Colt 1894 DA 38 ammunition?


August 8, 2009, 09:18 PM
I managed to pick up a 1894 Colt DA 38 revolver last month and was wondering what would be best to shoot in it? It's military issue, walnut grips, 6 inch barrel and seems to be in reasonable condition. RAC stamps on the bottom of the grip. Previous owner said they fired it on occasion without issue.

38 and 38 S&W rounds both fit but I've heard that the 38 may be too much for this model.

I've also heard that 38 S&W rounds would not fit, but since they do, is the 38 S&W a better choice due to the decreased power of the load?

Black powder rounds (38 Long Colt) seem to always be out of stock.

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August 8, 2009, 09:41 PM
Woah there, be careful.

I don't think any of those 3 are interchangeable.

I don't really know anything about this one, but I'm sure somebody else will be able to help.

August 8, 2009, 11:25 PM
You want 38 Long Colt or 38 Short Colt. Not to be confused with 38 Colt New Police which is 38 Smith & Wesson in todays parlance. The Military issue guns were chambered for the 38 Long Colt. The chambers were smooth bored clear thru so several other rounds like 38 Smith and Wesson Special will chamber---but will not be safe in your fine old revolver.
BE SAFE!!!!!!!

Jim K
August 9, 2009, 12:12 AM
Due to tolerance overlap, some of those guns will chamber and fire .38 S&W. (I just tried two, one will take .38 S&W easily, the other won't!) Even those with shoulders in the chamber will accept and fire .38 Special, but stick to light loads (NO +P or +P+!!!). The first GI loading was with a .376" bullet, so I see no reason .38 S&W won't work if it will fit.

FWIW, the first loadings of GI ammo were with black powder, but later smokeless loads were issued, so the guns are not really "black powder only."

.38 Long Colt is no longer being made (AFAIK) but if .38 Special won't fit in a revolver made for .38 Long Colt, .38 Special cases can be trimmed and loaded to light .38 Special specs.


Jim Watson
August 9, 2009, 07:23 AM
There is some production of .38 Long Colt for the CAS trade, the .36 cap and ball conversions take it. Ten X lists it with fake black powder.

Remington till makes .38 Short Colt, which will work.,7636.html

W.H.B. Smith recommended that these old guns be shot with .38 Special target wadcutters. The pressure is low and the hollowbase wadcutter would have a chance of taking the rifling.

August 9, 2009, 04:50 PM
Old Western Scrounger has those old Colt loads too.

Old Fuff
August 9, 2009, 05:07 PM
You can safely fire .38 Special mid-range target ammunition, loaded with a 148 grain full-wadcutter bullet @ about 770 FPS. This closely duplicates the .38 Long Colt with a 150 grain bullet @ 730 FPS.

People often shoot these revolvers with whatever will fit into the chamber, including some .357 Magnum cartridges... :what:

What happens then is what you'd expect. :banghead:

justashooter in pa
August 9, 2009, 07:29 PM
the 38 short and long colts were designed to work in conversions of cap and ball revolvers that usually had .365-.375 bores. as the original cylinder was used in the conversion the case had to be about .375 OD, and so did the bullet. the inside of the case was .357, so the bullet was designed with a reduced diameter "heel" that was hollow based and had lubrication grooves outside of the case. later "38's" used .357 bullets with lube grooves inside the case.

as stated, you can shoot .358 hollow based 148 grain wadcutters with about 3 grains bullseye loaded in 38 special cases trimmed down to about 1.00" length in guns designed for 38 long colt with fair result. trimming case length may not be necessary, depending on the actual dimensions of the machining in the cylinder bores, which vary considerably. you can shoot the same load in english guns marked 360 rook. accuracy will be fair enough.
this page is wrong in some respects. the author sampled modern ammunition in his description.

check your bore and cylinder dimensions with a dial caliper to know exactly what you have. dimensions of production guns vary significantly. any gun that accepts 38 S&W cartridges will bulge 38 special cases slightly, and make resizing more difficult. 38 S&W is usually a .363 bullet in a case that has .381 OD. it is not unusual to see guns of this vintage with re-bored cylinders to various dimensions, so inspection with caliper is prudent.

inspection may indicate that 38 S&W is appropriate for your individual gun. of course, it will be slightly more expensive to shoot than 38 special wadcutter loads.

Jim K
August 9, 2009, 08:16 PM
Just to note that those guns are not significantly different in strength from later Colt revolvers chambered for .38 Special, so they are not going to "blow up" with standard .38 Special. The bad reputation of that series is not because of what happens when they are fired, but from the internal design that all too often fails and prevents the gun from firing at all. They are, IMHO, the second worst design (after the Model 1877) Colt ever put out, and it is amazing to me that the military not only adopted it but kept it for 15 years before going to the Model 1909, and then because of the caliber, not the sound of breaking springs.


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