Towards more efficient revolver ammunition

.38 Special and .357 Magnum revolvers are very versatile but they have one annoying down side in the short-barreled guise: a considerable muzzle flash. That’s not surprising, considering that the same cartridge may end up in a 2″ subcompact wheelgun and a 20″ lever action carbine. In order to maintain useful velocity in longer barrels, there rounds have to use powders that burn at medium speed. They simply don’t have the time to consume all of the powder in a short barrel. One way around that problem is to use dedicated short barrel loads. The other is to load your own.

.38 Special is a low pressure, straight case cartridge and can be reloaded fairly easily even with a single stage press. Knowing that the ammunition would only be used with a specific short barreled weapon, we can use a fast powder and avoid most of the muzzle flash that comes with the slower-burning factory loads. Since compact alloy revolvers also generate strong felt recoil, we can help with that as well by picking a lightweight bullet. 110gr is the lightest common .357 projectile and it can be propelled fast enough to expand with a reasonable, not maximum load. Corresponding Federal load is rated for 980fps — though that number was probably achieved in a longer barrel. By using the fast powder (such as Bullseye), we can achieve similar velocity from a 2″ tube. The resulting terminal performance is surprisingly good.

Since this cartridge is sparing of powder and the cases may be re-used several times, the cost of loading fairly high-performing ammunition is not too steep. Although you have to factor in the cost of your own time, that’s also true for shopping the empty store shelves.

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10 Responses to Towards more efficient revolver ammunition

  1. The best way around the problems of muzzle flash and muzzle blast, is to use a revolver fitted with a longer barrel. Given proper packaging, an extra inch or two will make no difference in concealment, while considerably reducing the sound and fury of firing a Magnum load in a belly gun.

    • Oleg Volk says:

      My preference is 4″ but plenty of friends carry 2-inchers. I guess they are compensating for something 🙂

  2. "lee n. field" says:

    Buuuut. Aren’t snubby fixed sights usually regulated for 158grain bullets, the old “FBI load”? I know my Taurus 605 shoots dead to point of aim with them.

    Having to bias my sight picture up or down doesn’t work so well for me.

    • Oleg Volk says:

      Regulated for what distance? All revolver bullets seem rise enough to intersect the line of aim at some point, just that the distance at which they do it is different. I suspect it’s further out for 110 than for 158.

  3. Gewehr98 says:

    Oh, cool! We get Oleg to discuss using handloads for self-defense, finally!

    (Graduate of LFI here. Gonna grab some popcorn, because I already know which way Mas spelled it out…)

  4. Gewehr98 says:

    BTW, as I look around in February of 2013, there’s store shelves empty of ammo, and there’s store shelves empty of reloading components. Don’t be surprised if you head out for primers, powder, brass and bullets – and come home with nothing.

  5. JSW says:

    I like to use 3.5 grains of TiteGroup for the revolvers, though W296 works well in the rifles, pushing a 158 grain LRN. One of these days I’ll chrono a load and see what velocity it’s pushing. Felt recoil is a bit more than with factory .38s, but manageable enough and if audible information is somewhat reliable, there’s more of a CRACK to the shot than a typical BOOM from factory loads, so I suspect a bit more velocity is involved.

  6. Scott J says:

    I count my time at the reload bench as free because it’s very therapeutic.

    As for tailored loads I’m developing one for a friend to use in an older, imported .38 not up to the build quality of US revolvers.

    4.3 grains of HP-38, CCI primer and 125 grain JHP. Out of my 4″ late 40’s vintage M&P recoil was down in the .22 lr range. If they expand in water and are consistent across the chrono I’ll call it done and reel off a couple hundred for him.

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