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GUNS Magazine April 2013 Digital Edition - Page 18
tHe .38-40 Wcf the second best old west handGun cartridGe. A Mike “Duke” venturino Photos: Yvonne venturino few months back I wrote a column saying I consider the .44 WCF (.44-40) as the best of all Old West hand- Duke’s favorite .38 WCF bullet mold is this one gun cartridges. This column is about the second by RCBS. It works just as well in .40 S&W. best. In my opinion that was the .38 WCF (.38-40). This time chamberings, Marlin adopted it into we’ll consider rifles and carbines too. their Models 1889 and 1894 and First off, you must understand that the .38 WCF is nowhere near .38 caliber. It is actually .40 caliber using 0.400-inch bullets. Why Winchester named it .38 is a mystery. Furthermore, why it was introduced in the first place is another mystery. Its original black powder factory loads used 180-grain 0.400-inch bullets compared to the .44 WCF’s 200-grain 0.425-inch ones. Velocities were roughly comparable; say about 1,300 fps from the 24-inch barrel of a rifle and about 900 fps from a 7-1/2-inch handgun barrel. Neither one has a great advantage over the other. I’ve read the .38 WCF was introduced by Winchester in 1874 as the second chambering of their Model 1873. That is incorrect. It was the second chambering offered but the year of introduction was 1879. Colt didn’t get around to chambering it in their revolvers until 1884. Another interesting fact is that Colt continued to chamber it in their large-frame revolvers such as the New Service and Model 1878 double actions. Very few other handgun manufacturers of that era made .38 WCF revolvers. S&W did so with their New Model No. 3 and later N-frame Hand Ejectors but the totals produced were meager. Regardless, .38 WCFs sold well. It was the Colt SAA’s third most popular chambering among the 18731941 first generation of production. That amounted to a bit over 50,000 counting standard SAAs and Bisley versions together. Back about 1993, Colt reintroduced the .38 WCF in the SAA’s options. I had one of the very first and have owned several others. Two are permanent keepers: one with 5-1/2-inch barrel and one with 7-1/2-inch barrel. Whereas First Gen Colt SAA barrel/chamber mouth dimensions are all over the map, all Third Generation ones that I have personally measured are uniformly 0.400-inch across the barrel’s rifling grooves and 0.401-inch at the chamber mouths. Mine are among the most accurate .38 WCF handguns I’ve ever fired from machine rest. Not to forget lever guns. Winchester continued .38 WCF as one of the Model 1892’s Colt put it into their pump-action Lightnings. It is my opinion that the .38-40 moniker came from Marlin’s caliber inscription. Colt only labeled Lightnings “.38 CAL.” Winchester never put anything but .38 WCF on theirs. Taken collectively there have to have been hundreds of thousands of .38 WCF/.38-40 long guns manufactured. Browsing through my lifelong records revealed that I’ve owned an even dozen .38 WCF handguns and an even dozen rifles and carbines. All of the handguns were Colt SAAs except for a New Service. All of the long guns were lever guns except for one Colt Lightning Pump Action. Additionally there were three Marlin Model 1894s listed, three Winchester Model 1873s, three Winchester Model 1892s, and two Cimarron Arms replicas of Model 1873s. I don’t remember there being a lemon among all 24 of the .38 WCF firearms owned by me. About 5 years ago, I began trimming back my Old West firearms collection and reinvesting the funds Duke bought this Winchester Model 1873 in 1985. It was the first of a dozen .38 WCF rifles and carbines owned. He still has it. Beneath it the three versions of large-frame revolvers which Colt offered .38 WCF as a caliber option include (from left to right) New Service, Model 1878 Double Action, and Single Action Army. 18 W W W. G U N S M AG A Z I N E . C O M • A P R I L 2 0 1 3