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Rifle cartridge dating

I used up 15 of those factory loads, saving the final five for chronograph work (which I still haven't done). mould I slugged the barrel and found it to be .379.

I have measured by chamber cast the 8 rifles in 38-55 in my safe and all are within the above specifications. covering over a hundred years2001 being the new and 1897 the oldest. have not changed in factory made guns although private parties can and do order special chamber reamers to any dimension.

On game, the old cartridge performs all out of proportion to what the on paper specifications would lead one to believe. I shot only lead bullets out of my Marlin Cowboy .38-55 and a Uberti 1885 Hi wall in that caliber.

However, the journey can be very rewarding when it all comes together. The cartridge came out in 1884 for the Ballard Perfection No. It was a Ballard 38-50 Everlasting with a longer case. The groove diameter of the 38-55 has varied considerable with each rifle maker of the day interpreting the specifications slightly different.

Although the cartridge was intended to be a true 38 caliber, the grooves varied from .377 up to .382, with most rifles being around .379.

Some argue that the chamber was originally cut for a 2.125 case and others say that the chamber is cut for a 2.085 case. The chamber does have the usual step down from outside case size to bullet diameter found just in front of the case mouth in most chambers.

The outside case mouth diameter is .392 and that diameter is continued forward for another .030 or so making the chamber close to 2.120 in length, then begins a very shallow angled taper (only 6 degrees) down to groove diameter.

Added together the distance from bolt face to lands is a generous 2.215 inches, so a case of 2.125 inches in length will easily drop into most chambers.

It has been reported by some knowledgeable folks that the original chamber for the 38-55 was longer than todays chambers and used the brass that Starline makes that is 2.125 inches in length.

Frank Barnes book Cartridges of the World, 4 edition he corrects the mistake and shows the case length to be 2.082.

Factory chamber drawings dating back as far as 1892 show a 2.085 chamber for a 2.082 case. The exact origin is not clear but it is believed by most students of the cartridge to have originated with black powder target shooters.

Years ago I shot a few Winchester factory loads with jacketed bullets in one of my rifles. The few bullets that did hit the target backer were side ways.