Fit is King

  • Took two rifles to the redneck range today: Marlin-Ballard #4 originally chambered in 38-55 Ballard, recently re-lined to 38-55 Winchester and Winchester 1885 Low Wall chambered in 32-40 Winchester. Both were loaded with a full case of Goex Cartridge, large rifle primers and period correct weight plain base bullets with a small meplat and my homemade Emmert's lube then seated on a vegetable wad used to compress the powder to the desired seating depth and the case mouth flare reduced to parallel without crimp.

    The Ballard spit lead into about a 9" pattern at 70-ish yards. The Winchester did about the same. The culprit was improper fit of the bullets used to the bore diameter of the rifles. The 38-55 bullets measured .382 which works great in a .380 groove diameter barrel but the liner used has a nominal groove diameter of .375 which is correct for post war guns but decidedly incorrect for 1881 production. So, have to pull those and replace them with .377s and try again. The 32-40 had been loaded with some commercially cast bullets I was given about 30# of. They are too hard to begin with, being about BHN 18, but also undersized as they are sized for a .321 bore and my rifle has a .323 bore. All is not lost though, my shooting buddy who owns the 38-55 is having a 32-40 made and that barrel is known to be .321 so my free bullets should work just fine as fixed ammo in his new rifle. I have cast some 38 bullets with my regular competition mold using Lyman #2 alloy and know that I can make .377 bullets with the added Sb in #2, again, those bullets will be too hard to breech seat but will work acceptably as fixed ammo. I have several 38-55 lever guns with .380 bores so it will be just a matter of making enough .377 bullets to trade pound for pound for the bullets my buddy cannot use.

    I know both these guns are capable of fine accuracy as I have used my Winchester in bullseye competition in the past with good results using bullets I cast and my buddy's Ballard came with a test target fired with appropriately sized bullets into a 1.5" group at 200 yards with smokeless powder by the gunsmith who installed the liner. The task now is to get them both shooting competition worthy groups and load about 300 rounds for each before June 30th when the scores count.

    David and I are charter members of the Procrastinators Club. We have been not doing anything worthwhile with these rifles for over a year already. Both guns are over 100 years old, they will still be old when we get them back in action.

    By the way, if you've never fired a black powder rifle, go to a match and ask to shoot. Someone will be happy to let you shoot their rifle. It's a hoot and you'll smell bad afterwards.