Big time .38 Special loads.
Buffalo Bore has made a name for itself in providing high-end, very powerful, semi-custom production ammunition. I first became aware of it when people like friend Rich Lucibella was using it and Garrett .45-70 ammunition to shoot cape buffalo in Africa. [An interesting proposition-- using a 130 year old cartridge in a short carbine to knock down a 1.5 ton, highly aggressive (and not at all endangered, BTW) bull from under 100 yards, with iron sights.] Both Garrett and Buffalo Bore also make high-end .44 Magnum ammunition, as well.
But unfortunately, I'm not stalking through Africa for a big bull, and I'm not fly fishing in Alaska, amongst the big brown bears. When I need heavy .44 magnum ammo, I go to my dad's and handload some (or more likely pilfer some from the stash that he made with his own hands). And I don't even own a .45-70; I gave the only one I ever bought to my father for a birthday present a few years back.
My gun-toting is usually much, much more pedestrian. I tend to pick up a little pocket pistol on the way out the door, and drop it, strangely enough, in my pocket. No, it's usually not a brace of .45s on my hip[s]. I sometimes don't even carry a reload. But, I've got a gun, and more than once, that's given me peace of mind when I was out of uniform and going about my rather humdrum life. While that pocket pistol may well be a P3AT with its 7 rounds of raging .380 fury (rolleyes), it's as likely to be a little J-frame 2" Smith and Wesson revolver.
These little guys are hard to shoot well.
They're heavier and bulkier than a P3AT.
They have difficult sights.
They have decreased capacity. (5 rounds)
They look very unimpressive when drawn.
They are only .38 Special caliber, out of a not-quite-2" barrel.
Still, a .38 Special is a better stopping cartridge than a .380 acp, even with a shorter barrel reducing the velocity on the .38 (but then, have you looked at the length of a P3AT barrel, lately?). It's not just that you can start a much heavier bullet (typically 125g or 158g) at about the same velocity (~750 to 800fps out of short barrels). It's the type of bullet that you can launch.
A few years ago, I was carrying a small 9mm around with me. A handful of 124g 9mm seemed like just the ticket for off-duty use, until I discovered the sheer comfort of carrying a 2" J frame airweight with short boot stocks and a bobbed hammer. But I was bothered by what I was giving up-- my old agency demanded that I carry Gold Dot HP ammo, and all I could find in .38 Special at the time was 125g, in either +P or standard pressure ammo. Well, my little 9mm shot 124g Gold Dot HPs at about 1050 to 1100 fps, while my little J frame shot 125g Gold Dot HPs at about 800fps, if I used the +Ps. And the J frame held less than half of the 9mm's capacity.
I was delighted when Gold Dot came out with their 135g load, specifically designed for short-barreled revolvers. Using faster-burning powders, it achieved its maximum velocity in barrels under 4 inches. And, hey! 10 more grains of bullet weight!
But I have always felt that light and fast is utterly the WRONG road to take, with the .38 special. Instead, take advantage of the revolver's advantages. The revolver does not need to feed well, and a sleek ogive such as that found on the Gold Dot bullets is just not needed. Want to see the .38 Special perform out of its own league? Stick a semi-wadcutter (SWC) into it. Semi-wadcutters are bullets with sharp shoulders on them, which carve out full-diameter holes in targets that they are fired at, allowing the shooter to clearly see his grouping. They also are highly effective at carving permanent wound cavities in tissue. Want more? Well, make it a hollowpoint semi-wadcutter (HPSWC). Heck, make it of soft lead to guarantee expansion, and you've got a Lead HollowPoint Semi-Wadcutter (LHPSWC), or HP LSWC.
But that was a 6" revolver. I found, through testing, that it only gave about 890 fps with those +P loads. In a loose old 2" revolver, I was lucky to get anywhere close to 800 fps. Would they expand? Well, probably.
Last year, I performed some blood spatter experiments, in which I found myself shooting heavy sponges saturated with fake blood. I was surprised that a .40 Hydroshock not only fully expanded, but apparently remained stable. I was more surprised that a Federal Nyclad 158g SWCHP (basically the same thing as the FBI load, but with a blue nylon coating to protect the bore from leading) did NOT expand at all, and tumbled within 4 feet. Then I found that it tumbled within two feet.
Hm. More velocity. Softer bullet. Bigger hollowpoint. I began to be concerned about getting these things out of my little 2" revolver.
But I continued to carry either the Federal Nyclad load or the Remington +P load.
Two weeks ago, friend Peter came to visit north Texas, and my Dad, Holly, and LawDog all visited with him. Unfortunately, I had to work, and couldn't come visit. Peter came bearing gifts, too. He brought me some excellent Brenneke KO slugs, and a box of Buffalo Bore Heavy .38 Special +P loads.
These fall within my idea of what a .38 Special load should be, for short barreled revolvers. A heavy 158g bullet, with a sharp SWC shoulder on it, made of very soft lead (you can cut it with your fingernail), with a giant meplat that holds the biggest hollowpoint that I've ever seen in a .38 bullet. Look at the size of that hollowpoint, next to the Remington (left) and Federal SWCHPs that I pulled out of my revolvers and speedloaders:
See that little flat on the side of the Buffalo Bore load on the right? That's because I've been carrying it in my mom's M36 2" that I've been carrying the last couple of weeks. (A real man isn't ashamed to admit he carries his mama's guns.) It's soft, make no mistake.
Here's another look:
It looks like a wine glass next to a jigger. Heavens.
Check out the velocity that Buffalo Bore claims on the box:
One thousand feet per second, with a 158g LSWC. The guy at their website actually says that he achieved considerably higher velocities (1040 fps!) out of his 2" S&W revolver (M642).
It's expensive stuff. Over a dollar a round for a box of 20. It's packed in an interesting manner, with each round completely enclosed.
I'm thinking that I'm going to enclose mine with the 30 year old 5 shot cylinders of my (and my mama's) J-frame Smith & Wesson revolvers.