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Colt Lightning 38-40

Discussion in 'Ammunition & Reloading' started by dustinm, Jan 15, 2012.

  1. dustinm

    dustinm The BEAVER State Member

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    I recently inherited (Thanks Dad!) an early model Colt Lightning 38-40. It came with an old box of original ammo. I would like to reload a few rounds for it and see if It still shoots, however don’t know where to even start looking for data on it.

    Here is what I think I know,

    1. A 38-40 is a 38 Winchester with 40 grains of powder. I did read online it’s actually a .401 caliber bullet. But the source was pretty sketchy.

    2. Don’t use jacketed bullets because of the rifling. Would cast lead bullets be best?

    3. I’ve looked through all my reloading books (Nosler, Barnes, Hornady and Speer) and can’t find data on this cartridge anywhere. What kind of powder should I use?

    4. I can order the brass and dies from Midway.

    5. The original ammo is Remington Kleanbore. The brass is getting sticky and I would like to clean them before they get out of control. I've heard of people tumbling live ammo, but its not an option for me. (Have a tumbler, just not interested) I know to stay away from Ammonia products, any sort of cleaning agent that I can go over with them by hand to clean them up? Part of me thinks I should just shoot them then tumble them clean....

    Any help on this would be great.

  2. ogre

    ogre Vancouver, WA Well-Known Member

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    My Hodgdon Reloading Manual has data for it.

    This manual also says that the loads are not suitable for pre-1900 black-powder-era revolvers.

    If it were me I would use black powder and cast bullets.
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2012
  3. Spitpatch

    Spitpatch Forest Grove, Oregon Well-Known Member

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    Your exploration so far is correct: the .38-40 takes a bullet of .401 diameter. Suggested loads from the Lyman book (another reason this book is a "must have") suggest a 172g cast bullet (#40143) with 4.0 to 5.9g of Bullseye, or 7.0 to 10.0g of Unique. You are in luck for being alive when you are, because the .38-40 was almost a dead cartridge. Cowboy Action shooters have revived it, and brass is now again available (try Starline). I would avoid reloading older brass in this caliber.

    My Speer manual (#13) also speaks rather a large amount about this caliber (both for rifle and handgun), and so I am puzzled that yours does not. RCBS mould # 82306 will grant a 180g bullet that works great. This bullet can be ordered from any of the cast-bullet mfrs that cater to the Cowboy Action crowd (Buffalo Arms, etc., etc.) if you don't want to cast your own. The Speer manual has an extensive list of suggested recipes as well.

    Enjoy your Lightning. I have 4 (but none in .38-40). The legend has it that Colt's and Winchester had an "unwritten gentlemen's agreement": Colt's would produce no lever action rifles (the Burgess might be considered an an exception), as long as Winchester produced no revolvers. The Lightning rifle was Colt's "long way around the barn" to honor the agreement. Bonnie Parker (of "Bonnie and Clyde" fame) was known to use a Lightning rifle as well (she liked the feature that allowed her to hold down the trigger and pump the gun, resulting in rapid fire, clearing a bank in prompt fashion.) DON'T do this with your good old gun.
  4. deadshot2

    deadshot2 NW Quadrant WA State Well-Known Member

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    If it were mine, and I wasn't going to tumble it, I'd just take a piece of cloth and some mineral spirits to them. Clean off all the "sticky stuff" which is just lube which has deteriorated. If there is any corrosion hit the brass with some 000 steel wool and then wipe shiny with another rag that has a few drops of car polish on it. That will keep the brass from tarnishing.

    Another thought is this. If the box is full, and in excellent condition, it may have some collector value to some. If that's the case I'd explore that before messing with the ammo at all. Before you start reloading, you may just want to shoot some new ammo first. It's for sale at Ammunition To Go
  5. dustinm

    dustinm The BEAVER State Member

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    Thank you all for the great info. I've spent the last couple hours with my Midway master catalog open building a shopping list from what you all have suggested. I'll go back through my manuals at home and double check. I don't doubt it if I missed the page.............

    Thanks again.