yes, those were the days! Those barefoot days of dusty scrub-oak freedom, pocket
cover-alls, a dime-store fishing pole, a pocket knife, a little wad of chewing
tobacco stashed in the back of the "traveling" tackle box (thatís the little
one that fit on that rack on the back of my black Sears 3-speed), a sling-shot
and maybe a little something to read by Jack London or Mark Twain in between
naps; this was a sure-fire recipe for a lazy Southern summer afternoon.
Blue-gills, bass and maybe an unlucky bullfrog or two cooked over an "Indian"
campfire in a dented, old Army surplus mess-kit in a dollop of butter made the
perfect preamble for a Texas sunset.
Well, the times have changed, the boy has grown and the world just isnít that
simple anymore. The dusty backwoods trails to "secret" fishing holes have given
way to high-speed, rush-hour interstate commuting. The simple stories of Huck
Finn were displaced by scientific journals, technical reports and research
proposals. A small-town, weekly allowance evolved into research budgets,
investment leveraging and retirement annuities. "Toto, I donít think weíre in
care-free innocence of a dusty, denim-draped youth just doesnít compete very
well against the demands of a technically-oriented, responsibility-ridden
adulthood. Thatís not to say that the bean-pole boy with the scraped up knees,
dirty jeans and an armadillo skull in his back pocket is no longer with us ... it
just means that heís been squeezed into that musty closet in the back room with
Grandpaís old waders and doesnít get to come out and play very often.
I will take the liberty of assuming that everyone
who is reading this is a gun-crank. There are certain guns that take me back to
those simpler days as soon as I pick them up (you too, Iím sure), an old
bolt-action Stevens .22, a battered old single-shot 16 gauge, my beloved Marlin
39A. In the last couple of decades, my own interests have centered around
handguns and handloading for same. We were all avid bow-hunters back then, so we
didnít have too many handguns around as we were growing up (only a few shotguns
and .22s), so there arenít really any handguns that have been with me since
those days in central Texas. Nonetheless, there are some special handguns that
take me back...
If there was ever a timeless handgun, the S&W
K-frame .38 has got to be it -- it has been in continuous production since 1899,
so it is now entering its third century. These revolvers have spent the last
100+ years serving our country, serving our constabulary, and serving our
citizenry: a most honorable service record indeed, and one that will no doubt
continue for many years to come. I have a personal favorite 5-screw K-38
Masterpiece that was born in the middle of 1954 that takes me back to those
simpler times in scrub-oak woods of central Texas. It would have been just the
ticket for armadillos, bull-frogs, jack-rabbits, starlings and head-shooting
of the beauties of the .38 Special is the ease with which good accurate ammo can
be assembled. As most of you are probably aware, a little bit of minor tweaking
with cast bullets and fast pistol powders and just about any combination can be
made to shoot well out of a good K-38. A compendium of accurate small game field
loads for the .38 Special could easily fill volumes. Relax, my list is somewhat
shorter. When I come across a new .38 mould and want to find out how well the
new bullet shoots in standard pressure .38 Special loads, I load it over
Bullseye, Red Dot, AA #2, W231, PB and Unique. If .38 +P loads are on the menu,
I load them with HS-7. Period. Sure, there are other suitable powders, but these
are the proven powders that have given excellent accuracy with cast bullets in
past load development.
.38 Special will be forever linked with the 148 grain wadcutter. Many shooters
subscribe to the mindset that the wadcutter is good for punching paper, but
these saucer-faced projectiles are basically too wimpy for much of anything
else. As the old song goes, "It ainít necessarily so ..." -- the .38 wadcutter
constitutes an excellent, and deadly, form of vermin control.
have a deep-seated disdain for starlings. As I was growing up in central Texas,
our next-door neighbor had a lovely war-bride from Tokyo, and she worked very
hard to create and maintain an ornate Japanese garden in her backyard. Every
year the starling migrations would come through central Texas and her bamboo
gardens would be destroyed by the sheer mass of starlings roosting in it.
Everything would be crushed to the ground and blanketed with a whitewash of
droppings. Where there was once beauty, there was now devastation, filth and
disease. I have hated starlings ever since.
starling doesnít put up much resistance, and a revolver bullet doesnít get much
of a chance to expand before it runs out of starling to expand upon. But who
needs expansion when youíve got a wadcutter? And what a .38 wadcutter does to a
starling! (I recommend you see for yourself.) The perennial favorite of 2.7-2.8
grains of Bullseye under a 148 grain wadcutter works OK for smacking starlings
(600-650 fps), but a little more velocity is useful to flatten the trajectory
and increase the force of impact. The late John Zemanek reported in
Handloader (#161 Jan/Feb 1993) that he got excellent accuracy with a 148
grain wadcutter over 4.0 grains of AA #2 for right at 900 fps. Iíve tried this
load and found it to be every bit as accurate as Mr. Zemanek reported. A faster,
and even more accurate, load (in this particular K-38 Masterpiece anyway) is the
Lyman 358091 over 4.6 grains of W231, for about 950 fps. Both of these make
excellent field loads for vermin and small game. We have some swamp-land just
outside of town with levees that run through the middle of it, so one is above
the brush (and starlings), shooting down into the thicket and mud (i.e. thereís
a good, safe backstop).
This area is not too far from civilization, so a big booming magnum would
be un-welcome, but the mild-mannered .38 wadcutter is downright
neighborly. When winter starts to thaw and the days start to get longer, "wadcutting" starlings makes an excellent cure for a bad case of
a general-purpose, small-game load for the .38 Special, good service has been
consistently delivered by Lymanís 150 grain SWC (358477) launched by 4.0 grains
of Red Dot for 900 fps (6" barrel). This is also an excellent load for
ventilating the elusive pop can (not one of them has ever gotten away!). RCBS
makes a very similar mold that is every bit as good as the Lyman (but I just
havenít been able to squeeze out the same level of accuracy from the Lee 150
SWC). Lyman has produced this mold in more than one version. I have a 358477
mold which drops 150 grain SWC's, that have a true, well-defined crimp groove,
and I have a 358477 mold which drops a 158 SWC with a radiused "crimp groove"
that looks more like a grease groove. The latter mould has also been slightly
re-designed for longer driving bands, pushing the shoulder slightly forward and
shortening the ogive. Of the two Lyman molds, I prefer the older, lighter
version (although at this point the RCBS mold is probably easier to find). More
recently, Iíve been shooting both the Lyman 150 grain SWC and the RCBS analog
over 5.4 grains of Unique. This combination is extremely accurate and generates
about 950 fps or so. These loads are favorites for small game, it provide
excellent accuracy at reasonable pressures, itís a good, clean killer, but not
terribly destructive. It basically bores a big, bloody hole straight through the
vermin du jour without a lot of fanfare or fuss. The critters donít
complain, the gun doesnít complain, the shooter doesnít complain -- a solid
recipe for varmint hunting happiness.
Recently, I came across a factory hollow-pointed version of the Lyman 358480
SWC. It drops cute little bullets that weigh about 128 grains and are quite
accurate in the K-38 Masterpiece. In this case, experimentation with a variety
of powders and charges led me to settle on a load of 4.6 grains of Bullseye
underneath this little pill (4.7 grains of PB also turned in exceptional
accuracy). This load is extremely accurate and at just over 1000 fps constitutes
a surprisingly hard-hitting form of rodenticide. When cast of 25-to-1 alloy,
expansion is positive and itís quite flat-shooting out to about 75-80 yards. The
more I shoot this load, the more I like this little dimpled bullet.
Several years ago, I had some very positive results using the Federal FBI +P
load (158 grain swaged lead SWC-HP going 915 fps from a 4") on jack rabbits.
That load flattens big Montana jacks with surprising authority. It was deemed
worthwhile to duplicate this load with home-grown cast HP's from the Lyman 358439
mold (162 grains when cast of WW alloy). After trying a variety of faster
powders in various charges, I settled on 8.5 grains of HS-7 (this is a +P load
and should not be used in small frame or alloy frame revolvers). A magnum primer
seems to increase the consistency of this powder in .38 +P loads, especially in
colder weather. This load generates right at 1000 fps out of a 6" tube and is
the way, I got both of the above mentioned hollow-point molds from Western
Bullet Company (P.O. Box 998, Missoula, Montana, 59806;).
Jon deals in just about anything to do with bullet casting and has a good
selection of used molds available. If youíre looking for an unusual, obsolete or
hard to find mold (or cast bullet), check with Western Bullet Co. Iíve bought
about a dozen molds from him so far and have been satisfied with the condition
of them all (i.e. he doesnít sell junk).
Anyway, this +P HP load was involved in one of the more comical shots Iíve taken
in recent years. We were in Arizona, not far from the Mexican border. I had
decided to spend an hour or two in pursuit of jack rabbits with the 5-screw K-38
and the 358439 HP load. I kicked up the first jack less than 200 yards from the
truck. He jack-knifed through the sage in that way that only a jack rabbit can,
and then snuck to a stop, spying on me from beside a clump of sagebrush, about
35 yards off. He was standing in the classic broadside bunny stance, facing my
left. The Partridge blade came up black and dark in the late afternoon Arizona
sun and tucked itself into the jackís armpit, for a mental sight-picture of a 6
oíclock hold to center-punch the rabbitís shoulder. The hammer fell and fluff
erupted everywhere! It looked like somebody had tied a firecracker to a cat-tail
and launched its fluffy seeds to the four winds. It was then (and only then)
that I remembered that I had the gun sighted in for a 6 oíclock hold with target
load wadcutters (650 fps) and that it shot this HP +P load exactly to point of
aim! Scouring the area closely revealed that there was no blood or meat at the
site, but lots of fluffy off-white fur spread out over a 6 foot circle.
Basically I had shaved this rabbitís armpits! I kicked him up another 3 times
(he was easy to identify), but never got a chance for another shot at him. He
was clearly unhurt, just fashionably coifed. He didnít even tip his barber.....
little while later, I kicked up another larger, darker jack. After executing
many of the same escape maneuvers, this somewhat wiser wabbit stopped and hid
behind a very large piece of sagebrush about 35 yards away. He was quite
well-hidden, but still committed one fatal mistake -- there was about a 4-inch
window through the sage that I was able to line up with his shoulder. This time
I remembered how the gun was sighted and held for "center of window". The cast
HP "threaded the needle" and center-punched the hidden rabbitís shoulder.
Expansion was positive, and the big jack never even twitched. The exit wound was
about 3" in diameter. Thatís pretty much the way it goes with this bullet. I
like cast HPís.
Bottom line is, I spent most of that summer with that old 5-screw friend in my
hands enjoying the sunny simplicity of a summer afternoon, the joys of getting
my jeans dirty, the simple honesty of being a predator participating in the
intricate workings of Nature, much the same way as I did around those Texas
fishing holes so many moons ago. It felt good. That Special .38 spent so much
time in my hands, it just kinda felt right to refer to it as "The Summer of 38"
giving credit where credit was due and adding the somewhat nostalgic sentiment
that the 5-screw provided its owner. The Summer of 38, those were the days
indeed. May every summer be the Summer of 38.