38-55 Nitro Load

38-55 is one of my favourite calibre, however it nearly drove me mad trying to

get a load to work in nitro, and subsequently took me a good twelve months to get any reasonable results. I think that for most re-loaders at some time there is a calibre that gives them a challenge, and this one was mine.

Black Powder loads were easy, and came straight out of the SPG publication as listed bellow. For this reason I have just scanned the page and included it as is.

However Nitro was a nightmare, and at one point I considered selling my rifle and moving on.

The problem I had was the bullets tumbling and hitting the target as a nice silhouette of themselves. To try to cure this problem, I tried different moulds and bullet patterns at some expense, and the usual menu of powders. I sized the barrel, changed the lube die sizer, case sizing dies the lot, but still could make no headway.

Some of the American forums talked of rifling twist and length of bullet, but had no real solutions.

I happened to get some Accurate XMP 5744 in one day as I had been told that it was a nice bulky powder good for straight cases and lower velocity "CA" loads. At about the same time I was introduced to Trail Boss and was able to find some CA loads listed in the IMR guide. Getting data for this calibre has been a little difficult if you are trying to keep velocities down bellow 1200fps, and I decided that this had to be the way to go.

The XMP shot very well, and posted about 1000fps using a Lyman moulded 249gr flat nose bullet (2660248). I also tried a 255gr budget bullet that was about the same. The load was 14gr I decided that this would be a good 100m recipe, and moved on to the IMR TB.

Now you all must be thinking that I have got shares in IMR because most of the load data reviewed so far, seems to favour TB a number of times. Well I can't really help the results, and though there must be better recipes and powders out there, once I find a load that works I tend to stick to it as to constantly test can be quite an expensive pass-time. Anyway I used the same bullets but this time with 6gr of TB. This posted about 840fps and was very light to shoot. I felt that this would be my 25-50m load, but would do a little more testing with it at 100m


 Extract Taken From:


.38-55 Black Powder Load

Like the .32-40, the .38-55 was also introduced in 1884 by Ballard in their Union Hill model. It has gained a great following as a Schuetzen target cartridge, but has always been a much better hunting round than the .32-40. It is an excellent combination cartridge for hunting and target work. The authors consider it the absolute minimum for NRA Black powder Cartridge Rifle Silhouette competition (having witnessed several occasions where it would not knock over the 500 meter rams).


Bullet Diameter:

Many vintage rifles take .379 inch or larger bullets. The modern Shiloh Sharps requires .375 to .377 inch bullets.

Case Length: 2.12 inch

Case Design: straight

Brass Availability: Winchester.

RGBS Shell Holder #2

Bullet Moulds:SAECO #373 (265 gr. gas check) Lyman #375428 (249 gr.plain base) Lyman #375449 (264 gr.gas check) RCBS #38-250FN (250 gr.gas check) 

sample load 


Bullet: Lyman 375248 250 grain 1-30 tin/lead, size, 377 inch

Powder: 41 grains Ffg. I used Swiss No 4 1 ½ Fg

Case: Winchester neck sized belled with .376 inch expander

Primer: Federal 210 Large Rifle / Used MagTech in testing

Wad: card (milk carton)

2.533 inch

O/A: Velocity 1,265 fps

Winchester High Wall (Shiloh barrel with 18 inch twist)

I Used a Uberti Falling Block