Once again this week, I am taking a look at a plain lead defensive handgun bullet in an attempt to gauge its effectiveness as a defensive load compared to newer high-tech designs. And once again, the test load is a product produced by Buffalo Bore: their standard pressure .38 Special 150-grain Hard Cast Lead Wadcutter load.

About the Buffalo Bore Ammo

Designed to provide a lighter-recoiling defensive load for the snub-nosed .38 Special revolver, the lead bullet used in this particular loading is “hard cast,” meaning it is designed not to expand or deform in soft tissue. The “wadcutter” shape of the bullet is one that is less familiar to today’s users of the .38 Special defensive revolvers. The wadcutter is so named because it was originally designed to be used in target revolvers in “bullseye” shooting competitions. Its flat nose, which extends for the width of the slug itself, barely protrudes above the cartridge case, and was designed to cut a clean hole with no frayed edges through a “wad” of paper target and cardboard. This ultra-clean hole—which is the full diameter of the bullet—made it much easier for judges to score the hit, especially where the bullet hole might have broken the next higher-value scoring ring on the target.

Wadcutter loads for the .38 Special and the .32 Smith & Wesson Long—which was also a popular cartridge used in the heyday of centerfire cartridge bullseye competition—were known as “Mid-Range” loads and were so marked on the box. Mid-Range loadings were low powered, and propelled the wadcutter slug to just enough velocity to give it relatively level flight out to 50 yards. Velocity of current manufacture Winchester Super-X Mid-Range 148-grain Wadcutter target loads is a mere 710 feet per second.

Prior to the proliferation of reliable expanding bullet designs, the wadcutter bullet style found its way into the self-defense realm—due to its mild manners—and the belief that even though its velocity was leisurely, the sharp edges of the cylindrical bullet would cut veins and arteries as it traversed flesh (rather than just push them aside). In particular, these loads found some favor with users of .38 snub revolvers—especially the early aluminum-framed designs—since their recoil was next to nothing. I remember a case many years ago involving the Highway Patrol here in Ohio where a state trooper saved his life by drawing a .38 snub loaded with target wadcutters and shot his would-be killer after his duty revolver ran dry. Those light target loads proved to be lethally effective.

Loaded in Starline brass cases, Tim Sundles’ Buffalo Bore bullet is quite a departure from the original .38 Mid-Range wadcutter load. Modern powders allow Sundles to load the 150-grain hard cast bullet to a much stouter published velocity figure of 858 feet per second from a 2-inch Model 60 revolver. My test at the range revealed an average velocity of 870 feet per second from my 2-inch model 642. This results in 252 foot-pounds of muzzle energy. As I stated last week, Buffalo Bore’s published velocity figures are dead on, and they also publish some of the most detailed ballistics reports available for each load they sell.

Gun Range Ammo Testing

Testing at the range revealed the 150-grain hard cast wadcutter load easier on the shooting hand than the Buffalo Bore +P 158-grain LSWCHP .38s I tested last week. All the shots fired landed dead on to the point of aim, and accuracy was on par with any other quality .38 Special defensive ammunition. Of course, neat holes were cut in the paper.

Clay Block Testing of .38 Special 150-grain Hard Cast Lead Wadcutter Load

Clay block testing results were also impressive, albeit a bit different than the soft lead 158-grain LSWCHP load. The test block for this load happened to be 7×11 inches, as opposed to the 8×9-inch block that I tested the 158-grain loading in. The 150-grain hard cast wadcutter entered the block and, without any evidence of expanding or fragmentation, opened up a 4¼-inch wide cavity and then exited the block. Both the 150-grain wadcutter and the 158-grain LSWCHP demonstrate how much greater the power level of properly loaded .38 Special rounds are when compared to the oft-equated .380 ACP. This is because the .38 Special can handle much greater bullet weights than the .380, which is limited by case size to about 100 grains maximum weight.

Conclusion on Buffalo Bore’s 150-grain Hard Cast Wadcutter Ammo

Buffalo Bore’s 150-grain Hard Cast Wadcutter is a fine defensive load that was developed by Tim Sundles from his experience with shooting game animals with wadcutter bullets. The 150-grain hard cast load has the ability, even with its flat profile, of penetrating more deeply than the average hollow-point round if that is desired. For use as a defensive load to be carried in light .38 or .357 Magnum revolvers (or a heavy ones for that matter) on the trail against dangerous wild animals or people, it should prove outstanding. It would also be a great defensive load to carry during the winter months or in regions where cold weather dominates and one’s opponent is wearing heavy winter clothing. Buffalo Bore states this load will penetrate 14-16 inches in human flesh, which is just about right in my book. For more information, go to www.buffalobore.com.