Chronograph results – .38 Special and .223 Remington hunting load

Went to the rifle club this morning with foo.c and his chronograph. Read his write-up.

Might as well dig into the results.

Weather was good. Ranged some sunny to a brief spat of rain sprinkles. Temperature in the low-to-mid 60’s. Light winds, probably 10-15 MPH. Humid tho at about 90% humidity.

Range was mostly dead. We set up at the 100 yard rifle range and there was no one else on that range until we were packing up.  We set up the chronograph on a tripod about 10 feet in front of the bench.

Statistical calculations easily performed using this web page.

Zombie Load

First, let me talk about foo.c’s “zombie load“.

It’s a sweet load. The chrono results were very consistent with little deviation. All the brass ejected into a nice little pile at about 2 o’clock. I have some Hornady TAP 5.56 75 grain and let foo.c shoot 4 rounds to get a chrono reading for comparison. One didn’t register on the chrono. Of the other 3, the average was 2664.667 fps with a standard deviation of 38.59. foo.c’s “TAP-clone” is registering about 2733 fps with about 13 std dev. Quite a difference and improvement over the factory TAP.

All in all, it’s rather a nice load. Seems pretty darn accurate too. Nice going, foo.c.

Hunting Load

I’ve detailed the breakdown of what I loaded up in this prior article. As well you can find details on the rifle in that article.

Before I shot the loads I made, I fired a few factory rounds to get some baseline.

Remington UMC

This is cheap UMC 55 grain .223 Remington stuff. foo.c had some and we used it just to ensure we were lined up over the chrono. I went ahead and recorded the values anyway, tho it’s only 2 rounds.

Average: 2879.5 fps

Std Dev: 26.16295

Federal P223S

I chose to shoot this because it’s a factory hunting load, and it’s using the Barnes TSX. However, note this is using a 55 grain bullet and I am using a 62 grain bullet. So it’s not exactly apples-to-apples comparison.

Average: 2908.33333 fps

Std Dev: 12.66228

Federal’s webpage for P223S lists a muzzle velocity of 3200 fps. I don’t see anything in their data that says what sort of rifle they shot it out of, but I’m pretty sure it was a barrel longer than 16″.

Barnes’ reloading manual #4 doesn’t have data for their 55 grain, only the 53 grain. The data tables of course all depend what type and how much powder you use, but Federal’s numbers seem consistent with the listed data. As well, the Barnes book says their test barrel was a 24″ barrel with a 1:12 twist. Of course it’s hard to say just how many fps were lost in that 8″ of difference between the test barrel and my barrel, but maybe 150-200 fps seems to be the case.

Barnes Manual Reference

I’ll list the data for each specific powder in each powder’s entry below. But for whatever it might be worth, I wanted to do some averaging of the data in the Barnes #4 manual. Plus I was able to obtain some 55 grain data from Barnes. What I did was look at all the data listed for each bullet. I took all of the listed powder velocities for minimum and for maximum and averaged them. It’s not really some grand number here, but it gives you a rough idea of what one could expect a min or max load to run regardless of powder. Again, it’s just numbers, but it’s some sort of frame of reference:

53 gr. .224″ TSX – min: 3005.2 / 91.12     max: 3286 / 36.62786

55 gr. .224″ TSX – min: 2906.8333 / 37.25811     max: 3188 / 27.97141

62 gr. .224″ TSX – min: 2872.66667 / 39.56598     max: 3040 / 19.0683

Note that all Barnes manual data was using a 24″ barrel with a 1:12 twist. The manual does say it recommends 1:9 twist or better for the 62 grain.

My Load – TAC

Numbers will be listed as: grains of powder, feet-per-second, standard deviation

22.5 gr – 2582.66667 / 61.32971

23.0 gr – 2632.5 / 26.16295 – NB: after the first shot, brass didn’t eject and things jammed up as the second round went to load. Simple to clear, but only got 2 shots on this one.

23.5 gr – 2677 / 11.26943

24.0 gr – 2732 / 17.52142

For reference, the Barnes manual says TAC min load: 22.5 gr 2787 fps; max load: 24.5 gr 3055 fps.

Seems somewhat consistent here, assuming a 200-ish fps less than the test barrel.

My Load – H4895

Numbers will be listed as: grains of powder, feet-per-second, standard deviation

22.5 gr – 2560.33333 / 29.90541

23.0 gr – 2606.33333 / 8.0829

23.5 gr – 2670.33333 / 29.36551

24.0 gr – 2738.66667 / 37.0045

For reference, the Barnes manual says H4895 min load: 22.5 gr 2876 fps; max load: 24.5 gr 3034 fps.

Again, the basic data seems somewhat consistent. Brass ejection was a bit all over the place with the weaker loads. A lot of deviation, but also not the largest representative sample (3 rounds per).

My Load – Varget

Numbers will be listed as: grains of powder, feet-per-second, standard deviation

23.5 gr – 2623 / 64.44377

24.0 gr – 2579 / 56.31163

24.5 gr – 2719.66667 / 39.06832

25.0 gr – 2717 / 12.76715

For reference, the Barnes manual says Varget min load: 23.5 gr 2807 fps; max load 25.5 gr 3021 fps. The manual also says Varget produced the most accurate load.

Yes, the 24.0 went down, but you’ll see the 24.5 is about the expected distance from the 23.5. We have a theory.

My Load – Discussion

As you can see with the Varget 24.0 grain, the velocity went down compared to the 23.5 grain. Why? We started to notice something when we examined the spent cases — the primers were backing out. Not by huge amounts, but it was obvious they weren’t where they started. I know the primers were all seated well; in fact, once we realized the primers were backing out both foo.c and I would double-check the round before firing it and they all passed the “it’s seated” muster. Could it be the gun? Perhaps, but other factory rounds we shot out of it didn’t have the problem so that’s unlikely. foo.c’s hypothesis? Cheap brass. This was brand new Remington .223 Rem brass purchased in a bulk bag of 100 at Cabela’s. He’s suspecting it is to blame. That may also be why there are such large standard deviations (tho that could also be from having smaller sample sizes, but I doubt it); if some gas is leaking out the back that means it’s not going out the front and thus bullet velocity is being lost.

If any experienced reloaders have input on this matter, please comment.

I need to mull over the numbers a bit more, but I can’t help but think something’s not ideal here. That the unseating of the primers is causing a bit of velocity loss or at least causing the larger variations in data.

I opted to shoot different powders and different amounts because I wanted the academic experience. Frankly, I was underwhelmed. I expected to see a lot more variance between the powders and performance. But as you can see, they all put out about the same velocity. In terms of things like smoke or felt-recoil, I didn’t notice much for a difference. I think the TAC may have been a wee snappier, but it could have been my imagination. Something about the Varget also felt “nice”… can’t put my finger on it, but the recoil felt somehow “nicer” to me. But in the end, it was all minor differences. Things like muzzle flash? Couldn’t tell you.

I can say that the hotter the load the happier things were.

In terms of accuracy, I wasn’t going for that today. When I was shooting I was mainly concerned with keeping the gun positioned so the bullet would go over the chronograph and basically strike the target at 100 yards and come to rest in the berm. Sure I was aiming at the center of a target, but just not really striving to be sniper-precise. That said, the groupings down there weren’t too bad. We just shot until everything was done then went to look, so of course it’s impossible to tell how things were. But on the whole, it was all landing “minute of dead deer” so that’s reasonable at this stage of the process.

Where To Next?

First thing I’m going to change is the brass. I’m going to rummage through all the brass I have. If I have enough Lake City, I’ll use that, or some other NATO-spec stuff. We’ll see how that affects the primer’s backing out.

I’m also going to just pick one powder and run with it. In talking about it with foo.c, that was his recommendation. I’m not trying to make the most accurate match load. Sure I want it to be as accurate as possible, but as long as it’s “minute of dead deer” I’m pleased. I’m not going to agonize over minute details. I’ll probably go with the Varget because it seemed to produce good enough results, had something more pleasant about the feel of the recoil (which could stand to reason being it was the slowest burning powder out of the 3, more “push” than “snap”), and certainly it’s a lot easier to work with in the single stage press that I’m doing. If I was using a progressive press for this I’d probably go with the TAC since it meters so well. But given how “by hand” I’m doing these loads, the Varget will be fine.

This time I’ll be going for accuracy, but I see no reason to start at the minimums. I’ll probably start with 24.5 grains of Varget and go from there. As of this writing I’m not sure if I’ll just make big increments like 0.5 grains per step and try 5 rounds of each for better accuracy results, or if I might want to try 0.2 or 0.3 grain steps but only 3 rounds. It’s a matter of how much brass and bullets I have.

I figure if I can get 2700-2800 fps with good accuracy I should be good to go. I spoke with a Barnes rep on the phone and was told this particular bullet under laboratory conditions (i.e. water tank) had reliable expansion down to about 1900 fps (about 1.3 expansion). Plus he said in the field it should be even lower since you’ll have things like bone entering into the expansion equation. So if I’m getting 2700-ish at the muzzle, that should give me more than enough oomph out to 200 yards.

.38 Special Loads

This was mostly for fun. 🙂

When we last left my .38 Special saga, I wanted to experiment with crimp. Same old recipe (Berry’s .38 158 grain plated; 3.5 grains TiteGroup; Remington 1.5 SPP; CBC/Magtech brass case; COL 1.510″). The variation was the first lacked any sort of crimp, the second received a “light” Lee Factory crimp.

Uncrimp: 574  / 36.38681

Crimp: 580.8 / 15.28107

All in all, it didn’t seem to make that big a difference. However, I will crimp. It helps to avoid loose bullets. Plus it seems there’s a bit more consistency, which stands to reason since things are closed up more.

Other Data

As long as we had the chronograph set up, I tried a few other things.

Remington UMC 130 grain JRN .38 Special – 443.6 / 19.23018

Magtech 158 grain 158 grain LRN .38 Special – 568.33333 / 30.8599

Buffalo Bore 158 grain LSWCHP .38 Special (20/20C) – 802.25 / 4.34933

I still do not know how Buffalo Bore can call that load standard pressure, but it is.

Seems my load is decent enough. I could perhaps drop down to 3.3 grains of TiteGroup if I wanted something wimpier, but really this isn’t bad as it is. It’s interesting to me that this load feels much nicer in the hand than either the Remington or the Magtech.

So I think I’ve found me a decent .38 load.

I am also continuing to be happy with my choice of the Buffalo Bore 20/20C as my choice of self-defense ammo.


The .38 is pretty simple at this point. I’ve got a recipe I’m happy with. Sure down the line I’ll probably tinker some more, but this holds me just peachy. I really don’t have too much time to tinker here as the snub class is only 2 months away. As soon as I get my Hornady Lock-n-Load progressive press set up, cranking out 400 or so rounds of this load will be my first task.

The hunting load is just going to require more work. I think I will hold off on any more powder purchases for now, tho I’m going to probably need to buy more bullets. Depending what brass I already have, I may also need to buy different brass (maybe Winchester this time); I’ll probably stay away from the Remington for “serious” loads, but I’ll use what I have for plinking.

I know I need to buy a chronograph, and after seeing how workable and trouble-free foo.c’s was, I’ll probably buy that same model.

Also, foo.c is a recoil junkie. The smile on his face after shooting the Buffalo Bore was priceless. 🙂

So with that, I guess it’s back to the bench. 🙂

2 thoughts on “Chronograph results – .38 Special and .223 Remington hunting load

  1. Pingback: .38 Special load recipe – for plinking, using Berry’s bullets and TiteGroup powder « Stuff From Hsoi

  2. Pingback: Primers Backing Out « Stuff From Hsoi

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