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In the market for a competitive .38 Special semi automatic

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Post by MarkThomas 5/1/2023, 10:13 pm

First topic message reminder :

15 years ago I was at a range with my wife and a friend shooting my friend's 9mm cannons.  My wife was shooting my Remington .22 single shot rifle.  The fellow in the next lane was shooting an automatic that was ejecting .38 revolver brass, which I found intriguing having never seen such a thing before.  I started a conversation and after chatting for a while he asked me if I wanted to shoot it.  Of course I said yes.  He had put 4 rounds in the clip when I told him to stop.  I didn't want to use up all his ammo.  He put a new paper target on the clothesline and ran it out about half way.  With my arm length the front rectangular site exactly matched the rear rectangular notch.  I lined them up on the center of the black and pulled the trigger.  The recoil was completely controllable, the sites came straight back down and lined up perfectly and I pulled the trigger again, and again, and again.  He ran the target back and there were 4 holes on the corners of a half inch square centered in the black.  lol  He said, "I thought I put 5 in there".  I wish he had.  We chatted some more and he gave me some tips if I ever wanted to shoot competitively, which I do now.

I can't remember the manufacturer of the pistol.  I seem to remember it was two words, like Charter Arms, but I always thought Charter Arms made junk (I could be very wrong about that).  It wasn't a Smith & Wesson 52, -1, -2.  And it wasn't a Colt.  Does anyone have any idea what I had in my hands?  The fellow seemed really pleased with himself when he said he paid $750 for it in the box some years before.  I would like one just like it.

Trying to find anything on the web is hopeless these days.  I went to a local gun shop, but they were too busy selling plastic pistols and assault rifles to pay me much mind.  The man I talked to behind the counter had never heard of a .38 Special semi auto.  So, I looked around for a forum that didn't seem to be too populated by idiots and here I am.  Can anyone help me?

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Post by WesG 5/2/2023, 7:45 pm

Centerfire. Anything 32 caliber and up.

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Post by toddcfii 5/2/2023, 8:01 pm

I believe part of the accuracy of the WC bullet comes from the large amount of area in contact with the rifling. This gives it good spin out of the barrel.
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Post by james r chapman 5/2/2023, 8:07 pm

is it possible it was indeed a .32 auto?
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Post by S148 5/2/2023, 8:28 pm

MarkThomas wrote:
I am a physicist, or at least university trained for 12 years as one, and I'm not sure I understand why a flat nose wadcutter is more accurate than a round nose bullet.

With semi-auto rounds, a flat nosed bullet (not full wadcutters like revolver bullets) tends to be more accurate than round nose bullets. Of course, it depends on the bullets, but most that provide a high degree of accuracy are flat nose or hollow point, which also have a flat nose.

There are likely several features that contribute to accuracy. Bullet quality, construction (swaged, cast, jacketed), base consistency (so all points of the base of the bullet leave the barrel at the same moment so you don't have uneven gas release, etc.), shape, weight (which might correlate with rate of twist), velocity, and so on.


Last edited by S148 on 5/2/2023, 8:36 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Post by S148 5/2/2023, 8:35 pm

toddcfii wrote:I believe part of the accuracy of the WC bullet comes from the large amount of area in contact with the rifling. This gives it good spin out of the barrel.

I've heard this but I've seen bullets with very little bearing surface produce excellent accuracy, better than the wadcutter bullets I've shot, from my revolvers. For example, light weight JHP bullets (110 & 125 grain), and very light lead bullets, too. So I'm not convinced it's just the amount of bearing surface.

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Post by S148 5/2/2023, 8:41 pm

Here are pictures of Coonan Arms 357 Magnum pistols. Did it look like these?

https://www.google.com/search?q=coonan+arms&sxsrf=APwXEdfMnI4fXB7J0u76PYN4En9Gb9mnkQ:1683074374794&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiSsvXR9Nf-AhXwlWoFHa_HCksQ0pQJegQIBBAE

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Post by tovaert 5/3/2023, 7:52 am

You could always get a 9mm 1911 and have a local CA there gunsmith fit a new 1:10 twist barrel, bushing, and slide stop. That and some trigger work to smooth it up, maybe tighten the slide/frame fit (if necessary). Reduce the recoil and main springs, radius the firing pin retainer. You will have an accurate and soft-shooting alternate to a 38 SPL pistol, using 147 gr lead/coated (handloads) or JHP (commercially available from, say, Atlanta Arms) rounds, with very good 50 yd accuracy. I did this with a SA range officer and it turned out quite well. My barrel has a long freebore so I also tried loading 9mm rounds well into the 38 Super OAL range but it did not outperform the 9mm. It's also a capable EIC gun, if you want to go in that direction. Inexpensive and easy to produce your own tailored handloads. You could also have a rail or combo rail installed, in case you want to shoot a dot sight. As others have noted, a S&W M52 is an alternate in 38 SPL, but they (and Coonan) have been discontinued, so there's that to consider long term. A 1911-based pistol would be immortal from a parts and bullseye-capable standpoint.

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Post by MarkThomas 5/3/2023, 3:32 pm

WesG, CF - Center Fire - ok.  When I did search on 'CF guns' I got a lot of hits on carbon fiber barrels.  If I had done 'CF ammo' I might have gotten what I was looking for.

Jim, No, it was .38.  I had my 1934 Mauser 7.65 with me.  It was the only gun around throwing .32 auto brass.

S148, It's interesting all the factors affecting accuracy, like which side of the bullet exits the barrel first... now that I think about it. I saw somewhere wadcutter bullets that are hollow in the back so combustion pressure expands the rear of the bullet into the grooves for better spin. hmm  Maybe having some force against the flat nose stabilizes things going through air.  It would be different for a supersonic bullet, I would think.

S148, It was not of the type 1911.  It did not have the mechanism that engages the web of the hand, so that you don't tear off half your hand from the blowback holding it wrong, or for whatever reason that is there.  Army specs.

The gun was throwing .38 revolver brass, which I thought was pretty cool, so I chatted him up. The rounds he pushed into the magazine when he loaded it for me to shoot looked just like the round nose ones I used in my .38 revolver coming out of the green and yellow Remington box. After I pulled the trigger 4 times I looked at the side of the gun in my right hand and the engraving said "something something" and the something's were not Smith or Wesson. Maybe it was a joke.

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Post by MarkThomas 5/3/2023, 3:54 pm

I see something on the interwebs about S&W 52-2 Mid Velocity.  Will that gun shoot any .38 revolver ammo?  That sounds like what I'm looking for.  I don't want to be restricted to wadcutter ammo, even if it is more accurate for unknown reasons..

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Post by toddcfii 5/3/2023, 3:59 pm

MarkThomas wrote:I see something on the interwebs about S&W 52-2 Mid Velocity.  Will that gun shoot any .38 revolver ammo?  That sounds like what I'm looking for.  I don't want to be restricted to wadcutter ammo, even if it is more accurate for unknown reasons..
YES wadcutter only. That is what mid range is.
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Post by Jon Eulette 5/3/2023, 4:03 pm

The 52 shoots wadcutter only. 99.9% of all match grade 38 special PISTOLS will only shoot wadcutter ammunition. The frame/grip and magazine constraints determine this.
38 Super allows typical SWC or RN bullet.

As a BE gunsmith I recommend the 38 Super because of availability, cost and temperament for novice shooters.
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Post by S148 5/3/2023, 4:56 pm

Jon Eulette wrote:The 52 shoots wadcutter only. 99.9% of all match grade 38 special PISTOLS will only shoot wadcutter ammunition. The frame/grip and magazine constraints determine this.
38 Super allows typical SWC or RN bullet.

As a BE gunsmith I recommend the 38 Super because of availability, cost and temperament for novice shooters.
Jon

But the 38 Super has twice the power of a 38 Special, and therefore much more recoil, and the OP appears to want low recoil. However, if you reload, you can load some wimpy 38 Super stuff and get what you want that way.

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Post by Wobbley 5/3/2023, 7:33 pm

Most 38 super shooters use a 145-150:SWC loaded to about 700-800 fps.  So the recoil and blast is almost the same as 38 Wadcutter.
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Post by Jon Eulette 5/3/2023, 7:37 pm

S148 wrote:

But the 38 Super has twice the power of a 38 Special, and therefore much more recoil, and the OP appears to want low recoil. However, if you reload, you can load some wimpy 38 Super stuff and get what you want that way.
We shoot BE here, not the run and gun high velocity through a compensator loads. The 38 Super can be easily downloaded to 38 special velocities. 
The 38 Super wad gun vs the 38 Super Ball gun lol
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Post by MarkThomas 5/4/2023, 12:36 pm

OK, thanks people.

Any recommendations for a .22?  I hate that supersonic crack.  Maybe I can shoot shorts.

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Post by WesG 5/4/2023, 12:44 pm

Standard velocity ammo, CCI blue box or whatever 'match' ammo is available.

Shorts will likely not feed or cycle, and aren't 'legal' anyway.

A Nelson, or other, conversion on a 1911 is a good way to go.

Adding:

... if you don't already have a 22 pistol to use.

The 1911 grip safety is there to prevent discharge if it's dropped?

A 38 would be cool, I'll maybe someday get one for fun. A better choice is a 45. A couple of reasons ...

A full 2700 match requires a 45 for the final stage. It's also legal for CF, and with a 22 conversion makes for one gun, and 2 uppers, to carry and clean. Same grip, same trigger.

Another advantage is that Bullseye type ammo is available commercially, as factory new or reloads. Sure, so is 38 Wadcutter, but generally harder to find and more expensive.

If you're going to reload, the  impression I have is that 38 wadcutter is more troublesome to make. 45 is pretty much a no-brainer for good accuracy.

Regarding recoil, a 45 with match ammo and a red dot sight (added weight) is actually pretty tame. Mine is slide mounted, and it's a funky 'ka-thunk-a-thunk' when it cycles. Much more pleasant to shoot than a 9mm. I'm sure a 38 WC would be similar, as would a 38 Super with handloads. AFAIK, you'd likely find nothing in factory ammo that would be that mild. But maybe ... there are a few boutique ammo loaders.

Adding yet again,

The Palo Alto club shoots International air pistol, and occasional 22 and/or Free Pistol matches in Redwood City. Tough, tough sport, but a lot of fun and far more laid back than Bullseye.

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Post by MarkThomas 5/4/2023, 4:39 pm

OK, thanks Wes.

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Post by MarkThomas 5/8/2023, 11:54 am

First of all, apologies to any and all I may have offended in my quest for something that was probably a one off.  

I have been out of the gun world for a long time.  The last time I got Shotgun News was probably around 1975.  It looks like a Coonan built for .38 Special semi wadcutter is what I can have a reasonable chance of finding.  

I have never held a 1911, so I don't know how it will fit my hand.  I have small hands.  They always looked big to me.  I'll try the gun shop in Pacifica next, and see what is what.  The mystery gun I shot fit my hand perfect, and it looked a lot like the 52-2.

Newbie question:  In Bullseye competition what sort of ammo is used in .45.  That's not full wadcutter too is it?  Sigh..

Someone suggested a 1911 with a .45 top end for competition, and a .38 Special top end for my obsession with .38 revolver ammo.  So a gun and a half, 1911, reasonably accurate for competition - anyone willing to estimate how much something like that would cost me?  Five grand?

I'll go see if a 1911 fits my hand.  It all hinges on that.

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Post by WesG 5/8/2023, 1:08 pm

I *think* a 38 1911 uses a different ejector than a 45. The 9mm does. So probably not a simple slide swap.

Yes, the 1911 grip is a bit large. I've got small hands as well, but have no trouble with it .. at least that I can blame on the grip. A flat mainspring housing helps.

The other factor is that a proper grip of the gun is not having your fingers wrapped around it. Finger contact is the middle pads on the front strap pulling it straight back into your hand.

A double stack 9mm, like my Browning, is far wider across the grip, and although narrower front to back, is more of a problem for me to hold in this manner. Never mind the fact it will never shoot like a 1911 ...

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Post by Jon Eulette 5/8/2023, 1:42 pm

I’ve built many dual slide multi-caliber pistols over the years. Ejectors can be unpinned in receiver and not affect reliability. I have a 45 that has unpinned ejector I built 25 years ago that has never malfunctioned. 
Slide fit for both calibers is hardest part of the build. Standard 45 feed ramp will work with other calibers.
Using full length guide rods makes changing top ends a piece of cake.
This has been done since 1980’s.
As far as small hands go, you can get “thin” grips for 1911. Add short trigger as well. And if necessary the grip safety can be recontoured to help smaller hands.

All in the days work of custom pistolsmith.

I’ve been working on a lot of 38 Supers lately. Have been shooting 2.8 BE with 150 lswc. Results have been great. I need to drag out my chronograph and see what velocities I’m getting.

Jon
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Post by Wobbley 5/8/2023, 1:56 pm

Jon: I bet your 38 Super is pushing that 150 around 750 fps.  This would be consistent with a 38 Special at the same load.
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Post by WesG 5/8/2023, 6:58 pm

Unpinned ejector, I'd never heard of that before. Awesome.

And, yeah, I could see getting a perfect fit of 2 slides to one frame could be challenging.

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Post by S148 5/8/2023, 7:45 pm

I used an alternative method for a two-caliber 1911 for shooting 45 and 38 Super (both 5" slides).  I had the 45 slide cut to fit both a 45 ejector and 38 Super ejector. That way I can use one ejector for both top ends.

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Post by MarkThomas 5/8/2023, 9:37 pm

I think the Special must be more of a challenge than the Super, with the larger diameter on the base flange.  The Coonan advertises a proprietary magazine design.

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Post by Wobbley 5/8/2023, 11:02 pm

The geometry for a 38 special magazine was worked out years ago. The real issue is getting them to perform at 50 yards. I’m beginning to think that it’s NOT the twist per se. It’s more a combination of poor aerodynamics of a flat nosed wadcutter.
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