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Thread: Need help with my "new" 1894 38-55

  1. #1

    Need help with my "new" 1894 38-55

    Hi everyone. Been a while since I last visited this site. I've got several old Winchesters and have managed to get good accuracy out of most of them but my latest addition is giving me some problems. It's an 1894 in 38-55 that was manufactured in 1899 (serial no. 66XXX). Good overall original condition. The bore is decent but is dark and has some minor pitting. My first attempt at shooting it was disappointing with all bullets tumbling. The bullets were Hunters Supply 260g FP (.379 diameter) over light charges of trail boss and unique. Putting some H4895 under them resulting in most bullets going straight but not with great accuracy (about a 3 inch group at 25 yards). At that point, I slugged the bore and found it to be .3800". Figured that the gun wanted some larger bullets so I got my hands on some Hunter Supply 260g FP (.381 diameter). According to my calipers they actually measured .3800. These bullets did show some improvement in accuracy with H4895 producing 1 1/2 inch groups at 25 yards when shot at about 1,000 fps. Problem is they can only be chambered with some serious effort to get the action closed. One round would not chamber at all. Seems that the chamber may not be large enough to handle the bullets the bore needs. I am using new Starline 2.125" brass. Any thoughts on what I should do to get the old girl to shoot. A different powder? Softer lead? Jacketed bullets? This is a new issue for me and any advise would be appreciated. Thanks.
    Last edited by Criiter3030; 04-01-2019 at 07:50 PM.

  2. #2
    Boolit Master
    Join Date
    Sep 2006
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    I've had quite a few original 38-55's that slug at anywhere between .380 to .384. I just use soft cast, plain base bullets made from pure clip-on wheel weights and air cooled, over medium speed powders like 5744. They bump up just fine and give me around 2 & 3/4", five-shot groups at 100 yards. Chances are, the cast bullets you are buying are not soft cast, but hard cast. They don't seem to do well. I've tried a few hard cast bullets in one or two of my 38-55's and they don't work well at all. Soft cast, plain base, is the way to go.

  3. #3
    Boolit Grand Master



    missionary5155's Avatar
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    Good evening
    With a 1000 fps velocity you could easily load with range scrap. I would also consider sizing to .382. You just may have a fat lead area made that way for BP loads. A pound cast will show you for sure.
    If that rifle were in our house I would load up 5 rounds with 3F and see just what that barrel will do. Those old BP barrels were designed to shoot BP and will usually do a great job.
    Then you will know what it will do and give you a good run trying to beat it with smokeless. This is the first thing we do with all our old BP cartridge rifles and have never been disappointed. This is how we broke in our repro 1876 in 50-95 and still have not found a smokeless load that is better. 5744 comes real close but 3F rules.
    "Come unto Me, all you who labor and are heavy burdened, and I will give you rest." Matthew 11:28
    Male Guanaco out in dry lakebed at 10,800 feet south of Arequipa.

  4. #4
    Boolit Master FergusonTO35's Avatar
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    I would try range scrap, I bet they will bump up just fine. All my boolits are made out of it and I have pushed them to 2000 fps in .30 WCF with no problems. Use a soft lube too, hard lube isn't going to do you any favors. If you have access to the late great IMR SR4759, it works great with blackpowder level loads. I think it helps boolits bump up more too.
    Currently casting and loading: .32 Auto, .380 Auto, .38 Special, 9X19, .357 Magnum, .257 Roberts, .30 WCF, .45-70 Gov't.

  5. #5
    Thanks for the great replies. Based on your recommendations I ordered up some 260 g soft cast, flat based bullets (.380 dia) from Desperado Cowboy Bullets. Can't wait to give em a try. Do you have any powder recommendations for these bullets.

  6. #6
    Latest results with the gun were very good. Got some 260g RNFP bullets from Desperado Cowboy Bullets. The gun does like these bullets. My calipers say that they are .378 diameter, not .380, but they must bump enough to work. Only tried Unique powder today and had good results with 8 to 10 grains. Best was a 2.25 inch 5-shot group at 50 yards. OK, I know that may not impress anyone but with an original winchester blade front and buckhorn rear sight I don't know that I'm capable of doing any better. All 5 were even in the 2 inch diameter bullseye which was nice to see. Velocity was 1,251 with the 10 grain load. Anyway, after a rough start, I'm now very happy with the gun. Thanks to those who provided help.

  7. #7
    Boolit Mold
    Join Date
    Jan 2015
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    You write "can only be chambered with some serious effort to get the action close"
    Try case shorter.

  8. #8
    Boolit Master
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    Sounds like your 94 has a tight chamber just like my first year production 1885. Do your fired cases have a ring on them about .20" down from the case mouth? That is were my chamber measures what a round should at the same point. The ring is caused by the case scrubbing the chamber wall at the tight spot.

  9. #9
    Boolit Master

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    Several years ago a customer wanted to shoot larger bullets in his 38-55 but do to chamber dimensions he could not go .382 so I bought a neck and throat reamer to open up the neck a little. Works fine.

  10. #10
    Boolit Master northmn's Avatar
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    Are you sure the long brass is not an issue. While many swear by it I also see where many trim it down a little. Like to 2.10 or so. I have always favored faster powders for cast and 4895 is too slow. Re 7, 4198 and Unique are pretty standard 38-55 powders. Many like 9-10 grains of Unique in the old ones. Softer bullets will slug using those powders.

    DEP

  11. #11
    Thanks for everyone's input. Here's the latest development. I tried some Trail Boss with the soft cast bullets from Desperado Bullet Co. I had tried Trail Boss previously with hard cast bullets and every shot keyholed. Apparently trail boss is able to bump these soft cast bullets up to fill the bore as 6g of TB consistently shots 5 shot groups at 50 yards of about 1.25 inches. This is by far the best I've been able to do with the gun so far. The gun does better with 6g of TB than with 7g loads. Had some luck with 10g of Unique but most groups were around 2 inches. Considering that the gun has the original sights I'm quite happy with these results. My old eyes can only do so much with the buckhorn sights. Not thrilled with being stuck at 830 FPS though. I'd like to try some 5744 but dang that stuffs expensive. Think it's worth a try to get accuracy with some more speed?
    Last edited by Criiter3030; 04-15-2019 at 10:47 PM.

  12. #12
    Boolit Grand Master Texas by God's Avatar
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    That's a lot of Trail Boss. I'm sure you meant to say grains instead of ounces! Give Unique a try and see what you think. It's supposedly boots a bullet in the butt similar to fffg.

    Sent from my SAMSUNG-SM-G930A using Tapatalk

  13. #13
    Boolit Buddy

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    All sage advice
    Semper Fidelis, to God, Country and Corps!

  14. #14
    Thanks for catching my error there Tex. Definitely don't want to see anyone trying to squeeze 7 ounces of Trail Boss into a 38-55 case!
    Brain F**t on my part. BTW I did try Unique with mediocre results.

  15. #15
    Boolit Grand Master Texas by God's Avatar
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    Yeah I saw that about Unique after I posted so cranial emissions are rampant today.....for velocity you're going to have to go to something like Re7, 4198, or 3031 I suspect.

    Sent from my SAMSUNG-SM-G930A using Tapatalk

  16. #16
    Boolit Master
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    I get great accuracy and fast enough speed (for me) speed with 4227/dacron in mine, but I don't need to slug up the boolits. I don't shoot esp soft- coww+ sn. Softer might slug. I shoot 16 or 17 gr 4227, for 1350 ish fps. Can't remember which I settled on. I shot 4198 and got great accuracy too, but a little faster.

  17. #17
    Boolit Master northmn's Avatar
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    I have pushed the 38-55 to 1650 with Reloader 7 and a bullet that drops at 288 grains total weight with GC. To prevent leading I also treat with Lee Liquid Alox for a total coating and fill the lube grooves with other lube as well. It is a hunting load so I do not shoot it a lot. I also have loaded a Lee 38-55 bullet out to about 1500 with 4198. All chronographed. Although I prefer the non GC a little slower. My bullets fit the bore. Many like 9-10 grains of Unique so if 10 did not work try 9 grains.

    AS I cast my own and control my alloys I cannot say what works with store bought.

    DEP

  18. #18
    The gun continues to shoot great with the wimpy trail boss load. I've got a couple other 1894s that I've up worked hunting loads for so I don't really need to push this old girl too hard. It drives me crazy to own a gun that isn't accurate. My goal is always to get good accuracy out of my old guns with knockdown power as a nice bonus if I can get it. I've got this one shooting consistent groups of about 1.25" at 50 yards (5 shots). I'm thrilled. The gun was sold as having a "dark and heavily pitted bore with rifling present". They were right - it was ugly when I got it. It cleaned up beautifully. Since then I've gone from bullets going sideways through the target at 25 yards to shooting groups as tight as my eyes can aim. Never give up on these old guns. Seems there's always recipe that makes em shoot.

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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