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Thread: .38 S&W is prudent gunsmith’s choice to restore antique rook rifles.

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    Boolit Grand Master Outpost75's Avatar
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    .38 S&W is prudent gunsmith’s choice to restore antique rook rifles.

    A condensation of Ed Harris article from The Fouling Shot - cross-posted by permission:

    The attraction of the British "Rook Rifle" concept is that medium-bore cartridges, similar to black powder revolver cartridges, when fired from a rifle, are quiet. They make little more noise than standard velocity .22 LR, but they hit harder than a .22, making them more useful for dispatching larger small game animals or farm varmints such as coyotes or groundhogs.

    Attachment 234129Attachment 234130Attachment 234131

    The small powder capacity of the similar .38 S&W cartridge is an advantage for this purpose. Powder positioning is not an issue affecting ballistic uniformity, which it can be in the longer .38 Special case. New .38 S&W brass and factory ammunition are readily available. No factory +P or jacketed loads are produced in this caliber, so the .38 S&W is the prudent gunsmith’s choice to safely restore black powder action rook rifles to service. It is also historically appropriate, because it dates from the same era as the long-obsolete .380 Rook and .360 No. 5 British rook rifle rounds we would use it to replace.

    There is a very modest velocity gain when the .38 S&W cartridge is fired from a rifle, but its potential for producing a supersonic, “cracking loud” report is very limited. This is because the expansion ratio of a longer rifle barrel exceeds the limitations of its tiny powder charge for adiabatic expansion. The result is that standard-pressure, smokeless .38 S&W revolver loads, at less than 14,000 psi, using fast-burning powders like Bullseye, produce ballistics from a rifle very much like the .38 Special fired from a 6-inch target revolver. I say, that is just right for "rural-agricultural" and "suburban pot shooting."

    A wide-flat-nose or wadcutter at subsonic velocity performs on of proportion to its kinetic energy. A .38 Special wadcutter deposits about the same energy into a 20cm gelatin block before exiting that .45 ACP hardball does. Modern .38 S&W hand loads assembled with large meplat 190-grain cast bullets with about 2 grains of Bullseye or TiteGroup do likewise. No expansion occurs at these velocities, but the straight-through penetration is simply astounding. In the 1880s the .380 Rook and .360 No. 5 were used for culling "park deer" and if pressed to shooting coyotes and such the .38 beats any .22 rimfire in spades!

    I had no interest in trying to see how "powerful" a load I can assemble for my .38 S&W Rook Rifle. I have a .357 rifle which scratches that itch. The objective from the beginning was to enjoy a mild, small capacity cartridge producing ballistics almost like a large-caliber air rifle, exploiting a heavy, blunt, slow bullet, ideally "silent without suppressor" at 600-700 fps and under NO cirsumstances over 900 fps, which would produce low noise, while being hard hitting, equal to full-charge .38 Special from a 6-inch revolver and accurate out to 50 yards.

    In particular, I wanted to explore the possibility of using as heavy a bullet as could be launched at the lowest velocity which would reliably exit the barrel, which we found to be about 600 fps with soft lead, 190-grain FN bullet from the rifle and 500 fps from a 5" S&W Victory revolver.


    A 1:10" twist 9mm barrel ensures adequate gyroscopic stability with 190-gr. bullets at <700 fps.
    In previous extensive testing of a .38 Special barrel to fit this action, having a 1:20" twist, I found it very accurate with standard pressure as well as +P 110-158-grain revolver loads. Heavier bullets over 180-grains had to be driven about 1050 +/- 30 fps to be accurate and stable, resulting in a LOUDER gun, which I DIDN'T want, if the obective was to dispatch both small furry and hooved edible critters in the garden, without disturbing the neighbors.

    Attachment 234135

    The “object of my desire” was a handy, short rifle, less than 36” long, less than 5 pounds. The result is both stealthy-quiet and "hard-enough" hitting. John Taylor turned down and fitted a Green Mountain "Gunsmith Special" 9mm barrel and chambered it with a Manson .38 S&W "Rook Rifle" reamer having a 3 degrees Basic forcing cone of .363" major diameter at the case mouth. It engraves the noses of either the 36-187H or 36-190T Accurate bullets upon chambering, just like Eley Tenex chambered a Winchester 52.

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    While it is true that firing a heavy, "fat" .362 lead bullet raises pressure a bit when being squeezed down into a 9mm barrel, the resultant pressure-rise is well within the design limits of our “Infamous Bunny Gun.”

    Other barrels I have for it chambered in .38 Special +P and .45 ACP operate nicely at 20,000 psi or so. Testing of .38 S&W heavy-bullet loads has substantiated that normal revolver loads squirting soft lead .38 S&W slugs down a 9mm barrel are mild, extract easily and are accurate. The Manson .38 S&W Rook Rifle reamer provides a gradual forcing cone into the origin of rifling, and has proven highly satisfactory with both factory .38 S&W ammo and standard-pressure, heavy-bullet handloads. Fired cases are lightly smoked, primers are round, and a clean burn indicates efficient use of the tiny 2-grain powder charge. Charges which have proven safe and accurate in the rook rifle, S&W Victory Model and S&W Model 32-1 Terrier are 2 grains of TiteGroup or Bullseye with either Accurate 36-187H or 190T bullets or 2.5 grains of Bullseye, WST, or 452AA with the 36-151H, 36-155D or 36-159H.

    Factory .38 S&W 146-grain LRN gives 850-900 fps in a 20-inch rifle vs. 650-700 in a 5" revolver.


    My "Lettuce Protector" was built on a pre-war H&R .44/12mm shotgun frame. These are a simple rebounding-hammer break-open design, without transfer bar, made from the 1890s until just before WW2. Before 1900 these guns were chambered for the .44 Game Getter (.44-40) shot cartridge. Guns produced after WW1 are marked either .44/12mm or .44/.410, being chambered for the Eley Two-Inch cartridge. It is common for these old guns to be found, having been rechambered for American 2-1/2" or 3" shells.

    My Bunny Gun pictured is 34-1/2 inches long and weighs 4-1/2 pounds. I have found it best to utilize an "optimum trajectory" in which the maximum bullet rise over its 100 yard useful trajectory does not exceed about 3 inches. I take a 6:00 hold on a typical small game animal until the front sight bead about covers the critter, and then if it does, I just blot him out and shoot.

    With the .38 S&W cartridge this works out to a 75 yard zero and a 90-yard "point blank" range, at which the path of the trajectory drops about 3" below line of sight. The maximum useful range where rifle velocity decays to about the same level as a revolver near the muzzle is 150 yards, with 36 inches of drop, about the height of an Army E silhouette if you must discourage or repel marauding, Wild Indians, Sasquatch, or Zombies invading your garden vegetable patch. Please don't shoot The Moth Man, as latest intel here says he's really a CIA Black op, but is supposed to be "friendly."

    Ten-shot groups with .38 S&W factory loads and simple open sights average 3" at 50 yards, and 6" at 100 yards. This is about the same as I do with an open-sighted lever-action cowboy rifle firing .38 Specials. Entirely adequate for making "gong music" on the steel targets and scaring Mr.Wabbit.

    Attachment 234132Attachment 234133Attachment 234134

    The lightest charge I can measure, 1.7 grs. of Bullseye using RCBS Little Dandy Rotor #00, with Accurate 36-190T exits the 20 inch barrel every time, at 600 fps, and from the 5" S&W Victory at 500. They are quiet enough to shoot without ear protection and hit 3" below the front sight at 50 yards, making 3" ten-shot groups. Raising the open sight elevator to the second elevator step centers the group at 50 yards. Using the third step and blotting out the 12" gong at 100 yards I ran ten straight hits, and again on the full sized “E” silhouette framing the shoulders with the front sight. The slow bullets whacking the steel targets make more noise than the gun going off!

    For those wanting to build their own "American Rook Rifle" which can also use factory loads and for which a companion revolver is affordable and readily available, the .38 S&W cartridge represents absolute “Cat Sneeze Perfection!”

    Attachment 234122
    Last edited by Outpost75; 01-17-2019 at 08:46 PM.
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  2. #2
    Boolit Buddy
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    Bravo! I have a S&W third model in this dandy little round, something like this would be a great companion.

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    Boolit Grand Master Outpost75's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ajjohns View Post
    Bravo! I have a S&W third model in this dandy little round, something like this would be a great companion.
    All it takes is money...

    But if you already have a donor .410 shotgun action, total cost is less than a new .38 Special lever-action Cowboy rifle.
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    Boolit Master
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    Thanks for posting, I love the little rifles! I think I may begin t he search for an original, again
    “You don’t practice until you get it right. You practice until you can’t get it wrong.” Jason Elam, All-Pro kicker, Denver Broncos

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    Boolit Grand Master Outpost75's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rking22 View Post
    Thanks for posting, I love the little rifles! I think I may begin t he search for an original, again
    Here are a few you can drool over, a Cogwell & Harrison .380 Rook, and an Army & Navy .320 relined to .32 S&W Long.

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    Boolit Master


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    Neat article. Just wondering...

    Why not do the rifle in .38 Spl and use a 1 in 10 twist barrel? I had a M52 S&W with a sleeved Douglas 1-10 barrel about 45 years ago and it shot very well...2 1/2 inch groups at 50 yards

    The .38 Spl would be an advantage for those who already load for it and have companion revolvers. The concern expressed "Powder positioning is not an issue affecting ballistic uniformity, which it can be in the longer .38 Special case." is rather silly when 2.7 gr target .38 Spl loads shoot so accurately.

    Again, good post on an interesting topic.
    Don Verna

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    Boolit Master
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    That's pretty cool. I expect the 38 S&W is close enough to the 360 Rook that the difference is meaningless in performance.

    I had my Jeffrey Champion relined then chambered to the 25-20 WCF. The rifle had a sewer pipe for a bore and had already been re-chambered to 25-20. The original 255 Jeffrey was significantly out of my comfort zone when everything was priced for a correct .251 liner, having 255 Jeffrey reamers ground and go/no go gauges. The 25-20 easily loads to 255 Jeffrey ballistics and with the new liner is a tack driver.

    The little rifles are a hoot!!! Just wish there was more rabbits around here.
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    Boolit Grand Master Outpost75's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dverna View Post
    Neat article. Just wondering...

    Why not do the rifle in .38 Spl and use a 1 in 10 twist barrel? I had a M52 S&W with a sleeved Douglas 1-10 barrel about 45 years ago and it shot very well...2 1/2 inch groups at 50 yards

    The .38 Spl would be an advantage for those who already load for it and have companion revolvers. The concern expressed "Powder positioning is not an issue affecting ballistic uniformity, which it can be in the longer .38 Special case." is rather silly when 2.7 gr target .38 Spl loads shoot so accurately.

    Again, good post on an interesting topic.
    The .38 Special case is too large to work efficiently with VERY small powder charges giving <700 fps in the rifle. Factory .38 Special wadcutters produce about 900 fps from a rifle barrel. To get to minimum bore exit ~600 fps the charge must then be reduced by about half. In the .38 Special you simply cannot get uniform velocities, with Sds <1% of sample mean below about 2.4 grains of Bullseye with a flush-wadcutter unless you position the charge base-tap before firing.

    I wanted the .38 S&W case to reduce free airspace. I also wanted to use a cartridge in which there were no jacketed or +P loads, so as to be suitable for older black powder actions to avoid inadvertent mistakes in ammo. I also wanted a cartridge case and brass which was easily obtained and for which both factory loads and empty brass were readily available.

    The .38 S&W presses all of those buttons.

    I already had a .38 Special barrel for this action. For the reasons explained I wanted a smaller case which did what I wanted and could do so with factory loads.

    Firing .38 wadcutter was close, but the common GM 1:20" barrel is not sub 2" much beyond 50 yards except with full-charge loads. Had I started on my .38 Special rifle with a 1:10" twist barrel it may have done what I wanted, but no such barrel was available to me at the time and there was still the excess free airspace issue. MUCH different situation exists in a pistol or revolver vs. longer rifle barrel, bore drag, avoiding bullet-in-bore malfunctions, etc.

    Agree that for most people a .38 Special with 10" twist barrel and .38 AMU type chamber set up for wadcutters may make more sense in a strong action where you don't have to worry about some Toff who is all mouth and no trousers, after you are gone putting a +P SD load into a black powder action. While my particular action is strong enough, antique Brit rook rifle actions are not. We used my rifle to prove initial concept, but having a well-known solution for restoring tiny antique BP rifles to service was the design intent and .38 S&W does it better, for the reasons stated.

    For me there is no problem in finding companion .38 S&W revolvers, other than making a choice, as I have as many of those as .38 Specials.

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    Last edited by Outpost75; 01-17-2019 at 06:11 PM.
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    Boolit Master Jack Stanley's Avatar
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    Thanks for the post , I really enjoyed it . Rifles like that are lots of fun to shoot . I had a H&R shotgun with the small firing pin chambered in .357 . Could have done .38 just as easy since I've never fired a .357 from it yet , lots of .38 ammo though .....................

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    Boolit Grand Master Outpost75's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jack Stanley View Post
    Thanks for the post , I really enjoyed it . Rifles like that are lots of fun to shoot . I had a H&R shotgun with the small firing pin chambered in .357 . Could have done .38 just as easy since I've never fired a .357 from it yet , lots of .38 ammo though .....................

    Jack
    Jack,

    My pleasure. Could we perhaps have met at Camp Perry? Were you active in service rifle competition in the 1970s to early 1980s? I would have been on the Navy Atlantic Fleet Team 1971-74. Prior to that VA State Civilian and VA Tech Cadet. Afterwards on NRA Staff.
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    Boolit Master Shawlerbrook's Avatar
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    Very interesting and appealing project. Would love a 38 S&W companion for my S&W revolver. Now need to find a SS 410 donor.
    Click image for larger version. 

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    Boolit Buddy
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    Quote Originally Posted by Outpost75 View Post
    All it takes is money...

    But if you already have a donor .410 shotgun action, total cost is less than a new .38 Special lever-action Cowboy rifle.
    True, just need a little time. I'm in the middle of fixing up a H&A 932, reamed to 32 S&W long. It goes with my Ruger single six 32.
    I have a Savage 219, maybe need to find a donor barrel to work with and make it happen.
    Last edited by ajjohns; 01-18-2019 at 10:40 AM.

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    Boolit Master

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    We've sorta been down this road on a couple of Webley threads, but my thought has been that the .38 Short Colt might have some utility here, since it's essentially the same thing with the more common .357/.358" bullet diameter and uses the same size case head as the .38 Special and .357 Magnum. In theory, one could be annealing and cutting down their old Special cases that have cracked at the mouth from too much resizing. Not really an issue for those of us casting and ordering custom molds, or are running a .38S&W already, but if such a thing were to go commerical. . .
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    Boolit Master Shawlerbrook's Avatar
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    Outpost, love your lettuce protector. Besides the simplicity and trim design of your older donor 410, are there any drawbacks if using a more commonly available modern 410 with transfer bar ?

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    Boolit Grand Master Outpost75's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shawlerbrook View Post
    Outpost, love your lettuce protector. Besides the simplicity and trim design of your older donor 410, are there any drawbacks if using a more commonly available modern 410 with transfer bar ?
    Most modern guns are much heavier. The Yildiz and Midland single-shots are tiny and lend themselves to building a 4 pound gun.

    The transfer bar mechanism is much safer, if you can find a very light donor gun that fits the bill.
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    Boolit Buddy
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    This is a very good post. It is so good I want to find me a old 410 and make me a 38 special and a 32 h&r mag or 32 long. I would like a 357 maximum also so many choices so little money. The maximum barrel sounds really but the 32 long or the 38 special for me would be more practical. Thanks again for the great post

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    Boolit Buddy
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    This is a very good post. It is so good I want to find me a old 410 and make me a 38 special and a 32 h&r mag or 32 long. I would like a 357 maximum also so many choices so little money. The maximum barrel sounds really but the 32 long or the 38 special for me would be more practical. Thanks again for the great post

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    Boolit Master
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    If you are close to an Academy Sports, give the Ylidiz folder a look. 3.3 lbs and very nice fit and finish. If you like 410s, buy two so you dont have to make a 2nd trip! I need to see what can be done with the trigger, not terrible but not a rifle trigger either.
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    Boolit Master
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    I have yet to find anyone to cut a true 38 S&W chamber in a rifle: 38 special or 357 mag yes! ....but no one that cuts a true 38 S&W
    If any on has a lead please post it!
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  20. #20
    Boolit Buddy
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    Is the 20 gauge frame of the ylidiz at acadamy bigger than the 410 frame? I would rather have a 20 gauge barrel and then take a barrel and have it fitted on this frame., just because I really like the 20 gauge

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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