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1386 Views 10 Replies 10 Participants Last post by  M700
Ok I have a j frame that a carry alot but really only shoot 38spcl through even being a big guy it is no fun at all to shoot 357 out of. I want to start reloading to be able to shoot more out of just to practice and to also allow my wife lots of practice so we can get her permit and just so she feel comfortable with a smaller gun. My question is
1... am I better off to down load 357 brass or load 38spcl brass a little warmer to kinda replicate the +p ammo i carry with?
2.... what powder works best for loading these calibers?
3..... I need a bullet that wont break the bank to shoot a fair amt. of practice rounds with?
4..... Would you trust your reloads as ccw rounds and legal wise is it smart to reload your rounds that could be used to defend my family and myself if it ever came to that?
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I've heard it's not recommended to use reloads for self defense..
I guess it's an added liability issue.. Lawyer's ::)
Doesn't make much sense to me, but not worth the chance..

My wife and I both ccw 638 bodyguard j frame's, they're rated for .38+P's
I reload .38 brass for light target loads when shooting often, and also practice with our favorite factory carry loads on occassion as well.
Her ccw factory load is Hornady's critical defense .38 110grain..
I carry the same but in +P..
I am not an expert by any means, but I am in the same situation (Model 60, J frame) and after much thought, research, reloading, and shooting here is what I do:

1. For practice, I "down load" the 357 mag to just under 38 special +P velocities. I also shoot, just a few, at "normal" 357 mag velocities.
2. I use mostly Unique and Win 231.
3. I shoot mostly 158 grain SWC from Missouri Bullet. (
4. No comment...I'm not a lawyer and you can research this topic on any shooting forum for many varied opinions.
Be advised that the following contains a lot of speculation on question number 4, as will all other posts on this topic. The short answer is we just don't know for sure.

I won't touch question number 4 with a ten foot pole in terms of decisively answering it.

Be aware that:

The "advisedness" of using handloads in a self defense shooting has never, ever been an issue in court, and any advice to use handloaded ammo or not use handloaded ammo, has never been put to the test in those courtrooms. So despite advice pro and con, it's never come to pass that it has mattered one way or another. There's no legal precedent for advising one way or another. So in giving such advice, everyone's guessing, and oftentimes that advice "feels right" to the adviser.


Many are absolutely adamant that handloaded ammo is not to be used. A better question to answer for oneself might be "What do my handloads offer that a factory load does not?" Is it possible, or even conceivable that I might be put into a position where I might have to use handloaded ammo? Is it possible that my handloaded ammo is not as good as factory ammo in some respects? If it is not as good, why am I using it?

An answer to that last question might be as simple as "it was available" but only you can answer why that is so. The reliability of handloaded ammo is in direct proportion to the amount of effort the handloader expended in making sure everything is correct, checking how well that handloaded ammo goes into and out of the gun, and how consistent and functional it was and whether it developed the needed velocity and experience. A new handloader doesn't have a lot of that in starting out, and it may be questionable just how reliable and accurate his ammo is given that lack of experience.

With factory ammo there's less doubt in that respect, and it's often marketed for a specific purpose, which is self defense. Can you absolutely say the same about what you're doing?

I'd doubt very much that some people would draw the distinction between handloaded and factory ammo should, say, a centerfire rifle be used instead of a handgun. Or a shotgun, for that matter. Maybe because of how damaging they are regardless of who loaded it.

Interesting that this might be the case, no? But then, I don't know that hasn't been an issue in court to any documented degree.

In portraying a handloader as a "blood thirsty killer", which seems a bit lurid, one must think that such an assertion would be damaging only if the shooting was unjustified in some respects. In such cases it's hard to posit that using factory ammo would save you, as opposed to handloaded ammo damaging your case of legitimate self defense when other actions connected to the shooting were questionable. Your "bloodthirstiness" will come to the fore, if that's the case, by your actions and how others perceive you, more so than simply ammunition choice. Being dressed like a mall ninja or being festooned with "tactical" gear would no doubt be just as damaging, if not more so, if I can be excused for speculating like everyone else. Or choosing a "big" gun with factory ammo rather than a "small" one with handloaded ammo.

Remember Winchester's infamous "Black Talon" hollowpoint handgun ammo? Surely a handloader would have to work at it to come up with ammunition as sinister as this factory ammo was portrayed to be! In this case a handload could certainly generate less attention than the hysteria that surrounded the introduction of this commercially available ammo. Perhaps we should carry more tame ammo like ball so nobody gets really hurt?

I suppose the real irony is "degrees of bullet humanity." Odd concept some subscribe to.

You can download either 38 or 357 brass. In having less airspace, the 38 Special brass may give lower velocity spreads with light loads, but the bullet has more jump through the chamber before it gets to the cylinder throats. Only you can tell if there's a significant accuracy difference, and given how difficult a J frame is to shoot it may be hard to discover any differences in accuracy.

There is no "single best" powders for these two cartridges in making practice rounds. There are only powders that work, and those that do not. Magnum 357 powders (H110, W296, 4227, 2400) work less well in the 38 or not at all in low power loads. H110 and W296, especially, are not to be loaded down. Powders that are optimum in 38 don't generate full velocities in 357 loads.

Powders that work in both but not obtaining full velocities in 357, as an example of only a few:

Unique, W231, Bullseye, HS 6, Titegroup, and many others.

Cheap bullets that shoot well are cast lead bullets. Most likely you'll want some variant of a 158 SWC to standardize on a bullet weight a fixed sighted revolver is regulated for. Review the commercial lead bullet suppliers like Oregon Trail to see what they offer. Usually these are much more reasonably priced than jacketed bullets, and easier on the gun.
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You may well find that in a small, lightweight handgun, the .38 is a better choice than the .357 mag, despite the maggie having a tremendous amount more power. It's often easier to make multiple, good, accurate hits with the milder .38 Special.

Back when cops were mostly armed with .357 mag revolvers, it was common to practice with .38's and inexpensive lead bullet loads, then fire a few .357 mags to get the "feel" of it, and carry that .357 ammo on duty. This was with larger, heavier .357's than the cool little J-Frame.

I often carry a J-frame myself. At one point I had a .357 J-Frame, but it was such an obnoxious little beast to shoot that I went back to using .38's for practice and carry use. The .38's are a lot easier for me to shoot well.

For handloading the .38, I have happily used Bullseye, 231 and Unique. You should be able to find good quality cast or swaged lead bullets for practice at reasonable prices.

Handloading the .357 leads me towards jacketed bullets and slower burning powder such as 2400 or H110.

I'd trust my handloads yes, but I really like the performance avail from some of the high quality self-defense ammo avail from the major ammo makers. Federal's .38+P with the 129 gr Hydra-Shock bullet is pretty darned good. I carry the +P .38's and practice with inexpensive lead bullet reloaded .38 ammo.

Here's some chronograph data from several rounds I tried through my 2" J-Frame:

158 gr lead bullet commercial .38's = 650 fps

129 gr Federal +P .38's = 850 fps

145 gr Win .357 mag Silvertips = 1100 fps (Wow!)

There's no doubt the .357's hit a LOT harder, but they were a LOT tougher to control in rapid fire too. Doggone near impossible for me in rapid fire.

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...just to recap what everyone else said... ;D

I normally load .357 brass for use in my .357, .38 brass in my .38's. I've done the .38 in .357 thing, and don't care for having to clean the lead buildup in the cylinder. I have plenty of cases for each, so brass isn't an issue. There may be an accuracy bonus with the shorter jump of .357 cases in the .357, but I've not ever proven it.

I have a .38SPC J-frame, and I'm glad! I would NOT want to shoot .357's through it, thank you very much. It is rated for +P's, and that is plenty, I feel, in a defensive situation (minus the muzzle flash.)

Unique. In fact, I just loaded 100 158grn cast SWC's over 4.2grn Unique, that has been my standard .38SPC load for almost 20 years. I have had very good luck with the swaged Hornady bullets, but they are a bit more expensive than the generic cast SWC's available. If you like to buy bulk, look at the online vendors, sometimes you can get big quantities (2000 or so) shipped, freight included, for a reasonable price. I have also been experimenting with W231, but my Smith model 10 doesn't seem to like it. I'm going to the range again tomorrow to have a 'shootout' between Unique and W231... may the best powder win!

I use Unique in my .357 rounds, everything from practice loads (using the 158grn cast SWC) to full power loads (under the 125 or 158grn Gold Dot.)

I carry factory loads in my defensive pistols, that is my decision. Should I ever have to draw my pistol and fire it, the least of my worries would probably be what kind of ammo I had... handloads or factory, but why give them anything else to use against you.
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My understanding I the #1 stopper on the street is 357 w/125gr jhp. Followed closely by 45acp.
My gun likes the 125jhp and thats what I reload.My revolver goes every where with me and I'm afraid if someone wants the contents they going to get reloads. been few times I carried factory loads as I don't hunt people...but it has barked at a few coyotes. But a ccw like yours with a 38+p factory ld still rates 90+ percent 1 shot stop... and I hope you will never have to find out.
Dont like plinking with full power 357s. Think brass and gun last longer with reduced power loads have several hundred full power rounds Just a more plesent day at the range I guess.for hd use store bought.
After using 38spl in my first 38/357 revolver for a little while I decided to use only 357. Carbon ring being the only issue. Plenty of powder out there to load to 38 levels in 357 brass.

As far as store bought versus reloads for personal defense I offer this. My wife and I were in one of the first CCW classes held in our Missouri county. One of our fellow students was an assistant county prosecutor who offered some very interesting advice. One notable item was to use factory loaded ammunition in self-defense situations. "It shouldn't be an issue because the only time you are permitted to use deadly force is when you fear for your life, just like LE officers. But.......I don't want to give anyone an opportunity to screw with a good, law-abiding citizen by making claims you are some crazy with a special "killer" ammunition." Paraphrased but accurate to the subject.

He strongly suggested the best ammunition to use is that which a recognized ammunition manufacturer labels as self-defense ammunition. He said it has never come up but there is always a first time. Blazing new legal trails can be expensive to defend yourself against.

Practicing with plinker loads doesn't seem to hurt my ability to control defense loads. Sort of like recoil at the bench versus recoil while deer hunting. Do what you need to get plenty of operational practice. That's my $.02.
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gman82001 said:
1... am I better off to down load 357 brass or load 38spcl brass a little warmer to kinda replicate the +p ammo i carry with?
2.... what powder works best for loading these calibers?
3..... I need a bullet that wont break the bank to shoot a fair amt. of practice rounds with?
4..... Would you trust your reloads as ccw rounds and legal wise is it smart to reload your rounds that could be used to defend my family and myself if it ever came to that?
I keep my 357 ready for HD loaded with 145 grain Win Silvertips (There’s other good ammo – My gun just likes the STs). I also reload 357 brass with a reduced round for practice.

For my practice round, I reload the 125 Rainier platted flat point bullet over green dot powder to keep cost down. I regulated the speed of this reload to shoot to the same point-of-aim as my 145 STs. Turns out to be just below 1,200 fps. Felt recoil is much lower – Recoil energy calculates to be 40% less.

I’ll answer No. 4:
No, I won’t use my reloads for defense - I’ll only use the factory ammo!
"It shouldn't be an issue because the only time you are permitted to use deadly force is when you fear for your life, just like LE officers."

Well, that's not quite correct. LE officers are also permitted to shoot a fleeing felon under certain circumstances. Pretty wide circumstances actually. Not necessarily in fear of their life, or the lives of anyone at that time, but rather to stop someone who is likely to be a danger to the public if allowed to escape.

A lot of folks don't quite understand that one, even in law enforcement.
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