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Discussion Starter #1
I have about 700 rounds of Federal and Winchester +P+ 38 ammo, most from the late 80s and early 1990s. I have used this in a Colt Agent from the mid 80s and an older Smith Model 60 with no ill effects. What has been the experience of other shooter with this type ammo and the 38 Spec. guns used?
 

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chesster

My experience with shooting +P ammo in Colt 38 Special revolvers (Detective Special, Diamondback) is that the ammo shoots well, but the revolvers suffer from it with a lot of shooting. The damage this ammo causes is peening of the start into the breech face. This is usually noticed by the breech face beginning to showing the pattern of the star (the high points where then hand turns the cylinder) rather than more of a circular pattern. In addition with a lot of shooting the breech face can feel a bit rough and the star points get flattened or rounded over. Colt .38 Special revolvers were not designed for a steady diet of +P ammo, and certainly not +P+ ammo which is closer to .357 magnum lite. The reason for this is Colt did not harden the frames very deeply.

If you plan on carrying this ammo in your Agent and shooting a cylinder every 6 months or so, your revolver will probably go forever. On the other hand if you plan to shoot 100 or more rounds a session, I recommend that you use a revolver chambered for .357 magnum, or made from stainless steel like a Ruger SP101 or GP100. Your Agent is made from aluminum and it will suffer quicker than the steel Colts.
 

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I questioned shooting the +P+ in a GP100 because the recoil felt worse then the .357 Cor-Bons I was practicing with. I would not shoot many of them in an Agent. I have retired my Agent to shooting .38 wad cutters since I got the .357
 

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Discussion Starter #4
Thanks gentlemen. I know several officers who have used this ammo in Colt and Smith snubbies in the past on a limited basis. I don't intend to shoot these loads a lot in a light revolver but would like to have the option and know the actual limits. My findings in the Colt Agent were less recoil and better followup shoots when compared with the Winchester 158gr SWCHP +P. The significance of using the +P+ load is with reloads for my carry revolvers. An Agent and a Smith M-13 can use the same speedloaders. It is a good compromise to use the +P+ for both if needed.
 

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Just curious, what is the purpose of +P+, when you have .357 magnum. Isn't .38 spcl for people who don't want magnum recoil.
 

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Discussion Starter #7 (Edited)
ERdept said:
Just curious, what is the purpose of +P+, when you have .357 magnum. Isn't .38 spcl for people who don't want magnum recoil.
Good question. When I first asked this question over 30 years ago, other officers told me it was to provide more "power" for the .38 Special. Many agencies limited officers to carrying only revolvers chambered for the .38. Others have stated in these forums it was to provide a more powerful ".38" round to fire in 357 mag revolvers for early political correctness as the public was perceived to have negative views of LE using .357s. I find the latter hard to accept since a shooting involving an officer thus armed would still have used a "357" revolver. Also, steady use of full 357 loads in the K frame S&W was found to be harmful to the guns. All this in the day before the compact and lightweight carry "magnums" and better performance designed .38 ammo. Today, these +P+ .38 rounds are a leftover oddity seldomly encountered by the general public that mostly serves to generate babbling rhetoric on these forums. :)
 

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This is purely a guess on my part, but .38 Spl +P+ may be just another name for the .38/44 heavy duty load. This predated the .357 and was brought out for use in the S&W .38/44 Outdoorsman (longer barrel, adjustable sights) and the .38/44 Heavy Duty (same gun but fixed sights and tended to have a shorter barrel, maybe 4" or 5"). Elmer Keith claimed that this load was safe in S&W K frames, but I think most would agree today that a K frame wouldn't survive long with that load.

A common .38/44 load was the 170 grain Keith SWC over 13.5 grains of 2400 in .38 special brass. In fact, Keith designed that bullet for this use, and that's why it's too long for use in the decendants of the Outdoorsman and Heavy Duty revolvers, whose cylinders are the same dimensions--the models 27 and 28.

If it were me, I would only shoot those +P+ loads in S&W models 27 or 28, or a Ruger GP100.

Mike
 

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Found the following on the web: A regular .38Spl load is 17000 psi max, a +P load is 18500 psi max but +P+ loads can go to 26000 psi. There is no SAMMI specification for 38 Special +P+ so an ammo maker can load it to whatever they feel is OK. If what I have read in the past is still valid, their is no spec for 9mm +P+ either.
 

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Steel K and L frame S&Ws built with the .357 in mind should have no problem with .38 Spl. +P+ rounds. Provided the gun is kept clean and in good condition.

When both Colt and S&W introduced their alloy frame revolvers in the 50s the intent was to provide light weight carry guns for those that needed them, particularly military and police. They were designed to be carried alot and shot seldom and this with standard velocity .38 Spl. with a 158 gr. pill. Irregardless of advertising they were not as durable as their steel framed cousins. They have been improved on in recent years by the addition of some scandium but still they are not as strong. So it stands to reason that if they were intended for only limited amonts of standard .38, little to no +P should be used.

My experience is that with a 158 gr. bullet standard .38 Spl. and +P shoot to about the same POA-POI from an alloy framed gun, or most snubbys for that matter so one can practice with standard .38 and carry the +P.

tipoc
 

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Ahh, memories. A brief sudden flare of light from the sputtering candle. It lasted maybe 5 years, but it was good. The +P+ was an invention of the FLETC in conjunction with various ammo manufacturers. It was kind of an endorsement of Hollow Point ammo coupled with a fear of the word Magnum. At that time, back in the mid 70s many Federal agencies had .38s, but couldn't and wouldn't (for varied reasons, to include budget and media hype) purchase .357s. The staff of the FLETC (who had mostly Model 19s in their inventory) came up with the +P+ and attempted to mandate its use by all Federal agencies. Some success, but some problems too.

The Smithsonian Zoo Police were the first problem as they had oodles of S&W .32-20 Hand Ejectors, N.I.B. I was GSA/FPS back in those days and we wept as we cutting torched each and every one of them, when they got new guns. I believe they bought Model 19s, but could be wrong, could have been Model 15s.

Up in the National Capital Region (then called Region 3, before Region 3 split off from the NCR) GSA FPS had thousands of Colts. Some 50 or more years old, others N.I.B. We did "A LOT" of testing of the +P+ ammo in those Colts. The OPs (mostly WW2 Commandos, but one or two Diamondbacks too) could handle them, but did take a beating in the process. We had maybe 30 of those. They were no problem at all for the 4" New Service .38s, but I think there were like 5 of those left in inventory. We had maybe 30 or 40 thin barrel Model 10s, old ones with lanyard rings. I think there were like 6 blued Chief's Specials in the NCR. Reserved for select Captains, Majors and above. The great bulk of GSA's pistols in NCR (maybe 3,000) were Detective Specials, Cobras and Agents (the first models) and 4" Police Positive Specials. Some were WW II OSS guns, some were Vietnam surplus, and some were of 60s commercial vintage N.I.B. Back then FPS had hundreds of people in the DC area alone to be armed.

I didn't watch all of the +P+ tests, but I saw enough of them to know not to put a T load (another name for the +P+ as the Treasury Dept. owned the FLETC) in my issued Police Positive. Quite literally the guns would sometimes burst. No warning either. New or old didn't seem to be a factor. More about cylinder wall thickness, steel type, hardness, chamber pressure and where Colt put the cylinder notch. When told of the problem Colt decided the new ammo voided any warranty and beyond washing their hands of the problem, ignored the new ammo.

GSA, being a penny pinching agency, tried to get other agencies to donate confiscated medium frame S&Ws, but without much success. I remember getting a Colt Metropolitan MK. III once but the sintered metal hammer broke off at the spur on me at the range during SQC (something no one teaches anymore). [It should also be noted that for someone used to the leaf springs DA pull, the coil spring DA pull of the Mk. III was really yucky.] Next the agency experimented with Charter Arms 4" revolvers (was that the Viper?). I was told by one of the people doing the test they failed too after just a few rounds.

Meanwhile the Treasury Dept. grew more insistent that all agencies use the same model guns and .38 ammo. Eventually a decision was made to just spend the money and suddenly we were flooded with M-15s, M-19s, M-10 HBs, M-13s and M-14s (or was that M-12s? Been 20 years, one was a .22, one was a target .38 which is the one we got a few of). If my memory serves the first +P+ ammo maker was Federal. Remington wanted nothing to do with the project.

Initially the ammo was confined to FLETC only and those first years, (76? and 77) occasional rounds showed, er, pressure variations. Bang, Bang, WHAM and your hand stung all day. Eventually they got the hang of it and the ammo started getting shipped to other Federal locations. The ammo headstamp had the last 2 digits of the year on it and an FC. I can't recall if there was a WCC and date variation too. There were two bullet weights used. In the beginning it was a 110 gr. Then the next year when some usage reports came in they went up to 125 grains.

The rangemaster in DC (and probably elsewhere) didn't like them. Previously practice time had either consisted of firing some (60 rounds) really anemic 50s vintage mil surplus FMJ .38 ammo (less than wad cutter ballistics) once a year, then later handloaded (at the ranges) lead ball or reduced wadcutter (lighter bullet and less powder lowered yearly ammo costs) ammo. FLETC put a stop to that because of the Newhall shooting and got enough clout to force GSA to use the Treasury load for annual qualification. I think we did 3 sets of 60 rounds of +P+ that first year, then the annual qualification debate became about semi annual qualification and who would pay for it. New range backstops were needed as the hotter ammo started chewing through the old 1/4 inch soft plate. Around the same time frame the targets changed from black Colt silhouettes with K zones and bulls eye targets to the shaded blue FLETC type. Single Action (SQC) shooting became verbotten as PPC took over. DA only. A quick discovery many made was achieving a perfect score with wadcutters in slow bullseye fire was a lot harder with rapid DA fire and pocket howitzer shells. Also back in those days suddenly lead fumes became an issue and fans were needed where there had been none. Used to be you and 30 other guys stepped up to the range line and each fired 60 rounds till the air turned blue. You coughed black phlem for a few days afterwards. The fans lessened that enormously. [Any other ancients remeber the attempted blue Nyclad solution till new fans could be purchased?]

Overall ammo scores really suffered with the T-load. I was a lucky dog as I had a letter letting me buy and carry what I wanted (long story) and I went Ruger. The Ruger six series liked the +P+ ammo. Anyway, word got out and suddenly Winchester was bidding on the contract. The headstamp changed to Winchester +P+ for awhile. Then I believe they went back to year of manufacture, but only for the US Govt. contract. Select PDs had been permitted to have officers attend FLETC in a PR move. They saw and fired the ammo and they wanted the +P+ ammo too. Suddenly makers began offering it to all of the LEO agencies. The IACP also endorsed the ammo as an alternative to the Magnum word.

Colt was too durned slow (no surprise there) to see the trend and did absolutely nothing to beef up their .38 products. I had a friend who had a brand new MK III Agent or Cobra taken from the box that very day suddenly burst on him at the range. No one hurt, but I believe that day was the last time FPS in the NCR mixed +P+ and Colt. The overall result was by 1980 very few PDs were still buying Colt .38s. I have one of their MK III Police Positives (again yuck compared to the older ones) and it very clearly says in the paperwork 'not for use with +P or +P+ ammunition.' A durn shame as if they had just moved the durn bolt notch and heat treated the steel, they might still be around.

By 1984 or so, almost every PD still using .38s was using S&W or Rugers and +P+ ammo. By 1988 most of them had jumped on the 9mm bandwagon.
 

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See Kunhausen's "The Colt double action Revolvers, Shop Manual Volume 1." You'll see a picture of a Detective Special after it fired a single +P+ on page 49. I saw several similar ones back in the late 70s and early 80s.
 
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