Please critique my .38 Spl

Nov 14, 2005
New Ipswich, Finn-Land
Feedback: 19 / 0 / 0
I switched the Lee 1000 over to .38 Special and am getting ready to run a batch of 158 grain lead bullets that I got. Could some of you take a look at the picture of this round I just turned out? It's my very first revolver round. I'm seating it to the right place -- the groove -- right? How does the crimp look> I really had to crank down on the Lee Factory Crimp die compared to the one for .40S&W. OAL is 1.528, and the load is the starting load of 4.0 grains of Unique, and the measue is throwing a consistent 3.9-4.0 grains. There's not much range for this load -- max. load is 4.3, then I'm into +p territory, which for this bullet would start at 4.3 and go to 4.5 grains!

It chambers perfectly in my max. cartridge gauge and in my Airweight.

What would you all recommend for increments and quantities to load up some test rounds to find the best load?

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It seems that people don't want to post info on stuf like this incase something were to happen. Maybe not so much for the people in here but this is a public internet forum and ya never know.
Yeah, but, it's a reloading forum. I'm jut wondering if I'm crimping the thing right more than anything. I've already settled on 10 rounds of 4.0, 4.3 & 4.5 grains.

Interesting thing -- the Lee book I got the loads from call 4.3-4.5 +P, but the Lyman book has the exact same recipe, but lists it from 4.0-4.5, with no +P mentioned.
The crimp looks good, however I have never crimped a lead bullet in the lube channel. Always above, on the flat part of the lead. If the bullet was a FMJ with a canelure, then you would want to crimp in the canelure. However, the more important thing, is to see if the OAL is within spec of the Lyman book.

Also, I would always trust the info in the Lyman book, for the charge grains and such.

Actually Adam, many cast bullets like that, you do crimp in either a crimp groove, or the upper lube groove.

As far as data goes, follw the manuals. I suggest getting a Lee Manual, they compile their data from several sources, and you will find more options that way.
1. The crimp appears to be just fine; roll crimps should be into a groove.

2. The problem with roll crimps in general and with .38 Spl. in particular, is varying case length. If the case is shorter than the one used to set the crimper, the crimp will be light to non-existent; if it is longer, the crimp will be too deep.

3. The crimp does two things. The first and most obvious is to prevent the bullet from being set, either deeper or shallower, in the case on account of handling and recoil. A slug that moves out of the case is not inherently dangerous but may prevent the gun from operating. A slug that moves into the case will decrease case capacity, which will have an effect, sometimes a dramatic one, on chamber pressure. The second effect of crimp is that the amount of crimp force also has an effect on chamber pressure--and hence muzzle velocity. So long as the slug hasn't been deepset by recoil, the effect of varying degrees of crimp force is small enough not to present an over-pressure issue, but it will affect accuracy.

4. Four grains of Unique is a pretty hefty load for a 158 grain lead slug in a .38. In general, lead slugs driven fast tend to lead up the bore and forcing cone pretty quickly; besides being a chore to remove, this building severely affects accuracy. When I use lead slugs in a .38, I use the traditional target load of 2.7 gr. of Bullseye (any case, any primer; I've used this for decades both with 146 gr. BB wadcutters and 158 gr. Keith shapes). This is an inherently accurate load and relatively clean, and if you have a batch of cases that have been trimmed to a uniform length to which the crimper is then adjusted, this load is superbly accurate. And if that isn't endorsement enough, cases loaded with this target load will last until the necks begin to crack from crimping and expanding.
Thanks everyone -- great info.

So, am I correct tht unlike .40S&W, you should trim revolver brass uniform because of crimping issues? This is all once fired brass, so I can probably get away with it this time, but if so I'll send off for some trimming accessories for .38/.357. What I did was try to set the first round so the mouth was as centered into the groove as possible. It seems to have worked -- all 20 cases crimped somewhere in the groove.

I'm surprised this is a hefty load -- the Lyman book has this at 871 FPS @ the full 4.5 grain load. Do you think it would be wise to try the max. load or should I just stay with the 4.0 and 4.3 loads and see how they work first?
I think you should first decide what your goal for the load is. Common goals are light load/low recoil, accuracy, hunting, anti-animal defense (not hunting) while walking in the woods, anti-personnel defense; the list is not exclusive.

For my money (and others will differ), lead slugs in a .38 are not useful for anti-personnel or hunting. By definition, you don't need a full power load for low recoil. And experience says that, at least for the .38 (true also for a lot of cartridges, but not all), accuracy is not a function of power. As noted, the 2.7 gr. Bullseye load has been accepted as superbly accurate (while having comparatively little recoil) with either the 148 or 158 gr. slug for years.

For what it is worth, the 158 gr. round nose slug at the power level you're looking at was the standard uniformed police load for 40 or 50 years; and it was considered just about useless for any purpose. For routine practice (both National Gallery style target shooting and old-PPC-style combat practice), l like the Keith-shapes (basically a truncated cone or mild ogive "semi-wadcutter") because it is intrisically as accurate as the wadcutter and faster to reload with speedloaders. If I were going in the woods where I was concerned about an unwanted encouter with a critter, I wouldn't have a .38 (though I might have a 158-gr. jacketed load in a .357), and for anti-personnel defense, if I were carrying either a .38 or a .357, my favorite load is the Remington 95-gr serrated jacketed hollow point. (Just as likely, though, I'd carry either a 9mm or .45 auto for this purpose.)

(Two points: I do not regard reloads as acceptable for carry loads, at least every day carry loads, for a bunch of reasons, one of which is that they are less resistant to degradation due to moisture and oil migration. Second, while energy (either at the muzzle or at the target) is a function of the square of velocity, recoil is a function of the first order of velocity. As a general rule, therefore, for a given energy level, the lighter slug will produce it with less recoil. The 95-gr. Remington comes out of a 3-inch barrel at better than 1,000 fps, but has what feels like less than half the recoil of a factory 158-gr .357; less recoil means a quicker and better second shot.)

So (finally) back to your question: would I push your 158-gr lead slug load closer to the max? No. In part, as noted, I think fast and lead don't go together, but putting that aside, I don't see the point.
Got so carried away I missed the other part of your question.

Yes, the purpose of case trimming (or, more precisely, case length management) differs for the two rounds you mention. For straight-walled auto pistol rounds that headspace on the case mouth, it is important both that case lengths be consistent AND that they match cartridge design spec. For revolver loads, it is important that case length be consistent and match what you've set your crimper for.

The nice thing about straight-walled cases (auto or revolver) is that, once trimmed, they don't seem to stretch much. More likely the necks will start splitting from work hardening before the cases would need a second trimming.
Thanks RKG -- great info. These rounds will be used exclusivly for plinking at the range with my Airweight, 0-15 yards, so nothing special is required. I got a good deal on the slugs, but am working on getting some wadcutters for next time. Powder-wise, I've just been buying what the shop happens to have in stock, if I can find a good amouint of matches for it listed in my books for the slugs I happen to have in .40 & .38 at the time. Since I'm new and experimenting, I don't mind jumping around from powder to powder. Based on what you've said, though, I think I'm going to put in a request for Bullseye. I'm going to try and get to the range today to try out the reloads. I decided to just stay with 4.0 & 4.3 grains to see how they work before loading up 4.5's. I don't see too much reason to use +P reloads for plinking.
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