    Similar delta to your numbers, but then again they are BOTH +P.

    It's hard to believe that CB gets those speeds and stays within the +P spec. They are much faster than anyone else.
  10. Mike Irwin

    Mike Irwin Well-Known Member

    "It's hard to believe that CB gets those speeds and stays within the +P spec. They are much faster than anyone else."

    It's all in how you have the manufacturer custom blend the powder that you use.
  11. C.R.Sam

    C.R.Sam Moderator Emeritus

    Once again.
    +P and +P+ are indications of PEAK pressures.
    PEAK chamber pressure does not directly bear on bullet performance.

    Choice of powder can make a huge difference.

    PEAK pressure tells you how hard you are stressing the gun.

    Total applied pressure determnes how the bullet will perform.

  12. tiberius

    tiberius Well-Known Member

    Of course, CB is not a member of SAAMI and makes no reference to it in their literature or packaging either.
  13. Johnny Guest

    Johnny Guest Moderator Emeritus

    If you look at the history - - -

    - -I believe you'll find that the .38 Spl originated in 1899 or 1900, and was indeed originally a black powder round. The same or following year, they began loading it with smokeless, but a great many shooters reloaded it with black powder.

    If you look at the other medium power cartridges around at the time, the .38 Spl was a pretty hot number for its day. The .38 S&W, .38 Colt and .38 Long Colt - - Those were considered pretty powerful stuff, when compared to the various .32s in service then. The .38 WCF (.38-40) was about the only high power handgun round in that general size, and, really, it was more of a .40" diameter. It was conceived as a rifle and carbine round and Colt and S&W chambered their larger revolvers for it as a convenience. The other ".38" rounds were really founded on the conversions of the .36 percussion revolvers, hence the .357-inch diameter of the .38 Special.

    The other .40" revolver round in that era was the .41 Long Colt, which flund a nice bullet of 190 - - 200 gr, but at a very sedate speed.

    In a day when the .38 S&W, 146 gr. at about 740 fps, was considered generally adequate, a 150 to 160 gr. bullet at 860 was fairly toasty, and this was realistic in a day when a majority of revolvers above .32 cal had barrels of five to seven inches.

    Remember, too, the .36 percussion revolvers, the "Navy" caliber guns, were still in widespread military use, right up to the inception of the .45 Colt SAA. James B. "Wild Bill" Hickock made his name with the Colt's Navy arm, which was really about as powerful as a modern .380 ACP.

    Perceptions change as to what is "powerful."

    With modern steel and alloys, and modern powders, the original .38 Special performance is easily surpassed. But there's always the nod toward those who shoot old revolvers, and also those who simply consider the "good, old fashioned, police special" load good enough.

  14. C.R.Sam

    C.R.Sam Moderator Emeritus

    Tho Cor-Bon says naught about SAAMI on the boxes...

    They are a responsible company and if they label something as +P I feel sure that the peak pressure of that round will not exceed 110 percent of SAAMI spec for that cartridge.

    +P is any peak pressure between 101 and 110 percent of standard.

    +P+ is a rather meaningless term indicating HOT...but not how hot since there is no standard spec for +P+.


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