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38-55 Sharps reloading tips


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I stumbled across an offer for a 28" barrel 1874 Shiloh Sharps in mint condition for a reasonable price, so I just couldn't resist, kind of an early christmas gift :) I don't have it yet, but really looking forward to it! It's a 38-55 which seems an interesting caliber for me as it will be used just for mid-range fun plinking up to 450m (500 yds) on a quite wind protected range.

 

I asked Shiloh about the specs. It's made in the late 80's with a groove of .375 and bore dia of .365, so "modern" specs as I understand. The twist is 1 in 16".

 

I don't reload yet at all, but plan to, of course, and just started to gather equipement for my other calibers (45 Colt, 45ACP) and also want to buy everything needed for the 38-55 and need some advice now. Please don't be too harsh if my questions are too dumb... :blush: 

 

There will be some compromises as some components for this caliber won't be easy to get, but the cartridge doesn't have to be deadly accurate. I just want to avoid the biggest mistakes and rather buy once than twice...

 

Bullet:

I figured out so far (please correct me if I am on the wrong track) that a .376 bullet would be best, ideally between 310gr and 340gr for my 1:16 barrel twist. Can I use the same bullet for smokeless and BP? What do I have to consider?

 

Brass:

Found Star Line, but only the short ones (2.080"). Still trying to find 2.125", but would the short ones do the job? I will buy one or two boxes of Black Hill 255gr ammo to have something to begin with, it's the only 38-55 ammo you can buy around here. They also use the shorter shell.

 

AOL:

How do I determine the best AOL for this rifle when I can really focus on the chamber? Until now AOL was all about levering...

 

Powder / Load:

Some of my pards use Vihtavuori N32C aka Tin Star as this is what's available around here. I will use it for my 45 Colt and think that it should also work for the 38-55, but haven't found loading data yet...

In the long run, I want to shoot BP. What do I look for? 2F, 3F? Completely clueless...

What fps am I aiming for?

 

Dies:

Any recommendations? A lot of people recommended Lee factory crimps for my other calibers, is it also to consider for 38-55?

 

Any inputs will be welcome! Equanimous Phil

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I just started reloading for the .38-55 in a Browning High Wall.  I use FFFg as that is what I have.  If I could get it I would use Swiss = to FFg.  I ordered the long brass from Star Line.  I made a dummy round with no crimp so the lead could move into the case.  Inserted in the chamber, measured that round and set the bullet .003 shorter.  Done the math to know how deep to set bullet.  did the math to determine the max hight of the powder charge compressed less .060 as that is the thickness of my over powder wad.  I use a 336 gr bullet  that with my eyes will hit in a 5" grouping at 200 yards, max my range is.  Use little or no crimp.  If you use a lever gun you have to crimp.  I do want to try smokeless so at that time I will use the loading manual first.

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38-55 is a great caliber. It was developed for target shooting, back when that was the National pastime instead of baseball/football! 
 

375 seems small for a 38-55! 

 

I use minimal crimp in my 38-55 HiWall. Heaviest Bullet I can shoot in it is 310 grn. 1/18 twist. Yours should go a tad heavier. I have some 345 grn bullets but they would not stabilize. If you want them, pm me your address and I’ll send them to you so you can try them out. They are SPG lubed as I recall, so can go smokeless or BP. 
 

for my smokeless loads I like Unique. My most accurate load is 260 grn Bullet, 10.0 unique. My experience has been wind really effects them after about 300 yds.
 

One range I go to has ram silhouettes at 500 meters. I could hit them, but not always knock them over. I went to a heavier Bullet that will knock them over. I also got a Sharps in 45-70 that will do the job!  Now I use my HiWall for rangers under 250, and my 45-70Sharps for over 250 yds. 
 

length wise, my guess is it really won’t make a huge difference. If you are talking sub MOA shooting at 1000 yds probably would. I’ve mixed them in my HiWall with no real discernible  difference. 
 

Don’t  scrimp on sights!  MVA or Kelley are my favorites. 

 

I shoot a lot of 38-55 in lever rifles as well. Down in S Texas we have a category “Cody-Dixon” , pistol & shotgun same as main match, rifle caliber rifle with targets 50-100 yds. It’s my favorite category! 

 

 

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Lots of good info over on www.BPCR.net

 

I love my 38-55 rifles. I have a highwall that needs a .379 / .380 bullet and a lever gun that shoots a .376.

 

For really good accuracy get the correct length brass. Because your barrel is only a .375 bore you may benefit from using a brand of brass other than Starline You can read about it here.

 

Did you ask Shiloh what length brass your rifle takes?

 

 

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I agree with Hoss, .375 seems small. If I were you I would slug the barrel before buying any bullet tips. Back about 10 years ago I bought a Winchester Legionary Frontiersman 1894 in a 38-55. I loaded up some .375 bullets and I couldn't hold a group to save my soul. Knowing the 38-55 had a few different bore diameters I called Winchester, and no matter what I said the guy insisted it was a .375 bore. I still think he was just using a CMA statement. Well I slugged the bore twice and both times it came out as .377. I loaded some .379 262 grain gas checked bullets and never looked back. It went from could barely hit a target at 100 yards to a great shooting gun. I won a couple of big bore shoots with it at my local club.

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Thanks Hoss for all the Info! 

1 hour ago, Hoss said:

I have some 345 grn bullets but they would not stabilize. If you want them, pm me your address and I’ll send them to you so you can try them out.

I appreciate your kind offer, but there's my main "problem" I somehow forgot to mention: I am from Switzerland, Europe (and that's what it makes hard to get components for such an uncommon caliber around here), so sending lead isn't option... 

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51 minutes ago, High Spade Mikey Wilson said:

I agree with Hoss, .375 seems small. If I were you I would slug the barrel before buying any bullet tips.

Thank you, too, for your input!

I gonna get the rifle on Thursday and will talk about it with the seller who is an experienced shooter (but it's not his rifle). After your concerns I will definitely double check the diameter. Never slugged a barrel before, so there will be some reading and youtubing waiting for me! 

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he SAAMI / C.I.P. specifications for 38-55 are some of the most messed up there are. Of all the calibers I have researched it is the only one where the minimum Groove diameter ( 0.379 ) is greater than the maximum bullet diameter ( 0.377). In many aspects it more closely resembles a heeled bullet design rather than a conventional modern cartridge.

The general consensus for the mis-match is that the the undersized bullets would be cast of soft alloys and bump up to groove diameter when fired. 

Developed originally as a target round with bullets often breech seated, it proved to be an exceptionally accurate design that was not punishing to shoot in an all day match.

 

Because of the mismatch between bullet and barrel many 38-55 rifles have very poor accuracy with jacketed bullets and most factory cast lead ammunition. Marlin attempted to correct for this by making their chambers oversized so that a properly sized bullet could be loaded into the case but this caused other problems and accuracy still suffered.

Winchester corrected these deficiencies with the 375 Winchester which was intended to be a magnum version of the 38-55. However they created a potentially dangerous flaw in that a 375 Winchester cartridge can be chambered in a 38-55 firearm. If this is done the significantly higher pressures of the 375 Winchester can cause the action to fail in a 38-55.

 

My 38-55 lever gun started out life as a 30-30. The previous owner sent the action out and had it rebored to 375 Winchester specifications so that it could be used with jacketed ammo. In its current configuration, loaded to 30-30 chamber pressures it is a tack driver with jacketed hollow points. At 100 yards I was easily shooting MOA 5 shoot groups at 100 yards. Now that I am into lever guns it and has replaced my 243 Winchester as my go to deer hunting rifle

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/.38-55_Winchester

* Bullet, The Ideal 375166, 329gr,  Accurate Molds cloned this bullet... Mold # 380320E  Bullet is accurate to 500 meters

Ideal 375166. This is the factory .38-330 grooved bullet. It is used with a shell full of powder for target work. (PB, FN, 295, 330 – TP 449)

375166_330g.gif

 

Edited by John Boy
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6 hours ago, High Spade Mikey Wilson said:

I agree with Hoss, .375 seems small. If I were you I would slug the barrel before buying any bullet tips. Back about 10 years ago I bought a Winchester Legionary Frontiersman 1894 in a 38-55. I loaded up some .375 bullets and I couldn't hold a group to save my soul. Knowing the 38-55 had a few different bore diameters I called Winchester, and no matter what I said the guy insisted it was a .375 bore. I still think he was just using a CMA statement. Well I slugged the bore twice and both times it came out as .377. I loaded some .379 262 grain gas checked bullets and never looked back. It went from could barely hit a target at 100 yards to a great shooting gun. I won a couple of big bore shoots with it at my local club.

I have found 262 grain gas check bullets but I am looking for oal and power recommendations for this bullet. I have an 1894 Oliver Winchester in 38-55

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12 hours ago, The Original Lumpy Gritz said:

Sign onto the Shiloh Sharps Forum to learn more

 

Signing in hasn't been successful yet as I am waiting for the account confirmation, but I read a lot of good info there in the meanwhile.

 

The groove diameter was confirmed multiple times as .375, also by Kirk ("When we purchased Shiloh, they were using .375 barrels and I have just continued"). I'm quite confident that a 0.376 bullet is the way to go.

 

I am from Switzerland, so your sources for lead probably won't work for me. I guess sending lead overseas will cost a fortune. A mold could be an option, but I hadn't planned to cast myself. One can find suitable bullets around 250gr here, but components for a single shot 38-55 aren't that easy to get. Despite I am looking for a heavier bullet, I found a promising 300gr/.376 lead bullet online in a store that's near my place. There aren't any specs or pictures online, so I will drive there and have a look at them.

13 hours ago, John Boy said:

Accurate Molds cloned this bullet... Mold # 380320E 

Very interesting manufacturer! I will ask if he sells and sends overseas. The 38-320ET seems to match my barrel.

 

In one thread on the Shiloh forum the case length is stated as 2.030". Don't know if it's a typo and it's meant to be 2.080" as this is what Star Line sells..? But it looks like the shorter case will match my rifle. I'll see, I can pick it up tomorrow :)

 

Equanimous

 

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13 hours ago, Edna Mae said:

I have found 262 grain gas check bullets but I am looking for oal and power recommendations for this bullet. I have an 1894 Oliver Winchester in 38-55

Edna Mae, my load is as follows: Winchester brass, CCI LR primer, 30.0 grains of IMR4895 powder, 262 grain lead flat point with gas check .379" diameter, 2.50" OAL.

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I have a couple of their moulds and am very pleased with them. It is easy to customize a particular design by changing the diameter of the bullet, size of the lube grooves, and location of the crimp groove just to name a few.

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  • 2 months later...

Thanks again for all the replies and inputs!

 

In the meanwhile I got the rifle and shot 20 bullets of Black Hills ammo. Love it! Although 27 yards indoor shooting isn't the right place for a Sharps...

 

On 11/18/2020 at 4:00 PM, John Boy said:

Phil ...  Yes Accurate Molds ships Internationally ... http://www.accuratemolds.com/shipping.php

 

On 11/18/2020 at 4:07 PM, Sedalia Dave said:

I have a couple of their moulds and am very pleased with them. It is easy to customize a particular design by changing the diameter of the bullet, size of the lube grooves, and location of the crimp groove just to name a few.

 

I couldn't find any appropriate bullets around here, so casting myself will be the only option. An Accurate mold is right on the way to me. I ordered one with two cavities, based on the 38-320ET and the 38-331B design. I also gathered the other equipment needed like melting pot etc. Going to pan lube the bullets with SPG as they drop from the mold and reload the cartridges on my single stage press with RCBS dies.

Bought a kilogramm of BP Swiss No.3 which seems to be a reasonable start. Could also work with Swiss No.2, but read of some bad experiences with accuracy.

The chamber seems to be designed for the shorter 38-55 shell, the 2.080". Starline is the only brand available around here.

 

Question about wads: I want to order some Walters Vegetable Fiber Wads. Do I need the "oversized" .386" or the .380"? The driving bands of my bullets are .377". Which thickness, 0.03" or 0.06"? I guess the thinner because I want as much powder as possible in the small 38-55 case..?

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