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Hello,

The folks over on Shooter's Legacy directed me to this essay. I've not found who the original author is as of yet.

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I was a little surprised when I began visiting these Internet forums and saw so many questions regarding +P .38 Special ammo. It seems each new day brings yet another post asking about the safety of using factory +P ammo in one gun or another. I always assumed the short answer was that if you had a Star, or Ruby, or some other gun that might be questionable as far as strength is concerned, then stay away from +Ps. But many shooters seem concerned about using this ammo in quality guns of recent manufacture* and I didn
 

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Hello, Josh. I do not know who the author is but I tend to agree that the older factory loads in both 38 Special and 357 Magnum were probably a bit hotter than they are today. I suspect that as lawsuits became more and more common, the "red line" was lowered a bit. I remember seeing two S&W Model 12's ruined by being shot with but a handful of the Winchester Armor Piercing ammo mentioned in the original post.

In some 9mm loads the difference in velocity is but 60 ft/sec between standard and +P and I recall when 125-gr. full-power 357's clocked well over 1450 ft/sec from a 4" revolver. The last several batches I've tried ran about 100 ft/sec less...so I think that there is at least some truth in the unknow author's essay.

Best.
 

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Can't help with identifying your author, Josh, but his piece raises a question I haven't been able to answer about the .38 Super. I saw an article a while back about hot-loading the cartridge, because none of the factory loads take advantage of the round's capacity, and there was a very good answer to this question on a different thread (Steve Camp?), namely that .38 Super factory loads perform more or less in the range of a hot nine, as both are currently manufactured. .38 Super is mostly available in 115- or 125-grain JHP, with a supposed MV of 1200 fps (although I've also found some 130-grain FMJ lying around). The reason I hear is that the chambering is popular in Latin America, because it's the highest-power round legally available for civilian use---is this true, that a military round, i.e., .45 ACP, is illegal for civilians down south?---but the ammo is loaded down for export. (Why, they're shooting 50-year-old Llamas, and there's a liability issue?) The heaviest ammo I've been able to find is 147-grain Georgia Shear, which has now become my round of choice.
I'm posting this because I'm puzzled. Given the LE and military markets, in particular, why would a manufacturer reduce the capacity of their ammo? Is it seriously their liability if I'm dumb enough to load .38 Super in a pre-war Colt .38 Auto? Smoking is going to kill me, but I'm not going to sue Philip Morris.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't +P or +P+ refer to pressure, not MV or foot-pounds on impact? And you wouldn't shoot such a round in an older gun you weren't confident of, yes?
I ask out of simple curiosity, or ignorance. Why can't I shoot any available ammo in any suitable gun I own, unless it's a priceless antique? .38-40, for example, is now only available in cowboy loads, meaning loaded down, but I managed to score some fully loaded, outdated ammo, and I've shot it through my Cimarron SA with no ill effects, aside from the fact that it recoils like an RPG.
Respectfully, and soliciting any and all opinions,
David
 

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Hello. It is my understanding that +P vs standard pressure does indeed represent pressure levels and not just velocity, although there is almost always an increase along with the pressure. In some instances it can be significant and in others no more than some velocity variations shot-to-shot with the same ammo! It is a representative of the cartridge's pressure level.

In some of the South American countries as well as Mexico, I believe that "military calibers" such as 9x19mm or .45 ACP are forbidden to the common man so .38 Super is or was popular.

I am only guessing on the availability or lack thereof of .38-40 ammo being tied to its simply not being used by many people these days. The lighter-loaded stuff for cowboy action shooting is easier on the guns, meets the SASS regulations (I'm guessing on that) and does what it is supposed to w/o having to be loaded to the older levels when it rode in holsters for other purposes.

Best.
 

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You can increase pressure quite a lot, without changing velocity much, depending on how you go about it. For instance, cram the bullet farther down into the brass, with the same amount of powder. You won't see much of an increase in velocity, but pressure will go up considerably. You can do the same thing by switching powders, as a careful reading of any reloading manual will tell you. Since I don't have an instrument for testing pressure -- how many private citizens do, I wonder, it's an expensive piece of gear -- then I prefer not to take the chance of putting extra wear and tear on my aluminum frame Bodyguard. I have always thought that it would be OK to carry +P's for defense work, as a few shots is not going to blow the gun up or anything. But I do like to practice with something similar to my defense loads.
 
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The issues raised above are murky ones and have been kicked around for decades. The ammo companies and reloading manual publishers have never been very forthcoming on why they've moderated ammo specifications and reloading data over that time, and so we are left largely guessing.

There's probably several factors involved. I'll kick out these ideas insofar as they may have influenced the observations in the above discussion:

+ In about the early 1970's the domestics arms and ammo manufacturers began adopting electronic pressure transducers to replace the crude and imprecise copper crusher method. I read "in the day" that this lead to major changes in both factory ammo and reloading data as it identified that some loads were not loaded to as safe of a pressure that using the copper crusher method indicated. (And, probably, it also identified some loads and loading data that was underloaded, pressure-wise, although this didn't attract nearly the attention and discussion as the overloaded stuff.)

+ Thirty-40 years ago and before pressure barrels for revolver ammo were the same as that for rifle ammo; they were a solid, chambered barrel. Now, and for quite a long time now, "vented" pressure barrels that duplicate the effects of the barrel/cylinder gap are used, which certainly gives a much more realistic, and quite significantly lower, muzzle velocity for revolver ammo.


Without question, ammo manufacturers and reloading manual publishers are providing a larger "safety margin" in their products, due to the litigation-crazy society that has arisen in this country over the last 30-odd years. These companies, compared to Philip Morris and General Motors, are very, very, very small and it doesn't take a whole lot of lawsuits (even if totally without merit and which the companies win) to badly damage them financially, and even threaten their existence. Everybody wants to stay in busines, so . . . . . .


Time was, not all that long ago, people took responsibility for their own stupidity and learned from it. No longer. Now you try to make somebody else pay for your stupid mistakes, carelessness and irresponsiblity. And this is the root of the ammo/reloading data issues as discussed above.


The older days were better . . . . . . .

. . . . . . . and so were the handguns. :(
 
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Hello. It is my understanding that +P vs standard pressure does indeed represent pressure levels and not just velocity, although there is almost always an increase along with the pressure...

... I am only guessing on the availability or lack thereof of .38-40 ammo being tied to its simply not being used by many people these days. The lighter-loaded stuff for cowboy action shooting is easier on the guns, meets the SASS regulations (I'm guessing on that) and does what it is supposed to w/o having to be loaded to the older levels when it rode in holsters for other purposes.

Best.
SAAMI sets maximum pressure at 17,000 PSI for 38 Special and at 18,500 PSI for +P. Some calibers are loaded to "+P" levels, such as 9mm defense loads, but at this juncture I don't believe SAAMI recognizes such designations.

NATO 9x19mm ammunition is loaded to slightly higher pressures than SAAMI specs (35,000 PSI) and it's definitely noticeable when you fire it if you're used to standard loads.

38-40 ammo is generally loaded to fairly low pressures because many firearms chambered for it are antiques, manufactured when steels were much softer than we enjoy the use of today. A stout firearm such as a 1930's era Winchester 1892 rifle can handle much higher pressures than can a SAA revolver minted in the early 1880's. As such, the manufacturers tend to keep pressures low. We see the same thing in factory .44-40 and .45 Colt ammo, which are invariably anemic. There is no power floor for SASS shooting, unfortunately. Many competitors load their cartridges so lightly you can watch the bullets fly downrange in bright sunlight. I'm guessing some of them are barely making 500 fps. Hardly in keeping with the traditions of the Old West, but some people just have to win.

Me, I load my .45 Colt cartridges with 37 gr of black and let the thunder roll!
 

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Doc---
Thanks for your comments. I think you're right, that .38-40, .45 LC, and .44-40 are all loaded down these days, for obvious reasons. This is not to decry SASS competition, which probably brings a lot of people into the fold, but these chamberings don't have much, or any, LE application, so they've sort of withered on the vine. (I particularly lament the loss of the fully-powered .45 Long Colt.) In fact, the guy I bought the hot .38-40's from would only sell me two boxes out of the five he had left, because he was looking to buy a vintage lever gun, and wanted to shoot the "real" cartridges in it, no longer manufactured, as opposed to cowboy loads. My guess is that these chamberings are headed for the elephant graveyard, along with .32-20, which is really kind of a shame, considering their collective history.
David
 

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Howdy Mr. David,

I am not sure I would want to being digging a hole for those old classic rounds just yet anyway, lol. It may also depend on the part of the country you live in, and simply your tastes in firearms, and whether or not you reload.

But I know in southern AZ, there is still very much of a demand for firearms in those chamberings, be they the real McCoy or more recent copies. The same is true in both SAA type revovlers and lever action rifles too. I know several other LEOs around here who both own and keep looking for that ellusive real deal they can stumble into being held onto by a rancher.

I am not a CAS member. While I had intended to become one, personal issues will likely prevent that from being possible now. I do think it has helped to revive the interest in some of these old classic rounds and for that deserves a salute. But as Mr. DocRocket noted a round moving slow enough it can be seen, would simply bother me personally. I am sure many of the leading competitors do use lighter loads in competition. But I had already told myself when I began to compete, I would be using standard loads in both my revolvers and lever action rifle. That was simply part of its appeal to me to become a member and compete.

Every time I recall seeing a listing of the top ten reloading die calibers, I always smile when I see the 45 Colt in the list. I would hope and think these old classics were still much favored and in demand in your neck of the woods too, but that may not be the case.

twoguns
 

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Hey, TwoGuns---

I was sort of exaggerating (sp?) for effect. But the .32-20, for example, seems to have been overtaken by the .32 H&R magnum, although some people tell me it keyholes (others' math may differ), which suggests the .32-20 may stick around. I've commented enough on the .38-40; I just wish a solid factory load were available. The various .44's are probably still viable, but the .44-40 is becoming more and more a choice for Cowboy Action, as opposed to general use, so my guess is we'll continue to see it underloaded by ammo manufacturers. You're right on the money about the .45 LC, though. All you have to do is take a ride out into the sticks (by which, in my case, I mean you don't even have to leave the Santa Fe city limits), and you'll find a guy with his dad's single-action Army in the glove compartment of his working pick-up, for snakes, or rustlers (not a joke, in this neck of the woods), or whatever, and it'll be a .45 LC. I don't think it's a sentimental choice, either. It's simply practical. (And one hell of a heavy bullet. I sure wouldn't want to be hit with one.)

David
 

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The 32-20, 38-40 and 44-40 were once available in high velocity rifle loads for Winchester 92's and rifles of equivalent strength. As I recall they pushed jacketted bullets up near 1800 FPS. Excellent deer loads.

I guess the ammo companies got tired of dealing with people who kept stuffing their blackpowder revolvers and '73 rifles with them. Oh, well.

Regards,

Pat
 
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You're right on the money about the .45 LC, though. All you have to do is take a ride out into the sticks (by which, in my case, I mean you don't even have to leave the Santa Fe city limits), and you'll find a guy with his dad's single-action Army in the glove compartment of his working pick-up, for snakes, or rustlers (not a joke, in this neck of the woods), or whatever, and it'll be a .45 LC. I don't think it's a sentimental choice, either. It's simply practical. (And one hell of a heavy bullet. I sure wouldn't want to be hit with one.)

David
Sir, as one who has done an immoderate amount of heavy handloading of the .45 Colt (aka Long Colt) cartridge for use in revolvers and rifles that can take it, I will vouch for its potency.

I have loaded this cartridge up very, very heavy, for specific uses in my Ruger Single Actions and my Winchester 94 rifles, but I tend to do so less today because I've found that even a "moderate" .45 Colt load has surprisingly potent terminal ballistics potential. I shot several deer with my 'hot' 280 gr JSP load and never recovered a bullet, so decided to scale back a bit, and have found that a very moderate load in this caliber (260 gr WFN cast bullet @ 1000 fps) will go through a LOT of bone & muscle with waaaaaaaaaaay less recoil.

Magnum handgun loads aren't needed for deer, nor, I sugges, for black bear, and certainly not for 2-legged varmints.
 

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I am not a hunter but I love to read the classics on African hunting, rifles and cartridges. Taylor, Capstick, Boddington and Wood among others facinate me for some odd reason. Additionally, I read Marshall & Sanow and follow ammo developments closely. I don't know why, just habit I suppose.

As a faithful follower of Jeff Cooper, I have always held to the big fat slow bullet theory. Then I go out to walk the dogs armed with a KelTec PF-9 (I am grateful that JDC can not reporach me for that). As a small arms analyst for the Army in my later years, I recommended against the 9mm and for the upcalibering of the M16. And when I was a LEO many years ago, I did not feel badly armed with a .38 Special revolver and +P JSP ammunition.

I also read Legacy's website and saw the original article. I don't think I responded but here goes.

.38 SPL is very velocity sensitive and is more so in short barreled guns. I think that .357 in a 2.5" barrel is about as effective as .38 SPL in a 4" barrel but with blast and flash thrown in to make me feel better. When I wore a younger mans clothes, SuperVel and others tried to up the velocity to make up for unreliable expansion in the available bullet technology of the time. As I recall, more folks are killed with .38 SPL in the US than any other caliber until recently. But killing is not the issue with a handgun - the stopping power is!

The .45 ACP in FMJ was designed for reliable use in a military handgun for a mounted log service well trained cavalryman. It then became general issue for a similar small Army and later Marine Corps. It had to be able to work in all climes and conditions and be effective against enemies dressed in quilted and padded overcoats. That big old slow bullet saw action from the Philipines in 1911 to Beiruit in the Mid 1980s.

The 38 SPL was nearly universal in American Law Enforcement as was the 9mm just about every where else in the military world outside of the COMBLOCK. Lots of people got send down by both of them.

In my opinion, the .45 ACP requires training and that is not something we do a lot of in either the military and/or law enforcement. The 9mm is flat easy to shoot and the .38 SPL was too.

I just believe that there is no magic bullet and that like real estate, location, location, location (bullet placement) is the key. Hollow points have come a long way (9 BPLE is a statistical hit) but the shooter still has to place the projo in the shootee correctly.

And, to sum - use enough gun, just enough gun to get the job done. I have to go to walk the dawgs now. Where is my bloody 9mm?
 
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