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Thread: Need some 38/40 reloading advice please...

  1. #1
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    lathesmith's Avatar
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    Need some 38/40 reloading advice please...

    Hello all, I have a local friend that wants to load some stuff for his original 38/40 Winchester. I am assuming it's an 1873. He was wanting a little advice on this. My experience with this caliber,and especially with original leverguns, is limited, so I thought I'd turn to you guys on the forum here that have had some experience with loading for these leverguns. So, what we'd like to know:

    1) Brass--it looks like our best option is Star Line, any suggestions on the best/easiest place to order this?
    2) Is it safe and/or wise to use smokeless loads in an original 1873? If so, what are some of your favorite loads?
    3) What are some of your favorite boolits for this caliber? Will some of the stuff out there for the 40 auto's work OK in these leverguns?

    Any other help or advice would be appreciated. I don't really like to re-invent the wheel, when others have already done it.

    Thanks,
    lathesmith

  2. #2
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    Chris,

    The best place to buy Starline brass is directly from Starline, on their website. The prices listed include shipping.

    You'll need to slug the barrel on the rifle, since they varied. After slugging, then you'll know what size bullets are going to work best. If the barrel slugs out at .400", then you can use bullets intended for .40 S&W and 10mm.

    If you call or e-mail Accurate Powders, they may have some data for the .38-40 using AA-5744. They have data that they don't publish and are pretty good about providing it.

    Hope this helps.

    Fred

  3. #3
    Boolit Master
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    I shoot the 38-40 in CAS. There are a few tricks.

    I cannot answer you first hand about using smokeless powder in an original gun. However, most of the people in the gun magazines recommend NOT doing that. Duke V. has had pictures of several blown up original guns in his articles that were using "light" loads of smokeless powder. I have one original gun, an 1867 Remington Rolling-Block and I will ONLY use black powder in it. What you do is up to you.

    There are some other things. The 1873 clone I have for CAS is VERY picky about the overall length of the cartridge. Anything longer than what is what is listed (1.592" from memory) will not feed. Anything that is more than about 0.010" shorter will not feed. Both will jam, but in different ways.

    Another thing is that even Starline brass has a thin neck. It is not strong enough to hold the bullet regardless of how it is sized. If used in a tube magazine, you must roll-crimp the bullet or it will push down in the case, usually after 3 to 5 shots. The usual bullet moulds (like the Lyman/Ideal 401043) do NOT have a crimping groove. Trying to crimp it in one of the lube grooves gives the wrong length so it won't feed. Others (like the 401452) have crimping grooves, but were never made for the 38-40 and are no where near the correct length for it (although the work great in a handgun). The moulds I have seen for the .40S&W do not have crimping grooves at all.

    There are very few bullets for the 38-40 that have a crimp groove in the correct place for an 1873 type rifle. I use the Magma bullet that is available from several casters. Keep in mind that if you decide to use black powder in the cartridge, the Lyman 401043 will work great. Just use enough so that the bullet compresses the powder so the bullet cannot set back during recoil.

    You need a heavy crimp on the bullet for several reasons (not just the above). It is best to get the Lee Factory Crimp Die for the 38-40. When seating the bullet, adjust the dies so that they just straighten out the flare, without crimping it. Then run it through the FCD to get a heavy crimp.

    If you are using it in only one firearm, you probably won't have a problem with the sizing die. If more than one, you might have problems. The dies and the chamber often have different length necks. This can lead to tight chambering in some guns. In order to get one size to fit all, I had to shorten the sizing die about 1/16". Use as little case lube as possible. It is easy to get dimples from excess lube in the case transition. These are unsightly, but don't prevent it from being used.

    Other than that, it is great, much better than the 44-40's I have.

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by lathesmith View Post
    Hello all, I have a local friend that wants to load some stuff for his original 38/40 Winchester. I am assuming it's an 1873. He was wanting a little advice on this. My experience with this caliber,and especially with original leverguns, is limited, so I thought I'd turn to you guys on the forum here that have had some experience with loading for these leverguns. So, what we'd like to know:

    1) Brass--it looks like our best option is Star Line, any suggestions on the best/easiest place to order this?
    2) Is it safe and/or wise to use smokeless loads in an original 1873? If so, what are some of your favorite loads?
    3) What are some of your favorite boolits for this caliber? Will some of the stuff out there for the 40 auto's work OK in these leverguns?

    Any other help or advice would be appreciated. I don't really like to re-invent the wheel, when others have already done it.

    Thanks,
    lathesmith

    lathesmith,


    Here is a very good and informative thread for you on 'MarlinOwners' which will answer most if not all your questions on handloading the .38-40 Winchester round in vintage rifles....

    http://www.marlinowners.com/forum/32...questions.html

    If you select a smokeless powder you must reload to original blackpowder speeds. Ken Waters has a fine selection of loads. The diameter of your cast bullet will depend upon the slugged diameter of your rifle's barrel. It should be fired one or two thousandths overbore. The hardness of the alloy will depend upon your use for the bullet i.e. for hunting or target use. Probably one of the biggest problems you will encounter in a rifle manufactured in the pre-smokeless era is that it's groove diameter will far exceed it's land diameter and you may have trouble finding a bullet which will both seal the bore as well as being able to be chambered. These are the problems associated with smokeless loads. It matters not with blackpowder and a soft bullet alloy of perhaps 5 BHN, for the bullet will obturate to fit the bore. Unfortunately smokeless doesn't do this.

    have fun.

  5. #5
    Boolit Master
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    excellent post harry-o.
    those are pretty much my findings also, right down to the mold.
    treat the round like a small rifle case,and be careful of the necks going into the dies as they will crumple if they touch anything.
    i also had to watch where the gun put the shoulder versus where the dies put the shoulder quite often they disagree on where it goes.
    it's all an educated guess,,,, till the trigger is pulled.

    this opinion brought to you by mister low-tech solution..

  6. #6
    Boolit Master
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    Also, it may behoove you to get a custom cut sizing die that returns the fired case to the proper neck dimensions. Dave Scovill did a piece a while back showing the new case shape vs. the fired case. The neck is way short after firing, and neck tension suffers accordingly.

  7. #7
    Boolit Master w30wcf's Avatar
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    Lathesmith,
    Very good advice from our fellow enthusiasts. I will differ on one point though .....smokeless 38-40 factory ammunition was first available in late 1894 and the boxes specifically indicated for the 1873 Winchester.

    So, if Winchester offered smokeless cartridges for their 1873, then smokeless can be used .......BUT ONLY TO BLACK POWDER PRESSURE or 14,000 C.U.P. MAXIMUM.

    Rifles that have come apart were loaded with ammunition that far exceeded that pressure limit. Current 38-40 smokeless ammunition has no warning about not using it in 1873 Winchesters only in arms in good condition.

    Alliant shows 13.0 / 2400 / 1,303 f.p.s. / 13,400 CUP with a 180 gr bullet using Remington 2 1/2 primers in Remington brass. That pretty much replicates the original b.p. loading.

    Buffalo Arms offers 38-40 b.p. ammunition at a reasonable price.
    http://www.buffaloarms.com/38_WCF_Bl....aspx?CAT=4438

    They use the historic two lube groove 401043 bullet in it
    http://www.buffaloarms.com/Detail.as...57160&CAT=4136

    They carry Winchester 38-40 brass
    http://www.buffaloarms.com/38_40_Win....aspx?CAT=3837

    Montana Bullet Works offers a variety of 38-40 bullets. As has been mentioned, choose those with a crimping groove for smokeless.
    http://www.montanabulletworks.com/38_40.html

    w30wcf
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  8. #8
    Boolit Master

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    I don't have an ariginal 38-40, rather Ruger Vaquero chambered in 38-40 and .40 S&W. I generally load for low pressure smokeless loads and intend to ruin some BP. When I first acquired the gun, I did some Internet reading and found numerous articles on this grand cartridge.

    I bought Starline brass and treat it like any other bottle-necked case by taking care not to use too much case lube when sizing. When loaded with a full case of BP, the boolit won't get pushed back into the case and boolits were crimped forward of the ogive To keep them in place. Obviously, when crimping forward of the ogive without a full case of powder the boolit can get pushed into the case, especially when loaded in a tubular magazine.

    I load my rounds with the Lee 401-175 TC which has no crimp groove. I seat and crimp the boolit in the 38-40 no diffently than I do for the 40 S&W and haven't had any boolits jump their crimp. I don't have a lever gun in this cartridge but I do for .41 mag which I seat and crimp the same using neck tension and enough crimp to remove the bell.

    I would love a lever gun in this cartridge but I'd really love a 38-40 barrel for my H&R 1871 Classic Carbine which is chambered in .45 Colt. Since I couldn't get a 38-40 barrel for the carbine I ended up getting a Vaquero in .45 Colt. I'd still like a carbine barrel for the 38-40 just because of the cool factor. Frank

  9. #9
    Boolit Master
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    I have reloaded for two different original Winchester Model 1873's that I have had in 38 WCF (38-40) caliber. The bullet I have used is from the RCBS 40-180-CM mould. It is a plain base bullet and, in the two '73's I have used it in, I was able to crimp the bullet in its crimping groove and have no feeding problems.

    For loads, I mostly used 13.5 grains of 2400, which gave a muzzle velocity of 1,300 fps

    I also used 17.5 grains of IMR SR4759 which filled the case a little better and gave a velocity of 1,313 fps.

    Both these loads were accurate out of a fairly worn and pitted bore. They are perfectly safe in an original '73. Mike Venturino really doesn't like smokeless in original '73's but a proper smokeless load using medium speed powders and original ballistics is even safer than black powder as it produces a lower peak pressure. Where the danger lies is in using safe loads of fast powder and accidentally putting in too much fast powder. That is why I like to use medium speed powders so that if a double charge gets in there, it is more noticeable and slight errors in measurement do not produce such dramatic differences in pressure and velocity.

  10. #10
    Kirk,

    I have also enjoyed good results with the R.C.B.S. mould 40-180-CM in my Marlin Model '94. Because my Marlin is of 1906 manufacture it's groove diameter is fortunately a sensible .427" and so it has been possible to shoot bullets sized to .429" (I have this sizer at hand for a .44 Mag.) with accurate results. Two questions , if I may. What has been the groove diameter of your pre-smokeless '73's? And are you filling your cases above the powder with shot buffer? I apologise if you've gone through this before. I get confused with all these postings !!

    thanks.

  11. #11
    Boolit Master
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    Smithywess, I did not slug either, but I sized the bullets to .401 and they worked well (i.e., five shot groups less than four inches at 100 yards from a well worn and pitted bore. I don't expect better than that unless I used some sort of poly shot buffer. In my case, however, I did not use any ..... just powder.

  12. #12
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    The Lyman reloading manuals show about 12 different smokeless powders that are under 14000 cup with the one cast bullet they have which is 401043.

    I have been shooting these from my 73 but with a TC boolit for my 10mm, no crimp groove but the Lee crimp die will keep them from moving back.

  13. #13
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    Thanks for all the great info and links guys, all this info is a real time-saver and I really appreciate it. My friend's main goal is just to get some mild, decent-shooting loads to get his old rifle back in action again, definitely NO plans on hot-rodding or any kind of foolishness like that. Thanks again!

    lathesmith

  14. #14
    Boolit Master
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    I have loaded 38-40 with Unique and alliants latest recommendation of around 7 grains for a buddies original Winchester 73 rifle with winchester factory 180 jacketed bullets that have a crimping groove. Works fine and feeds perfect. Little soot on the cases so they appear to be expanding with enough pressure, feels like shooting an overgrown 22 with very little recoil. Looks like the manufactures have settled on a SAMMI spec. for this old round. I am using about 6 grains of 700X out of my 1908 Colt bisley with a 4 3/4 barrel and the Lyman cast bullet of about 175 grains with wheel weight alloy dropped in water. Sure wish this mold had a crimpng groove for the winchester and Colt lightning rifles. As of now I can only put one or two cartridges in the magazine without the bullets being pushed deeper.

  15. #15
    Boolit Master
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    lathesmith,
    Do an archive search for KirkD's write up on loading and shooting the 38-40. Excellent, well written- it should be a sticky.
    Trust but verify the honeyguide

  16. #16
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    Good morning
    If you do not mind segregating brass to a certain rifle brass can be shortened to match up to a grease groove to use that as your crimping point. Depends where that grease groove is of course but if you do not have to remove too much that is a solution I have used. Latest is in my 50-95 using a 350 grainer. It was either crimp on the nose and have a single shot 1876 (repro) or shorten the brass and crimp in the first top groove.
    I enjoy the best accuracy that 3F gives.. but not the price of 79 grains of powder every trigger squeeze. 33 grains of 5744 gives just 1 inch larger groups at 100 yards and makes for triple the practice at the same cost. Plus I have 7 pounds of 5744 and only a half pound of 3F left.
    Mike in ILL
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  17. #17
    Boolit Master RobsTV's Avatar
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    You owe it to the original 38-40 to use real black powder. It was designed for it. Part of the joy of shooting an original is to see it shoot the way it would have shot 135 years ago, with all the smoke and great BP smell that goes along with it, and that just right "crack" sound when you have everything dialed in correctly.

    You will not harm the 1873 if you use BP. A case full of Goex 3F (use drop tube) with just enough room for the bullet to very slightly compress the powder seems to work optimum here. With BP, you do not want any air space in the cartridge, so loading it the way it was designed is easy with BP. No guess work required. These Chrono at 1440fps.

    Firm crimp (LFCD) is needed in crimp groove as many of these seat slightly into the lands, and if you wish to unload, the boolit will stay lodged, with the case coming out, and powder going everywhere. This touching lands also makes the boolits shoot like there were riding on a laser guided rail. My eyes can't see the holes at 50 yards, but hearing the spotter say Bullseye (1") every time is amazing, and the 1873 Winchester 38-40 is my only iron sighted gun I can say that about.

    Starline brass works fine.

    Also use soft boolits. The Missouri bullets designed for it are even too hard, but they work. Supposed to be 12 BHN, but measured 14.3 BHN. If you do go this route, make sure you melt off the lube, and replace with proper BP lube.

    The Goex Black Dawge Bullets work real well, measure 10.7 BHN, and have the proper BP lube already in place.

    Using smokeless powder in an original 1873 is like taking your brand new $80,000 sports car straight into an old drive through car wash that uses bristle brushes. Yes it works, but does it deserve to be treated like that?
    Last edited by RobsTV; 10-05-2012 at 10:53 AM.

  18. #18
    Boolit Master
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    Loading 38-40

    Loading for a 73 for some time now. Using Lyman 401043 which is supposed to be the original style bullet poses a well known problem. No crimp groove where it ought to be....well the bullet was designed to be seated over a casefull of BP so it would not telescope. With smokeless it will/does. I started using the Lee F crimp die and although it worked it was hard on the already fragile case neck and mouths. Not so good! In an attempt to get around the problem I decided to shorten the cases by trimming them back so that the (roll) crimp could be placed behind the first band. The OAL was then correct for proper feeding. The difference in length did not make a discernible difference in pressure or accuracy. LLS

  19. #19
    Hey there !
    I know it's an old thread but I need some advice. I have 180 grains cast bullets and have IMR700X powder so I'd be happy to get some feedback on the loads to use. I've got a 1907 Colt SAA with a 4 3/4 inch barrel....
    Thanks people !!

  20. #20
    Boolit Master
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    Blacksheep, my 1908 Colt is a Bisley with a 4 3/4 barrel. The 700X load I use for cowboy action is 5.0 grains. and its the starting load, the max. from Lyman's 49th is 5.7 and its for lyman's 401043 which cast's pretty close to 175 grains with WW alloy. The max load of 8.7 grains Unique shoots really close to the sights as it gives 975 FPS out of a 7 1/2 barrel and should easily give 900 out of the shorter barrel and be very close to the blackpowder velocity. I don't believe I am sizing my bullets and they still chamber.

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Abbreviations used in Reloading

BP Bronze Point IMR Improved Military Rifle PTD Pointed
BR Bench Rest M Magnum RN Round Nose
BT Boat Tail PL Power-Lokt SP Soft Point
C Compressed Charge PR Primer SPCL Soft Point "Core-Lokt"
HP Hollow Point PSPCL Pointed Soft Point "Core Lokt" C.O.L. Cartridge Overall Length
PSP Pointed Soft Point Spz Spitzer Point SBT Spitzer Boat Tail
LRN Lead Round Nose LWC Lead Wad Cutter LSWC Lead Semi Wad Cutter
GC Gas Check