View Full Version : 38/55 Caliber: Information?

February 24, 2000, 09:45 PM
Marlin lists a lever action in 38/55 on their website. I thought this was an old black powder load. What is the 38/55? How is it different than the 375 Winchester?

Art Eatman
February 24, 2000, 11:39 PM
How is it different? Aw, about 90, maybe a 100 years...

All cartridges named in the style of ".30-30" or ".32-20" started out as black powder cartridges. The first number was the caliber. The next number was the grains weight of the black powder charge. A third number was the weight in grains of the bullet--such as the Sharps .50-100-500, etc.

Since the early guns weren't designed for modern chamber pressures, today's factory loads in these cartridges are loaded down to the lesser stress-level.

The .375 was designed to be fired only in modern guns. Since the rifle is still designed with rear locking lugs, albeit with better steel, the cartridge is not loaded to bolt-action pressures.

There's a bit more to the story, of course, but that's enough for now. To tell you more, I'd have to go read up on it.


February 25, 2000, 12:31 AM
375 is a 38-55 with a more solid case and a bit longer so as not to chamber in a 38-55 with a much hotter powder charge. 38-55 is on the 30-30 case.

February 25, 2000, 11:16 AM

Ah, another topic near and dear to my heart. First, to clear up a little confusion: it's the .38-55 that's the longer case. The .375 has thicker brass and holds less powder. The .38-55 came first, the .30-30 was derived from the earlier .38-55. The .375 was developed in the 1970s from special thick walled .30-30 cases. So... it's the .38-55 that's the daddy and grand daddy of them all. (BTW the .30-30 was never a BP cartridge, it was smokeless from day one, the case will hold way more than 30grs of BP). There are minor differences in bullet IDs. The .375 Win is a true (nominal) 0.3750". The .38-55 is anywhere from 0.3755" to 0.3800", you just have to slug the barrel. The new Marlin is 0.3755".

The two cartridges are so similar that most actions will chamber both. The new .38-55 Marlin will chamber and shoot .375 Winchester with no problem. My .375 Win T/C Contender will chamber and shoot .38-55. CAUTION: Vintage firearms chambered in .38-55 will chamber .375 Winchester cartridges, however you should NEVER fire factory loaded .375 Win in pre W.W.II guns because they can't handle the higher pressure. .375 Win brass could be used to work up light loads for an old rifle, be safe - keep pressures down and use your noggin.

Historically, the .38-55 Marlin-Ballard was the daring of the 19th Century target shooting crowd. Easily the most accurate black powder cartridge ever developed inside of 250 yds. Sort of the 1890s version of the 6mm PPC. There were many very fine single shot "Shutzen" rifles made in .38-55 which are today highly prized by collectors and shooters. -- Kernel

A gent named Paco Kelly, who belongs to a group called THE SHOOTIST, has written a lot of interesting articles about this topic. Below are the links, cached on Google Search:

THE 38-55 IS BACK (http://www.google.com/search?q=cache:www.earp.net/3855M.htm)
38-55 AND 375 POWERHOUSES (http://www.google.com/search?q=cache:www.shootists.com/articles/375win.htm)
SLEEPERS IN POWER (http://www.google.com/search?q=cache:www.earp.com/POWERLEV.htm)

[This message has been edited by Kernel (edited February 25, 2000).]

James K
February 25, 2000, 11:29 AM

Great info. Thanks from all of us.

BTW, Art, neither the .30-30 nor the .30-40 was ever a black powder cartridge; the second number is the grain weight of smokeless powder. (Of course, neither was called that originally; the .30-30 was the .30 WCF and the .30-40 was the .30 Army or - in the army - just the .30 caliber.)


Bud Helms
February 26, 2000, 09:40 AM
Great post Kernel!

I have a Badger barrel chambered for the .38-55 on a Wickliffe replica Stevens action I use in our monthly Buffalo Stakes match. The barrel is a marvel! No scoots, no tight spots. It is rifled at .376.

When I started shooting it, I used .375 Win brass, but I recently got some .38-55 brass from Huntington.

The .38-55 is an inherently accurate cartridge. I give the .45-70 guys a run, when I am having a good day. We shoot at steel, so it's not all about accuracy in our match. Knocking down a ram at distance, my little 270 gr bullets have to work harder than those giant .45 slugs those guys shoot.

I love the .38-55.

February 26, 2000, 12:06 PM
Interestingly enough, I ingested an article once on Harry Pope. His target guns (bbls) were mostly 38/55.

He, in the manner of the day, would load the charged case to the breech and then through a false muzzle would swedge load a paper patched (I think) bullet to precise depth in bore.

Drop dead "unbelieveable" groups.

I shoot a sweet little 38/55 (both BP and smokless) for fun and its almost more fun than I can stand.

Its a neet lttle deer gun.

"Single shot shooters only shoot once"

Harley Nolden
February 26, 2000, 01:25 PM
Here are some comparisons
Introduced: 1884
Type: Rimmed Straight Taper
Length: 2.50"
Wt. 445gr
Powder: Black
Chg: 55gr
Primer: Boxer (Lg Rifle)


Type: Soft Pt. Flat Nose
Dia: .3775"
Wt: 255gr
Length: .97"


Length: 2.13"
Dia Rim: .506"
Base: .421"
Neck: .392"
M-Velocity: 1320 f.s.
Pressure: 30,000lb/sq.in.
The smaller 32-40 and the 38-55 were originally a Ballard-developed target cartridge. The present commercial version was introduced as one of the calibers for the Ballard
Perfection No.4 which was originally chambered for the 38-50 Everlasting. The Marlin Model 93 and Winchester 94 lever-action repeaters were available in this caliber, as was the Remington-Lee bolt action, Colt new Lightning slide action, Stevens, Remington and Winchester single shot rifles and also the Savage Model 99.

introduced: 1978
Dimensional data:
Bullet: .376
Neck: .397
Base: .415
Rim: .502
Case Length: 2.02
Twist: 12
Factory Ballistics:
bullet: MV: ME:
200gn 2200 2105
250gn 1900 2005
Developed by Winchester for the Model 94 Big Bore lever action carbine. The gun is a reinforced or strengthened version of the standard model 94 action and can be
distinguished by the beefed up rear quarter of the of the receiver, as opposed to the flat sides of the regular Model 94. The cartridge is based on the shortened 38-55 case although the 375 Winchester brass is heavier and stronger than that of the 38-55. Two carbines were initially
available in this caliber, the Winchester Model 94 big bore and the Ruger Number 3 single shot.. It is a rimmed case and not well suited to Mauser type bolt actions.

[This message has been edited by Harley Nolden (edited February 26, 2000).]

Bud Helms
February 26, 2000, 11:21 PM
Thanks Harley.

Kernel, those Paco Kelly articles are great!