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Thread: 38 special as a trail gun

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    Senior Member randyt's Avatar
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    Default 38 special as a trail gun

    I came across a Skeeterism about trail guns. He prefers the 38 special. Also V.E. Lynch used a 38 special. Lynch owned four firearms, a shotgun, rifle, 38 special handgun and a 22 lr rifle. He hardly ever used the 22lr preferring the 38.

    here a link on the article. The dark canyon sight with a bunch of Skeeter Skeltons articles has disappeared.

    http://www.huntertradertrapper.com/w...eeter-skelton/
    so the definition of a criminal is someone who breaks the law and you want me to believe that somehow more laws make less criminals?


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    I've carried a .38 Spec. for many a mile out in the boonies. I've killed cottontail rabbits and grouse with it, plus some poisonous snakes and a coyote or two. If a .38 Spec. were all I had, it would not bother me a bit to carry it. There is some very good factory ammo out there today for the .38 Spec., and if one reloads, the old "thutty eight's" use is increased.

    S.M.

    S.M.
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    - Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790),U.S. statesman, scientist, Historical Review of Pennsylvania, 1759

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    Senior Member kyratshooter's Avatar
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    I was looking over the various trail/field/kit gun choices just yesterday and thinking along the same lines as Skeeter.

    That is not surprising since I must admit that he influenced many of my early choices in handguns and I have found no fault in the decisions he guided me toward all those year ago.

    My small and fast search turned up a price anomaly regarding cost of ammo and versatility.

    The .22lr stands on its own as a favorite, deserved or not. Nice for breaking bottles and punching holes in cans but on the trail one might discover the need for more gun.

    Once one leaves the field of the .22lr it was my surprise to discover that .22 magnum ammo was selling for within pennies of the price of either .38spl or 9mm. Not within a couple of dollars a box, but within pennies.

    So that leaves most shooters with the decision of a .22lr or "anything else". That cost of amo thing is a real consideration to some folks but the bulk ammo market has really affected the price of .38 and 9mm ammo. The stuff is selling for less today than it was back when Skeeter wrote his article! I know because I was there and I was buying and reloading the stuff.

    While many folks have discovered the .327 revolvers or the older .32H&R magnums the .32 just does not have the price advantage or the following of the 9mm and .38. I carried .32 revolvers for many years as trail guns, especially when I knew there was nothing in the woods to worry over and my targets were rabbits and quail. Seems that I always wound up trading them for some sort of .38 special that was a better idea.

    The best "trail gun" I ever owned??? That honor goes to a fine J frame S&W .38 spl. with square butt and 3" barrel. It fit perfectly in my back pocket and lived there for many months. It was both handy and accurate and I often forgot it was on board.

    After 40 years the choice of revolvers is still almost identical with the absence of the old Colt products. Lightweight Charger Arms and S&W revolvers are still popular and will be for many generations I am sure.

    Back in Skeeter's day there was not the proliferation of fine polymer framed 9mm auto-pistols we have today. One of the nice flat single stack 9mm choices would make a fine trail gun. Light, compact, easy to carry in belt or holster and adequately powerful with 7-9 shots at your disposal before reloading the magazine. That sounds like the EDC pistol I carry daily. I guess it depends on what your definition of a "trail" is.

    Now I just happen to know that at any of the WSF jamborees, if one were so inclined they might chose any one of the several attendees, turn them upside down and shake them severely, and a poly-framed 9mm/.40 would have rattled to the ground!

    Come to think of it, Skeeter did not have the .40 S&W to address back in his day! He also did not have that nice Charter Arms 5 shot .40 S&W bulldog to consider.

    Now that would make a nice trail gun!
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    Senior Member kyratshooter's Avatar
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    Having plenty of .38 special around is just part of life.

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    Senior Member randyt's Avatar
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    thanks for the comments fellas. That is a nice bucket of ammo.. I have to wonder if Skeeter would have embraced the polymer framed handguns. Back to the 38 special. I read a lot of stories about woodsmen from earlier times, it seems they preferred either a 32 or 38 for a small game hunting handgun. To be fair there were some using a colt woodsman or some such but it seems like a 22 lr firearm as a woodsrunning caliber was somewhat limited in use.
    so the definition of a criminal is someone who breaks the law and you want me to believe that somehow more laws make less criminals?

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    "sorry backside" rebel's Avatar
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    I have a buddy who carry’s a 38/357 bolt carbine when hiking. He likes the weight, size and capability. The Henry mares leg would be sweet.
    Last edited by rebel; 10-27-2017 at 08:26 PM.

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    For years I carried a Ruger Blackhawk (old model). I preferred shooting 38s in it. I cast my bullets, have thousands of cases, an 8# keg of Bullseye and primers galore. I shoot 38s for my time reloading. All of the components I acquired on trades and only bought the pistol and the primers. I shoot for four cents a round.

    I do have some creative reloading that makes having 357 capability. I use 357 Maximum cases. I run them a half inch into a 30 carbine size die, prime and drop 2.5 gr Bullseye. I place two corrugated cardboard (cardboard box) wads on top of the powder and fill with #6 shot. I then crimp a 30 cal gas check in on top of the shot charge. At 12 ft it will put all the shot into a paper plate. It's great on rattlesnakes.

    I also load 36 cal balls in 38 Spl. I can't remember the Bullseye charge. I run the balls through my sizing die to get them to .358 and then seat them on the flattened sides normally as a bullet. It's good for rabbits and such and is very pleasant to shoot. I administered the coup de gras on a hog once with a behind the ear shot with one of these. I'll use a normal loaded round for that duty from now on. The ball hit the spine and killed the hog but did not penetrate the vertebrae.

    I would not hesitate to use a 38 Spl exclusively, if I had to .

    Alan

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    Senior Member kyratshooter's Avatar
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    I am not sure if I have mentioned this here before, but I bought my son his first .38 spl revolver the day he was born. A nice S&W Model 10 w/4" barrel. That is how much I think of the .38. I wanted to insure there was one in the cabinet waiting for him when the time came. Even in 1978, those were the Carter years, we were not sure if handguns were going to be available for sale from one president to the next.

    One of my reasons was also a bit of family history dealing with SHTF survival. Both of my Grandfathers came out of the Great Depression with two firearms in their possession that they would not sell for food. One grandfather lived in Michigan and the other in Tennessee. At that time neither had met the other. Both walked out of the Depression carrying a 12 gauge repeating shotgun and a .38 spl revolver. They both considered those two firearms necessities of life.


    I look at the .38 and the cartridges it uses as a combined system.

    I suspect that the .32/.38 is most favored by those if us that reload. One of the factors that makes the .38 a fine trail gun is the ease of reloading for the caliber. I began reloading for the .38 spl before I even owned a .38 revolver. I had purchased a 9mm pistol and realized I was going to have to reload to be able to shoot the thing. It so happened that every gravel pit and river bank I sought out to shoot from was littered with .38 spl cases. I ordered a set of 38/357 dies from Herter's at the expense of $10 and had several hundred .38 shells reloaded before I had the cheap German revolver I purchased out of lay-a-way.

    It was not long before I realized that I was using that cheap revolver three times as much as the Model 39 S&W 9mm I prized so highly.

    When talking about trail loads we are not in the area of JHP/JSP hi-speed defense loads but in the general purpose reloads of standard weight and standard velocity.

    When one sticks to those duplicates of the standard factory fodder they also stick to the loads the factory regulates the firearms to hit with the fixed sights used on most "trail guns" or "police issue" (same thing) type .38 revolvers.

    A standard load for a .38 target wadcutter or the 158 grain round nose or SWC bullet is easy to reload, easy on recoil and still stout enough to handle most chores in the field.

    I have been at this a long time and have a large selection of thirty five caliber mold blocks, probably 6-8 I can think of right off the top of my head, most of them being between 140 and 160 grains and all capable of hitting the factory specs with a moderate dose of powder.

    For the person that does not cast their own slugs the .357 size is available from any of the bullet makers and hundreds of custom bullet suppliers and that size and type will be among the cheapest of their offerings. That means that anyone that wants to get started with a low cost kit reloader has access to good components at a cheap price and can do a fine job of turning out ammo with minimal cost.

    There are also dozens of choices of powder and most .38 reloads only need a little dash of powder. Most of the powders recommended for .38 use only 2-3 grains to do their job, meaning that a pound of powder will give 1500-2000 reloads per pound. Bullseye, Zip, Clays, Accurate #2 and dozens more will do the job.

    I think the joy of shooting the "trail gun" goes hand in hand with the relaxing activities of building the ammo to feed it.

    I think I am feeling an itch coming on. There is always room for another .38 in the gun safe, and they never turn into "safe queens" like some others do.
    Last edited by kyratshooter; 10-27-2017 at 10:33 PM.
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    Senior Member hunter63's Avatar
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    I shoot the .357's with .38's most of the time........couple of Rugers and a S&W....
    Also one of easiest to cast bullets and reload for with a lot of options.....

    I guess I have always went with a .357 as I can go with .38....but a .38 won't take a .357.
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    I just use a 158 gr RNFP mold for 357 and 38. I have a 144 gr wadcutter mold that I use for 38 Spl and 38 S&W. Then there's the 36 cal ball mold. I think it is 86 gr but I can't remember without looking. 700x and 800x and Unique also work well in 38 Spl. I have two S&W Chief's Special, one blued and one stainless. Not exactly trail guns but easy enough to carry. I have a Model 10 M&P, but it'll never see a trail. I probably have more 38 Spls than any thing else. There have been many hours spent at the press with my boys reloading 38s for them to burn up on weekends. One would put the case in the shell holder, I'd work the lever sizing and watching for little fingers, and another one would take it out drop it in a coffee can, then start the process over again depriming, pass it to the last one to be primed with the Lee priming tool and placed in the block. I'd dump the powder and then they'd start the bullet into the case and I'd seat them. The three of them would wipe the excess lube off the bullets and box them up. You can really get a lot loaded working like that. They also got a good taste of how much work was involved in loading that ammo when I came time to shoot it. They always shot it all up but that's what it was for. Now they're all gone off raising their own families and I don't load near as much.

    Alan

  11. #11

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    I occasionally carry a .38 while on the trails but rarely is it my only gun. Probably that's as much due to the particular one I have (a 3" Ruger LCRx) than the caliber. If I had a S&W 10 (or a 66) I'd maybe carry it a bit more as a primary. But I favor a 9mm for the most part.

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    Senior Member kyratshooter's Avatar
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    It depends on why you are on "the trail".

    If you are hunting you will need a primary gun as well as the "trail gun".

    If you are just out messing around with nothing but shots of opportunity, plinking, the possibility of an emergency shot being needed, or those of us that just feel better when we have a pistol along (because some crap always happens when there is no gun along), then the .38 is going to be adequate for 99% of ones needs, especially here in the eastern U.S.

    TBH the trail gun does not have to be a 4"-6" barrel. 2" and 3" guns will do the job nicely if they are accurate. I very often slip a 2" 38 spl into my pocket or belt for a woods walk. In the winter, with the number of layers of clothing I require in my climate, a 2" .38 in the outer coat pocket is a natural choice rather than a 4" on the belt under flannel shirt, sweater, parka or whatever else is in the way.

    As for using the .357 to shoot .38spl and carrying that as a trail gun, today that is probably done as much as, or more than, just carrying the .38.

    Back in the days of the old timers Randy is sourcing, as well as early in Skeeter's career, a .357 was a BIG gun! All of the .357 handguns made before 1956 were built on the .44 size frame. That means they were as big as the model 29 S&W, or the SSA Colt or either of the 1917 service revolvers. The old trail runners did not want to hump a .44 sized revolver around all day. They were also a problem in a vehicle or on horseback. They were huge guns and weighed a pound more than the S&W model 10 or the Colt PP that were the standard.

    With the development of the model 19 S&W that entire situation changed. The Mod 19 allowed one to own a pistol that would shoot .38 spl for a lifetime and tolerate the occasional use of .357 rounds. It also gave something every reloader desires, a safety margin in case of a reloading accident.

    For the old timers that was not an option. There were no mid-sized .357 revolvers to source. There were also no .38+P, +p+, or +p+++++ .38 loads. The trick factory loads we have available today were not around until the mid 1980s. They were just on the horison back in the mid-1970s and were pioneered by a company called Super Vel. They used a light weight JHP or JSP slug behind massive doses of fast powder that gave velocities that seemed insane back in those days.

    The thing one has to remember about a .38 spl is that no matter what you do or how you try to bend the rules you can never turn a .38 into a .357. Even though you buy a modern revolver rated for +P it is still far short of the power level and capabilities of the .357.

    .38 shooters understand that and embrace it, just as the 9mm shooter knows his pistol is not as powerful as a .45. It is a choice we make, to trade the recoil and power for control, accuracy, and shooting comfort. And many people make that choice because the .38 is still a wildly popular firearm and a good seller for every company.
    Last edited by kyratshooter; 10-28-2017 at 10:53 AM.
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    Senior Member randyt's Avatar
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    I have a 1917 colt that has been converted to .357 mag and it is a heavy handgun. Also have a S&W airlight in 38 special. To be honest never thought to carry the airlight on my woods roaming excursions.
    so the definition of a criminal is someone who breaks the law and you want me to believe that somehow more laws make less criminals?

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    Senior Member randyt's Avatar
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    ya know I was reading another Skeeter article and he prefers a 44 special over a 38 special due to as he claims, a 44 special is inherently more accurate than a 38 special. Elmer K would probably agree. Maybe I need to get one, I have a 44 bulldog, a 44-40 and a 44-70 but not a 44 mag or 44 special. I feel inadequate LOL, darn those gun mag writers.
    Last edited by randyt; 10-28-2017 at 12:17 PM.
    so the definition of a criminal is someone who breaks the law and you want me to believe that somehow more laws make less criminals?

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    I purchased a Ruger SP101 just for canoeing. I wanted something in .38 and stainless. Later, I inherited an S&W 1905 from an uncle that is about the sweetest .38 I've ever shot. I've posted it on here. When my wife started carrying her EDC was a Ruger LCR .38 with Crimson Trace grips. I do like the .38...a lot.

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    .....all these years later they are still sucking you in.....What a great legacy.
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    Senior Member randyt's Avatar
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    what's the worse that could happen, I end up with a 44 special,LOL, not a bad deal.
    so the definition of a criminal is someone who breaks the law and you want me to believe that somehow more laws make less criminals?

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    Senior Member kyratshooter's Avatar
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    I have a .44 magnum single action made by the old Hawes company and now imported by EAA. It is almost identical to the SAA Colt and smaller/slimmer than the Ruger Blackhawk .357.

    Since .44 magnum shells and brass are extremely expensive I feed the thing a pile of reloads made from brass I scrounged at the range, and oddly, most of it is .44 spl brass.

    Not wanting to worry about confusing a hot loaded .44 spl with a standard one at some point in the future I just decided to load the brass to the top of the "recommended" loads on the chart.

    Loading to 44 spl specs has its advantages since it does not require the slow burning "magnum" powders. I can use Unique or about any powder I keep for general purpose use. I use the same 240 grain cast lead bullet in both .44spl and .44mag.

    What you wind up with using the .44spl is a firearm that duplicates .45 ACP performance. It is a step up from the .38spl, but at the sacrifice of size and weight, unless you are moving to the Charter .44 Bulldog, where you have to deal with the recoil.

    I would buy a .44 Charter but I know I would never carry the thing. It is just that one step larger in size than I can tolerate on a daily basis.

    The real, and ideal next step up is the caliber that did not exist when the old timers were around and was invented for the expressed purpose of filling the void we are discussing, the .40 S&W. (in the old days it would have been the .38-40 or the .41 Colt)

    Both Charter Arms and S&W have fielded revolvers in this caliber. The Charter .40 Bulldog would fit well into the concept of a "trail gun". The .40 is as easy to reload as the .38 or the 9mm and uses the same powders. The semi-auto pistols are identical in size and weight.

    In fact, we might even consider a semi-auto trail gun in .40.

    Skeeter did. He considered the Colt Commander as a good candidate in .45 or 9mm, which would also have included something on the order of the S&W39, or the Baretta 951 back in those days.

    What would Skeeter have said about plastic guns and the .40 cartridge?? We will never know. But we do know he had no hesitation to use and carry about anything that came along, as long as he could find or reload ammo for it.

    In fact I have seen pictures of Horrace Kephart with a P08 Luger in the Application backwoods as well as his famed .38spl!

    The real reason many of those old timers did not carry semi-autos was due to reliability issues back in the day. Especially with 9mm ammo. Most 9mm guns were made in Europe and most of the ammo they had access too was from the U.S. and down loaded severely from the European standard. Due to that most 9mm pistols constantly jammed and the auto pistol gained a bad reputation in the mind of the woodsman of that day.

    It was much the same with the .32acp and the .380acp. I have run into several good deals back in my youth when some farmer came into the store with a .32 autopistol he claimed did not work. It did not work because he had it loaded with .32 S&W shorts and the heavy rim would not function through the gun!

    I have seen the exact same thing done with .380 autos as well as 9mm that had been fed .38 S&W "shorts."

    And that behavior was not a fluke. I have seen it done more than once with both calibers. When I pointed out the problem the people still wanted to part with the gun at reduced price because they just did not trust it any more.

    After all this talk about the .38 spl and the best trail gun I was looking at the shelf where I deposit the contents of my belt and pockets after each trip outside, or down to the village, or to town.

    I own a bunch of .38 revolvers, but none are on that shelf. What is on that shelf, and what goes onto my belt for each trip to the lake or to town is a single stack, poly framed 9mm w/3 1/2" barrel. I suppose that makes it my preferred "trail gun". After all, it meets all of Skeeters specks.

    However, the reason I carry that one is due to the nature of the hostilities we face in today's world. If I did not feel I needed many rounds in rapid succession I would be using a 5 shot .38spl. I traded the 5-6 shots of 38 for 9 shots of 9mm and a quick reload with an extra magazine.
    Last edited by kyratshooter; 10-28-2017 at 05:06 PM.
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    Senior Member randyt's Avatar
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    here is a quote from a article Skeeter wrote about obsolete cartridges.


    "Tough old Judge Roy Bean was a realist who sold warm beer in a saloon named after the most beautiful woman of his time, Lily Langtry. In his time, these were the best. Confronted with the refrigeration and Sophia Loren, the judge would never look back."
    so the definition of a criminal is someone who breaks the law and you want me to believe that somehow more laws make less criminals?

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    Quote Originally Posted by kyratshooter View Post
    ...

    However, the reason I carry that one is due to the nature of the hostilities we face in today's world. If I did not feel I needed many rounds in rapid succession I would be using a 5 shot .38spl. I traded the 5-6 shots of 38 for 9 shots of 9mm and a quick reload with an extra magazine.
    And there's the exception. Today's world. When I go to the ranch (where the Border Patrol has picked up about 100 dreamers over the last several years and they have crashed our gates, cut our fences, etc...) I carry a Glock 17 with at least one extra mag, usually more. A six shooter just won't do until the weather gets colder.

    Alan

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