Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Buffalo Bore .38 Special - Redux & Update

Today I fired three rounds of the BB Standard Pressure Short Barrel Heavy .38 Special 158gr. very soft lead cast, SWC-HC (20C/20) into a string of five one-gallon water jugs from my 642-1 at a distance of 10'. Why three rounds? I only had fifteen jugs.

I was pretty surprised by the results.

Round #1 exited the rear of the 4th jug at an upward angle and deflected off of 5th jug, denting it. The bullet started to break apart upon impact with the 1st jug. Small fragments were found in all four jugs.

Rounds #2 & 3 penetrated all of the jugs and left perfect wadcutter-like exit holes out of the back of the 5th jug. Apparently none of the bullets expanded. Small fragments were recovered in the jugs, but I failed to note which jugs they were in.

I would love to show you recovered bullets, but unfortunately, all of them continued on to bury themselves in the dirt backstop. Did they expand upon impact with the dirt? We'll never know. It would be impossible to distinguish recovered bullets from the hundreds of lead bullets in the backstop left from previous practice sessions.

This was by no means a scientific test. I started carrying this ammo a couple of weeks ago and finally had the time to test the Buffalo Bore ammo out for myself. I did not use a chrono, nor did I make provisions to recover bullets that penetrated all of the jugs of water. Truth be told, I expected them to possibly shed large fragments (as they did in brassfetcher's test ) or expand and be recovered in or between the jugs. I was wrong.

I will repeat this test again (with better planning) when I get the chance, but until I can prove that this round will expand reliably out of the 1-7/8" barrel of the 642-1, I'll go back to Speer 135gr GDHP+P's. The Gold Dots I've fired into water and mud have consistently expanded from the little snubbie.

Here's a photo of all of the fragments recovered from three rounds next to an unfired BB round. The three Gold Dots shown for comparison were recovered from water/mud.

Let's try this again.

I used hard white plastic containers for this observation as opposed to soft clear milk jugs. Only three of the containers used this time were of the same size. All of the containers pierced by the four bullets were split from the entry/exit holes to the bottom and only used one time. Speer GDHP's were placed in the photo for comparison.

Round #1 - My bad - I forgot that the first container was a shade taller than the rest. Bullet traveled through 12" of water and was captured at the back of the arresting box. A micro-fragment was found in the first container.

Round #2 - Recovered at the back wall of the second container at 20". No fragments were found.

Round #3 - Recovered between the second and third containers at 22". No fragments were found. Deformation was caused by contact with the wood at the bottom of the containers and the corner of the third container.

Round #4 - Recovered on the surface of the dirt backstop after traveling through 22" of water and the cardboard flap of the arresting box. No fragments were found.

So why the difference between today's and yesterday's results. Hard plastic vs. soft? Did the soft plastic clog the hollow cavity and turn it into a flat-nose? I have no idea. But I am more confident in the load.

Looking back at Brassfetcher's tests and observing the results of my barnyard-science, I've come to this decision on my everyday carry round of choice in my 642-1 and vintage Charter Arms Undercover.

In order of choice.

#1 - Buffalo Bore Standard Pressure (SP) 158gr. SWC-HC Item No. 20C/20
14.5" penetration in gelatin
.41+" average expansion

My experience leads me to believe that if the BB SP bullet does not expand (due to clogging of the hollow point) that it will continue to act as soft lead semi-wadcutter internal wrecking house, with deep penetration. Recoil is fairly soft, a little less than the Speer GDHP short barrel load that I've fired.

#2 - Remington 158gr. LSWCHP Item No. R38S12 (FBI Load)
12.6" penetration in gelatin
.592" average expansion

Brassfetcher's heavy clothing test shows similar expansion, losing approximately 1" in penetration depth. This is the load with a ton of excellent street data, and the choice of more than a few CCL holders. I've found the recoil to be very acceptable and the price is a real hook, especially for any extensive practicing with a carry round.

#3 Is still up for grabs, but the following rounds looks promising. I'll be purchasing some of this to see if the recoil is acceptable. I won't be using this in the CA.

Buffalo Bore Heavy 158 gr. LSWCHP+P Item No. 20A/20

I can only speculate, but traveling just a little less than 200 fps faster than the BB SP load and delivering over 120 ft. lbs. more energy - I can only imagine more of what the Standard Pressure load already offers. This also means a lot more recoil.

I'm also interested in BB's Speer HC (Gold Dot Short Barrel) loads in both standard and heavy versions. Brassfetcher has good results for one of them, but I can't tell which one. The one tested far outperformed Speer's version.

I also want to check out the DoubleTap 125gr .38 Special +P (Gold Dots) suggested in reply to this posting on another forum. They do sound interesting.

First of all -Thanks to Spotteddog from the Smith&Wesson Forum for providing the Buffalo Bore +P's for this Behind the Barn observation.

Alrighty then...let's get to it.

Today I ran a few rounds of BB's finest through my S&W 642-1 and Ruger SP101 2.25" barrel. Once again let me remind y'all that this is an observation, not a scientific test.

With no hard surfaced containers and only water-filled plastic jugs on hand, the bullets should only be compared to each other. In the earlier observation and in Brassfetcher's testing we found that the Standard Pressure round does indeed expand reliably. If it doesn't, it will certainly provide deep penetration. Exactly what I want. YMMV

All energy and velocities are from Buffalo Bore's website. Everything I could find online shows tested velocities to meet or exceed BB's stated velocities. Therefore I have no reason to doubt BB's claims.

642-1 Observations

Buffalo Bore Standard Pressure (SP) 158gr. SWC-HC Item No. 20C/20
854 fps (256 ft. lbs.) from S&W mod. 60, 2 inch barrel

Since I did not have the proper containers on hand for expansion testing, I used the Standard as a base for testing the penetration of the +P round.

- Penetrated 20.5" in water with minimal expansion as expected (see above). Recoil during a five-shot string through the 642-1 was very controllable.

Buffalo Bore +P 158 gr. L.S.W.C.H.P.--G.C. Item #20A/20
1040 fps (379 ft. lbs.)from S&W mod. 60, 2 inch barrel

Penetrated to 30.5" in water. The bullet and shrapnel were recovered in the last jug. Looking at the dent in the back wall of the jug, I would tend to believe that the bullet was expanded and in one piece when it struck the back wall and then lost the thin lead, mushroomed around the core. My opinion of this round offers awesome penetration and expansion. I got real wet when the first jug exploded when hit by this round.

As would be expected, all of this comes with a much heavier felt recoil. The first round clicked off through the 642-1 drew blood and rocked my knuckle pretty good. Maybe a little hand lotion would help.

Being the "giver" that I am, I still ripped off a string of five from seven yards, all landing on a standard one gallon milk jug. While not as controllable as the Standard round, the +P cracks more than it pushes, allowing fairly quick follow up shots.

If I owned a steel .38 special revolver rated +P, I would seriously consider using this round for EDC.

Ruger SP101 Observations

Buffalo Bore .38 special +P 158 gr. L.S.W.C.H.P.--G.C. Item #20A/20
1059 fps (393 ft. lbs.) (2.5" barrel)

Strings of five were simple as pie with this round. The "crack" noted before equates to quick follow up shots out of the heavier Ruger.

Buffalo Bore Tactical Short Barrel, Low Flash, Reduced Recoil 357 Magnum 158gr. Speer Uni-core, (Gold Dot) hollow cavity Item No. 19E/20
1,097 fps (422 ft. lbs.) (2.5" barrel)

Penetrated to 16.5" with full expansion in water.

This is a thumper compared to the 20A above, but still very controllable during five string shots, and spot-on POA.


Performing at low-end .357 magnum velocities, BB's 20A .38 special is something to look at, for sure. The shorter .38 brass ejects well even from shorter barreled .357 revolvers, and penetration is nothing short of awesome.

Left to right - BB Standard Pressure / BB +P / BB .357 magnum GD

If I were carrying a steel snubby I would use the BB +P. But in an Airweight or thank you. My arthritic hands just plain don't like it. YMMV

edited to add - I will experiment with different grips on the 642-1 to see if it softens the recoil of this +P round a bit.