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 Favorite 38 Snubbie / Short Barrel Defensive Load 
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Location: Round Rock, TX
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Real Name: Dave
Just seeing what loads folks are using in their 38 Special short barrel revos: be it Smith j-frame, Ruger LCR, or even Colt Cobra :bigsmile:

My personal load is the Speer Gold Dot Short Barrel
https://www.speer-ammo.com/ammunition/gold-dot-short-barrel-personal-protection/38-special-p/38-splp-135-gr-gdhp-short-barrel

Factory specs list 135gr bullet with a muzzle velocity of 860 fps. I gravitated to this round based on the fact that it was optimized for short barrel lengths found on snubnose revolvers but have not done any terminal ballistics testing of my own.

There is a good review on the webs at:


Their testing indicates penetration of 12-3/8" through ballistic gelatin covered with 4 layers of denim fabric (i.e. a heavy clothing test). Retained weight of 134.8 gr after retrieval from the gel with expansion to 0.544".

Wondering if anyone out there using other short barrel loads such as Federal HST Micro 38 Special or Hornady Critical Defense?

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Fri Jul 27, 2018 3:40 pm
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I carry Ranger 38 special +P 130 grain bonded hollow point.

Per Lucky Gunner's ballistics tests at https://www.luckygunner.com/labs/revolv ... tics-test/

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Fri Jul 27, 2018 4:14 pm
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Speer Gold Dot 135gr +P Short Barrel or Cor-Bon 115gr +P DPX.


Fri Jul 27, 2018 7:09 pm
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Buffalo bore hard cast flat point 158gr standard pressure @850 fps


Fri Jul 27, 2018 9:08 pm
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Thanks to os2. The Winchester Ranger LE load looks really solid by the numbers. Thanks for the link to the Lucky Gunner ballistic test data. What an awesome resource.

Thanks also to unicorn for the Corbon reference. Lucky Gunner hasn't tested the Corbon DPX 115gr 38 Special +P load but I did dig up the following thread with some data directly from Corbon:
http://www.stoppingpower.net/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=14674

Their numbers indicate 14.5" penetration through 4 layers of denim & ballistic gel block with expansion to 0.63". Very comparable to the Ranger LE numbers (a bit better actually). These numbers from a Smith 442 (i.e. 1-7/8" barrel).

Continuing to do some digging around on the interwebs this morning for any data on the Federal HST micro 130gr 38 Special load which also looks intriguing.

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Sat Jul 28, 2018 7:16 am
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I like that Lucky Gunner takes the time and makes the effort to have what looks to be totally unbiased testing. For many of their rounds. Not many do that. I have seen some of their testing give different results than other testers using the same synthetic gel, and even a couple places that have the time and money to use the proper gel made the approved way.

The Barnes 115 Tac-P all copper is the one that got my attention. It's GREAT in their testing, but other places have shown less consistent results, or "worse" results. Could be the round, could be the gun they used. Or it could have been how the planets aligned that day. Who knows. It does show that you shouldn't just rely on results from one set of testing unless it's enough to actually be comprehensive... and unless you have a huge amount of tax dollars to play with you're not likely to find anyone who can do it. So the best we can is look at multiple sources and see who is the most consistent amongst them.


Sat Jul 28, 2018 9:48 am
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Very good point about relying on a single set of data. I was thinking along those lines also earlier this morning while researching. It's very hard to predict how differences in testing setup and methodology will affect the final numbers in any particular test. So directly comparing results from different testers is probably not valid (i.e. too easy to make an apples to oranges comparison).

Agreed it's best to look for a common trend amongst several tests of the same load.

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Sat Jul 28, 2018 9:59 am
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I like Critical Defense in my snubs. I also have plenty of +p Golden Sabres that shoot really well.

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Sat Jul 28, 2018 11:11 am
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The thing about 38 cal snubbies is that there are so many of them being carried just about every quality ammo manufacturer offers a great load for them.

I just read a review on the Hornady 110 gr Critical Defense +P round was a great defensive load for this short barreled group of handguns.

Me? I carry GDHP's in a "SB" load. I'm sure they'll do just fine too.

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Sat Jul 28, 2018 4:25 pm
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Lucky Gunner just posted brand new test results for Federal HST Micro 38 Special 130gr +P load:

Specific gelatin test results posted at:
https://www.luckygunner.com/lounge/tested-federal-hst-38-special-p/

General 38 Special and 357 Magnum results are posted at:
https://www.luckygunner.com/labs/revolver-ballistics-test/

From the LG Labs site:
The majority of the .38 Special loads showed consistent penetration depth into the ideal 12-18” range, though most were at the lower end of the range. Bullet expansion was not as encouraging. Out of the 18 loads we tested, 12 of them had at least one bullet become clogged with fabric and completely fail to expand. Five loads were unable to expand with any of the 10 rounds fired.

Since I'm carrying a Smith 642 I find the 2" barrel test results most applicable. LG Labs rates the following loads as best performers in short barrels when going on a combination of penetration >= 12" (through 4 layers of denim) along with expansion results. Note these aren't in any particular order:
- Winchester Ranger 38 Special +P 130gr
- Remington Golden Saber 38 Special +P 125gr
- Winchester Train & Defend 38 Special (Standard Pressure) 130gr
- Winchester PDX1 Defender 38 Special +P 130gr
- Federal HST Micro 38 Special +P 130gr

Surprisingly, my old standard of Speer Gold Dot Short Barrel did not perform that well. Penetration is relatively good at 13.6" but expansion was poor at 0.44" average with several bullets plugged with denim and showing little, if any, expansion.

So now looking to shift my carry load. Will be testing some Winchester Train and Defend standard pressure loads as well as some Remington Golden Saber loads and perhaps the Federal HST micro loads in the near future. I'm seeing some chronograph time in my future :bigsmile:

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Sun Aug 12, 2018 10:32 am
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I tend to stick with Federal HST across the board. *edit* guess I should add if HST isn't available, Hydra-Shok usually is.

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Sun Aug 12, 2018 11:50 am
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I keep the low recoil Hydrashok in my wife’s model 60. Same with my G27.

https://www.federalpremium.com/products ... low-recoil


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Sun Aug 12, 2018 12:31 pm
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Another Gold Dot SB shooter here.


Sun Aug 12, 2018 12:35 pm
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Jagerbomber35 wrote:
Another Gold Dot SB shooter here.


Yeah I've been a long-time Gold Dot SB fan also. However, the loads didn't fare well in the LG gel testing, at least in a 2" barrel. I was really surprised that 3 out of 5 rounds were clogged with denim and failed to expand properly.

Will probably do a bit more research online before finally deciding.

Earlier this afternoon ordered a couple new loads in addition to the Speer Short Barrels on hand:
- Winchester Train and Defend 130gr standard pressure loads
- Winchester PDX +P 130gr loads
- Remington Golden Saber +P 130gr loads
- Speer SB +P loads already on hand

I'll run some chrono tests in the next couple weeks to see how the chrono data from a Smith 642 compares to the LG test gun (Kimber with 2" barrel). Ballistic gel is just way too expensive for me to buy any for testing. I may possibly do some reading on testing with wet phone books as a substitute, just because of curiosity more than anything.

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Sun Aug 12, 2018 12:58 pm
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GeekWithGuns wrote:
Jagerbomber35 wrote:
Another Gold Dot SB shooter here.


Yeah I've been a long-time Gold Dot SB fan also. However, the loads didn't fare well in the LG gel testing, at least in a 2" barrel. I was really surprised that 3 out of 5 rounds were clogged with denim and failed to expand properly.

Will probably do a bit more research online before finally deciding.

Earlier this afternoon ordered a couple new loads in addition to the Speer Short Barrels on hand:
- Winchester Train and Defend 130gr standard pressure loads
- Winchester PDX +P 130gr loads
- Remington Golden Saber +P 130gr loads
- Speer SB +P loads already on hand

I'll run some chrono tests in the next couple weeks to see how the chrono data from a Smith 642 compares to the LG test gun (Kimber with 2" barrel). Ballistic gel is just way too expensive for me to buy any for testing. I may possibly do some reading on testing with wet phone books as a substitute, just because of curiosity more than anything.



Phone books? Where are you going to find them today? Don't even have phone booths that you can steal them from anymore.

A good substitute for Ballistic Gel is Potters Clay. Comes in large plastic bags. When shot into it leaves large wound cavities that can be observed, bullets can be recovered, and the stuff can be re-molded into another test block. Just keep it moist and it can be used over and over until enough of it is splattered around that there isn't enough to mold anymore. Only downside is that it's not translucent like gel but otherwise it's a fairly good analogue.

One could also used expired hams if you can buy them cheap after Easter, Christmas, etc. :wink05: :bigsmile:

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Sun Aug 12, 2018 3:44 pm
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