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IHMSA News Feature Article
Published in The IHMSA News, the Official Publication of The International Handgun Metallic Silhouette Association
Published monthly except November/December - January/February
IHMSA on the web at http://www.ihmsa.org
 
338 Whisper Revisited
  By Todd Spotti Load data
 
     I was rooting around in my gun room looking for something or another and I came across a beautiful custom Contender barrel with what is now called a ďtacticalĒ Weaver scope base mounted with three custom vertical scope rings. It was a 338 Whisper from SSK Industries (sskindustries.com). SSK produces beautiful barrels based on Shillen blanks for the Contender and the Encore. They also put together tactical and hunting rifles and have a host of other services such as making that personal wildcat cartridge that youíve always been thinking of. SSK is also the home of the Whisper and JDJ series of handgun and rifle cartridges. Once strictly wildcats, Whisper and JDJ ammo can be bought from Cor - Bon ready made.
 

"SSK barrel and TSOB scope system is a super combo."

      SSK also put together what is probably the strongest handgun scope mounting system in the world - the TSOB. The Weaver mount is thicker than normal and has more slots for rings milled into it. It is also fastened to the barrel with SIX screws versus the normal four. Believe me when I say that with six screws, that mount isnít going to loosen up no matter what. Three rings also make sure the scope is going to stay on the mount, and gives extra rigidity to the scope even when the biggest, nastiest cartridges are being used. Thereís no better scope mounting system on the planet.
 
     I did a review of the 338 Whisper many years ago and found that it had all of the same attributes of the once very popular and still very effective 300 Whisper i.e. uncommon accuracy and low, easy shooting recoil. Letís review for the folks who may not be familiar with the Whisper concept. Invented by the indomitable J.D. Jones, an ex IHMSA match director and owner of SSK Industries, which is the home of the ďHand CannonĒ. The Whisper really created a buzz of excitement when it first came out. The concept was simple but ingenious. Take a long heavy rifle bullet and fire it out of a fast twist barrel at subsonic velocities. The combination of a ballistically efficient rifle bullet and subsonic speeds meant that aerodynamic drag was drastically reduced and aerodynamic efficiency was dramatically enhanced. Amazingly, even though velocities were low at the muzzle, bullets out of a Whisper kept zipping along with hardly any fall off in velocity - even out to 200 meters and beyond. In a past review of the 300 Whisper I found that a typically fast 7mm bullet would lose 29% of its velocity at two hundred meters, while a 220 grain Sierra 30 caliber bullet in the Whisper would lose only 6% of its velocity at the same distance. The result was that the Whisper was hitting harder, with less wind drift, and with far less recoil. It was a natural for silhouette and hunting.
 
     The 338 Whisper is the largest of the Whisper series which ranges from a 6mm and all the way up. The obvious advantage of a 338 is that it can put more weight and momentum on the target. The 338 also comes is a wide variety of jacketed bullet weights running from 180 grains up to 300 grains.
 
     There are two versions of the cartridge available from SSK. One is based on the 221 Fireball and the other on the 7 BR. The barrel I have uses the Fireball case. In my original review of the 338 Whisper, I concentrated on subsonic velocities. Well, J.D. Jones always said that the Whispers were meant to be a versatile, multi purpose cartridge, so I decided Iíd explore the low supersonic area this time around. The idea here was to go faster than before but not too fast, as I wanted to retain as much ballistic efficiency and low recoil as possible. With the price of jacketed bullet going crazy, I wanted to try it with cast bullets as well.
 

"Whisper dies are available from SSK."

     OK, letís talk briefly about case forming. As you might imagine, turning a 221 Fireball case into a 338 Whisper is a pretty radical operation. In fact it turns the Fireball from a being a bottle necked case into a straight wall which then needs to be trimmed after reforming. Resizing dies (Hornady) are available from SSK, as is ready made brass. To reform the Fireball into a 338 Whisper, no doubt annealing would be necessary to avoid case mouth splitting. I would also guess that you would then need three resizing buttons for your full length sizer i.e. one to take the mouth from 224 to 270, one to go from 270 to 308, and one to go from 308 to 338. Then youíd have to trim to a case length of 1.34Ē. This is too much work for me so I opted just to get ready made brass from SSK. It turns out the ready made brass was actually made from once fired military 223 cases. The military brass was fully reformed and prepped with the primer crimp removed. The only thing that I had to do was chamfer the case mouths.
 
     I know that some purists may have misgivings about using military brass, but if you look at the accuracy, and SD results below youíll see that thereís nothing to worry about. The brass performed perfectly, and because of its extra strength, Iíll last a long time.
 
     As you might guess, since we now have a rimless, straight walled case the 338 Whisper headspaces on the case mouth. For the best accuracy, youíll want to check the case length on occasion to make sure it stays where itís supposed to be. However, because the loads are so mild and the brass is so strong, the cases hardly ever grow in length - if at all. In fact after a dozen firings, I couldnít detect any change in case length. On the other hand, to insure against cases being short on headspace, I also seated the bullets to just barely touch the lands. This really isnít necessary but what the heck.
 
     Another characteristic of working in a straight wall headspace environment is the fact that you canít use a standard roll crimp to hold the bullet in place. The case mouth has to be perfectly square to headspace properly. If it were rolled in for a crimp against the bullet, excessive headspace would be the probable result. The solution is simple. Use a taper crimp. A taper crimping die simply squeezes the case even more firmly against the bullet to hold it in place without moving the case mouth at all. Experiments that I conducted several years ago and more recently by Rick Kelter with pistol brass showed that taper crimping will hold bullets in place extremely well even with very heavy loads. Ken Light also developed an extremely effective 357 mag revolver load using a taper crimp with a spire point bullet. Taper crimping works very well. In fact, the dies that I got from SSK included a taper crimp die.
 
     Now some might inquire as to why you need to crimp what is essentially a rifle cartridge thatís going to be fired in a single shot handgun. The answer is combustion efficiency. The bottle neck feature on most rifle type cases boosts pressures which help to insure efficient combustion of the powder. Itís a different situation with straight walls. Pressures are lower and combustion is less efficient. A crimp, by holding the bullet in place for an instant longer after ignition, lets pressure build and the power burn more effectively. However, if you want to experiment and not use a taper crimp, thatís fine too. Thatís part of the fun of silhouette shooting.
 

"Excellent group shot with H110."

      As you can see below, I used a variety of powders and bullets including a very nice 270 grain cast bullet from NEI. The aluminum NEI mold is one that I obtained many years ago. The quality of their molds is first class and the bullets that they produce always do the job. If you want an aluminum mold this is the place to go (neihandtools.com). Several powders worked well with the big 338 Whisper, but it was H110 that came out on top again. Itís very difficult to beat H110 in any pistol sized straight wall application. Whenever I am starting load development in a straight wall pistol case, H110 is always the first powder I go to because it always seems to work the best.
 
     The bottom line here is that the 338 Whisper is a nifty little cartridge that is something different from the ho hum high velocity cartridges that everyone else is using. It is effective, itís very accurate, and itíll take down steel silhouettes and game like nobodyís business. As I mentioned before thereís also a 338 Whisper based on the 7 BR case which would be perfect for a bolt gun. Checkím out.
 
Powder  Bullet Primer Velocity SD 100 yd
14.3 gr. H108 200 gr. Speer CCI BR 1587 4 .462
12.7 gr. H4227 250 gr. Horn Win SR 1196 8 .75
13.8 gr. H108 225 gr. Speer Rem BR 1459 8 .68
11.6 gr. 4759 270 gr. NEI CCI BR 1268 13 1.11
13.1 gr. H4227 225 gr. Horn Win SR 1273 19 .77
12.9 gr. H108 270 gr. NEI CCI BR 1371 11 1.0
17.1 gr. H110 180 gr. Nosler CCI BR 1796 17 .447
12.1 gr. 4759 270 gr. NEI CCI BR 1097 15 .69
13.0 gr. AA5744 270 gr. NEI REM BR 1189 10 1.25
15.0 gr. AA5744 270 gr. NEI REM BR 1344 16 2.0
 
Good luck and good shooting, Todd

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Warning: All technical data mentioned, especially handloading, reflect the limited experience of individuals using specific tools, products, equipment and components under specific conditions and circumstances not necessarily reported in the article or on this web site and over which IHMSA, The Los Angeles Silhouette Club (LASC), this web site or the author has no control. The above has no control over the condition of your firearms or your methods, components, tools, techniques or circumstances and disclaims all and any responsibility for any person using any data mentioned. Always consult recognized reloading manuals.