I’ve been blogging a lot on the right ammo for snub nosed revolvers. I thought I’d try to pull things together here.
First, this isn’t about finding practice ammo, because any sort of .38 Special ammo will fill that bill (read: what’s cheapest and, especially these days, available). This is about finding the right ammo for carry. And not any .38 Special ammo will do because out of the short-barrel snub nose revolver, you can’t get much velocity and that can affect the ammo performance (e.g. ability for hollow-points to expand).
First, some back postings:
- My first posting specific to snub ammo, which makes reference to Speer Gold Dots, semi-wadcutters, and in comments about Buffalo Bore and Federal Nyclad.
- Getting my snub and first ammo thoughts. Focus on the Federal Nyclad, with various links to discussion and data on it.
- A big generalized discussion, introducing all sorts of ammo.
- A write up on all I could find regarding Hornady Critical Defense ammo.
And now, we come to this.
Based on all that I’ve read, here’s the list of the snub nose carry ammo that I wish to try:
- Federal Premium .38 Special Nyclad® Hollow Point, 125 grain, standard pressure (P38MA)
- Buffalo Bore Standard Pressure Short Barrel Low Flash HVY .38 Special (standard pressure, non-+P) 158 grain soft lead semi-wadcutter (20C/20)
- Cor®Bon DPX® .38 Special +P 110 grain. (DPX38110/20)
- Speer Gold Dot Short Barrel Personal Protection .38 Special +P, 135 grain (23921)
- Hornady Critical Defense.
- Remington Semi-Wadcutter. I admit, I’m not 100% sure what I want here. Look at this page. The load is constantly referred to as “Remington 158-gr. LSWCHP +P”. Look at the last picture, with the cartridge box. The index number is R38S12. When you look it up at Remington’s website, it says R38S12 is a .38 Special +P 158 grain lead hollow point bullet. From the pictures of the different bullets, you can see they have both a lead hollow point and a semi-wadcutter lead (which is R38S14). Nevertheless, from what I can find by Googling around, the R38S12 is what you want when you want the classic “FBI load”; it has decent expantion and very good penetration and a solid track record.
Are there more out there? Sure. But from what I’ve been reading, these tend to be the most popular.
Hey, just came across this very nice write-up from thehighroad.
A summary of what I’ve been coming up with. Note: the following is just based upon a lot of Google searching and reading:
- Old school Nyclads were pretty good, but apparently the new Nyclads aren’t all that great. They’re not bad, just nothing to write home about. Their big advantage is they give reasonable performance from a standard pressure load, so if you need standard pressure, they’re not a bad choice.
- The specific aforementioned Buffalo Bore are another standard pressure load and supposedly a lot more potent. They are also a semi-wadcutter bullet. Their big downside is they can be hard to find, and expensive.
- Corbon is going to be hot hot hot. Potent, but hot.
- The Speer Gold Dot short-barrel model seems to be extremely popular and apparently have good performance.
- I already wrote up all I could about Hornady Critical Defense. I’m intrigued but skeptical. There’s enough anecdotal evidence that the load has problems. Hopefully Hornady can work things out as it’s a nifty approach. But am I willing to trust my life to nifty and unproven? Nope. Consequently, I’m not going to bother spending any money on this ammo to even bother testing it.
- The semi-wadcutter seems to be a proven stand-by. It’s old technology, but it’s proven technology and many people stand by it. The Remington R38S12 seems to be the standard by which all others are judged.
In terms of my own testing, unfortunately I cannot do things like ballistics gel testing, or even just shooting through water jugs or wetpack newspaper. About all I can do is shoot them, report on accuracy, report on how they feel out of my S&W 442. And I can’t even do a lot of testing because I’m not made of money. But I can report what I do and can find.
Will I admit some initial bias? Yes. Nyclads I’m interested in because having a load that’s effective but not difficult to shoot has great appeal given the gun is already one that will be hard to shoot and control just due to its nature. Buffalo Bore and the Corbon I’m not looking forward to shooting because I expect they’re going to kick like hell. I regard Gold Dots favorably, they’re my choice of carry ammo in my 9mm Springfield XD. The semi-wadcutters are proven and old school, and I’ve a warm spot for that especially since it does have the long proven track record.
Furthermore, I’ll admit some initial favorable bias towards the LSWCHP because it does have the long track record, it’s apparently not too horrible to shoot, and supposedly is your best bet for contact shots. Whereas hollow points are designed to impact and expand, the intent of the contact shot is not to expand but to cut a hole… the wadcutter cuts the hole, but it’s the rapid expansion of gases into that hole that perform the tissue damage. Ugly, I know. But if the snub is to be used for contact shot purposes, the right ammo matters. Unfortunately I cannot find much data on this.
As well, 158 grain is considered the “standard” bullet weight for .38 Special. In theory, the fixed/integral sights on the snub would be set based on assumptions of shooting that sort of bullet. That puts a little bias against things like the Corbon DPX, but then the DPX is also loaded differently. YMMV.
We shall see.
Updated 2: Since I got to shoot the above-mentioned Buffalo Bore, I was looking for some more data on the Buffalo Bore semi-wadcutter load. I found this at brassfetcher.com, that shows that very load fired from a S&W 642 and how it behaved in ballistics gel. Fairly consistent behavior. It’s got penetration and some expansion. It even had fragmentation, which can mean all sorts of things for defensive loads.
Check this: he did a contact shot test. I’d love to see more of this, comparing say hollow point loads like the Gold Dot 135 grain, DPX, even the Buffalo Bore SWCHP vs. the FBI load.
Looking at all of the brassfetcher .38 tests — and ballistics gel only tells us so much (it’s main advantage is controlability and consistency), it does seem many of the above-listed rounds are good. In fact, it makes me feel a little bit better about my current choice to use the Buffalo Bore (load 20C/20).