Riddle me this, Batman

I’m looking at ballistics tables for .38 Special ammo, and I’ve discovered something curious.  Most of the “factory” .38 Special 158 grain lead round nose ammo is loaded to about 750-770 FPS according to the manufacturer’s websites.  This is stuff like your cheap American Eagle, Winchester White Box, etc ammo.  The problem with this ammo is that it doesn’t make minor power factor for IDPA/ICORE competition (although ICORE has an exception for certain factory loads).

Here’s where it gets weird.  According to several different companies, they offer Cowboy Action .38 Special loads with a 158 grain flat point lead bullet that are loaded hotter than the factory stuff.  As an example, both Winchester and Magtech offer cowboy loads with a 158 grain bullet that according to the factory specs is making 800 FPS.  For the life of me, I cannot figure out why the cowboy load would be doing 50 fps more than the standard pressure load.  Thoughts?


  1. I don’t know, but I have a few guesses.

    Extra velocity helps make sure that reactive targets fall.
    from SASS
    “To the extent possible, reactive targets are set to fall when squarely hit with no more than
    a standard .38 Special 158 gr. factory load.”

    The manufactures are marketing to the SASS crowd that shoots steel targets and they want to be sure that the bullet is destroyed upon impact.

    Test barrel makes sense too.

  2. Maybe they’re just playing the game of capitalism. If their low-grade factory ammunition doesn’t meet competition regs, that allows them to make “competition specific” ammunition that does.

    I haven’t checked but is there a price difference between the two?

  3. I don’t think it’s test barrels, since Winchester listed a 4 inch test barrel for their cowboy loads, but the capitalism/SASS ideas make sense.

  4. CAS shooting doesn’t require higher velocities at all. In fact, the lower the better for our sport. Nobody competitive buys that stuff, it’s all reloads and I’d hazard a guess that most of the .38 loads aren’t doing more that 500fps or so.

    Could they be using a softer lead that seals better and provides the extra 30-50fps? I don’t know, but I thought I’d throw that out there.

    Why don’t you call and ask?

  5. I shoot CAS (SASS) and reload. The load you mention makes no sense. I load to 500 fps and that’s enough for “knock downs” let alone hearing a “ding” to confirm a hit. I would hazard a guess that it all has to do with marketing.

  6. Yeah, that’s what puzzled me. Why would you market a load as a cowboy action load at 800 fps when most of the CASS guys are shooting super-bunnyfart loads at slingshot speeds?

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