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How much power is lost with a 2" barrel?

Discussion in 'Handguns: Revolvers' started by vito, Apr 4, 2013.

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  1. Remllez

    Remllez Member

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    Let Us not forget that for all it's apparent shortcomings the venerable .38 special in all its various designs has put many a bad guy in potters field. New bullet designs have increased most all calibers effectiveness and the .38 caliber is still one of the most carried to this day.
     
  2. Billy Shears

    Billy Shears Member

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    And then again maybe it wouldn't, since a person engaging in ridicule might say exactly the same thing. Experts who've done research on the topic estimate that only something around 10% of communication comes from the words alone in a person's message. As much as 60-70% comes from body language, and the rest from paralinguistic cues. I repeat, remember that on an internet forum, all the rest of those cues are taken away, and you are left with just the 10% with which to interpret meaning. Consider what someone who doesn't know you and your sense of humor is likely to infer from your words alone when all that other stuff is taken away.

    Look, I like the .38. I've got several. I've even owned 2" bbl versions, though I don't own one anymore. I'm well aware of how many people the cartridge has put in the dirt. But then again, so have the .32ACP and .380ACP -- two rounds which can't meet the FBI protocols of expansion plus at least 12 inches of penetration in ballistics gelatin. Most of the time the shortcomings of these rounds don't show up all that well because they are small weapons used, the vast majority of the time, at very close range, against assailants who are not wearing body armor or crouching behind cover, and their lack of power doesn't handicap to any significant degree in those situations -- they're still capable of reaching a vital organ and killing you, with good shot placement. But even from 4 and 5" bbl revolvers, the .38 158gr RNL bullet developed a reputation as a poor stopper, so much so that the FBI worked with ammunition manufacturers to develop the +P loading of the cartridge, which was called "the FBI load" when it was introduced. An unspectacular performer is not improved for being fired from a barrel half the normal length, and depending on the powder used, it can lose a lot of velocity out of a barrel that short.

    That's why I generally carry a full size gun. When I do carry a small .38, these days I make it a Colt Detective Special with a 3" bbl, and with the 125gr Federal nyclad cartridges in the chambers.
     
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2013
  3. tipoc

    tipoc Member

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    I agree with you here that the round nose lead bullet (RNL) did develop a poor reputation (though it was used for a very long time by law enforcement). But I believe the reason was the bullet shape and form and not so much the loads or the guns they were fired from.

    JHP rounds and LWCHP perform better in defensive loads than the LRN type. The latter are known for penetration with minimal disruption of tissue. The former are designed to damage more tissue.

    Folks don't go to the 38 Spl. and snubby wheelguns because they are looking for the most powerful rounds available. They choose snubbys because of their light weight and small size and load them with the best ammo they can handle well. That way they have something useful on them when need arises.
    There are a number of good loads and bullets available these days.

    tipoc
     
  4. Billy Shears

    Billy Shears Member

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    I don't think bullet shape is enough to explain it. The RNL configuration was no different than bullets that had been in use, in the .38 and all other revolver calibers, for over a century. Wadcutter and semiwadcutter bullets had been around a long time (the first wadcutter, the "Himmelwright wadcutter" was introduced in 1900); if they offered a noticeable step up in performance, it's difficult to see why they would not have been widely adopted for police and other defensive use. They weren't. The somewhat sharp shoulder of the wadcutter might make for a slightly wider permanent wound channel, but not much. Non-expanding bullets all make simple, narrow tracks through the body, unless they are launched with enough power to tumble or fragment, which they're not out of any .38spl, snub-nosed or otherwise. If a bullet like that hits the central nervous system or a vital organ, it will kill you, despite being low powered. And as I've said, even a lower powered bullet of this type, like the old .38spl RNL, or the .41 rimfire derringer, or the .38S&W, or many other old cartridges, were used for self defense, because there were no better loads to be had, and they could be fired out of compact, easily concealable guns. But concealed carriers then made the same tradeoff most of them still do today: they give up some power for the benefit of having a small gun that can be concealed and taken where a large one can't. For most self-defense shootings, this is a viable tradeoff, given the short ranges, and lack of body armor or cover in most such shootings. None of that means for an instant that those old guns, and some current ones, aren't very underpowered guns that will have a lot of trouble penetrating even very light cover, should it be encountered.
     
  5. Deer_Freak

    Deer_Freak Member.

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    I have a hard time believing a 38 with a 2" barrel wouldn't break the windshield of a car. My uncle was drunk and mad he shot the window of his car with a red ryder bb gun and shattered it. I know a 38 from a 2 inch barrel is stronger than a red ryder bb gun.
     
  6. Billy Shears

    Billy Shears Member

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    You can believe what you want. I have seen for myself the crime scene photos of the car that the first sergeant I had when I came out of the police academy shot with a Smith & Wesson 6906 from several yards away. There were several 147gr. 9mm bullets imbedded in the windshield. I'm apparently not the only one who's seen something like that either (scroll down to the third post): http://www.ak47.net/archive/topic.html?b=5&f=4&t=55329 Interestingly, the load the author of that post mentions, a Winchester 147gr. 9mm black talon, is the exact same one my department used to issue when I came on, and I believe is the same one the sergeant used in the shooting I saw the photos of.

    Windshield penetration is dependent upon a large number of variables: the distance, the angle of impact, the velocity of the projectile, the sectional density of the projectile, the thickness of the particular windshield, the condition of the windshield (any previous damage?), etc. Sometimes a bullet will go through, sometimes it won't. Even when it does, laminated auto glass is a thick, tough barrier, and bullets fired from full size service weapons, shooting service calibers out of standard length barrels at close range and almost direct angles, you will get deflection, partial fragmentation, and velocity loss of the bullet. http://www.theboxotruth.com/docs/buickot2.htm.

    Folks, there are documented cases of bullets not penetrating car windshields: http://crossmap.christianpost.com/news/about-1116

    Given these facts, I wonder why some people have such a hard time believing a soft lead bullet fired from a short barrel, whose velocity could conceivably been reduced to as low as a mere 300 feet per second, would not penetrate.
     
  7. JRH6856

    JRH6856 Member

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    Just an observation, but a soft lead bullet deforms a lot easier (losing energy in the process) than a hard steel BB. And shattering glass is not the same as penetrating it.
     
  8. vito

    vito Member

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    Maybe I should have asked a different question: does anyone know of a real case where a person defending themselves with a j-frame 38 failed to stop an attack due to the low power of the bullet? I know that for many, many years this gun was the standard off-duty carry for LEO's across the nation. If common off-duty shootings had left the BG in good shape I would have assumed that police forces would have quickly changed to another gun or caliber or cartridge. If a 38 in a 2 inch barrel is ineffective, what about a 9mm or 40S&W from a typical 3 inch barrel semi auto? And how much difference is there between the 38+p and a 357mag? (But I just dislike shooting those 357mag, even from a heavier revolver!)
     
  9. Billy Shears

    Billy Shears Member

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    There were probably lots of cases where a bad guy was not stopped due to the low power of the bullet. But that would have been true with many calibers, not just the. 38. And most of the failures to stop would have been due to a failure to hit a vital organ. Sometimes, no doubt, that would have been because a low powered bullet failed to penetrate deeply enough after passing through a barrier, heavy clothing, an arm, etc., but most of the time it would have been because of poor shot placement. And the reason low powered bullets remained in use for small, concealable guns is because most of the time they did have enough power to get deep enough into the body to bit a vital organ. More power wouldn't have made much difference, except to make the guns bigger and less concealable or harder to shoot. Remember, these were the days when there were no expanding bullets. There just wasn't much way to increase stopping power all that much. In full size revolvers, the extra power did more to improve range and barrier penetration than stopping power. Handguns are and were actually poor manstoppers. It's still true today, and was even more so with non-expanding bullets.
     
  10. Certaindeaf

    Certaindeaf member

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    A hundred fps isn't really a "lot". It only takes 45 fpe to kill a man.
     
  11. JRH6856

    JRH6856 Member

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    I have seen reports of actual failure to stop by .38spcl from 4" barrels, and I have seen recommendations from Massad Ayoob in favor of .38spcl (+P) in a 2" barrel. I currently have no links for either but a Google search will probably yield a hit or two.

    FWIW, the .38 Long Colt 150gr yields 777fps from a 6" barrel and its failure to stop Moro tribesmen in the Philippines was the major impetus for the US Army switching to the .45ACP.

    The report of one such incident reads:

    "Antonio Caspi, a prisoner on the island of Samar, P.I. attempted escape on Oct. 26, 1905. He was shot four times at close range in a hand-to-hand encounter by a .38 Colt's revolver loaded with U.S. Army regulation ammunition. He was finally stunned by a blow on the forehead from the butt end of a Springfield carbine." (James, Garry, Colt New Army & Navy Revolver, Handguns Magazine)​

    Bullet design has changed in 100+years and there are now bullets that can be effective from a short barrel.
     
  12. rswartsell

    rswartsell Member

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    It's really this simple, the loss of velocity and hence useful power of snubbies is easily overstated. IMHO it has been overstated in this post at some points.

    It IS however there and ammunition selection should be done with this in mind. They are effective defense against humans weapons when stoked with appropriate ammunition (and in the hands of a practiced shooter, shot PLACEMENT is King) which is being manufactured by a few suppliers (if you can get any at all nowadays).

    I recommend Speer Gold Dot 135 gr. Short Barrel +P. Other snubbie users have their favorites.

    Bottom line we (.38 snubbie users) are doing just fine thanks with our wimpy little snub .38's. The rest is minutiae and forum argument fodder.
     
  13. gtmtnbiker98

    gtmtnbiker98 Member

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    I find it very difficult to rely on the momentum or kinetic energy of a round alone to stop a threat. What about shot placement? I don't care if it is 600 FPS or 1500 FPS, if you place that round in a vital area, the threat will stop. Period. Carry only what you can accurately deploy in a sufficient caliber and move on.
     
  14. jim8115

    jim8115 Member

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    depends

    I think the answer is.....it depends.
    I can tell you this for a fact;
    158 Hornady LSWC/HP 4.3 Grains W231 @ 1.455
    from a 4" Model 10 Average 780 FPS
    from a 1.7" Model 642 730 FPS

    So, in this case, it holds the velocity pretty good out of that short barrel
    At any rate, I dont want to be behind a windshield that is being shot at ..

    JIM
     
  15. rswartsell

    rswartsell Member

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    As my post stated, effective DEFENSE against humans. By any estimation, shooting through windshields-or car bodies is an OFFENSIVE tactic, for which as has already been stated .357 and .38 super were developed in the '30's.

    Penetration of this sort is not what .38 snubbies are made for and so I take such arguments against them as a straw man. Could a snubbie do it? Yes, with the correct ammo, likely so. That would be the entirely INCORRECT ammo to use for defense against humans scenario trying for expansion at reduced velocities. As Clint said, "a man's got to know his limitations", AND what his goal is. If I want to shoot through windshields like Purvis chasing Dillinger I will use my 6" DW .357 with Buffalo Bore 180 gr. Hard Cast Gas Checks.

    At 10 feet against a strong-arm holdup artist, that round will kill him AND the retail clerk across the street that didn't even know it was coming.

    What silly arguments we concoct and what fundamental misunderstandings of why tools, guns among them, come in so many varieties and variations.
     
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2013
  16. tipoc

    tipoc Member

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    Myself and a few others have posted links to sites with actual reports on velocity of 38 Spl. rounds fired from snubbies earlier in this thread. Here are a few more such reports.

    http://www.snubnose.info/docs/snubby_ballistics.htm

    Reports that 38 Spl. bullets fired from snubbies routinely have velocities of 300 fps or under 500 fps. are greatly exaggerated, to put it mildly and diplomatically.

    The OPs original question of "How much power is lost with a 2" barrel?" has been answered. The answer is not as much as some think.

    tipoc
     
  17. rhinoh

    rhinoh Member

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    The windshield story- hmm not sure. But I do recall when in about 1969 my father had an Iver Johnson (IIRC) .38 snubbie.
    We went out to a local dump and were shooting at an old washing machine from 10 ft....
    I was astounded when it would not penetrate the metal skin but my .22 rifle would:scrutiny:
     
  18. tipoc

    tipoc Member

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  19. Billy Shears

    Billy Shears Member

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    You are clearly refraining outright from calling the guy who tested those loads on yankeegunnuts a liar, but that's just clearly the inference you expect everyone to draw. However, if those are the results that guy got with his chronograph, then those are the results he got with his chronograph. The other loads he tested were more in line with his and other people's expectations, so what is more likely? That his machine somehow developed the ability to the 158gr. RNL from all other loads, and malfunction specifically for them? Or that he simply recorded the accurate results he got? And what motivation would he have to lie about it? What's his angle? What would he get out it?

    And I still don't understand why people find this so inconceivable. It is entirely possible that the loads he tested, Federal American Eagle, were loaded with a relatively slow burning powder that loses a lot of velocity from a short barrel, because the bullet leaves the muzzle before combustion is complete. That may perfectly well be an atypical result for .38spl ammo, but it is by no means beyond the realm of possibility, as you imply. Add in the fact that the cartridge dates from the black powder era, and is sized for that less efficient propellant, and is really overly capacious for modern powders, and you have another factor that can contribute to incomplete combustion, which an reduce velocity still further. Add in that this is recently made ammo, and it's also quite possible that Federal used a slow burning powder for that lot, because they figure nobody's going to use RNL these days for much except practice, so who cares if it's loaded with slow burning powder that won't be ideal for short barrel? It depends on the powder, but I repeat, there's nothing that makes this impossible.
     
  20. tipoc

    tipoc Member

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    Billy,

    It's good to read that you agree with me when I said that if a fella says or implies that loads for the 38 Spl. routinely get only from 300-500 fps of velocity from a 2" barrel that they are mistaken, or wrong or fooling themselves or a combination of those.

    You agreed with me that the results the fella got for 38 Spl., if accurate, are atypical.

    I called no one a liar. I said they were wrong. A very different thing.

    In your posts on this thread you've made a mistake I think, equating the RNL profile bullet with specific loads. RNL bullets are not a load, they are a type bullet as you know. They can be loaded up or down for more or less power. They are not now and never really have been a good defensive bullet design. There are better bullets available. Some loads of 38 Spl. can be quite week and some powerful. The bullet doesn't change that. You say this a few posts back. Then above you repeat the mistake.

    I'm not clear what you are arguing Mr. Shears.

    Snubbies loaded with a good round of 38 Spl. with a good bullet can be useful defensive handguns. They have their place and the person that carries one, trains with it, and knows their limitations won't be underarmed for most circumstances.

    tipoc
     
  21. Certaindeaf

    Certaindeaf member

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    Anything is possible. Any physicist will tell you that there's a 100% certainty that monkeys will fly out of your butthole.. given enough time. A .38 at 300fps, regardless of barrel length is an outlier/oddity.
    pretty much don't happen however you cut it
     
  22. Billy Shears

    Billy Shears Member

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    I'm well aware of all this. I'm also well aware that it's quite possible, even perhaps likely, that ammo manufacturers, back in the '50s or '60s, would be using different powders, perhaps even from one lot to another from the same manufacturer. Absent collection and comparison testing of old ammo we'll never know. And what I am also asserting is perfectly possible, is that the most common load of those days -- the 158gr. RNL lead bullet, was routinely loaded with a slower burning powder optimized for a longer barreled weapon, such as uniformed officers carried, since those were the ones who did the most shooting with that type of ammunition. Target shooters tended to shoot wadcutters, and civilian shooters didn't tend to shoot as much back then -- it wasn't at all uncommon for someone to buy a box of ammo with their gun, and 20 years later still have that same box in the bedroom dresser next to the gun. That's exactly what my grandfather did. He kept a .38 in his bedroom that I know had ammo in it (RNL, natch) that he'd bought decades earlier (it was corrosively primed). And if the police ammo of the time was loaded with a slower burning powder intended for 4 or 5" barrels, it could lose a very surprising of velocity out of a 2" chief's special, conceivably enough to drop velocities as low as 500 fps or even lower.

    At any rate, as I said, my father saw this demonstration, and I've never known him to be a liar, so I believe him. Moreover, the way he describes it makes it sound like something the agent had done before, because he was clearly expecting the result he got.
     
  23. Hondo 60
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    Hondo 60 Member

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    natman - I have several snubbies & several 4 inchers.
    You said "A 38 Special will lose from 150-300 fps from a 4" to a 2" barrel. "

    All I can say is, I've never seen that much of a difference.
    100 fps, yes, but not 150-300.

    Just my experience, YMMV
     
  24. JRH6856

    JRH6856 Member

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    I have, and it depends a lot on the powder. A slow burning powder can easily lose 250-300fps going from a 4" to 2" barrel. The faster the powder, the less the difference.
     
  25. k_dawg

    k_dawg Member

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    btw: keep in mind you need to compensate for the difference in 'barrel length' between most revolvers and semi-automatics.

    For S/A as well as the ballistis by the inch, the 'barrel length' is measured from tip of barrel to breach face. On revolvers, it is the length of the barrel only. You need to add the length of the cylinder to compare apples to apples.

    IIRC, the cylinder length on a .357magnum is almost 1.7".

    So, a 2" revolver is ~~ 3.7" semi-automatic in this caliber.
     
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