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Thread: dedicated 38 special lever action

  1. #1
    Boolit Bub
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    dedicated 38 special lever action

    Folks I know there are a couple of levers made specifically for 38 special(usually expensive uberits etc I think), but saying I had a regular 357/38 like a Rossi 92, is it possible for a gunsmith( and I am not one), to drop it back to 38 special length only?

    The reason for this would be if I wanted to set the gun up for low power shooting only, improve loading density, 'maybe' improve accuracy being you wouldn't be firing 38 special in the slightly longer chamber. Or would this be a total waste of time(probably yes).

    While I am thinking about, are there even shorter versions of the 38 case I could rechamber to and still be able to get a good gunsmith to feed? Any slightly shoter wildcats or early versions of the calibre? I know when you put 44 russian in a 44 lever its not going to feed of course. But is there another version of 38 not too drastically shorter than 38 special?

    Its raining here and I can't get out and shoot for the weekend. These are the sort of questions that will occur.
    Last edited by mickbr; 06-15-2019 at 07:34 PM.

  2. #2
    Boolit Master Cap'n Morgan's Avatar
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    I had an Uberti "Yellow Boy" in 38spl, and as I recall, you couldn't stray much from the correct overall length - either plus or minus - before it wouldn't cycle properly.
    If you only want a low-power load, I see no real need for a shorter OAL as you could use Bullseye or Trail Boss powders which lends themselves well to large capacity/low pressure loads.
    Cap'n Morgan

  3. #3
    Boolit Master bedbugbilly's Avatar
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    Just looking at the 38 special - yes, the uberti's in 38 special (1866) are pricey but if you look around, used ones are available - I am not a gunsmith in regards to if a rifle that is 38/347 can be altered - 1. as far as the 38 in a 357 chamber death - I shoot a wide variety of 38s in my pistols and my hands that are chambered for 357 - you just need to keep the chamber/s cleaned up. If you are thinking (if it were possible) to alter a rifle chambered in 357 to 38 special only - I would think you'd be looking at pulling the barrel, rebreeching so it was for a 38 special - not necessary in my book but others might argue it. The internals? By the time you paid for all of the gunsmithing, I would think you'd be better off just getting something like the Uberti 1866 IMHO.

    As far as shorter cartridges - yes - originally the 38 Colt Short was developed for Navy conversions after the Civil War - then it transitioned in to the 38 Colt Long - then the 38 Special and then the 357 Mag - all have the same dimensions EXCEPT for the CASE LENGTH. But you can go even further - the 360 DW (Dan Wesson) casing is a longer version of the 357 Mag by about 1/10". Then you can go even longer with the 357 MAX.

    Starline sells all fo the above casings - I lost a lot of 38 Colt Short and Long - use them in my Uberti 1851 Richards & Mason conversion that is chambered in 38 special - I just like the history of the cartridges. The 38 Colt Short uses very little powder and I usually use a 90 - 115 grain boolit. In my pistols they work great - they aren't going to work well in a lever gun and neither will the 38 Colt Long as they won't cycle worth a darn. In my Handi Rifle - or probably in any other single shot - they will work fine and they are a lot of fun.

    I just got a Henry Big Boy Steel 20" rifle - my intent was to use 38 special - I have lots of brass - but dummy rounds have not cycled well. It's all about COAL in a ever gun as far as cycling well. I looked at boolit designs that could be used in both 38 special and 357 (two crimp grooves depending on the brass). I opted to go with 357 brass with a lead flat nose. I bought a batch of 1,000 1 X fired 357 and since my Uberti Bisley is chambered in 357, I'm working on a load that will work in both -but I am going to be "loading down" on them.

    I still want a lever gun in 38 Special "just 'cause" for fun plinking and reduced loads - but I know I'll be limited to the 38 special casing and a boolit that can be seated to the correct COAL. For me, I will probably go with a Uberti 1866 but hopefully I can snag a good used one along the way.

    In the long run, I'm thinking you would be better served to find a rifle chambered in 38 Special only, play with loads/boolits until you find some reduced loads that work well for you. Taking a less expensive rifle (the the higher priced Uberti's, etc.) and then trying to get it "rebuilt" (if it were possible) to where it was chambered and altered to 38 specia isn't going to be cheap and you are basically taking a production rifle and having it made in to a custom rifle - and in the end - it ay not work any better than any other rifle that you could buy that is chambered in 38 special only. I'm guessing you would like a lever gun - but if you want to use the full range of the 38s fro 38 Colt Short up through 357 mango, a single shot like a Hani or Henry's new single shot chambered in 357, IMHO, would be a better route to travel.

  4. #4
    Boolit Master
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    I think you'd be way ahead to just load light loads in a .357 case and use them. I shot very, very light loads in a couple of lever guns and shot them all the time in competition in a couple of handguns. My handgun loads would shoot ragged holes at twenty-five yards and were about as light as you could go even in a 38 case. The upside is that if you ever wanted to shoot some mag loads you'd have a gun to do it with. Spend some time working on light loads and don't get focused on 38's because you think there might be an advantage.....in actuality there isn't.

  5. #5
    Boolit Grand Master

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    We tried short chambered PPC guns years ago with the cylinders turned off to wad cutter length and barrels set back. IMHO there was so little difference in accuracy that is wasn't worth the effort. Now to your question...yes anything is possible but to turn off the cylinder and fit a new barrel would be more than the cost of the gun. You would be better off buying a K38 from gunbroker and be done with it. With wad cutters the old K 38 will put them all under 2 inches at 50 yards.

  6. #6
    Boolit Master
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    KCSO, correct on the handguns. In this case the OP is looking at a lever gun.

  7. #7
    Boolit Master Bazoo's Avatar
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    Marlin made their 1894 cb in 38 special, course they ain't cheap.

  8. #8
    Boolit Master Dan Cash's Avatar
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    Simply seat your bullets long in .38sp cased to give a standard .357 oal and go shoot. You are making a mountain out of a mole hill.
    To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, the trouble with many shooting experts is not that they're ignorant; its just that they know so much that isn't so.

  9. #9
    Boolit Master
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    I have wanted a 38 spl lever for a long time. Winchester makes a nice 1866.

    I'm pretty picky about my guns and I'm willing to pay for what I want. Nothing I hate more than a cartridge with too much case capacity for what I'm wanting to do.

    I would say the Marlin 38spl or the Winchester would be my choice.
    " If you cant do it with a 308 , you dont need to do it!

  10. #10
    Boolit Master Bazoo's Avatar
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    I'd bet light 38s wouldn't be nearly as accurate as +p or starting/mid magnum loads. But I'm just guessing, I don't remember much abought the 1894c I had other than I sheared the forearm screw off shooting heavy 357s off the bench.

  11. #11
    Boolit Master


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    I shoot .38 spl in my Rossi 92's all the time. They are loaded to std. .38 spl lengths in both SWC and RN. Feed function and accuracy are excellent, 2" 50 yd groups the norm. I can load full wadcutters crimping on the center lube band and run them also. Both my Rossi's do this and a Wichester 94 I used to own would also. You don't need a specially set up lever.
    "Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."
    - C. S. Lewis

  12. #12
    Boolit Master
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    A 38spl lever gun is not about a "need" it's about a "want".

    The most expensive guns I own I do not need.
    " If you cant do it with a 308 , you dont need to do it!

  13. #13
    Boolit Buddy
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    Quote Originally Posted by fecmech View Post
    I shoot .38 spl in my Rossi 92's all the time. They are loaded to std. .38 spl lengths in both SWC and RN. Feed function and accuracy are excellent, 2" 50 yd groups the norm. I can load full wadcutters crimping on the center lube band and run them also. Both my Rossi's do this and a Wichester 94 I used to own would also. You don't need a specially set up lever.
    I have the same experience with my Rossi 92.


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  14. #14
    Boolit Buddy


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    I would suggest the Thompson design 358156 and crimp in the rear crimp ring with your 38 Special brass.

    BF
    "The price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men."--Plato

  15. #15
    Boolit Buddy JoeJames's Avatar
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    I understand exactly what he's wanting. I checked on having my Rossi R92 altered to where it would take and cycle 44 Specials; since that's what I shoot a lot of in my revolvers, which are both solely in 44 Special, and not 44 Magnum. I wanted a companion gun. But like most things I had to settle with rolling my own much more moderate 44 Magnum loads. 240 grain cast .431" 240 grain swc running at 1150 fps. One can get a Henry Big Boy that will cycle both but I don't like toting an 8.67 pound lever action around in the woods. If he does like some of y'all suggested then he will be out of luck when he tries to use the same rounds on a revolver unless he goes up to a 357.

  16. #16
    Boolit Master Handloader109's Avatar
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    Well, I just got a 458427 mold that was made for 38 special. It is so long a bullet that it is hard to load in a 357 case and get it to an OAL that is within 357 specs.
    I'm loading 38 spec at within about 15 thousanths of 357 length. Might be something to look at.

  17. #17
    Boolit Buddy
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    Here are the options to consider:
    1. Buy a 357/38 spl rifle and live with it. You have several new and used choices.
    2. Hunt down and buy a used factory chambered 38 spl rifle and live with it's idiosyncrasies
    3. Have a gunsmith put a new barrel on a rifle for you and sort out the build ao it feeds right and shoots well.

    #1 and #2 have been covered here on the forum at length. Often factory 38's have trouble because of their bore size and chamber dimensions. Dedicated rifles are like hen's teeth - so you might have to live with whatever you can get.

    Rossi's and Uberti's can have issue with gunsmith support... Marlin is a WHOLE lot better in this regard. And their actions are now made for a scope if you care about that sort of thing vs the old Winchester patterns which are not....

    Going with a full on bespoke build with a custom barrel can get you around all that. I am sure 38spl bore and chamber specs have been hashed out by the TC Contender guys to perfection...

    Personally.... I think my strategy would be to do all the heavy lifting of sorting out barrels,
    chambers, bullets, and loads on an appropriately barreled TC Encore.... This will clarify expectations as well as clear up what can and should be done.

    Then - if and when you are happy with what you achieved - commission a lever action.

    I actually think a long 24-28" barrel 38spl on a single shot break open shotgun frame sort of epitomizes the "Back East Critter Getter" in the spirit of Harvey Donaldson... Load it heavy for deer. Light and quiet for woodchucks, rabbits, and squirrels. It's looks don't freak out the neighbors "Oh, it's Mr. Jones taking care or a woodchuck in the garden..." rather than "Aaaaaahhhh!!!!!! Call the COPS.... People with differing political opinions are coming from (somewhere else) to kill everybody....

  18. #18
    Boolit Master
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    Quote Originally Posted by NSB View Post
    I think you'd be way ahead to just load light loads in a .357 case and use them. I shot very, very light loads in a couple of lever guns and shot them all the time in competition in a couple of handguns. My handgun loads would shoot ragged holes at twenty-five yards and were about as light as you could go even in a 38 case. The upside is that if you ever wanted to shoot some mag loads you'd have a gun to do it with. Spend some time working on light loads and don't get focused on 38's because you think there might be an advantage.....in actuality there isn't.
    What he said! As long a the load will let the boolit exit the barrel, you're good to go!
    IT IS A FINE AND PLEASANT MADNESS !

  19. #19
    Boolit Buddy Jedman's Avatar
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    I have 2 rifles that are chambered in 38 special, both are single shots. One is a antique Stevens
    Tip up ( break action ) with a 20" bbl. The other is a antique Remington no. 1 1/2 rolling block rifle with a 28" barrel. Both have Green Mountain barrels and shoot accurately but no more than any other caliber. Mine are chambered in 38 spl. because it is a mild pressure cartridge used in 130 year old rifles.
    Last year I did kill a whitetail at close range with the Stevens with a 160 gr. Cast bullet.

    Jedman

  20. #20
    Boolit Man
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    The original style Henry action (and its offshoots the 1866 and 1873) with the lifter coming straight up and a plunger pushing straight in will normally feed with little fuss. The later Browning designed 1892 and 1894 the bullet shape and cartridge length are more critical. A bullet jamming into the extractor cut in the chamber instead of chambering smoothly is a by product of having the lifter feeding at an angle.

    Those old boys in New Haven, Hartford and Ilion also hedged their bets by feeding their pistol caliber, tube feed rifle and carbines the .25, .32, .38 and .44 WCF cartridges. Having the back end of the chamber bigger than the bullet end acted like a funnel when it came to feeding.

    The cartidge OAL, bullet shape and in some cases, the phase of the moon or alignment of the planets all have to favorable to get straight wall cases like the .38/.357 or .45 Colt to behave.

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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