Henry H015/H015B Single Shot Rifle Cartridge Suggestion: .38-55 Win.

By Chuck Hawks

Henry Single Shot Rifles
Illustration courtesy of Henry Repeating Arms.

In 2017, Henry Repeating Arms introduced their Single Shot Rifle line, which shares the basic Henry break-open action with the Henry break-open shotguns. The new rifle line included the H015 Steel Frame model and the H015B Brass Frame model. Both are stocked in better than average grade walnut with cut checkering on the grip and fore end. The steel frame gun is supplied with a pistol grip stock and recoil pad, while the brass frame gun comes with a straight hand stock and a brass butt plate.

They are relatively conventional break-open rifles, albeit of higher than normal grade. There is an ambidextrous top lever for opening the action and an external hammer with a transfer bar in the hammer face that eliminates the need for a manual safety. An under-bolt keeps the action closed, leaving a clean breech face. An extractor lifts cases from the chamber for easy removal when the action is opened, as favored by reloaders. (Hunters looking for a faster repeat shot would doubtless prefer an ejector that throws empties clear of the action to speed reloading.)

The steel frame version comes with a discreet matte finished receiver, while the brass frame version comes with a highly polished receiver. (This will eventually dull somewhat with age and use, acquiring a "historical" patina I find attractive.) Both come with a fully adjustable, folding leaf rear sight and a brass bead front sight. They are also drilled and tapped for scope mounts. Barrel lengths are 22 inches in all calibers.

The steel frame model was introduced in calibers .223 Remington, .243 Winchester, .308 Winchester, .44 Remington Magnum and .45-70. The brass frame model was introduced in calibers .44 Rem. Mag. and .45-70. A noticeable oversight is the lack of a medium bore caliber in either version.

These Henry Single Shot Rifles should not be confused with crudely finished, plastic or "hardwood" stocked economy rifles of the past (NEF, H&R, etc.). These new Henry's are high quality, nicely turned out, very accurate rifles that (with proper care) will last for generations and provide the pride of ownership only a superior product can engender. They are made entirely of steel, brass and walnut, without any aluminum or plastic parts.

The omission of the high intensity .223, .243 and .308 from the brass frame model is presumably due to their higher maximum average operating pressure (52,000 CUP). The steel frame is presumably stronger than the brass frame. The .44 Magnum has a SAAMI MAP of 40,000 CUP, while the .45-70 is loaded to a maximum of only 28,000 CUP. (It has a lot of back thrust against the breech face, though.)

However, the Henry brass alloy used in the H015B is much stronger than typical hardware brass. This is the same brass alloy used in the Henry .30-30 lever action rifle and the .30-30 cartridge is specified at a MAP of 38,000 CUP. (Note that this is 2,000 CUP less than the .44 Magnum.) One would think, therefore, that the brass frame Model H015B could safely be chambered for the Winchester ".30-30 line" of cartridges, which includes the .25-35, .30-30, .32 Winchester Special and .38-55, considerably expanding the usefulness of the H015B. These cartridges could, without question, be offered in the steel frame Model H015.

An important advantage for use in a single shot rifle is these cartridges all have rimmed cases. A rimmed case gives the extractor of a break-open action better purchase to remove slightly oversize or stuck cases from the chamber. In addition, they all have considerable body taper, which also reduces extraction difficulties.

The .25-35, .30-30 and .32 Special, all based on necked-down versions of the .38-55 case, were designed for use with smokeless powder. The .38-55 was one of the most popular black powder cartridges from the late 19th Century and it quickly made the transition to smokeless powder. Because of its black powder heritage, the .38-55 is held to a rather modest SAAMI specified MAP of only 30,000 CUP.

The .38-55 cartridge

I believe that both the H015 and H015B could easily be chambered for the .38-55. The cartridge is making a comeback in popularity, perhaps initially due to the popularity of the sport of cowboy action shooting. However, it is also an effective brush/woods hunting cartridge and is again a standard chambering in the recently reintroduced Winchester Model 94 angle-eject rifle. (Henry RAC should offer their lever action Model H009 .30-30 rifle in .38-55, which would give them a medium bore cartridge to compete with the Model 94 in .38-55 and the Marlin 336 in .35 Remington. However, that is a subject for a future article.)

The .38-55 is renowned as an extremely accurate cartridge. It was originally designed in 1884 as a match cartridge for the Ballard single shot target rifle.

The Winchester Super-X .38-55 factory load is loaded well below the cartridge's SAAMI MAP. It launches a .377 inch diameter, 255 grain Power Point bullet at a muzzle velocity (MV) of 1320 fps and muzzle energy (ME) of 987 ft. lbs. The 100 yard energy is 802 ft. lbs. This essentially duplicates the old black powder load, although with a modern jacketed soft point bullet superior in terminal performance to the lead round nose bullets typically used in black powder loads and cowboy action smokeless powder loads.

The paper ballistics of this load are not impressive. However, its 100 yard G&S Online Killing Power Score (KPS) is 22.7, almost identical to the standard .30-30 150 grain/2390 fps load (KPS 22.8). The .38-55 has maintained a good reputation as a deer and black bear cartridge from its inception to the present day.

The reloader with a modern .38-55 rifle can do much better than the Winchester factory load without exceeding 30,000 CUP. For example, according to the Hodgdon 2017 Reloading Manual 27.0 grains of H322 powder behind a 255 grain Barnes Original soft point bullet achieves a MV of 1603 fps at a MAP of 25,500 CUP. A maximum load of 33.0 grains of H322 behind the same bullet achieves a MV of 1830 fps at a MAP of 28,200 CUP.

The latter is a serious Class 2 and Class 3 big game hunting load. The remaining energy at 100 yards is 1432 ft. lbs. and the 100 yard KPS is 42.5.

Incidentally, the maximum point blank range (+/- 3 inches) of this 255 grain/1830 fps .38-55 load is 177 yards when zeroed to hit 2.86 inches above the point of aim at 100 yards. This compares favorably to the 159 yard MPBR of typical 240 grain/1760 fps .44 Magnum rifle loads and the 166 yard MPBR of typical 300 grain/1810 fps .45-70 loads. (These figures are for scoped rifles with a 1.5 inch sight height.)

The killing power of the .38-55 is enhanced by the superior sectional density (SD) and thus penetration (other factors being equal) of its 255 grain bullet. A 255 grain, .377 inch .38-55 bullet has a SD of .256. This compares very favorably to the .177 SD of a 240 grain .44 Mag. bullet or the .204 SD of a 300 grain .45-70 bullet. Even a 270 grain .44 Mag. bullet has a SD of only .210 and a 350 grain .45-70 bullet has a SD of only .238, both clearly inferior to the 255 grain .38-55 bullet.

The Winchester .38-55 factory load (or an equivalent hand load) has a very mild kick, less than the .30-30 or .44 Magnum and much less than the .45-70 in rifles of the same weight. Here are some recoil energy figures for 7.5 pound rifles from the Expanded Rifle Recoil Table:

  • .38-55 (255 gr. @ 1320 fps) = 7.8 ft. lbs.*
  • .38-55 (255 gr. @ 1603 fps) = 11.3 ft. lbs.
  • .38-55 (255 gr. @ 1830 fps) = 15.1 ft. lbs.
  • .44 Mag. (240 gr. @ 1760 fps) = 11.2 ft. lbs.*
  • .44 Mag. (270 gr. @ 1638 fps) = 11.6 ft. lbs.
  • .45-70 (300 gr.@ 1810 fps) = 22.1 ft. lbs.*
  • .45-70 (350 gr.@ 1585 fps) = 24.6 ft. lbs.

For additional Comparison:

  • .243 Win. (100 gr. @ 2960 fps) = 9.9 ft. lbs.*
  • .30-30 (160 gr. @ 2400 fps) = 11.5 ft. lbs.*

    * Factory loads


The moderate operating pressure of the .38-55 should make it an obvious medium bore cartridge choice for inclusion in the Henry Single Shot Rifle line. Single shot rifles are not only the choice of very experienced hunters; because they are the safest of all action types, they are also the best choice for beginning hunters. This is particularly true for the deluxe quality, yet moderately priced, Henry Single Shot Rifles.

The short, handy, moderate weight, Henry H015 and H015B Single Shot Rifles in .38-55, shooting the mild Winchester Super-X factory loads or equivalent reloads, would offer a nearly ideal combination of accuracy, penetration, good killing power and pleasant recoil. This makes them especially appropriate for novice hunters, or anyone sensitive to recoil.

The more experienced and/or less recoil sensitive hunter shooting full power reloads (a 255 grain bullet at about 1800 fps) would have a handy and powerful medium bore rifle suitable for elk, moose and all Class 3 game at woods ranges that would not kick the shooter out from under his or her hat. The big bullet is not fast, but it just keeps rolling along.

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Copyright 2018 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.