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Reloading The .38 Special



Left to right:--148 gr. WC, 158 gr. SWC, 160 gr. SWC+GC,
158 gr. RN, 158 gr. RN, 160 gr. JHP, 125 gr. JHP, 158 gr. JHP

(WC= WadCutter, SWC= Semi-WadCutter, HP= Hollow Point, RN= Round Nose), (JHP= Jacketed Hollow Point and if GC indicated, means Gas Check at bottom of lead bullet)

Loads for .38 special:
(Note: These are near maximum loads (in some cases ARE MAXIMUM), you should use 10%. less to start.) Only if you see more than one load, is it less than maximum. If there is only ONE load, it is MAX.
(See note on Powders below or read all about various Powders.)
Bullets are .357" for jacketed and .358" for lead in diameter. Due to different barrel lengths, type of bullet, seating depth, primer type and other factors, you may not get near the FPS charted. It is just a guide and the reason you should start under these charges and work up.


(Note H110 & W296 are the same as of 2008 as is HP-38 & W231)
(IMR 4227 is same as H-4227 if made in Australia) ----------------------------------------- 90 grain Lead RNFP Cowboy loads Titegroup 3.0 gr. 755 minimum Titegroup 3.5 gr. 969 Maximum Clays 2.5 gr. 705 minimum Clays 3.0 gr. 938 Maximum ---------------------------------------- 110 grain JHP (Jacketed Hollow Point) Bullseye 4.5 gr. 1,085 FPS Unique 5.6 gr. 1,090 Unique 5.8 gr. 997 (different gun) Universal 5.6 gr. 1,065 Universal 5.8 gr. 989 (different gun) Clays 3.8 gr. 973 HP38 5.2 gr. 1,043 HS6 7.4 gr. 755 No. 2 5.6 gr. 1,083 No. 5 7.3 gr. 1,090 W231 5.5 gr. 901 W231 (+P) 5.7 gr. 1,009 540 (+P) 8.7 gr. 1,070 ----------------------------------------- 125 grain Lead RNFP or SWC Trail Boss 3.0 gr. 753 FPS minimum Trail Boss 5.3 gr. 952 FPS Maximum *Blackhorn 209 11.9 gr. 926 MAX Universal 4.3 gr. 872 FPS minimum Universal 4.7 gr. 1036 FPS MAXIMUM HP38 3.8 gr. 876 minimum HP38 4.8 gr. 1071 Maximum Titegroup 3.2 gr. 856 minimum Titegroup 3.8 gr. 985 Maximum Clays 2.5 gr. 810 minimum Clays 3.5 gr. 978 Maximum AA #2 4.8 gr. 977 max Competition 2.0 gr. 803 Zip 3.4 gr. 732 True Blue 4.0 gr. 744 * Blackhorn 209 is a black powder substitute with smokeless like qualities. Load it like Trail Boss ----------------------------------------- 125 grain JHP or JSP (Jacketed Hollow or Soft Point) Bullseye 4.4 gr. 965 FPS Bullseye 4.8 gr. 925 (different barrel) Unique 5.3 gr. 1,015 Universal 5.2 gr. 1,019 Clays 3.5 gr. 895 HP38 4.8 gr. 914 No. 2 5.3 gr. 990 No. 5 6.8 gr. 860 231 (+P) 5.3 gr. 935 540 (+P) 8.2 gr. 1,000 PowerPistol 6.2 gr. 908 ---------------------------------------- 140 grain Hornady XTP Bullseye 4.4 gr. 807 Bullseye 4.6 gr. 845 (+P) W231/HP38 4.9 gr. 696 PowerPistol 5.8 gr. 889 ----------------------------------------- 146-148 grain LWC (Lead Wad Cutter) Bullseye 2.8 gr. 815 FPS Bullseye 3.1 gr. 838 Unique 3.3 gr. 815 Universal 3.8 gr. 940 Clays 2.5 gr. 836 HP38 3.8 gr. 879 No. 2 3.1 gr. 808 No. 2 4.2 gr. --- No. 5 6.0 gr. --- W231 3.4 gr. 760 W231 3.1 gr. 692 540 5.2 gr. 785 ZERO AMMO (commercial) 795 (reference only) AA #2 3.1 gr. 813 Titegroup 2.7 gr. 768 ----------------------------------------- 148 grain RNFP Cowboy load True Blue 3.78 gr. 744 (Also try Trail Boss 2.8 gr. to 4.3 gr.) N32C(Tin Star)4.5 gr. 955 ----------------------------------------- 146-150 grain JHP (Jacketed Hollow Point) Bullseye 3.8 gr. 850 FPS Unique 3.8 gr. 796 (mild) Unique 5.1 gr. 860 HP38 3.8 gr. 856 No. 2 4.5 gr. 820 No. 5 6.0 gr. 745 231 3.4 gr. 820 2400 (+P) 8.0 gr. 910 (+P) CAREFUL! Unique(+P) 5.5 gr. 964 (+P) CAREFUL! ----------------------------------------- 158 grain Lead RNFP or SWC COWBOY load Trail Boss 2.7 gr. 661 FPS minimum Trail Boss 4.2 gr. 804 FPS Maximum *Blackhorn 209 11.7 gr. 833 MAX Universal 3.5 gr. 756 FPS minimum Universal 4.5 gr. 974 FPS MAXIMUM HP38 3.1 gr. 782 minimum HP38 3.7 gr. 834 Maximum Titegroup 3.2 gr. 815 minimum Titegroup 3.8 gr. 920 Maximum Clays 2.8 gr. 812 minimum Clays 3.1 gr. 871 Maximum AA #5 6.0 gr. 883 Max * Blackhorn 209 is a black powder substitute with smokeless like qualities. Load it like Trail Boss ----------------------------------------- 158 grain LSWC or LRN (Semi-Wad, Rnd. Nose or flat point) Bullseye 3.6 gr. 810 FPS Bullseye 3.8 gr. 869 Unique 3.5 gr. 697 (mild load) Unique 4.3 gr. 920 Unique 4.5 gr. 975 (actual in 7" bbl revolver) Unique 4.5 gr. 908 (5" bbl,powder UP) (Hi=930 Lo= 885.4 Spread=44.2 fps) Unique 4.5 gr. 797 (5" bbl,powder DOWN - see note) (Hi=879.5 Lo= 729.4 Spread=150.1 fps) Unique 4.9 gr. 938 Universal 3.5 gr. 756 (Cowboy load) Universal 4.5 gr. 974 Clays 2.8 gr. 812 (cowboy load) Clays 3.1 gr. 871 HP38 3.1 gr. 782 (Cowboy load) HP38 3.7 gr. 834 No. 2 4.0 gr. 756 (published load) No. 2 3.6 gr. 808 (in 7" bbl) hi=849 lo=728 ES=122 (powder up and down) No. 2 3.2 gr. 725 (in 7" bbl) hi=770 lo=679 ES=91 (powder up and down) No. 5 5.8 gr. 841 (published) No. 5 5.0 gr. 736 (in 7" bbl) hi=763 lo=688 ES=75 (powder up and down) No. 5 4.6 gr. 694 (in 7" bbl) hi=740 lo=648 ES=92 (powder up and down) No. 5 5.9 gr. 885 231 3.1 gr. 753 (do not use less) 231 4.5 gr. 830 (published MAX) 231 4.0 gr. 898 (actual in 7" bbl revolver) WST 3.7 gr. 770 (MAX) WAP 4.5 gr. 681 (published) WAP 4.3 gr. 752 (in 7"bbl)* hi=821 lo=684 ES=137 (powder up and down) WAP 4.3 gr. 734 (in 4 5/8" bbl)* hi=815 lo=637 ES=178 (powder in normal positions) WAP 4.0 gr. 658 (in 7" bbl)*(NOT recommended) hi=714 lo=549 ES=165 (powder up and down) *WAP is not best choice for .38 special, too slow and inconsistent. 540 6.8 gr. 880 VV N320 3.9 gr. 872 (published) VV N320 3.2 gr. 723 (in 7" bbl)(same in 4 5/8" bbl) hi=758 lo=693 ES=65 (powder up and down)(DO NOT USE LESS) VV N340 4.8 gr. 882 Zip 3.3 gr. 711 Zip 3.7 gr. 846 Competition 2.6 gr. 801 True Blue 4.0 gr. 772 HS-6 6.3 gr. 921 (hot for normal 38) PowerPistol 4.4 gr. 822 Trail Boss 4.2 gr. 872 Hi=886, Lo=861, ES=25 This is a Carolina Cast bullet SWC-great cowboy load) N32C Tin Star 4.2 gr. 856 start N32C Tin Star 5.6 gr. 1,004 max ----------------------------------------- 158 grain Copper PLATED SWC W231 4.0 gr. 745 (published) W231 4.5 gr. 830 (published MAX) W231* 4.0 gr. 811* (in 7" bbl revolver) hi=859 lo=743 ES=116 *(my personal medium load) Trail Boss 4.2 gr. 798 Hi=823, Lo=742, ES=81 Nice cowboy load ----------------------------------------- 158-160 grain JHP or JSP (Jacketed Hollow or Soft Point) Bullseye 3.5 gr. 805 FPS Unique 4.2 gr. 800 Unique 4.9 gr. 858 2400 7.6 gr. 850 Universal 4.4 gr. 778 HP38 3.7 gr. 819 HS6 6.3 gr. 701 HS6 6.5 gr. 914 No. 2 4.0 gr. 756 No. 5 5.8 gr. 841 PowerPistol 5.9 gr. 838 231 (+P) 4.4 gr. 720* 540 (+P) 6.6 gr. 800* 2400 (+P) 7.8 gr. 910* 2400 (+P) 8.2 gr. 955* Unique(+P) 5.0 gr. 928* * All PLUS P loads for guns designed for it (20,000 PSI) ----------------------------------------- 180 grain LEAD (Truncated Cone) Flat Point (Cowboy loads - shot in 7 1/2" bbl.revolver - no need to reduce) VV N320 3.2 gr. 722 fps hi=780 lo=674 ES=105(powder up and down) WAP 4.3 gr. 773 fps * hi=875 lo=685 ES=190.2(powder up and down) WAP 4.0 gr. 639 fps * hi=710 lo=497 ES=213 (powder up and down) AA No.2 3.6 gr. 816 fps hi=857 lo=785 ES=72 (all shot level) AA No.2 3.2 gr. 722 fps hi=791 lo=625 ES=166 (Powder up and down) AA No.5 5.0 gr. 725 fps hi=785 lo=670 ES=115 (powder up and down) AA #5 5.0 gr. 781 fps, hi=801, low=766 ES=35.32 in Contender 14" bbl AA No. 5 4.6 gr. 690 fps hi=736 lo=647 ES=89 (powder up and down) *WAP is not best choice for .38 special, too slow and inconsistent. ----------------------------------------- 180 grain JHP or JSP (Jacketed Hollow or Soft Point) ALL THESE LOADS ARE PLUS P, SPECIAL HOT - 21,000 PSI 2400 (+P)7.5 gr. 895* FPS Unique (+P)4.4 gr. 875* HS-6 (+P)6.7 gr. 870* HS-7 (+P)7.6 gr. 885* H4227 (+P)11.0 gr. 890* IMR4227(+P)10.7 gr. 844* 231 (+P)4.4 gr. 800* * Use in PLUS-P Guns ONLY!!!! ----------------------------------------- 200 grain LRN (Lead Round Nose) Bullseye 3.0 gr. 760 FPS Unique 3.6 gr. 780 2400 7.0 gr. 870 Universal 3.5 gr. --- HP38 3.2 gr. 681 HS6 5.0 gr. 794 ----------------------------------------- (Note (+P) means higher pressures, use in guns designed for the +P cartridges.)
Note: More and more test are conducted with all rounds fired with powder UP against the primer for each shot, or DOWN on the bullet for each shot, then gently bring to horizontal to shoot. A significant difference in speeds is usually noted. It is always higher when powder is next to primer. For best accuracy in slow fire shooting, you may want to raise gun before every shot.

Discussion: Bullseye is a faster burning powder and some people feel better suited for the .38 special. I prefer the slower burning Unique, and I also use it for .357 magnum, just more of it. It seems to burn completely in the .38 and is not as critical as the faster powders like Bullseye. Accurate's No. 2 and No. 5 are good choices. Winchester's 231 or WSL are also good powders for the .38 special. Winchester 231 is between Bullseye and Unique for the .38 special (see my personal load above). Hodgdon's Clays, International, Universal and HP38 are good choices. And Vihtavouri's N320 and N321 fall in this range for burning times. Even slower powders may provide more consistent speeds and will be tested in the future (No. 7, No. 9 and others like 2400 that are generally used for magnums).

If you have a lightweight .38 or older gun, you may want to start with 10% less than max amounts listed above, and work up to the full loads. The "cowboy" loads would be good choices as listed, since these ARE reduced loads for that sport, where usually just hitting a metal plate to make a sound is all that is required of the round.

Below, are three loaded rounds. Nickle cases look pretty but don't seem to take the number of resizings that plain brass cases do. Always make sure your lead bullets have been sized and lubricated. Note the dark band of lube on the 3 lead bullets. As you move up in loads, you at least need the gas check on the bottom of the bullet to prevent gas melting the lead and fouling the barrel. For any loads over 900-1,000 FPS, I suggest using a jacketed bullet. Jacketed bullets create a bit more wear on the rifling, but it's better than trying to wire brush out a bunch of lead build up. Just depends on what kinds of loads you plan to shoot. Normal, mild .38 loads work fine with lead bullets. A bullet with a copper gas check or copper plating is best for INDOOR ranges to keep lead vapors out of the air.



*
Bullseye, Unique and 2400 are products of Alliant (formerly Hercules) Powders.
Clays, Universal, HP38, HS6 and H4895 are products of Hodgdon Powders.
IMR 3031 and IMR 4895 are products of IMR (formerly DuPont) Powder Company.
No. 2, No. 5, #2230, and #2460 are products of Accurate Arms Company
WAP, WMR, WSF, WSL, 760, 748, 231 and 540 are products of Winchester, Components Div.
VV N320, N330 and N340 are products of VihtaVouri Oy Company

References: Accurate Arms Co. 1996 Reloading booklet - - Alliant Powder Co. Reloaders' Guide (1995) - - Hodgdon's Basic Reloaders Manual (1996) - - Speer Reloading Manual, #12 - - Winchester Reloading Components Manual, 14th edition - - Lyman Piston & Revolver Reloading Handbook, 2nd edition. - - VihtaVuori Oy Company, reloading booklet (1995) - - Numerous magazine articles on reloading special calibers and personal loads where noted. Also internet references 2009

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This page created 2/20/96 by M.D. Smith and last modified on July 16, 2012 ©