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The Ultimate Reloading Manual
Wolfe Publishing Group
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The Ultimate Reloading Manual
reloading tech tips

The All-American .38 Special

Author: Stan Trzoniec / Wolfe Publishing Co.
Date: Aug 07 2018

I can’t think of any cartridge so dear to the hearts of the American sportsman as the .38 Special.  While it has been overrun by newer, high performance cartridges for hunting, home defense or casual shooting, it is still hard to beat the Special.  With a wide variety of jacketed and lead bullets available, the .38 Special is still a joy to shoot and reload.

Today, it’s hard to find a gun chambered just for the .38 Special as most now come from manufacturers as a .38 Special / .357 Magnum combination.  There is nothing wrong with that; when I go hiking in search of the perfect photograph or hunting in the woods with my S&W Model 19, I load a couple of .38s first, followed by .357 Magnums.  I figure that if the sound of the .38 Special will not thwart a problem, the power of the .357 will.

For handloading, the .38 Special is extremely versatile.  Since its inception more than a century ago, between available guns, bullets, powders and reloading equipment, there is no better way to start handloading.  The .38 Special provides a no stress adventure into the hobby of reloading.  For example, you can cast your own bullets, use jacketed bullets for more serious situations, and even load the .38 Special to higher +P velocities.

My favored revolver is a S&W Model 52 Target.  This pistol uses the .38 Special with a Remington wadcutter bullet seated flush with the case mouth.  With a charge of only 3.1 grains of Winchester 231 powder, velocities run around 750 to 800 fps with good accuracy and mild recoil.  Years back, for indoor matches I teamed the heavier S&W Model 28 with 3.4 grains of the same powder and bullet in .357 Magnum cases to prevent lead ringing inside the cylinder.

Outside for plinking, I like the combination of 4.5 grains of Bullseye with any 110-grain bullet from Speer, Hornady or Sierra at around 900 fps with a mild report and a flat trajectory.  The 158-grain bullet is a favorite with fine shooting qualities.  With 5.0 grains of Unique or 10.0 grains of 2400, I find these combinations fit nearly all of my shooting requirements for the .38 Special.  For those who like a little more punch, try some +P loads using 6.0 grains of Hodgdon’s Powder Pistol powder.

While I have only touched the very tip of the .38 Special’s versatility, it’s a great cartridge to just sit back, load up some light loads and have at it at the range or the back forty on some tin cans.  No matter what shooting enthusiasts say, the .38 Special is here to stay.