Reloading The .38 Smith & Wesson
Posted on: Wednesday January 6, 2021
SWC= Semi-WadCutter, FMC= Full Metal Case, FMJ= Full Metal Jacket, JHP= Jacketed Hollow Point and if GC indicated, means Gas Check at bottom of lead bullet.
Loads for .38 S&W:
This short, little cartridge has been around since the 1870’s and was most common in the “break-top” models. These types of guns are not as strong as more modern solid frame revolvers. Do not use anything but light loads and lead bullets in these older revolvers. The little S&W was a great concealable handgun and is used today in Cowboy Action Shooting in the “belly gun” or “pocket gun” category.
(Note: These ARE MAXIMUM loads, you may want to use 10% less to start.) Light loads for the “break-tops” are noted.
(See note on Powders below or read all about various Powders.)
Due to different barrel lengths, type of bullet, seating depth, primer type and other factors, you may not get near the FPS charted. It is just a guide and the reason you should start under these charges and work up.
These are ALL MAXIMUM LOADS: Start at 10% less and work up! Bullet size is .360″ lead in diameter. You can use .358 lead which is normal .38 special size, and it will work OK, but accuracy may be affected.
110 grain JHP (Jacketed Hollow Point)(.357″)
|W 231||3.0 gr.||735|
|Red Dot||3.2 gr.||852|
121 grain lead RN (Lyman #356242 .360″ dia)
|Bullseye||2.0 gr.||560 (Break Top Load)|
|Unique||3.2 gr.||660 (Break Top Load)|
|W 231||2.0 gr.||610 (Break Top Load)|
|W 231||2.8 gr.||798|
125 grain Speer (Jacketed, JSP, JHP or TMJ)(.357″)
|Bullseye||3.0 gr.||789 Max|
|Unique||4.8 gr.||972 Max|
|W 231||3.0 gr.||662 Max, but DO NOT use less.|
133 grain LEAD SWC (Lyman #358480 .360″ dia)
|Bullseye||2.0 gr.||595 (Break Top)|
|Bullseye||2.9 gr.||820 Maximum|
|Unique||4.2 gr.||920 Maximum|
|W 231||1.9 gr.||568 (Break Top)|
|W 231||2.8 gr.||786 Maximum|
145 grain LEAD (RN .359″ dia)
|Bullseye||2.0 gr.||571 (Break Top)|
|Unique||2.8 gr.||600 (Break Top)|
|W 231||2.2 gr.||588 (Break Top)|
|W 231||2.5 gr.||634|
|HP38||2.2 gr.||595 (Break Top)|
|VV N340||3.5 gr.||754 (Max)|
158 grain LEAD SWC or RN (Lyman #358311 .360″ dia) or .358″ bullets for .38 Special.
|Bullseye||1.8 gr.||545 (Break Top)|
|Bullseye||2.4 gr.||695 Maximum|
|Unique||2.8 gr.||619 (Break Top)|
|Unique||3.4 gr.||775 Maximum|
|W 231||2.2 gr.||580 (Break Top)|
|W 231||2.6 gr.||671 Maximum|
|AA No. 2||2.6 gr.||664|
|AA No. 2||2.8 gr.||754 Maximum|
|AA No. 5||3.3 gr.||675|
|AA No. 5||3.7 gr.||767 Maximum|
|AA N100||2.1 gr.||635|
|AA N100||2.3 gr.||722 Maximum|
These are ALL MAXIMUM LOADS unless noted or a lower amount is shown. Start at 10% less and work up!
Discussion: * Fast burning powders are well suited to this small case. It’s an old cartridge and if you use old guns, be very careful and use light loads and bullets. Note the nominal .360″ used in the original guns, but where .357″ or .358″ bullets are used since they are more available.
A bullet with a copper gas check or copper plating is best for INDOOR ranges to keep lead vapors out of the air.
Power Pistol, Bullseye, Unique and 2400 are products of Alliant (formerly Hercules) Powders.
Clays, Universal, HP38, HS6 and H4895 are products of Hodgdon Powders.
IMR 3031 and IMR 4895 are products of IMR (formerly DuPont) Powder Company.
N100, No. 2, No. 5, No. 7, No. 9, #2230, and #2460 are products of Accurate Arms Company
WAP (Winchester Action Pistol), WMR, WSF, WSL, 760, 748, 231 and 540 are products of Winchester, Components Div.
References: Accurate Arms Co. 1996 Reloading booklet – – Alliant Powder Co. Reloaders’ Guide (1995) – – Hodgdon’s Basic Reloaders Manual (1996) – – Speer Reloading Manual, #12 – – Winchester Reloading Components Manual, 14th edition – – Lyman Piston & Revolver Reloading Handbook, 2nd edition. – – VihtaVuori Oy Company,reloading booklet (1995) – – Numerous magazine articles on reloading special calibers and personal loads where noted.