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Old September 29, 2012, 07:52 AM   #1
Doc Hoy
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.38, .38 special, .357 what is your load like?

I am trying to zero in on my decision about an alternate caliber (alternate to .45 LC) to reload for my shooting.

I understand quite well that the designations in the title refer to smokeless loads and projectiles designed for smokeless powder.

Starting with case length it appears that there are three case lengths. 1.155 inches for .38 Special, 1.29 for .357, and .775 for .38.

I checked on availability and it appears that .38 brass is hard to find, but .38 Special and .357 (Which appears to be referred to as .38 Long Colt when addressing only the case. Or maybe I have that backwards.) is readily available.

I am thinking about a lever action rifle (I still can not bring myself to use the word "gun") and a revolver.

I am not a CAS shooter and so I don't care about range rules, event rules, or club rules.

So here goes my list of questions:

1. Am I correct about the cases? 1.29 and 1.155 is what is out there, what you guys like, and what I will likely be happy with?

2. Is there a special slug you like to use? I like Lee molds and they have a 158grain RNFP with two grooves. It is a dead ringer for the .45 LC mold I am using. They also have a three groove mold at 150 grains.

3. When loaded with black powder, do the cartridges retain their smokeless designation or do we call them something else? The .38, .38 LC, .357 designation seems to loose the distinctness of its meaning when we are changing bullet weight, bullet type and powder charge.
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Old September 29, 2012, 09:01 AM   #2
Beagle333
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YMMV!!

Quote:
1. Am I correct about the cases? 1.29 and 1.155 is what is out there, what you guys like, and what I will likely be happy with?
I use 1.280 and 1.155 as my case lengths.
.38sp brass is available everywhere (1x fired) for cheap. And .357 brass is harder to find (1x fired). But Starline is affordable ($15/100 new from Midway) and I personally don't stock but a couple hundred. Midway brass link And you can also buy direct from Starline, but I don't know if there is a min qty or not. I shoot a .357 and I use both lengths of brass in it. Some of the old cowboy bullets (notably, the Keith 358429) won't fit in some .357 chambers (too long in .357 brass) and must be loaded in .38 brass.


Quote:
2. Is there a special slug you like to use?
I like 150-158 grain. (nose style choices vary as much as people's favorite color) But there are many ways to test them out before you buy a mold (or 12). Many people sell cast bullets for that caliber, and quite a few offer them in qtys of 100, so you don't have to commit to 500 (or more) to see if you like that one. For example... I use this guy- one option and he has boxes of 100 for $12.50 (free shipping)
There are lots of retailers of cast bullets. Here's a list of a bunch more guys (by no means a complete list... just one I had handy) bullet manufacturers

Quote:
3. When loaded with black powder, do the cartridges retain their smokeless designation
This is where I can't help. I only use smokeless in .357 rounds. I don't mind cleaning my 1860s, but I don't like taking the .357 apart.
Happy shooting!
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Old September 29, 2012, 09:16 AM   #3
Mike Irwin
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OK, when you say .38, I'm assuming you mean .38 Smith & Wesson and not .38 Long Colt or something like that?

"When loaded with black powder, do the cartridges retain their smokeless designation"

Well, of the cartridges that you name, only the .357 Magnum was originally developed with smokeless powder.

The .38 S&W, the .38 Long Colt (not sure which one you mean), and the .38 Special were all developed originally as black powder cartridges.

The .38 Special originally held 21.5 grains of black powder behind a 158-gr. bullet.

The .38 Long Colt originally held 18 grains of black powder and a 150-gr. bullet.

The .38 S&W held around 14 grains of black powder behind a 146-gr. bullet.
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Old September 29, 2012, 10:29 AM   #4
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The 38 Special has a case about 1/16 longer than a 38 Long Colt. If was me that's the route I'd go. The special was developed in 1898 for bp but it was loaded with smokeless by 1899.
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Old September 29, 2012, 10:38 AM   #5
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Thanks you two.

I am given to understand that the .775 case length is the .38 S&W.

And maybe that is a better way FOR ME to understand the differences.

I am going under this assumption:

Three case lengths:

.775 inches - .38 (I am given to understand that this is referred to as .38 S&W)

1.290 - .357 when referring to a smokeless round

1.155 - .38 special, also referred to as Long Colt

When I say, "when loaded with black powder" I mean, in the present day, loaded for CAS (even though I don't shoot CAS) and not what the cartridge was originally designed for. The question might be better posed; "What to CAS shooters call their rounds? If you have a revolver that is .38/.357, and you are loading black powder rounds, do you call it a .38 round, a .357 round, a .38 Special round, and if so, what is the difference?

Here is why I ask:

If I move into the .38/.357 caliber, I would probably stay away from .775 cases because of the limitation on the powder. I load only black powder, never smokeless.

So this means I can choose between (IIUC) two different case lengths. 1.155 and 1.290. In this case, the difference is minor and so I would likely go with the larger of the two sizes for flexability. It is important because if I am working with two different case lengths which are really only different by about an eighth of an inch, I have to reset my dies. So I wuld likely stick with one and only one case size.
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Old September 29, 2012, 10:39 AM   #6
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Sorry Hawg....

....I posted this before I read yours.

So "Thanks, You three."
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Old September 29, 2012, 08:28 PM   #7
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Hawg, several companies loaded the 38 Special with black powder at least until WW I. There is some debate about when it was available commercially with smokeless. Some sources say 1899, others claim not until 1902.

Trivia question... The last American cartridge to be developed with black powder?

The 44 Special in 1907.
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Old September 29, 2012, 10:19 PM   #8
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Quote:
3. When loaded with black powder, do the cartridges retain their smokeless designation or do we call them something else? The .38, .38 LC, .357 designation seems to loose the distinctness of its meaning when we are changing bullet weight, bullet type and powder charge.
As long as your cartridge is .32 caliber or larger, SASS doesn't really care, other than safety rules. You are welcome to use black powder loads in .357 magnum cases even in the frontier cartridge class where black powder must be used.
SASS is more about "the spirit of the game" than it is about absolute historical correctness. It's not the NSSA or the Revolutionary War Re-enactors.
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Old September 30, 2012, 04:37 AM   #9
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I am beginning to understand that....

....I may be asking an impertinent question.

My question is; What do we call the rounds that we use in .38/.357 revolvers or rifles when we load them ourselves with BP?

Am I asking a question that doesn't really have or doesn't really need an answer?

Go buy .45LC rounds in a gun shop, and you have to read the box to kow what you are getting. Bullet size, cowboy loads, defense rounds.

I bought some bullets at 25.00 per fifty at the gunshow and a guy walked up and asked if they were loaded with BP. The guy selling the ammunition didn't really know. (Sounds crazy...But it is true..He didn't know and he told the guy that.)

I had shot some of these rounds previously, I know that they acted like a light loaded smokeless round. 600 - 650 fps, no smoke, cracked and didn't boom, and moderate recoil. I started to say that but then thought better of it . The guy seemed to be unhappy with the lack of knowledge of the vendor. (really?)

I bought two different boxes of fifty at LGS's. One was from Winchester, the other was from Mexico. The mean MV between the two boxes differed by 200 fps. Both marked Cowboy loads. Both with the same projectile.

This seemed a little odd to me but if this is acceptable then maybe my inquiry is a "fool's errand." Maybe I should just refer to the rounds I load as .38 rounds and if anyone asks more questions, I will tell them the bullet size, the charge, and the muzzle velocity I am getting.

I must admit, it has been a long time since the kid behind the counter at McDonalds asked now much powder I am using in my .45 LCs. ;o)
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Last edited by Doc Hoy; September 30, 2012 at 04:52 AM.
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Old September 30, 2012, 06:57 AM   #10
B.L.E.
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The only commercial loader of black powder cartridges that I know of is Goex and their line of "Black Dawge" cartridges.
Their website says ".357magnum, 146 grain bullet, loaded with black powder". I would assume it is a compressed load which should result in velocities equal to a healthy .38 special smokeless load.

"Cowboy load" usually means a light load so competitive shooters can shoot faster, and a lead bullet in order to be legal in SASS events. It does not mean loaded with black powder.

The best way to be certain that your ammo is loaded with black powder is to load them yourself.
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Old September 30, 2012, 07:11 AM   #11
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Quote:
What do we call the rounds that we use in .38/.357 revolvers or rifles when we load them ourselves with BP?
There is no common 'name' or designation for the .38 S&W, .38 Special or .357 brass 'when loaded with black powder'. You simply have to add the 'loaded with black powder' designation if it's not clear from the context.
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Old September 30, 2012, 08:16 AM   #12
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Doc, you can do like they did in the old days and call it a 38-25 or however much powder a 38 Special case will hold.
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Old September 30, 2012, 10:47 AM   #13
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Getting some good responses here.

Thanks guys.
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Old September 30, 2012, 01:05 PM   #14
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Quote:
Hawg, several companies loaded the 38 Special with black powder at least until WW I. There is some debate about when it was available commercially with smokeless. Some sources say 1899, others claim not until 1902.
I'll take your word for that Mike. I just did a quick search and that's what I came up with.
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Old October 1, 2012, 08:20 AM   #15
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Oddly enough, handgun cartridges never seem to have been identified by the powder weight like many rifle cartridges were.

In fact, I can't think of a single one...

And no, I'm not counting the .32-20, .44-40 or the .38-40, given that they originally were Winchester rifle cartridges.
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Old October 1, 2012, 12:18 PM   #16
Doc Hoy
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Well okay then.....

If I start loading in the smaller caliber (smaller than .45 LC) I will probably use 1.290 case length. If anyone asks I'll tell them I am loading .357 with black powder.

That should cover it.
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Old October 1, 2012, 06:32 PM   #17
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It'll be pretty obvious that they were loaded with black powder when you shoot them.
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Old October 4, 2012, 01:07 PM   #18
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Doc,
I'd recommend you use the Snakebite bullet from Big Lube for any BP 38SPL or 357 mag. I was unable to develope a load that was BOTH accurate AND low foulingfor use in CAS matches. I had a great BP load that shot 1.5" groups at 50yds but needed a "pull through" wet swab every 10 rounds to maintain accuracy due to fouling. I also had a BP load that would shoot all day without fouling but due to the beeswax discs (medium brood core) it shot 5-6" groups at 50 yards so I was missing some far targets. I tried the Snakebite bullet but it did not feed reliably enough in my two Rossi '92s so I could not use that one (had my heart set on it). What I settled on was 15grs by weight of 777 under ANY 158gr bullet using standard lubes or BP lubes in a 357 case. No BOOM but accurate and feeds fine. The 777 was a hotter/faster load:
BP or sub(50yds)= POW..............ding
777 (50yds) = POW........ding
For real BP I would try the Snakebite. You can get samples from BigLube.com
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Old October 4, 2012, 06:15 PM   #19
Doc Hoy
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HG

Thanks for the wink back.

As soon as I hit the send button on this post, I will check the website. That will probably answer my next question.

Do they have a mold for it, or do they just sell the slugs?

Wait ten minutes to respond.
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Old October 4, 2012, 06:21 PM   #20
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Yep I found it..

ZFR Bovers.
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Old October 4, 2012, 09:16 PM   #21
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A Marlin, '66 or '73 ought not to have any feeding issues. The '92s are pretty OAL sensitive. Snakebite, who designed the bullet is a hard core Frontier Cartridge competitor and I believe he used a Marlin last I saw which was a few years ago.
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Old October 5, 2012, 01:32 PM   #22
Doc Hoy
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Hellgate....

...That is a good tip.

Seems like I should be looking at OAL specs too. Something I have not paid much attention to since loading only .45 LC for a revolver.

That also means that I might have less choice in which case I use. If the Magnum case is too long to feed properly, it appears my decision will be made for me. That Snake bite bullet is fairly short, almost like the proportions of the 200 grain .45 LC bullet I am using. Seems like it is unforgiving as regards seating depth.

On the other hand, a rifle which is chambered for .357 Magnum ought to feed properly when .357 ammunition is used.

Y'all can see how green I am at this by the questions I am asking.
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Old October 5, 2012, 04:42 PM   #23
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Actually the Snakebite is a pretty long bullet by 38 standards. It is long so it can accomodate the large grease groove and to allow the use of 38SPL brass but have the bullet seated out to .357 OAL so it feeds in those rifles that handle .357 better.
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Old October 6, 2012, 03:28 PM   #24
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Got it.

Got it.
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