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Old January 23, 2007, 01:08 PM   #1
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Help with 38 Special

So I'm appealing to those with greater wisdom than I to help solve a problem I'm having. I am newer to reloading, and just started reloading for 38 sp in the last few months. The problem I'm having is that the loads I've been turning out are probably the most inaccurate rounds I've ever seen in my life. I mean I'm not the worlds greatest shot or anything, but these are just ridiculous. With factory ammo I can generally shoot this revoler (4" 686) fairly well, say 4-6" groups at 20 yards or so. With my handloads though, I'm having a hard time keeping 12" groups at 10 yards.

So what gives? I've been shooting a 158 gr LSWC over Unique, and I started the load at 3.7 and have worked it up by tenths to 4.0. I'd keep progressing, but I just get the sense something else wrong. My dies are RCBS, and I'm loading on a Lee Challenger Press.

As far as other information that might be helpful, my OAL is consistently 1.475 and I've checked a fair number of rounds with digital calipers to make sure that they are in fact consistent. I've also seperated my cases out by headstamp to eliminate that variable, and I've checked them for consistent measurement. Thinking it might be a crimp issue, I've measured the crimp on these founds and found that the rounds are consistently about .001 tighter at the mouth than the rest of the case (.0375 case, .0374 at mouth).

I don't know what gives here, but any help is sure appreciated...
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Old January 23, 2007, 01:16 PM   #2
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Sounds like the load may be a bit light. I use 4.6 or 4.7 of Unique with a 158 cast bullet for my 38's. You may want to try some jacketed bullets to see if that makes a difference.
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Old January 23, 2007, 02:09 PM   #3
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I agree--4.6 gr-4.7 gr would be better. I received this information from Customer Service at Alliant. I think you will find them to work well.

One question--are you roll crimping the rounds and what is the bullet diameter? If the bullet diam is a bit on the small side that can cause some weird results too although it is mostly keyholing.

If you don't crimp a bit you may get some bullet movement in the revolver when shooting. I put a nice roll on mine. I use the Lee Factory Crimp die to do it but you can also use your bullet seating die.
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Old January 23, 2007, 05:25 PM   #4
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I found the same thing. (.41Mag)I loaded 215gr bullets and seemed to shoot Low....I adjusted the sights to get back on paper. Then I found a deal on 170gr bullets and I was shooting above my target! So Correct me Reloading Veterans if I'm wrong on the Bullet trajectory but I believe thats how it worked. I have found that I like the 170's the Best as they recoil less and Shoot flat.

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Old January 23, 2007, 05:45 PM   #5
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I don't load .38 SPL too often, but when I do I've had pretty good luck w/ 4.7 gr. Unique, 158 LSWC and Winchester SP primers. It's about 0.4gr. hotter than Alliant lists < > but my GP100 doesn't notice it.

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Old January 24, 2007, 12:36 AM   #6
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Thanks for all the information, I really appreciate your responses. I thought enlisting the help of others was more worth my time than trying fix this through trial and error. As far as crimping goes, I am putting a roll crimp on the round and in fact the crimp is about as firm as I can get out of my RCBS die. (If I tighten the die down any further it contacts the shell holder before it reaches the top of the stroke.)

It sounds like my loads have probably been too light to be based on your feedback. My loading manuals all list 4.3 as the max in 38 special and 4.5 as the max in 38+p, but that's why I wanted to appeal to others rather than continue addressing this through trial and error. Also, I'm not especially worried with having hot loads in this particular gun since its a .357 revolver. I think I head to the press tonight and load several different groups between 4.3 and 4.7, and then I'll try them out tomorrow. Thanks for your thoughts, and I'll write again once I try this out.
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Old January 24, 2007, 02:28 AM   #7
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"...the crimp is about as firm as I can get..." Crimping is detrimental to accuracy. Especially a heavy crimp. Reduce the amount of crimp. You don't need a heavy crimp for .38's anyway. Your dies should just kiss the shell holder when the ram is all the way up and no more.
My Lyman manual gives 3.5 to 5.4 of Unique for a 158 grain cast bullet. 4.6 to 5.5 for a jacketed 158 grain bullet. Your load is a mid-range load. Not hot by any means. It's also possible that your revolver just doesn't like the load you're using. Try 2.0 to 3.5 of Bullseye with the same cast bullet.
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Old January 24, 2007, 12:11 PM   #8
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My 158 gr lead load is 3.0 grs of Clays and its very accurate. Steve48
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Old January 24, 2007, 12:54 PM   #9
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I'm having good groups with 158swdc + .57cc-.61cc Li'lgun powder(hodgdon)
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Old January 24, 2007, 01:06 PM   #10
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Second vote on 3.0 of Clays with a 158g LSWC.
Proud supporter of the NRA
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Old January 24, 2007, 01:25 PM   #11
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That's kinda funny. I favorite load is a 158gr. LSWC with 2.9 of Clays.
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Old January 24, 2007, 02:14 PM   #12
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What about bullet diameter? You can load .355/.356 (intended for 9mm), .357 (original .38 diameter) or .358.. or even more.

The standard for lead is .358

You need oversized bullets because undersized bullets cause hot air to flow through the gap between bullet and barrel resulting in leading the barrel.

The correct diameter is the diameter that is just a notch too big to go through your chambers in the cylinder.

Then if you use cast bullets it could be air in the bullets. Try weighting them and remove underweight bullets.
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Old January 26, 2007, 05:39 PM   #13
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Just an update from the range. I loaded rounds ranging from 4.3-4.6 and then tried them out. I didn't alter my crimp at all, but did change the case OAL to 1.42. Between the OAL adjustment and the hotter load, the accuracy results were amazing. The 4.3 load is actually a fairly accurate round and makes a fairly mild target load. But I had the best results at 4.5 & 4.6, so I think I'll try loading there for a while and see what happens.

Thanks so much for all of your suggestions, I appreciated the input.
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Old January 27, 2007, 06:58 AM   #14
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I'm old fashioned I guess, but I still like 3.2 to 3.5 grains of Bullseye for .38 special. It shoots well in all of my guns, tho it does burn a little dirty.
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Old January 27, 2007, 07:46 AM   #15
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Congratulations !

You can see why this hobby can be so much fun. A nearly endless number of variables that you can control. It can be very frustrating for the same reason.
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Old January 27, 2007, 07:07 PM   #16
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.38 Spl

just a couple of things to check. First, is all your brass the same length? If not, seperate the different lengths for loading. Or, better, just trim all the cases to a uniform length. Case length affects the amount of crimp with a given die setting.

Second, are you crimping in the crimp groove? And, as noted, for .38s, only a light to meduim crimp is needed.

Other things to check, the uniformity of your bullets (weight), and your powder charges. Also, the diameter of the bullets, in relationship to your bore. Bullets .001 oversize (lead) or bore size (jacketed) tend to shoot the best. Undersize bullets tend not to shoot well.

The keys to accuracy are ammo matched to the gun, and consistancy. Bullets varying 1-2gr in weight often shoot well at handgun distances, but bullets varying 5+gr or more often will not. There are exceptions, but theis is generally true. Tiny (.1-.2) differences in powder charges seldom have a practical effect, but there are exceptions to this as well.

Make you ammo as consistant as you possibley can. Then if it doesn't shoot well, change ONE thing. Then do another batch. Not there yet? Change ONE other thing. Keep it up in this manner until you get where you want. Changing more than one thing at a time doesn't tell you which change made the difference.
All else being equal (and it almost never is) bigger bullets tend to work better.
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