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Reloading .38 S&W

Discussion in 'Handloading and Reloading' started by Michael Tinker Pearce, Feb 13, 2017.

  1. Michael Tinker Pearce

    Michael Tinker Pearce Member

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    I'm going to be reloading .38 S&W to fire in antique revolvers. Factory loads are a 147gr. RNL bullet at about 650fps. These are deliberately anemic because so many cheap, poor quality revolvers were made in this caliber; US Revolver, Ivor Johnson and a host of others. At the time they converted to smokeless all the revolvers, good, bad or whatever, were made to shoot black powder loads which were actually more powerful/higher pressure than modern factory loads.

    I have never heard of someone blowing up even the cheapest of these guns with a factory load, but stout loads will wear them out quickly. As it happens I will not be using the loads in 'cheap guns,' but in S&W top breaks. While these are worlds and away better than the cheaper revolvers they are not as strong as a solid-frame guns; I'll still want to stick to relatively mild loads.

    I will be loading for a 4" .38 DA 2nd Model (circa 1884) with a 4-1/4" barrel and a pair of .38 safety Hammerless 4th Models with 1-5/8" barrels (early 20th C.) The bore diameters of these guns are a nominal .360, and in some guns .357" bullets work fine and in others they are inaccurate. This seems to vary from maker to maker, and sometimes from gun to gun. Being that availability of .360" bullets is limited my plan has be to use the 148gr. HBWC as my 'go to' bullet; these have been used with great success in .38 S&W guns because the base of the bullet expands to engage the rifling even in over-sized bores.

    Basically I have been looking at two loads- a 'General Purpose' target/SD load for the newer guns and a 'powder puff' load for those occasions when I want to shoot the older gun. Honestly I am unlikely to run more than a couple of cylinders a year through the 1884 gun, and maybe a couple hundred rounds a year through the newer guns.

    So far my plans follow the conventional wisdom in terms of bullet weight etc., but am wondering if any of you have experimented with lighter bullets, in the 80-125gr range? Provided pressures are comparable lighter bullets mean less recoil impulse/less strain on the gun, and given that the newest of these guns is over a century old that can't help being a good thing. I have found some load data for 125gr. bullets but all the loads are fairly stiff loads for stouter solid frame guns or tank-like Webleys and I'd hesitate to use them in S&W top breaks. Yes, I can and probably will experiment with some lighter versions of these loads but if someone else has some experience to offer it would be appreciated.

    [​IMG]
     
  2. Walkalong

    Walkalong Moderator

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    Cool gun. Lighter bullets will impact low. Less time in the barrel and less recoil. I have had better luck with plated 158s as far as getting the point of impact close to the point of aim. Don't have to worry about bullet fit either. Colt bores are not a problem as much as Smith bores, and I have no idea of the groove diameter of that pistol. I haven't tried lead HBWCs, but some report success.

    You can get .360 lead bullets though.
     

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  3. ArchAngelCD

    ArchAngelCD Member

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    Yes, nice gun.

    Missouri Bullets sells lead bullets meant for the 38 S&W. They have coated bullets too, both are 145gr and .361". I have shot the lead bullets and they are a good product and fairly priced.
    http://missouribullet.com/details.php?prodId=132&category=5

    I'm using W231 and keeping the pressures down even though the Enfield I'm shooting could shoot hotter ammo. You will see the 38 S&W us not hard to load for. Good luck...
     
  4. Michael Tinker Pearce

    Michael Tinker Pearce Member

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    That is actually a pretty decent price- thanks for the link!
     
  5. PapaG

    PapaG Member

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    My best results in an old Smith top break were with 148 grain hbwc bullets, which will seal the oversize bore (360). I have used small, again I say small loads of Bullseye but feel more comfortable with fffg black. (Fwiw hbwc was auto corrected to beef, and fffg became feet). Hate autocorrect.
     
  6. PapaG

    PapaG Member

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    Forgot to mention that 38 super dies are just right for the 38 S and W.
     
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  7. Michael Tinker Pearce

    Michael Tinker Pearce Member

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    Thanks PapaG- I'll do some comparison shopping and get whichever seems the better deal.
     
  8. CoalTrain49

    CoalTrain49 Member

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    I was doing some load testing yesterday with 125 and 158 grain bullets. I was using two model 19's one a 2.5" and the other 6". I'm a 158 bullet guy and seldom shoot anything else. I loaded up some coated lead 125's with Bullseye and American Select in 38 cases. AS is somewhat slower than BE so I think the pressure may be less. I didn't have my VMD but load data indicates slower fps with AS. I was amazed at the accuracy from a 2.5" barrel at 15 and 25 yards. I'm using Alliant data and minimum loads for each powder. 125 and 158 Bayou coated bullets were used. This was a good accuracy test between heavy and light bullets for me. The lighter bullets grouped better for me in the shorter barrel. I've also found that to be the case with 1 7/8" barrels. I think that goes against conventional wisdom but that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

    If you want load data just go to the alliant website for cowboy action loads. American Select is a shotgun powder.
     
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2017
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  9. PapaG

    PapaG Member

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    Forgot to mention, I seat those wadcutters out to approximate the original loads. Seated flush there is no room for black powder.
     
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  10. FROGO207

    FROGO207 Member

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    I use those Missouri Bullets and just under a case full of Trail Boss using their instructions how to determine a MAX load. If you can find any these days it is a nice soft shooting and fairly accurate load in my 4 inch barreled H&R top break. Shooting stout loads will stretch the locking mechanism in any top break over time so that is the biggest reason not to load heavy loads IMHO.
     
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  11. Sarge7402

    Sarge7402 Member

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    My old lyman 42nd edition lists a suggested .38 S&W load of 2.0 grains of bullseye with a 150 grain .358 cast SWC for about 700FPS or 3.0 grains of Unique same bullet for a vel of 585 LOA 1.180". their max was 3.0 for bullseye and 4.7 for unique

    I'll dig out Major Hatchers book and see what he suggested back in the 1930's
     
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  12. Sarge7402

    Sarge7402 Member

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  13. Michael Tinker Pearce

    Michael Tinker Pearce Member

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    Interesting reading, and thanks! By a strange coincidence the load that I decided to start with is a Hornady 148gr. HBWC on top of 2.5gr. of unique. It seems to work well and be mild enough for my S&W top-breaks.
     
  14. ArchAngelCD

    ArchAngelCD Member

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    Actually, I'm loading a 170gr bullet made front a H&G #512 mold. It has a short base to the crimp groove and a very wide flat nose. They are not pretty and I didn't cast them but they shoot very well for me.

    [​IMG]
     
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  15. Walkalong

    Walkalong Moderator

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    Do you buy them or cast them?
     
  16. Michael Tinker Pearce

    Michael Tinker Pearce Member

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    Not sure who you are asking- I buy the swaged Hornady bullets. The poster immediately above you said he doesn't cast them.
     
  17. Walkalong

    Walkalong Moderator

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    Ah, missed that. :)
     
  18. ArchAngelCD

    ArchAngelCD Member

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    Correct, I bought them and some 200gr bullets to load some 38/200 ammo. I'm not happy with the 38/200 because the base of the bullet to the crimp groove is normal length for the .38 Special and .357 Magnum, not the 38 S&W.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
  19. dgod

    dgod Member

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    Is that an Albion??
     
  20. ArchAngelCD

    ArchAngelCD Member

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    Albion? I don't know what that is.

    The revolver is an Enfield No2 Mk1.
     
  21. Walkalong

    Walkalong Moderator

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    I wish I had bought one of those back in the day when they were more common and reasonably priced. :)
     
  22. dgod

    dgod Member

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    Enfield contrated Albion to develop and produce revolvers for WWII, I have one in 38 Spec. Identical, with the issue holster.
     

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