Interesting Treasury Dept. Box of 38 Special

I was given a Winchester-Western “For Law Enforcement Use Only” 38 Special/110-grain jacketed Hollow Point box – box only/no ammo – with this, what I consider, remarkable statement:
WARNING – These cartridges are loaded to U.S. Treasury Department specifications which require higher velocity and higher pressure than conventional .38 Special cartridges. They are designed for use by law enforcement agencies only in modern alloy steel revolvers. DO NOT USE in aluminum cylinder or aluminum frame revolvers. If doubt exists as to safe use in your firearms, check with the firearm manufacturer. Maximum average pressure is 15% higher than industry +P standard (approximately 23,500 C.U.P.).
It bears the Keep Out Of Reach Of Children warning, Winchester-Western Division New Haven/East Alton address, no zip code/no UPC, and lot number 69PE3. That would indicate it rolled off the production line 69 on 3 May 1979.
So, anybody know more about this ammo, like was industry +P standard then 23,500 C.U.P. or is that what these cartridges were loaded to?

There is actually no SAAMI pressure standard beyond the +P level. The so-called +P+ loads are simply loaded to a pressure somewhat greater than +P, and that’s at the choice (and risk) of the manufacturer, as it is off the SAAMI scale.

According to my SAAMI data, the .38 Special 110 grain load standard is 17,000 CUP. The .38 Special +P 110 grain load standard is 20,000 CUP. These are both Maximum Average Pressures (MAP). Therefore, if these loads are stated to be 15% higher than +P, their MAP would be 23,000 CUP. Note these are average maximums, and could actually be less. I won’t get into the various ins and outs of SAAMI pressure measurements, but they are provided in detail in the standards.

For comparison, for a 9mm 115 grain load, a SAAMI piezo gauge MAP is 35,000 psi, while the 9mm +P 115 grain load is 38,500 psi (piezo). Whatever a 9mm +P+ load MAP is, that’s up to the manufacturer.

The headstamp on those rounds was probably WCC +P+ 79, although I am not certain about that. Rounds with the same headstamp format show up with dates well past 2000. I believe these Treasury Dept. loads were the first ones in .38 Special designated as +P+, although I am not sure of the beginning date. I don’t have quick access to Otto Witt’s book on .38 Special right now, but if someone else does, they might check that to see if it shows the first known date. One agent’s opinion, strictly his own and strickly anecdotal, was that for PC reasons, they didn’t want agents shooting the bad guys with “Magnum” cartridges, so they had these .38 Special rounds made, which were close to .357 Magnum specs, but in the .38 Special case. Probably as close as they could safely get with the smaller powder chamber of the .38 case. Don’t know if there was any truth to his opinion.

I don’t remember all of the details, but at one time we were using Winchester 9mm frangible bullet loads (using DFA bullets) packaged in Ranger commercial boxes for training. On the rear of the box was printed a very similar cautionary legend about pressure as the one on the .38 Special Treasury box. The Winchester cases had the typical M882 WCC headstamp which did not include a +P or +P+ indication. This legend got the attention of some training instructors and immediate concerns were raised about the safety of firing these rounds in the M9 pistol. We hurriedly had the Navy at NSWC-Crane test the Winchester rounds using the NATO-standard pressure test (a different test procedure than SAAMI’s) and found that the Winchester frangible ammunition had a somewhat lower MAP than military M882 MAP specifications, which was about 34,500 psi. This was also verified by Winchester. That calmed everyone down. I have no idea why the legend was printed on the box, as all it did was scare everybody.

I have no doubt that the Treasury .38 loads are/were for PC purposes, as there could hardly be any other reason.

John: The agent’s opinion was probably pretty close to the truth. As you probably remember, there was a lot of left-wing propaganda about police use of hollow-point ammunition and Magnum cartridges in the 1970s. Organizations and activists were equating their issue to police brutality, and even genocide. LAPD carried soft-points into the 1980s, even into their early transition to semi-auto pistols. Until the Dialo shooting, NYPD issued LSWC for their revolvers and FMJ for their semi-autos. Detroit PD is still issued the Federal EFMJ to soothe activists’ continued resistance against JHP.

Besides the US Treasury, the 110gr JHP .38 Special +P+ was issued by the California Highway Patrol and Los Angeles Sheriffs Department. At one time, the CHP had Smith & Wesson create the Model 68, which was roughly a Model 66 chambered in .38 Special, instead of the usual .357 Magnum.

Dan - I have my son’s Smith and Wesson .38 revolver from the CHP. When they went to autos,
they were allowed to buy their revolvers. He didn’t want it, so I bought it and he handled it for me. It is not a Model 68, but I forget what model it is. It is buried in my safe right now. It is basically a Combat Masterpiece (Model 15) but in Stainless Steel. I used to know all those model numbers - we sold every model Smith & Wesson made - but have forgotten some. It may be a mosel 65. I know it is not a Model 66, since it is chambered in .38 Special, and I know it is not a Model 68, becaused I wished it was (there were not so many of them issued to CHP). I don’t even recall the difference between a 68 and a regular Combat Masterpiece in Stainless - perhaps a shrouded ejector rod like in Smith Magnums???

You are absolutely right - they did, at one time, issue the so-called Treasurty Department load.

The stainless steel version of the .38 Special Combat Masterpiece was the Model 67. As you guessed, the Model 67 does not have the protected ejector rod like a Model 66 or Model 68.

Dan - I dug mine out, and it is a Model 67. I learned to shoot a handgun on a Model 15, and stupidly sold it years and years ago. I wanted my son’t gun because I thought he might want it in later years, since he carried it for about 10 or 12 years of his 23 years on the CHP, because it was like a Model 15, and because it is stamped “C.H.P.” on the right left side of the frame below the Cylinder. I have a Smith & Wesson Model 28 .357 and I Colt lIghtning .44-40 rifle as well, both marked for San Francisco Police. It is interesting that the SFPD used the Lightning Rifles and the .44-40 cartridge in them until about the 1970s, when they traded the rifles for Colt AR15s in .223. The .44-40 is one of those cartridges that refuses to die, still having some popularity in Cowboy Action Shooting, although not as much as when the sport first started.

Almost unbelievably I recovered another Winchester-Western Treasury Dept. box with the same lot number 69PE3 (3 May 1979), in even better condition, but this time with tray and most of the nickel-plated cases. Cases were headstamped WCC+P+ (over) 79. No case cannelure, red primer sealant.

Not meant to disparage our government employees who may have to use a handgun in the line of duty, but they would have been better served by giving them a reasonable amount of ammunition and time to PRACTICE. When I was shooting handgun competition regularly I often shot against LEOs both individually and teams. My brother-in-law was an old school FBI agent who I also shot with. There’s no polite way to say this - they were lousy shots. Giving them more powerful ammunition that kicked even harder probably made them even worse. A 38 Special between the eyes will always trump a +P+ in the foot.



even a +P+ is only so marginally higher velocity than a standard round that its main effectiveness would have been in confidence boosting rather than tactical.

I agree, but then you are getting into the great “Stopping Power” debate regarding the relative effects of bullet weight, design, velocity, and diameter. I expect that arguments on both sides of the debate will continue until long after we are all dead. My personal opinion is that “Stopping Power” effectiveness, if there is such a thing. is much more related to good marksmanship and proper bullet placement than to any other factor.