View Full Version : .38/.357 bullet weight and profile suggestions

March 21, 2012, 06:23 PM
I've been reloading .45 ACP on a Dillon, Square Deal press for a couple years now. I use Titegroup and Montana Gold jacketed JFP bullets. I'm going to start reloading for .38 special (and maybe .357) for my new Colt SAA with a 7.5" barrel. In the past I had always stuck with jacketed bullets since that's what my friends used. But here recently I've been considering cast lead bullets due to the much lower cost.

• What bullet weight would you suggest for a target/plinker?

• What bullet profile for the same?

158 grain Semi-Wad-Cutters or lighter round nose, etc. Thanks in advance for any response.


March 21, 2012, 07:46 PM
For target practice with your .38/.357 it's hard to beat 2.7 grains of Bullseye with 148 grain wadcutters.

They're very accurate and cut nice clean holes in the target.

March 21, 2012, 07:58 PM
For general purpose I like 158gr SWC over 3gr. Red Dot in 38spl. Running the same over 2400 in 357 for the full house load, but I don't recall the amount. Wanna say 12.8gr, but don't load it unless you verify.

March 21, 2012, 08:03 PM
Wadcutters make the best holes. This can be important if you shoot in competition and seeing the edge of the hole could make the difference between a 10 and a X. These can be cast or swaged.

Semiwadcutters make good holes and typically weigh more than wadcutters. They are good for target and many use them for hunting. Cast bullets in this profile can be used for hunting. Swaged are probably too soft for hunting, but considered among the best self defense rounds if swaged with a hollow point.

Lead round nose bullets make the worst holes in a target for scoring, but the profile allows for rapid reloads. This is probably the favorite bullet for action shooting competitors shooting DA revolvers. Reloading speed may not be as important shooting a SA.

For informal practice and plinking any bullet profile will do. For a beginner who is just trying to get a lot of trigger time developing the fundamentals teh cheapest bullet is probably the best as long as its sized properly and doesn't lead the bore.

The bullet I use the most is a swaged 158gr SWC over a mid-range charge of Unique or W231.

March 21, 2012, 08:06 PM
Hard cast lead: 148 grain DEWC's or 158 grain SWC or 158 grain RNFP. You can load the wadcutters hot in the .357 as long as they are not hollow-based.

March 21, 2012, 08:13 PM
Hard to beat the ole SWC for shooting what needs shootin !!

A 158 gr. SWC & 4.5grs. of Titrgroup will make a nice clean midrange load ;)

March 21, 2012, 08:50 PM
Another vote for 158 grains LSWC. Pick a pistol powder they all work fairly well. Most times they work well enough it would be hard to tell the differance lookng at the target. I like Bull's Eye, Trail Boss, and TiteGroup all do well this bullet.

March 21, 2012, 08:58 PM
I have made a couple of batches with a friend for the .38 Special. We used Berry's plated 158 grain FP and RN, both with 3.5 grains of WST and CCI primers. These are practice and plinking loads, easy on the wrist and they seem to give decent accuracy from my revolvers. My oldest daughter likes to shoot the lighter .38 loads, not so much .357 or .44 magnums, so this one works for me. The last time we went to the range she shot up a couple of boxes in short order so I guess I'll need to have at least a couple hundred loaded up at all times as a minimum "on hand" supply.

Teenagers, they eat up all the food and shoot up all the ammo.....:rolleyes: Maybe I'll just have to teach her how to reload her own!

March 22, 2012, 11:03 AM
Thanks all. I guess I never really thought about why the different profiles are the way they are. Thanks for clarifying the differences in the profiles. That helps a lot.

A bit of clarification though, you all seem to favor a heavier bullet for all-around shooting (like I asked for). Can I deduce that a lighter bullet will/should recoil less than a heavier one if both are loaded on the lighter side?

Thanks so much guys! I knew this was the place to come to get specific questions answered correctly. :o

March 22, 2012, 11:26 AM
Yes, in general a lighter bullet will have less recoil.

Also, one thing I forgot to mention is that when using fast-burning powders like Bullseye it's very easy to double-charge since the powder takes so little space inside the case. Be very careful about this.

If, with your setup or procedures, you cannot ensure that you're not double-charging you should probably find a slower burning powder and bullet combination that would fill the case (at safe pressures).

March 22, 2012, 11:53 AM
Thanks Axel, I so appreciate the concern and heed your point 100% as a double charge should leave the gun and myself in pieces.

I've been overly careful loading >5000 rounds of .45 without any mishap, squib or the like. I've forced myself to look down each case to confirm the powder charge before seating the bullet. But nonetheless, you're right. Thanks for the warning.

March 22, 2012, 12:36 PM
When I first hired on as a cop (Mar 1974) I was issued 38 158 gn RN cast and loaded by jail trustees.

Right off the bat, I said no thanks and started loading my own cast bullets, 150 Gr SWC (Lyman Bullet 358477)

I shot everything from Moose, buffalo, horses, etc down to snakes with that bullet.

I also use it in practice and competition. I also carry it in my 642 pocket revolver. And its accurate in all my 38/357s. (Except my Smith Model 52 which requires flush WCs).

I know others like super +Ps of all kinds, but this bullet has worked great for me for almost 40 years, and I don't see any reason to change.

March 23, 2012, 10:59 AM
I know others like super +Ps of all kinds, but this bullet has worked great for me for almost 40 years, and I don't see any reason to change.

That's about as powerful of a testimonial as a guy could hope for. Thanks much. You've been using that bullet for longer that I've been alive! :p

My issue is that I'm not set up to cast my own. I want to find a bullet that I can buy in quantity that's already sized and lubed. I've been looking at Velocity bullets an Missouri bullets, but nobody lists a 150 grain SWC.

Another issue is avoiding leading. Got any suggestions there?

March 23, 2012, 12:22 PM
I've used "bought" cast bullets before, not from MO but Montana, when I'm too lazy or in a hurry to cast some.

I don't know of anyone who sells cast 150 SWCs but most sell 158s. In reality there ain't a nickles worth of difference.

I don't change anything going from 150 to 158s.

In fact, I might just go to store bought cast bullets anyway, simply because I'm getting old(er) and more lazy.

March 24, 2012, 06:54 AM
I do not believe I saw Kraigs powder charge listed. I to started in Law Enforcement in 1974, carrying a Model 28 Highway Patrol revolver all but a month on that first job. The first month I carryed a Browning Hi Power. It would not feed any good HP ammo, and was not very accurate at all. The very next Gun Show I traded the Hi Power for the Model 28, and I was a very happy camper. The S&W 28 was, and still is very accurate, and had no feed issues at all. I sold it to a buddy years ago, who still has it. Kraig and I are normally on the same channel on almost everything I see him post on. My guess is he has been loading 5 grains of Unique under the 150 and 158 semi wadcutters for the last 40 years like most of us old timers. That was considered to be the General Purpose 38 Special load forever.
Just looked at my old bullet mold. It is a 2 cavity Lyman 358156, which is still made by the way. That is an old tryed and true 155 grain Gas Check Semi Wadcutter bullet designed by Ray Thomas. My Lyman 3d Edition Pistol & Revolver Handbook lists the Maximum Standard Pressure load with this bullet at 5.1 grains of Unique for a velocity of 895 fps with a pressure of 16,100 CUP. The +P Loading is 5.4 grains for 954 fps at 18,000 CUP.
I ran the numbers on Quick Load and came up with 5.1 grains of Unique = 937 fps and 15,254 psi with no consideration for velocity loss from the cylinder gap. The +P Loading of 5.4 grains of Unique was listed at 978 fps at 17,005 psi.
Like Kraig I have been buying my bullets most of the time lately. As I have been shooting in Defensive Pistol Matches, I have went to 158 Round Nose bullets for faster reloads using Safariland Comp III speedloaders.
I am using 2 loads at the moment:
My light load for the J Frame Air Weights in BUG Division is 2.8 grains of Clays under the 158 RN shooting Silhouettes only.
My heavy load for My S&W 64, LCR 357 and my brothers WC GP100 is 4.7 grains of Unique.

We have just started shooting a Steel Challenge match the first of the year. My brother is shooting his Willy Clapp GP100 in the Steel Challenge. I loaded him some 158 RN with 5.0 Unique for the next match. If this does not take the 42" Pepper Poppers down with no problem, I will up the dose to +P with 5.4 grains of Unique for the next match.

Unique may be over 100 years old, but it still works fine for us old guys. I do load some Power Pistol also. Just filled the hopper on the 550 with Power Pistol to load some 38 Special +P 125 HP ammo.

Bottom Line for Range use, about any bullet will work fine from 125 grain thru 158 grain. For powders Unique, AA #2, AA #5, WW231, Clays, Tightgroup, Red Dot, 700X, Bullseye, and Power Pistol will all work. I like Unique because it will work fine in almost everything I reload. It is not the best for light loads, and will not go up to Magnum velocitys, but for Standard all purpose loads it really shines. I even load a 400 grain over 8.0 grains of Unique for my Summer Plinking Load in my 480 Ruger Super RedHawk.

The 38 Special works well with lots of different bullets, and several powders, as evident by the loads listed by others above. You will probably be happy plinking with about any of them.


Super Sneaky Steve
March 24, 2012, 03:42 PM
When I load lead bullets I like to have them on the heavy side. That means less powder and lower speeds. Usually that translates into less flash, less recoil (sometimes) and less leading.

Most guns with fixed sights shoot POA with 158grn bullets too.

March 24, 2012, 11:37 PM
About the only thing I shoot in .38s is the 158gr SWC (although I did just pick up a 125gr RNFP to try out). I get great accuracy and reasonable velocity.

The biggest factor in barrel leading is fit. If you have a properly fitting bullet, you can push cast bullets to the pressure maximums and still not have any noticeable leading. The key is to get your bullets sized to .001-.0015 over groove diameter for your gun. Each gun is different and bore diameters do vary. Get a good fit and you can push a pure lead bullet to over 1000 fps without leading.

The next biggest factors are bullet hardness and bullet lube. Too soft a bullet for the pressures obtained will cause leading. Too hard a bullet can also cause leading where it doesn't allow for engraving of the rifling and just strips the lead as it goes down the barrel. I don't know much about the different lubes other than what works for me. Where I cast and size my own bullets, I tumble lube them in a lube made up of Johnsons Paste Wax / Lee Liquid Alox / Mineral Spirits in proportions of 45/45/10 respectively.

Different powders will also contribute to leading, but I find that mostly the case with shooting cast bullets in rifles.

Good luck, be safe, and happy shooting!

Aguila Blanca
March 25, 2012, 12:01 AM
Just to horn in on this discussion, if I may, I'm in much the same situation as dendang (the OP): I mostly shoot and load .45 Auto for 1911s, and some 9mm (also for 1911s). I recently picked up an inexpensive, modern(ish) DA .38 Special revolver to teach my wife how to shoot. I've been using store-bought'en ammo, but I have saved the brass and I'd like to segue into loading for .38 Special.

I mostly load Berry's bullets for both .45 Auto and 9mm, but I've been using a plated 115-grain round nose for the 9mm. That's probably not optimum for .38 Special, both being a bit on the light side and also being a .356" bullet rather than .357". But that's the crux of my question: If practicable, I'd like to be able to use the same bullet for both 9mm and .38 Special.

In their plated bullets, Berrys lists both 124-gr and 147-gr in a round nose configuration, as well as a 124-gr flat point for 9mm. There are spec'ed at .356". For .38 Special, they're showing me a 125-gr flat point, and 158-gr in either flat point or round nose.

Would any of these be a suitable dual-purpose bullet, or do I just bite the bullet (as it were) and buy different projectiles for the .38 Special?

March 25, 2012, 12:19 AM
My vote goes to 148 LWC and 158 LRN. I can tell you that my experience with the Remington 148 HBWC has been very good for 38 Spl, but would not load it in 357 as previously noted. I also hate the lube on the Rem HBWCs, but prices and accuracy keep me dealing with it.

The key here is probably whether you plan to only load 10% or less 357 Mags. If more, go with the 158 LRN for all. If less, plan on buying 148 LWC in bulk for the 38 and a few boxes of in 158 LRN.

If I wanted one bullet to do most anything here it would be a 158 LRN. Easy reloading and loading the gun, in both rounds, along with being a bullet both shoot well in all conditions. The Hornady bullet 10508 will suit your needs, but break your wallet.

March 25, 2012, 12:50 PM
If I wanted one bullet to do most anything here it would be a 158 LRN. Easy reloading and loading the gun, in both rounds, along with being a bullet both shoot well in all conditions. The Hornady bullet 10508 will suit your needs, but break your wallet.

I think a better "do everything" bullet is the Lee 158 grain flat point (RF, they call it) It has a huge meplat with tapered sides to load easily.

March 26, 2012, 06:33 PM
Thanks so much everybody. All your help is most appreciated.

March 26, 2012, 07:25 PM
Tightgroup and 158gr SWC or A#5 and 158gr SWC

March 26, 2012, 08:43 PM
4.0 grains of IMR Trail Boss with a 158 grain LSWC. Not a barn burner for velocity. A good paper puching, and steel shooting load. The only cleaning I have to do to my Mod 67 after shooting this load is cleaning off the carbon from the lube. They did very well in a friend's snub nose revolver as well.

March 27, 2012, 03:34 AM
One of the cheapest and easily found is Remingtons black bulk bullets.They are soft almost pure lead if not pure lead and covered with a graphite lube.They have a hollow base and come in roundnose(looks very close to a Lyman 358311) or semiwadcutter.I have used them for a very long time and they are very accurate.In a 38spl case I have used 3.0 grs of Red Dot or 3.5 grs of HP-38 or Green Dot with very good results.The Green Dot load is a max load according to Lee's Modern Reloading so use it with caution in a 38spl it will be fine to go in a 357.
In a 357 mag case a starting load of 5.0 grs of Red Dot is a great one to try for plinking or small game.That loading is supposed to be a little over 1100 fps and I don't push these any faster to prevent any leading in the barrel.Any of these in my Puma lever action rifle are just a little jiggle on the shoulder and a great training load for a new shooter.
A little over a year ago I started to cast my own and my favorite mold is the Lee 125 grainer.(358-125-RF)It has a crimp groove and a nice size lube groove and even the first ones out of the mold every casting session are usually good to go.They drop out at .3605 diameter and are .548 in long.As near as I can measure the meplat is .234 inches in diameter.They are very accurate with a charge of 4.5 grs of HP-38 in both of my 357's,using 38spl brass.4.8 grs is the listed max again according to Lee's for a 38spl.