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The Ultimate Reloading Manual
Wolfe Publishing Group
  • reloading manual
  • alliant reloading data
  • reloading brass
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The Ultimate Reloading Manual
hornady superperformance

Magnum Primers for Standard Pistol Loads

Author: Roger Smith / Wolfe Publishing Co.
Date: Feb 15 2015

The ongoing shortage of reloading components has been forcing some handloaders to think about things they might never have even considered previously. The last pistol primers available in these parts were small pistol magnums.

Powder granule size and shape do not appear to make any difference when using powders with similar
burning rates.

Conventional wisdom has long told us to use standard primers for standard loads and magnum primers for magnum loads, and there’s plenty of that reloading data available. However, in Handloader No. 207, Brian Pearce did an excellent job of showing that magnum loads in his .357, even using H-110, actually perform better with standard primers. He also showed that although velocity spreads using standard primers are slightly smaller, the actual velocity difference between standard and magnum primers is insignificant.

But what happens to our favorite nonmagnum loads if we’re forced to use magnum primers? What if things are further complicated by being forced to use some other powder than our favorite because it’s simply all there is to be had? How do various powders react to magnum primers at lower pressures? Do the greatly differing granule sizes and shapes make a difference in how different powders of similar burning speed react to the increased flaming of a magnum primer? I decided to find out now, before the situation becomes any worse during the current shortage – or the next one. Although these are valid questions for rifle loads as well, the subject is restricted to .38 Special loads.

The .38 Special handloads were tested using a 4-inch Ruger GP100
(above) and a 2-inch Charco Off Duty with older Charter Arms Bulldog grips.

There are many powders that work in the .38. To keep the project manageable, only 10 commonly used powders were chosen. In searching through reloading publications for starting and maximum loads, I became aware of something I had never even considered using in the .38: recommendations for H-4227 and Alliant 2400. These two are normally used for +P and .357 Magnum loads. Slower-burning powders like these are known for needing higher pressure levels to achieve complete ignition. What would happen with these two powders at the lower pressure levels of standard .38 loads with both types of primers? The list of powders to test increased to 12.

All loads were fired in a Ruger GP100 with a 4-inch barrel over a Shooting Chrony Alpha (shootingchrony. com). I also used a Charco Off Duty with a 2-inch barrel to test a few loads of personal interest to see if anything bizarre happened with the shorter barrel. The results are shown in the accompanying table. As a precaution against corrupted data and do-overs, well-used Winchester cases were used for the standard primers, and Federal and Remington cases were used for the magnum primers. The bullets used were Lee’s TL358-158-SWC design (, cast from one batch of wheelweight metal in a six- cavity mould and tumble-lubed with Lee’s Liquid Alox. Rounds were loaded to an overall length of 1.443 inches.

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