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Shooting a new load in my old 38-55 (photos)
May 7, 2013
7:45 pm
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As a young fellow back home in the rural community where I grew up, the Old Timers used to talk about the ‘ol 38-55. Old men sitting around drinking coffee at the district picnics we used to have back then, talking about old rifles while the young lads listen in, has a way of making a rifle or caliber become the stuff of homesteads, frosty fall hunts of a bygone era and something I very much wanted. Well, I started the search for as nice a 38-55 as I could afford and, by gum, I think I’d be hard pressed to part with this one, which still has most of its blue on the barrel and mag tube, and even some case coloring on the lever.

Here’s the info on the rifle, serial number 19670: This old 38-55 was received in the Winchester warehouse on June 9, 1897 and shipped a month later on July 8, 1897. That makes it about 116 years old. It is in original condition with a beautiful, 9 out of 10 bore.

Today at lunch, I took a quick trip to the range just down the road. Glory be! … I had the entire place to myself and it was a gorgeous day.

Here’s the info on the load I tested: A few weeks ago, I tried an experimental batch of 10 rounds of the load shown below. It seemed to be half decent, so I loaded up almost 40 rounds to really see how it did.

Powder charge: 16.5 grains of 5744 under a tuft of cotton filler
Bullet: a custom mould I ordered from Accurate Moulds that gives me a sized and lubed and gas checked bullet that weights 262 grains (I know it says 266 grains on my targets, but I just realized I wrote the wrong weight on them)
Sized diameter of bullet: .3795” I haven’t slugged the bore yet but since this was the only sizing die I had, I figured I’d give it a try and see what happened.

When I got to the 200 yard range, I had misgivings about the wind. Although the range is sheltered by the trees and side berms, there was still intermittent eddies swirling and blowing back and forth and side to side. I figured this wasn’t the greatest situation to try out a load at 200 yards, but since I was there I might as well see what happened anyway.

My shooting setup: Here's a photo ...

http://smg.photobucket.com/user/3855Win/media/Range%20Results/Set-up_zps6b882a5b.jpg.html

Set-up_zps6b882a5b.jpgImage Enlarger

First 200 yard target: Starting the shoot with a clean bore, I made the 400 yard round trip walk to pin up my first target, raised the tang sight to what was normally a good 200 yard height, and slowly fired 5 rounds, waiting about a minute between shots. One of the rounds chambered tight and I feared that might show at the far end. The results were four shots into 2 & ¼” and one shot about 3” high. I figured that one must have been the tight round. Here’s the target ….

http://smg.photobucket.com/user/3855Win/media/Range%20Results/First-200-yard-target_zpscda1001a.jpg.html

First-200-yard-target_zpscda1001a.jpgImage Enlarger

Second 200 yard target: Seeing that I was a bit high, I lowered the tang sight slightly, but it turned out to be a little too much, as only three shots hit the bottom of the paper, with the other two slightly below. I didn’t bother keeping or photographing that target.

Third 200 yard target: I raised the tang sight very slightly and got a five-shot group of 5 & 3/16”. That was a bit looser than the very first group of the day out of a clean bore. I wondered if it was because I got lucky with the swirling freshets between me and the target on the first group, or was it because the bore wasn’t clean anymore. Here’s the target …

http://smg.photobucket.com/user/3855Win/media/Range%20Results/3rd-200-yard-target_zpsdfd5c063.jpg.html

3rd-200-yard-target_zpsdfd5c063.jpgImage Enlarger

Fourth 200 yard target, nine shots: It is a pain having to wait a minute between shots to try and keep the barrel somewhat the same temperature, so I wondered what would happen if I just cranked a full mag tube of bullets down range without giving a hoot about cooling. It goes to show you how often I load up the mag tube, because I thought it would hold seven rounds, but two more rounds went in after that. I can’t imagine hunting with nine rounds in the magazine unless I was thoroughly besotted, reeling home from a night on the town in the pitch dark, and trying to drop a running deer at 500 yards. Still, it would be fun to see what happened, so I cranked nine rounds down range at the target 200 yards away. I was surprised at the results … there didn’t seem to be any downward trend in the bullet holes as the barrel heated up (and it was decently hot after firing the ninth round). All nine rounds gave me a group of 6 & 1/8” at 200 yards. After that, I figured I would no longer bother waiting at all between shots when shooting this fine old rifle. Here’s the target with seven of the shots going into 3 & 7/8” ….

http://smg.photobucket.com/user/3855Win/media/Range%20Results/Hot-Target_zps71e21c2b.jpg.html

Hot-Target_zps71e21c2b.jpgImage Enlarger

Final target, 100 yards: Well boys, lunch hour was over but I wanted to see how the load would now do at 100 yards with a dirty bore. By now, I had fired 24 rounds at the 200 yard targets. Relieved of the need to wait any more between rounds to let the barrel cool, I cranked out five rounds and retrieved my target. By now, I had walked a total of 1,800 yards putting up and taking down my targets. I like that … gives me a chance to get the blood circulating, listen to the birds and thank God for such a gorgeous day and for having such a nice range just down the road from where I live and where I usually have the place to myself. Life is good. Anyway, this last target showed a five shot group at 100 yards of 1 & 13/16”. Now I know some of you fellers who shoot modern guns with pristine bores and jacketed ammo would think that is a pathetic group, but this ain’t no modern johnny-come-lately, wet-behind-the-ears, three year-old rifle with one of those new-fangled scopes, shooting some high velocity, fancy jacketed ammo. This here is a 116 year-old classic Winchester with a 9 out of 10 bore, cast bullets and a tang peep sight. I’m happy when I get a load that will give me a five shot group that is less than 2” at 100 yards. Here’s the 100 yard target ….

http://smg.photobucket.com/user/3855Win/media/Range%20Results/100-yard-target_zps05e334f3.jpg.html

100-yard-target_zps05e334f3.jpgImage Enlarger

I’m not that happy with the 200 yard results, except for maybe the first group (except for that one high one which was likely due to the tight chambering). I think of bullets travelling in curves. Of course there is the downward arc we are all familiar with, but I think also of curves to one side or the other, influenced by a gust of wind here or a bit of instability. Thus, a two inch group at 100 yards might curve out to a six inch group at 200 yards if there are swirls and eddies going back and forth. Anyway, I think that if I had perfect bullets and a perfect bore and no gusting swirls of wind, I could get tighter 200 yard groups. Having said that, I’m sticking with this load. It will put venison in the freezer some day, but not this coming fall ….. I’m planning to hunt with an original Winchester Model 1873 44 W.C.F. (44-40).

May 8, 2013
12:42 am
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Kirk,

Those targets are impressive for an open sighted vintage rifle at 200 yards. You might not shoot the eye out of a squirrel; but as you said, a deer will likely be in dire trouble.

I enjoy your range reports. Keep them coming.

May 8, 2013
4:17 am
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Good morning Kirk,

If you use the link below you can enter the 38-55 ammo and alter the shooting parameters, sight in range, cross wind velocity, sight height and see the effect of windage on bullet flight. Click on the "View Statistics Chart" in the upper right corner after you have 'shot' the round and you will see for the 38-55 there is 6 inches (2.3 cm) of drift due to cross wind with just a 7 mph breeze!! If you make it a 10 mph breeze that increases to 8.2 inches (3.2 cm). At this point it is something that definitely need to be taken into account while hunting or bullet placement will be terrible. Plus or minus 8 inches on a whitetail is not a pretty thought.
http://ballisticscalculator.winchester.com/

Nice shooting!
Michael

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Model 1892 / Model 61 Collector, Research, Valuation

May 8, 2013
6:00 am
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That ballistics calculator is fun to play around with. I wish it allowed one to adjust the velocity and bullet weight for handloads.

May 8, 2013
6:20 am
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Kirk wrote:

That ballistics calculator is fun to play around with. I wish it allowed one to adjust the velocity and bullet weight for hand loads.

It is very nice to use to compare different calibers and bullet types. But yes it is limited to just "conventional, factory" ammo. I would bet there is a custom calculator out there on the infamous internet. You might try this one Kirk. It looks a bit more malleable.

Michael

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Model 1892 / Model 61 Collector, Research, Valuation

May 8, 2013
12:39 pm
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Nice report.Enjoyed reading it.

May 8, 2013
1:50 pm
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I think that is excellent accuracy for cast bullets loaded into cartridges with a heavy crimp (implied when you put several into the magazine). Especially from a hunting rifle with a hunting-type front sight. Eventually, you may wish to slug the bore, because .38-55 bore & groove dimensions varied quite a bit. That said, the limiting factor may well prove to be the chamber diameter at the "neck". The rifle will only accept cartridges up to some maximum diameter. It will probably help to know that size and to stay a thou or so below it.

.38-55s gave excellent accuracy back then and do so today, but normally only in single shot rifles, and quite often only when the bullet was seated ahead of the case.

May 8, 2013
2:03 pm
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A .380 bullet is the largest I can chamber without thinning the case necks. Still, a 1 & 13/16" five shot group at 100 yards is satisfactory. I will be trying the 200 yard shoot again on a calm day to see what happens.

May 8, 2013
2:37 pm
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Kirk

Is that the rifle with the Lyman Combination No.5 Front Sight? I recently was able to get a couple of those and put one on my main shooting gun. I really like that type of front sight for target.

Nice shooting.

Brad

Regards

Brad Dunbar

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May 8, 2013
2:42 pm
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Duh!!!! Forgot to paste the link earlier.

Kirk wrote:

Quote:
That ballistics calculator is fun to play around with. I wish it allowed one to adjust the velocity and bullet weight for hand loads.

It is very nice to use to compare different calibers and bullet types. But yes it is limited to just "conventional, factory" ammo. I would bet there is a custom calculator out there on the infamous internet. You might try this one Kirk. It looks a bit more malleable.

http://gundata.org/ballistic-calculator/

Sorry,
Michael

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Model 1892 / Model 61 Collector, Research, Valuation

May 9, 2013
8:49 am
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Hedley Lamarr said
Kirk

Is that the rifle with the Lyman Combination No.5 Front Sight?

Yes it is. I like it as well.

TwoBit: thanks for that link

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