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Trying to figure out the 38-55
September 21, 2018
4:59 pm
WACA Member
Forum Posts: 22
Member Since:
March 24, 2018
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I just bought a Legendary Frontiersmen.  Bought it to shoot, mainly ‘back yard” target shooting and with light to moderate loads.  I know basically nothing about reloading but am starting the learning process.  The first hurdle is trying to understand the chamber, bore and cartridge dimensions for this particular rifle.  From what I find on the web, there may be chamber/cartridge dimensional differences between older and newer guns in 38-55.  Don’t even know where “newer” begins at this point.  I am trying to clear up the following questions first. 

1)  Brass length:  I just purchased the Lyman 49th reloading handbook which states that case length was originally a maximum of 2.129 but since “has been established at 2.085″ in length”.  I assume Lyman has it right but I have run across some conflicting posts.

2)  Bore:  I’ve come across posts stating the Legendary Frontiersmen bore dimensions of generally between .379 and .380.  Looking for anyone else with first hand knowledge.  I read that I should slug the bore and I suppose I will after I learn the process and am confident I can do it without damaging the rifle.  I have also read that I can start with a smaller diameter bullet and work my way up using accuracy as one measurement of correctness.  From what I have gathered, I am guessing either a .380 or a .381 cast will probably be the appropriate diameter.  I may have jumped the gun and bought some .381 cast, .377 jacketed, and 50 ct 2.082 Starline brass but it will be awhile before I get around to reloading when a friend is available to get me started.  Also, not knowing the bore size, wondering if I should start  with .380 cast.

3)  Legendary Frontiersmen:  Rate of twist:  My gun is unfired and flawless in appearance, fit and finish.  It’s not too overdone in my opinion.  So, it came with the box and some paperwork and has a hang tag attached to the lever with Legendary Frontiersmen, Winchester logo, man on horse on one side and specs on other side.  The specs on this tag states the rate of twist is one turn in 18“.  From what I read, I was expecting 1:15.  I wonder if this could be a typo?

4)  Aquired some older ammo:  Just to note, a fellow at a local reloading shop sold me two boxes of Imperial 255 GR, 1600 FPS cartridges (I gave him $30 ea). A nice older fellow (slightly older than myself) and he didn’t even seem familiar with the 38-55 but went back into his storage room and dug them up along with some brass.  Sticker says made by C-I-L Ammunition, Plattsburgh, NY.  They have little spot corrosion but not bad.  They appear correct to box.  Quick check seems to date them to 60s or 70s.  I probably won’t shoot them any time soon or at all depending on what I learn about them.

Anybody who can help me learn, thank you.  Sorry for the lengthy post.  Don 

September 21, 2018
9:05 pm
SO. Oregon
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Forum Posts: 662
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June 5, 2015
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It sounds like you are a novice, and there is nothing wrong with that, we all were at one time. Use factory ammo until you find a trusted mentor in reloading.

Here a review and information on your Win 94 …  https://www.chuckhawks.com/win_94_legendary_,frontiersmen.html

Your 94 is a great gun, totally modern and designed to shoot any modern 38-55 ammunition. Any up to date reloading manual will give info needed to reload the cartridge. The problem is the individual person’s ability to do so accurate and safely.

Just buy and use factory ammo. Save brass and learn to reload, starting with light loads and grow. Have fun. I used to reload but lost time and space to do so years ago and have never restarted since I now use rimfires .

Southern Oregon
NRA member
Fraternal Order of Eagles

 “There is but one answer to be made to the dynamite bomb and that can best be made by the Winchester rifle.”

Teddy Roosevelt 


September 21, 2018
10:30 pm
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March 24, 2018
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Vince said
It sounds like you are a novice, and there is nothing wrong with that, we all were at one time. Use factory ammo until you find a trusted mentor in reloading.

Vince, not too much offense taken, yes I am a novice to reloading.  I’m not a novice to firearms.  In my occupation for the last 30+ years I have done things lets just say as complicated as reloading.  I think I can pick it up and I do have a trusted friend who is going to help.  However, I wonder that possibly even an experienced reloader might have difficulty if not familiar with the 38-55.  My questions still stand..Don

September 21, 2018
10:42 pm
Northern edge of the D/FW Metromess
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November 7, 2015
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I feel quite certain your LF has a .380 bore and will likely shoot best with a .381 bullet if you choose to shoot lead in your rifle. The velocities most commonly attained with this cartridge don’t require a gas check but a gas check sometimes offers better accuracy. The problem I’ve encountered is that many gas checks are made with a .375-.377 bore in mind and the checks may need to be annealed to stay on the bullet base when sized to .381. Be very careful with the finish in the receiver, I somehow spotted the (anodized?) finish while firing black powder loads in my rifle. 

I don’t know the twist rate but I really liked the LF I had for awhile. Beautiful rifle but IIRC correctly the twist rate was different from vintage 38-55’s for some reason. I’m not familiar with the Imperial ammo but tend to avoid factory rifle ammo as a rule, especially ones I’m not familiar with. They’re probably fine, just proceed carefully. 

The case length debate is addressed in a link I’ll try to post below. You may have already read this article but if not it has some good info whether you agree with his conclusion or not. The 38-55 is an ongoing project for me; I’m no expert but happy to share what I’ve learned.

Good luck!





Life Member TSRA, Endowment Member NRA
BBHC Member, TGCA Member
Smokeless powder is a passing fad! -Steve Garbe
I hate rude behavior in a man. I won't tolerate it. -Woodrow F. Call, Lonesome Dove
Some of my favorite recipes start out with a handful of depleted counterbalance devices.-TXGunNut
Presbyopia be damned, I'm going to shoot this thing! -TXGunNut
December 8, 2018
4:29 pm
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June 11, 2014
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I’ve done a lot of reloading for a lot of different 38-55’s. It is always handy to know the groove diameter. To do that, I’d hammer a soft piece of lead (fish sinker) through the bore with a plastic hammer and a length of wooden Dowling. (Use a short piece of Dowling for the first six inches or so to avoid whaling away at the end of a 2 foot Dowling bouncing around.) Once you have your groove diameter, you are ready for some cast bullets. If you are buying those cast bullets, they will be hard cast, so you should go .001″ larger than whatever your bore slugs at. If you are casting your own from pure wheel weights and letting them air cool, then you can be under by a thou or two and they will still bump up to seal the bore. However, I would still prefer bullets that are the same as your groove diameter or one thou over.

I get my moulds from Accurate Moulds and they will custom size them for you at no extra cost. That way, you know the mould will not be dropping undersized bullets.

December 8, 2018
10:43 pm
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March 31, 2009
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Since 38-55 is hard to find right now and when you do find it $40 a box is about normal.  Be very careful with someone else’s reloads.  Even if you check the charge weight you still don’t know what powder. If I buy reloads I dump out the powder, check the bullet diameter and then put in the powder the loading manual says to use for the type of bullet.  Most any new or once fired brass will work to start.  The brass and primers were not the best before, lets say 1950.  Like 38-55 said, slug the barrel.  He is right on about the plus 0.001″ when shooting lead.  Since this is a modern gun jacketed bullets should be no problem.  A local gunsmith might give you a couple of lead balls to push through the barrel or do it for you.  If you have to, there is other brass that can be used too.  Off the top of my head they are the 30-30, 32-40 and the 32 Win Spl.  One of these is about the correct length and the other two will be a little short, or vise versa, but will work. 


Slug the barrel.

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