Sorry I've been away from the boards for a while...
Sometimes life gets in the way of living and, of course, you have to step back a bit and yield.
Anyway... I noticed there was a lot of activity on this thread while I was out and even some suggestions, which I really appreciate.
Thank you everybody.
Now, to get back to business, here's an update:
My best results with a specific load (listed below):
@ 25 ft. got a 4-inch pattern/group
@ 50 ft. " 10-inch "
@ 75 ft. " 12-inch "
@ 125 ft. " 14-inch "
This is what went into it:
Brass - Once-fired Winchester (decapped, cleaned, flash hole deburred on the inside, sized, length-trimmed, neck ID VLD chamfered, neck OD deburred)
Primer - Winchester WLP
Powder - Fairly light charge of a relatively slow powder (8.3 grains of Hodgdon Longshot)
Projectile(s) - Three 00 Buckshot at .32 caliber and 51 grains each, in a Speer shot capsule. seated to COL of 1.6" and firmly roll crimped
Barrel - 6 1/2 inches
MV - 1,000 ft/sec nominal
A word of warning (disclaimer) - This my recipe, for my gun only, developed and tested in a controlled environment, and as loaded by me. It is only shown for informational purposes and NOT as a recommendation for anybody to emulate. I strongly discourage everyone from trying out ANY reloading recipes they have not worked up for themselves.
Brass - Most brass cases brands did not allow the shot capsule to seat deeply enough for proper COL. I tested several common brands. Winchester gave me the most useful results
Case prep - Since I got the best results with a firm roll crimp, I had to trim the cases to an uniform length, because of the type of dies I used to crimp, in order for the crimp to be consistent
Primers - Using magnum primers opened up the patterns too much
Powder - Using more powder opened up the patterns more and I didn't get a correspondingly useful gain in downrange energy
Recoil - Comparatively light
Usefulness - Short range defensive sidearm use while hunting for up to 75 feet (25 yds.) and for up to coyote size. I would chamber three of these and three Federal Hydra-Shoks, then index to the first shotshell (there have been recent warnings issued by the Dept. of Game and Wildlife about rabid fox, and other rabid critters out there).
Someone remarked that these loads might also be useful as bedroom loads; close range, low penetration, low recoil, point-and-shoot in the dark, while not necessarily fully awake or in optimum control of their motor skills, and in a high-stress situation. That particular use and scenario I do not wish to comment on, but someone else probably will.
I consider this project as satisfactorily concluded and am now already well into my next one: developing a similar load for the .38 Special.
Thanks everyone for your thoughts, hints, encouragement, etc.
I'll be back after the end of hunting season, GWAITCDR (God Willing And If The Creek Don't Rise)