Here is a report on the testing of 4 different types of defense-grade ammo for the .38 Special. From left to right, the Remington 125g Golden Saber +P, the Buffalo Bore 158g LSWC-HP, the Buffalo Bore 150g Wadcutter, and the S&B 158g JSP. I fired them all from a S&W model 637-2 AirWeight 5-shot revolver with a 1 7/8″ barrel and a 0.005″ B/C gap…
The range was 7 yards and the test medium was 3 wet phone books back to back…
The first cartridge was a Remington 125g Golden Saber +P. This ammo performed well, though total expansion occurred only about half the time. The other half of the time the rounds deformed into nasty looking blobs with sharp petals sticking out randomly on the sides. Even the ones that didn’t expand completely still looked like they would do the job. The rounds all fully penetrated one phone book and were found in the middle of the second book. This equates to between 12″-15″ of actual penetration, which is about perfect for CCW in public.
Accuracy with this load is very good, and all rounds fired on first strike without any failures. One thing I noticed after firing is that I had a cracked case on one of the spent rounds… from the case mouth about half way down the case wall. This is pretty rare for new brass in a revolver, but I have been told that Remington brass is not the best. It looks like the heat treatment process was not done correctly and the brass became brittle. So, if you reload, you may want to toss out these cases after use. Aside from that minor issue, I would have no problems with carrying this ammo for daily defensive use.
The next cartridge I tested is the Buffalo Bore 158g Soft-Cast Lead Semi-Wadcutter Hollow Point “LSWC-HP” (20C/20). This stuff is also offered in a +P loading, but honestly the standard load is plenty of bang for me. I never really cared for the heavy recoil of the +P version in my little 15oz. J-Frame, but this standard pressure load is just about a perfect balance between power and shoot-ability.
As you can see, expansion was good with the occasional shedding of the mushroomed nose mass. Penetration was deep too; I found most of these in the rear of the second phone book… in other words between 15″-18″ of actual penetration. Accuracy was quite good overall. Just keep in mind that any soft lead bullet generates significant lead fouling in the barrel. If you can afford to shoot a lot of these these at a range session, make sure you bring your cleaning kit… after 20 rounds of these, my barrel was thoroughly gunked. Buffalo Bore ammo is pretty expensive, and I still debate with my wallet over whether or not it is worth the cost. But it does work, and it works well.
The third cartridge in today’s lineup is another hard-hitter from Buffalo Bore, the 150g Hard Cast Wadcutter (20D/20). I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical of using wadcutters for self-defense until I saw these in action. They are loaded to similar velocities as the cartridge above, but having the solid, wide flat face makes them hit with a nasty slap. They created entry wounds that could rival some exit wounds. They also dug deep… very deep; most of these were found in the first half of the third phone book. that means 20″-25″ of actual penetration!
This hard cast load from Buffalo Bore did not deform on impact at all, they were highly accurate, totally reliable, and they hit like a heavy, blunt object. I now use these almost exclusively in my daily carry revolver. Also, if you lack a good mountain gun for the woods, these would make a decent alternative (in all but the large bear territories)… at least until you get your hands on a more capable caliber.
The final load I tested in this lineup is an import from Sellier & Bellot. The 158g Jacketed Soft-Point (SB31102) drew my interest because I always wondered if a heavy JSP would deform from a snubby .38. Being a rabid .357 Magnum fan, I have seen the carnage that this bullet configuration can reap upon unsuspecting game. However, we are talking about a standard pressure .38 Special in a sub-2″ barrel here, not a 6″ GP100 stoked with Magnums. Well, as you can see below they did not deform much, if at all.
The velocity not nearly enough to deform the tip, therefor the rounds penetrated pretty deep; they easily passed through the first book and were found in the back of the 2nd book, some even making it to the first few pages of the 3rd book… or about 18″-22″ of actual penetration.
Though the S&B’s are not my first choice for .38 self-defense loads, they are also not my last. I like to use them in my extra speed-loaders as a cost effective alternative to higher-priced ammo. They function flawlessly, shoot consistently, toss a heavy chunk of lead, and are quite accurate… that’s good enough for me. Lets not forget to mention that they only cost about 1/3 the price of “premium” defensive ammo. Whats not to like?
Chronograph Velocity Results 5-shot Average @ 10 Feet
- Buffalo Bore 158g LSWC-HP – 821 fps / 236 fpe
- Buffalo Bore 150g HC-WC – 870 fps / 252 fpe
- Golden Saber 125g +P JHP – 912 fps /231 fpe
- S&B 158g JSP – 753 fps / 199 fpe
(see “Phone Book Ballistics” for info on penetration calculations)