Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The .38 Special

Rivrdog asked a question in comments, and I realized that it's been a while since I talked about the .38 Special.  So, let's answer his question.

My love affair with the .38 Special began in 1981 when I bought my first duty revolver, a Ruger Security Six.  I had just hired on as a cop with the State of Louisiana, and I had to provide my own revolver.  The state specified Smith and Wesson, Colt, or Ruger, in .38 Special or .357 magnum.  I walked into a pawn shop on Bolton Avenue, in Alexandria and saw a blued Ruger in the case.  I bought it for $200.00 and walked out the door.  That began my infatuation with Ruger revolvers, the .38 Special, and pawn shops.

It wasn't long after that, I decided to take up reloading, and the .38 Special was the very first cartridge I reloaded.  There were no internets back in those days, so I relied on printed media.  At that time, the standard target load for the .38 Special was 2.7 grains of Bullseye under a 148 grain double-ended wadcutter bullet.  It quickly became my go-to load for paper punching and shot exquisitely in every revolver I ever used it in.  That particular load is so standard that if you google it right now, you'll get over 50K hits.  That standard load gives me 650 fps and is a powder-puff.  Gentle recoil, marvelous accuracy, and gentle on the gun.  If you want to see the inherent accuracy in any revolver, use that load.  If the gun doesn't shoot it, there's something wrong with the revolver.

During those days, I lived on a hobby farm with my wife and kids.  We had ten acres that sat up against a huge national forest, so I had plenty of room to wander about.  I normally carried that revolver with me on my wanderings.  In a year or so, I had started bullet casting, and the first mold I bought was for the .38 Special. Again, relying on printed media, and being on a budget, I sent off an order to Dick Lee for one of his new-fangled aluminum molds.  It cane with handles already attached and cost me less than $20.00.  Specifically named the TL358-158 SWC, you can still buy it from MidwayUSA today, for $21.99.  It throws a 158 grain semi-wadcutter and is a tumble lube design, which means that you don't have to own a lubri-sizer.  Simply tumble it in liquid Alox and load it into your case.

After I had cast and lubed a coffee-can full of those things, I tarted looking for a suitable powder charge.  After just a little experimentation, I settled on 4.3 grains of Unique and anybody's standard primer.  I later found that that load (standard primer, 4.3 grains Unique, 158 SWC) gave me 750 fps and very good accuracy.  It became my go-to load for general plinking, small game, or varmint removal and over the years it has proved very versatile.  It's taught all four of my children (and those grandkids old enough to run a revolver) to shoot, and it's become my standard load, to the point that I keep them in ziplock bags, labeled .38 Standard.  There is no reason for additional labeling.  It's been my standard load for over 30 years and when the kids are sorting my belongings following my funeral (which I hope is many years hence), the'll know exactly what it is.  They load it themselves at their benches these days.

That same load, under a Speer 158 grain hollowpoint works wonderfully if you want a hollowpoint bullet.  It also works great with any of a variety of jacketed bullets.

For target work or general revolver shooting, those two loads are PawPaw's standard.  They're all I need in the .38 Special.


Anonymous said...

I started loading the .38 Special in 1979.

The first bullets I used were 125 grain TCs for the 9mm Luger.
Next up were 158 grain LSWCs.

Powder levels and choices mirror yours with some loads with
Bullseye made right at the beginning.

I am almost out of the last several hundred .38 reloads I made a while ago.
So, time to crank up the press again.

The Displaced Louisiana Guy said...

I've been making a load of a 158gr. LRN cast bullet over 6gr. Of HS-6. It's a good training load. Reasonable accuracy, middling recoil. It's not exactly a cream-puff load, but I'm happy with where it shoots, and it's not so stout that an extended range session isn't fun.

Rivrdog said...

Thanks for the informative post, PawPaw. I shot another 150 Rds of 38 today in the Security Six. I shot90 of 125 LRN-FP pushed by 3.7gr Bullseye, then 50 of the same boolit with 3.0gr Bullseye. Those were sweet loads to shoot, at 12 yds, directly to POA. Finished up with some Federal 130gr metal case to clean out the weapon.

I COULD tell the difference between the 3.7 & the 3.0 loads, but it was not much with the sturdy Ruger. I have previously shot some 158gr LSWC over up to 6.0 Unique in that gun, and they are more of a handful, probably at least +P or +P+.

Love that gun, stock wood grips, it just screams "old school"!