New respect for the .38 Special

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TRanger

Blackhawk
Joined
Mar 7, 2007
Messages
798
Location
Florida
In my younger days, I had a tendency to speak poorly of the .38 Special. The magnums were my choice, followed by the .45 Colt , .44 Special, and .45 acp. I still favor the .44s and .45s; but I'm gaining a new respect for the .38 the last few years.
I have shot up so many .38s over my lifetime I have cases enough to last forever. I've used them mostly for practice, but I'm developing a new appreciation for the terminal performance of the round, specifically with good cast bullets.
The other evening, a coyote appeared unexpectedly in my back yard. The nearest gun at hand was a Colt Official Police loaded with handloads consisting of the Lee 158 grain tumble.lube SWC and 4.2 grains of Trail Boss. The first bullet took him slightly behind the left shoulder angling towardthe hip. He went down in a thrashing heap and I managed to get another one into him at about 30 yards range. That finished him. The bullets had crisscrossed his torso, the exit wounds not much larger than the entrances. But he was killed very effectively by these non expanding flat nosed bullets.
This Lee bullet has a wider meplat than many SWC .38 bullets and I believe they deliver a harder blow than many shooters expect. They fall from my mold weighing 162 grains cast from wheelweights. A variety of powders get the bullet up to 900 fps range, Trail Boss being a favorite due to the way it fills the case. My informal tests in a variety of media as well as live targets of opportunity show me this bullet not only penetrates well, it just plain hits hard. It's my opinion this bullet delivers as good or better performance than any of the commercial hollow points in the real world and better than the 9mm. I still prefer the big bores, but a wide flat nosed .38 bullet at 900-1000 fps seems as effective as any of the exotic and expensive hollow point bullets on live game in the .38 Special.cartridge. I've used Hydra Shoks, Black Talons, Gold Dots, GoldenSabers, Starfires, and others on foxes, raccoons, dogs, coyotes, possums and other critters. None seemed to kill any better than these cast bullets at .38 Special velocities. I think the LRN tarnished the cartridge for most of its existence. The .38 can't equal a bigger bore, but with the right load, it can be something special.
 

DGW1949

Hunter
Joined
Apr 10, 2005
Messages
3,638
Location
Texas
Yep, I've known for years that the 38Spl aint the slouch that most folks thinks it is.
SWC's are my all time favorite bullets for revolvers and pistol-caliber rifles.
If you cast 'em softer, they'll expand when when they hit meat.

DGW
 

Mobuck

Hawkeye
Joined
Dec 25, 2007
Messages
7,114
Location
missouri
If I'm not packing my 22/45, I often carry either a Sec 6 or GP100 loaded with first 2 rounds of 38 SP+P rated 158 soft swaged lead HP followed by 4 top end Speer 158 JHP 357's. Those swaged lead HP are just the ticket for close range small game/varmints w/o the noise and recoil of full house loads.
 

Three50seven

Buckeye
Joined
Jan 16, 2009
Messages
1,131
Location
Indiana
I think a lot of the resentment towards the .38spl stemmed from the old FMJ and LRN "widow makers" that so many police officers were forced to carry in decades past.

160gr SWC over 3.5 grs of Titegroup performs well on 4-legged critters, and in fact I usually keep 158gr. JHP .38's in my .357 chambered revolvers.
 

Jimbo357mag

Hawkeye
Joined
Feb 22, 2007
Messages
10,137
Location
So. Florida
SWC's are definitely a big improvement over LRN bullets when it comes to self defense and hunting. Same thing in the larger calibers also. :D
 

phonejack

Single-Sixer
Joined
Apr 20, 2011
Messages
319
Location
arkansas
I have recently been drawn into the 38 special fold also. Just today, received 500 swc's from Missouri Bullets.oh, I ordered them Monday night, found them on the doorstep this afternoon.
 

Paul B

Buckeye
Joined
Dec 4, 1999
Messages
1,550
Location
Tucson, AZ
A few years before the .357 Mag. came on the scene, S&W brought out a .38 Spl. one the "N" frame revolver which they called the .38/44 heavy Duty and a version with adjustable sights which they called the .38/44 Outdoorsman. It used regular .38 Spl. ammo and a special load called the .38/44, not to be confused with a short lived .38/44 target load that didn't hang around long. As I recall factory ammo was a tad more potent that current Plus P Plus ammo. Back in the mid to late 1950's I had one and loaded it with a stiff load with H2400 powder. On July 4th, 1959 I kill a 250 pound Black Bear with that handgun that was dragging a young woman from her tent. Two fast shots behind the ear did the trick. This was a church young adult campout and I had the only gun in camp. Methinks I was a bit more woods wise than the others in the group. :lol: The bullet was the Lyman #358156, a nominally 158 gr. SWC with gas check. Loads for the .38/44 were close to the .357 Mag, which replaced it in power. I believe the gun and cartridge were discontinued around 1946. That handgun was sold off to finance some silly things like dates with girls or maybe fix my beat up old 51 Ford. :(
A few years back I found another one at a reasonable price and I'm not gonna sell that one, I kid you not. Shoots even better than I recall my first one shooting. A real pleasure to shoot.
Paul B.
 

mikld

Blackhawk
Joined
Apr 22, 2009
Messages
947
Location
Oregon
Kinda like thinking a 30-30 isn't enough for deer. I went through the "Magnumitus" phase of my shooting a long, long time ago but now my .38 Specials get used more then my .357 Magnums. BTW, my "house gun" is a 2" .38 loaded with 150 gr. DEWC over a stout load of W231. Fairly accurate to 10 yards (I haven't tried it any farther), and I think that full diameter nose/face will impart a good bit of shock and do enough tissue damage without over penetration.
 

mr surveyor

Blackhawk
Joined
Apr 4, 2008
Messages
572
Location
Texas
Paul B said:
A few years before the .357 Mag. came on the scene, S&W brought out a .38 Spl. one the "N" frame revolver which they called the .38/44 heavy Duty and a version with adjustable sights which they called the .38/44 Outdoorsman. It used regular .38 Spl. ammo and a special load called the .38/44, not to be confused with a short lived .38/44 target load that didn't hang around long. As I recall factory ammo was a tad more potent that current Plus P Plus ammo. Back in the mid to late 1950's I had one and loaded it with a stiff load with H2400 powder. On July 4th, 1959 I kill a 250 pound Black Bear with that handgun that was dragging a young woman from her tent. Two fast shots behind the ear did the trick. This was a church young adult campout and I had the only gun in camp. Methinks I was a bit more woods wise than the others in the group. :lol: The bullet was the Lyman #358156, a nominally 158 gr. SWC with gas check. Loads for the .38/44 were close to the .357 Mag, which replaced it in power. I believe the gun and cartridge were discontinued around 1946. That handgun was sold off to finance some silly things like dates with girls or maybe fix my beat up old 51 Ford. :(
A few years back I found another one at a reasonable price and I'm not gonna sell that one, I kid you not. Shoots even better than I recall my first one shooting. A real pleasure to shoot.
Paul B.


THAT is a great story....

Thanks :D


jd
 

1ruger

Single-Sixer
Joined
Nov 19, 2009
Messages
151
I frequently carry a "J" frame revolver in my pocket when out.
I keep it loaded with 152gr wadcutter (not SWC) cast bullet with stiff charge of Unique powder. This load in 4" model 15 was used to take my first handgun deer in 1985. From 20 yards it completely penetrated behind the shoulder and ended up under the hide on the off side. The little deer dropped within 20 yards. The entrance wound was ordinary but the internal wound was impressive.
 

Lost Sheep

Single-Sixer
Joined
Feb 3, 2008
Messages
407
Location
Anchorage Alaska
TRanger said:
The other evening, a coyote appeared unexpectedly in my back yard. ... The first bullet took him slightly behind the left shoulder angling towardthe hip. He went down in a thrashing heap and I managed to get another one into him at about 30 yards range. That finished him. The bullets had crisscrossed his torso, the exit wounds not much larger than the entrances.
Kind of supports the adage that bullet placement, even with a minor caliber, is superior to a major caliber less well-placed. Or, in other words, a hit with a .38 is better than a miss with a .44.

Short answer: Two hits, no misses implies you are pretty darned good with a .38.

Congratulations.

Got pictures of the cape? or do you bother skinning out and preserving a coyote hide in your parts?
 

TRanger

Blackhawk
Joined
Mar 7, 2007
Messages
798
Location
Florida
A Florida coyote pelt ain't worth saving, my friend. :D We just try to keep them thinned out around here.
I believe firmly in large caliber handguns. No doubt a .44 or .45 would have done the job even more efficiently; but the .38 was at hand and performed impressively with those wide flat nosed bullets.
 

Lost Sheep

Single-Sixer
Joined
Feb 3, 2008
Messages
407
Location
Anchorage Alaska
TRanger said:
A Florida coyote pelt ain't worth saving, my friend. :D We just try to keep them thinned out around here.
I believe firmly in large caliber handguns. No doubt a .44 or .45 would have done the job even more efficiently; but the .38 was at hand and performed impressively with those wide flat nosed bullets.
Ahh, yes. Silly of me not to notice your location. Coyotes get little respect next to their larger cousins, the Wolves, but in the wild, they are magnificent animals nonetheless. However, living close to humans ruins them. Sad.

Lost Sheep
 

John S

Bearcat
Joined
May 16, 2013
Messages
99
Location
S E Texas
You are very right about the 38 spec.. I shot a coyote ate about 30 yds with a ruger 77/357 rifle , with a 5.0 grs of green dot , 125 gr. berry bullet. It went in right above the right eye and came out behind the left side behind the ribs.
 

Cooperhawk

Buckeye
Joined
Dec 29, 2008
Messages
1,508
Location
East Central Minnesota
About five years ago a minor accident laid the flesh of my right hand just back of the thumb open to the bone. Luckily the tendon was not damaged however. The problem is that whenever I fire a magnum handgun now my hand stars swelling up and getting sore.

I remembered that years ago I had an old .38 Special that didn't have that much recoil. I figured I could shoot that without the problems the magnums were causing, so I loaded some of my .357 Magnums down to .38 Sp. velocity. I tried just using the .38 cases but then they left powder residue in the cylinder and it became hard to chamber the .357 cases, so now I only use the Magnum cases. The result is much less recoil.

Makes target shooting a lot more enjoyable.
 

Bob R

Single-Sixer
Joined
Apr 11, 2011
Messages
339
Location
SC Missouri
I started shooting revolvers in Defensive Pistol, Reactive Steel, and ICORE matchs the last few years. I have been going through a healthy number of 38 Special rounds per year.
My current load is a Missouri Bullet Company 158 Round Nose over 3.7 grains of American Select, ignited by a Federal primer. I am running an aquarium bubbler zip tied to the powder tube on my Dillon 550B to get a perfect 3.7 every time.

When I quit reloading earlier this afternoon, I was out of pre-loaded primer tubes. I will need to wipe out another carton of primers filling tubes after supper. It almost hurts me wiping them out a carton at a time. I am down to my last 1500 bullets in 38 Special. I may try the new Hi-Tec coating this time.

I believe I have 11 revolvers that will shoot 38 Special. Of them 3 are 4", and the remainder are various snubs. I carry one of them almost daily. I have complete confidence in the 38 Special taking care of me.

In a steel revolver the 38 Special is a great round, and fun to shoot. I shoot enough of them that I should be on Missouri Bullet Companies Christmas Card List.

Bob
 

Tommy F

Single-Sixer
Joined
Jun 23, 2008
Messages
148
Location
Northern cincinnati
I also have a great respect for flat nose lead 38 specials as they deliver the entire load on impact. You can hear them thump the target. Easy to understand why, set a 38WC nose to nose with larger flat point/SWC 44/45. Also check out the articles on Buffalo Bore WC cast loads.
 

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