.38-40 in 1910 Colt SAA for deer?

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John F. posted this 04 June 2017

Hi, folks,

I recently acquired a nice Colt SAA, 4 & 3/4", .38-40, mf'd in 1910.  It has an excellent bore, and lockup/timing is good.  I'd like to take it deer hunting but wonder about the effectiveness of the caliber at typical woods ranges (40  yards and under) on smaller Southern whitetails?  Due to the age of the revolver, I don't want to strain things, pressure-wise, but should be able to get 850-900 fps for limited hunting use.  I'm patient and careful, and have no problem passing up a shot if the angle isn't good.

Does anyone here have experience with this caliber in a standard (i.e., not Ruger) handgun, and if you've taken game with it, what bullet/alloy/velocity did  you use, and how did it perform?

Thanks much,

John

 

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David Reiss CBA Membership Director posted this 04 June 2017

I have hunted my entire adult life with handguns, both small & big game. My caliber choice for large game has been limited to .401 powermag, .44 mag & .45 LC. Would I choose to use the gun you have, no for a few reasons. First while the .44-40 has accounted for many a deer, it was mainly used in a rifle. On paper the ballistics look marginal at best. Also the sights and sight radius is not optimal for hunting. I have a clone of the exact revolver you have and have handloaded for it quite a bit, but again I would not choose it for anything other than small game hunting.

The deer I have taken with the three calibers above have all been at ranges of 75 yards or less. All performed fine with handloads of 1200 fps or more and bullet weights of 200 to 325 grains. The .401 powermag of course uses the same caliber of bullet as the .38-40 (.401 - 405). My bullet of choice has been a NOE 403-200-WFN, loaded to near 1400 fps. This load with a bullet alloy of WWs will completely penetrate a good size deer, leaving a good wound channel.

Every time I read an article about using the .44-40 for hunting (most of which are for rifles), I think of the two deer I have taken with the .401. Deer are much tougher game than most people give them credit.

So for me, I think you could take a deer at a range of 40 yards or less with the .38-40, but it would not be my choice.   

David Reiss - NRA Life Member & PSC Range Member Retired Police Firearms Instructor/Armorer
-Services: Wars Fought, Uprisings Quelled, Bars Emptied, Revolutions Started, Tigers Tamed, Assassinations Plotted, Women Seduced, Governments Run, Gun Appraisals, Lost Treasure Found.
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Duke M posted this 04 June 2017

John F., congratulations on acquiring your Colt. I have given up on finding that exact revolver to go along with my 1910 1892 in 38 wcf. Recently I got a New Service instead. I think David has summed things up pretty well, but I would add this.

My father killed 13 deer with a 1955 Bear Grizzly that had a draw weight of 47 lbs. Never lost a one.

I transported a game violator on a warrant and he told me how they fed their family of 8 with venison, all killed with a 22 magnum firing full metal flat point ammo. All heart shots, usually 30 to 75 yards, 60 in total until a family blabber mouth spilled the beans. I was full of righteous indignation and asked how many they shot and never recovered. He replied they had lost only one in the several years they had been doing this and only because they were scared off during the recovery. He claimed they never went much over 30 yards after being hit.

An interesting character I know that lives in some pretty tough country often guided hunters from the Twin Cities. The "hunters" liked to go home with deer, but lacked the gumption to get out and hunt preferring to play cards and drink until late most nights. The "guide" handily filled their tags with several bucks per season with, a 22 mag. When he later got a Nagant in a trade he told me he thought he could hunt elephants with that cannon.

I think if you want to kill a deer with your Colt, and your are as disciplined as you appear, I'll bet you can practice until you get a consistent 4" group at whatever distance you deem appropriate, go out and drive a cast bullet through a deer's heart and enjoy the memory ever after.

Duke 

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John F. posted this 04 June 2017

Hi, folks,

Thanks very much for the great replies and good perspective!  Where I used to hunt back in Alabama, the poachers were very fond of the .22 Magnum, including one High School kid who made his monthly car payments via deer, night-shot at $25.00/head, delivered, unprocessed (back in the 70's.)  Needless to say, we were not at all fond of the poachers!!  My first 2 deer ever were taken with a 6" S&W model 29, right after I came back from a summer spent training 7 days a week at Bullseye pistol shooting with the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit.  I learned that a pistol, even one as powerful as the .44, would definitely kill a deer, but lacked the dramatic killing power of centerfire rifles, and that marksmanship was absolutely the key.  Since then, I've had wonderful results with the 7x57, 139 gr. at 2850, and lately, the .257 Roberts, 100 gr. Ballistic Tip at 3000 fps. Both kill very quickly, and with a carefully-placed double-lung shot, waste very little meat.

I'm getting back into cast bullets in rifles after a long absence, and loving the art, science and challenge of it.  As I edge toward retirement (hopefully, someday...), I can see doing a lot of iron-sight, cast-bullet rifle hunting. In the meantime, it's mighty tempting to take the old Colt along when squirrel hunting as a back-up in case a deer shows up, but my sneaking suspicion is that as you say, it isn't the wise first choice.

Duke, thank you for the kind words, and I appreciate the thought!  Interesting that your father had such great luck with his 47-lb Bear bow!  I grew up shooting a Bear 45-lb recurve constantly after school, all at unknown distance targets.  Cedar shafts and the old sheet-metal, diamond-shaped broadheads, no sights or release aids. The local squirrels were in mortal danger!  :-)  I recently looked into that again, and arthritis has made that totally unfeasible.  However, perhaps a compound set at 45 lbs would be workable!

Thanks, all, and please keep the replies coming!  I love being able to benefit from other's experiences, and there are a lot of folks here who have accumulated a whole lot of wisdom along the way!  Please share! 

Thanks,

John

 

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Ken Campbell Iowa posted this 04 June 2017

john f. ... in iowa at least, if you are 65 you can use a crossbow ...  and these modern crossbows are pretty impressive ... watch mrs. ted nugent showing off her crossbow shooting in their tv show.  50 yards should be easy !! ..

hey i had a chance at a 38-40 once, but thought it too ugly a cartridge ... a little smarter now but the opportunity has flown by ... ( g ) ...

ken

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BigMan54 posted this 04 June 2017

I wish you luck. When I was a kid my Dad got a SAA 5 1/2" in .38-40. It was free so he worked with it for a while. The bore was .403 while the chamber mouths ran .399 to .404, who ever cut the chambers must have been drunk back in the 1905 when it was made. He gave up & converted it to .357

I handgun hunted the small mulies here in SoCal in the late 1970'S. Used a RUGER Blackhawk in .357mag. Had to use  a 158 JHP per CALIFORNIA State Game Regulations.  Wish I could have used a cast lead HP from a #358439 mold I had. But by that time you had to take your deer into the Ranger Station to get your  Tag punched & answer all their questions. It had changed in just a couple of years. From any State Officer or Law Enforcement Officer to Game Wardens or Park Rangers only. 

Long time Caster/Reloader, Getting back into it after almost 10yrs. Life Member NRA 40+yrs, Life S.A.S.S. #375. Does this mean a description of me as a fumble-fingered knuckle-draggin' baboon. I also drool in my sleep. I firmly believe that true happiness is a warm gun. Did I mention how much I HATE auto-correct on this blasted tablet.

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M3 Mitch posted this 05 June 2017

I have a 38-40 Bisley model, the cylinder throats are smaller than the bore, so I have to load a not too hard bullet over a not too light load of Unique to get the bullets to slug up and take the rifling.  This is not the most accurate gun I have.  I have shot only beer cans with it. 

I agree with most that you probably *can* kill a deer with your 38-40, but, it's far from ideal for the job.  Maybe better to stick with small game?

The more or less standard Lyman mold for this caliber does produce a bullet that looks sort of like a Keith style semi-wadcutter, so it should have decent killing power for what it is. 

You know, in my mind any load that would be "for occasional use only" in something like that old Colt - it's not an OK load, it's too damn hot for the gun.  That's just my opinion, but, that's how I see it.

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John F. posted this 13 June 2017

"You know, in my mind any load that would be "for occasional use only" in something like that old Colt - it's not an OK load, it's too damn hot for the gun.  That's just my opinion, but, that's how I see it."

That's probably the thing I need to keep in mind  the most -- from reading authors who loaded old Colts to the gills

back in the days when Colts were plentiful and chronographs/good pressure tested data was scarce, I was overlooking

the age and relative strength of the steel in the Colt.  Thanks much!

John

 

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45 2.1 posted this 13 June 2017

I have a 38-40 Bisley model, the cylinder throats are smaller than the bore, so I have to load a not too hard bullet over a not too light load of Unique to get the bullets to slug up and take the rifling.  This is not the most accurate gun I have. 

Most of the period guns are like that... revolvers and rifles. Try an older Marlin that will let you load a 0.403" diameter bullet and has a 0.413" groove diameter. The answer to all these is one thing.... a hollow base bullet. MP molds has one in the wings.......... ask him to run it.

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M3 Mitch posted this 04 July 2017

Although, at the same time, you could hunt small game with this old Colt.  Depending on bore and throat diameters a hollow based bullet may be the easiest to get accurate shooting with. 

Rabbits, squirrels, etc. should be easy for that 200 grain 38-40 flat nose bullet to take out.  Probably coyotes, too, depending on how well it shoots.

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Ed Harris posted this 09 July 2017

Does anybody have a .38-40 cylinder on a RUGER?

I'm thinking about having one done because I can. 

Anybody else fooled with this?"

 

 

73 de KE4SKY In Home Mix We Trust From the Home of Ed's Red in "Almost Heaven" West Virginia

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BigMan54 posted this 09 July 2017

Ruger made a special run of NM BlackHawks convertibles in the early 1990'S.  They were .38-40/10mm. I played with one (6 1/2" bbl only, I think ?) for a while until the GLOCK 40's came out. The original NORMA 10mm loads were beating my COLT DELTA ELITE to death,  so I sold off both for a GLOCK 23 & another Cowboy gun for SASS.

Long time Caster/Reloader, Getting back into it after almost 10yrs. Life Member NRA 40+yrs, Life S.A.S.S. #375. Does this mean a description of me as a fumble-fingered knuckle-draggin' baboon. I also drool in my sleep. I firmly believe that true happiness is a warm gun. Did I mention how much I HATE auto-correct on this blasted tablet.

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45 2.1 posted this 09 July 2017

Does anybody have a .38-40 cylinder on a RUGER?

I'm thinking about having one done because I can. 

Anybody else fooled with this?"

 Ruger made a special run of NM BlackHawks convertibles in the early 1990'S.  They were .38-40/10mm.

I have one of those convertible Rugers. It shoots quite well, but be aware of different specs in cylinder and reloading dies where the shoulder matches in both so you don't keep sizing the shoulder back each time... very hard on that thinner brass!!!! You need to have an adequate neck so the lubed bullet is actually in the neck and not down in the powder space.

 

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Ed Harris posted this 09 July 2017

Good info!  Will need to check with the gunsmith doing my cylinder and ask what the dimensions of his reamer are.

 

73 de KE4SKY In Home Mix We Trust From the Home of Ed's Red in "Almost Heaven" West Virginia

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M3 Mitch posted this 12 October 2018

Does anybody have a .38-40 cylinder on a RUGER?

I'm thinking about having one done because I can. 

Anybody else fooled with this?"

 Ruger made a special run of NM BlackHawks convertibles in the early 1990'S.  They were .38-40/10mm.

I have one of those convertible Rugers. It shoots quite well, but be aware of different specs in cylinder and reloading dies where the shoulder matches in both so you don't keep sizing the shoulder back each time... very hard on that thinner brass!!!! You need to have an adequate neck so the lubed bullet is actually in the neck and not down in the powder space.

 

I think that RCBS, anyway, will adjust your dies if you send them the dies and something like 3 fired cases.  For a revolver you might need to send more cases if the chambers in the cylinder are not quite identical.  Contact your die maker and see what they say.

 

I have some 310 tool dies for 38-40, so I just neck size.  You are right that the spec for a new case is quite a bit further back for the shoulder than most chambers are cut.

 

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Ed Harris posted this 12 October 2018

As FYI to bump the thread, I did not do a .38--40, but did do a wildcat 10x25mm Rimmed, which is essentially a shortened .38-40 of the same contour, but based on .44 Russian Starline brass necked down.  With 5 grains of Bullseye we are matching .38-40 black powder revolver ballistics with smokeless powder, with great accuracy.  Fouling shot article to come.

For the fellow with the original Colt .38-40, I would recommend having DougGuy uniform the cylinder throat dimensions, so that all charges holes are the same, and then using a soft alloy like 1:40 tin-lead using a 180-grain flatnosed bullet with large meplat similar to the Accurate 40-182H which we are using in our .40 S&W and 10x25mm Ruger convertibles.

73 de KE4SKY In Home Mix We Trust From the Home of Ed's Red in "Almost Heaven" West Virginia

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max503 posted this 12 October 2018

I've been thinking about using my S&W Model 19 357 magnum for deer.  A lead bullet, of course.

Think that would work?

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Ed Harris posted this 12 October 2018

I've been thinking about using my S&W Model 19 357 magnum for deer.  A lead bullet, of course.

Think that would work?

 

IF you shot the gun well,

use a suitable, full-charge load, AND

place your shots well, at reasonable range, then it will work.

73 de KE4SKY In Home Mix We Trust From the Home of Ed's Red in "Almost Heaven" West Virginia

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LIMPINGJ posted this 13 October 2018

Ed have you tried the 40-182H with black powder?  Do you think it will carry enough lube for use in a 24 inch barrel?

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