View Full Version : Loading .38-40 with (gasp) smokeless powder

May 11, 2010, 02:02 PM
After whining a little bit in the Yellowboy thread about how terrible .38-40 cartridges are to load, I spent a little time reminiscing about my experiences. I don't shoot that caliber much because the only firearm that I own that's chambered for it is my great great grandfather's Colt Lightning rifle. And the real reason is because, since it was made in 1884, it's a black powder gun. And unpleasant to clean because its action was clearly the inspiration for Rube Goldberg.

So, that got me thinking that it would sure be nice if I could load it with smokeless powder and have a high degree of confidence that I wouldn't blow it up (thus earning a place of infamy in my family tree.) It must be possible because I see Cowboy Action loads in .38-40 and I hear about the occasional masochist who shoots an original Lightning in matches.

I wonder if something like four or five grains of Trail Boss behind a 200 grain cast bullet would be appropriate for my old pardner? Or is there a different powder and bullet combo that would do the old feller better?


May 11, 2010, 02:27 PM
I quit using black powder years ago in my 38-40's. Mine are the Colt SAA made in 1898, 2 Lightnings, and 2 Model 92 Winchesters. They all shoot the same ammo as good or better than the factory that I have. I take the 40 cal XTP 180 gr bullet and put a cannelure on it with a C-H tool. I'm using 6.6grs Unique under it which pushes out of the Colt at just under 900'ps. I haven't run any of it thru the screens with the long guns. Works for me but the Lightnings get shot rarely. While mine are fairly pristine, parts, as you know, are hard to come by. The Winchesters are more likely to go hunting or to a shoot.

May 12, 2010, 02:18 AM
I reload 44/40 that it's very similar to 38/40, a bullet .428, instead of a bullet .40 of the .38/40, with 6,5 grains of shotgun powder nitrokemia II, a powder for 32 grams of lead in shotshell.


The link is for a comparation!

I fire it in a Uberti winchester '73 and in a Uberti remington 1875, it's a very light load with small recoil.
In the rifle when i want more precision i reload with 8,5 grains of Vithavuori N350 a slow burning pistol powder.
A friend that have two rifle in 38/40, one yellowboy Uberti and a '92 of armisport-chiappa, reload with Vithavuori N105 it's a "semimagnum" powder, he tryed N110, good for .44mag. and .357 mag. but it doesn't burn well.
I think he is on the "high side" of pressure for a toggle link action :eek:

May 12, 2010, 08:18 AM
For a light Cowboy Action load, I use 4.2 grains of Hodgdon's Clays and a 190 grain cast bullet.

May 12, 2010, 08:50 AM
Thanks, fellas. Looks like I've got a little experimenting ahead of me!

May 12, 2010, 08:58 AM
Remember, more heavy the bullet more precision on the target, this my little experience!

May 14, 2010, 07:37 PM
I use IMR 4227 anywhere from 21 to 23 grains with a 180 grain Jacketed 10mm pistol bullet.I like the 4227 because with the naked eye I can tell if it's a single or double load. Getting old why take chances.
necks are thin and ocassionally crumple some cases
38/40 is a cracker jack round and fun to shoot. Lightning is hard to clean with BP,spend more time shooting and less time cleaning.Smokeless I shoot 250 or more rounds without cleaning,can't do that with BP

May 14, 2010, 09:32 PM
Lightning is hard to clean with BP

Not much residue gets in the action because the thin bottleneck cases expand so well to prevent blowback. Leave a fired case in the chamber during cleaning and there wont be any need for disassembly to clean internals.