Informal Test on Std. Pressure 38 Spec Ammo from Snub...

Discussion in 'Handguns: Revolvers' started by Stephen A. Camp, Sep 28, 2006.

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  1. Stephen A. Camp

    Stephen A. Camp Moderator In Memoriam

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    Hello. A while back, "Bob 79" (a member here) sent me some ammunition and requested that it be the subject of an informal expansion/penetration test. Bad things kept coming up and the shooting session to do this was delayed much longer than I wanted. I finally got the opportunity to do this today.

    He wanted this done with a snub so I picked one that might be representative of what many folks carry, an S&W Model 642 with the usual 1 7/8" barrel. I used my primary "24/7" snub as I'm fairly familiar with what it does with a variety of ammunition so that I could tell if anything seemed way off.

    SWModel642stdpressureammo1.jpg
    Shown are the rounds to be fired in today's tests and the S&W Model 642 used in the background. From left to right: Hornady 125-gr. XTP, Winchester 110-gr. STHP, Federal 110-gr. HydraShok, Winchester USA 125-gr. JSP, Stars & Stripes 158-gr. CSWC, and Stars & Stripes 125-gr. CFP.

    I was sent 10 rounds of six different .38 Special loads with the exception of the Federal 110-gr. HydraShok. Scrounging through my .38 ammo, I found two more rounds to make a full 10. (These obviously had a different lot number than the ones sent so I used these with one from what I was sent in the target shooting portion of the test, not the chronographing.

    I normally use at least 10 shots to determine an average velocity, but that would leave nothing for expansion or grouping. Due to limited ammo, the average .38 Special velocities are based on 5 shots, not as good, but maybe good enough to give a general expectation of actual velocities from similar length barrels. (Understand that there can be surprisingly different actual velocities from two seemingly identical guns.)

    I couldn't afford to miss on the groups shot as I had but 3 shots per load, so firing was done at 7 yards, standing and with a two-hand hold and in slow-fire.

    Loads Used & Chronograph Results:

    Federal 110-gr. HydraShok JHP
    Average Velocity: 877 ft/sec
    Std. Deviation: 33

    Winchester 110-gr. Silvertip JHP
    Average Velocity: 841 ft/sec
    Std. Deviation: 22

    Winchester USA 125-gr. JSP
    Average Velocity: 803 ft/sec
    Std. Deviation: 26

    Hornady 125-gr. XTP JHP
    Average Velocity: 826 ft/sec
    Std. Deviation: 16

    Stars & Stripes 125-gr. CFP
    Average Velocity: 861 ft/sec
    Std. Deviation: 20

    Stars & Stripes 158-gr. CSWC
    Average Velocity: 744 ft/sec
    Std. Deviation: 14

    The ammunition from Stars & Strips was from new components. It was not "remanufactured" ammo.

    NewSWM642StarsStripes158grLSWC7ydta.jpg
    Only 3 shots could be used, but the Stars & Stripes 158-gr. CSWC hit exact POA for me at 7 yards. Recoil was mild.

    NewSWM642StarsStripes125grCFP7ydtar.jpg
    The same company's 125-gr. CFP grouped nicely but just about an inch lower than POA. The shot on the lower left was my fault and neither the gun's nor ammunition's.

    Everything else grouped just about the same as these and what groups best in my individual revolver may not in the next fellow's. I get the impression that group size is not considered all that important to many, so I didn't post any more pictures. No load's grouping really stood out, good or bad.

    Expansion test media was simply newsprint that had been soaked for 24 hours and was super-saturated. It was drained for 30 minutes before shooting. Recovered bullets do correlate well with those shot into calibrated 10% gelatin from what I've read, but this material retards penetration quicker. In other words, a bullet the penetrates 10" in ballistic gelatin will penetrate quite a bit less in the soaked newsprint. Expanded bullets recovered from animals I've shot with 9mm, .38 Special, .357 Magnum, .44 Special and .45 ACP have been very similar in expanded diameters to those shot into the soaked newsprint, but were often "chewed up" more due to impact with bone.
    Average velocities listed as well as recovered bullet weights and dimensions are the averages of two rounds each.

    Penetration & Expansion Results:

    Federal 110-gr. HydraShok JHP

    Penetration: 7" for the bullet. The jacket separated and was found at about 4 1/2". The jacket expanded to 0.552 x 0.721". The bullet nose deformed and bent slightly, but no expansion beyond the original diameter was found. The recovered weight of the jacket and bullet was 104.2 grains. (I probably didn't find a tiny piece or two of the jacket.)
    -------------------------------------------------------

    Winchester 110-gr. Silvertip JHP

    Penetration: 5 1/2". The bullet expanded to 0.536 x 0.578 x 0.371" tall. Recovered weight was 108.8 grains. This one usually penetrates roughly 10" or so in ballistic gelatin.
    -------------------------------------------------------

    Winchester USA 125-gr. JSP
    Penetration: 8 3/4". No expansion and no measureable weight loss.
    -------------------------------------------------------


    Hornady 125-gr. XTP JHP

    Penetration: 8 1/2". The bullet barely began expanding, but was recovered at 0.462 x 0.387 x 0.556" tall. It weighed 124.1 grains.
    -------------------------------------------------------

    Stars & Stripes 125-gr. CFP

    Penetration: 8 1/4" with no expansion or weight loss
    -------------------------------------------------------

    Stars & Stripes 158-gr. CSWC

    Penetration: 8 3/4" with no expansion or weight loss
    -------------------------------------------------------

    As a "control", I fired two rounds of Remington 158-gr. LSWCHP +P into the "wetpack" and it expanded to 0.576 x 0.578 x 0.484" tall and weighed 156.2 grains. It penetrated 8 1/2" and had an average velocity of 839 ft/sec from the Model 642; both the velocity and expansion/penetration results were very similar to past tests and what I expected to see.

    38SpecStdPressurebulletsEXPwetpack1.jpg
    Here are the recovered bullets that were fired into the test media. From left to right: Winchester 110-gr. STHP, Federal 110-gr. HydraShok jacket & bullet, Stars & Stripes 125-gr. CFP, Winchester USA 125-gr. JSP, Horandy 125-gr. XTP, Stars & Stripes 158-gr. CSWC, and Remington 158-gr. LSWCHP +P.

    With regard to expansion, the Winchester 110-gr. STHP performed the best of these standard pressure loads.

    38Spec110grSTHPvs158RemLSWCHPP2inwe.jpg
    Here we see the 110-gr. STHP compared to the Remington 158-gr. LSWCHP +P. Expanded diameters are very similar, but the heavier, +P load penetrates deeper. The +P load averages about 14" in ballistic gelatin from a snub. There will be some variations depending upon the gun and ammunition lot number used, but this is pretty much the norm for the load. The 110-gr. STHP penetrates about 10" in gelatin.

    Observations:

    There were no real surprises in these tests. With the standard pressure loads, we can either get expansion and penetration below the FBI 12" protocol or minimal to no expansion and meet or exceed it. The Winchester 110-gr. STHP is possibly the most effective of the rounds fired with regard to permanent "wound cavity" size but probably does lack adequate penetration in the event of it striking an intermediate barrier (such as an arm) while enroute to the torso.

    Of the standard pressure loads, I'd probably go with the Stars & Stripes 158-gr. CSWC. It strikes POA for me, at least at 7 yards, is mild to shoot and penetrates nicely. Speaking only for myself, I honestly do think that the +P loads such as the Remington used here as well as Speer's new 135-gr. Gold Dot "Short Barrel Load" and Corbon's 110-gr. DPX are more effective assuming good placement, but they are +P rated.

    While I am definitely a fan of Hornady XTP handgun bullets/ammunition, it would not be my first choice in .38 Special std. pressure from a snub. The expanding ammo used today might very well expand nicely from a 3" or longer barrel, but I'm not sure that penetration would be sufficient. Also keep in mind that velocity loss in going from 3" to 1 7/8" is significant. There is usually a much larger loss than when going from a 4" barrel to a 3".

    There were no problems extracting fired cases with any of the ammunition used today nor was anything usual noted.

    For those interested in the Stars & Stripes ammunition, here's a link to their site:

    http://starsandstripesammo.com/index2.html

    If interested in similar informal tests on .38's but with +P ammo, here are a couple of links that might be of use:

    http://www.hipowersandhandguns.com/38%20Snub%20Ammo%20Test.htm

    http://www.hipowersandhandguns.com/38%20Special%20Expansion%20Tests.htm

    Best.
     
  2. Trebor

    Trebor Member

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    Nicely done. Always a pleasure to read your stuff.

    You got any direct comparisions between the .38 Special 158 gr +P LSWCHP and the Speer 135 SB +P load? Those are the two I'm trying to decide between. The gun is a Smith 65 with a 3" tube.
     
  3. tipoc

    tipoc Member

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    Thank you Stephen. The Remington 158 gr. load has been my choice for carry for a number of years now.

    tipoc
     
  4. gomer

    gomer Member

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    Very informative.. as always! It really seems the Remington LSWCHP+P is hard to beat out of a snub.
     
  5. Bob79

    Bob79 Member

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    Great article, as usual.

    I imagine this will help a lot of people looking for good standard pressure .38 ammo.

    Thank you Mr. Camp
     
  6. Stephen A. Camp

    Stephen A. Camp Moderator In Memoriam

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    Hello and thanks.

    Trebor, look at the links with the post as one of them does take you to a comparison of the LSWCHP +P to the Speer 135-gr. Gold Dot and Corbon 110-gr. DPX.

    Best.
     
  7. Trebor

    Trebor Member

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    Thanks Stephen,

    I bought several boxes (200 rds) of the Speer stuff on sale from Florida Bullet awhile back. It was actually cheaper then the 158 +P load. I think when I run out of the 158 stuff, I'll switch to the Speer 135's for awhile. It looks like there may be no practical difference between the two loads for my purposes.

    Anybody ever test either load through a 3" barrel? All I ever see is 4" and 2". I can extrapoloate, but I'm kinda curious to see a dedicated 3" barrel test.
     
  8. Jim March

    Jim March Member

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    Stephen, great article.

    One thing I note is that you got a LOT more speed than I've previously seen reported from the Federal 110. At 870fps it's trucking along pretty good, but the basic projectile design stinks. Last test I saw the stuff barely broke 800fps in a snub...maybe they've spiced it up since then (approx. six year old data?) or the gun is a lot different.

    The Winchester 110 is a surprise. In summer weather where heavy clothes ain't an issue, I'd bet it's in the "good enough" category. Moreso if shot out of a longer tube...doesn't look like it's "bottomed out" to me (hasn't hit max speed in other words).
     
  9. SeanSw

    SeanSw Member

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    Thanks for the read!

    If I were to carry a snubbie I probably would not rely on any bullet expansion at standard pressure to stop threats. That old FBI load still looks like a winner for +p levels but for standard pressure I would definately consider using semi-wadcutters or other non expanding bullet for effective penetration and use the lessened recoil to my advantage.
     
  10. Gary A

    Gary A Member

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    Great reporting, as usual, Mr. Camp. I have one question. I have two versions of standard pressure 110 grain Hydrashoks. One is the PD38HS3H "Personal Defense" load sold in 20 round boxes and spec'd by Federal at 980 fps from a 4 inch barrel. The other is the P38HS3G standard pressure 110 grain Hydrashok spec'd just a tad hotter at 1000 fps from a 4 inch barrel, sold in 50 round boxes and listed on their law enforcement website. May I ask which of these you used in your test? Thanks for all the work you share with us. Gary
     
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2006
  11. Stephen A. Camp

    Stephen A. Camp Moderator In Memoriam

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    Hello. I'm not really sure which version it was as the ammo was sent to me by a member of this board and was not in a box. He said that the listed velocity was 980 ft/sec so I'm guessing it is the Personal Defense version.

    Best.
     
  12. Gary A

    Gary A Member

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    Mr. Camp, thanks for the prompt reply. That sounds like it and it certainly is the most commonly available. Appreciated. G
     
  13. camacho

    camacho Member

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    Great stuff. Thank you sir!
     
  14. Marshall

    Marshall Member

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    Hot dang, I always find your information helpful and untainted. Thanks again! :)
     
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2006
  15. Socrates

    Socrates Member

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    Hi Mr. Camp.
    Great article.

    Couldn't get you to do the same with .357 out of a 1 7/8" snubby?

    Thanks

    S
     
  16. Stephen A. Camp

    Stephen A. Camp Moderator In Memoriam

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  17. gaucho1

    gaucho1 Member

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    Bump for us newbies

    Great report.
    Thank You
     
  18. Jim March

    Jim March Member

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    I just want to note that not only did the XTP fail here, it failed in a way that suggests more speed isn't going to help much, unless it's a LOT more speed.

    It isn't really expanding, it's more like "collapsing".

    If you ever get a chance to see pics of the Winchester 158+P LSWC-HP from a 2" snubby, it will be clear that expansion STARTS and the hollowpoint cavity stretches out a lot, but doesn't "peel back" the way the Remmie does. Both are going around the same speed, the Remmie has softer lead. By the time you use a 4" barrel the Winnie does great.

    There are some around here that suggest the XTP in 38Spl and/or 38+P. This is one of a number of test photo sets I've seen that makes me say otherwise.

    ---------

    The other thing to remember is that even though they're "+P", the Winnie and Remmie 158+P lead hollowpoints are not going to put a lot of stress on the gun, for a number of reasons. Heavier slugs don't slam into the forcing cone as fast - they take longer to get up to speed. Slower-burn powders are usually involved, and the soft lead also leads to less forcing cone and cylinder throat "slam" versus jacketed.

    It's not impossible that the Winchester 110gr standard pressure round shown here is actually as stressful on a gun as the Remmie +P 158 plain lead load...or if there is a difference, it won't be that much.

    If you're pressing a relatively weak gun into defensive service, something like a vintage Colt Dick Special, Charter Arms .38, vintage Taurus/Rossi or old 5-screw S&W M&P the lead 158+Ps are a valid choice in moderation - as long as you avoid the wild-child Buffalo Bore and old-stock Cor-Bon varieties...
     
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