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RELOADING THE 38-55


Quick Draw Granpaw #48525
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Howdy Folks, I'm in need of some information on reloading the 38-55 Winchester

Your suggestions will surly be appreciated as this is a new caliber for me.

Happy trails

QDG/Mike

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23.0 grains of Reloader 7 with a Bear Creek Moly Coated 255 grain bullet (or whatever bullet around that weight you can find).

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I am using a 335 grain bullet in mine. 38-55 bores can vary. Slugging the bore is a good idea

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First and foremost: Use all the same manufacturer of brass. Thickness and length are all over the map between, and even within, manufacturers. I settled on Starline. On their website they have a topic to read on this that is very well done. I won't go into much that is covered in that article. There are also some very good discussions on the Marlin Owner forums. 

I cast a Lee 250 grain RNFP that falls out of the mold at 0.380 which is perfect for ME and my Starline brass. They shoot well out of two H&R Buffalo Targets and a Winchester 1894.

For powder I am using 30 grains of 3031 or 10 grains of Unique. I hunt with the first and play with the second. Trailboss can be used also but I have not. I do use it in .45-70 though.

Play with a couple different combos after reading the info I recommended. You are in for a journey unless you get lucky like Kaya did. She found loads that shot really well pretty quickly. 

 

Have fun!

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.380 245 grain Big Lube bullet over ffg  Blackpowder. I use full length brass but I had to ream out my Buffalo Classic before I could the larger proper sized bullets. Works OK in my converted Winchester 30-30 to 38-55 also.

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3 hours ago, Chickasaw Bill SASS #70001 said:

Sir 

  first off , you need to slug the bore , then make a chamber cast , these will tell you what you need to know 

 

 having been run ragged , several years back , trying to sort this ctg out , 

 

 

 Chickasaw  Bill 

 

THIS^^^

 

Once you figure out the particulars for YOUR rifle, 38-55 is an awesome cartridge. Getting a 38-55 to shoot accurately can be a real PITA. I have two that are tack drivers; A Pedersoli Highwall and a custom barreled Marlin Cowboy.

 

When it comes to loads however, what works in one won't hit the broad side of a barn in the other. The Marlin has a .375 bore and shoots cast and jacketed bullets equally well. The Highwall has a .379 bore and can't shoot a jacketed round worth a darn. Put a properly sized cast lead bullet in it out of 20:1 alloy and it is capable of sub MOA accuracy.

 

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First thing I learned was to slug the bore. Second thing I learned is that a .375 jacketed bullet doesn't work worth a darn in my Winchester 94. It just keyholes. I use 30.0 grains of IMR4895 powder over a lead 262 grain, .379 gas check bullet and CCI LR primer. It's an accurate load in my rifle.

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I use a BACO .380 mold that drops a soft lead bullet at .3795. I use that bullet in my 38-56 and Shirttails 38-55. Her bore slugged at .375 and mine at .380. The bullet works well in both rifles. Her load is 19g of 4198 and mine is a full case of black. Both rifles will shoot a little over a 2" group at 200yds.

kR

PS Her rifle is a highwall and mine is a Winchester sporting rifle.

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GENTELMEN, Thank you again.  Now I have several places to start and it looks like the funs just beginning.

QDG/Mike

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Years ago I had a Marlin 336CB 38-55. The most accurate load I shot in that rifle was a .380 diameter 255 grain Bear Creek Supply moly coated RNFP bullet over 18.0 grains of Accurate 5744. Not a heavy load but it was accurate in my gun. 

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This one is going to be hard to believe. I have 8 rifles in 38-55....And I just bought #9 this week (Uberti 1885, double set triggers, pistol grip!) This is a great cartridge. The record holder for accuracy until something like 1920.....When I got involved with it I bought and had custom made at least a half dozen molds....Tried every bullet, powder, case, primer combination until I was driving myself crazy.....

 

Here is what I shoot now and I've won a number of 200 and 300 yd (and one 380 yard) matches.......with it.

 

Short 38-55 case / $20 LEE mold for the 250g bullet / 9 grains of Unique / 3/4" square piece of one ply toilet paper to hold powder against primer / Any primer...... You heard that right, only 9 grains of unique......You must transport them with the primer down to keep the powder/TP wad against the primer.....

 

Recoil is like a 22 Magnum....Spooky accuracy!

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2 hours ago, Rancho Roy said:

This one is going to be hard to believe. I have 8 rifles in 38-55....And I just bought #9 this week (Uberti 1885, double set triggers, pistol grip!) This is a great cartridge. The record holder for accuracy until something like 1920.....When I got involved with it I bought and had custom made at least a half dozen molds....Tried every bullet, powder, case, primer combination until I was driving myself crazy.....

 

Here is what I shoot now and I've won a number of 200 and 300 yd (and one 380 yard) matches.......with it.

 

Short 38-55 case / $20 LEE mold for the 250g bullet / 9 grains of Unique / 3/4" square piece of one ply toilet paper to hold powder against primer / Any primer...... You heard that right, only 9 grains of unique......You must transport them with the primer down to keep the powder/TP wad against the primer.....

 

Recoil is like a 22 Magnum....Spooky accuracy!

Same bullet, same powder, but I shoot 10 grains. 

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The groove diameter on a lot of 38-55s is around 379 or 380. The chamber on most 38-55 rifles will let you use up to a 379 bullet. 

 

To use a 379 bullet, especially a lead one, the case neck will require expanding and belling. I bought the NOE expander, and never had issues with that aspect. 

 

4198,  5744, 4759, 3031 and some others work fine once you have the bullet size sorted. The LEE 379 bullet mold is hard to beat, worst case it will give you a good baseline. Lyman 375296 if you find one that casts large enough.

 

BB 

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With my wife's rifle (uberti Winchester 1885 high wall), she had fits trying to get it sighted in, until we found the right overall cartridge length.  In her rifle that's 2.72"....significantly longer than the factory ammo she started with.  I cannot overstate the difference it made.

How we came to that length was easy once we knew to do it.  Barely start the bullet you plan on using in a piece of brass.  If you need to expand the brass first, do so gently.  Then put that cartridge in the chamber, push it all the way in so the action can be closed, then take it out and measure it.  This should give you a length that allows the bullet to be engaged with the rifling before you pull the trigger.

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Not to throw a wrench into the works, but you might want to consider the length of the brass that you are using (especially if you are trying to work up a load in an older rifle).

 

Original .38-55 cartridges were loaded with a 2.125" case.  In 1926, in an effort by the federal government to standardize cartridge specifications throughout the arms and ammunition industries, SAAMI was formed.  Sometime thereafter, and for some reason which remains unknown to me, .38-55 cartridge length was standardized to a length of 2.080" with a bullet diameter of about 0.3770".  Many rifles made before this time were manufactured with a bore in the neighborhood of 0.379" and thus require a bullet diameter a tad larger than factory-produced ammo of today.

 

While you could write a book on this subject, there are a few key things to keep in mind.

 

1.  You really need to know the true bore diameter of your rifle if you want to glean top accuracy from it.  Slugging your bore with a piece of soft lead and then measuring it is the easiest way to accomplish this.  With lead bullets, the best accuracy is generally achieved with a bullet that is .001 to .002" larger than the bore.  If you don't want to do that, several bullet manufacturers offer "sized" .38-55 bullets in diameters ranging from 0.378 to 0.382".  My 1894 Winchester was manufactured in 1920 with a barrel that slugs 0.379";  0.380" and 0.381" bullets shoot most accurately for me in that rifle.

 

2.  A less understood problem is chamber length in older .38-55 rifles.  If you attempt to reload a 0.380" bullet in a standard, modern piece of .38-55 brass at 2.080", chances are good that it will not chamber in an old rifle.   In an effort to rectify this problem, many shooters have had their chambers reamed to make them longer.  An easier solution, and one that requires no modification of the firearm, is to use longer brass with a thinner neck.  Currently, the only supplier for this is Starline Brass.  These brass cases are 2.125" in length and have a very thin wall at the mouth.......so thin that they can be easily bent in shipping or by rough handling.  These two factors allow the handloader to utilize lead bullets that better fit the rifle's bore AND will chamber without problem.

 

I'm certainly no expert on this subject.  These are some of the problems that I've encountered--and some solutions to those problems that I've learned about--while trying to develop an accurate load in an old rifle.

 

For further reading, check out this link:

https://www.starlinebrass.com/articles/loading-with-correct-38-55-winchester-cases-38-55-rifle/

 

--Doc

Edited by Doc Altman SASS#74468
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Great info here! As far as bore diameter, yes, older rifles can be as much as .380.....but all my new/modern manufactured rifles and replacement barrels and liners  have bores of .375....

 

One interesting note about these 38-55 rifles......A modern, much higher SAMMI pressure, 375 Winchester will easily fit in a 38-55 because it is a bit shorter.....If done in an old, vintage, rifle it might really ruin your day!  

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First off You need to treat the .38-55 as TWO different cartridges to get the most out of it !

Case #1  lever guns, have relatively slow twist barrels and limit over all loaded length. Bullets are best kept to the 245 - 265 weight range ...

Case #2 single shots , bullets can be seated out to a much longer lenght, and most barrels are fast twist and will stablise bullets longer and heavyer bullets .

bullets may also be pointed for a higher BC.  I like 340 grain bullets for this use ...

 

As for powder Choice about any medium burn rate powder will give you a starting point, bullet to bore fit is the area that gives the most grief if it is not right . 

One of my lever guns needs bullets that measure .381 and the other really does it's best with bullets that measure .378 .

The single shot likes semi-pointed bullets that measure .3795 and weigh in at 342 gr. 

 

Jabez Cowboy

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  • 2 weeks later...

I'm searching for some of Ken Water's information on the .38-55.  I hate to buy his "Pet Loads" book for this one caliber, but it's looking like I might have to.

I've seen links in old posts for PDFs of his info, but they all seem to be dead now.

If anyone can point me in the right direction, I'd appreciate it.

Thanks.

 

--Doc

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Are you planning to load Smokeless or Black , Lever gun or Single Shot ?

Hunting or Target ?

I have two lever guns , and for Hunting I push a 250 gr RNFP out the muzzle at 1,902 Fps.  , for Cowboy Long Range the same bullet at 1,506 

I have 340 gr Semi Pointed Bullets that go out at 1,624 Fps. out of a 30 inch barreled Single Shot .

 

Jabez Cowboy

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1 hour ago, Jabez Cowboy,SASS # 50129 said:

Are you planning to load Smokeless or Black , Lever gun or Single Shot ?

Hunting or Target ?

I have two lever guns , and for Hunting I push a 250 gr RNFP out the muzzle at 1,902 Fps.  , for Cowboy Long Range the same bullet at 1,506 

I have 340 gr Semi Pointed Bullets that go out at 1,624 Fps. out of a 30 inch barreled Single Shot .

 

Jabez Cowboy

Thanks, Jabez.  I'm already loading for the one .38-55 that I own, which is a 1920 vintage Winchester 94 with 26 inch barrel and Lee Shaver sights.

I'm still experimenting but loving the research and development.  My favorite load (so far) is 10 grains of Unique under a 240 grain Rim Rock RNFP at .381" using Starline 2.125" brass at about 1240 FPS.  That load is just a bit over 1 MOA when I do my part, but I haven't shot it at anything over 100 yards.

 

I've been studying the caliber for a few months now.  Just wanting to read Ken Water's information for my own edification.

 

--Doc

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I have a great deal of respect for Ken Waters, he dared to give the unvarnished truth as he saw it , and I was pleased when I tested his data and ideas .

I have the the advantage of having the equipment to test for both pressure and velocity at hand , even a lot of his older data produced pressures and velocities' very close to what he predicted. I still use one of his suggested loads for .32 S&W long with 115 gr. bullets with Unique that gives higher velocities than other manuals suggest with pressures falling with-in acceptable SAMMI limits.

 

Jabez Cowboy

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Found another bullet that shoots well in my Winchester.  This was a Bear Creek 255 grain RNFP sized at .380" with longer Starline brass trimmed at 2.125", which just barely let me crimp into the crimp groove for an OAL of 2.540".  10 grains of Unique seems to be the magic load for this rifle.  About an inch at 100 yards, so I'm quite happy with that.  Velocity of this 5-shot group was 1244.6 FPS.

49193823_BearCreek.380Target.jpg.ea5039f5716174ce712be1f3a6ee0ab7.jpg

Edited by Doc Altman SASS#74468
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