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American Handgunner Jul/Aug 2011 Digital Edition - Page 34
TAFFINTESTS John Taffin Who Needs a 357 anyway? he .38 Special arrived in either 1899 or 1902 depending on which expert is correct. From the very beginning the standard load was a 158-gr. lead round nosed bullet at around 850 fps. This became the standard police load early in the 20th century, however by the 1920s it was obvious something heavier was needed. The new criminal of those times used the then high-tech semi-auto pistols, automatic rifles stolen from military installations and fast-moving cars. To better provide for law enforcement, S&W took their heavy frame .44 Special, fitted it with a .38 Special barrel and cylinder and the .38/44 Heavy Duty sixgun was born. Ammunition provided included a 200-gr. Super Police load as well as a metal piercing 158-gr. bullet at over 1,100 fps. These were loaded in .38 Special brass, and it was expected shooters were smart enough not to use it in older, smaller-framed .38 Specials. This same sixgun, the .38/44 Heavy Duty, would be used as a platform for the .357 Magnum in 1935. 38/44 The THE SIXGUNNER HIMSELF: GUNS, GEAR AND MORE T Above: Taffin’s favorite .38/44 bullets include the RCBS #38-150KT, the Lyman/Keith #358429 and the Lyman/Thompson #358156GC, here shown seated in .38 Special cases using both the top and bottom crimping groove. Bottom right: This 2nd Generation Colt New Frontier .357 Magnum does quite well with .38/44 loads. Bottom left: One of Skeeter Skelton’s favorite cartridge/sixgun combinations was the .38/44 in a 5" Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum. Brass-Less F ast-forward to the 1950s. The war had ended in 1945, however it was still difficult to find .357 Magnum revolvers. Smith & Wesson was turning them out as fast as they could and in 1955 Ruger introduced their first centerfire single action, the .357 Blackhawk. Sometime in late 1956 I purchased my first centerfire Ruger, a 45/8" .357 Blackhawk. I had a single cavity Lyman #358429 bullet mold, Lyman #310 Tong Tool with dies, but no brass. At the time .357 Magnum brass was exceptionally hard to locate, however this was the time when thousands of shooters took part in bullseye matches, which meant .38 Special brass was not only easy to find but inexpensive. I discovered Elmer Keith’s .38/44 load using the above-mentioned #358429, and proceeded to load .38/44 rounds for my Blackhawk. Even when I acquired a double cavity mold, a melting pot, and a loading press I still stayed with .38 Special brass and loaded thousands of rounds using his bullet and his powder charge of 13.5 grains of #2400. This is a very heavy load, actually higher in pressure than many current factory .357 Magnum loads, and should only be used in heavy-frame .357 Magnum sixguns in excellent condition. In fact I have even backed off from using it very often in .357 Magnum revolvers. It clocks out at over 1,400 fps from an 83/8" S&W Model 27. I never found the Keith bullet with the Keith .38/44 load or for .357 Magnum loads for that matter to be exceptionally accurate. However, when I discovered Ray Thompson’s bullet, accuracy in full-house loads in either the .38/44 or the .357 Magnum increased dramatically. The difference was the gas check. We can argue about gas checks on .44s and .45s, however there is no argument when it comes to .38/44s or .357 Magnums. The Thompson gas check, Lyman #358156GC, reduces leading or eliminates it altogether, and in most cases simply shoots more accurately. Even More Versatility ’ve also added a third bullet for use in my .38/44 loads, the RCBS #38-150KT. This is a plain-based bullet weighing approximately 155 grains, as does the Thompson gas check, while the Keith bullet weighs approximately 170 grains. For use in .38/44 loads or especially in .357 Magnum loads, my bullets are normally cast of a 50/50 mixture of lead and type metal. Wheelweight bullets are fine for standard .38 Special loads and even .44 and .45 semi-heavy loads, however at I Continued on page 86 34 WWW.AMERICANHANDGUNNER.COM • JULY/AUGUST2011