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A Very Effective .38 Snubbie Load

by Patrick Sweeney   |  September 24th, 2010 0

There’s a saying among the firearms cognoscenti: “Friends don’t let friends carry mouseguns.” That is, manly men, real men, carry big guns in big calibers. I guess I have to confess to not being a manly man because there have been times I’ve been packing a handgun whose caliber designation did not start with the numeral four. And all my usual backup guns are smaller than that “4″ start. Oh, there have been times when I’ve been packing heavy and had bigbores and lots of them on my person. But the whispered seductions of an airweight .38 snubbie are sometimes like those of The One Ring–impossible to ignore.

The author says he has seen bigger hollowpoints but few deeper.

But what do you feed the snubbie? The old 158-grain lead roundnose is great for practice but not much else. The FBI load (a swaged 158-grain SWC with a hollowpoint in it) was all the rage for quite some time, and for good reason. When it was current, it was the best there was.

But all .38 snubbies face the Procrustean bed of ballistics: One size doesn’t fit all. Usually, to gain expansion you have to give up penetration. In some circles that’s an acceptable tradeoff. Me, I’d rather not give up anything if I can keep it.

Which is why I found the Cor-Bon DPX line so interesting. Using bullets made of copper, they have no lead (thus are “condor safe”) but still expand. The idea behind the DPX line of ammunition is to offset the usual decrease in penetration by using a bullet that expands in a controlled manner but still penetrates. Thus the copper bullets lacking lead and the deep but narrow (relatively speaking) hollowpoint.

The bullets themselves are longer than usual, again due to the lack of lead. To make this 110-grain bullet out of copper and provide a hollow up front that expands (but is controlled in doing so) requires a bullet nearly as long as a 158-grain softpoint of the old style. Expansion is directly related to velocity; the more you have, the more you get.

Coming from Cor-Bon, you can expect lots of velocity. However, you aren’t going to get all that velocity out of a snubbie, and what you get you’ll pay for. I have found that in full-size guns you get exactly what Cor-Bon says you’ll get. In 9mm and .45 pistols, I have sometimes found myself clocking Cor-Bon ammo at greater-than-posted velocities. But revolvers are another breed. The variances between barrel lengths, cylinder gaps, throat diameters and bore tightness and roughness can shove velocities all over the map.

Thus, I was not the least bit surprised to find that the listed 1,300 fps of the 110-grain DPX load appeared only when I shot the ammo in some of my full-size guns. In my ICORE S&W M-28, they turned up 1,260. In the six-inch M19 I actually got 1,311 fps. But in the various snubbies, a bit over 1,100 was the norm–which, out of a two-inch barrel, and an airweight frame at that, is impressive.

With any bullet design, if you have too much velocity you get a sudden decrease in penetration, as the energy goes to expansion, disintegration and loss of bullet integrity. The trick in using velocity to increase penetration is to design a bullet that is tougher to expand but not so tough that it won’t expand.

I was also not surprised to find the promised penetration while still expanding. In ballistic gelatin, the Cor-Bon 110-grain DPX penetrated 15 inches. The track was straight; the bullet remained nose-forward. The expanded bullet measured almost .60 inch in diameter and kept all of its expanded petals.

This is perfect performance. Penetration was all the way to the back of the first block, 15 inches deep. Straight, nose-first and fully expanded.

Even more impressive was the heavy-clothing portion of the test. Multiple layers of denim can clog hollowpoints, making them act like solids–or at least the older designs. Modern designs have been tuned with FBI test protocols in mind, and this bullet demonstrates that. Even with a shred of fabric attached to one petal, and a small ball of it cut out and left in the center of the mushroom, the bullet went (again) 15 inches.

Lacking glass and sheetmetal for the full tests, I couldn’t try the .38 against them. Given the relatively low velocity, I would not be surprised to find the .38 coming up short–but keep in mind here, we’re talking about a snubbie. Outside of the movies, shooting at a vehicle with a five-shot snubbie is not a good thing to be doing.

As for accuracy, I was able to easily keep all my shots in the “A” zone of a USPSA target at 25 yards. That’s a 6×11-inch rectangle. I’m sure if I shot prone (I really didn’t want to be in the freezing mud that day) and learned the zero for that load, I could make some miscreant’s life a short and merry hell using the Cor-Bon ammo and my snubbie. It isn’t a Bullseye or PPC load, but it is plenty accurate for its purpose. The limitation is more the snubbie than the ammo, as I was able to ring the club’s 100-yard 10-inch gong five of six DA shots with the six-in M19.

Hornady Rimfire Gauge
In the new handgun-ammo products category, I just found out that Hornady is offering a rimfire gauge. Those not paying attention to accuracy in their plinkers need not worry, but those seeking accuracy can find one of these a right handy tool. Rimfire handguns can be very particular about what they shoot accurately. You can spend big bucks on premium ammunition and still not be sure you’re getting all you need. Or you can sort by rim thickness.

Accuracy depends on consistency. Rims of different thicknesses can cause markedly different lock times. The rim gauge lets you sort ammo by rim thickness. Now, someone will be sure to say, “That takes a lot of time.” It can. However, a regular box of .22 LR costs you about $2. The premium match stuff can run $10. If you get most of the accuracy of the premium stuff for some time invested and the cost of the tool (around $25), it doesn’t take long to earn back your money.

If you want to kick the butts of the guys at the club while apparently shooting inexpensive ammo, this is the tool for you.

(800) 626-7266

Hornady Manufacturing
(800) 338-3220

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