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Max safe bullet weight for .38 special?

Discussion in 'Handloading and Reloading' started by arizonaguide, Feb 19, 2010.

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  1. arizonaguide

    arizonaguide Member

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    I am a believer in the larger/heavier school of stopping power.

    I currently have a SW Jframe 442, and I keep Buffalo Bores 158gr HP's in it...but I sometimes wonder why a 180gr or 200gr load has not been manufactured...is this an UNSAFE combination out of a 2" barrel?

    It seems that they are available for the .357...so I'm wondering about why not the .38 +P.

    :cool:
     
  2. R.W.Dale

    R.W.Dale Member

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    with 38 specific guns it's prolly more of a COL conflict with the end of the cylinder. The British army used a 38/200 load wish was .38S&W (not special) loaded with a 200grn soft lead bullet at low velocity. The Germans supposedly complained about it as being expanding or somesuch.

    Sometimes you'll catch us .357 carbine guys loading the longer heavier bullets on 38 cases to keep the COL short enough to function relative to the bullets crimp groove. However such loadings typically aren't particularly high pressure affairs.

    I'd be anxious to hear about other "Heavy" 38 loads folks may have
     
  3. cottonmouth

    cottonmouth Member

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    I've loaded mild 180 grain bullets for my Cimmeron model P Jr. and they weren't too long, the P Jr. is real small. I'd think it could be done in a S&W too.

    J.B.
    [​IMG]
     
  4. ArchAngelCD

    ArchAngelCD Member

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    It's not so much what's "safe" to load for your M442 but what's really practical. As we all know a shorter barrel will limit the velocity achieved from any load you feed it. Since the M442 is a .38 Special you really don't want to push the pressures above 20,000 PSI so trying to push a 170gr, 180gr or 200gr projectile really isn't feasible. I would think a 158/160gr bullet would be the upper limit for use in such a short barrel, at least for me. I do like shooting 180gr bullets in my .357 Magnum loads shot from a 4" or greater barrel.
     
  5. Oyeboten

    Oyeboten Member

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    Yes...as ArchAngelCD relays, this is my appreciation also.

    The pressure/duration necessary to accelerate a 170, 180, 200 Grain Bullet to an advantageous velocity in a .38 Special Revolver, would tend to over-stress the Revolver's and or it's Cylinder's upper limit of tolerance.

    A .357 Magnum Revolver or a Big Frame .38 Special, would oblige it alright, being a lot stronger.


    In a Long Barrel .38 Special, and, using Black Powder, might get some pretty decent FPS with a 200 Grain Lead Bullet without dangerous overstressing, but there'd be the OAL vrs room for Powder problem...or with very careflly elected Smokeless Loads, one could do it I'm sure...

    But in a shorter or 'short' Barrel regular .38 Special, either the Revolver gives, or, one is willing to be satisfied with fairly humble FPS...more or less as the British 38/200 had...and those were usually 5 inch Barrels unless Private Purchase.

    Which seems a wash to me.

    Average shorter or short Barrel .38 Special - if you can have 158 Grain at say 850 - 1050 FPS, or, 200 Grain at 600 - 650 FPS, the heavier Bullet may not prove a significant enough advantage for the energy it will deliver.
     
  6. Randy1911

    Randy1911 Member

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    My Speer#12 Reloading manual discourages the use of jacketed bullets heavier than 125 grains and do not list load data for them.. They say there is a risk of getting a bullet stuck in the barrel. It is on page 509. That is what I do. They know more than me. I only load heavier bullets in 357 Mag.
     
  7. arizonaguide

    arizonaguide Member

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    Great posts, folks! Keep 'em coming. :cool:

    I'm learning some good stuff here.
     
  8. arizonaguide

    arizonaguide Member

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    So, that also brings up the question...is anyone shooting 200grains in their .357 Jframes?

    I guess why I'm curious is that there have been some tests that have shown why the .45 is effective is because it IS heavy and slow (giving more time for expansion and energy transfer)...so I'm trying to translate that theory to my .38special.

    I also understand that a heavy bullet may start slower at the muzzle...but carries it's volocity for a longer amount of time.
    Not so important at Jframe ranges...but still interesting.
     
  9. griz

    griz Member

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    When I shot CAS I would load a 180 grain lead bullet to almost 1000 FPS (out of a 6 1/2 inch barrel) to take on the occasional stubborn knockdown targets. I used 38 cases because they would sometimes be fired in a rifle chambered in 38 (but strong enough for 357 loads). But I'm sure I was running above even +P pressures, so I wouldn't use them in a J frame. You could load the same bullet at regular 38 special pressures, but the velocity would probably be pretty low out of a short barrel. I wouldn't try it with a jacketed bullet.
     
  10. rcmodel

    rcmodel Member in memoriam

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    Many years ago, there was a 200 grain LRN police load.
    200 @ 730 FPS out of a service revolver.

    It did not prove to be particularly effective as a man stopper, was unable to shoot through light baricades and such, and most PD's switched back to the 158 LRN after a brief love affair.

    A .36 cal 200 grain bullet at a little over 600 FPS out of a snubbie revolver is a far cry from a .45 cal 230 grain bullet at 850 FPS out of a 1911.

    rc
     
  11. arizonaguide

    arizonaguide Member

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    True fact. :cool:

    So, I guess it's pretty much agreed that 158gr is "top end" generally accepted for the .38sp +p, but that 180 or 200gr. are okay outta the 340 or 360model .357 jframes?
     
  12. jfh

    jfh Member

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    About twenty-five years ago I inherited a first-gen Detective Special and a box of the 200-gr. LRN police loads; they had been kept by my uncle's bedside, or in his safe.

    So, I tried shooting that load: it was one of those rounds you could actually track going downrange--so 600 fps sounds about right.

    added on edit: Sure, you can shoot 357-case rounds made with 180/200 gr. bullets out of the 340--just don't exceed the MAX SAAMI pressure for safe shooting. Practically, I am not sure what you would gain, really. the recoil pulse with a 158-gr. load in an M&P 340 (13.3 oz) was such that I didn't want to shoot more than five of the BB 20A loads--i.e., one cylinderful. My hand was in good condition when I worked up other 158-gr. loads, and about the max I want to shoot for a back-to-back "quad five" (ten shots, as fast as I can reload in the middle) is a "light 357" load run at or just over 900 fps. With a heavier gun, no issue....

    This question really comes down to the simple rules of physics and the general (or specific) issues of shooter skill and condition, I think. A heavy bullet generates more recoil, and is less comfortable to shoot in lighter firearms.

    Jim H.
     
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2010
  13. Cosmoline

    Cosmoline Member

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    I shoot quite a bit of 200 and 180 grain Cast Performance slugs out of the Speed Six. The great thing about these is you don't have to amp up velocity to get outstanding penetration. Unlike the soft lead RN slug of the .38-200 and similar earlier loadings, the hardcasts hold together longer and go really deep. I know of one fellow who's found the 200 grain CP's will penetrate on par with a mid-weight hardcast .44 Mag. Though admittedly they're going to shine most out of a .357 levergun or long barreled magnum revolver. For the small .38's just keep in mind that even a little increase in powder can have very significant impacts on recoil and stress to the handgun.
     
  14. Steve C

    Steve C Member

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    The 200 gr police load was a short lived product of this type of thinking and it failed miserably in the real world of actual street experience.

    People believe all sorts of things despite evidence to the contrary but if examined logically, a solid bullet in .38 spl will not make a bigger hole or get larger in caliber if the bullet is simply made heavier. The only way to get the .38 spl to produce a larger hole is through expansion, the only way to get expansion is through a combination of bullet construction and appropriate velocity for the design.

    Higher velocity does impart more "stopping power" to solid bullets but with any cartridge as the bullet weight goes up, the velocity goes down. Somewhere in that relationship there's an optimum and for the .38 spl the time tested bullet weight is 158gr at around 900 fps from a 4" barrel.
     
  15. arizonaguide

    arizonaguide Member

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    I used to believe this also. But some studies have found that part of what makes the .45acp so effective is it's slow/heavy round...which seems to allow more time for expansion/energy transfer.


    Very much truth in this statement, Steve, but this whole concept about the effectiveness of the .45acp (and why) has me wondering about similar applications to other calibers...(like my .38sp). This is part of my research into the slower/heavier concept.

    I understand that there was a 200gr. used very sucessfully in the .38S&W at one time by the British.
     
  16. rcmodel

    rcmodel Member in memoriam

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    Not nearly as successfully as the .455 Webley I betcha!

    It was the same small bore vs big bore mess we got ourselves into in the Philippines in 1900 when we went from the .45 Colt to the .38 Long Colt revolver.

    Come to find out, it didn't work out so hot there either.
    And I doubt it would have worked any better with a really slow 200 grain bullet.

    BTW: There has been some speculation that the 200 grain police load was fostered off on American cops as part of a "proof of concept" test for the Brits. We found it didn't work for us, but they went ahead anyway to get a lighter kicking easier to train with gun, not for better stopping power.

    rc
     
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2010
  17. arizonaguide

    arizonaguide Member

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    Actually, it did quite well.
    From what I'm reading..the .38/200 as they called it was the only smaller caliber round to rate up with the larger calliber rounds in effectiveness...because of the heavier bullet.
    The way I understand it..the heavy bullet retains it's momentum longer than a lighter (yet initially faster) bullet.

    But, you are correct in that the large/slow .45acp was invented in response to the fact that the .38 long colt wasn't performing as well as the old .45colt (slower/heavier) it replaced.

    My point is that there have been some schools of thought that a heavier/slower (200gr@650fps+/-) bullet can be more "incapacitating" due to energy retention over a larger range spectrum, and effective transfer upon hitting the target.
     
  18. freakshow10mm

    freakshow10mm member

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    I load a 215gr LSWC in both .38 Spl and .357 Mag. I dare anyone to get up after a single shot COM. I sell my .38 Spl to a custom butcher that says he never saw cattle drop deal so fast. Said by the time the gun comes back on target they are down for good. He's killed more animals than most people have seen.
     
  19. arizonaguide

    arizonaguide Member

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    FS10MM, are you loading them to more than normal 38special pressures? (my 442 will handle +P pressures).
    Because that's what I'm talking about!!!
     
  20. freakshow10mm

    freakshow10mm member

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    Nope. Standard pressure. Does 700-710fps from a 6 inch barrel in the .38 Spl. 950-960fps in a 6 inch .357 Mag. I can push it to 1100fps in the magnum but choose not to for that application.
     
  21. ArchAngelCD

    ArchAngelCD Member

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    arizonaguide,
    I barely care to shoot a 200gr bullet from a .357 Magnum Carbine let alone a >2" J frame. I usually stick with 180gr bullets for the carbine and no heavier than 158gr bullets for the short barrel revolvers. You just can't get them moving quickly enough with less than 2" to work with.

    If you are going to play with heavy for caliber bullets I would highly suggest you use a Chrono so you know exactly what's going on with the loads you are using.
     
  22. 243winxb

    243winxb Member

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    Bullet Design , Construction is more important than Weight.

    The 45 acp does not have to expand to do its job. The old FBI tests proved this. For the 38 special in J frames using lead bullets you have to watch for bullets jumping crimp in some of the light weight guns like 337PD @ 10 oz. A handload with a 158gr would be my choice for max. weight bullet. For factory ammo, the Federal is my choice, great bullet construction.
    http://www.federalpremium.com/products/details/handgun.aspx?id=336
     
    Last edited: Feb 20, 2010
  23. arizonaguide

    arizonaguide Member

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    Yup! I'm starting to realize that the Jframe is just too small to get anything like the 650fps of the .38/200 without getting into overpressure ranges.
     
  24. freakshow10mm

    freakshow10mm member

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    The 180/185gr LFN is a great bullet in the .38 Special too.
     
  25. arizonaguide

    arizonaguide Member

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    Does anyone make that .38/180 as a factory production?
    Or is that also a hand load only, with pressures too high by the time I get good (650+) FPS from the short little Jframe (+P)?

    I guess the 158gr Buff's LSWCHP are still my best bet, so far.
    [​IMG]

    Buff claims 1,000fps/351 ft.lbs from a (+P) 2" snubby.
     
    Last edited: Feb 20, 2010
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