The 38 Special cartridge has been around long enough to apply for Medicare. And, in spite of the abiding faith that most American sixgun owners demonstrate in it, the old hull has long been overdue for a checkup, a new diet, and some surgery.
Several companies have been looking into ways of adding muscle to the 38 Special, and Remington, the old master of revolver cartridge development, announced two new 38 rounds late in 1969.
The first is boxed as a Remington load (as opposed to Peters, which is manufactured by the same firm), under their index Number 2038. The bullet is of flatnosed, conical design, with the entire bearing surface jacketed in gilding metal. The lead core is generously exposed at the nose, and the jacket material is notched, or scalloped, at seven points where it joins the lead, a clever aid to good, uniform expansion. Expansion is further assured by a hollowpoint cavity approximately 0.158" wide and 0.25" deep.
This handsome slug weighs 125 gr. Factory ballistics claim 1370 fps muzzle velocity from a 6" barrel (not stipulated whether revolver or pressure barrel), with a remaining velocity of 1200 fps at 50 yards and 1090 at 100 yards. Muzzle energy is listed at 520 ft/lb, with 400 ft/lb at 50 yards and 330 ft/lb at 100 yards.
Compare these figures with those for the standard police load which carries the roundnosed, 158 gr. lead bullet. The old standby, fired from a 6" barrel, cranks up only 855 fps at the muzzle, with an attendant energy of 255 ft/lb. The picture is further darkened by the fact that the old fashioned slug expands not at all, simply punching a grove-diameter hole through its target, assuming the target isn't too tough.
Remington's other 38 load is marketed in the red, white, and blue box that carries the Peters label. At first glance the round seems identical to the 125 gr. Remington. The Peters 158 gr. bullet is of similar construction as the just described lighter slug. Close inspection shows the heavier slug to have more raw lead showing, and to be seated a bit deeper in the case than the 125 gr. Remington, making for about the same overall cartridge length.
Factory data on the Peters load say it gives 1150 fps at the muzzle of a 6" barrel, retaining 1070 fps at 50 yards and 1010 at 100. Energy figures are 465, 400, and 360 ft/lb. at the same ranges. These figures are only a hair below those of the older Remington Hi-Speed loads originally designed for the Smith & Wesson 38-44 Heavy Duty revolvers that preceded the 357 Magnum. As now loaded, that older cartridge with 158 gr. lead bullet gives 1090 fps at the muzzle, with 415 ft/lb muzzle energy.
Fired from a 6 ½" Ruger 357 revolver into bags of clean, moist sand from a range of six feet, slugs from both these new rounds gave excellent expansion an held together well. Recoil seemed somewhat greater with the 125 gr. Remington load, and muzzle blast from that round was much more noticeable than that of the 158 gr. Peters round.
Firing on standard pistol targets at 25 yards, I got outstanding accuracy from my 4" Smith & Wesson M19 357 Magnum and the Peters ammunition. My groups suffered when I changed to the 125 gr. Remington, but I do not attribute this to any inherent lack of accuracy in the cartridge or revolver. I had neglected wearing ear protectors, and the muzzle blast of the heavy charge of slow burning powder became so objectionable after a few rounds that I began flinching. Later, shooting with stopped-up ears and my longer barreled Ruger, I managed groups that were more on a par with the milder Peters stuff.
Border Patrolman Chet Wilson and I carried the new ammo afield in search of small game one afternoon but found little to shoot at. I dropped a skunk with the 158 gr. Peters HP, shooting from about 30 yards. The big stinker was moving away when hit, and the slug entered low in his back, exiting through the top of the head. Tissue damage showed the bullet to have expanded well and the kill was instantaneous.
As the evening light was failing, Chet got a difficult, 60 yard crack at a big Texas jackrabbit, taking him through the neck with the 125 gr. Remington. The exit hole was more than 1" diameter, and the wound was quite similar to those I have seen caused by hollowpoint 357 Magnum bullets of 150 to 160 gr. weight, loaded to about the same velocity as this new 38 Special.
Remington does not recommend these cartridges for big game hunting, but either, in my opinion, would be adequate for close range shots at javelina or our small Texas whitetails, and excellent on all smaller game. As defense loads they are decidedly superior to the old style police round.
Ted McCawley, Remington's gunwise contact man, writes of the two new 38 Special cartridges, "We are specifying them for use only in handguns designed for high velocity ammunition". My field tests were conducted with 357 Magnum revolvers because they were all I had with me at the time. I later fired about 20 rounds of each of the new cartridges through my 2" Smith & Wesson Chief's Special with no signs of undue pressure or any damage to the gun, although muzzle blast and recoil were rather severe.
I would not hesitate to use this ammunition in any quality 38 Special revolver of late manufacture, provided it was in perfect condition. If you have doubts about your own revolver's ability to handle these hot new loads, check with Remington or the manufacturer of your gun
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