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38-55 Winchester


Introduced in 1884, the 38-55 WCF was a lengthened version of, the, circa 1879, 38-50 Ballard.  Launching a 255-grain bullet at about 1120 fps, it was an effective hunting round for species up to deer size.  Trajectory limited shots to about 100 yards for most shooters.

Because the 38-50 was loaded with paper-patched bullets, the otherwise similar 38-55 has some odd chamber dimensions.  Generally, seating a groove-diameter bullet in a typical case results in a round that will not chamber.

Another problem with the 38-55 results from the decision of ammo makers to shorten the case when they reintroduced 38-55 ammunition after WW-II.  This allowed them to use cases of the same length for the 30-30 and the 38-55.

Many years ago, as I write this, I was able to persuade the CEO at Starline to solve both these problems by introducing cases of the correct length 2.125-inches, with a thinner neck.  With these, the handloader can seat bullets of groove diameter or slightly larger and the round will chamber.  The longer neck reduces bullet damage during firing.  With those cases, for the first time ever, folks can load a properly fitting modern cast or jacketed bullet in a 38-55 case that fits the chamber!

An odd fact about the 38-55 WCF: as nearly as I have been able to ascertain, this is the only factory-standardized cartridge in the U. S. and possibly the entire world that was only ever factory-loaded with the original, single bullet weight.  In the 38-55 if a 255-grain bullet would not do, then handloading was the only option then and now.

With the 38-55 WCF, as with all cartridges used in guns with a tubular magazine, a properly applied crimp can smooth and ease chambering and a crimp is critical to lock the case mouth into the cannelure and thereby prevent recoil and chambering forces from driving the bullet into the case.  In some instances, a roll crimp might be the best option but the Lee Factory Crimp Die usually does a better job and the crimp it applies will not damage a cast bullet as chamber pressure drives that from the case.

Heritage of this case began with the, circa 1879, 38-50 Ballard case.

The text associated with the cartridge description reflects opinions and conclusions of the author, M.L. (Mic) McPherson. Lee Precision and its employees do not necessarily either agree or disagree with any of his comments. We present these with due deference to his recognized expertise in the firearms field. His acumen extends to handloading and all aspects of ballistics - internal, external, and terminal.
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