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Hoss

38 S&W loads & tips

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Just bought a pocket pistol, 2nd model 38SW manufactured around 1889 I think. I know no load data can be posted, but if anybody would care to PM me some info, I would appreciate it.

 

I know these were designed for BP, but I've read lots of different forums that indicate that light smokeless loads, and even the factory available loads are safe to shoot in these old guns, provided they are tight and lock up well to start with. I've even read that S&W has said they are safe to shoot smokeless with. Of course I've heard the old quote, attributed to Abraham Lincoln, that one should not believe everything posted on the internet! What do yall think?

 

I'm really looking forward to tinkering with this old gun, and trying out pocket pistol side matches.

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I have an H&R in .38 S&W and have shot factory smokeless rounds through it. It funtioned fine until it broke. Something internally like a spring. The last patent date on the barrel is April 7, 1896. I had a good gunsmith fix it and since then I've shot nothing but BP through it. I don't know if fireing smokeless "broke" it or not, but no more smokeless for my little H&R. I've had no problem with BP. I would advise BP only, but maybe I'm just overly cautious.

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I've got several old pocket pistols in .38 S&W, and even the ones made in the smokeless era get BP loads.

 

Typical BP load, fill to the bullet base. Use a BP lubed .360" sized bullet. I like a 140 grain RNFP.

 

There are way too many of these pocket pistols loosened to the point of no longer being functional or even safe to shoot for me to shoot anything but BP in them.

 

Good luck, GJ

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In the center of a Hodgdon reloading manual, just before the Shotshell Data, there is a section on Cowboy Loads. It lists several for 38 S&W.

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I have a "Lemon Squeezer" of same vintage as yours. I'd stay away from smokeless. They are not big strong modern guns. Why take the chance? Besides fill that 38 full of black powder and top it off with a 146 grainer and you still have almost no recoil.

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Stick with the BP or a sub. It is not about how tight the gun is. Even if the gun was factory new unfired condition it doesn't matter. It is all about the strength of the metal. Metallurgy was not as advanced when that pistol was made as it is now. You may have a gun strong enough to take light or even moderate smokeless loads or you may have a pistol that will fail with the first round, the 10th, the thousandth or never. There is no easy way of ever knowing.

 

So ask yourself if you want to take that gamble.

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Hi Hoss,
It IS about the metal available for firearms manufacture back in the mid-to-late 1800's. But it's (obviously) the difference in how black powder vs. smokeless powder ignites and and burns is what causes the issues. Graphically, one ignites and burns in a long arc; the other ignites and spikes when it detonates, kind of like the impact of a sledge hammer.

 

The older metalurgy can't stand up to that, no matter how you reduce your loads or if you mix black with smokeless. Reduced loads only delay the inevitible.

I recommend you don't use smokeless in any amount or configuration in a weapon designed for black powder use.

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I have a 2nd model single action made in 1880 and shoot ony BP. I'm shooting 148 gr hollow based wadcutters and seating them about midway . With APP you can use bullets lubed or smokeless and leans is real easy . Loads by plume same as the "Holy Black". A hoot to shoot!

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You've already received much good advice.

To my learned colleagues I can add only that I am using HBWCs for the payload.

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