Thursday, January 30, 2014

Speer Gold Dot 38 Special +P 135 Grain Short Barrel Denim and Clear Gel Test

Back in November, I got out to the range with a big block of gel and 4 different 38 Special loads to test.  I decided to carry my LCR that day since I would need it to do the terminal testing.  I tested this load in bare gel last year and thought it performed really well, so it's been my LCR carry ammo ever since.  You can see the previous test HERE.  When I got to the range I removed the 5 rounds in the cylinder and shot the 4 different loads I was planning to test.  Finding myself with room in the block for one more test shot, I grabbed one of the rounds I had been carrying and ran it into the block.  The results were surprising.  The chronograph showed the round hit the block about 50 to 60 feet per second slower than my previous chronograph tests.

Test Pistol:

Test Protocol:
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.  This box was previously chronographed so I reused that data.
Step 3)  Run a test shot through 4 layers of 14 oz/yard heavy-weight denim.  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.

Test Results:
Schwartz Penetration and Wound Mass were omitted from the test due to visible evidence of bullet tumbling.  The predictive measures of the QAS model are only valid for bullets that do not yaw or tumble.

Video Documentation of the Entire Test from Range to Bullet Recovery:

My Thoughts on This Load:
As I mentioned in the first paragraph, I really liked the terminal performance in the previous test with this load and had been carrying rounds from this box for quite some time.  We just happened to catch a slow round in this test.  Now I was curious to see if there were any other stinkers left in the rest of the box.  I weighed all the remaining rounds and found some variation.

The lightest round weighed in at 206.9 grains.

The heaviest round weighed 210.3 grains.

The rest seemed to cluster around 209 grains plus or minus 2 tenths of a grain.

If the 2 grain weight difference with the lightest load was due to powder, I can see how velocity would be impacted.  Any rounds from this box that weigh less than 209 grains are going into my practice pile. 

Pick or Pan:
Having previously declared this load a personal top choice for the Ruger LCR, I'm not ready to kick it to the curb due to some significant variation between rounds.  I'll just make sure to carry the cartridges that weigh 209 grains or more.  Is this box representative of the entire Gold Dot product line?  Absolutely not!  This box may be representative of this particular lot of 38 Special +P GD Short Barrel and that's as much as I care to read into this test.

The good news is we have a new data point to consider with this load.  We now have a pretty good idea how this load may perform at a velocity less than 800 feet per second.  Assuming the new Taurus View revolver is +P rated, sub 800 feet per second velocity may be all you will get from the 1.4 inch long barrel.

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.


  1. I've personally seen more than 100 fps variations in both 23921 and 53921 boxes.Through 4 layers of 14-16 oz.denim into water filled cartons it usually takes a minimum of about 900 fps to fully expand; otherwise this load is not much better than a FMJ. The muzzle velocity does not correlate well with the weight of the cartridge; this suggests quite a bit of variation in case and bullet weight as well. Despite the hoopla about this cartridge, it is not reliable enough for SD purposes.

  2. I used to carry the 135 gr +P Gold Dot SB load in my 442 until I started seeing results like this test showed.

    Now in my 442, and other .38 special revolvers, I will only carry Corbon DPX 110 gr +P which reliably expands in clothed gel even from the 442.

    1. I'm becoming a reluctant fan of the solid copper HPs. I like the terminal performance though the heavy clothing barriers, but I don't like the cost.

  3. NYPD has issued this round to revolver armed officers for years and has gotten good results. My test of the round from the 2.1 inch Colt Cobra got about 20 fps faster speed. Expansion was minimal but better than this. From the 4 inch Model 15 my speed averaged 935 fps with excellent expansion.

  4. For me it's still a great round. When a HP doesn't expand my only fear is overpenetration. This proves that even without expanding the bullet still shows a great perfomance.

    What does worry me is the bad quality control of this lot...

  5. I will stick with the 148 grain factory wadcutter. Better penetration, low recoil and better placement.