12 April 2024

357 Magnum and 38 Special Handloads - Including Subsonic

 I've been tinkering with what little powder and primers I have but I have been able to pick up different cast bullets. The only two powders I have are HS-6 and Trail Boss. While neither seem to be especially suited to 38 Special and 357 Magnum, they can be used. The only small primers I have are Remington 5 1/2 "magnum" small pistol primers. They work just fine for what I'm doing with my revolvers and lever action 357 rifle. That said, if I find a good opportunity to buy up some Alliant Unique or similar powder, I will. I'm not sure I'll buy up more primer anytime soon since I just took supply of a new box. On a side note, if you attempt to replicate any of these, you are responsible for your own actions. I am not responsible for your actions since reloading can be risky if you don't know (or even if you do know) what you are doing.

Also, this post will be a rolling update as I find stuff. 

200 Grain

My first 357 Mag / 38 Special hand loads were using Trail Boss with a 200 gr hard cast flat nosed bullet with a gas check from Cast Performance. They're a bit expensive but for fun, heavy weight loads for suppressed shooting, I figured they'd work great. Turns out that maybe Trail Boss was not the best choice since they were very inaccurate and also seemed to be tumbling out of my Marlin 1894 CST but I did find that 5.5 grains of HS-6 using a 38 Special case makes for a GREAT plinking round. See the below video of that rifle getting hits on a 6 inch gong at 50 yards. That charge of HS-6 from my 16 barrel Marlin 1894 is chronographing at 1035 FPS. I believe that is impressive though Buffalo Bore can push a 180 gr bullet at 1800 FPS from the same gun so maybe not. That said, for a thumping good time, that load is fairly quiet and fun to shoot. 

As you can see, the HS-6 load is a pretty capable load for shorter ranges with some hold over at distance. I haven't tried it for dispatching varmint critters such as armadillos yet but give me time. Sadly, I used up the last of my 200 gr cast rounds on that visit. I do have a Lee 2-cavity mold that I can try to make my own but that's for a later date. 

Update Feb 2024: I had ordered 200 more in 2023 but have shot most of them with just over half a box left. The availability of the 200 grain Cast Performance bullets is sporadic so I will start looking at casting with the Lee 200 grain mold. 

Lee Precision C358-200 2 Cavity Mold

This is the first mold I ever bought. I figured at the time that I could use .357 Magnum like .300 Blackout by using a very heavy bullet with a small charge. Well, I proved that with the Cast Performance 200 grain bullets so now it's time to start making my own. 

The mold is not the same as the CP bullet. The Lee mold has a large lube grove with two very thick driving bands. It does have a gas check but I don't think I'll be using that feature. I may just have someone mill that out so it's a plain base. 

The idea is the same. Maybe do a hard cast, 15+ BHN, and load with 5.5 gr of HS-6.

160 Grain

I had ordered a box of 160 grain hollow points that have a very wide cavity from GT Bullets here in Georgia. I tried loading up with varying amounts of HS-6 starting at 6.2 grains and running up to 9.7 grains per the Lyman Cast Bullet book. I forgot to take my chronograph out on the first visit and from my Taurus 66, none seemed to be particularly accurate. I did have to seat them deep and may have damaged the driving bands. I will need to test again. I'm thinking a few test loads for subsonic loading might be a good choice that I need to tinker with since these are MUCH cheaper than those 200 grain pills. 

Update: After tinkering with the 160 grain bullets over various amounts of HS-6, the 9 grain range really gets them moving but are very smoky. I had clocked the 9.7 gr loads from a Taurus 66 with 4 inch barrel pushing into the 1300 fps range. I believe that would put these bullets into territory that will cause good expansion of the hollow point design but I haven't tested that yet. 

I did find that a lighter load of 6 grains will push these bullets from a 16 inch rifle barrel to around 1200 fps and might could be a good choice for hunting. I don't have ballistic gel blocks but I might try the redneck science way of shooting old milk jugs full of water. It's not ideal but it does something. 

Update 2: I tested subsonic versions of the 160 gr cast hollow points from my Marlin 16 inch rifle since the 200 gr cast are expensive. Both the 4.0 grain and 4.5 grain loads of HS-6 were quiet enough. I have not yet run them over a chronograph to see how fast they move. I'll update that later.

Update 3: I ran out of bullets. They were fun. I will need to order more.

Triple Seven Update

Update APR 2024: I found eight of the 160 grain bullets in a box. I have two sitting in dummy loads for testing and opted to make five rounds of Triple Seven in .38 Special. I wanted to test these from the 16 inch Marlin to see how much velocity I get from around 23 grains by volume with the 160 grain. This is the FFFg version of the powder.

The velocities only worked out to 1245 FPS with and ES of 148. I would like to retest these as I was using a volumetric measure. I think next time, I would like to see what one 23 grains by volume actually weighs and load up some using a powder scale to confirm uniformity. I suspect I didn't do a good job of measuring my charges. That said, I have heard one should use FFg instead of FFFg for rifles.  At this time, I don't have enough of the 160 grain bullets left so I'll make a point to start ordering or casting my own.

Lyman 358439 HP

Here in Spring of 2023, I think it's time for me to start casting my own bullets. I have a single cavity bullet mold for a 155 grain hollow point from Lyman I bought as part of a self-sufficiency project I was working on. It's the 358439 HP mold. Essentially, it's a lighter-weight "Keith" style bullet with big lube grooves and big drive bands. It looks like it will do well in 38 Special cases given the size of the first drive band being thick. What I want from this pursuit is to have a deer load for my Marlin 1894 or a single shot pistol like a T/C Contender that I can make on the homestead without having to buy commercial products. On a side note, the 358439 may end up being 160 grain so we'll see how that plays out.

Looking over the Lyman Cast Bullet book, we're looking at around 9 to 10 grains of HS-6 for magnum loads but I started doing research for rifle specific data. That's led me to Hodgdon's H110. I knew that Alliant's 2400 powder has been used successfully for 357 for decades and that many people have also used Unique. I'd also seen where people have loaded other cartridges with those powders like .300 Blackout making me think that having a bottle or two of either would be a good universal powder. Continuing down that research hole, I found that people have also used H110 for powerful 357 loads but are also successful in using it for .300 Blackout. You can also make cast bullets for .300 Blackout and might be useful for something like my bolt-action Remington 700 in 300 Blackout. I don't expect it would be optimal but it might be worth having around. 

Given that I can order H110 from the same LGS I got the HS-6 from, I think I should put in an order some time this year and start the casting crusade. 

Taking a closer look. I believe the mold I have is the same or nearly the same as the GT Bullets 160 grain. If that's the case that would give me a mold to make those bullets. I suspect that the GT Bullets' option is capable at taking a whitetail deer. That is something that I have been wanting to consider. 

125 Grain

Berry's Bullets makes a flat nose jacketed bullet that are somewhat inexpensive at around 22 cents per round after shipping, which is steep. That said, Hodgdon has load data for a cast 125 bullet for Trail Boss starting at 3.5 grains moving up to 5.3 grains and staying subsonic. That information is likely for a revolver but somewhere in there could be a good subsonic rifle load to use up some of the Trail Boss I have. What I've read is that the high levels of powder should use the 357 Mag cases. I found around 4.5 grains in 38 Special cases puts the powder into compression or near compression. I stopped loading at 4.7 grains for the 38 Special cases but then did a 5.6 gr load for 357 Mag cases. 

After getting out to shoot, it looks like the 3.5 grains in 38 Special cases is just fine and don't seem to tumble. At around 4.3 grains, they got a little louder than what I want and the 4.7 grains seemed to be supersonic from the 16 inch barrel. I realized that I don't need the maximum charge possible. All I need is an inexpensive load I can whip up for when I want to take someone new to the range with while being quiet. I still need to run them over a chronograph and shoot groups but I think the 3.5 to 4.0 grain load with Trail Boss is a real winner for shortrange subsonic plinking. 

When I took those 3.5 and 4.0 grain Trail Boss loads out, I was able to run both over my chronograph. The 3.5 gr load was pushing around 641 FPS with an extreme spread of 66 FPS and the 4.0 grain load around 801 FPS with an ES of 38 FPS. I didn't find much difference in the auditory experience between the two so I think I'll stick with the 3.5 grain version with the 125 grain Berry's Bullet for when I take someone to the range. Trail Boss is fairly inexpensive at around $30 for a 9 oz bottle and the bullets at $0.22 per bullet. If you use your own brass and you get the powder local like from Bass Pro but have primers shipped in like I did, these will cost around $0.35 per round. That's pretty good for these days but I think I can do this cheaper. Maybe around $0.25 per round. 

I do have a possible recipe for HS-6 and the Berry's Bullets 125 gr JFN that could make for fun revolver loads but I'm looking for cheap, subsonic plinking loads for now. 

105 Cast Subsonic Plinking Loads

Update November 2023: I found a company called Slippery Bullets that makes a 105 gr cast and powder coated truncated flat point for cowboy action shooting. I still have some Trail Boss powder so I figured I'd load up a few. The bullets were 9¢ per round with shipping. Not too bad. They aren't meant for anything serious, just cheap plinking with the suppressed lever action and my revolvers. 

The suggested loads I've found are starting at 3 grains of TB with a 38 Special case for Cowboy Action and similar. I started loading at 3 grains and ended at 4.0 grains of Trail Boss by Hodgdon. The velocities I got are below using my Caldwell chronograph. It was 70 degrees out. Georgia is weird. It should be cold in November. I made 11 rounds of each except for the 4.0 grains load. For whatever reason, I had a total of 54 primers left in the 100 count box of Remington 5 1/2 Small Pistol Magnum.

3.0 Grains - 844 FPS Average

3.3 Grains - 905 FPS Average

3.5 Grains - 949 FPS Average 

3.7 Grains - 997 FPS Average

4.0 Grains - 1057 FPS Average

After running the loads over the chronograph, I attempted groups at 25 yards to see if any were better. The 3.3 grain loads grouped the best but the 4.0 grain loads started to look good. I didn't have enough after chronographing as I used 8 rounds of the 10. 

Running them through the suppressed Marlin 1894 is fun. They hit steel nicely and make a satisfying noise. The point of impact isn't majorly different at short range so these fit nicely into the Ambassador roll the ArgentVaquero project was built for. A 9 oz bottle of Trail Boss will produce around 1,100 rounds of those 3.3 grain loads. That said, the 4.0 grain loads looked like they may have grouped pretty nicely had I not ran out. I may make a few more of the 4.0 grain loads to check accuracy. At 4 grains, a bottle only makes around 980 loads. Reducing that to 3.9 grains should get to around 1,000 rounds. I need to see how these loads do in my revolvers. Currently, this load works out to 19 cents per reload with the CCI primers I now have plus the TB and these cast bullets. I think this is the cheapest subsonic range load I have for any of my centerfire guns. 

A 2 lbs bottle at 3.3 grains produces around 4,200 rounds. I have enough for a while but given that a 2 lbs. bottle is $90 I think I'll keep my eye out for a resupply. That would bring the cost per round down to 18 cents. That said, if it continues that I can't get Trail Boss like it has for a while now, HS-6 can be substituted according to Hodgdon's website. A charge of 6.2 to 6.6 grains can push to under 950 fps. That's from a 7.7 inch barrel and will require some experimentation to get keep the load slow.

Update NOV 2023: Trail Boss is not being made at this time per the manufacturer's website. I will need to find a substitute for the TB based 105 gr loads.

Update FEB 2024: I've started loading and will test soon, an HS-6 based load for subsonic use in .38 Special Cases. It starts at 6.2 grains and ends at 6.6 grain so no much testing to do with the 105 grain cast bullets. I did also find a load of Titegroup with I think is going to be a winner if they are quiet. If they are, Titegroup can be had locally for under $30.00 for a 1 pound bottle. If the minimum charge of 4.8 grains works, that's 1458 rounds per 1 lbs bottle. That works out to $0.02 per shot. Given that Trail Boss is dead for now, that would likely be the cheapest I can put together something for the Marlin to spit out at $0.18 per round. In retrospect, I suspect that these will be supersonic as the 200 grain load is 5.5 grains and it's very close to supersonic. Thankfully, I only made 15 rounds total. I also have some loads for the 4.5 grain range.

Update MAR 2024: I got to test some of the HS-6 loads with the 105 grain bullets but my chronograph didn't work due to overcast skies. I didn't get velocity data but I was able to confirm subsonic levels by ear. The loads work but the amount of unburnt powder is incredible. I fired 10 rounds and the barrel looked like I had been shooting black powder. I have heard that HS-6 is better for hotter loads and heavier bullets. These are neither. I only fired 5x of 4.5 grain loads and 5x of the 6.2 grain loads. The 4.5 grain loads sounded great but there was powder coming out of the case on extraction. The 6.2 grain loads were mixed in terms of breaking the sound barrier. 2 of the 5 rounds didn't break the sound barrier on the 39 degree day.

I'm thinking I will whip up some 6.0 and 5.8 grain versions to try but I think the 105 grain bullet with undercharged HS-6 isn't what I want due to how dirty it is. The current best subsonic, cheap plinking round I can put together is the Trail Boss load of 3.3 grains with the Slippery Bullets 105 grain cast bullet. I checked to see how much TB I have left and it should be more than enough to use up the last of my 105 grain bullets. 

I'm currently thinking the best approach for long term is using HS-6 and to collecting as much wheel weight lead as I can get and start casting either the 200 grain Lee or the 160 grain Lyman. We shall see. 

Update MAR: The 105 grain with HS-6 aren't great. I ran another batch with 6.0 grains of HS-6 and they averaged 1136 FPS. All of them broke the sound barrier. The amount of unburnt powder in the barrel is wild. It's just not what I want. I'm going to abandon the HS-6 with light bullets idea for now and start focusing on casting the 200 grain loads. I found I should have enough left over Trail Boss that I can use all the 105 grain cast bullets to make light plinking .38 Special loads.

Current Winners

The 2023 Cheap Plinking Load is the 105 cast bullets from Slippery Bullets. A 500 count box for $35 but are $9.50 to ship. This puts us at 9 cents per round. The 4000 count box is the same in shipping for some reason which puts us at a nice 7 cents per round. If I can find a good source of 2 pounds of Trail Boss and primers for the price I got recently around $7 for 100, we're looking at somewhere around 17 cents per round. That's the cheapest load I can currently make up that does what I want for a subsonic round for suppressor use. 

.22 LR is still cheaper plus, sadly, Trail Boss doesn't seem to be made anymore so we'll keep looking.

The Cast Performance 200 grain gas checked bullet with 5.5 grains of HS-6 is my pet plinking load. They have lots of thump and are subsonic. The only downside is I can't get a reliable supply of the bullets and are regularly out of stock. They are also somewhat expensive at $32 a box of 100 when they are in stock. Sadly, I only have a half a box left. The plus side is that I have the Lee 200 grain 2 cavity mold. I don't know that these bullets are the same as that mold is but it would be great if they were. 

It seems that my 2 winners here are hindered by availability problems so I will endeavor to find loads that work. 

Other Bullet Options 

I also remembered that there's a company called Oregon Trail with their Laser-Cast bullets. I use their 200 gr lead for my 45 Colt rounds. They have a cast 125 gr that's $38 for a box of 500 but it's $20 for shipping so make sure you get a bunch. It is WAY cheaper than the Berry's. I'll be looking at buying a box of those real soon since I'm just about out of the Berry's. I think I can get this down to closer to $0.22 per round if I play my cards right.

Bayou Bullets seems to also have cheap options for cast, powder coated bullets. They have a 95 grain round nose that's $78 for a 1000. 3 grains of Trail Boss could make them potentially subsonic. That's also a tiny amount of powder making that load a very cheap option.  

Powder and Primer Considerations

Getting powder is tricky business these days. To ship both, there is an automatic $25 HAZMAT fee on top of the normal shipping and handling. It's best to find a local shop that can get powders and primers delivered to them and you go pick it up. The cost of both plus the extra fees is what is driving up the cost of reloading. 

In an update, I was able to pick up from HS-6 from an LGS without HAZMAT fee which is great! 

I'll keep updating this post as I tinker around with loads but so far, I'm becoming more and more happy with the original load of 5.5 grains of HS-6 under the 200 grain gas checked cast bullet for generic range use. I caved and ordered 200 more bullets for the 200 gr loads and I want to load up a few more to confirm accuracy and point of impact shift compared to my Remington HTP 158 gr 357 Mag factory loads.

Update NOV 2023: H110 has been sourced from a location I didn't know had powders. I expect to use the H110 for full power 357 Mag loads with a likely focus on Hornady XTP bullets. I also found out that the reason we can't get Trail Boss is because it's made in Australia and apparently Thales stopped producing pending some research project. The ADI website hasn't had an update since DEC 2021 saying the same thing about Trail Boss. Looks like I will need to start working out that HS-6 load for the 105 grain sub sonic


The below links have provided huge amounts of information but are not the only things I've used. I read old articles written by folks such as Elmer Keith and Skeeter Skelton themselves to piece information together. 


Paco Kelly on the .357 Magnum 


I found a powder comparison chart from ADI World Class' website.

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