First off, I'd like to recognize blog reader Sam S. for contributing the ammunition used for this test. Thanks Sam.
If the Lehigh Defense name is familiar to you, it might be due to my previous tests of their 45 Auto and 9mm Maximum Expansion loads last Spring. You can read more about Lehigh Defense in this background piece I did on them last year. The load tested here is their 100 Grain 38 Special Maximum Expansion load. Favoring massive expansion over deep penetration, I was anxious to see if the 38 Special performance would match the results of previous tests.
It's important to note that the package does not list this load as +P, but the cases are clearly head stamped as 38 SPL +P. Let's error on the side of caution and assume this load is indeed a +P loading and should be fired only in handguns rated by the manufacturer as +P compatible.
Step 1) Measure and record temperature and relative humidity.
Step 2) Run a 5 shot velocity average over a ProChrono Digital Chronograph at a distance of 8 feet.
Step 3) Run first bare gel test shot into a block of Clear Ballistics Gel that is calibrated to 10% Ordnance Gel density. Shot distance is 8 feet.
Step 4) Run second test shot through 4 layers of 14 oz/yard heavy-weight denim. Shot distance is 8 feet.
Step 5) Run a 600 fps calibration test bb shot into the Clear Ballistics gel block and record penetration depth.
Video Documentation of the Entire Test from Range to Bullet Recovery:
My Thoughts on This Load:
As I mentioned on the video, the Maximum Expansion moniker is well deserved. As we observed in previous tests with Lehigh Maximum Expansion, you can expect best in class expansion with expansion ratios exceeding twice starting diameter. The performance through the 4 layers of heavy weight denim was really extraordinary as this barrier will typically adversely impact expansion.
We had no problem meeting the 1050 feet per second muzzle velocity in the 1.875" Ruger, with several test shots exceeding that muzzle velocity by a significant margin.
As with other solid copper bullets, we should expect 100% weight retention unless some portion of the bullet separates. The recovered bullets were complete, so weight retention was excellent at 99.8%. Knowing the precision of Lehigh Defense, I was curious about the 2/10ths of a grain difference between published and recovered weights. I broke out the check weights and analog scale to confirm the weight measured by the digital scale. I had been meaning to verify the digital scale against the analog and check weights for some time. I was happy to learn that the digital scale is as accurate as the analog scale.
The only nagging concern from the bullet recovery is why the bare gel shot didn't fully expand when the 4 layers of denim test shot performed so well.
Pick or Pan:
For those looking for best in class expansion, it's going to be hard to beat the Lehigh Defense Maximum Expansion loads. For those looking for a minimum penetration depth of at least 12", you will be disappointed. As a penetration person, I'd personally opt for something that expanded less but penetrated more from my short barrel snubbie. If you are an expansion with limited penetration type of person, this load may be just what you have been looking for.
Disclaimer....This test should not be considered an endorsement or recommendation for the product(s) tested. All tests represent actual performance in ballistics testing media. Terminal performance in all other media will show different results. It is up to each individual to make their own personal decision on 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 or +P+ should only be used in firearms that have been certified by the manufacturer as safe for the additional pressures generated by these ammunition types.