(Note: On this page, as throughout this website, the term "38 Super" refers to the 38 Super +P cartridge.)

A wide range of gunpowders are well suited for the 38 Super. It's case capacity allows room for all but some of the slowest handgun powders. A portion of the Hodgdon burn rate list is reproduced here and shows some of the powders that can be used in the Super. It includes products by Accurate Arms, Alliant, Hodgdon, IMR, Norma, Ramshot, Vihtavuori and Winchester that are available in the United States. Brand names that are missing from this list include ADI (Australia), REX (Nitrokemia, Hungary) and Vectan (Nobel Sport, France) to name a few.

There are several sources of burn rate charts. You'll notice that they disagree on where some gunpowders rank. This is why gunpowder burn rate charts should be used as general guides and not as gospel. Never select a charge weight based on burning rate. Always use load data from a manual.

Velocity

Faster burning gunpowders tend to produce lower velocities when loaded to maximum pressure than slower gunpowders, so if your looking for high velocities, slower burning gunpowders are usually your best choice.

If your goal is lower velocitites a faster burning gunpowder has the advantage of reducing recoil and often burns cleaner.

Recoil

Gunpowder selection can affect recoil. Faster burning gunpowders often produce less recoil than slower burning gunpowders, but this depends on the charge weight required for a given velocity. Faster gunpowders usually require less charge weight for a given velocity than slower gunpowders. The gunpowder’s weight is part of the mass of what comes out the end of the barrel (the ejecta) in the form of gas along with the bullet. If you compare two different gunpowders that produce the same velocity but require different charge weights, the one that requires a lighter charge weight produces less recoil.

Sometimes more recoil might be desired to ensure gun function. Adding more gunpowder will achieve this, but you must be careful to not exceed safe working pressures. Another way to get more recoil is to use a slower gunpowder. Because slower gunpowders require more charge weight for the same velocity, selecting a slower gunpowder can result in a stronger recoil impulse for the same velocity. More information about gunpowder and recoil can be found on the Recoil page.

A Caution About Pressure

While there are advantages to using faster burning gunpowders to reduce recoil, there are limits to the velocity that they can achieve before reaching maximum pressure compared to slower burning gunpowders. Faster burning gunpowders reach peak pressure more quickly than slower gunpowders. Consequently, a smaller charge weight is required for faster gunpowders to reach a given velocity. And, generally, the velocity achieved by fast gunpowders is less than the velocity achieved by slow gunpowders at the same pressure. So, slower gunpowders often (but not always) produce higher velocities than fast gunpowders when both are loaded to maximum pressure. Another way to look at it is that slow gunpowders can achieve the same velocity as fast gunpowders, but at lower pressure.

Here is an example from Winchester's 15th Edition Reloader's Manual. The data in the table below is for a 130 grain FMJ bullet. Loads for two powders are compared, 231 and Winchester Action Pistol (WAP*). 231 burns faster than WAP and achieves around 1145 fps when loaded to near maximum pressure. (Maximum pressure for the 38 Super is 36,500 psi. See the Technical page for more information.) WAP can produce that velocity at much lower pressure. When WAP is loaded to near maximum pressure, it's velocity is 105 fps faster than 231.

If you're trying to reduce recoil, faster burning powders will help you achieve that goal. But be aware that there are limits to the velocity they can achieve. If you want more velocity, use a slower burning powder. In all circumstances, follow a loading guide.

Cleanliness

Several factors influence a gunpowder's cleanliness. Formulation is the most obvious factor and some gunpowders are dirtier/cleaner than others. Pressure might play a role in how completely a gunpowder will burn. Folks claim that some gunpowders burn cleaner or more completely at higher pressure, so reduced charge weights might result in more powder debris. How clean or dirty a gunpowder burns might not be of concern. For example, if you get the best accuracy from a dirty gunpowder, then so be it.

Questions, comments, suggestions, hate mail? Feel free to email me. However, the probability of getting a response is low simply because I have a day job and a life and don't have the time to respond to all emails. It's nothing personal, really. Nevertheless, I do appreciate your thoughts. If you see an obvious error then please put the word ERROR in the title of your email. Thanks, and happy shooting.
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