Two guns and two new loads to test today.  Trying out a .356″ 125-grain RNL bullet in both .38 S&W and .38 Special, and testing the Astra Police .38 and the 1860 Army .38 S&W conversion.

First up was the Lyman’s 1860 Army that I converted to .38 S&W. Normally .38 S&W shoots a .361″ bullet, but I thought I’d try it with the .356″ bullet since the barrel-liner I used was a 9mm/.357 liner. This required a bit of adjustment in my reloading technique, but worked out alright. After researching the load I settled on 3.0Gr. of Unique with a CCI Small Pistol Primer.

Firing the gun was pleasant enough; it’s no lightweight after all. I’d not call this test a success though; rounds were key-holing regularly at seven yards; I suspect the barrel-liner became distorted when I was installing it. I’ll need to drill it out, ream and reline it. Ignition was also inconsistent with the newly modified firing-pin. I’ll make a new firing pin, install and test it. So, a bit more work on this one is needed.

7 Yards, rapid-fire.

Next I tried the new load in the S&W .38 Safety Hammerless. It’s surprisingly peppy from the 1-1/2″ barrel, and recoil is snappier than my standard load in this gun and the report is quite a bit sharper. It shoots dead to point of aim at 7 yards. I think this load is fine in a good-quality solid-frame revolver but a bit hot for a top-break; excessive use would probably accelerate wear to an unacceptable degree. I think I might look into seeing if I can find a 125gr. LSWC; loaded over a lesser quantity of powder it could be a useful load for this gun.

The original owner modified this gun by bobbing the hammer and rounding the grip-frame. I modified a set of factory wood grips to fit 

Last but not least was the Astra Police .38.  These were trade-ins from a Spanish police department. It’s an L-frame size gun that was available in .38 and .357. They were also sold as the FN Barracuda min .357 and 9mm.  Cylinders can be switched in seconds using a button-release just ahead of the trigger-guard on the right side of the frame.  Another innovative feature is the user-adjustable trigger pull- the mainspring terminates in a round section with four different holes, each of which provides a different trigger-pull.

This was the first serious outing for this gun, and a test of the newly modified grips.  The load used was the same 125gr. RNL used in the .38 S&W load, only this time on top of 5gr. of Unique. This was a very pleasant load to shoot in the heavy Astra revolver and shot to point of aim at 7 yards.

Seven Yards, rapid-fire

The trigger is light and smooth, yet surprisingly easy to stage for precision work. I shot a standing-unsupported double-action group at 25 yards- the gun shot high but the group was not tragically bad, as you can see below-


Likely this will improve with practice.  These guns come with a square-butt frame- this one had been crudely reshaped into a round butt to fit the Pachymer grips that came with the gun. I refined that work, polished and re-blued the frame then cut the grips to fit. I removed the checkering on the sides of the grip and rounded them quite a bit. I relieved the left-side grip for using a speedloader. After sanding them to 600-grit I refinished them with Minwax Red Cedar finish and then Minwax high-gloss clear.

The result feels good in my hand and provides a good grip. Pretty good looking too. I actually bought this gun with the intention of converting it to .41 Special, but honestly? I like it a lot as-is.  It might just stay a .38.


The front sight is pinned in place, and a better front-sight would be a plus. I’ll look into my options, but I think a high-visibility front-sight is in this gun’s future.  Linda liked mine so well she bought one of her own off of Gunbroker. Hers still has the square butt and the hammer-spur is intact. I’ll be making a set of custom grips for her gun; maybe very similar to the grips on my gun.

Good afternoon at the range. I just wish I’d had more .38 Special to shoot.

*This .38 S&W load should only be used in good-quality solid-frame guns. Using this in S&W top-breaks will accelerate wear significantly, and in lesser-quality guns it might actually cause damage to the gun.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 27 March 2018


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