One of the cartridges I mess with is the .38 Smith & Wesson, the ancestor of the .38 Special. It's a shorter case, with a larger diameter. The heaviest load for it was used by the British as their original load in the Mk IV Webley as the .380/200, and it was also used by some police departments here: it's a 200-grain roundnose bullet at about 650 feet per second. I've heard it had a pretty good record as a fight-stopper, but have no accounts to list. The Brits wound up, due to the Geneva Convention having a problem with non-jacketed bullets, going to a 176-grain jacketed bullet(long taper with a small round nose), and from what I've read it lost much of the effectiveness with this load. In any case...
There are a lot of old revolvers out there, S&W and Colt and Webley and Iver Johnson and others, chambered for this cartridge. Some, like the Webley and Enfield and IJ, are top-break designs and some of those should be approached with caution: some of those designs are stronger than others, and some may not have aged well, especially if they'd seen much use. The Webley/Enfield, for instance, has a pretty strong lockup involving good amounts of steel interlocking, while some have a spring-latch that's not as strong. So if you're going to shoot one of them, check it out carefully before you take it to the range.
Reasons for handloading this are primarily
Expense. Factory ammo for this seems to be limited to a 145-grain roundnose, and fairly expensive.
Accuracy. The factory stuff tends to be loaded down due to the company not knowing if it'll be put in a vault-strong S&W or Webley or a worn-out old Iver Johnson or some Spanish copy, so they keep pressures low. Which usually leads to ammo that hits above or below point of aim, sometimes drastically so.
I originally wanted to duplicate the .380/200 load for a Enfield revolver so it would hit where I was aiming; factory stuff hit low. Lyman makes a mold for a 200-grain roundnose .38 bullet, and some digging around found some load information. I use the bullet as-cast, lubed with Lee Liquid Alox, and wound up using Unique powder; the load hits right at 650fps and hits dead-on point of aim at ten yards. Good load, and I think it would work as a defense load( I don't know if the bullet would stay straight and maybe overpenetrate, or yaw after impact and spin). But I also wanted a practice load with a lighter bullet for target-punching. So I tried these:
The left is a 148-grain wadcutter, the right a 162-grain semi-wadcutter. Both from .38 molds, used as-cast with Liquid Alox. They're seated out to keep the overall length and depth in the case as my measurements indicate proper; like I said, it's a short case. Both use Unique. I tried them both out today, but no targets to show; did not have a solid rest and some of the lights in the range were out, so pretty targets will have to wait a while. However, both seemed to shoot to point of aim, both cut nice, sharp holes and had light recoil. The wadcutter seemed to group a bit tighter, but without a rest that's not something I'd swear to.
So two good possibilities for target loads, which means I'll have to load some more for testing(work, work, work, to quote Wash).
If you get hold of one of these revolvers, new brass is available, bullet molds in .38 are easy to find and someone, I've read, does sell ready-to-load bullets for the cartridge(yes, I am too lazy to dig it up right now). Just make sure the pistol is in good condition, and don't push the limits.