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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

.38-55 Winchester (using Hornady bullets)

Author: Brian Pearce / Wolfe Publishing Co.
Date: Aug 13 2013

The .38-55 Winchester has roots that date back to the 1870s, being very similar to the .38-50 and .38-55 Everlasting target cartridges chambered in Ballard rifles. By 1875 John Marlin had taken over Ballard production, and by 1879 was offering the .38-55 Ballard, which was slightly longer than the later Winchester version. The .38-55 Winchester (aka .38-55 WCF) as we know it today first appeared around 1884. Regardless of the variant, .38-55s became known in general for outstanding accuracy during the black powder era, but also gained wide spread acceptance among big game hunters.

Winchester and Marlin leverguns so chambered were discontinued by 1940, until during the post World War II era Winchester began offering limited edition production runs (including commemoratives) in its Model 94. Then in the late 1990s Marlin began offering its Model 336CB (Cowboy) with Ballard style rifling.

Groove diameter of .38-55 Winchester rifles made since 1884 have varied greatly, measuring as small as .376 and as large as .381 inch. The point being, some rifles will not shoot well with the .375-inch diameter Hornady 220-grain FP bullet (technically designed for the .375 Winchester) used in the accompanying data. Groove diameter of the Marlin Model 336CB rifle used here measured .379 inch, but nonetheless gave respectable accuracy with the Hornady bullet.

Current .38-55 WCF factory loads from Winchester are advertised to push a 255-grain JSP bullet to 1,320 fps; however, in the test rifle, actual velocity was 1,162 fps.

Case-to-bullet fit should be tight, and some dies may need the expander plug turned down to .372 inch diameter to achieve this. When fired in lever-action rifles with a tubular magazine, bullets should be firmly roll-crimped to keep them in place when subjected to magazine spring pressure and recoil.

Of the powders tried in the accompanying data, IMR-4198 gave the most uniform results. The accompanying data should only be used in modern guns designed for smokeless powder.