Extremely light loads for 38 Special revolver ?

Discussion in 'The Ammo & Reloading Forum' started by LDBennett, Aug 24, 2009.

  1. LDBennett

    LDBennett Well-Known Member

    Dec 20, 2003
    Hesperia, CA
    My son-in-law wants to start his 8 year old daughter (my cute grand daughter!) on a 38 Spl revolver. She already shoots a Ruger Single Six (22LR) and a Cricket 22 rifle. He wants me to load up some really light recoiling loads for his 38 Spl S&W revolver. I have some 150 grain bullets to donate to the cause but I am not sure how light I can get the powder load without the fear of sticking a bullet in the barrel. The lightest published loads for 38 Spl. I have see are about 750 FPS for this 150 grain bullet. I see loads for the much older 38 cartridges that get velocities down in the sub 600 FPS with those older cartridges.

    Can I safely load down to those older lighter loads in a 38 Spl. gun and not stick a bullet? Anyone tried this?

  2. TranterUK

    TranterUK Guest

    I would advise against going lighter than the lightest recommended loads. On one occasion when I did, the bullet failed to penetrate the rubber sheets in front of the steel baffles on the range, came right back and hit a wood post to my side. Wasn't going to kill anyone, but could have taken out an eye!

  3. carver

    carver Moderator Supporting Member

    I reload wad cutters that are loaded to the minimum. They are shot in an old Police Positive, and do not have much recoil. My grandkids handle them well, and are about the same age as yours. They still have some felt recoil in the Off Duty, or 2" models.
  4. Alpo

    Alpo Well-Known Member

    Feb 3, 2007
    NW Florida
    Load it using wadcutter specs, and seat the bullet flush, like a wadcutter. It'll look funky, but it will shoot.

    Even better, is get some 38 S&W brass. Load it in 38 Special dies. It will then fit in your 38 Special gun. Load with 38 S&W data. You will be, essentially, making 38 Short Colt. You won't be able to crimp, but that might not be a problem. If it is, you can probably crimp them in a 9mm die.

    Simplest solution, though, is to get some 148 wadcutter bullets, and just load some of them, instead of trying to make do with what you have.
  5. Alpo

    Alpo Well-Known Member

    Feb 3, 2007
    NW Florida
    38 spl - 150 bullet - 2.7 bullseye - 665 fps
    Lyman cast bullet handbook, c.1973

    38 s&w - 150 bullet - 1.9 bullseye - 565 fps
    same book

    The above are the minimum loads listed for that bullet weight
  6. olehippy

    olehippy New Member

    Jul 26, 2009
    S Tx near San Antonio
    Eight struck me as a little small for a 38sp, but whatever.

    My boys only shot 22 cal handguns until about age ten or eleven (twins, now 13 (gulp!!!)). We shoot 9mm and 40 cal, but like the above respondents I loaded wadcutters just a twitch above min charge, but I found too that reducing the amount of crip I used (like almost none, don’t drop the ammo box when upside down!) probably reduced the recoil more than powder charge.

    BTW they’re still skinny rats, but now shooting standard, even +P loads without any fear (and damn accurately!)

  7. tim.sr

    tim.sr New Member

    May 4, 2009
    load lite with wax not lead it works for my kids back in the day. the type you use in canning. have fun with it.
  8. Hammerslagger

    Hammerslagger New Member

    Jul 30, 2009
    One is well advised NOT TO GO LOWER than then minimum load in a respected reloading manual, just as one is well advised to exceed the maximum load.

    This is especially true when using double base propellants (those containing nitrocellouse fortified with nitroglyercine) of which several fast burning pistol and shotgun reloading propellants are typical.

    There have been high quality medium frame .38 special revolver failures on the indoor PPC circuits involving significantly lighter than recommended loads in years past. The ammo involved was usually loaded well below the minimum recommended load in any respected manual, for use (and competitaive advantage) at the 7 yard line, only. Cylinders were often broken in halves and top straps badly bent or seperated. I am not sure as to any injuries.

    Such damage was indicative of powder detonation as opposed to deflagration (burning). The foremost ballistics lab in the US has tried to determine the cause, by replicating conditions, but has been unable to do so. Other than being of academic interest, it really does not matter whether the abnormal pressure from chemical decomposition of the powder was caused by much faster than normal burning (that likely went supersonic) or a shockwave from from a grain of powder that detonated.

    Several incidents have demonstrated that significantly lighter than recommended loads with some propellants have the potential for catastrophic failure.

    Better safe; than sorry.
  9. LDBennett

    LDBennett Well-Known Member

    Dec 20, 2003
    Hesperia, CA

    See PM

    Is a minimum 38 S&W load in a 38 Spl case a problem???? Is it necessary to use the smaller volume 38 S&W case to assure no detonation??? If I load to 38 S&W levels is that a problem in and of itself?

    I understand the potential for a problem and that is why I am asking for experiences.

  10. Alpo

    Alpo Well-Known Member

    Feb 3, 2007
    NW Florida
    LD, you have case volume to worry about.

    Let's say, for argument (because I have no idea of the real measurements), that you have 3ccs of space in a 38 Special case, once you have the 150 grain bullet seated.

    With a 38 S&W case, with the same 150 grain bullet seated, you only have 1.5ccs of space left. Obviously, with the same powder charge, you will get more pressure in the 38 S&W case, since there is less room for the expanding powder gases.

    Now, your 38 special case length is 1.15 (1.155 max, trim to 1.149). 38 S&W case length is 1.18. That ain't right. How about case length .775 and max OAL 1.18. Damn, but it works better when you give people the right numbers. The load I gave with the 150 grain bullet was loaded to 1.162 OAL.

    So, if you loaded the S&W charge in the Special case, and then seated the bullet to 1.162 OAL (which would be almost flush), you would have duplicated the S&W load in Special brass.
    Last edited: Aug 25, 2009
  11. LDBennett

    LDBennett Well-Known Member

    Dec 20, 2003
    Hesperia, CA

    I had not considered pushing the bullet all the way into the case (or almost) to get the OAL the same as 38S&W using a 38 Spl case.... Interesting. But then I could not crimp and I don't know if I like that, especially with my young grand daughter shooting the gun (with her father standing beside her, of course).

    I considered cutting down a small batch of cases (she would not shoot more than 50, I would think, in any one sitting) and loading it to 38S&W.

    The listed Lyman load for 150 gr bullets (or 160 grain too) is 2.1 to 2.4 grains giving sub 600 FPS, but the bullets are lead for that load. What adjustment would be necessary for FMJ bullets (I have some that I intended to use)?

    How about plated Rainer 158 gr bullets. I think they can be used interchangeably with lead bullets for a load without worry of sticking them in the barrel(???).

    Thanks for the hint to seating the bullet into the case which lead to my considering just cutting some 38 Spl cases to 38S&W length. You are absolutely right that it is the case volume that is the most important consideration and shorting 38 Spl cases would solve the problem leaving only the FMJ question which could be solved with the plated Rainer bullets. I think this is the direction I'll go. Thank goodness for my RCBS motorized case trimmer. It should be easy to trim 50 cases to the correct length for 38 S&W! That case trimmer is awesome. I just trimmed 300 308 cases and it just hums right along, no problems, every case within a 1/2 thousandth of the last one.

  12. Alpo

    Alpo Well-Known Member

    Feb 3, 2007
    NW Florida
    Whooo. That's 3/8" of cutting. I think I'd start with a tubing cutter to short 'em, first. Then go to the power trimmer.

    You say you load many calibers. Do you do 9mm? 'Cause that would be the way to crimp, with a 9mm taper die. Might even could do it that way, and get a good enough crimp, without having to cut the brass down.
  13. JLA

    JLA Well-Known Member

    Feb 26, 2007
    Heart Of Texas
    look up trailboss cowboy data from the hodgdon reloading data center. Thats probably the lightest modern loads you will find available... My boy is not quite 5 and he can shoot my S&W 625 .45 auto rim loaded with 255 gr. lfn at 550 fps no problem...
    Last edited: Aug 25, 2009
  14. Suwannee Tim

    Suwannee Tim New Member

    Feb 11, 2009
    I have made and shot thousands of very light loads, well below published minimums. Here are the hazards: do not use jacketed bullets. The core can separate from the jacket and fly out the barrel generating normal recoil and a bullet hole but leaving a stuck jacket. Use soft lead bullets, preferably swaged. Use the fastest double base powder available, I used Bullseye which burns reasonably well at low pressure. Pick a starting load and work down until you stick a bullet, this load is below your practical minimum, add to it about 20%. I used magnum primers which improve ignition. Tranter is right about the ricochet hazard, slow bullets will rebound off a hard surface like wood, shoot them into dirt. I have shot many loads that were so slow that you could see the bullet in flight. The hazard of a stuck bullet is serious, you must confirm the bullet left the barrel with every shot, either by observing the bullet in flight, observing a new bullet hole, observing recoil or examining the barrel for a stuck bullet. For that a wooden dowel is handy, you don't need to unload the gun, just open the cylinder and insert the dowel.

    I didn't have a chronograph when I was doing this but I calculated velocity as low as 180 FPS from trajectory considerations and this from a load which I had added 20% to the powder charge.

    One method of improving combustion and consistency is to seat the bullets much deeper than normal which reduces air volume. This works best with hollow base wad cutters as the base collapses as it enters the increasingly thick case.

    I believe the detonation phenomenon for anything but slow extruded rifle powders is a myth. Nitrocellulose and double base powders will not detonate with anything less than a blasting cap to initiate and it will not be sustained unless the powder is tightly packed which is not the case with light loads. It is an inherent property of nitrocellulose to be resistant to detonation. This "detonation" phenomenon has never been explained scientifically and has never to my knowledge been duplicated in a lab except for slow single base rifle powders and then only occasionally.
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2009
    Ruger41 likes this.
  15. LDBennett

    LDBennett Well-Known Member

    Dec 20, 2003
    Hesperia, CA
    I tried cutting a 38 Spl case down to 38S&W and it takes too long, even with the motorized RCBS lathe. I then tired to deep seat the bullets but had to make a special seating ram for my Lee seating die. When a 150 grain plated bullet is seated to 38S&W depth in a 38 Spl case, it is completely inside the 38Spl case by 0.005 inches or so. The fit is tight enough that it should not migrate out with recoil (?). The smallest charge of W231 that my Dillon powder measure will meter (small charge bar) is 2.2 grains and that turns out to be about right to fit the 2.1 to 2.4 grain charge limits for 38S&W. I am trying to use components and powders I have on hand as everything reloading related is so hard to get today.

    The results look funny but no funnier than the ammo for the Nagant pistol my son-in-law shoots. It too puts the bullet below the end of the case. My S&W Model 52 ammo (38Spl Mid-level Target loads at 770 FPS for 148 gr wad cutter) also loads the bullet inside the case but just, with the end of the case rolled over the front end of the bullet.

    I'll test the 10 rounds myself to assure the recoil is OK and that the bullets ALWAYS leave the barrel (at 600 FPS and standard 38S&W specs it should be no problem). I'll let you know the results. I may also try primers and wax, when I get a chance.

    Thanks all for your inputs.

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