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Reloading 38 Colt

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I have a Colt Lightning, 38 Long Colt Caliber. Is it possible to use 38 Special dies to reload?

MS

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Yes.

Only issue you might have is getting the crimp die adjusted down far enough to properly crimp the case.

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Posted (edited)

Lee makes a die set to load the .38 short and long colt, They are reasonably priced and worth the cost. Here are some places that carry them.

https://www.amazon.com/LEE-PRECISION-90276-Carbide-Set-38/dp/B00162UMR2

https://www.midsouthshooterssupply.com/dept/reloading/dies/38-colt

https://www.titanreloading.com/lee-38-shortlong-colt-3-die-set-carbide

Edited by Major E A Sterner #12916
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Thank you much for your help.  Any recommendations for loads?

Thanks,

  MS

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The Colt 38 uses a heel  bullet, probable at 0.375" not the standard 0.357" for a 38 special. Old West Bullet Moulds sells heel bullets and moulds.  Another option is to use hollow based bullets.  Found some 148gr HBWC from Bear Creek Supply.  

Got fairly good results with 2gr Trailboss in a 38 long Colt case for a converted 1851  Navy.

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The Lee kit comes with a powder dipper and load data.

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Plus one for the Lee dies.

 

When was your revolver made?  Originally the gun had a bore diameter of .375" for use with the original heeled bullet.   Eventually, when the cartridge changed to the inside the case bullet, the bore diameter was reduced to .357".  I know this for a fact because I have two of them, one is an older one with the larger bore made in the 1880s and the other is a "newer" one made in 190something.  

Personally, I use a .358" round nose hollow base bullet weighing 150 grains.  The hollow base expands to get the rifling in the older large bores, and fits properly in the newer small ones.   If you've got a newer one, any .358" bullet will do, but go with pure lead due to the age of the gun.   The only place I know of selling this bullet is Buffalo arms, and they ain't cheap.  But, given how these are for me only very occasional shooters, I find the bullet to be worth the effort and price.   I wish I could find someone else who sold them for a more reasonable cost, but it does not seem to be an option.


Also, the Lightning, unlike the Peacemaker, was NEVER okayed for used with smokeless powder.  It is strictly a black powder only firearm.   Many will tell you they have run low power smokeless rounds in them to no ill effect.  I'll be honest and say that I have done so, but that was before I fully understood why it's a very bad idea.

 


Good luck!  Lightnings are fun guns to own and to shoot, even if they are not SASS legal.  (Well, the short barrel ones are okay for pocket pistols, but that's not the same.)

Still, a boy can dream...  A pair of Lighting pistols paired with a Lightning rifle would be SO much fun...

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Posted (edited)

Be sure the reloads are shorter than the SAMMI specs to preclude the rounds chambering and  not stove piping ...

1280px-.38_Long_Colt_U.S._Army_ball_cart

Edited by John Boy

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, John Boy said:

Be sure the reloads are shorter than the SAMMI specs to preclude the rounds chambering and  not stove piping ...

 

I'm not sure I understand that.   If the loads are shorter than SAMMI, they would still chamber.  I know for a fact that Remington factory ammo chambers just fine, and they are to exact SAMMI specs, not shorter.   It's only if they are longer that you'd have a theoretical problem, and even then, maybe not.  Both of my Lightnings have bored through chambers with no shoulder, even .38 Specials will fit.   And, how can a revolver stovepipe?

 

I am confused.

Edited by H. K. Uriah, SASS #74619

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Posted (edited)

I load and shoot 38 Long Colt using Starline brass and regular 125 Grain TCFP lead bullets at .358. I am doing well with a seat/crimp die by Lee specific to 38 Short or Long Colt. The rest of the set labeled for those cartridges appear the same as my 38 Special dies. I am currently using the seat/crimp for seat only, adding a Redding Profile crimp die after removing my sizer. I had trouble seating primers in that brass, at least when new, so size them separately and prime by hand. On all the other cartridges I load, I rarely prime off the press otherwise.

The Cowboy load I settled on after some testing is 2.4 grains of Trailboss. I tried 2.2 and thought it was too light.

 

I shoot these in a pair of model P Jr clones by Cimarron and Taylor's. The barrels are stamped 38 Special and 38 Colt.

Edited by Roscoe Regulator

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Thanks again for all the information.

The Lightning I have was manufactured in 1877, first year of production.  It is in great condition and locks up tight.  I understand the best practice of using black powder for loading.  However, I was hoping there was a load with smokeless that would be safe.  Maybe Trailboss.   I have some 148 gr hollowbase wadcutters I can use for bullets.  They are soft lead and should expand into the grooves. They are left over from my Bullseye shooting days.

If  BP is the only safe way to go, I need some advise on how to get started.  Never have used Black Powder.  Ae substitutes best? Need info on how to safely handle it and not get blown up!:P

Thanks,

 MS

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Posted (edited)

General speaking, when using black powder, or a sub, you fill the case so that when the bullet is seated you get just a little compression.  In other words, leave no air in the case once it is loaded.

 

As to if real black or particular subs are best, you will here different people argue for all of them.  I truly believe it is a matter of preference.

 

Even Trail Boss, which is my go to powder for everything, is not a good idea in a Lightning.  The pressure characteristics are just too different to be safe.  I have heard that there IS a smokeless powder out there that duplicates black powder's pressure curve, but I don't know if that's true, so I'll not say anything more.

 

With a gun as old as yours, you've absolutely got the larger bore.  I have no experience with the wadcutters you mentioned, so I don't know how well they will expand, but assuming they do, they should work just fine.    (My only experience with them is in my Nagant revolver)

Edited by H. K. Uriah, SASS #74619

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H K .. rifles only .. :D

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48 minutes ago, John Boy said:

H K .. rifles only .. :D

 

Okay.   That makes a little more sense.  

 

There's a rifle in .38 Long Colt?  Where?   I want one!  :)

 

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Thanks again for all the info...

 

MS

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