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Tell Me About the .38spl

3216 Views 14 Replies 5 Participants Last post by  oldgranpa

I've always been a semi-auto type of guy. Though I've owned revolvers they've not been my "thing."

What are the pros and cons of the .38spl from a J-Frame?

I'm specifically asking about weights and pressures.

It would make sense to me that a lighter weight or higher pressure would lead to more flame cutting. Is this correct?

I guess what I'm looking for is anything you can tell me on the round, and what would give the longest longevity to a J-Frame.


Josh <><
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I own a bunch of J frame .38 Spl's.

Carbon steel.

Stainless steel.

Airweight's with aluminun frames.

Blue finish.

Nickle plate finish.

Two, three, and four inch.

Round butt and square butt.

Fixed and adjustable sights.

My oldest J frame is a Model 60 stainless Chief's Special purchased new in 1970 for the sum of $110. I've still got it and it is currently in use as a house defense gun loaded with Federal's +P 129 gr Hydra-Shok's. I've put approx 5000 rounds of factoryammo and handloads through this old M60 and it never has let me down. Everything from HBWC target loads to the orginial 110 gr JHP SuperVel loads that by today's standards would be rated +P+ and then some.

Never had any problem with flame cutting on any of the all steel models. Ditto for the alloy Airweights although these J's don't get shot as much as the others/

The cylinder on a J frame five shot .38 Spl is just as strong as the six shot cylinder on a K frame .38 Spl. Actually it is a bit stronger IMHO because the locking bolt notches on the J frame are between the chambers in the thickest part of the cylinder. K frame cylinders have their locking bolt notches right over the thinnest part of the cylinder.

I've shot just about every kind of factory loaded .38 Spl round to be had over the years. Including some pre World War One blackpowder factory loads. All manner of standard and +P JHP rounds, military ball including the WW2 Rem-UMC tracer loads. Shot loads and the Remington duplex load consisting of two large buckshot. The most powerul .38 Spl's of current production are the Corbon loads. These rounds duplicate the operating pressure and performance of the old .38/44 High Velocity loads developed by S&W back circa 1930.

So your last question is, "what would give the longest longevity to a J-Frame".

Standard pressure factory loads or equilavent handloads in an all steel J frame is my answer.

BTW, today, my FFL dealer sold my S&W Model 36-1 three inch heavy barrel squarebutt blued J frame for $250. This piece was in perfect conditon and showed only a bit of holster wear. Made in 1977. The 36-1 was produced by S&W for the Tokyo Police Department in the 1970's. Then it was sold as a cataloged model for several years. The police officer who bought it wanted it for a backup gun. I'd say he got a good one for his money.

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are you looking for something for a standard velocity 38 revolver or one that can handle +p?

most, actually all new 38's nowadays can handle +p. and the most popular round on the market right now seems to be Speer's new 135gr +p, IMO.

I don't think anybody that uses that round has any problem with unusual wear problems.

Please let us know which J-frame you are wondering about..std or +p

og........other opinions may vary!!
Thanks Gents.

OG, I guess I'm looking for any and all information I can get. I have a J-Frame revolver clone now just as I had a Beretta clone when I first began carrying.

Though I used to carry a S&W M19 at times, it was stoked with 125gr loads and I didn't worry any more about it. Come to find out later that I could have cracked the forcing cone at 6 o'clock.

So, for all intents and purposes, I am a raw beginner when it comes to revolver ammo. I know it's just fine to shoot +P out of my Taurus 92 though the instructions tell me not to. It's the only way to get the [email protected] they also recommend in the manual. Besides that, the design is just that robust.

When it comes to my lil' Rossi J frame, I can tell you how to pop open the cylinder, load it, and fire it. I'm still learning how to shoot it - the grips are much thinner than I'm used to. New ones should be on the way, but in the meantime... I don't know much more than how to load and shoot it, and heck, I'm still improving in the accuracy dept. Like I said, I'm a newbie.

If +P won't cause the thing to blow up in my face, I'll carry that. If it will, then I'll carry standard. I don't even know enough to make an informed decision about that stuff. I've settled on +P for now, but only because the 158gr +P LSWCHP is a proven round. It's sort of like a "base load" that will be effective should I have to use it, but that doesn't mean that my education is done by any stretch of the imagination. The GD short barrel load intrigues me.

That gap between the chamber and the barrel bugs me. I want as little flying out of there as possible. I figure the Treasury's load, 110gr +P+, would really shoot some flame out of that gap and possibly injure a shooter next to me, or toast my hand, or something. I just don't know.

I know quite a bit about semi auto loads, but when it comes to revolvers and loadings for them, I'm really in a clue free zone here.

I'm feeling the same frustration and impatience to learn as I did over 10 years ago when I first became a student of the semi-auto pistol. That drive has lead me to really collect some useful knowledge about them. As I said, I'm just a raw cadet at this again. I'm not even sure of the questions I should be asking.

I guess the main question would be this: What would be the load, standard or +P, that will both protect me best and not wear the revolver? I came to the conclusion in my autopistols that it's midweight stuff, but frankly, I don't know when it comes to the revolver. They seem to favor a bit heavier bullet from what I've gathered, but I don't know anything about choosing.

The S&W ammo is fine for now, but I need to learn as much as I can as quickly as I can. When it comes to firearms and a few other things, that's pretty darn quick.

So, to answer your question, I don't know what I'm asking beyond, "What's going to be the best "stopper" that's the least hard on my revolver?"

You see where I'm at?


Josh <><
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Mr. Josh,

As we discussed in the other post, I think if you are not talking about a steady diet (by which I mean constant use of, in large quantities) I think a +P load you trust would be fine for carry and limited practice.

I can suggest the Federal 129 +P HS, as that was the load Mr. Jim selected for our J-frames as both carry and qualification ammo. He liked it because at the time it was one of the few .38 spc loads he felt would reliably expand from a J-frame short barrel, and was not so hot its use would tear the guns apart. He was well aware how old some of our back up J-frames were. I also liked the fact in our office guns this round was very much POA-POI for us.

This was back before Gold Dot had developed its short barrel loadings. I am a big fan of Gold Dot ammo, and it is often what I carry in all my pistols. If I was carrying a J-frame these days I thing personally I would be using either the Federal 129 or the Gold Dot load.

Maybe a good starting point would be to get a box of both loads, and compare their POA-POI
with the carry loads you have now. Then go with whichever load seems to work best in your revolver.

I don't know if you reload yet or not. If not that would be another positive step for you I think. It adds another pleasure to shoot a tight hole in your target, and know you produced the rounds that did that. Plus you can tailor your loads to your specific weapons.

I think for normal practice, a SWC at a bit more than standard target velocity would be a good round you could shoot as often as you wanted, without risking damage to your revolver. I suggest a good SWC over a WC bullet because if loading by hand, with speed strip, or speed loader, the SWCs will load more like your carry rounds will. So you get that same good continual practice in reloading quickly. Then finish up each session if you want with a cylinder or two of your carry loads.

If you do reload, let me know and I will check for some of my old .38 spc SWC load data if you like.

Hope this helps a bit anyway. Good luck in your quest. Let us know what round you decide on.

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Mr. Twoguns,

Thanks. I'm leaning toward that Gold Dot load eventually.

Everything that's been posted here thus far is helping quite a bit, and I'm absorbing it like a sponge!


Josh <><
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Hi Josh

About the gap between the cylinder chamber and the barrel - I put quite a few rounds of various weights and velocities through my Model 19s, Rossi .357 snub, S&W Model 60, and Taurus .38 snub - never found a problem with it as far as safety goes. If you watch for it, you do get a bigger flash with some ammo than others, but never clobbered myself or others. I would think it would take a pretty inventive handhold to scorch your self with fire coming out of that gap.

Others might have different experience, but I would not worry about it.

from the technical level of your questions, you are no "raw beginner" and well advanced in understanding your revolvers.
The posts so far should give you confidence that you are not going to damage your revolvers unless you use some unorthodox hot ammo. +p+ might be too hot and unnecessary unless you are planning to shoot thru car doors.
The best thing to do now is get a box of several of the brands/loads that sound like what you are looking for and head to the range for some accuracy, recoil, etc. tests. As an alternative to doing a wetpack test for penetration/expansion, take along a few gallon water jugs. Shoot one jug at a time and note the difference in the way the jug bursts with different ammo. This will give you a little idea of the energy comparison of the different loads. The jug should burst to mean anything, if it doesn't, that load isn't doing much.
Let us know what you come up with.
But by all means do a range test comparison. Don't just make a decision on what's said here.
Good luck.
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+1 for what Mr. OG suggested. Do some comparison shooting and testing.

Mr. OG thanks for the milk jug comments, I may have to try that one myself. As much as I would enjoy wet pack tests, given where we shoot, it would be a major production to get them out there in usable conditions I think. But the milk jugs would certainly be easy to handle (tips my hat).

hi, twoguns,

shooting a gallon, plastic jug full of water is an exciting experience. A rifle shot will literally explode the jug blowing pieces in the air, and water all over you if you stand too close. You can really see the difference between a .357magnum and a .380, for instance.
Besides, it's a cheap way to have some fun.
I have to do it at my range when no one is looking. First time I tried it several years ago, it scared hell out of some bystanders and they complained to the range officer, who then asked me not to do water jugs anymore.
The normal way to do jugs is line up 4 or 5 to catch the bullet. Box-O-Truth and steve's pages favor water jugs. Usually, only the first one bursts. But lining up more than one is a pain and more trouble than it's worth. Can only get one shot into them anyway. So just shooting one is fun.
Wetpacks are OK, they sit still when shot!
Shooting at the range is fun. If it's not, we must be doing something wrong.

Oh, BTW, important!!...the jug must be full and the cap must be on the jug tight so the pressure will burst the jug....no cap and it might not do it.

And, if possible, get a friend to video the event as you shoot the jugs. Then you can review and compare the shots. Most digital cameras now have a video feature which is good enough and you can save the results on your computer or just view it on your TV. You don't need a great big video camera to carry along.
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Ok, I have a specific question: Is a 158gr+P load harder on the frame and cylinder than a 125gr+P load? I'm thinking "yes" because of the greater mass.

I'm asking this because though my dealer ordered some standard pressure in, I had to go with some +P Magtech in the meantime. I put the S&W in the collector's bin.


Josh <><
Josh: Couple of observations for you gleaned from several years of riding on the coattails of some of the best ammo testers in the industry.

First, congratulations on your choice of a J-frame/clone for a BUG. It's a great choice endorsed by a LOT of serious gun guys who've seen the elephant.

Second, based on what others' research has found, I carry my J-frames loaded with 147 wadcutters and carry a couple of Bianchi SpeedStrips (with all 6 spots filled, BTW) charged with Speer Gold Dot JHP 135 gr +P for reloading. The old WC bullets are very easy on your gun, easy to shoot quickly (little muzzle rise) and surprisingly effective in gelatin tests and in real shootings. The flat face of the bullet produces tissue destruction out of proportion to the speed of the bullet. The GDHP load cited was developed specifically for performance out of 2" snubs. It's a fine, fine, effective bullet. FWIW, a friend of mine took Ayoob's LFI-4 class in 2005; one of the things you have to do to pass the class is kill a hog with your gun at a local slaughterhouse. My friend used his M442 loaded with the 135 gr +P GDHP and killed his hog stone dead while other folks with .45's, etc, needed two or more shots to dispatch their porcine quarry. I used to carry my snubs loaded with 158 gr +P SWCHP's, but they kick more than either the 147 gr WC or the 135 gr GDHP loads. I went with the GDHP's exclusively for a while, but have found the 147 gr WC's are so easy to shoot accurately and quickly that they make what I think of as a good "first responder" load. However, they SUCK for reloading the gun due to their flat faces. Hence my choice of the excellent GDHP in my Speed Strips (or speedloaders, when I carry them, which is seldom).

Third, I STRONGLY recommend the purchase of Crimson Trace's laser grips for your gun... this new boot grip is not only larger than a standard grip, I've found (as have many others) that the laser dot in this application makes the gun much, much more accurate once you get past 5 yards or so.

Fourth: the light mass, small grip, and short sight plane of a J-frame/clone snub makes it a difficult weapon to master. Also, the tiny gripframe means trigger travel and ergonomics aren't good for anyone with normal to large hands. You have to train regularly with these guns if you want them to work for you in a SD&CC situation. Having the CTC lasergrips will improve your shooting range feedback tremendously, but you still need to spend time putting lead downrange to get the trigger stroke where it needs to be. I recommend training with 147 gr WC's for the bulk of your time, with a few full-power loads at the end of each session to keep your recoil adaptability up to par.
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thanks, Doc, for your excellent advice and sharing your experience. I like the laser grips on my (not mine anymore, see note below) S&W Model 37-3, which also handles +p just fine. Here's a look at the mod 37 with the laser...

and Josh, stupid me, I forgot about the best resource for info on 38 ammo, Stephen's pages...

Keep us posted.


Oh, BTW, my wife liked the mod 37 with the laser so much it's now her gun. Darn! :(
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Thanks Gents.

OG, did you see the range report in this section where I went ahead and blasted some milk jugs with +P?

And I have to thank you for that link. I had been looking for it and kept running into something else to read!

Josh <><
OK, Josh, I saw your milk jug report after I posted my water jug info. You got similar penetration that steve'spages show for some 38spec he tested. Three jugs is about the minimum for any ammo. I would have expected your bullet to have made it into the 4th jug with only partial expansion. Check this link for the 38special tests, many are with 4" barrel...

So, if you have more jugs, continue the good work. Keep us posted.

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