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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Before anyone gets their dander up, let me start out by saying this. I realize that a .38 Special would not be the first candidate for the job of hunting whitetail deer. And while I know there are other calibers out there better suited for it, the point is I want to use a particular .38 (description to follow). As such, this thread isn't about what would be better, but more appropriately, what experience folks might have with using one for such a purpose and what loads they used.

A family member has recently agreed to sell me his old Colt Single Action for a very attractive price. This one was shipped in 1886 and was converted from .44-40 to .38 Special in the late '50's by Simmons Shotgun Specialties. This particular handgun has a lot of sentimental value to me and is a very nice example of first generation Colt that is still serviceable and shootable without destroying any type of collector value. It has a 5.5" barrel and is very accurate. It is limited to standard .38 Special loads and shoots to point of aim at 25 yards. Obviously, I am not even going to entertain the thought of any type of +P load. In addition, contrary to my usual train of thought, my feeling is that the best bullet for this purpose would be some type of lead in the 158 grain class. I am typically a jacketed bullet fan, but this is one of those cartridges I would make an exception for, but am not adverse to using jacketed bullets if they performed satisfactorily.

My favorite style of hunting is still hunting. My first whitetail with a handgun was shot at between 10 and 15 yards with my .44 Magnum. The .38 would be worn in a holster and accompanying me on rifle hunts. I'm not talking about using the .38 as my sole weapon and would definately be choosy about shots. The ideal scenario for my intended use would be at 0 to 25 yards on a whitetail doe, either from my ground blind or still hunting. These ranges are definately doable for me and my skill level, though I won't say that it is an every day occurrence. Basically, the .38 would be used in the moment of a unique opportunity and it may take a few seasons for just the right opportunity to present itself. This is not a problem for me and I'm willing to wait for that that opportunity.

The midwest does I'd be hunting tend to run not much bigger than 150 pounds, if that. Many are closer to the 100 pound weight class and honestly, I'd probably be looking at taking a yearling at the closest ranges. One because they are usually a little easier to sneak up on and two, they are smaller and the round would perform better. I do think that from a 5.5" barrel at less than 25 yards, with a proper behind the shoulder shot for heart/lung area, this cartridge would perform well enough for the shot to be an ethical shot for a whitetail deer and kill said deer humanely. Should that buck of a lifetime chance by, I would still have a rifle to use and would not be tempted to press the .38 into service for a job it wasn't capable of. Basically, the sidearm is packed for coyotes, foxes, rabbits and the occasional coup de grace, and perhaps a chance to take a doe given the right circumstances.

I have other caliber choices available and when I hunt in Montana I do use my .44's. But for hunting in the midwest, where there aren't any big toothy critters to be too concerned about, the .38 would be a fun handgun to pack for both sentimental and nostalgic reasons. I suspect that there are folks here that have used a .38, downloaded/low power .357 Magnum and possibly even standard 9mm loads to deer hunt. I am curious as to your experiences, what loads you were using, the distances at which you shot the game and what the result of the shot was, as well as your thoughts on using that particular combination again. Again, I'm not trying to start a thread on why I should use another caliber, but more properly, what load I could possibly use that would be at safe pressure levels (standard .38 Special loads) that would probably perform satisfactorily on small whitetail does at less than 25 yards. Thanks.
 

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you are getting this from a guy that will ususally defend the fact that deer dont take much killing but a 38 special of anykind in a handgun to hunt deer id have to say no. Dear are a living creature and suffer pain and deserve to have a quick humane death and i wouldnt count on a 38 loaded anyway to do it. By the way your colt will easily handle any +p ammo made, even a steady diet of them. The only differnce in your 38 and the same gun in 357 is changed with a simple reamer. Now if you did that, (which wouldnt hurt the value of the gun because it is not original anyway) and loaded 180 cast to 1100-1200 fps id say it would work if you are shooting it with precision even under hunting pressure. Bottom line is your much better served with your .44 and leaving your 38 for small game and plinking.
 
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I have to agree that standard velocity .38 special loads really aren't the way to go for deer. Too much risk of losing a wounded animal.

On the other hand, John Taffin has published an article entitled, "THE SIXGUNS AND LOADS OF ELMER KEITH" and lists a fairly hot load using .38 special brass (http://www.sixguns.com/range/elmersloads.htm).

I have not tried this load myself, but I would only only consider using this load in a .357 mag revolver and not in an old gun chambered for .38 special. And I would carefully work up to these levels.

I do not know your gun and cannot recommend this for your use, but perhaps a competent gunsmith could evaluate your revolver and tell you if such a load would be safe in it.

Tom
 

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Where in the midwest are you planning to hunt with a rifle and your handgun, what state?
 

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insanelupus: Not only No, but please No! The 38 is just not the right caliber for the job. I can undestand your attachment to that old Colt (too bad you don't have the original cylinder and barrel) but it is just not the right choice for whitetail, even at close ranges. Mikey.
 

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I have to agree with others here, also you need to check the legality of shooting at big game with a .38 Special. In some States, it is not legal to hunt with anything less than a 357 Mag, and I support and agree with that law. I think it is irresponsible to use a gun that does not have enough power to humanly kill an animal.

It sound like from your post, that you already understand most of what was posted here. But if you think the .38 will work on a doe, why would you say if a Buck of a life time stepped out you would use your rifle? It is obvious you don't have enough confidence in that .38 to humanly kill that buck. Keep that .38 for them small critters and don't think of using it on a deer.
 

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If its legal in your state, and you are very careful about your shots it should do the trick. It sounds like youknow your limits. Karamojo Bell used a 7 x 57 to shoot many tons of elephant. He was an excellent hunter and shot. I'd look into using a hard cast bullet with a very wide flat nose is I were going to use a 38 special on a deer. I know here in MN that a 38 special is not legal because there is a minimum case length restiction on all calibers except the 10mm auto. In the olden days there was a ton of deer shot with, 32-20s,25-20s, 38-40s and 44-40s. Those deer seemed to die.
 

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.38 special is not legal to use on deer here in Illinois.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
This old Colt was shipped in 1886. Colt did not start manufacturing frames that they warrantied for smokeless powder until into the 20th century. The pressures of standard .38 Special loads are in line with the blackpowder pressures of the time. I would not even entertain the thought of reeming it to .357 or using +P loads.

As to being legal, everything I have found so far for the state says it is legal. (Missouri) I'm still researching it, but I don't believe it will be a problem. As to the buck of a lifetime, if he was close enough, and I had the .38 in hand, I might try it. Most truly big bucks I've run into have always had the advantage of cover and distance to protect them from my handguns, with a rifle, once they break cover the distance problem isn't.

Like I said, I know there is a better caliber for the job out there. Probably won't stop me from giving it a go. I understand those that are discouraging it, but I've got to believe there are those that have don it in the past. Bullet selection will be critical here and I'll do some penetration tests first of course. I'm not trying to argue with those here by any means and I understand your concern for the animal. I do believe that with the proper application of the bullet it can be done responsibly.

I'm not discouraged easy, though I understand everyone's concerns. After some shooting and testing I may decide against it. I realize that I am using an instrument that is basically being used for a highly specialized applications where all conditions and factors must first be met. Either way, it'll still be a fun gun to use and someday I may have it converted back to it's original chambering and use black powder loads for it. We'll see. Thanks for the replies.
 

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I don't enforse it, in fact, I shy away from a 357 though I know many folks have used it successfully. If you are dead set on trying it, you've already acknowledged proper bullet selection. Given the limited velocity, the bullet called for needs to be hard to allow best penetration and should be of Keith design or similar SWC to cut the best wound channelas far as it can go.
 

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definately dont shoot +p ammo in a first generation gun. Ill tell you what id do with it if it were mine is give hamilton bowen a call or doug turnbul and then go see your banker and take out a loan and send it to them and have them restore it back original with a 4440 cly and barrel and a peroid finish. First generation guns are almost to valueable to use as plinkers. I appologize for not screaning my answer better. It slipped by me that it was a black powder gun.
 

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Because of the date of manufacture I would NOT assume it safe with +P much less .357 Mag loads, in fact most authorities on the old Colt's (I do not consider myself one by the way) say you really shouldn't even shoot them at all unless with real BP.

I personally don't think I'd want to use a .38 Special on deer but let's set that aside as you've already addressed it and get down to trying to respond to the question asked.

If I were gonna do it I agree that a lead, as pure as possible in fact, bullet of about 150-160 grains would be the bullet of choice. I believe you should limit your shots as well. If you can't get a broad side shot from up close enough to be certain of punching both lungs I'd not take the shot. I do believe such a bullet from say 30-35 yards or so max would penetrate both lungs and no deer with a hole thru both lungs is gonna live long. It don't really matter what made that hole the deer will be dead fairly soon.

I do have serious doubts the bullet would exit and I really don't like to not have an exit but that really doesn't affect the lethality but only my ability to follow the blood trail. It's no worse a choice than a .36" round ball from a muzzle loader I'd hazard to guess and I'm betting a lot of deer have fallen that in the early days of this country.
 

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As much as I've pleaded the 357 magnum's case over the years as a deer caliber, I'd suggest you abandon the idea of using the 38 special in a revolver. Yes, it will work within a very limited set of circumstances, and yes, I've done it with both a revolver, and a rifle. If you were talking about a rifle, I could give you a few 38 special combinations that would consistently kill deer for you.

You strike me as being like I am as far as somebody talking me out of trying something, so I will offer this much. If you "have" to try it, use a 140g XTP-HP as fast as you can safely push it in that revolver. Don't use the 158g because you'll never get enough velocity to get good expansion. Put a 140g XTP-HP "tight"behind the shoulder, into the vitals on a "slightly" quartering away angle. This should "with perfect placement" punch a borderline acceptable hole through both lungs in the area that allows the absolute most blood loss. You'll get some expansion, and the XTP-HP's cut like a broad head when the jackets open up. The bullet will most likely end up against the off shoulder blade. If the deer runs very far(no way to predict it), you'll have a fairly decent tracking job on your hands if it's not in open terrain.

After saying all that though, I'd still advise against it. :)
 

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The 38 Special would work with an "archery mentality". The right bullet and a maximum powder charge would be a must. It is legal in WI where I live. The only regulation on hand guns for big game being that it is a center fire with a 5.5" minimum barrel length.

Cheese
 

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If you are a good shot and take only a broadside shot to the chests, sure I think you can. I would use a 158 to 180 grain SWC, at 25 yrds or less they will go right thru a does chest, I know they will because I've seen a .44 cal round ball out of a brass framed 1858 army go right thru one and I don't think that BP load is near as stout as a .38 with modern powders. 8)
 

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Just one example of the mighty 38 special. ::)


Velocity (ft/sec)
Cartridge Type Bullet Muzzle 50 100
Remington® Express™ 110 995 926 871
Remington® Express™ 110 950 890 840
Remington® Express™ 125 945 898 858
Golden Saber™ 125 975 929 885
UMC® Leadless™ 125 800 775 752
UMC® Leadless™ 125 975 935 899
UMC® 125 945 898 858
UMC® 130 800 775 752
Remington® Express™ 148 710 634 566
Remington® Express™ 158 890 855 823
Remington® Express™ 158 890 855 823
Remington® Express™ 158 755 723 692
Remington® Express™ 158 755 723 692
UMC® 158 755 723 692


Energy (ft-lbs)
Cartridge Type Bullet Muzzle 50 100
Remington® Express™ 110 242 210 185
Remington® Express™ 110 220 194 172
Remington® Express™ 125 248 224 204
Golden Saber™ 125 264 238 218
UMC® Leadless™ 125 178 167 157
UMC® Leadless™ 125 264 242 224
UMC® 125 248 224 204
UMC® 130 185 173 163
Remington® Express™ 148 166 132 105
Remington® Express™ 158 278 257 238
Remington® Express™ 158 278 257 238
Remington® Express™ 158 200 183 168
Remington® Express™ 158 200 183 168
UMC® 158 200 183 168
 

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Now looking at the numbers above, do any of them look like they have enough energy for deer hunting? Honestly.
 

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Is it absolutely impossible for you guys to just answer the question a person asks without giving them a ton of grief over what YOU think is right and wrong? Or to actually get thru a thread without personal attacks?
 
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