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38/44 High Speed Ammo; Chrono Results.

Discussion in 'Handloading and Reloading' started by Peter M. Eick, Dec 19, 2004.

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  1. Peter M. Eick

    Peter M. Eick Member

    Dec 28, 2002
    Houston, TX
    The subject of this test is some 1930 vintage 38/44 high speed ammo. The ammo is 155 grn nickel capped lead load. This was supposed to be used only in heavy framed 38 specials like the 38/44 heavy duty and 38/44 outdoorsman.

    I obtained a few rounds that looked to be in good shape from a cartridge collector to run on this test. I also purchased some factory ammo as a test while I chrono-ed. My current standard load is the following for 38 special.
    Starline case trimmed to 1.155.
    Lasercast 158 grn Lead SWC
    CCI500 primer
    3.6 grns of Titegroup
    1.458 COL.

    I also bought a box of Magtech (CBC) 158 grn Lrn ( part 38A), Winchester 38 Special 158 grn Lead Round nose (part X38s1p) and Winchester 158 grn lead Semi Wadcutter HP +P (X38SPD) commonly referred to as the FBI load.

    The guns I will be using are the following:
    A 1934 5†38/44 heavy duty “shooter†Called “Pre-warâ€. This gun is a tight lockup, clean barrel good shooting gun that looks a bit rough. The trigger pull is 3.lbs 3 onz single action and 11 lbs 12 onz double action.


    A 1951 5†38/44 heavy duty. Called the “post-warâ€. This is another tight lockup, nice gun with good shooting. I really like the overall action and handling of the gun. The trigger pull for single action is 2 lbs 12 onz and in double action 10 lbs 10 onz.


    The final gun is a 1950 38/44 outdoorsman. This is called “outdoorsmanâ€. It is my favorite S&W and the one that got me started in the N frames. Single action trigger is 2 lbs 11 onz and the double action trigger is 9 lbs and 9 onz (as seen in the picture below).


    I had one other gun in the test. Ben (my shooting partner) offered to bring along his 6†K-38 15-4 target gun. Since I did not ask Ben’s permission before hand, no pictures of his guns will be posted.

    Finally here is a picture of the author (me) looking a lot heavier then I should because I was wearing 2 jackets and a sweatshirt (that’s my excuse and I am sticking to it), shooting the 38-44 heavy duty.


    The chono I will be using is an Oehler 35P that works very well, but gave a few random readings until I changed batteries. This was before any of the firing for record. If you are not familiar with the Oehler 35P it lists 5 numbers with a symbol after each number:
    Highest velocity (+)
    Lowest velocity (-)
    Extreme spread (e)
    Mean velocity (m)
    Standard Deviation (s).

    For the sake of presentation I will present the data and make a few comments as I go and then summarize at the end.

    My standard Reload 3.6 grns Titegroup, 158 grn Lasercast, cci 500 primer. This is straight out of the Lasercast loading manual as I remember it.
    Pre-War 864+, 788-, 76e, 830m, 18s.
    Post-War 842+, 795-, 47e, 814m, 14s.
    Outdoorsman 811+, 742-, 69e, 778m, 17s.

    Conclusion: the pre-war Heavy-duty has a bit more velocity then the postwar given they both have the same barrel length. The prewar cylinder gap is .05, the postwar is .06 and the Outdoorsman is .09 (borderline too wide, but I will live with it). No wonder given the extra 1.5†of barrel that the velocity is actually lower then the 5†heavy duties.

    I was curious about a reputed feature of Titegroup, ie, powder location independence:
    Outdoorsman, cock aiming down then up to fire (carefully), same load as above.
    828+, 762-, 66e, 795m, 21s
    Outdoorsman, cock aiming up, then down to fire (carefully),
    834+, 774-, 30e, 813m, 18s
    Outdoorsman shooting double action,
    843+, 776-, 67e, 811m, 23s
    Outdoorsman, shooting single action.
    828+, 739-, 89e, 794m, 24s.

    Conclusion: is Titegroup appears to do what it says. It is pretty darn independent of powder position. (I still don’t like the stuff though. To small of a powder charge for my comfort).

    Now lets try the commercial ammo.

    Magtech CBC 158 Lead RN
    Pre-war 793+, 681-, 112e, 753m, 32s
    Post-war 769+, 688-, 81e, 737m, 28s.
    Outdoorsman 778+, 630-, 148e, 717m, 42s
    K38, 14-5 799+, 705-, 94e, 752m, 59s

    Conclusion: Magtech is not very reliable ammo from a chrono standpoint. If I saw those type of “e†values I would go back to the drawing board. Also the “S†is pretty high. I also note that my ammo is distinctly hotter then the Magtech stuff. I am right in the middle of the load range for the Lasercasts from their manual, Hmmmmm………

    Winchester 38 special 158 grn lead rn x38s1p

    Pre-war 815+, 748-, 67e, 789m, 17s
    Post-war 776+, 722-, 54e, 757m, 16s
    Outdoorsman 784+, 704-, 80e, 742m, 27s
    K38 14-5 806+, 740-, 66e, 774m, 21s.

    Conclusion: This is nice but slow ammo. Good “e†values, nice low “s†values, nearly as good as titegroup and again the velocity is a bit low compared to my titegroup loads. I guess if I were to not reload, these would be nice to use. I found them accurate in my pre-war, but I was not really trying for good targets.

    Winchester 38 special +P 158 grn lead HP x38spd.

    Pre-war 912+, 862-, 50e, 887m, 17s
    Post-war 888+, 838-, 50e, 863m, 15s
    Outdoorsman 906+, 816-, 90e, 862m, 29s
    K38 14-5 905+, 859-, 46e, 882m, 11s

    Conclusions: Now this is more like it. These loads are a bit hotter then my standard reload, but felt about the same. I guess my standard may be a lot hotter then I would have thought. These were powerful enough to let you know you popped a round, but still nothing to get excited about. They were just like my normal 38 special loads. Nice “e†and “s†values. I would be happy with them if they were mine. I do wonder about the outdoorsman at times, Looking at the numbers for the 12 shots, the 906 high string is quite anomalous. If you were to throw it out, it would have grouped with a much better standard deviation.

    Since I was thinking about it. I did the same powder position check on this load as I did before.

    Outdoorsman, cock aiming down then up to fire (carefully), same load as above.
    855+, 812-, 43e, 832m, 16s
    Outdoorsman, cock aiming up, then down to fire (carefully),
    944+, 866-, 78e, 914m, 27s
    Outdoorsman shooting double action,
    955+, 880-, 75e, 920m, 26s
    Outdoorsman, shooting single action.
    938+, 879-, 59e, 919m, 24s.

    Conclusion: Winchester has a good powder here if you just used the “e†and “s†numbers. It smelled like Unique, but seemed to be pretty good. Interesting though compare the mean velocity. Aiming down before you fire verses aiming up before you fire was almost 100 fps difference. Makes you think about if you carry your gun in “low-ready†vs. “high-readyâ€. I was pretty shocked, especially when you compare it back to the titegroup above.

    Now for the 38/44 High Speed Ammo

    Pre-war 926+, 650-, 276e, 814m, 111s
    Post-war 941+, 592-, 349e, 846m, 146s
    Outdoorsman 793+, 535-, 258e, 640m, 102s.

    Conclusion: Disappointing is probably the best word. I guess after 74 years the powder has decayed a bit and did not deliver what I had read about. I was sort of expecting at least 1050 out of the Heavy Duties and say 1100 out of the Outdoorsman. If you take the max speed of the heavy duties (ignoring the outdoorsman) and compare them to the +P stuff above, then these are probably closer to what the original loads were really like. Strong +P stuff. I guess the next step is to pull out the older loading books and dig out the original reloading recipes for Sharp and Keith and see what I can do with 2400. Again, I was expecting about 1050 out of my heavy duties so I was pretty disappointed. Part of me wonders if the loads were really that hot, or just optimistic without a chrono and part of me thinks that they were really that hot, just the powder decayed more then one would expect.

    Any questions or comments?
  2. griz

    griz Member

    Dec 25, 2002
    Eastern Virginia
    Thank you for the results.

    Yea, with spreads of over 300 it sounds like there is some degradation there. If you assume that the highest velocities were representative of the average when the ammo was new, it still is a bit slower than I would have thought. Like you I have heard of near 357 level loads with that ammo. If you use 2400 I think you can easily go faster. I have gone over 1000 FPS with published loads, at least in 6 inch barrels.

    Your results with the position sensitivety of Titegroup are interesting. I'll try and dig up my results with a much lighter load. I got quite a bit more variation, but again with loads down around 650-700 FPS. It surprized me because they advertise Titegroup as position insesitive.
  3. Jim Watson

    Jim Watson Member

    Dec 24, 2002
    I dunno about .38-44 HV, although I have an old No 3 NM .38-44 Target, which is a horse of an entirely different color (and slower times.)

    I DID do a little work on position sensitivity of powders after reading the Titegroup ads. In 750 fps .44-40 Cowboy ammo, Titegroup was less position sensitive than Win 231, but 700X was better yet. I have a large box of .38 Specials - originally a BP round with lots of freeboard over a target load of nitro - loaded with different powders for more position sensitivity shooting. One of these days...
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