Skip to main content

The .38 Special 200-Grain 'Police Load'

This somewhat-odd loading had an interesting history, and much of its reputation was based on assumption.

The .38 Special 200-Grain 'Police Load'

Traditional ammo loadings can fade away for several reasons, and low performance is one major factor. (Shooting Times photo)

I recently received a reader’s question asking: “Whatever happened to the ‘police load’ of a 200-grain lead RN for the .38 Special?” The question brought up complicated matters of terminal ballistics, market pressures, and manufacturing constraints that are still valid today. And it presents a broader issue: why we test.

Before the 1960s, there were few factory loads for .38 Special. We had the ubiquitous 158-grainers at two velocity levels and sporting either a lead RN bullet or a metal-capped bullet. There was the 148-grain full wadcutter for paper targets. And there was the 200-grain LRN; Winchester-Western boxes for this bore the moniker “Super Police,” as shown on the box in the above photograph.

Until the 1970s, the only terminal performance information was typically represented in ammo catalogs by penetration of pine boards. Modeling clay was sometimes used, but it will expand bullets that tissue never could. Other than confusing the issue, clay did little more than make cool photos for adverts. In that data-free environment, the 200-grain version was commonly assumed to be the more effective stopper by virtue of a heavier bullet.


Then came data. Our gelatin testing at the Dallas County Crime Lab began at the request of the Dallas Police Department. Besieged by ammo salesmen with photos of gut-shot modeling clay, the deputy chief in charge of procurement called me. “Can you put some numbers on this mess and clear the air?” he asked. We set up a technical study based on military research using gelatin blocks rigged between chronograph screens.

If you missed my first Shooting Times column in 2008, here’s a quick refresher. Military research in the 1970s showed that the volume of a bullet’s temporary wound cavity was directly proportional to the energy transferred to ballistic gelatin. Our tests, the first for police handgun ammo done that way, determined average energy transfer to 15cm of 20-percent ballistics gelatin. For .38 Special 158-grain LRN standard-velocity loads, that transfer averaged 75 ft-lbs. That became our baseline. We used a police 4.0-inch service revolver, not a “test” barrel.


After establishing our baseline, we tested 15 different .38 Special ammo types. The Remington and the Winchester versions of the 200-grain load had different nose profiles, so we tested them separately. I wasn’t expecting “amazing” but, being a heavy-bullet guy, was disappointed with the resulting numbers. Low-velocity bullets have trouble making big cavities regardless of shape or weight.

The 200-grain LRN loads bracketed the terminal performance of standard-velocity 158-grain LRN ammo from our test revolver. Average launch velocities were similar, but the cavity volumes were disappointing.

At this point I’d like to add that although I’ve never been shot at, I have been hit by a bullet—a 200-grain .38 Special bullet. In addition to service revolvers, we used 2.0-inch snubnoses for one test series. With much lower muzzle velocities from the short barrels, the 200-grain bullets were grossly under-stabilized and tumbled on entering gelatin. One bullet changed direction inside the gelatin block by 45 degrees, shattered the light that illuminated the photocells, and cracked the screen case before reversing direction and whacking me in the foot. No damage beyond bruising, but it really hurt.




So the heavy-bullet .38 Special winced in the light of hard data. Realistic testing, along with the evolution of high-performance hollowpoint loads within every maker’s line-up, put pressure on old loads that underperformed or sold poorly.

To put a date on when the 200-grain police load was discontinued, Winchester still listed it in 1981 and Remington had it in 1989 but not 1990. From a CCI-Speer perspective, the question of “whatever happened…” is intimately tied to 1989. That was the year our production of 9mm Luger ammo outstripped that of .38 Special—by a massive margin. Demands for loading capacity to meet 9mm orders meant low-selling .38 Special loads were pushed aside and ultimately dropped. From my industry contacts, I know this was also the case for the other “majors.”

So in answer to this very astute question: Low performance was part of it, but more importantly, the 9mm Luger happened.


GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

The Future Of Special Operations Small Arms

The Future Of Special Operations Small Arms

We're taking a look at what the Army's Elite Units are using for service rifles and what the future of SOCOM sniping looks like.

Tactical Solutions Introduces New X-Ring Takedown SBR Rifle

Tactical Solutions Introduces New X-Ring Takedown SBR Rifle

Keith Feeley of Tactical Solutions sat down with Michael Bane at SHOT Show 2018 to talk about the new X-Ring Takedown SBR .22LR rifle.

Hornady 6MM Creedmoor

Hornady 6MM Creedmoor

Tom Beckstrand and Neal Emery of Hornady highlight the 6MM Creedmoor ammo.

Pinging Steel At Over A Mile Away

Pinging Steel At Over A Mile Away

Big bore semiauto or a lever gun? We look at the futuristic .450 Bushmaster and how it compares to the tried and true .45-70. ISS Prop House gives us the rundown on the guns used in Enemy at the Gate. We ping steel with a .300 WinMag at over a mile.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

The Winchester .350 Legend is a no-nonsense whitetail thumper tailored for rifle hunters in the Heartland.Winchester .350 Legend Rifles and Ammo Available Right Now Ammo

Winchester .350 Legend Rifles and Ammo Available Right Now

Payton Miller - August 21, 2020

The Winchester .350 Legend is a no-nonsense whitetail thumper tailored for rifle hunters in...

This somewhat-odd loading had an interesting history, and much of its reputation was based on assumption.The .38 Special 200-Grain 'Police Load' Ammo

The .38 Special 200-Grain 'Police Load'

Allan Jones - January 20, 2021

This somewhat-odd loading had an interesting history, and much of its reputation was based on...

Firing 21 different loads in Kimber's Mountain Ascent rifle proved it is a good friend to have in high places.Kimber Mountain Ascent Rifle Review Rifles

Kimber Mountain Ascent Rifle Review

Steve Gash - January 22, 2021

Firing 21 different loads in Kimber's Mountain Ascent rifle proved it is a good friend to have...

The Bushnell Prime 3-12X 40mm riflescope is not the company's newest offering, but it is a relatively lightweight (17 ounces) and short (12 inches) scope.Bushnell Prime 3-12X 40mm Riflescope Optics

Bushnell Prime 3-12X 40mm Riflescope

Steve Gash - January 05, 2021

The Bushnell Prime 3-12X 40mm riflescope is not the company's newest offering, but it is a...

See More Trending Articles

More Ammo

As the name implies, Black Hills's HoneyBadger handgun ammunition creates unlimited destruction.Black Hills HoneyBadger Handgun Ammo Ammo

Black Hills HoneyBadger Handgun Ammo

Layne Simpson - February 24, 2021

As the name implies, Black Hills's HoneyBadger handgun ammunition creates unlimited...

Even though muzzle flash has more effect on an observer than a shooter, reducing flash is always a good idea.Muzzle Flash and Other Distractions Ammo

Muzzle Flash and Other Distractions

Allan Jones - November 17, 2020

Even though muzzle flash has more effect on an observer than a shooter, reducing flash is...

Speer's 9mm Gold Dot CarryGun ammo is highly accurate and produces consistent velocities, extreme spreads and standard deviations.Speer 9mm Gold Dot CarryGun Ammo Ammo

Speer 9mm Gold Dot CarryGun Ammo

Joel J. Hutchcroft - November 11, 2020

Speer's 9mm Gold Dot CarryGun ammo is highly accurate and produces consistent velocities,...

Developing fast 9mm handloads is not for beginners, but it can be done safely if attention is paid to several important aspects.Fast 9mm Loads Ammo

Fast 9mm Loads

Brad Miller PhD - February 15, 2021

Developing fast 9mm handloads is not for beginners, but it can be done safely if attention is...

See More Ammo

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Shooting Times App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Shooting Times subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now