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Old July 23, 2016, 02:39 PM   #1
SaxonPig
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The 38 S&W

Not the more familiar 38 Special.

The 38 S&W was developed in the 1880s for the early break top S&W revolvers. The 38 Special came out right at the end of the 19th century and was meant to be a more powerful improvement. For some reason they reduced the diameter of the 38 Special to .357" from the earlier 38's .361" bore remained. They lengthened the case for more powder capacity and added 12 grains in bullet weight, from 146 to 158.

The old 38 S&W remained in production even though it was eclipsed by the more powerful 38 Special. S&W chambered small frame revolvers called the Regulation Police (4" barrel) and the Terrier (2" barrel) for the old cartridge. During WW II they made hundreds of thousands of Victory Models for Great Britain in 38 S&W. Production of revolvers in 38 S&W didn't end until the mid 1970s.

It can be hard to find 38 S&W ammo and it's more costly when you do. It is easy to reload with cases and properly sized lead bullets being available.

I picked up a nice Terrier that dates from around 1955. I wanted to play with the 38 S&W and see what it could do. I used 125 grain JHPs sized .357" so they were a tad undersized but the accuracy was good enough for close range self defense use. I was able to get 975 FPS from the Terrier's 2" barrel. Most mainstream +P 38 Special ammo with the same bullet runs 875-900 from my 2" guns. My 38 S&W load is clearly superior.

You have to hold a 2" Terrier in your hand to appreciate how tiny it really is. The frame and cylinder are shorter than the J frames in 38 Special.

I have no plans to actually carry this gun, but it certainly isn't the toy some consider the 38 S&W to be. Even the original load using 146 grain round nose lead bullet at around 700 FPS would kill a man if he was hit in the right place.



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Old July 23, 2016, 02:56 PM   #2
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Great post Saxon. Your post shows that the 38 S&W loaded with the right combination can be a effective round. That is nice terrier.
Howard
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Old July 23, 2016, 08:33 PM   #3
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SaxonPig, You have a nice looking Terrier.

I have three S&W's that were manufactured for the .38 S&W cartridge. I also reload for the round.

A list of my three:

1. Pre-Victory shipped directly to the Union of South Africa on Dec. 1, 1940.

2. .38 Safety Hammerless 3rd Model, vintage 1896-1897.

3. .38 Safety Hammerless 4th Model, shipped May 2, 1901 to Schoverling, Daly & Gale Co., New York City, NY.

Bass Pro used to carry new ammunition for it.
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Old July 23, 2016, 09:51 PM   #4
Deaf Smith
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In reality, they only thing stopping the 38 S&W from being a serious snub round is the old top breaks and early guns with softer metal.

Like the .45 Colt revolver round it's loaded light for older guns.

I own three of 'em. Colt Police Positive 4 inch marked 'Chase Manhattan Bank', Webley 3 inch Pocket Model, and a S&W 5 inch RAAF revolver.

But I do say, that Terrier is a great find.

Deaf
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Old July 23, 2016, 10:14 PM   #5
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A friend of mine I haven't seen in 20 years had an old break top 38 S&W he couldn't find ammo for. He went to the gunstore and they found out the 38 Super would chamber and thats what he bought.

When he showed it to me I had really bad feelings about shoooting that ammo. But he had already shot a few rounds and then shot 5 more to show me it was safe. So I shot 5 and you know what? That stuff was accurate. I guess the .355 bullet in the .361 bore kept the pressure down and didn't blow up the gun.

Have fun with your gun. I wish I had one to play with. And just remember. 38 special was Plus P when it came out before it was watered down to what it is today. But I think you already know that.
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Old July 23, 2016, 11:04 PM   #6
James K
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Well, the .38 Super pressure (36,500 psi) runs well above that of the .38 S&W (13,000 psi), so I sure don't recommend firing the .38 Super in an old .38 S&W revolver, even one with a solid (as opposed to a breaktop) frame.

The reason S&W chose the smaller diameter case for the .38 Special was simply that the U.S. Army was using the .38 Long Colt in the then-current military revolver and S&W wanted to sell the new guns to the military. A revolver that couldn't use the existing stocks of service ammunition was not likely to be viewed favorably.

The 1899 S&W revolver could use either the service ammo or the more powerful .38 S&W Special.

FWIW, that Terrier, a .38 on a .32 frame, is the direct ancestor of the Chiefs Special (Model 36) and the whole small revolver line. They lengthened the cylinder and frame and strengthened the frame, but the family resemblance is obvious. But the small frame still meant a 5-round limit, vs, six for the larger K frame.

Jim
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Old July 23, 2016, 11:14 PM   #7
Jim Watson
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Yup.
There is only the one branch on the .38 S&W family tree. Two if you count the .38 Colt New Police/Police Positive as a separate round and not just a different label.

The Terrier was also known as the .38-32 for its construction as a .38 on the .32 frame, similar nomenclature to the .22-32 Kit Gun. Wasn't it more fun when guns had names instead of numbers?

.38 Special when it first came out was +P only relative to the .38 Government aka .38 Long Colt. 21 grains of black powder instead of 18.
3.5 grains of Bullseye was a common smokeless load and that sure isn't anybody's +P.


Old catalogs used to list .38 revolvers as accommodating .38 Short Colt, .38 Long Colt, and five or six different variants of .38 Special.
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Old Yesterday, 06:07 AM   #8
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I came so close to buying a 1952 Terrier in 38 S&W that I bought a set of dies for the cartridge, but alas, I changed my mind. I'm sort of sorry I did now. It was just as nice as the one Saxon Pig shows. That gun could only be described as "cute."

I've still got the dies. Maybe another will come along.
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Old Yesterday, 01:37 PM   #9
ratshooter
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Quote:
.38 Special when it first came out was +P only relative to the .38 Government aka .38 Long Colt. 21 grains of black powder instead of 18.
3.5 grains of Bullseye was a common smokeless load and that sure isn't anybody's +P.
Yes todays 38 Special loadings are just barely better than the 38 Long Colt they replaced. But the original loadings of the 38 Special were over 900fps from a 6" barrel with a 158gr bullet. Now you have to buy what is marked +P just to get real 38 loads like they were to begin with.

I believe it is the OP, Saxonpig who wrote and article pointing out this very thing. Maybe he will respond to his thread with a link to the article.

The only factory load I know of loaded like original 38 Special loads are the ones from Sellier & Bellot with a 158gr round nose lead bullet at about 997fps and they are NOT marked +P. Here ya go

http://www.sellierbellot.us/products...product?id=142

Click on the Ballistics tab
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Old Yesterday, 02:29 PM   #10
Jim Watson
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Apples and Oranges.
Shot out of a 7.5" P&V barrel. Bring out your Contender.
I wonder what it will do from a real revolver or the SAAMI 4" Vented test barrel.

Sharpe's data for .38s, some VERY hot, is based on a 6" barrel and the then-new .357 from a 8.75". They had to be straight barrels to fit crusher gauges, no loss to cylinder gap.
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Old Yesterday, 02:39 PM   #11
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I have two Sears reproduction catalogs, one from 1897 and the other from 1902.

In the 1902 catalog, the .38 S&W is listed as 14 grains of BP with a 145 grain bullet. Velocity not listed. Cost of 50 was 48 cents.

The S&W breaktop was $11.50.

Back in 1897, the same box of 50 would have cost you 54 cents.
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Old Yesterday, 02:50 PM   #12
Jim Watson
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Similarly, 1901 Sears had .38 S&W black powder for that same $.48 but smokeless was available for $.64 a box.

We read a lot of timid posts about guns only "black powder rated" but I would bet that if Great Grandpa could afford the extra 16 cents, he would shoot the nitro in whatever he had. Even though Colt did not proof for smokeless until around 1904 and S&W was still tippy-toeing around the matter until 1907-1909.
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Old Yesterday, 04:08 PM   #13
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I think Buffalo Bore offers a .38 S&W load.
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Old Yesterday, 04:51 PM   #14
ratshooter
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Think what you want Jim. The OP has made the point before that the velocity difference between a 6 and a 4" 357 was only 50 FPS. And if the 38 load from S&B will get 975 from a 7.5" barrel i am willing to bet it will still get over 900 fps from a 6" barrel. And thats much better than the watered down 38 specials being sold now that are listed at 770fps.
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Old Yesterday, 07:15 PM   #15
Jim Watson
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If I could find some of that S&B I would chronograph it in real guns.

But I seldom buy .38s because I load all my match and practice ammo, everything from 750 to 950 fps. The occasional box of factory hollowpoints for my belly guns is a pretty occasional purchase.

I will also note that an equally reliable source has reported rather the opposite of Saxon Pig's famous "+P in an unrated gun" test. Ted Murphy said he had worn out two M&Ps, vintage not mentioned, shooting Minor power factor .38s in regular IDPA competition and practice. But that was a lot more than 500 rounds.


The Speer manuals have a table of their brand of .357 Magnum shot in every revolver they could get their hands on. Velocity varied by 282 fps for the same factory load in the same barrel length. A Colt Python was the slowest.
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Old Yesterday, 08:16 PM   #16
ratshooter
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Hey Jim if you ever make it to Burleson Tx send a PM and we will go shoot some of mine. I have two boxes and really wish I had bought more. One box from Cheaper Than Dirt (yes I used to buy from them sad to say) is marked $6.99. When I first shot the S&B 38s I knew this was hotter than any other factory 38 ammo I had fired.

I have been reloading 38s for 3 decades + and you have to load something much more powerful than 3.5grs of Bullseye to match the S&B ammo.

I had read that 38 loads were downloaded for use in 5 shot Chiefs Special snubs but I am not sure how much I believe that. But with the newer 38s listed at around 770 fps it is not your granpas 38 special.

I have only shot a small amount of factory 38s because as soon as I started shooting handguns in about 1981 I started reloading. I bought one box of 38 wadcutters and one box of 357s and went and bought a press, dies and powder and never looked back. The 38 special is my most loaded cartridge.
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Old Yesterday, 11:13 PM   #17
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My grandfather carried an Iver Johnson 38 S&W hammerless in the Alaskan Gold rush. It took a lot of talking on my part in 1957 when I was 6 years old to get him up in his garage attic and open the old steamer chest and show me the revolver.

Since 2000 I have collected a number of 38S&W revolvers.
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