Reloading The .38 Special

Posted on: Wednesday January 6, 2021
Reloading The .38 Special
MD Smith

MD Smith


The.38 Special

Left to right:–148 gr. WC, 158 gr. SWC, 160 gr. SWC+GC,
158 gr. RN, 158 gr. RN, 160 gr. JHP, 125 gr. JHP, 158 gr. JHP

(WC= WadCutter, SWC= Semi-WadCutter, HP= Hollow Point, RN= Round Nose), (JHP= Jacketed Hollow Point and if GC indicated, means Gas Check at bottom of lead bullet)

Loads for .38 special:

(Note: These are near maximum loads (in some cases ARE MAXIMUM), you should use 10%. less to start.) Only if you see more than one load, is it less than maximum. If there is only ONE load, it is MAX.

(See note on Powders below or read all about various Powders.)

Bullets are .357″ for jacketed and .358″ for lead in diameter. 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.

(Note H110 & W296 are the same as of 2008 as is HP-38 & W231)

(IMR 4227 is same as H-4227 if made in Australia)

90 grain Lead RNFP Cowboy loads
Titegroup 3.0 gr. 755 minimum
Titegroup 3.5 gr. 969 Maximum
Clays 2.5 gr. 705 minimum
Clays 3.0 gr. 938 Maximum
110 grain JHP (Jacketed Hollow Point)
Bullseye 4.5 gr. 1,085 FPS
Unique 5.6 gr. 1,090
Unique 5.8 gr. 997 (different gun)
Universal 5.6 gr. 1,065
Universal 5.8 gr. 989 (different gun)
Clays 3.8 gr. 973
HP38 5.2 gr. 1,043
HS6 7.4 gr. 755
No. 2 5.6 gr. 1,083
No. 5 7.3 gr. 1,090
W231 5.5 gr. 901
W231 (+P) 5.7 gr. 1,009
540 (+P) 8.7 gr. 1,070
125 grain Lead RNFP or SWC
Trail Boss 3.0 gr. 753 FPS minimum
Trail Boss 5.3 gr. 952 FPS Maximum
*Blackhorn 209 11.9 gr. 926 MAX
Universal 4.3 gr. 872 FPS minimum
Universal 4.7 gr. 1036 FPS MAXIMUM
HP38 3.8 gr. 876 minimum
HP38 4.8 gr. 1071 Maximum
Titegroup 3.2 gr. 856 minimum
Titegroup 3.8 gr. 985 Maximum
Clays 2.5 gr. 810 minimum
Clays 3.5 gr. 978 Maximum
AA #2 4.8 gr. 977 max
Competition 2.0 gr. 803
Zip 3.4 gr./td> 732
True Blue 4.0 gr. 744

* Blackhorn 209 is a black powder substitute with smokeless like qualities. Load it like Trail Boss

125 grain JHP or JSP (Jacketed Hollow or Soft Point)
Bullseye 4.4 gr. 965 FPS
Bullseye 4.8 gr. 925 (different barrel)
Unique 5.3 gr. 1,015
Universal 5.2 gr. 1,019
Clays 3.5 gr. 895
HP38 4.8 gr. 914
No. 2 5.3 gr. 990
No. 5 6.8 gr. 860
231 (+P) 5.3 gr. 935
540 (+P) 8.2 gr. 1,000
PowerPistol 6.2 gr. 908
140 grain Hornady XTP
Bullseye 4.4 gr. 807
Bullseye 4.6 gr. 845 (+P)
W231/HP38 4.9 gr. 696
PowerPistol 5.8 gr. 889
146-148 grain LWC (Lead Wad Cutter)
Bullseye 2.8 gr. 815 FPS
Bullseye 3.1 gr. 838
Unique 3.3 gr. 815
Universal 3.8 gr. 940
Clays 2.5 gr. 836
HP38 3.8 gr. 879
No. 2 3.1 gr. 808
No. 2 4.2 gr.
No. 5 6.0 gr.
W231 3.4 gr. 760
W231 3.1 gr. 692
540 5.2 gr. 785
ZERO AMMO (commercial) 795 (reference only)
AA #2 3.1 gr. 813
Titegroup 2.7 gr. 768
148 grain RNFP Cowboy load
True Blue 3.78 gr. 744
N32C(Tin Star) 4.5 gr. 955

(Also try Trail Boss 2.8 gr. to 4.3 gr.)

146-150 grain JHP (Jacketed Hollow Point)
Bullseye 3.8 gr. 850 FPS
Unique 3.8 gr. 796 (mild)
Unique 5.1 gr. 860
HP38 3.8 gr. 856
No. 2 4.5 gr. 820
No. 5 6.0 gr. 745
231 3.4 gr. 820
2400 (+P) 8.0 gr. 910 (+P) CAREFUL!
Unique(+P) 5.5 gr. 964 (+P) CAREFUL!
158 grain Lead RNFP or SWC COWBOY load
Trail Boss 2.7 gr. 661 FPS minimum
Trail Boss 4.2 gr. 804 FPS Maximum
*Blackhorn 209 11.7 gr. 833 MAX
Universal 3.5 gr. 756 FPS minimum
Universal 4.5 gr. 974 FPS MAXIMUM
HP38 3.1 gr. 782 minimum
HP38 3.7 gr. 834 Maximum
Titegroup 3.2 gr. 815 minimum
Titegroup 3.8 gr. 920 Maximum
Clays 2.8 gr. 812 minimum
Clays 3.1 gr. 871 Maximum
AA #5 6.0 gr. 883 Max

* Blackhorn 209 is a black powder substitute with smokeless like qualities. Load it like Trail Boss

158 grain LSWC or LRN (Semi-Wad, Rnd. Nose or flat point)
Bullseye 3.6 gr. 810 FPS
Bullseye 3.8 gr. 869
Unique 3.5 gr. 697 (mild load)
Unique 4.3 gr. 920
Unique 4.5 gr. 975 (actual in 7″ bbl revolver)
Unique 4.5 gr. 908 (5″ bbl,powder UP) (Hi=930 Lo= 885.4 Spread=44.2 fps)
Unique 4.5 gr. 797 (5″ bbl,powder DOWN – see note) (Hi=879.5 Lo= 729.4 Spread=150.1 fps)
Unique 4.9 gr. 938
Universal 3.5 gr. 756 (Cowboy load)
Universal 4.5 gr. 974
Clays 2.8 gr. 812 (cowboy load)
Clays 3.1 gr. 871
HP38 3.1 gr. 782 (Cowboy load)
HP38 3.7 gr. 834
No. 2 4.0 gr. 756 (published load)
No. 2 3.6 gr. 808 (in 7″ bbl) hi=849 lo=728 ES=122 (powder up and down)
No. 2 3.2 gr. 725 (in 7″ bbl) hi=770 lo=679 ES=91 (powder up and down)
No. 5 5.8 gr. 841 (published)
No. 5 5.0 gr. 736 (in 7″ bbl) hi=763 lo=688 ES=75 (powder up and down)
No. 5 4.6 gr. 694 (in 7″ bbl) hi=740 lo=648 ES=92 (powder up and down)
No. 5 5.9 gr. 885
231 3.1 gr. 753 (do not use less)
231 4.5 gr. 830 (published MAX)
231 4.0 gr. 898 (actual in 7″ bbl revolver)
WST 3.7 gr. 770 (MAX)
WAP 4.5 gr. 681 (published)
WAP 4.3 gr. 752 (in 7″bbl)* hi=821 lo=684 ES=137 (powder up and down)
WAP 4.3 gr. 734 (in 4 5/8″ bbl)* hi=815 lo=637 ES=178 (powder in normal positions)
WAP 4.0 gr. 658 (in 7″ bbl)*(NOT recommended) hi=714 lo=549 ES=165 (powder up and down)
540 6.8 gr. 880
VV N320 3.9 gr. 872 (published)
VV N320 3.2 gr. 723 (in 7″ bbl)(same in 4 5/8″ bbl) hi=758 lo=693 ES=65 (powder up and down)(DO NOT USE LESS)
VV N340 4.8 gr. 882
Zip 3.3 gr. 711
Zip 3.7 gr. 846
Competition 2.6 gr. 801
True Blue 4.0 gr. 772
HS-6 6.3 gr. 921 (hot for normal 38)
PowerPistol 4.4 gr. 822
Trail Boss 4.2 gr. 872 Hi=886, Lo=861, ES=25 (This is a Carolina Cast bullet SWC-great cowboy load)
N32C Tin Star 4.2 gr. 856 start
N32C Tin Star 5.6 gr. 1,004 max

*WAP is not best choice for .38 special, too slow and inconsistent.

158 grain Copper PLATED SWC
W231 4.0 gr. 745 (published)
W231 4.5 gr. 830 (published MAX)
W231* 4.0 gr. 811* (in 7″ bbl revolver) hi=859 lo=743 ES=116 *(my personal medium load)
Trail Boss 4.2 gr. 798 Hi=823, Lo=742, ES=81 Nice cowboy load
158-160 grain JHP or JSP (Jacketed Hollow or Soft Point)
Bullseye 3.5 gr. 805 FPS
Unique 4.2 gr. 800
Unique 4.9 gr. 858/td>
2400 7.6 gr. 850
Universal 4.4 gr. 778
HP38 3.7 gr. 819
HS6 6.3 gr. 701
HS6 6.5 gr. 914
No. 2 4.0 gr. 756
No. 5 5.8 gr. 841
PowerPistol 5.9 gr. 838
231 (+P) 4.4 gr. 720*
540 (+P) 6.6 gr. 800*
2400 (+P) 7.8 gr. 910*
2400 (+P) 8.2 gr. 955*
Unique(+P) 5.0 gr. 928*

* All PLUS P loads for guns designed for it (20,000 PSI)

180 grain LEAD (Truncated Cone) Flat Point
VV N320 3.2 gr. 722 fps hi=780 lo=674 ES=105(powder up and down)
WAP 4.3 gr. 773 fps * hi=875 lo=685 ES=190.2(powder up and down)
WAP 4.0 gr. 639 fps * hi=710 lo=497 ES=213 (powder up and down)
AA No.2 3.6 gr. 816 fps hi=857 lo=785 ES=72 (all shot level)
AA No.2 3.2 gr. 722 fps hi=791 lo=625 ES=166 (Powder up and down)
AA No.5 5.0 gr. 725 fps hi=785 lo=670 ES=115 (powder up and down)
AA #5 5.0 gr. 781 fps, hi=801, low=766 ES=35.32 in Contender 14″ bbl
AA No. 5 4.6 gr. 690 fps hi=736 lo=647 ES=89 (powder up and down)

(Cowboy loads – shot in 7 1/2″ bbl.revolver – no need to reduce)

*WAP is not best choice for .38 special, too slow and inconsistent.

180 grain JHP or JSP (Jacketed Hollow or Soft Point)
2400 (+P)7.5 gr. 895* FPS
Unique (+P)4.4 gr. 875*
HS-6 (+P)6.7 gr. 870*
HS-7 (+P)7.6 gr. 885*
H4227 (+P)11.0 gr. 890*
IMR4227 (+P)10.7 gr. 844*
231 (+P)4.4 gr. 800*

ALL THESE LOADS ARE PLUS P, SPECIAL HOT – 21,000 PSI

* Use in PLUS-P Guns ONLY!!!!

200 grain LRN (Lead Round Nose)
Bullseye 3.0 gr. 760 FPS
Unique 3.6 gr. 780
2400 7.0 gr. 870
Universal 3.5 gr.
HP38 3.2 gr. 681
HS6 5.0 gr. 794

(Note (+P) means higher pressures, use in guns designed for the +P cartridges.)

Note: More and more test are conducted with all rounds fired with powder UP against the primer for each shot, or DOWN on the bullet for each shot, then gently bring to horizontal to shoot. A significant difference in speeds is usually noted. It is always higher when powder is next to primer. For best accuracy in slow fire shooting, you may want to raise gun before every shot.

Discussion: Bullseye is a faster burning powder and some people feel better suited for the .38 special. I prefer the slower burning Unique, and I also use it for .357 magnum, just more of it. It seems to burn completely in the .38 and is not as critical as the faster powders like Bullseye. Accurate’s No. 2 and No. 5 are good choices. Winchester’s 231 or WSL are also good powders for the .38 special. Winchester 231 is between Bullseye and Unique for the .38 special (see my personal load above). Hodgdon’s Clays, International, Universal and HP38 are good choices. And Vihtavouri’s N320 and N321 fall in this range for burning times. Even slower powders may provide more consistent speeds and will be tested in the future (No. 7, No. 9 and others like 2400 that are generally used for magnums).

If you have a lightweight .38 or older gun, you may want to start with 10% less than max amounts listed above, and work up to the full loads. The “cowboy” loads would be good choices as listed, since these ARE reduced loads for that sport, where usually just hitting a metal plate to make a sound is all that is required of the round.

Below, are three loaded rounds. Nickle cases look pretty but don’t seem to take the number of resizings that plain brass cases do. Always make sure your lead bullets have been sized and lubricated. Note the dark band of lube on the 3 lead bullets. As you move up in loads, you at least need the gas check on the bottom of the bullet to prevent gas melting the lead and fouling the barrel. For any loads over 900-1,000 FPS, I suggest using a jacketed bullet. Jacketed bullets create a bit more wear on the rifling, but it’s better than trying to wire brush out a bunch of lead build up. Just depends on what kinds of loads you plan to shoot. Normal, mild .38 loads work fine with lead bullets. A bullet with a copper gas check or copper plating is best for INDOOR ranges to keep lead vapors out of the air.

The .38 Special

*
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.
No. 2, No. 5, #2230, and #2460 are products of Accurate Arms Company
WAP, WMR, WSF, WSL, 760, 748, 231 and 540 are products of Winchester, Components Div.
VV N320, N330 and N340 are products of VihtaVouri Oy Company
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. Also internet references 2009