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Old March 27, 2001, 11:41 PM   #1
Join Date: September 2, 2000
Posts: 39
What is the max load for a 38 special using 158 jhp and Unique powder? My older Sierra manual (second edition)shows 6.4 grains as a max load, Alliant powder shows 4.3grns as a max load. Could this difference in charge wghts be from a change in the powder formula or is Alliant just being very conservative with their recommened max charge wghts?
I also checked an older Speer reloading manual (number 10 from around 1979). It shows a max load of 5.5 grains of Unique and it is labeled as +P. this all seems like a rather large spread of charge wghts.
I have never gone wrong staying under max as listed in the Sierra manual and it seems to me that the Alliant data is very conversative for 45 acp as well. Is it just me or does it seem that Alliant's reloading data is listing some pretty light max loads?
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Old March 28, 2001, 12:56 AM   #2
Johnny Guest
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I can relate to your confusion. I checked a few sources and my observations bear out yours. Uh, stand by for a second - - -

NOTE: Some of the following load data is well above currently published information. USE AT YOUR OWN RISK. (Though I admit to using all of these. Some of ‘em WILL loosen up light, aluminum framed revolvers.)

Okay, I feel better. Now, where were we ? ? ?

Oh, yeah - - -
My old Speer No. 8, copyright 1970: Your noted load, 5.5 max, for 1015 fps, but this was before they started calling some loads Plus P.

Speer No. 10--What you said.

Lyman 45th edition, also 1970: 5.5 for 918

Speer No. 12, 1994 (Third printing, Jan 1995) (Lead Bullet) 4.7 for 913. They don't show any 158 jacketed. Their +P with 146 gr JHP-SWC: 5.1 gr. for 957 fps.

Hornady 4th ed, c. 1991: 4.7 gr, 850 fps

Cartridges of the World, Frank Barnes, 3rd ed., 1976, 150 gr bullet, shows 5.3 gr Unique to duplicate factory ballistics, 1065 fps (This must have been the old .38/44 High Speed load.)

I can't find my old, original Lyman manual I bought when I first started reloading, in 1965 or ‘66. I swear it showed 6.0 gr as max Unique load for lead bullets, because I loaded about 100 of these. Then I dropped back to the milder (!!!) 5.0 gr load, and shot a jillion of ‘em in various revolvers before I realized I was beating my snub .38 to death.

That is the HOTTEST Unique load I can ever recall seeing for .38 Spl 158 bullet, and, remember, this was for a lead bullet. Jacketed rounds have higher pressures, as a rule. I'd strongly counsel you to steer clear of anything much above the Alliant load for 158 jacketed. Not that it would explode, but it would be hard on your revolver, and COULD be spectacular if you inadvertently used 'em in a small lightweight. gun.

Okay--You and I have both quoted our sources for the hotter loads, and I have no qualms about mentioning these, because they ARE, or WERE published loads.

I still load the 5.0 grs Unique with 162 gr. LSWC bullets, but only for K-Frame and larger, steel frame guns. This is a magnificent long range load, but, believe me, it WILL shake an Airweight Chief or Cobra to pieces in short order.
I load this only with one particular bullet, so I can easily tell NOT to put it into my snubbies.

My current favorites are 4.0 gr Unique or 4.0 gr of W-231 with a 158 LSW. The latter does 713 fps from a six-inch Colt. Not barn burners but really good, accurate practice loads. My son likes 4.0 gr of Win Super Target with a 130 gr FMJRN. 775 fps from the same six-inch, his Colt Officers Model Special. VERY nice to shoot and clangs the steel with some authority. These are also safe to shoot in the small, light pieces.

Believe me, I like big booms, too, but if I want magnum loads, I'll use a mag. Or a bigger bore gun. No use in straining the .38 Special. It is too nice a round, in some very nice pieces, to take chances with it.

Hope you get as much enjoyment out of YOUR .38 Special handloads as I have from mine over the years.

Amendment II ensures the rest of the Bill of Rights.

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Old March 28, 2001, 04:52 PM   #3
Paul B.
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Join Date: March 28, 1999
Location: Tucson, AZ
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For what this is worth. The loads in the older manuals were made using HERCULES Unique. Current loads are worked up with ALLIANT's version of Unique. The "new" Unique may just be a bit faster burning. I use #2400 in loading up .357 Mag. and sometimes the .44 Mag. When changing from HERCULES #2400 to ALLIANT'S version, I had to reduce my loads 1.5 gr. in the .357 Mag. and 2.0 Gr. in the .44 mag.
If it were me, I'd carefully work up to ALLIANT's max data first, and then very very carefully go past that, only if pressures were mild. Let's face it, guns are expensive and fingers and hands are priceless. Be careful.
Paul B.
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Old March 28, 2001, 05:13 PM   #4
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All of the above plus...

In days of yore, before lawyers outnumbered humans, a warning of risk was considered worth reading AND paying attention. Some .38 special loads were posted "Heavy Frame Guns Only". This was sufficient to keep the hot loads out of most of the small frames, pot metal guns and older top breaks. This was also before the advent of the weaker aluminum alloy and stainless steel guns.

Now a box could be covered solid with warnings and if a person uses that ammo in an inappropriate gun with subsequent injury.....there will likely be a suit with great expense to the publisher or manufacturer, regardless of who wins the suit.

Starting at the minimum recommended load and working up carefully is always a good idea. Pressures in real life will usually vary from the test gun. Your gun has a unique bore size, chamber size and timing.

Sam.......still have ten fingers.
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