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Reloading for a Henry Big Boy

Discussion in 'Rifle Country' started by larry syverson, Feb 19, 2012.

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  1. larry syverson

    larry syverson Member

    Dec 24, 2011
    OK it's confesion time... Don't be too hard on me. I learned my lesson. I just want to relay an experince I've had in using my handgun reloads for my rifle chambered for the same calibers. Hopefully it will help someone else avoid the same mistake.

    I have several pistols that I reload for. A Ruger GP-100 in .357/38 caliber and a 1932 Colt Police Special in 38 Spl. Since my Colt PS is mint (another story entirely as to how I came about it) I load a pretty light load for it.

    This weekend I decided to take my new chronometer out for a test drive at the range and see how all of my guns respond to the different loads. My eventual goal is to have a single .38 cal load and a separate .357 load that I can use in both my revolvers and the Henry Big Boy which is also chambered for .38 and .357.

    So I started with factory ammo just to get a reference as to performance. I used several types Winchester, Hornady, BPC. I fired them in both my Ruger GP-110, the Colt and the Henry.

    Everything was going just fine until I grabbed the light .38 Spl. loads that I use in my old Colt. They were supposed to be loaded with about 2.6, 2.7 and 3.0 gr. of Clays, which is a fast burning powder for handgun loads.

    For the .38 handguns they are basically plinking loads. The 2.6 and 2.7 gr. load velocities were basically the same, about 550 fps. in the GP-100. So, I moved on to the Henry and the 3.0 gr. loads. First couple shots were about as expected at about 950 fps. Then I stuck the next round in and all I heard was a "Pop" and the chronometer showed ERROR (an understatement...) ,so I stuck in another round only this time I just sighted down the side of the barrel to make sure the bullet was actually coming out. You could see it clearly... looked like shooting a BB gun. Shot a couple more rounds with the same result (about 120 fps) so I was going to move on to my "factory equivalent" hand loads. I looked... and dang! I forgot to bring them. :banghead: So I called it a day and went home.

    As always I clean my guns immediately after being at the range. So, in the process I stuck my cleaning rod down the barrel of the Henry and I hear this "plink" at the other end, guess what... I pushed out a bullet. Gasp! :what: I remembered back to the range and that first light load shot because I wasn't sure the bullet actually came out, but all subsequent ones did. So I didn't think much of it.

    Well that scared the bejeezes out of me thinking what would have happened if I WOULD have brought my factory equivalent hand loads and loaded one of those with a bullet stuck in the barrel. I also forget to buy a lottery ticket that day... :mad:

    So I'm sitting here with about 500 rounds of mixed 2.6, 2.7 and 3.0 gr. loads. So now what? I got out my electronic scale capable of .1 gr accuracy and started weighing loaded cartridges. They basically sorted into 3 groups, which was no big surprise. I took one from the low end of the lightest ones and pulled the bullet and weighed the powder on my powder scale (balance type). It came in about about .7 gr. It was WAY off from what it should have been, obviously.

    As a testament to the Henry... what was happening was after the first shot, the follow up shot was hammering the stuck bullet out of the barrel and in turn the next load was doing the same. So after the last shot I just had a bullet stuck in the barrel. (Did I mention I was thankful that I left my factory equivalent handloads at home by accident..?) When you'd shoot it, it didn't make any more of a report than a Daisy Red Ryder. Anyway I would up not keeping any of the handloads, even the heaviest ones. I measured several and they ranged from about 2.9 to 3.0 gr. Fine for my pistols, but to be on the safe side I've unloaded all of my .38 cal loads. Plus there was no assurance, even though I was using the same bullet and primer, but with different brand cartridges that the difference was actual powder weight.

    Lessons learned and what I will do in the future...

    1. Keep a separate .38 Spl. load, just for the Colt. (The Colt isn't rated for +P loads.)
    2. I have the tool.. electronic scale. Use it on all completed rounds. Regardless of how you think the powder is metering. I even use my powder scale periodically when reloading, just to check it. Apparently a light load or a series of them, can occur at any time...
    3. If something weird like this happens at the range. Do not shoot another round until it is understood what is happening.
    4. Bring a cleaning rod to the range, with all the other stuff I bring.
    5. Don't shoot anything in the Henry except factory loads, if shooting .38 Spl. or +P ammo. There is no reason to shoot .38 in it anyway, except out of curiosity.

    One last thing to pass along for any Henry owners... as long as I'm at it. Here are the velocities, in fps, for the different FACTORY loads that I got with the Henry.

    .357 Winchester WinClean JHP 158 gr. bullet: 2010,1985,1999 and 1990 fps. Note that this same load fired from the Ruger GP-100 with 4" barrel is almost 600 fps. slower. (1424, 1452, 1328, 1384, and 1444). I read in another post that a member called the Henry folks regarding what ammo to use in the Big Boy and all they would say was to use any factory load. These numbers from the Winchester ammo seem to be right up there.

    .357 Hornady LeveRevolution FTX 140 gr. JHP bullet, with plastic tip insert: 1860, 1804, 1825, 1821, 1830. Specifically designed for lever action rifles.

    .38 Spl. BPC brand 158 gr. LRN bullet: 950, 929, 955, 953, 956 fps.
    For this same BPC bullet in the 4" Ruger the numbers again drop significatly: 695, 736, 700, 719 and 725 fps.
  2. Quoheleth

    Quoheleth Member

    Mar 7, 2007
    The Land of Bowie, Crockett, Travis & Houston
    First, this probably belongs in the reloading forum moreso than rifles, as its a reloading issue. Might want to contact a mod and ask him to move it for you.

    Glad you are OK and your rifle apparantly suffered no damage. Might want to have a 'smith check it just to be sure.

    As a general comment, mouse-fart loads out of a pistol don't work in rifles because of the longer barrel providing a longer time of resistance. Your 550fps loads are just too slow for a rifle. Once you get up to standard velocity then you see how a longer barrel actually helps increase the velocity by giving the powder a longer burn time.

    As to your lessons learned, if I may:
    Good idea, but remember standard velocity is around 750-800fps for factory ammo. You were ~30% below that and, again, running them out of a rifle. I think you could run today's standard .38 Spcl out of your Colt with no problem. Consensus is that today's factory 38 ammo and beginning load data is significantly below what it was back when your Colt was made. In fact, our modern anemic loads are because of the preponderance of old .38 guns on the market - no one wants to be the ammo maker to blow up a bunch of old Colts or Smiths.

    Overkill. Especially if you are shooting any cast lead bullets. Even a skilled caster's bullets can vary by a couple grains over the span of a casting session. Don't forget lube - if a little lube fell off, that makes a difference. Brass will vary, slightly. How will you know that .2 grain differential is because of powder, brass, or bullet. Keep your reloading practice safe and pay attention and you should be fine.

    You have #3 spot on. That was your biggest goof in your story, not the reloading. You should have stopped right there to verify a bullet did fire. Might want to go with a solid brass rod instead of a cleaning rod so as to not mess up any threads on the rod - unless you would only use it to verify a squib, not try to remove it at the range.

    I think you're overdoing it. You handload - it's perfectly OK to your safe reloads in your Henry. Get your loads up to the 800+fps area and try again. As to why use .38s out of a rifle? Cheaper, uber-light recoil, less blast all come to mind.

    Not trying to be hyper-critical, but offer some comments to you to think about.

  3. larry syverson

    larry syverson Member

    Dec 24, 2011
    You are right on in everything you said. I'm unloading all the .38 specials and will reload them to the correct levels. I guess I was a little too paranoid about the 1932 Colt Police Special. The gunsmith said it can handle a modern factory +P load so I'm going to dispense with the mouse fart loads and just load to a stock .38 Spl. The reason being, is if someone should happen to stick one of these mouse fart loads in the Henry by accident and get a stuck bullet like I did, then follow up with a .357 load...

    The factory .38 Spl. LRN ammo that I've used in the Henry shoots just fine at around 720 fps in the Colt and 950 fps in the Henry so I should be pretty safe.

    I've also relegated the Clays powder to .38 Spl. and .357 handgun loads. I'm going with the H110 for all the .357 rifle loads. It will probably work better anyway and it shouldn't hurt anything if an H110 load finds its way into my .357 revolver. I'd think it would be pretty obvious when you shoot it. Darn I wished I'd know this about powder burn rates before I loaded all this .357 ammo... I'm going to tear down the 7.3 gr. Clays loads also.
    With the Winchester factory loads (158 gr. JHP) clocking in at 2000 fps. on my chrongraph when shot from the Henry, I doubt I'd need anything more than that and I know the 7.3 gr. Clays powder loads are hotter than the factory Winchester one. Its very obvious when you shoot them back to back in my revolver.

    As for the report being different. I believe that is exactly the reasoning. All the powder was burnt before the bullet exits the barrel. I hadn't thought that would account for a different report. The best description I could offer is that it sounded like high powered air rifle, which is basically what it had become. That was right on... I sincerely thank all of you for responding and for taking the time to share you expertise. I certainly learned a lot. I'll keep reading my Lyman's Reloading Handbook to get myself educated.

    Lastly, if I'd thought about it, I should have run this by the forum before I started. I'd have saved myself a lot of trouble.
  4. rcmodel

    rcmodel Member in memoriam

    Sep 17, 2007
    Eastern KS
    Total waste of time.

    There is more variation in bullets and cases that combined in one round, will mask any powder charge error short of no powder or a double charge.

    If you have those kinds of problems, you need to review your reloading procedures and safety checks before seating bullets.

    Not weigh every loaded round trying to find the mistakes.

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