Saturday, June 9, 2012

Remington 38 Special +P 158 Grain LHP Denim and Gel Test


This is one of those tests that I've always wanted to do, but some other new or more requested ammo would always bump the test down the list.  Revolver folks don't seem to be as internet vocal as owners of the small semi-autos, but there are many that use .38 snubs as their concealed carry of choice.  I don't have any numbers to back this up, but if I had to guess I bet they equal or outnumber owners of small pocket semi-autos.

Known around the internet as the "FBI Load" the .38 Special +P 158 Grain Lead Semi-wadcutter Hollow Point or LHP as shown on the Remington box, has been around for a long time.  Personally,  I've carried this ammo since the early 90's in a S&W Model 60.  This decision was based only on the recommendation of the "old timers" that were kind enough to pass along their decades of wisdom and experience to me.  I didn't have any reason to doubt their recommendation, but I've always wanted to see how this ammo performed in the areas of expansion and penetration from a short barreled snub nose revolver.

In 2010, I replaced the Model 60 with one of those new-fangled Ruger LCRs.  I did this primarily because of the significant weight difference between the all steel Smith and the polymer framed Ruger.  The Smith has been retired to the safe for now and will most probably stay there until given to my son at some future date a few decades from now.  So this test was done with my Ruger LCR .38 Special +P.  

Test Pistol Specs:
LCR-LG Ruger LCR .38 Special +P 1.875" Barrel


Testing Protocol:
My testing process is pretty simple.  I take one shot at alternate ends of a SIM-TEST block that is loosely draped with 2 layers of medium weight denim.  I take the shots from 8 feet away and impact velocity is measured 4 inches away from the SIM-TEST block.  My SIM-TEST blocks are now closely calibrated to ballistics gel density.  I shoot the blocks at the range and then bring them home and recover the bullets.



I really wanted to do a good job on this test because I know many people would really like to see how this load performs from a short barrel revolver, but there just isn't much test result data out on the internet.  What is out there is 5 or more years old or just expansion testing.  I bet that's because this load has been around a long time (pre-internet) and its just not as new and sexy as some of the ammo released in the last 10 years.  The video below documents the entire test from range testing to bullet recovery.  I'll warn you that it's pretty long, but I tried to be as comprehensive as I could be during the testing so I even included a 5 round velocity test before the terminal testing. 



My Thoughts
After doing so many tests on different ammo, it's easy to get a bit jaded.  This test got me excited again for a few reasons.  The first was my concern if I could actually make an accurate shot into the test block.  The second reason was that this is something I've always wanted to test for my own information because there simply wasn't any data available that met my needs.  The results of the test and bonus test (you have to watch the video for the bonus test) were really pretty amazing.

With a velocity of 850 fps and 260 ft/lbs of energy, this load appears to sit between the .380 ACP and 9mm with respect to ballistic performance.  When you add terminal expansion and penetration into the mix the picture changes quite a bit.  This load actually expanded to .64" AND penetrated 12.5".  I have to go back through the 9mm I've tested so far, but I believe that's right on track with the best 9mm performers.  This is the heaviest bullet I've tested so far and I will venture a guess that the added weight helps greatly with penetration depth since the bullet is starting out 300 fps slower than the 9mm.

I'll admit this test was a bit of a wake up call for me.  Semi-autos offer several advantages over revolvers in size, capacity, and sometimes weight.  Unfortunately, semis can be fussy about ammo and cleanliness at times.  Their advantages are often lost if reliability concerns creep into the ownership experience.  Revolvers seem to have a better track record of reliability, but can be a real bugger to learn to shoot accurately and consistently.  I've been doing my revolvers a disservice by not spending enough time practicing with them.  Based on the terminal performance demonstrated in this test, I wouldn't have any concern swapping out the LCR in place of a pocket 9mm in my carry rotation, if I can train myself to shoot the LCR well. 




Disclaimer....This test should not be considered an endorsement or recommendation for the product(s) tested. It is up to each individual to make their own personal decision about which specific ammunition to use for their needs. It's also critically important to test any ammo in YOUR SPECIFIC FIREARM before relying on it for any purpose.  Ammunition labeled as +P should not be used in any firearm unless the firearm manufacturer specifically states you are permitted to do so. 

24 comments:

  1. Thank you very much for doing this test. My father always carried a S&W 66 with this round hand loaded and he swore by it for a carry load. This just shows that new knowledge is still old knowledge and we should listen to our elders and experienced friends...

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  2. Great test!! You forget how good (and reliable!) a revolver can be!

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  3. Thanks! This was exactly the type of practical info that I was looking for!

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    1. New test in the Clear Ballistics gel is coming in the next few weeks. It should give us an even better look at what's happening inside the block. Test is done, I just need to write it up.

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  4. Middleton HindershotDecember 10, 2012 at 1:03 PM

    Guys, If you are happy with these results from your snubby you will be even more happy if you will trade in your 1 7/8" barreled gun for a 3 inch barreled gun. You may or may not know that you are blowing half your powder out the end of the barrel unburned. When you get over the idea of an extra inch of barrel being more you will never go back to a 2 inch or less barreled gun again. Not to mention increased velocity and muzzle engergy produced by that extra inch of barrel. Believe you me, on the chrony it is an eye opener.
    IF WE DEMAND MORE THREE INCH GUNS OF THE MANUFACTURERS THEY WILL RESPOND TO MARKET DESIRE.

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    1. @Middelton, how does that round perform in a four inch? I have a S&W model 15-3 in a four inch and wonder what round to use.

      Thank you!!

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    2. Middleton HindershotDecember 15, 2012 at 10:27 AM

      Johno,
      I haven't shot the Remington +P 158 grain out of a 4 inch barrel. But the Buffalo Bore 38 Special 158 grain +P Outdoorsman round travels at 1167 feet per second out of a S&W Model 15 with a four inch barrel.

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  5. Middleton HindershotDecember 10, 2012 at 2:29 PM

    FYI: VERY IMPORTANT FACT OF SHOOTING SWAGED SOFT LEAD LOADS...
    I am a wheel gun type guy and have worked on revolvers for many years. I to am a fan of shooting swaged soft lead loads as they perform wonderfully. One word of caution though! It doesn't matter if you are shooting grandpa's 'ol 38 or the latest factory production gun they both are suceptable to leading in the barrel(molten lead hardening to the barrel wall). Please keep the lead build up scrubed and cut out by what ever means possible. All these guns either short or long barreled have thin forcing cones (the beginning of the rifled barrel where the bullet enters the barrel from the cylinder). If the lead is allowed to build up and more and more rounds are forced through this built up area THE FORCING CONE WILL CRACK reguardless if the barrel is chrome moly or stainless steel. Then you have a gun that will require a new barrel. Don't get me wrong, please. I am not saying stop shooting soft lead rounds. I am a true beliver in shooting soft lead over the latest run fast and jump high JHP. Don't forget the 38 special has been around for a long time well before the high tech ammo of today thats on the shelf came along. In my opinion, the 148 grain hollow based wad cutter loaded backwards with the hollow base striking the target first is as good as it gets! Other mostly unknown facts. 1) The snubby has a front sight height set from the factory for the 158 grain bullet. Shooting a lighter bullet will produce a bullet impact lower than the point of aim. Shooting a heavier bullet will produce a point of impact higher than the point of aim. 2) Although the late model production revolvers reguardless of barrel length are marketed for +p use. I can not tell you how many gunsmiths are now seeing guns come in with timing and other problems due to high pressure +P loadings. I have personally spoken with one manufactuer that will tell you "their +P rated snubby is rated accordingly for in home use NOT range use". What they are telling you is a healthy diet of high pressure +P firings will shorten the life of the revolver! I had one gun repair professional tell me he has seen all brands and yes that means the one you have in your hand are being beat and shaken to pieces. You be the judge. But sooner or later those high pressure loads will find the weak link in the chain! I tell you these things because I care and have gone the full circle in the revolver world for over forty years. All these guns are mass produced for a intended target and that is you. The manufactuer wants you to buy. If all you ever bought was one they wouldn't be in business long. The gun you carry and shoot will last as long as you look out for it. Trust me the maker could care less if it doesn't hold together. Thank you and shoot smart.

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    1. Good advice here about keeping your revolver's forcing cone clean to avoid potential damage.

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    2. I actually had powder and led build up on mine during one range session and the cylinder actually hung up when I tried to fire. When I got home, I had to clean above the forcing cone to clean it out so it would operate properly. Bruce is right.

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    3. Lone Ranger Florida PanhandleDecember 15, 2012 at 10:19 AM

      After reading Middleton's words it sent chills down my spine. I wasn't even aware that lead can build up in my barrel. I hope its not to late and I have done a lot of damange to my gun. I will not shoot any more until I have made sure the lead is cleaned out. And I will continue to watch it very closely in the future. Thanks, again Mr. Hindershot.

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  6. Twelve Gauge Shooter in TexasDecember 11, 2012 at 2:17 PM

    This was a revealing test. But you would have achieved more feet per second from the round and more muzzle energy would have been produced also if you had done the test with your much heavier S&W model 60. Buffalo Bore Co. in Montana always gets better published results from their heavier longer barreled over the counter revolvers (they do not use unrealistic extremely long labratory test barrels like the big ammo makers).

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  7. Wingman Cleveland, OhioDecember 13, 2012 at 8:57 AM

    Thank you, Mr. Hindershot. I am proud that a professional in the gun repair business has the guts to tell us as comsumers this information. I had no idea that a high rate of plus p firings in these so called plus p fireams would eventually destrory the workings of the revolver. He is correct. I did some checking and a lot of people are experiencing these very malfunctions with their guns. My eyes have been opened and I am getting rid of my high pressure, highly marketed rounds and going back to a standard pressure loading. It just goes to show the truth about marketing. The gun makers really aren't looking out for anyone but theirselves in marketing a firearm as plus p rated when using this very product will destroy your gun. Then you will have no choice but to buy another one which is money in their pocket. Thank you again. Everyone out there should give Mr. Hindershot's advise serious thought in protecting the investment in your firearm.

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    1. I can neither confirm or deny that using +P ammo in revolvers designated as +P capable will cause issues over the long haul. If it does, then it makes me glad that both Smith and Wesson and Ruger have lifetime service on their light weight snubbies.

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    2. Guess this answers my question.....Problem is finding standard pressure 38 special ammo other than target rounds. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

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    3. Johno, Buffalo Bore Company make a standard pressure round that will not hurt your revolver but is still an excellant self defense round. The Buffalo Round is loaded above the normal standard plinking round just below the +P level a bit. I am so thankful for the advise of Middleton, he is truly honest in his suggestions.

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    4. Thanks Dead Shot in Kansas.....I went to the gun shop to buy both plus p and non plus p. For my 686plus 357, my model 15-3 38 special four inch and my model 642-2 stainless. They had two choices hornady 125 xtp standard pressure and Federal 129 gr hydra shok so I bought them both. I have not shot any of them yet. They had no other 38 special in the store (I live in Il). People bought out the entire stock of ammo and guns in about a week or so. I think I'm gonna use the plus p in my 357 and the hornady in the 15 and 642 just to play it safe. I think I could use the Federal hydra shok in my 642 but I'm not sure. Anyway as usual would love anyone's input...Thanks

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    5. This was our issued round when we carried the .38 as a standard duty weapon and I had to use it during my career more than once. It works w/good shot placement and it is something I still carry in my CCW, a 442 or Colt Cobra.

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    6. Thanks Anonymous, so the Federal 129 hydra shok was the round for your 442. If so, I will feel comfortable using them in my 642-2 stainless 20 oz. model.

      Thank you again. Love hearing from LEO who really know.

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  8. Middleton HindershotDecember 13, 2012 at 3:38 PM

    Well Bruce, I'll put it this way. When these guys bring in their revolver telling me or another shop that S&W and Ruger sent it back with a estimate for the cost of repairs for what they refer to as "extreme abuse due to over pressure, not covered under standard warranty", a lifetime warranty doesn't mean much at that point. And the makers have huge law departments that get paid whether they work or not. But the average guy won't take them to court over a $400-650 gun plus his court and attorney's fees and the makers know it. The average guy will just buy something else most likely in another brand. By the way the company that told me their +p rated revolver in rated +P for "in home use only, not range use" is Tauras.

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    1. That's the first I've heard of Ruger or S&W not standing behind their revolvers. Usually the customer service stories with those two companies are more positive. It's not my intention to disagree with you as I too have been bitten by the promise of Lifetime Service. I picked up the new Taurus M380 this year. Really heavy and gritty trigger. Shot it a bit and the gritty never went away. Removed the side plate and found the action was full of blasting media that was never cleaned up prior to shipping. I also found a few metal shavings left in the revolver during final assembly. Called Taurus and explained the situation. Taurus said they would be happy to service it if I paid the price of shipping it to their service center. Never buying another Taurus.

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  9. Middleton HindershotDecember 13, 2012 at 6:08 PM

    Bruce, don't give up on Tauras just yet. I have a old stainless DAO 1992 Tauras model 85 that I bought new. The older 38s if you can find one are made a little better than the newer models. I have carried this gun thousands of hours under my shirt concealed since then. I pulled the two inch barrel out and put a 3 inch barrel in it. Big improvement on velocity and muzzle energy on that swap. The three inch barrel also makes it balance out the frame weight. I don't have a problem with taking a new gun and building to my needs. It voids my warranty but who cares its a middle of the line Tauras that if I had not had in a hotel parking lot one dark night 20 years ago I would be here writing this now. I also just finished a build on a one of a kind model 36 S&W J-frame 5 shot as my house/porch gun on a steel color case hardened frame(yes its voids the warranty but again if I maintain it as I wrote earlier I won't need to dunn Smith on it). I bought it used, about a 2008 production model for five and a half. I pulled the 1 7/8" barrel out of it and put a 6 inch barrel in it that was here on the shelf at the shop. Then put Trijicon dot on dot night sights on it. There is just enough room (.125") between the fixed sight rear sight square frame notch and the hammer window to bore it an put a Trijicon sight lamp into it. If you have never shot a dot on dot set up before try it. It is effortless as compared to a 3 dot set up. The eye has no problem holding the ball on top of a ball day and night. Back to the Tarus. The old model 80 was a workhorse 6 shot that will hold up if your readers like. Something about Tauras. Their early guns made well seem to last if maintained. Thanks, Bruce. I enjoy the website and hope i contributed something people can use.

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  10. My wife prefers the 1 7/8" S&W Model 637 Deep Cover for carry vs the 3" Model 60 (she has both). I have to say the 3" model is more accurate due to the longer site radius, but I'm not sure that ballistic performance is that much different when shooting .38 SPL. As for the load described above, I found this load in the 1970s after much testing. I played with the inverted HBWCs at +P pressures but found that a Lee 148 LHP fired at moderate pressures (~ 1000 fps) worked well and was more accurate that the HBWC. I do cast these bullets and use moderately hard alloy. They still expand well.

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  11. I've used this round trough my 30 years of law enforcement in my model 36 smith . Best round I've found for a snub.

    .

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