What should I expect from lead reloads?

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bearing01

Bearcat
Joined
Sep 15, 2009
Messages
71
Location
San Diego
Hi guys,

Gun: S&W 686P with 6" barrel
Rounds: 38 Special loaded with 158 grain lead RN and lead SWC using both Unique and Bullseye powders.

Question: How much recoil should I expect when shooting lead bullets? Should it feel comparable to factory copper plated or FMJ bullets?

I shot off my first reloads this past weekend. The only time I shot lead bullets from this gun was with 357 Mag I bought at a range that were lead semi-wad cutters, I'm assuming these were gas checked or something. Anyways, when I loaded these 38 special (with lead) I started at the minimum loads and stepped up toward the max. Before I shot them I first shot a factory 38 special 158 grain, it was FMJ or some cover, just to compare the sound and recoil to my reloads. My first (low charged) rounds were like shooting off a 22cal. A little pop and a lot of smoke, soot and orange flame - I thought they could be squibs (I never had a real squib before). As I got into the rounds with heavier powder charge up toward the maximum recommended (4.2 gr of Unique, 3.7 gr of Bullseye) the recoil still only felt around 85% of the force felt by shooting the factory ammo. The smoke and soot was somewhat less for the heavier charges, but still dirty. I assume the soot, smoke and orange flame is from inefficient combustion due to low pressure.

Should I expect less recoil when I reload with lead bullets? I know I am probably pushing lower velocity with lead - therefore less initial energy in launching these bullets. But when looking at the charts for lead bullet velocities with max powder charges and comparing that to the velocities of some jacketed or copper plated, they all seem to be in the 900fps range. That would make me think similar recoil is expected.

I inspected all cases for head swelling and primer cratering / pocket swelling and there did not seem to be any excessive pressure issues.
The barrel had some leading around the breech and the cylinder had some leading where the bullets live. I'm going to assume the leading may be due to low pressures that created insufficient bullet base obituration - causing hot gas to leak past the bullet and create gas cutting.

What do you think? Should I be getting similar recoil with the lead as with the factory ammo? I don't want to push more powder than what the books say - just to obtain the right "feel".

Any advice is appreciated.
 

Rick Courtright

Hawkeye
Joined
Mar 10, 2002
Messages
7,817
Location
Redlands CA USA
Hi,

I don't put any stock in the feel or sound of my reloads... there are so many variables they're useless to me. For example, a load that produces a "pop gun" feel in my 7 1/2" Bisley has a "smart" feel in my 3" GP and a "rather smart" feel in my brother in law's 3" SP!

Better that you rely on terminal results AND a chronograph for your testing. Regardless of whether the loads are light or heavy, they've gotta hit where you want them to, so just paper's sufficient for testing that aspect. The chrono will tell you both what velocities you're getting, plus how consistently those velocities are produced, and how they compare to other loads. I kinda like using a factory load as my base line, then work toward it. Since I usually load on the light end and just kill cans and paper w/ my .38s, it doesn't hurt my feelings to stop 100 fps or so shy of a factory load. If you don't already have a chrono, a serviceable unit from Chrony (and perhaps others?) can be had for around $100 if you're on a budget, or you can put some bigger bucks into one that's got more bells and whistles.

On the subject of poor ignition, some powders, such as Unique, often work better when loaded a bit heavier than pure "target" loads. And, regardless of your powder choice or charge, you'll probably benefit from experimenting w/ your crimps. I get a much better "burn" w/ Unique using a medium to medium-heavy crimp. Look at a factory round for comparison--most have what translates into "medium" in my mind.

Of course, all this is YMMV stuff...

Rick C
 

DGW1949

Hunter
Joined
Apr 10, 2005
Messages
3,638
Location
Texas
Yeah on what Rick C said.

From my own experience AND from looking at my Speer Manual....
You might want to bump that Unique load up a bit.
4.5 - 4.7 Grains Unique with a 158 lead bullet will perty-much duplicate the old 38 Spl Service Load. At the top end, that load will run about 850 FPS out of most 4" revolvers, maybe close to 900 from a well-fitted 6" gun.

And FWIW, I aint seen a factory 158 FMJ in over 20 years. And even them only had a jacketed nose..the main length of the bullet was lead, so they weren't true FMJ's.
If you're compairing your loads to a modern 38 Spl FMJ factory load, I'd suspect they are of the 130 Grn variety...which are a bit weak when compaired to the traditional 158 Lead service load.

Hope this helps.

DGW
 

bearing01

Bearcat
Joined
Sep 15, 2009
Messages
71
Location
San Diego
Yes, it helps. Thanks guys.

I dug out the box of factory ammo that I used as a reference point. It was 130 grain independent 38-special FMJ.

I ran off 100 rounds of 158 grain LRN with 4.2 grain of Unique the other night. I think I can easily go higher in powder weight than that. I'll take your suggestion and run off some with 4.5 grain and 4.7 grain. My Hornady manual says 4.2 grain is max for their 158 grain LRN bullet. But I've read other sources that suggest pushing it up to 4.7 grain of Unique.
 

DGW1949

Hunter
Joined
Apr 10, 2005
Messages
3,638
Location
Texas
bearing01":862w8vv4 said:
Yes, it helps. Thanks guys.

I dug out the box of factory ammo that I used as a reference point. It was 130 grain independent 38-special FMJ.........

....... My Hornady manual says 4.2 grain is max for their 158 grain LRN bullet. But I've read other sources that suggest pushing it up to 4.7 grain of Unique.

That's because Hornady's lead bullets are swaged from soft lead wire, so Hornady don't want you to run 'em very fast.

You might find that leading will decrease after you've bumped-up the charge a bit. But if it don't, lightly coating the bullet with liquid Alox will perty-much put a stop to it.

Good luck.
Let us know how it goes.

DGW
 

ChuckS1

Bearcat
Joined
Jan 21, 2007
Messages
82
Location
Stafford, VA, USA
I haven't bought factory ammo, other than .22LR, for at least twenty years. All of my reload are cast lead.

As far as your Unique load goes, I use 5.0 grains with a 150 grain lead SWC in my S&W K-38.
 

Mobuck

Hawkeye
Joined
Dec 25, 2007
Messages
7,114
Location
missouri
You shouldn't expect much recoil from your choice of components. That's the idea with paper punching ammo. You can load the lead bullets up to magnum levels but that requires a hard cast bullet and appropriate powder. Incorrect bullet hardness and/or diameter will make accuracy hopeless and lead your barrel excessively. I found that even a hard bullet too small in diameter will lead the grooves due to blow by. I simply don't go to the trouble to mess with lead bullets over about 1100-1200 fps. If I want to load hotter, I use jacketed bullets.
 

Three44s

Single-Sixer
Joined
Apr 7, 2005
Messages
303
Location
The better half of Wa. State
A lot of the smoke with lead bullets is not powder caused ......

..... but rather the lube.

I like to run Unique in the middle of the range and ignite it with magnum primers ..... if I want to clean it up.

Three 44s
 

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