.38 Speical Ammo for the J-Frame

38_Special.JPG The terminal ballistics of the .38 special is nothing to sneeze at, but when coupled with a 2 inch barrel it can become pretty marginal.  This lose of velocity is of course, is contributed to not having enough barrel to full burn the powder charge, you get muzzle flash and noise neither which is awesome for you in the middle of the night without hearing protection.

When an ammo manufacture tell you the velocity, but not the length of the test barrel, don’t assume you will get that from your J-frame.  The great thing is with the concealed carry revolution, there has been renewed interest in the lowly .38 Special that was all but dead in the mid-90s, as most police departments moved to semi-automatics like the Glock 19.  The market is now providing a great variety of .38 special loads of all types, ranging between 90 and 158 grains, some even made specifically for short barrels.

What do you want the bullet to do it the first questions we have to ask.  First it needs to reach the vital bits of the human anatomy that will stop the attacker, and then ideally expand to the largest diameter possible while reaching that depth help speed the cessation of hostilities.  This all has to be done while going through leather jackets, denim and other materials that can cause some hollow point projectiles to not function properly, add a windshield in the mix and you have a tall order for anything shot from a snubby.

The FBI created a ammunition protocol of what a defensive pistol rounds needs to be capable of after the Miami Shootout in 1986.

If our little snubby can complete the first 2 tests, with 12 inches of penetration we should consider it a viable rounds for typical citizen self-defense.  Also, note that too much penetration puts others down range at greater risk.  this is why the 4th safety rule is, “Be sure of your target and what is beyond it.”, in a gun fight this might be harder then expected.

Test 1 is simply shooting bare gelatin at 10 ft, the second is heavy clothing at 10 ft. (T-shirt, flannel shirt, 10 oz. down, cotton denim).

There are some rounds that have “real world experience”, but we have to make sure that it’s data for the 2 inch, not the 4 inch barrels.  The other way we compare ammunition is by shooting a simulation for flesh and bone.  This simulation is done by a shooting a gel material, many will argue that the “jello shooters” prove nothing of how it will act in the real world, but it does seem like the only viable method to at least compare rounds to each other in a controlled way.

Let’s look at some .38 special ammunition options, by weight.  All the links are videos to the tests.

90g Grain Hornady Critical Defense Lite

110 Grain +P Hornady Critical Defense  (note there is a non +p, which might offer better bare gel penetration with lower expansion)

  • Test 1 (2 t-shirts): 9.5 inches with good expansion (.493)
  • Test 2 (4 layers denim) 14.5  inches no expansion

125 Grain Federal 38 Special Nyclad  (not made anymore)

  • Test 1 (4 layers denim): 10.5 inches with good expansion (.541)
  • Test 2 (Tool Leather & 2 layers denim) 13.9 inches no expansion

130 Grain Winchester Ranger Bonded +P 

  • Test 1 (bare gel ): 12.75 inches with awesome expansion (.60)
  • Test 2 (4 layers denim) 16.25  inches good expansion (.556)

135 Grain Speer Gold Dot Short Barrel  (there was at least some released with low velocities)

  • Test 1 (bare gel ): 12.5 inches with great expansion (.573)
  • Test 2 (2 layers denim) 12.5  inches good expansion (.551)

158 Grain Remington 38 Special +P (run in 2 separate tests)

158 Grain Hornady XTP

  • Test 1 (2 layers of denim)  18.25 inches with good expansion (.526) (over penetration)

158 Grain Buffalo Bore LSWCHP +P (classic load)

  • Test 1 (bare gel): 12.1 inches with awesome expansion (.599-.695)
  • Test 2: not done, I suspect it does not expand and over penetrates as the hollow point clogs

I have chosen to carry the J-frame with a cylinder full of Nyclad’s and a reload of 110gr +p Hornady Critical Defense.  My logic for Hornady, is they are very easy to reload do to their pointed profile, and work well with a speed loader, this might be less of an issue if you are using speed strips and only trying to align 2 pegs with 2 holes verse 5 pegs and 5 holes.

I do think the cream of the crop is the 130 grain Ranger Bonded +P by Winchester which is really just a re-marketing of the famous (or infamous) black talon (this is also the PDX1 Defender in non-LEO packaging)


50 round boxes of the Ranger +P can be found at SGammo for $19.95 per box which is an great price (as of 7/23/2016)

Handgun Magazine did a review and based on their data, I would conclude that the PDX1 +p, Critical Defense 110gr +p and the 135gr gold Dot are all capable options.



Reloading on the Cheap

$_3    The cheapest and slowest way to reload is with the Lee Classic Loader, for $29 on Midway and a hammer you are good to go.  Yes, I said a hammer.  There is nothing quite like setting a primer with a hammer, it interesting, but I have yet to have one go off.  The whole kit is the size of 2 packs of cigarettes, and uses power volume measurements, not weights.  Since, you are not going to be hot rodding the 38 special, I don’t see this as an issue.      I really like these, even though I don’t use mine very much, the idea that I can reload anywhere is great, it might be the only reloading kit I keep in retirement, also 38 special is pretty forgiving in terms of getting the “power” right, since you don’t have to rely in to cycle a slide.  You just have to keep it between, bullet getting out of the barrel and blowing up.

61AfTIBYSQL._SX522_The next option up the food chain so to speak is a Lee Hand Press and set of Lee Dies in 38 special, that will set you back $85.  This will double the amount of ammo you can make in the same time, ~50 rounds a hour. This includes the priming piece which you will need.  You can get a bare press for $35, and do a hand primer, which is quicker and runs $21 plus a caliber specify holder for another $4.

If you use a little plastic scoop, you have very specify loads that you can make, since the scoops coming in different sizes but are not infinitely adjustable. The Lee Powder Measurer is fully adjustable letting you tailor you load better and runs $26

A reloading block is also helpful to hold cases for powder charging @ $6 regardless of which solution you decide on above.

Now all the prices quoted are from Midwayusa.com and I suspect there are other deals to be had.  Ebay is also a great option.


The Economics of reloading 38 special

1000 small pistol primers cost about $32-35 per 1000

Power lets assume Winchester Powder  231  @$23 per pound (7000gr) with an charge of about 4.5gr, that is +1500 rounds

1000 158gr Berry’s projectiles @ $98.50.

Assume brass is free, but you can buy once fired 38 brass for 1000 for $50


Here is the breakdown

($35+$23+$98)=~16 cent a round, or $8.00 a box.

Even if you bought Tula by the case, it’s still 20 cent, steel cased and only a 130gr bullet.


PM-G Makarov Grip

It’s an interesting bit of kit, made in Israel where they might still have a fair number in circulation, I have no idea.  Or maybe they just see a good business opportunity, either way interesting.

It’s for the single stack Makarov and adds a lever to remove a magazine, more normal for us westerners but not exactly a push button, more of a push to the muzzle.  There is a bar that pivots on a pin mid grip and works well and with less likelihood of unintended ejection from a bump to the magazine release. It makes the pistol a little chunker, but with a much nicer hand filling feel.  If you have ever gotten slide bite, this will cure it (I have not, but my hands are medium sized).

I won’t say that it bring the Makarov into the 21st century, it is an improvement.

The Makarov


imageThis simple, heavy reliable pistol is a great stash pistol or just a fun range toy, but as a CCW pistol it falls pretty short.  It’s heavier then a S&W shield, being made of all steel and it’s 9mm Makarov (9x18mm) round is no equal to the 9mm Luger (9x19mm) around.  It’s a fixed barrel blow back which might make it theoretically more accurate, but this is reduced by the crappy sights and the long SA/DA trigger for the first critical shot.  It is a fantastic piece of history that would not leave you feeling unarmed, with a safety that works the correct way and a fantastic selection of  holsters and accessories.  It’s heel mounted magazine release is not what I would consider as big a negative as most, it does prevent accidentally releasing the magazine of you lean against or bump the traditional ‘Mercian release.

Stevens 200 (.308) + Burris 2-7 Ballistic Plex Reticle ($350)

Stevens 200 in 308.  Comes with a Burris Fullfield Rifle Scope 2-7x35mm Ballistic Plex Reticle Matte.

It’s a pretty basic hunting rifle, great starter or entry level rifle.  The Ballistic Plex makes 500 yard holdovers pretty easy (with no windage, of course), and there are multiple phone apps that support this reticle.

The grey plastic noodle stock has had a a bar stock rod epoxed inside the stock, to stiffen it up.

The rings are UTG Max Strength LE Grade Quick Detach Picatinny Low Profile rings. It has a GI sling and a stock pouch with a little zipperd pocket.

It’s a pretty basic hunting rifle, great starter or entry level rifle.  The Ballistic Plex makes 500 yard holdovers pretty easy (with no windage, of course), and there are multiple phone apps that support this reticle.

It is set up for a cling sling, with the second sling swivel, which is tapped into the fore mentioned rod.

Included is the finest 5 minute Kylon Camo Paint job 🙂  I had intentions if upgrading the stock, but the stiffening really worked well.

You will need to show a purchase permit or CCW and a valid NC ID.





Kel-Tec P-11 w/6 magazines ($200)

Kel-Tec P-11 that has been melted and hard chromed.  A Fiber optic front site and steel back site has been fitted to the pistol. There is a +1 extention, inner tube grip and belt clip.

This is a great CCW firearm

Comes with 6 magazines.  (2 are for the 40 cal, but seem to work fine)

You will need to show a purchase permit or CCW and a valid NC ID.


(Sold) P-63 for sale (.380 ACP) w/4 mags $200

P-63 for sale.  Includes 4 magazines, and a cheap leather belt slide holster and kydex IWB pistol pouch.

It has thin custom made wood grips that are beautiful and the bare aluminum frame has been Cera Coated OD Green


This is in 380 ACP, not Markarov

You will need to show a purchase permit or CCW and a valid NC ID.


Polish P-64 w/8 Mags $200

P-64 with 8 Magazines.  Zerbra wood grips and orginal plastic ones.  Both the standard and extended magazine release is provided.

Springs upgraded to tolerable.

Great finish.

You will need to show a purchase permit or CCW and a valid NC ID.