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.38-55? WHY should I consider this all but dead caliber?

PostPosted: 12 Jun 2018 14
by Archer
I'm board.
I've been looking at maybe at some point getting a new lever gun.
Rossi seems to be trickling NOS into the market if anything.
Winchester's are a bit overpriced but they still are pretty, even if no longer affordable.

I notice there's a few .38-55s running around from the Japanese production and I'm wondering if they are worth the trouble?

I recall discussions on this site regarding .375 Winchester being a slightly shortened .38-55 with the pressure run through the roof. I've read Buffalo Bore's statements about their .38-55 ammo being safe for ALL weapons in .375 caliber. I know there was a customer at the shop looking for .375 ammo during the Obama plague and none to be found anywhere at that time and me being unaware of Buffalo Bore's claims and my other 3 sources of oddball ammo failing to have any in stock.

So Buffalo Bore's going for something like $500-$640 per case of 200 rounds.
For your money you get something like 2000FPS in a round that's exceeding spec pressure (matched to something like .30-30 pressures?)
For something like $200 per $200 rounds you can get various 'cowboy' loadings that run around 1250 to maybe 1300 FPS with a lead bullet.
Around $200-250 Winchester puts out a power point at around 1300+/- FPS.
Current gunrag writer thoughts seem to place the gun as adequate against deer sized game at around 125 yards or so. Maybe 150+ with the Buffalo Bore rounds.

Anybody have any load data for anything approaching the high pressure Buffalo Bore loads?
Anybody know how many times the brass is good for use in such loads? My experiences with .30-30 have me somewhat leery of running the brass too many times and I will typically toss bottlenecked brass for the autoloaders after it's been trimmed 4 times or so.
I suspect the lower pressure loads would be more forgiving but as the 94 locks at the rear I expect the brass still stretches a mite.

Any reasons to stay away from such a project?
Better Ideas?

Re: .38-55? WHY should I consider this all but dead caliber?

PostPosted: 12 Jun 2018 15
by Ohio3Wheels
Well, sooner or later I'll get my 336 in 30/30 off to JES for re-boring and chambering to 38-55. Why? I want another Ohio legal deer cartridge and something different. So I can't as yet answer your case life questions but I know RD has at least one levergun chambered for it so he may have some insight. Last time I was at one of LGSs they had a Winchester 94 rifle length in 38-55 but the near $1200 price tag had me leaving it in the case.

My plan right now is to shoot cast bullets in it, either the Lee mold or maybe the Lyman or I may just buy cast bullets from one of the online sources.

Make smoke,

Re: .38-55? WHY should I consider this all but dead caliber?

PostPosted: 13 Jun 2018 07
by Ranch Dog ... oad_27.jpg

Great cartridge, #2 behind my 444. More later, driving today.

Re: .38-55? WHY should I consider this all but dead caliber?

PostPosted: 13 Jun 2018 17
by GasGuzzler
Dang, y'all gonna make me want one of those. I still need a .45C.

Re: .38-55? WHY should I consider this all but dead caliber?

PostPosted: 13 Jun 2018 21
by rondog
I've heard it's a powerful and accurate cartridge. Kinda wish I had a beater .30-30 to get converted.

Re: .38-55? WHY should I consider this all but dead caliber?

PostPosted: 06 Nov 2018 19
by Model 52
It's primarily a hand loading proposition given the cost of factory ammo and the sometimes limited availability, but .38-55 is my absolute favorite lever gun cartridge, partly because it is very versatile and partly because it is "right sized".

At the low end, my favorite plinking load uses an inexpensive ($80 per 500) Meister Cast bevel base 245 gr RNFP bullet on top of 9.6 grains of Unique. It gives me black powder era velocities of 1250 fps in a 24" barrel and 1210 fps in a 20" barrel with 2 MOA accuracy, and it costs me only $0.24 per round / $4.80 per box of 20. That's about 1/3rd the cost of factory .30-30 ammo. I can also shoot this load all day long with zero leading.

In the middle, I'll use 27 gr of RL-7 under a 255 gr Barnes FNSP at 1,750 fps for a .38-55 pressure hunting load in both my Model 94 .38-55 and my Big Bore 94 .375 Win. I used to use 220 gr Hornady bullets on top of 31.9 gr of RL 7 for 1,900 fps, but I seldom see those bullets anymore.

At the upper end, I'll load for my Bog Bore 94 in .375 Win using 220 gr Hornady bullets on top of 37 grains of RL-7 for 2,024 fps. Given the scarcity of 220 gr Hornady bullets I'll also load 220 gr Barnes bullets with 35 grains of RL-7 for 2,040 fps.


Finding a .38-55 in excellent condition at reasonable money can be a challenge.

Currently you can get a new rifle pattern Model 94 in .38-55 from Winchester (made by Miroku for around $1,150. Miroku makes good rifles for Winchester and I have no objection to them. I own a pair of Model 52 "R" re-issue sporters and the quality is excellent. However, I don't like the post 1981 rebounding hammers on the Model 94 and I like the tang safety even less as it interferes with a proper tang sight.

If you exclude those new rifles you are left with vintage .38-55s, or re-barreling a Model 94 in .30-30. For awhile I was tempted to re-barrel one of my pre-64 Model 94s, but decided I really didn't want to do that to a nice pre-64.

However, I did find a Big Bore 94 in .375 Win and in addition to shooting .375 Win, it's long throated enough to shoot .38-55 just fine. Mine had some very slight freckling on one side of the receiver that took it out of the collector category and brought it down into the $550 range. .375 WIn is the most common caliber for the Big Bore 94s which suppresses collector value and the near non availability of .375 Win ammo and brass most of the time suppresses shooter interest, so if you're looking for a shooter ".38-55" the BB 94 is a good option.

I've been looking for an actual "shooter" .38-55 for awhile and one of the better options is actually the Legendary Frontiersman commemorative rifle. The thing about nearly all the Winchester commemoratives made since 1966, when they started doing it in a big way, is that the vast majority of them were either made in comparatively large numbers for a commemorative edition, or were made in small numbers, but to commemorate events of little interest, like the "Illinois Sesquicentennial" or the even smaller market rifles made to order for local community centennial or Sesquicentennial events. A few, like the John Wayne commemoratives carry decent collector value but most don't even do well keeping pace with inflation and sell for less than a comparable brand new non-commemorative rifle. Consequently, their value lies in their worth as shooters.

For example the average small town in the middle of a flyover state community centennial Winchester will be a Model 94 XTR Carbine in .30-30 with a medallion in the stock, a gold plated loading gate, some minor engraving on the receiver and the name and dates of the community engraved and filled with gold paint on the right side of the barrel. Install a new, less obnoxious loading gate, replace the medallion stock (if it bothers you) and you have a very nice XTR grade Model 94 in near mint condition for about $500 less than the same rifle would cost you new. As an added bonus if it's pre-1981 you'll also have the original quarter cock notched hammer and none of the annoying cross bolt or tang safeties. There are a great deal if you are looking or a shooter.

Back to the Legednary Frontiersman and the search for a .38-55 to shoot....There were basically three Winchester Commemorative rifles chambered for .38-55 - the Legendary Frontiersman, (with an antiqued silver plated engraved receiver and fore end cap, some very engraving on the receiver, and a medallion in the stock), the Oliver F. Winchester Commemorative (essentially the same as the LF, but with an octagon barrel, different engraving and medallion, and a gold plated receiver) and the Chief Crazy Horse Commemorative (blued receiver with gold filled engraving, a stock medallion and brass studs on the stock and fore end in the Native American tradition). All three will sell for around $1,300 in unfired NIB condition with a pristine to excellent condition box and all the hang tags.

However, in any thing less than that condition, they sell for around $850. That's largely because they made each of them in successive years and made 19,999 of each model. To put that in perspective, the Model 52 "re-issue" Sporters were made in both Browning and Winchester variants and they made 5000 of each. At those numbers they are uncommon, not rare, and are valued as very high grade production sporter .22 rifles, but not as serious collectible rifles unless again they come with the box and hang tags and are in NIB condition. Produced at 4 times those numbers, the LF, OFW, and CCH commemoratives really struggle to be considered collectible. Maybe in another 100 years....

Consequently, when I saw an LF listed on Gun broker in less than perfect condition and noted it was in a local shop I decided to go give it a look. The GB price was $1159 which was over priced, given that it had a couple very small dings on the stock, and a couple of very small have-to-look-hard-for-them scratches on the metal and a box that was in just good condition. However, the tag in the shop said $1,000. That was still too high but low enough that I thought we might be able to agree on a price. The shop owner must have had the same thought as he threw out an offer of $850. That's the market price for the condition it was in and after going home re-checking the numbers and paying all the bills to see what was left, I went back and bought it.

It's been worth every penny as it is a solid 2 MOA rifle (with a tang sight, 3 MOA without thanks to my 53 year old eyes not liking barrel mounted sights), the balance is superb and it is a joy to shoot.


Re: .38-55? WHY should I consider this all but dead caliber?

PostPosted: 06 Nov 2018 22
by HarryAlonzo
That is a fine pair of rifles!

JES will also re-bore a Savage 99 in 300 Savage to 38-55. My 99EG has a very ragged bore, but it shoots well. If the groups ever start to go South, that's my recovery plan. I also keep my eyes peeled for a cheap commemorative 94, or another 99 with a truly trashed bore.

Re: .38-55? WHY should I consider this all but dead caliber?

PostPosted: 07 Nov 2018 07
by Ranch Dog
I keep JES (WHYAT OCUMPAUGH) as a saved seller in gunbroker. He always has some interesting guns, especially 38-55 rebores. He seems to have been on a 356 Win kick as of late.

Re: .38-55? WHY should I consider this all but dead caliber?

PostPosted: 24 Jan 2019 20
by black 1970
Bought my LF about 5 years ago at a gun show,100% condition,no box for 700 dollars OTD. Have not shot it yet but I will soon.

Re: .38-55? WHY should I consider this all but dead caliber?

PostPosted: 25 Jan 2019 02
by Trailboss
A seller local to me posted a 38-55 rifle with 26" barrel and full magazine. I found the ad on a local grocery store board. I went to take a look and ended up buying it. Made in 1899, crescent butt, only 40% bluing left and the bore is a bit dark. It can group five into around 2 inches at 100 yards. Good enough for deer hunting. I enjoy carrying it during deer season and the best part, it only cost me $300. Sometimes a deal comes up.