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The Ultimate Reloading Manual
Wolfe Publishing Group
  • reloading manual
  • alliant reloading data
  • reloading brass
  • shotshell reloading
  • bullet reloading
The Ultimate Reloading Manual
hodgdon load data

.38-40 Winchester (Revolver)(using Hornady bullets)

Author: Brian Pearce / Wolfe Publishing Co.
Date: Jul 23 2013

The .38 WCF, better known as .38-40 Winchester, was developed around 1879 for the Winchester Model 1873 lever-action rifle. Due to an overall cartridge length of around 1.590 inches, it was readily adapted to revolvers, such as the Colt Single Action (and others) first offered in the early 1880s. Colt SA revolvers manufactured prior to 1900 (with serial numbers below 192,000) were intended for black powder only, and due to their comparatively weak steels should not be used with smokeless powder data.

The .38-40 was essentially a .44 WCF (.44-40 Winchester) case necked down to .40 caliber, which is suitable for use with .400-inch jacketed bullets, while cast bullets usually give best results when sized to .401 inch. (This cartridge’s name has certainly caused some confusion.) Regardless, it is suitable for handloading jacketed bullets designed for the .40 S&W and 10mm Auto cartridges, such as the Hornady bullets used in the accompanying load data. However, the problem is that most of these bullets do not feature a cannelure to accept a roll crimp that is standard on most die sets in this caliber. Solutions to this problem include rolling a cannelure on bullets using a C-H Tool, which will then permit a standard roll crimp. Another includes custom building a special die that will produce a taper crimp. Regardless, a heavy bullet pull or crimp is essential in obtaining uniform powder ignition with all powders. If handloaded cartridges are to be used in a rifle with a tubular magazine, the crimp becomes even more important to prevent bullets from becoming deep seated, which can be a dangerous situation. Most dies will produce best results if bullets are seated first, then crimped as a separate step. Cases that are of the same length will crimp most uniformly.

When loading jacketed bullets, do not reduce recommended "starting" loads. This is a relatively low-pressure cartridge, and loads with lower pressures than listed can fail to propel the bullet fast enough to reliably exit the bore, a very dangerous situation. Furthermore, with the .38-40’s rather generous case capacity, some powders show significant position sensitivity, while others need greater pressure to achieve proper ignition; this results in wide extreme spreads, loss of accuracy and even hang fires. Maximum industry pressure is 14,000 CUP, with none of the accompanying loads exceeding that limit.

The .38-40 is a bottleneck case and should be full-length sized to achieve reliable chambering of reloaded cartridges. Starline cases (available factory direct at 800-280-6660) were used exclusively to develop the accompanying data. Due to their comparatively stout construction, they offer greater bullet pull, are easier to reload and have a longer case life.