38 S&W Adventures and Faux Pas


Redlands, Kalifornistan
Rather that walk all over Bill/Pistolero's thread on Throat Dimension Champions, I'll break off and start a more caliber-specific thread on the subject.

The 38 S&W is a prehistoric little caliber that doesn't get much attention in these days of 500 Magnums and 15-shot mag capacities. Its days as a defensive caliber have pretty much passed, since we now only engage attackers that are up in our face rather than use the bullets as marking pellets as the miscreant runs off. The caliber was offered in A LOT of revolvers over the years from the 1880s to the 1960s, so it had its adherents for a long time. Some of those revolvers were very well-made, and with bullets that fit well (and sights that can be seen) the 38 S&W can keep right up with service-grade 38 Specials in the accuracy department. More to follow.......


Redlands, Kalifornistan
As old as the 38 S&W might be, it has some pretty modern attributes going for it. "Inside" bullet lubrication is one such trait, a thing that bullet casters and reloaders can appreciate warmly. Life is too short to mess around with outside lubrication as a hobbyist--I felt differently 20 years ago, but my patience threshold is not what it once was for fussiness and aberrance of that sort.

The 38 S&W is really two cartridges--the 145-150 grain occupant of small-frame revolvers, and the 178-200 grain British adaptation for WWII usage known as the "38/200".

I use an NOE copy of the classic Lyman #358477 for my small-frame loadings. WSP primers in Starline cases and 3.0 grains of Unique prompt 700-725 FPS from the little PP and RegPol 4" barrels, and both guns hit where the sights are looking at 25 yards. This charge weight might be a bit much for less-stalwart top-break variants, but in the swing-out/solid top-strap they seem to be all right. The NOE "477" just about cleans up in a .361" sizer, and even in pure lead they shoot well and leave no bore deposits behind.

I use an NEI #169A mould for the 38/200 bullets. In pure lead, these weigh 208 grains; in 92/6/2 they tip the scales at 202 grains. At .810", they exceed the length of the cases they are seated into (.775"). 3.0-3.3 grains of Herco impart 600-675 FPS to these castings; in the S&W M&P they hit where the sights look at 25 yards pretty well, the Webley-Enfield centers them within a B-27's 9-ring if you count line hits generously.

One of the ranges I infest has iron swinger targets set up at 25 and 50 yards, and this is where the two loadings sing very different songs. The 150 grain bullets give a nice little PA-TINK sound when hit--the 200 grainers produce a more authoritative CLANG, even at 50 yards. Those Brits might have been on to something prior to WWII. That said, I recall a conversation I had with the late Bruce B at one of the NCBS meets some years back concerning the 38/200 loads. He said that after WWII and for some years later the RCMP, Provincial Police, and some city agencies in Canada issued these war-surplus S&W revolvers as service sidearms, complete with the 38/200 ammunition. The officers bemoaned the tendency of these loads to glance harmlessly off the sloped rear windows of fleeing vehicles, rather than digging in and penetrating to hit the bad guy making tracks to avoid them. Bruce did not think much of the caliber, IOW. That's fine--I still won't stand downrange and field the flying bullets to collect casting metal.

The RCBS Cowboy Die Set for 38 S&W does fine work for the 38 S&W/small frame loads. It features expander plugs of 2 diameters (.358" and .360") and a steel sizing die. The bullet aligning sleeve in the seater die will accept a bullet of .361" snugly, but will not admit a .362" pin gauge. Nicely enough, the form of the NEI #169A and its .363"-sized drive bands allows the bullet to be seated before any contact with the driving bands, and a decent roll crimp to be placed in one die step. I do employ the 9mm Makarov T/C sizing die on the 38 S&W cases, and also use the 9mm Mak spud in the Lyman powder-thru-expander die to prep 38/200 brass for the fatter bullets. (I use a Ponsness-Warren P-200 turret press for my handgun and small rifle loading).

Powder goes a long way with this little critter. The 38 S&W knocks over jackrabbits and small varmints with aplomb. I might whack a coyote with the 38/200, but dunno about the 150 grainer at 700 FPS. Even a scroungy song dog deserves a decisive termination.


Well-Known Member
Nicely written.

"Aplomb"?...... I think more in abomb or chunked when talking about varmint blasting. Some guys get wound up measuring horn spread..... I like to see how far the chunks fly,or gap widths,or red mist. Not real pc these days.... ehh,don't care.


Well-Known Member
I have a 5" PP in .38 S&W that had some issues when I got it, bound up, for $100 at a gun show, with
OK exterior, essentially mint bore and cylinder interiors. After removing the partially askew side plate,
and relocating the out of position parts, the side plate closed properly and the action worked as intended.
After a first trial, I discovered that slowly cocking the hammer would not rotate the cylinder to the lock,
a short hand. I stretched the hand, got the timing back correct. The next issue was occasional misfires
and partial jamming...too much end shake, the cylinder could drag on the rear face of the barrel and
the cylinder could move just occasionally too far forward for the FP to get a good hit. So,
I made a .006 shim washer which proved to be just a hair too thick, so I made a second at .004" which
worked perfectly. NOW, the old girl was ready to show her stuff.

It will put a couple of loads, with old Ideal .360 diam bullets designed about 1905 for the cartridge
into 1.5" round groups at 25 yds when my eyes are working well - like a sunny day.

Nice old Colt, and it was fun bringing it back to operational condition.

I do appreciate the caliber, but it would not be my first choice for self defense, although there
is no doubt that it would beat harsh language or my Swiss Army knife by a wide margin.
I believe my best accy was with 2.8 Unique, close to the OP's load. None of my 358477s cast
quite large enough for best accy, although one double cavity will get me .360 bullets. It actually
likes .361 a bit better, as CZ93X62 noted.

I have never even attempted the heavy 200 gr loads in this gun.

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Redlands, Kalifornistan
Shop--Thank you for the kind words. The 477s at 700 FPS would work well for cottontails for dinner. No shredded carcasses, just harvested DRT without much fuss & bother. That's not to say that I don't appreciate flying rat parts and cartwheeling ground squirrels as much as the next guy. Absolutely, I do! I bring all the war toys with me on rat hunts--22 Win Mag through 22-250 will provide the aerial interludes if I do my part.

Pistolero--I haven't and won't be running the 200 grainers in those little Colt and S&W jewels. The 38/200 loads use the same powder charge as do the 150 grain weights, so pressure has to be higher with the same fuel pushing 33% more metal out in front of it. The larger-framed platforms can get that duty. I darn sure WILL NOT be carting any 38 S&W around for goblin stopping, these are fun guns for paper and little-critter hunting only--basically a 22 LR that is reloadable at very low cost.


St Lawrence river valley, NY
My sole 38 S+W is Smith & Wesson Perfected Model. That's the one about J frame size with two locking mechanisms for it's break open type pivot- the traditional "Pull up on the rear sight area" and a common Smith type thumb latch behind the cylinder. Beautiful gun, gorgeous blue, outstanding detail work. I suppose got it more out of it's uniqueness than anything else. IIRC it's a 4" model, has typical teeny, tiny so called "sights" that I really can't see. I always intended to try the Super Police 200 gr loads and got a mold for that. I was fascinated by the idea based on on Henry Stebbins "Pistols and Revolvers" book and the anecdotal evidence for their effectiveness he wrote of. Great book by the way, it deserves to be owned and read by anyone who appreciates older guns. I have a 150ish gr mould for it too. That one will probably be a better idea all around.

I passed up on an Enfield 38S+W. Dumb. But I was trying to get the Webley 455 and over looked the smaller gun. Never got the 455 either!


Well-Known Member
My wife's CC is a beautiful little S&W Model 32 "Terrier" 2" bbl in .38 S&W
She is a crack shot with this little pistol and I enjoy watching her shoot it.
I also enjoy reloading for it even though it is small brass it is easy to manage
I too use 9 Mak dies for the .362" bullets it uses. She uses 75 gr Ranch dog bullets for her loads


High Steppes of Eastern Washington
FWIW, I shoot the 200 grain Lyman #358430 made from 1/30 and sized .360". Federal 100 primers firing 3.0 grains of Accurate #5 for 590f/s velocity. These shoot to point of aim for me and the pressure is just under 12,500 cup. However I would not recommend them for break tops, except the British Military, or black powder guns.
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Redlands, Kalifornistan
Ric--my first 200 grain bullets for the 38 S&W were cast in a Lyman #358430 mould that was "Beagled" using his HVAC aluminum tape on the block faces to fatten the castings. That trick actually worked OK, and the Webley digested them pretty well. Accuracy was not stellar, though--so I ordered the NEI #169A in pursuit of tighter groups. That didn't produce tighter groups either......nor did 100 grain cast Makarov bullets sized .363". A couple years later I scored the S&W M&P x 5", and that gun shoots VERY well--a thing a number of jackrabbits (to 40+ yards) can attest. I never tried the Beagled #358430s in the S&W. As an aside--in both 38 Special and in 357 Magnum, the #358430 is a VERY ACCURATE CASTING. And it stays accurate from 700 to 1300 FPS in my sideiron. I need to run these through the Henry 357 I bought last year, to see how these plain-base designs hold up at high pressure in longer barrels.


Well-Known Member
Have been thinking about an H&R Handi chambered in 38 S&W but the case it too short to fit my .223" rem chamber: best they can do is a 357 mag


St Lawrence river valley, NY
IMO there's a lot ot be said for those old 19th century rounds like the 38 S+W, 32 S+W/Long, 44 Russian/Special, etc. for field use and woods bumming. You don't need a magnum to pop Peter Cottontail and a 32 S+W out of a #4 Remington Rolling Block has resulted in a lot of very dead porkies on my place, coons too. The 1 downside to those rounds is that they do tend to ricochet more readily than the faster rounds that make the bullet go "splat" when it hits rock or frozen wood. But for a woods gun, you don't really need more unless you're hunting deer or have aggressive critters in your area. At that, I'm pretty sure a 38 S+W would drop most problem critters with a CNS hit. Maybe it's not optimal when you are overrun with hogs or bear, but if a crazy heifer has you in her sights, it's going to work a lot better than a sharp stick.

358156 hp

Well-Known Member
My first revolver was a pre-war S&W commercial M&P is 38 S&W. I learned to reload ammo at the picnic table on our deck with a LEE Loader, and a small hammer. The LEE dipper included with the loader threw about 2 grains of Red Dot, so a pound of powder lasted forever. Correct diameter bullets were impossible to buy at the time, so I either used HB wadcutters, or jacketed bullets to get at least some sort of accuracy. Forget about power, jacketed bullets would bounce off hard targets, ar just barely stick into a piece of soft pine at 25 yards. However, the old gun taught me how to shoot, primarily because of its lack of recoil and its fussiness with bullets. I miss the old girl somedays and it just may be time to find a proper replacement, plus it will give me a good reason to buy more moulds :rofl:


Active Member
I liked one i had but ammo was old stuff. I shot a oak tree with one at about 50 ft once, came back and whopped me in the thigh (high inner thigh). Limping drew some questions, my friend told everybody it was the worst self castration attempt he ever saw


St Lawrence river valley, NY
Yup, one of the things you learn shooting the old "low and slow" rounds is that bullets, even cast, will bounce. I was engaging in some on the job sighting in one really cold day years back with a 32-20 rifle. Shot into a handy target type knot on a tree and a second later there was a "BLANG!" near me. My first thought was, "OH NO! The bullet bounced back and hit the Troop car! How am I going to explain that?!!!" Nope, hit a guard rail in the pull off (logging header) I was parked in. Freak thing, but lesson learned.


Well-Known Member
Talk of ricochets reminds me of my wife's great aunt, now 91, a 30 year police veteran in a large, coastal Texas town. She was also one of the armorers and range officers, and has a scar on her left temple that looks like a cigarette burn from a .38 wadcutter bouncing back from the berm. She told me everyone thought she was dead at first because the hit knocked her out cold for a couple of minutes, but fortunately no major damage was done.


Redlands, Kalifornistan
One of the bays at my shop's old pistol range and academy had a bad habit of sending bullets back at you. It was the far-right row, Lane #13. 38 wadcutters, 45 ACP hardball, it didn't matter--the lane returned bullets. On days I ran the range I disallowed use of that lane entirely. That old place finally got closed in the late 1990s, and not a moment too soon. The whole facility was a prehistoric death trap, and Lane #13 was among the lesser hazards.

358156 hp

Well-Known Member
I used to shoot IHMSA silhouette, primarily Field Pistol, with cast bullets and used to experience a number of bounce back hits, most of them in the legs & chest. Oddly, most of them were experienced at the farthest (100 yard) distance, and only with my 30 carbine barrel. NRA has a similar discipline called "Hunter Pistol", with the primary difference being that the bank of chicken targets is at 40 yards (IIRC) instead of 25 yards like IHMSA. NRAs reasoning was that 25 yards is too close to shoot a steel target. While I don't remember getting hit by a bounce back at 25 yards, I once got struck in the right foot at an NRA match with enough force to almost make me drop to the ground. This only happened with my cast 30 carbine loads, and was the main reason I went back to my 357 Contender after a half season with the .30. I won more with the hot 357 loads anyway. Since then, if I know I'll be shooting steel, or other hard, solid targets I make sure to take primarily hollowpoint loads.


St Lawrence river valley, NY
Wow. Bounce backs off a steel target with some give to it?!! Weird. Ya gotta wonder why some things happen like they do.


Staff member
The NRA went to 40 meters for the chickens from 25 meters not because of bullet bounce back but because of fragments. Testing revealed that cratered targets fragment even 22 rimfire bullets when a crater on the target is struck. New or smooth/clean targets much less. Is the reason for the rule safety glasses WILL be worn on the firing line by everyone, shooters, spotter, spectators, no exceptions. The 200 foot covered firing line at LASC has quite a bit of bullet fragments on it but not a single bullet.