The Federal Gold Medal 38 Special Wadcutter Match is a target load that is known for mild recoil, exceptional accuracy, and leaving perfect round circles in paper targets. Internet buzz suggested this load may be a good candidate for personal defense because the bullet has a flat nose and sharp shoulders. Folks thought the bullet would leave a more pronounced permanent cavity than a bullet of similar diameter with a rounded nose. I've received a few requests to test this bullet shape over the last two years and I was curious to see if this bullet shape would prove to be more or less damaging than a round nose bullet.
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 10 feet.
Step 3) Run test shot through 4 layers of 14 oz/yard heavy-weight denim into a block of Clear Ballistics Gel that is calibrated to 10% Ordnance Gel density. Shot distance is 10 feet.
Step 4) 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:
While the test was interesting, I don't think it proved the wadcutter bullet shape to be any more or less damaging than a round nose bullet. I was surprised that the bullet cut a clean plug of denim and dragged it down the entire length of the block. From the thread pattern impressions left on the bullet, the lead used in these bullets must be fairly soft. A hard cast wadcutter bullet may yield different terminal performance results.
After running the five test shots over the chronograph I really didn't expect this bullet to clear the 18 inch gel block. I was really surprised to find the bullet had come to rest between the gel block and the phone book backer. The bullet didn't have enough energy left to penetrate the phone book, but it did put a dent in the cover. Heavy bullets tend to penetrate deeper than light bullets so I presume the 148 grain weight helped the bullet hold momentum and clear the block.
Pick or Pan:
If you are looking for a very mild and low recoil load, then this one might be for you. It demonstrated adequate penetration, but does not offer the benefits of expansion. This standard pressure load should be suitable for use in all 38 Special revolvers.
I didn't see any indications that this bullet profile was any more or less damaging than a round nose or jacketed hollow point bullet. For the recoil adverse shooter, this may be a pick. Personally, I see no compelling evidence to include this load in my carry rotation.
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.