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Winchester 94 in 38-55: Safe for Smokeless?
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September 14, 2021 - 1:12 am
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I’m wondering if anyone can provide some guidance on whether or not it is safe and/or advisable to shoot smokeless cartridges in a Winchester 94 chambered in 38-55.  The rifle I’m considering was manufactured in 1922 (according to Madis) and both the barrel and receiver bear the Winchester Proof.  However, the barrel is not marked as being nickel-steel, nor does it indicate if it is specifically designed to handle smokeless powder.  Thoughts?  Any information is appreciated.  Thanks!

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September 14, 2021 - 1:18 am
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As manufactured, yes. But that was nearly 100 years ago. If you have any question have a reputable gunsmith experienced with older guns check it over before you shoot it. And no, .375 Winchester ammo is NOT safe in your rifle. Enjoy, the 38-55 is a really cool round and fun to shoot.

 

Mike

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September 14, 2021 - 1:41 am
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Thanks Mike!  Just to make sure I’m understanding you correctly: As it left the factory, it was designed to take the smokeless .38-55 cartridges of the time, correct? (In this case, 1922)

 

Cameron

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September 14, 2021 - 2:24 am
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Cameron,

If it is a 1922 production (the serial number will tell us the actual date) Model 94, it was specifically manufactured for smokeless powder cartridges. Any commercially loaded 38-55 ammo is perfectly safe to shoot in your Winchester.

Bert

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September 14, 2021 - 2:33 am
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Bert,

The serial number is 918758, and I got the DOM from Madis’ Winchester Book (if I’m reading it correctly; I utilized the list on page 407).  Based on what you’re telling me, would it be safe to assume that Winchester stopped stamping barrels with the “nickel-steel” and “smokeless powder” markings at some point?  If so, any idea when?  I haven’t found any reference to this in the book, but it’s a lot of information to digest.  

 

Cameron

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September 14, 2021 - 2:54 am
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S/N 918758 was manufactured in October, 1920.  I your Winchester a Sporting Rifle or a SRC ?  

Winchester stopped making Nickel Steel barrels in April/May 1932 and discontinued the “smokeless powder” marking at the same time.

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September 14, 2021 - 3:05 am
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It’s a sporting rifle. Round barrel, 26″ with full length mag tube. I should clarify, I don’t have this rifle yet. I wanted to clear up this question prior to purchase. 

Cameron

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September 14, 2021 - 3:28 am
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ck4241 said
 As it left the factory, it was designed to take the smokeless .38-55 cartridges of the time, correct? (In this case, 1922)

All current smokeless loadings for BP cartridges are safe, including your 1873, except HV loadings for modern rifles like Marlin’s Model 1895, which are always clearly labeled as such.  Ammo makers don’t want to see you in court.

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September 14, 2021 - 3:30 am
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TXGunNut said
 If you have any question have a reputable gunsmith experienced with older guns check it over before you shoot it.

How far would you have to travel to find one of those?

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September 14, 2021 - 3:45 am
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Not terribly far. If I buy it and turns out to be unsafe, it really wouldn’t bother me. I just wanted to be sure, hence the question. 

Cameron

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December 3, 2022 - 1:30 am
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Hello,

So far in this thread I haven’t seen discussion for pre-1900 (year built) rifles. The rifle I’d like to ask about is a .38-55 Model 1894 with S/N 1214XX.
The winchestercollector.org “Dates” resource/page says that this rifle was built in 1901, but all other S/N tables for the Model 94 found elsewhere say it was built in 1897.
I found some ammunition (245 grain cowboy ammo in .38-55, smokeless) and I’m wondering if I can safely use that ammo in this gun, or if I need to find black powder cartridge, etc.

Thank you,
Ben

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December 3, 2022 - 3:42 am
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Hello Ben,

I can positively guarantee you that Model 1894 S/N 121400 was manufactured in August of the year 1901. All of the “other” tables you refer to are copies of the erroneous information published by George Madis back in the late 1970s. If you have doubts about what I am telling you, contact the Cody Firearms Musuem (CFM) records office and obtain a factory letter.

In regard to the ammo question, as long as your Model 1894 is in safe shooting condition, it will safely handle any factory loaded 35-55 ammo to include all smokeless powder ammo, especially Cowboy ammo.

Bert

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December 3, 2022 - 10:22 pm
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Ben, you have to remember the Model 1894 was developed for the new 30 WCF smokeless cartridge.  I have an antique 38-55 I have shot many times with Factory Winchester ammo with no problems.  If you are really worried shoot the Cowboy loads but it is not necessary.  All this said we are assuming your gun has no problems.

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April 14, 2023 - 11:17 pm
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Can someone advise the year 38-55 became smokeless?

 RickC 

   

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April 14, 2023 - 11:49 pm
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RickC said
Can someone advise the year 38-55 became smokeless?

  

Do you mean safe for smokeless?  All factory smokeless cartridges are loaded to be within safe pressure levels.

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April 14, 2023 - 11:58 pm
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According to Ray Giles smokeless loads were available around 1896 to 1898.  Black powder loads were still available for many years passed this.

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April 15, 2023 - 12:13 am
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clarence said

RickC said

Can someone advise the year 38-55 became smokeless?

  

Do you mean safe for smokeless?  All factory smokeless cartridges are loaded to be within safe pressure levels.

  

No I was just inquiring when the 38-55 went smokeless. We know 25-35 & 30-30 were smokeless in 1894 but a friend has a 38-55 src(1902) and the letter says ordered: nickel steel barrel. In anticipation of 38-55 going smokeless ?, but as Chuck said above, Ray said it was already smokeless by then.  

 RickC 

   

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April 15, 2023 - 12:18 am
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Just saw a post from Bert 38-55 & 32-40 went nickel steel in 1910 so someone ordered my friends 38-55 in nickel steel early. 
“For the 32-40 and 38-55 chambered guns, Winchester used “High Strength” steel for the barrels as standard until approximately 1910.  If someone ordered a Model 1894 in 32-40 or 38-55 W.H.V. cartridge (Winchester High Velocity), the barrel was Nickel Steel.”

 RickC 

   

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April 15, 2023 - 9:28 pm
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RickC said
If someone ordered a Model 1894 in 32-40 or 38-55 W.H.V. cartridge (Winchester High Velocity), the barrel was Nickel Steel.”

  

I’ve never heard this before?

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April 15, 2023 - 10:41 pm
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Chuck said

RickC said

If someone ordered a Model 1894 in 32-40 or 38-55 W.H.V. cartridge (Winchester High Velocity), the barrel was Nickel Steel.”

  

I’ve never heard this before?

  

It is true up to a certain time period.  When viewing the Single Shot, Model 1886, and Model 1894 ledger records, there are numerous instances where the ledger records has either “Smokeless” or “Nickel Steel” entered in the Remarks column for typically black powder cartridges. Further, the barrels on those rifles are usually marked “NICKEL STEEL” without the added notation “Especially for Smokeless Powder” (like the barrels for the 33 WCF, or 30 WCF).

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