I Really Thought I Was Done With the .38 Tumblers…

OK, I wanted to see if I could make a simple bullet that flew straight and tumbled after impact. Mission accomplished, time to move along… or not. I linked my blog on some gun pages, posted about it on some forums. I expected people to find it mildly interesting. The reaction was surprising; people are quite interested. One fellow down south is culling feral pigs, and said, “Send me some, I’ll try them on carcasses.”

Sure, why not? I tooled up a little to swage them in bulk, modified the design to shorten the nose slightly and tested them in my shot-up gel. Yep, they still work fine. By this point the Clear Ballistics gel block was so abused that getting a decent photo was impossible.

Tumblers loaded into .38 Special and .38 S&W.

Since I needed to re-cast the block I agreed to do a test on the ‘virgin’ block and hopefully get some good photos. I cranked out a hundred bullets and loaded them into .38 Special and .38 S&W. I took them to the range and tried them at seven yards to make sure they flew straight. I started with the .38 S&W fired from my 1-5/8″ S&W Safety Hammerless.

OK, three of the bullets went into one hole; not the best for seeing if they’re keyholing…

Ran a target out to seven yards, and it appears they are flying straight. OK then, on to the .38 Special. for this I used my custom 3″ Model 1902 and fired at seven yards.

I rapid-fired these at seven yards to spread them out a bit, and still got two bullets in one hole…

They are definitely flying straight. So far, so good. On to the Gel test. I didn’t bother with the four layers of denim this time; it seemed to make no discernable difference in previous tests so why inject crap into the block? I can never seem to get all the denim fibers out…

The results from the .38 S&W were good but not spectacular, and honestly I wasn’t expecting them to be. First I fired an unmodified 158gr. LRNFP. The track was very narrow and even closes up completely in places. I couldn’t even get a reasonable photo. It passed completely through the 16″ block. Then I tried the Tumbler.

On the bottom is the raw image, and on top is a contrast-enhanced image for a better look at the wound-track. The bullet upset immediately on impact and produced a wound-track almost 3/4″ wide for the first 3″ or so before the bullet streamlined, travelling in reverse. Going from there the permanent wound cavity remains larger than the unmodified bullet’s, but isn’t overly impressive. The bullet stopped against the table at 11″. Not world-shaking, but it does appear to be a notable improvement over the stock bullet. Note that this bullet was travelling approx. 620 fps.

On to the .38 Special. The test-gun was my custom 3″ S&W Model 1902. The bullet makes right around 900 fps. from this gun; I’d originally intended to fire a comparison shot with the un-modified bullet, but if it sailed through the block at 620 fps. adding another 300 fps. wasn’t likely to change that so I didn’t bother. The results were a bit more impressive this time…

Once again the raw image is on the bottom, the contrast-enhanced image is on the top.

This time the bullet stopped right at 16″. It started to tumble about 3″ into the block, and the permanent wound cavity resembles what you’d expect to see from a .38+P hollow-point, except the bullet never properly streamlined until the last 3″ or so. I was gob-smacked. I really did not anticipate this performance from this bullet. The PWC is 3-dimensional, but the extreme disruption of the block in the middle is all on the vertical plane. The wound track does curve upward, but it’s a lot less curve than the original design, and a lot more damage.

The bullet on top was fired from the .38 Special, the middle from the .38 S&W and the bottom is an un-fired stock bullet. The rifling impressions on the .38 S&W bullet are faint, but they apparently do the job.

I’m going to have to do more testing, and use a shorter-barreled gun, probably my custom Taurus 85 with the 1-3/4″ barrel. We should be seeing some results from the hog carcasses next month, and I’ll share that here as well. I also want to try a full wadcutter for comparison, and try these in a .357 Magnum at around 1100fps. and see what happens.

I’ve decided to call these bullets a ‘Lead Bottle-Nose Flat Point.’ or LBNFP. More technically descriptive than ‘Tumbler.’

Interesting stuff here.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 29 December 2020

3 thoughts on “I Really Thought I Was Done With the .38 Tumblers…

  1. William Maxey

    Outstanding! Shows that the British were on to something with their .38/200 round. You’ve just ensured the tumbling with your LBNFP!

  2. Brett

    Five years ago I reproduced the Super Police load using a 195gr Lyman mold. These were shot into ballistic gelatin using a 2” K-frame. The results were much the same as your bottle neck bullets in your 3” S&W. Jeff Cooper recommend the Super Police load in snubby’s back in the day. The 200 gr bullets are pretty slow and bounced off car body’s. They did a have a reasonable reputation in gun fights though

  3. Rev Andrew M

    For the first few years that I carried a revolver, I always carried the 200 gr Super Police load in my 3″ S&W M10. It was very accurate and it was not punishing in recoil. I was able to buy some back in the 90s to put away just in case. I would buy and carry this new design.


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