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Thread: Problem: Trail Boss in .38 Special

  1. #1
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    Problem: Trail Boss in .38 Special

    Hi all,

    I know this is an AR forum, and this is from out of left field, but I also appreciate the knowledge base here, and I know that a bunch of you reload for calibers/guns other than .223 and ARs...


    I'm trying to come up with some superlight .38 Special loads for my 3" Ruger LCRx revolvers I have a wife and daughter who don't like recoil and noise, and this is how I'm going to get them to shoot centerfire handguns.

    I'm an experienced reloader using cast bullets in .40S&W and .380ACP on a Dillon RL550B (20+ years, 10,000s of rounds), but this is my first time loading .38 Special and first time using Trail Boss.

    I'm using 75gr lead wadcutters and 95gr coated roundnose bullets, seated so that the top groove in the bullet is well inside the case.

    I started with 3.0gr of Trail Boss, like all the manual suggest. I'm using Winchester SPPs and once-fired nickel-plated cases with mixed headstamps.


    Today I took my first batches to the range with a 3" LCRX and chronograph.

    I shot several 10-shot strings. Recoil was satisfyingly negligible, but my velocities with both bullets were all over the place, and some extremely low: Some <300fps, and some >600fps. Standard deviations ranged from the 30s to over 90.

    (I'm aware of the danger of a squib load, so I kept shooting over my chrono, so it would confirm each shot that the bullet left the barrel.)

    Also, I saw a lot of unburned powder, not only at my shooting bench, but also at my chronograph...


    Thoughts:

    1. It's not the gun. The same pistol shoots factory rounds just fine (and did so today), and their SD ranges from <10 to 25 or so.


    2. I don't think varying powder weights is my problem I was very careful about setting up my powder charge, and then checked regularly, and it was always right around 3.0gr. (I use an old Dillon balance beam scale, and I calibrated it repeated with check weights.)


    3. I'm not crimping these much at all, so much so that I had several "sticky" rounds that didn't want to drop into a chamber. I'll put a bit more crimp on them, with the idea that holding the bullet in the case a bit longer might consistently burn more powder and built more pressure and even out some of those extremely low velocities.


    4a. I assume I'm having ignition issues. Should I use a hotter primer?

    4b. Should I up the powder charge to get more consistent ignition? The case isn't even half full with 3.0 grains of Trail Boss, and even the rounds at 500-600+ fps didn't recoil much.


    Please advise!

  2. #2
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    While I do not have a 38 Special, I have played around with super light loads in 300 BLK, which is basically a pistol case anyways.

    If you are having unburnt powder, it is one of two things, either low pressure or too slow of a powder. Trail Boss is very fast burning, so it is probably just too little pressure. Trail Boss is designed to provide reduced velocity with 100% case fill, and also complete burn.

    I have found in low pressure loads that crimping does help accuracy and SD.

    In order of priority, I would 1) increase powder charge, 2) crimping, and 3) magnum primer. I think your issues will go away with increased powder charge alone.

    Even with increased powder charge I think recoil will still be very low.

    Welcome to the world of light plinking loads. I shoot my 300 BLK with a 110 grain Hornady short jacket over Red Dot. It is quieter than a BB gun, literally. It still provides adequate accuracy and good terminal effects out to 50 yards.

  3. #3
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    I'd guess you're getting velocity swings from the extra case volume combined with such a short barrel/dwell time. You're clearly seeing that the powder charge isn't completely burning.

    A hotter, Federal or Mag pistol primer might help goose the burn on the powder. But that long case of the .38 spl (which has it's roots in Black Powder) sucks for internal case volume.

    Another thing I've heard of doing is loading wad cutters backwards so the flat tip is in the case, effectively decreasing the internal case volume to mimmick modern day smokeless cartridges. That might stabilize your burns.
    "You people have too much time on your hands." - scottryan

  4. #4
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    Thanks, guys...

    I've been loading really light .40S&W for decades... 4.5gr of Unique, which is just enough to consistently cycle the action of a Glock 22 with stock springs. That load is about 1/2 the energy of a full-house factory Speer Gold Dot.

    These .38Spl loads are so light that they're 1/4 as much energy as a factory Gold Dot. Comparing them to the .17HMR that I was shooting the same day, the 17 was more energy (power factor 40 vs. <30).


    The guys over at CastBoolits also suggested crimping... Since that's the easiest thing to try, I'll do that first.

    Failing that, increasing the powder charge would be easy, too.

    I don't have any magnum primers, but I could easily buy a thousand and try them... I only hesitate to do that because changing primers in my 550 is a minor PITA, and I don't really want to keep track of another kind of primer...

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    Don't use Trail Boss for .38 spl target loads. Use a very fast powder. You'll get more consistency.

    I'd suggest Accurate Arms # 2

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    If you have some Red Dot laying around it is also an excellent light load powder. It is very fast and burns completely at low pressures as it is actually intended for light shotgun target loads. While not as "fluffy" as Trail Boss, it is still pretty bulky for weight and provides good case fill still.

    I have used a bunch of these powders (Trail Boss, Unique, Bullseye, Red Dot) for these light plinking loads and got best accuracy and cleanest burning from Red Dot.

    But increase the charge first before anything else.

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    Deleted
    Last edited by TomMcC; 08-15-19 at 01:01. Reason: Drmtao

  8. #8
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    Go to the Hodgdon Reloading website and check the load data for .38 Special. I don't see data for bullets lighter than 90g.

    Using cases with mixed headstamps is not an issue unless you are developing 50 yard match loads and it still does not make that much of a difference. Winchester small pistol primers are all that I use for .38 Special loads and they are good enough for my 50 yard loads. I also use WSP primers for my J Frame loads. Trail Boss is great gunpowder, but I have not had good luck with using it for .38 Special reloads with projectiles lighter than 158g.

    I have had a great deal of success using Winchester 231, Alliant Bullseye and Unique powders for reloading .38 Special. You might try those powders or heavier projectiles if you want to stick with Trail Boss.
    Train 2 Win

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Uni-Vibe View Post
    Don't use Trail Boss for .38 spl target loads. Use a very fast powder.

    Quote Originally Posted by mic2377 View Post
    If you have some Red Dot laying around it is also an excellent light load powder. It is very fast...

    But increase the charge first before anything else.
    Too late... I have 6lbs of Trail Boss.

    Anyway, Trail Boss IS very fast.


    Crimping is easier/quicker, and I can quickly crimp the rounds I've already loaded (and not yet fired), so I'll try that first...



    Quote Originally Posted by TomMcC View Post
    OP...your 3gr of TB is the starting load for a 125g bullet...
    It's the starting load for 90gr bullets in the Hodgdon manual, too.



    Quote Originally Posted by T2C View Post
    Go to the Hodgdon Reloading website and check the load data for .38 Special. I don't see data for bullets lighter than 90g...
    Right, I bought the 75gr wadcutters on a lark... Since 3.0gr of Trail Boss is the starting load for 90gr, 125gr, or 140gr bullets, then it seemed like it would be OK for 75gr bullets.

    FWIW, Hodgdon specs 2.7gr of Trail Boss for 158gr bullets, and only 2.0gr for a 148gr hollow base bullet...

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bimmer View Post
    Too late... I have 6lbs of Trail Boss.

    Anyway, Trail Boss IS very fast.


    Crimping is easier/quicker, and I can quickly crimp the rounds I've already loaded (and not yet fired), so I'll try that first...





    It's the starting load for 90gr bullets in the Hodgdon manual, too.





    Right, I bought the 75gr wadcutters on a lark... Since 3.0gr of Trail Boss is the starting load for 90gr, 125gr, or 140gr bullets, then it seemed like it would be OK for 75gr bullets.

    FWIW, Hodgdon specs 2.7gr of Trail Boss for 158gr bullets, and only 2.0gr for a 148gr hollow base bullet...
    Then how's your crimp?

    I use 5.3-5.5 gr of TB behind a 200gr bullet in a 44 SPL with good results. And that's a much larger case. Primers fresh?

    You might load up 5 cartridges with a heavier bullet just to see if things change.
    Last edited by TomMcC; 08-14-19 at 23:26.

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