Load Data .38 Special

The .38, .38 Special has been around for many years now, and was the standard issue for most US police departments in 1920's. However with the 1930's came the demand for a little more power. Many police departments demanded more stopping power and penetration as the .38 Special had been known to "careen" of car wind-screens, or fail to hole the thick heavy gauge steel of the cars of criminals.

The .357 was develop to meet this need, and was primarily seen as a police calibre. The leading developer for this was Phil Sharpe, who increased the length of the venerable .38 Special case by about 1/8", the .357 was born.

load data

It was not anticipated that civilian sales would be all that extensive, but to the surprise of Smith & Wesson, the public loved the new improved performance, and sales reflected this.

The model 27 continued until 1994, but had a special production in 1997-2000.

Sales of revolvers chambered in just .38 Special, like the model 14 started to fall away with the police, but for the competition shooter, there was still quite some interest in this cartridge for the low recoil and the  accuracy with HBWC, even if shot out of a .357 revolver. I had a model 19 as shown below that I shot mostly .38 through it until the Government vindictively took them from us in 1997.


So where are we today? The Taurus model 66 for most revolver shooters. With a barrel of 12 inches, and the iron-work coming out of the grip. It was probably the long range discipline that was in the minds of the people at Taurus when the model was launched. However most ranges in the UK do not have 100m to shoot over, so 25m seems to be the main discipline that the .model 66 sees.

 Load Data

If you belong to the "Elma Keith elephant stopper brigade" then the following is not for you. Bullseye, Red Dot, Accurate No 2 and TiteGroup all worked well, but we always came back to Bullseye for that tighter group. We did have some problems with BE early on, it was not the cleanest of powders, and could bulk up in the hollow base of the WC, so other powders were tried AA No 2 was probably the nicest for easy metering and clean burn, but just could not edge the BE results.


Zero, Hornady, Sellier & Bellot, Speer and my own custom swaged (shown on left), all 148 grains and .358. HBWC. From the factory bought, the Zero performed the best but, dear shooter you are probably aware the factory stopped production in the UK about the same time as the gun ban, but I am to believe that they still exist in the USA. So unless you are in the States and can post some back home then stick to the Hornady bullet. This gave the next best groups though to be fair there was not too much in it.

The best was my own, as cold swaging is probably the most accurate way to make any lead bullet, and can turn out competition grade bullets with less than 0.2 of a grain variance. These bullets where lightly lubed with Alox as leading can be a problem. Now you will notice that the bullets are seated out about 4mm, we found this improved accuracy over seating flush, and also helped with leading especially when using .38 cases.

To help with the early problems, finished rounds were stored in .44/45 ammo boxes "Head Up" this meant the charge did not sit in the base of the bullet, and then they were given a light tap before chambering.

Rested, groups of less than 1 inch were possible, and it was common to shoot ten shots within a 2 pence piece diameter. (Shot From A Taurus As Shown Above)

148 grain Hornady, Very light crimp in Laupa(357) & Magtech (.38) cases.

For .38 which proved to be the slightly better round:

2.8 grains of Bullseye was used, remembering to keep the round up-right to avoid the light load ending up in the hollow base. This will give between 690-730 ft/sec depending on revolver, seating, lube etc.

One other tip that made a really big difference. Make sure your barrel is spotless, vigorous cleaning concentrating mainly around the breech area will have a profound difference to your scores. For competitions we pay attention to this especially as the lead is very soft and we tend to give an additional brush through after about 25 rounds.

The Taurus shown is my own, with Hogue Custom rare wood grips, and not really visible, a straight stainless custom bar with small counter weight in replacement for the factory fitted rubbishy plastic coated thing hanging out the back.(fitted by a gun smith). This revolver with 3 grains of Bullseye in a .38 cases won, and interestingly beat a "Elma Keith elephant stopper brigade" die hard shooting out to 100m in the annual club long range competition, though you did have enough time to have a cup of tea before the bullet hit the target. The unnamed die hard, was not pleased.

One note of caution: These are very light loads, and as such can be very easy to double charge the case, or even not charge. If shooting in rapid fire competitions it may be advisable to look for a bulkier powder like Trail Boss, for a "Cowboy Action" type round. Not good when you send a bullet up the barrel on a primer and the another up behind it. Happy Shooting.

All load data here is published as recipes that have worked for me or other shooters. It is not meant to replace any data by powder manufacturers, If in doubt consult your load manuals. The individual assumes the risk fully for their safe loading practices.