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Reloading 38-55 ammo
October 9, 2020
5:48 pm
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I have a model 1894  38-55 build date 1903.  I want to reload  the ammo with 380 cast bullets for better accuracy but I do no know what powder to use what amount,  Can somebody advise me on this.

October 10, 2020
2:21 am
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Jerry, it’s tough to beat 5744 in hyphenated cartridges but my rifles seem to prefer 3031 for the 38-55. If you’re using a GC cast bullet and Hornady GC’s you may find that the GC’s are designed for a smaller shanked bullet. If that’s the case you’ll need to anneal the checks to get them to grip the shanks.

 

Mike

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October 10, 2020
4:33 am
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Ive had good luck over the years using IMR-SR4759 but it is discontinued now.  Recently I have been using Alliant 5744, and IMR 3031 with good results, all things being equal and good results down range.  The 5744 shot the most consistent in chronographed fps but I dont like the potential for a double powder load with that powder.  There is a lot of load data out there for the use of IMR 3031 and the 35-55, and it is what I currently use and where you may wish to start.  I hear about other powders out there that folks use but have not tried them myself.  The only other thing I have shot is Black Powder using Swiss 1 1/2 with good results as well.  I shoot  a 254 grn gas check cast bullet (20:1 Lead/tin) in .380 diameter.

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October 11, 2020
3:22 pm
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My problem is I do not reload.   A friend of mine, a smith, reloads stuff for me but he is reluctant to use the .380 bullets for the old 94.  He asd me to find out what powder to use.   I think he believes the old Winchester would not be able to handle the .380 bullets   He has loaded some 33 caliber stuff for me and 25-20 and 32-20 but does not do much with old guns ammo.

The bullets I have are Cast  Performance 260gr.

October 11, 2020
3:48 pm
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Old Winchesters in 38-55 are the only reason I have moulds that drop .381” bullets. I have moulds that drop smaller (.377) bullets for my .375 Winchester. Despite the visual similarities I treat the 38-55 and 375 as totally different cartridges. Have your ‘smith slug the bore of your 1894 and maybe he’ll agree. My 38-55’s were built in 1895 and 1904 and both slug .379-.380.

Is there a reason you don’t reload, Jerry? A rifle like yours is an excellent reason to get into reloading as some commercial loaders load the wrong bullets (.377) for the older 38-55. I suspect some of the modern firearms utilize the tighter bore so the smaller bullets would be appropriate. Sometimes if you want a job done right you have to do it yourself!

 

Mike

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October 11, 2020
5:21 pm
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I agree with Mike, have your gunsmith slug your bore to double check the diameter.  I have 10-12  38-55 rifles/carbines from the beginning of production to the end and they all have bores that are right at .379 to .380.   Before I started casting my own bullets I used the .380 diameter Cast Performance Bullets in 260 grn with gas check for years.  Probably shot a thousand or more of them down different antique or vintage 38-55 rifles and carbines.  Either way, definitely check the bore diameter and match the right bullet diameter to the bore. 

There may be some obstacles to overcome chambering the larger diameter bullets due to the thickness of the brass at the case neck, etc.  But those are easy to overcome. 

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October 11, 2020
6:05 pm
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I agree with Mike and Chris.  If have not slugged the barrel you can’t expect a wild guess to work.

October 12, 2020
12:24 am
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1892takedown said
I agree with Mike, have your gunsmith slug your bore to double check the diameter.  I have 10-12  38-55 rifles/carbines from the beginning of production to the end and they all have bores that are right at .379 to .380.   Before I started casting my own bullets I used the .380 diameter Cast Performance Bullets in 260 grn with gas check for years.  Probably shot a thousand or more of them down different antique or vintage 38-55 rifles and carbines.  Either way, definitely check the bore diameter and match the right bullet diameter to the bore. 

There may be some obstacles to overcome chambering the larger diameter bullets due to the thickness of the brass at the case neck, etc.  But those are easy to overcome.   

If your 10-12 rifles/carbines all measured .379 to .380, I think it wouldn’t be all that wild of a guess to think my various 1894’s have bore diameters at .379 to .380.  In other words, what you have said tells me a lot.  Also, given the bore sizes you report, I would think a standard .375 jacketed bullet would have a poor chance of being accurate given .004 to .005 undersize is not insignificant.

October 12, 2020
1:57 am
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steve004 said

If your 10-12 rifles/carbines all measured .379 to .380, I think it wouldn’t be all that wild of a guess to think my various 1894’s have bore diameters at .379 to .380.  In other words, what you have said tells me a lot.  Also, given the bore sizes you report, I would think a standard .375 jacketed bullet would have a poor chance of being accurate given .004 to .005 undersize is not insignificant.  

I cant speak for other rifles or carbines, Ive heard some are tighter diameter bores out there and then there are others that have said they had 38-55 bores that were larger than .380.  Wouldnt put it to chance without slugging a bore first. 

Back 10 or more years ago I used to buy the Winchester brand jacketed bullet cartridges off the shelf.  They were .375″ diameter.  I used to shoot them quite a bit without any problems and they shot pretty good, but they were a little undercharged on the powder in my opinion.  They were moving so slow they punched through deer like a full metal jacket.  No expansion, just two small holes on each side (its hard to get expansion anyway on these slow movers unless your using a softer lead).  

I slugged the bore on the carbine Ive been using for 15+ years  a while back and the best I can tell from the slug, the groove diameter is .380 and the rifling diameter was .374″.  But Ive tried using cast bullets that were given to me that were .375 in that carbine and they didnt shoot worth a hoot.  Maybe there is enough thickness in diameter there for the .375 jacketed bullets to grab to the rifling.  Dont know.. 

The old 1894 mold that I have drops bullets about .375 or a tad smaller, but if using BP with those lead bullets it probably wouldnt make much difference. 

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October 12, 2020
3:50 am
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1894 .38-55 made in 1894.

Beartooth Bullets, .381, 265 grain gas-checked.  (actual weight 275)

26.0 grains Reloder #7 (RL-7, RE-7)

CCI 200 Large Rifle primer

Starline 2.125 brass

 

If you are able, try reloading them yourself.  It is a pleasure.

October 12, 2020
11:33 am
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My most accurate load in model 94, 1905 rifle.

Barnes .377 jacketed 255 grain bullet

11 grains Unique powder

Starline 2.125 case

Win LR primer

Another good one:

Montana Bullet Works .380 or .381 265 grain hard cast gas check

21 grains Shooters World Buffalo Rifle

Starline 2.125 case

Win LR primer

October 12, 2020
5:20 pm
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Here is another thing to consider when buying cast bullets.  Usually the softer the lead the more it will expand in the bore and fill into the grooves.  Obturation.

 

http://www.lasc.us/FryxellCBAlloyObturation.htm

October 12, 2020
5:54 pm
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I continue to enjoy the thoughts, experiences, references, comments etc.  I didn’t start this topic but I find it very relevant.  Interesting how it is a fine blend or balance of several factors.  There’s bore size and condition.  A poor bore rules out softer lead (or even lead at all).  Soft lead can be optimal in a nice bore, but you don’t cast your own, the bullets have to not get deformed in shipping!  

October 12, 2020
6:10 pm
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Contact https://bullshop.weebly.com/bullets.html.  bullshop@3rivers.net. They make the bullets for black powder or smokeless and the proper lube fore each.  Gas checks or not.  I get soft lead shipped to my house with no problems.

October 14, 2020
1:01 am
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Chuck said
Contact https://bullshop.weebly.com/bullets.html.  bullshop@3rivers.net. They make the bullets for black powder or smokeless and the proper lube fore each.  Gas checks or not.  I get soft lead shipped to my house with no problems.  

Yes, Dan knows how to ship with little or no damage. He also casts many of the same bullets I do, not just the ones made for high-speed operations. Oh yeah, he casts a damn fine bullet, too!

One oddity about the 38-55 and cast bullets is that I’ve found plain-based bullets don’t shoot quite as well as gas-checked bullets. At the velocities I shoot the 38-55 (<1500) I really hoped a plain-based bullet would do well. 

 

Mike

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Smokeless powder is a passing fad! -Steve Garbe
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October 14, 2020
2:02 pm
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First to answer your question about why I do not reload.  I have always had friends that reload.  Not that I was taking advantage of my friendship I just  traded my skills for theirs.  I built antique cars.  That and I am now 79 years old.   I have been collecting Winchsters for over 50 years but never really purchased guns that used unusal or obsolete ammo.  I did slug bore the last 38-55 I owned which is the reason I have the cast bullets I have now.  The only other Winchestesr I have that requires reloaded ammo is the 32-40 and the 25.20  The 38-55 I have now was built in 1903 and I will slub bore it.

I really appreciate all the help you folks have offered

October 14, 2020
2:53 pm
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One oddity about the 38-55 and cast bullets is that I’ve found plain-based bullets don’t shoot quite as well as gas-checked bullets. At the velocities I shoot the 38-55 (<1500) I really hoped a plain-based bullet would do well. 

Mike

I would have very much thought the opposite would have been true.  I’m surprised.

October 14, 2020
2:55 pm
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jerry thomas said
First to answer your question about why I do not reload.  I have always had friends that reload.  Not that I was taking advantage of my friendship I just  traded my skills for theirs.  I built antique cars.  That and I am now 79 years old.   I have been collecting Winchsters for over 50 years but never really purchased guns that used unusal or obsolete ammo.  I did slug bore the last 38-55 I owned which is the reason I have the cast bullets I have now.  The only other Winchestesr I have that requires reloaded ammo is the 32-40 and the 25.20  The 38-55 I have now was built in 1903 and I will slub bore it.

I really appreciate all the help you folks have offered  

We all approach it somewhat differently.  With reloading, for some, the object is sole destination.  For others (e.g. such as me), yes, the destination is important… but the journey is a big part of it.  

October 14, 2020
3:15 pm
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I’ve had a lot of vintage 38-55’s pass through my hands. Never seen one that slugged with a groove diameter less than .379. They’ve all slugged between .379 and .383 (the .383 was a Marlin 1893) deluxe. I use soft cast (pure clip-on wheel weights air cooled) bullets with a Hornady gas check on an Accurage mould I had custom made, over 5744 powder. I’ve tried a lot of powders and 5744 gives me the best results. With the soft cast bullet and load I use, I don’t even bother slugging my 38-55 bores anymore. The bullet bumps up to fill whatever the diameter is and typically gives me five-shot, 2.5″ groups or smaller at 100 yards.

October 16, 2020
6:34 am
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Yes…Daniel at https://bullshop.weebly.com/bullets.html.  bullshop@3rivers.net makes excellent bullets.  He has furnished us with lead bullets for all of the 1894 calibers except the .38-55.  At the time I purchased the .38-55 slugs, he was not making that gas-checked bullet.

Also, I have yet to come across a bullet he has shipped that wasn’t perfect.

We shoot his bullets in 1873 rifles and in Colt Single Action Army revolvers.

Some of our Winchesters have poor bores, but gas-checked bullets have them shooting with excellent accuracy.  And the checks do aid accuracy at the higher velocities.

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